Ambush, by José Ignacio Valenzuela

Translated by Hector Duarte Jr.
Para leerlo en español, oprima aquí 


A gray sky shatters with the first crack of lightning as rain floods the valley. The spear’s buzz collides with the prey’s scream. No one sees it zip over the leaves or break the warrior’s skin. The target leaves a bloody stain over warm dirt before slumping in front of the cave’s mouth. Two hands grab mangled hair and drag the body toward a dimming fire.

Sharpened stones penetrate skin. Cutting; Piercing; Ripping.

The cave offers respite from the rain. Dusk sets the mountains ablaze, turns the horizon into a line of fire. Later, a pile of coal. Much later, a mound of ashes. While one set of hands finishes its work, another set rubs the skin to a shine as meat blackens and crackles in the flames.

The man is happy. His hunt has satisfied the clan. They idolize him and the accuracy of his spear.

Damn awakens him with a fierce yellow light that swaths the warm bones inside his domain. The water turns to vapors that hover to the heavens.

He smells the faint sweat of his latest prisoner and readies his weapon.

His wandering leaves a trail among sweat-stained leaves. He swats away a tangle of branches that cut his vision. Their roots suckling the earth for needed sustenance. He moves flush against the tree trunks, clutching the spear so tightly it pierces his chest with every step.

Sudden movement alerts him.

Just a few steps away.

It’s a race he does not see but hears rattle the underbrush. Fruit falling from its branch? His hands firm and tense, fingers lethal like sharpened stones. His breathing startles the birds and insects, dampens his face paint, and prickles his skin.

A branch snaps.

Behind him.

He wipes the grime from his eyes and moves without shifting his gaze from the canopy that conceals his prisoner.

A sudden snap rocks his head as instinct tells him to aim at the sky and shut his eyes tight.

Skewered, he feels vibration but cannot move.

A bird chirps, ruffling its red feathers. He dips his fingers in blood, spreads some on his cheeks. He is in control.

His captors’ breathing raises goose pimples across his trapped skin.

The rain’s vapor locks his feet to the mud. The canopy rattles and parts like fog as a shadow casts over him. He falls on his back. His hand—desperately reaching for the spear—only finds slick dirt and slippery roots. Blinded, he can’t see what stabs his thigh. A second body falls on top of him. The pain shooting up his leg sends spasms of light to the back of his eyelids. He does not feel the war cry that grips his neck and rips the skin.

He shuts his eyes as warmth puddles beneath him.

The blood-stained body—dripping its remnants over brown dirt—is turned over to strange hands.

They have taken his spear.

They will hunt another prisoner.


José Ignacio Valenzuela is a prominent and prolific Chilean writer who has been featured in film, literature, television and theater. His work includes almost twenty books published in Latin America, among which are best sellers Trilogía del malamor and El filo de tu piel. He was selected by, then part of the New York Times Company, as one of the 10 best Latin American writers under 40. The script for his film La sangre iluminada, co-written with Mexican director Iván Ávila, won the support of the Sundance Institute in 2001. Miente, written by Valenzuela, was selected by Puerto Rico as its representative film for the 80th Academy Awards (2008). Amores, a TV series he created and wrote by in 2004, was nominated for an EMMY Award (Suncoast chapter). His telenovelas La casa de al lado and Santa Diabla, both produced by Telemundo US, have been seen around the world beating audience records. For more information visit

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