I patrolled back and forth along my border, my M16 resting against my shoulder, my steel-toed boots landing with crunchy thuds against the soft, pebble-spotted soil. Each step sent up a puff of dust that stuck to the sweat oozing out of every one of my pores. I stunk. Occasionally a rising heat current lifted the scent of sagebrush under my nostrils, but no breeze stirred the air. In front of me the horizon stretched out yellow and brown for indeterminable miles.

            My right forefinger twitched. I wondered who lurked out there this time, blending into the landscape, foolishly expecting to catch me off guard or hoping for the desert to defeat me first. Many tried to cross my border before, sneaking up to it by ones or twos, sometimes threes, but they never made it past me.

            Occasionally I glanced at the sky to judge the time or curse the raging sun. It stood still right above me for hours, tormenting me with its brightness and heat. Then it lowered itself to where it pricked my eyes and lingered there. I shifted my rifle, shielded my eyes, and squinted hard. Shadows crept along the ground, stretching as far away from the wretched sun as they could reach.

            There were more this time. The glaring sun made it difficult to count them. I waited impatiently while my anger surged. My patrolling became stalking, like a starving, caged tiger being teased with the sight of some fresh prey. I wanted them to cross my line. I wanted to sink my teeth into them and shake them until their necks broke.

            The sun finally gave way to the moon, which shone brightly enough in the cloudless sky for me to see clearly enough to estimate the number of people approaching. The temptation to shoot unprovoked tingled in my fingertips; my muscles tensed. “Family,” I growled to myself.

            When they came close enough for me to see their faces I stood as still as the desert. The same old crew, only this time all of them came. They strolled casually toward me, as if they thought I carried my weapon just for looks.

            Their leader sauntered up to me, smiling and saccharine. I sighted my gun at his forehead. He kept smiling but stayed on his side of my border. “Hi kiddo.”

            I held my position.

            He dropped his smile and reached out to touch my shoulder. I shoved his arm away. He backed and held his hands up in surrender. “Hey! Whoa… We just wanna help.” I knew this trick.

            The woman pleaded desperately with me, “We know a place where you can get help! We’ll all help.”

            All of them chanted in unison, their voices closing in on me, echoing the woman’s words. “You need help. Let us help.”

            Their battle cry rang in my ears until my border faded and my head cleared. I surrendered. Dad put his arm around my shoulders. “It’ll be okay. We’re gonna be okay.”