Lesley and Zach caught the plane out of Memphis to Cancun on May 12th of 2010—a little over a month after the celebration of their twenty-first birthdays. The passengers all enjoyed a festive mood, and their stewardess generously served the cheap champagne and tequila shots provided by the Mexican Tourista Council. But it wasn’t until after they landed and boarded the bus for their ride south down the Yucatan Peninsula to Puerto Morelas and The Garden Lifestyle Resort that they actually met and got to know any of the others along for the ride.

In the seat before theirs sat an Irish couple; both were middle-aged and attractive. She wore her long red hair down past and flowing over her shoulders, covering the generous cleavage she revealed. Lesley’s bra was packed in her suitcase in an attempt to ease their passage through the security booths of the airports, but she had left no button undone, and her breasts stretched the silk of her blouse. Lesley had thought they might wait until they arrived at The Garden before people began disrobing, but instead, she reached for her own neckline and undid the top two buttons. The eyes of the Irishman fixed on her breasts and then lifted to meet hers. They both smiled. Lesley undid the third button and felt her breasts shift from the release. She had to look down to make sure she hadn’t fallen out. When she looked up, the Irishman was still staring. Still smiling.

In the Irishman’s eyes she saw the same look of desire she had seen in Zach’s eyes the first time they pressed their naked bodies together. With an eye for potential, she had learned to recognize that look in the gaze of men—and women. With her dress and language, her gestures and attitude, she learned to cultivate lust in the eyes of those who looked upon her. All the elements of beauty and sensuality became tomes of a facade that gave her the ability to command any concession or impose any penance.

She had realized her first night with Zach that the promise of sex, the whiff thereof, was far more powerful than the act itself. The tease gave control and commanded acquiescence; the act spawned self-surrender and ended all capitulation.

The Irish couple spoke with a brogue accent Lesley hadn’t recognized. Zach asked where they were from, and they revealed they had flown to the United States from Dublin. Lesley loved Zach’s ability to start a conversation with anyone.

“Where are you staying?” Zach asked.

“My name is Evan, and this is my wife, Molly. We’re staying at The Garden for a week,” Evan said.

“We’re staying there, too,” said another man who now turned from his seat across the aisle from them. He was much younger than Evan, with short, dark hair. The man wore khaki slacks with a white short sleeve shirt. His arms were toned, and he looked thick and powerful. A lady sat next to him. She wore a linen dress colored with brilliant tropical patterns of mangoes and toucans. Her blonde hair was bobbed short, barely covering her ears. Lesley found the lady attractive, with flawless skin and a beauty mark on the left side of her chin. When she turned to face them, another mark, far down on her right breast, peaked from her open shirt. Lesley felt all eyes—including her own—drawn to the spectacle; she noted and admired the magnetic effect of the imperfection.

The blonde smiled at them. “My name is Sadie, and this is my fiancé, Jeff.”

“Are you getting married at The Garden?” Lesley asked.

“I want to,” Jeff said. “But she wants to see what it’s like, first. I’ve heard there’s supposed to be a wedding this week.”

“We’re the ones. Lesley and I are getting married in a couple days,” Zach said.

“We were married here ten years ago and come back for our anniversary every year,” Molly said. “You are gonna love it!”

“If I don’t loose my nerve,” Lesley said. “This seemed like a great idea at first, getting married in the nude like Adam and Eve. But I can’t imagine how scared I’ll be exchanging vows buck naked in front of a group of strangers without even a bridesmaid.”

“I’ll be your maid, sweetie, and don’t you worry. You’re beautiful; you have a tremendous body. Don’t feign modesty,” Sadie said.

“It’s the thought of all those eyes leering at the bride, at me, that I find disturbing,” Lesley said.

“That was the part I loved. But you won’t be the only one being ogled, sweetie. They have the entire bridal party take communion before the ceremony,” said Molly, the Irish redhead. Molly leaned over the back of her seat. Behind her open hand that hid her mouth from others on the bus, she spoke in a hushed tone. “Supposedly, the cracker is made of a combination of aphrodisiacs: horny goatweed, passion fruit, amphetamine, Viagra, ecstasy, kiwi seeds. No telling what else they throw in there. I think they put a rufie in ours because I don’t remember a thing about what happened in the hot-tub.”

“I didn’t know kiwi was an aphrodisiac,” Sadie the blonde said.

Zach said, “I read in the brochure the married couple jumps in the Hedonism Pool and consummates the wedding vows with the whole bridal party.”

“That’s why they do the communion first,” Evan, the Irishman said. “They all kneel in front of the La Ceiba tree for the communion and wedding vows.”

“I guess it wouldn’t be a true paradise without a tree and forbidden fruit,” Lesley said. They all chuckled.

“Only thing missing is the snake, and there’s certainly plenty of Original Sin,” Sadie said.

Lesley recognized the look in Zach’s eyes as he stared at Sadie’s imperfections. She gouged Zach’s ribs with her elbow. He covered his snicker with his left hand.

“I don’t think they eat the fruit from this tree. Someone said they make clothes from the fibers,” Evan said. “But vines grow up and around the limbs. Some kind of passion fruit. They say it’s an aphrodisiac, too, with orchid-like flowers and a sweet, nectarine-sized fruit. Who knows? But they have to let the vines grow up the trees or there’d be no fruit.”

Zach looked at Sadie. “What is your definition of Original Sin?”

“I think eating from the tree gave them a sexual awakening. For the first time, the human race experienced an irresistible, all-consuming lust. We’ve been trying to resist it ever since. Advertisers take advantage of it; lovers manipulate it, and we spend a lifetime trying to resist it. Supposedly these life-style resorts provide an opportunity to simply relax and enjoy that lust,” Sadie said. “I think that’s what we’re looking for, as a couple, something to give new life to our relationship.”

“We want something different for our wedding,” Jeff said. “I don’t know what, but I’m sick of going to churches and watching sluts wearing white promise their chastity to a man who slept with her maid of honor the night before and will divorce his bride a year later. Down here, after the ceremony, the married couple enters the pool and has sex with the entire wedding party. I guess the bride no longer has to wonder if her husband has slept with her maid-of honor. ”

“Why do you think I volunteered to be her maid?” Sadie said. She reached down and pinched Jeff on his inner thigh. “He is a handsome devil.”

Everyone laughed but Lesley.

“Why do the communion?” Sadie asked. “Is it part of the Mayan ritual?”

“I’m not sure,” Molly said. “I guess they just want every one loosened up for the orgy that follows. Every guest of the resort took the communion at our wedding, and by the time we’d finished the vows, there wasn’t a limp dick in The Garden.”

“The brochure says communion is part of the Catholic wedding ceremony,” Lesley said. “The wedding coordinator told us it would take a couple days to set everything up, or we’d get married the second we arrived. We’ve waited for years to share this.”

Sadie looked at Zach. “You’re both virgins?”

“We signed a pledge of chastity when we were fourteen,” Lesley said.

Zach interrupted Lesley. “It wasn’t my idea; I promise,” he said to Sadie.

And Lesley watched as Sadie’s eyes smiled at Zach.

*

They were born minutes apart at the same hospital in March of 1991. Lesley and Zach grew up together—catching the school bus at the end of their driveway for the first day of kindergarten, being baptized in the same water at the church they both attended, sharing their first kiss on a church hayride at a summer Bible camp.

Zach was the only boy in her home economics class. He sat obediently next to her through lessons on childcare, cooking, baking, and sex. Lesley was the only girl in his livestock production class. She had watched in horror as they castrated piglets. Disgusted by her own visceral reaction to the spectacle, she fled the feral grunts and squeals of the boars servicing the sows in the school barn. The class had laughed as she ran.

And each was the other’s first and only love. Eventually, it had to happen—the moment they were alone and for the first time their naked bodies rubbed against each other.

“I love you, Lesley. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes.” Her arms were around his neck, her fingers entwined in his hair. His hand on her ass pressed her body against him; his thigh pressed between her legs, hard against the mound of hair and wetness where his very touch caused her to moan ever so gently, from deep within. He squeezed her breasts against his chest as he used his weight to pin her down, to hold her still as he ground against her leg. She moved her hips, a slight shift from side to side, to open herself on his thigh. The moisture flowing from her body soaked her to her knees, and she moved her hips again, gently, up and down the firm ridge of his muscled leg. She had experienced orgasm many times before when alone at night she touched herself, or when she directed the hand-held shower to touch a certain spot on her body. That always took some time, but nothing matched the overpowering and never ending rush of climax after climax as she ground against his flesh while feeling her moistness dampen the sheets beneath them. She feared he might believe she had wet the bed. But she knew the difference, even if he didn’t.

“We will be married. You know that?” he said.

“Yes.” Her hand now squeezed between their bodies, searching for him, finding him, and clinging to him, pulling him towards her, on top of her again as she wrapped her legs around him, then off again on the other side of the bed.

“Adam and Eve were married in the eyes of God; there was no preacher. In God’s eyes, we are married, Lesley. Marriage is simply a sacred promise to each other. Everything else is a formality man created. We can do this, and it won’t be a sin. When we marry, it’ll be a formality for our parents, not us. But we’ll already be one…we are already one.”

“What if I get pregnant? We can’t,” she said.

“I won’t get you pregnant. I promise. But if you really love me, prove it. Do this for me. I can’t wait any longer.”

Lesley pushed Zach away. She held him at bay for a moment—a moment long enough to stop him. “Can’t you be more original than that? Every guy at school has used that line.”

“Who else have you been with? Who told you that?”

“I hear things at school,” she said.

“You girls talk a lot about sex?”

“No. We dream a lot about it, though,” she said. As she looked at his naked body in the dim light, her hand wandered down his stomach and below the line where his tan ended. She kneaded the dark, wiry hair that felt like the course edge of a Brillopad against her thigh. She held his will in her hand, and she remembered from agri class that the bulbous head of a penis was sometimes called a Capitulum. As she eased down his torso, she took him in her mouth for the first time. The sound he made stopped her. Afraid she had caught him with her teeth, she pulled away.

“Did I hurt you?” she asked.

“Only when you stopped.”

“I want you to do this for me,” she said.

He pushed her onto her back and said, “Oh God, Yes. I’ll do this for you.”

She pushed him off and onto his back, using his dick for leverage. Her words came in a whisper. She always whispered to him when she wanted him to hear. “No. Listen to me. If you love me, you will honor this request. Look me in the eyes.”

“Yes.”

She had never seen that look or heard that tone in his voice before. That night Lesley learned the dominance a woman wields when she is naked with a man’s shaft in her hand—a powerful lesson for a beautiful, fourteen-year-old girl. “I will do anything you want but fuck. I want you to promise me, to sign a paper that you will save yourself for our wedding day. I will do the same. If you love me, you’ll do this, and I will do anything else you want.”

“Will you swallow?”

“I promise I’ll try.”

“Can I fuck your ass?”

Mentally gauging his length, she continued to hold him in her hand. She thought he’d be bigger, but if they tried anal sex, she knew smaller was better. She marveled at the softness of his skin, at the way he moved and responded to her touch, how his hips rose off the mattress as she moved her hand faster, at the control she now seemed to have over him. He would have promised her anything. At that moment, she understood. She saw it in his eyes. “If you’ll be gentle, we can try. The girls at school say that hurts without a lot of lubrication.”

“I knew it. I knew you girls talked about it, too.”

A harsh jerk of her wrist caught his attention. “I mean this. I want to be a virgin when we marry. And I want something else.”

“Name it.”

Lesley smiled. She liked this newfound authority. “I want us to be married nude before God, just like Adam and Eve.”

“That rules out a church ceremony,” he said. “Please, faster.”

She honored his request. “I want to be married in the eyes of God like they were, in a garden as near to paradise as we can find, and when we finally make love, I don’t want to waste time shedding clothes; I simply want to pull you down on top of me and let you take me.” With her free hand she guided his touch down between her legs, where his finger entered her. “Like this,’ she hissed. Now her hips rose from the sheets while she continued to stroke his shaft, and she felt herself contracting around his finger. She wondered if he felt her body accepting him, responding to him, pulling him deeper within. She knew he heard her cry out; he jerked back.

His explosion came unexpectedly for her. She laughed and said, “You expect me to swallow all that?” He continued to add to the dampness of the sheets as she drained him. She dipped her finger in the goo on his belly and touched the tip of her tongue. They both laughed at the face she made as he lay back down on the sheets, spent and exhausted.

“The time. We gotta hurry,” she said.

They leapt from the bed and showered together. He pressed against her from behind after soaping himself, begging her for what she swore he would experience another day—the first use of her mandate.

They replaced the sheets on her bed and tossed the soiled linens in the washer, and Zach left a mere fifteen minutes before her parents returned from a night of theater at the Orpheum in Memphis.

*

Zach and Lesley checked into the resort and were escorted to their rooms. All of the rooms extended from the center of the resort down two wings that seemed to stretch forever in opposite directions. There was no second story, and all rooms opened out onto a veranda. Lush tropical foliage lined the porch. Nameplates indentified all of the trees and bushes. Sac Nicte trees perfumed the air with their white, yellow and magenta blossoms. Zach spied guavas and pomegranates, lemons and limes, mangoes and oranges. The orange, crimson blooms of an African Tulip appeared to have edges tinted with pure gold. A path from the veranda led to the pool and down to the beach. The Luvia De Oro, or Golden Shower Trees, ringed with golden yellow clusters of flowers hanging from each limb, lined the path to the beach. Birds of every size and color made music in the lush garden. Zach walked back into the room and tipped the porter for bringing their luggage. They stretched out on the bed to rest.

The concierge had explained to them the border between the all-nude garden and the rest of the resort. Any time they left their rooms through the back door to access the beach, they were to disrobe. They could carry a towel or a wrap with them until they got to the beach, or pool, or hot-tub, but everyone on that side of the resort was to be nude. Anytime they came out the front of their rooms, they were expected to wear clothes. How much clothing they wore was up to them, but they must be decent for all meals served in the dining room. If they preferred to dine nude, they could eat at the restaurant next to the beach where no clothing was allowed. Bartenders and barmaids were all nude, except for a red beret that identified them as staff. The waitresses and waiters and chefs, however, wore clothes for safety and sanitary reasons.

The resort was all-inclusive, so there was no need to carry money or credit cards, and any sexual interaction with employees was forbidden and caused immediate termination for the employee and expulsion from The Garden Resort for the guest. Of course, consensual sexual activity with any of the other guests was allowed and encouraged.

That part of the orientation made Lesley uncomfortable.

The lady looked at Lesley. “This is a life-style resort. We cater to couples, married or single, who practice open sexual relationships. You are not obligated to have sex with anyone, but you can expect other couples to interact with you, with the expectation of having sex with you and your partner.”

Back in their room, they opened the doors out to the veranda and lay next to each other on the king-sized bed, breathing the fragrant tropical air and dozing fitfully. Occasionally Lesley came to a state of semi-consciousness and nuzzled deeper into Zach’s embrace. She woke hours later, as the sun created long shadows that stretched from their window toward the crystalline sand of the beach that lined the Caribbean Sea. She rose and turned off the air and opened the patio doors. The sound of waves caressing the shore called to them in that soft lullaby that has for eons of time stirred poets and lured lovers to its edge. She returned to the bed and met Zach’s eyes.

“Why did you ask that blonde what she thought about Original Sin?” she asked.

“I asked Sadie for her definition of Original Sin.”

“You were flirting with her.”

He laughed. “Soon, we’ll be naked with all those people on the bus, and everyone else here at the resort. If you think I was flirting then, how are you gonna handle this ceremony? Or being in the garden knowing that everyone there is sizing us up for sex?”

She kissed his forehead. “Sadie wants a virgin.”

Zach laughed at her. “So do I.”

“I don’t think this is such a good idea any more.”

“You’ve wanted this since the first time we made out.”

“Now that we’re here, all of those concepts seem petty.”

“But this is what you always wanted. Once we get outside, you’ll lose your inhibitions. You’ve worn clothes all your life, and you always turn the heads of men and women. Wait till you see how they look at you when you’re naked.”

“Won’t that bother you? On the bus I undid my blouse. My tits nearly fell out. That Evan saw me and winked at me.”

“So? I saw you unbutton your blouse. I saw him leering at you.”

“You saw that mole on Sadie’s titty, too.”

“I want men to look at you and be jealous of what I have. You’re mine. I don’t have to worry about you.”

“Maybe you do. This place is different. We’re expected to have sex with others. It made me feel good to know he was watching me.”

“Oh yeah?” Zach began goosing her ribs. “Did it make you hot? Huh?”

“I soaked my panties,” she said, her voice dripping sarcasm.

“Good.”

She pushed him away. “What do you mean good? I responded sexually to a man winking at me. That’s worse than flirting. That would be like you getting a hard-on while talking to Molly and Sadie.”

“But I did have a hard on.” He rolled over on his stomach. “I have one right now.”

She shook her head. “You’re rotten. Did you get one of those communion crackers?”

“You know I don’t need any help there.” He pulled her close. “We’ve traveled over a thousand miles to do this. I’ve waited years to make love to you. Relax and enjoy the moment.”

“But I was wrong. Simply removing our clothes won’t take us back to Eden.”

“It’ll remove this hard-on I’ve had since we were fourteen,” Zach said.

“Be serious.”

His tone changed. “We can stay in the room, or go to another resort. I won’t allow our wedding to become a disaster. I’ve waited years for this. I don’t want it ruined, but I’m not waiting any longer.”

“You said you’d wait till we married. I have the paper you signed in my purse.”

“I’m through playing games, Lesley. You use sex like an endowment. I’ve met all your conditions, and it’s time for us to move on to a new way of life.”

“So you think I’m playing games?”

“I’m tired of being the only man in the room who hasn’t had sex. It’s

embarrassing. You always talk about the eyes being a mirror of intentions. But you act as if you think I’m blind and can’t see in your eyes the way you maneuvered me into this. You’re afraid I’ll have sex with someone else while we’re here, and you’ll lose that control.”

“You honestly believe that’s what this is all about?” she said.

“You play games, Lesley. It’s all about exploitation. And I always figured that if you ever lost that control, you’d end our relationship.”

She pulled away from him. “I can’t believe you’d say that and still want to marry me.”

“I love you, flaws and all.” He rose up on one elbow and hesitated before speaking. “If you want to leave, we’ll leave.”

“No. We can’t afford to go anywhere else. We’re here, and I’m fine. This place is beautiful, but I just don’t want us to forget why we’re here.” She got up and began to undress. He did the same

“Let’s go do this,” Zach said.

“Should we use some sun-block before we go out?”

“Let’s do it on the beach. Rubbing your naked ass with lotion while everyone watches is gonna be fine,” Zach said.

They each grabbed a towel. Armed with a bottle of sun-block, Zach walked out into the long afternoon shadows. Lesley followed, closing and locking the door. Through the garden that stretched out before them, they followed the meandering path leading down to the beach. Hand in hand they walked to the shoreline, just like they had walked to the bus stop, just like they had walked to class, just like they had been to a nude beach thousands of times before.

*

They spent the next morning exploring the resort until the time came for their orientation. By this time their nakedness and the nudity of those around them was no longer noticeable. They met the wedding coordinator in the middle of the facility, next to the Hedonism pool where the La Ceiba tree grew wild and provided shade for the nude guests.

Lesley stood with Zach and listened as the wedding coordinator explained the ceremony. She spoke of the significance of the La Ceiba tree to Mayans and Mayan culture—of its connection to the spirit worlds of the past and present and how being married under its boughs provided a Mayan blessing for the rest of their lives.

As Lesley listened, her eyes followed the lines of the tree. Beautiful clusters of white blooms that reminded her of cherry blossoms covered the branches and blew gently in the breeze. Vines of passion fruit covered the trunk and followed the lengths of the lower branches, circling them like a serpent. The vines revealed beautiful large flowers with outer layers of long petals of mauve and white. The interior reflected shades of cerulean, azure and sapphire, with a center ringed like an eye where honey-bees buzzed in and out. Several butterflies floated among the blossoms. A monarch selected and mounted a flower; it extended a long proboscis, violating the pistil to extract nectar before moving on to another floret.

Something caught her attention in the middle of the tree. She focused and still could not understand what she had spied. A pair of eyes blinked at her, as if the tree itself were watching, and for a moment she saw a large gecko, camouflaged so perfectly that if not for the blinking eyes, she would never have distinguished its skin from the bark of the tree. Its tongue flashed and a monarch vanished.

The creature closed its eyes and disappeared to her again.

“Do you have any questions about the ceremony?” asked the coordinator.

“No. I think I understand,” Lesley said.

*

After the sun disappeared behind the jungle trees lining the beach, they made their way back to the room. As they walked past the Hedonism pool, they saw several couples, all entwined and engaged in some sort of sexual activity. Molly’s red hair engulfed Jeff as they writhed in the shallow end of the pool. She used a riding crop to leave large red welts across his ass. On the ledge above them, Sadie rode Evan like a horse, her beauty mark bouncing freely. Sadie screamed “Faster, faster,” as her gyrations became more violent. The sounds emanating from the pool reminded Lesley of the grunts and squeals she’d heard before, when the boars serviced the sows in the agri barn and she had fled to the jeers of her classmates.

Lesley ducked her head and watched her feet as she quickened her pace. She was sure Zach’s eyes were transfixed, but Lesley didn’t dare look up. They entered their room, and Zach went to the shower while she sat in one of the recliners next to the open window. After a few minutes, she stepped into the bathroom to join him, only to spy him masturbating in the shower. Enraged, she returned to the recliner without disturbing him.

Zach entered the bedroom, drying his body with a fresh towel. “You’d better shower and dress or we’ll miss the evening meal,” he said.

She rose and walked into the restroom and closed the door behind her. Mere seconds had passed before the water felt comfortable on her skin, so she stepped into the shower and allowed the water to remove the sand from the crevices of her body.

Tomorrow they would be married. Naked. As she had dreamed. But the reality seemed far from her dreams. She had no desire to share her husband with Molly, or Sadie, or any of the other beautiful women who attended the ceremony and joined them in the water, and what she saw at the pool was not what she wanted for her wedding. She thought of Evan and Jeff violating her body after the ceremony. Zach wouldn’t care, as Sadie would purloin his virginity if she could. Lesley knew there was no way to control what happened after their vows.

They had spent nearly all their meager savings, including their student loans, preparing for this. They couldn’t just leave. But she feared Zach’s ardor was no longer about her. His vigor revealed itself every time they walked to the beach or spoke of the ceremony. He tried to cover himself, to hide his reaction, and claimed his erections were caused by the sight of her nudity. But now she wondered if he saw himself making love to her, or envisioned a pool of naked women, waiting their opportunity to be serviced by the virgin groom.

Lesley had attended weddings and heard how everyone commented on the beauty of the bride. She had somehow believed that being nude during her wedding would amplify those comments—that somehow she would be seen as the Eve of the garden, that everyone there would yearn for her. But the reality was far different from her vision.

After she toweled herself dry, she pulled on her robe and cinched the belt around her waist. She entered the bedroom and saw Zach stretched out on the bed. He hadn’t bothered to dress yet. As she entered the room, he turned to her and smiled. She stood at the foot of the bed.

“What are you gonna wear tonight?’ he asked.

“I remember the first night we were together; you said if we made love, we would be married in the eyes of God.”

“I remember,” he said.

“You promised you’d wait if I’d do all those disgusting things. But we never did. Why did you never ask? I promised I would. Or that I’d at least try.”

“I don’t know. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to. I guess I didn’t think you wanted to.”

“Were you screwing someone else?”

“How can you ask that? I was with you nearly every second I could spare.”

“I believe that,” she said. She sat down in the recliner. “We came here to be married. I thought this would be like the Garden of Eden, but it’s more like Hell itself.”

“Lesley, if—”

“Let me finish,” Lesley said. “We could leave tomorrow morning. I’ve already checked on the flights, and we can exchange our return tickets.”

Zach sat up in bed and rearranged the pillows behind him. After making himself comfortable, he looked at Lesley. “I don’t want to leave early.”

“I won’t share you with anyone else. You didn’t really want to share me with anyone? Did you?”

“No. But I was willing to do anything to do this. Have you as my wife, I mean.”

In his eyes, she saw what he meant.

“We can fly back to Arkansas tomorrow and be legally wed as soon as we can arrange it. But we can be married tonight, like you said before, in this room. If you want.”

“Let’s go eat, first, before we make any decisions about leaving or having sex. We can eat in the village. I wanted to do some exploring before we left, and they’ll all be wearing clothes at the village. But make sure this is what you want, Lesley.”

“I’d like that,” Lesley said.

Zach called the front desk and asked for a taxi. Ten minutes later they were riding down the coast to Puerto Moreles.

*

The driver spoke a smidgin of English. He recommended a restaurant near the place where the ferry from Cozumel tethered. He dropped them off at the pier, and told them the cantina was a few blocks further down.

A dirt street led south between two rows of stucco shacks. The streets were lined with Mexicans and Americans, and the sound of bartering in an open air market surrounded them. Hearing the music of properly spoken English caused Lesley to yearn for home.

From what appeared to be a barn ahead on their left, they heard a crescendo of cock-crows. People milled about, coming and going from the open doors. As they approached, they heard lively banter from within and couldn’t resist the temptation to see what created such an attraction. The crows of roosters now provided a never ending rhythm of challenge and response.

Within the barn they saw a steep row of wooden bleachers that lined one side of the frame building. Mexican natives and American tourists filled the bleachers—the tourists easily identified by their colorful clothing and English verse. In front of the bleachers were three earthen pits enclosed with wire. At the back of all three pits was an entrance, a make-shift door of planks nailed together that swung on old, rusted hinges. Random dark spots that appeared to be pools of blood formed a patchwork in the dirt of the pits.

“It’s gotta be a cockfight. Let’s stay a bit,” Zach said. He took Lesley’s hand, and they sat down close to the pits on the second row, behind several Americans smoking joints and betting vigorously on the upcoming matches.

As they watched, two Mexican men holding fighting cocks came forward with a third man who wore a red shirt. From outside the pit, the man in the red shirt took a cock from one of the Mexicans. He inspected a band and noted the numbers on a card he carried in his pocket. He then placed the bird on an old set of scales on a table that lined the far wall of the barn, holding him there as the bird crowed at the other cock. The bird on the scale was a beautiful creature, with long, flowing blue and red tail feathers, and iridescent red plumage mixed with neon blue feathers that covered the rest of his body. The man in the red shirt nodded his head and gave the bird back to its handler, then marked more notes on his card. He repeated the procedure with the other bird—another magnificent creature with cream-like feathers interspersed with violet and indigo colors that seemed to flash like strobes in the dim light of the barn. After handing the bird back to its owner, he then took out a measuring stick and inspected the heels of the birds.

For the first time, Lesley spotted the long, steel spikes strapped to the legs of the cocks. She poked Zach in the ribs. “What are those steel spikes for?”

An American sitting on the bleacher in front of them turned. “If they didn’t strap the steel to their legs, the fights might last all night. Besides, there’s no better way to test their gameness.”

“That’s horrible,” Leslie said.

“Sometimes they use long knives instead of the spurs. The knives are used for

longer derbies with more birds. They speed up the fights because the cocks will usually do just one shuffle before one or both are dead. But they have to enclose the pits, because the birds can get out and kill a spectator.”

“They’ll attack people?” Zach asked.

“Once the handlers get them pissed off, they’ll jump anything that moves. And trust me friend, those handlers know how to manipulate their cocks.”

All three men, with both birds, entered the pit.

Their American commentator, still sitting in front of them, said, “The man in the red shirt is the referee.”

The referee stood to one side as the two handlers walked to opposite corners of the enclosure. The referee shouted a command, and the handlers, while still holding their birds, closed the distance between them, allowing the birds to peck at each other. The neck feathers of both cocks flushed out, making them appear larger, and they pecked savagely at each other. The flared feathers and brilliant colors reminded Lesley of the passion fruit flowers. At another shouted command, the handlers returned to their corners. The referee then shouted, “Pit.”

Both birds were placed on white lines eight feet across and released. They immediately charged and leapt into the air, their heels with the long daggers of steel attached were extended forward, seeking a deadly blow to end their fight. As the birds collided, the crème colored cock uttered an odd squawk and fell dead to the ground. Having scored a head hit that resulted in an immediate kill, the live bird mounted his dead foe as if it were a hen, and after servicing it, crowed in defiance to the remaining live birds. Several cocks returned his challenge.

Leslie and Zach sat and watched as the handler of the winner caught his bird and inspected him for wounds. The handler of the vanquished bird picked it up and carried it outside the ring where he dumped it unceremoniously into a large bucket, overflowing with other dead birds.

“How do they train them to fight to the death like that?” Leslie asked their narrator.

“You can’t train them. It has to be bred into them.” The man offered them a toke off his joint. Zach accepted, inhaling for several long moments, and then holding his breath as he offered the joint to his fiancé. Lesley passed. “They have a blood-lust, inbred through generations of selective breeding that overpowers their fear, their pain,” said the American as he accepted his joint back from Zach. “They simply want to fight. Nothing else matters, and the only way to test them is to toss them into the pit with their handlers and see how they react to their first taste of steel.”

“What if they don’t fight?” Lesley said.

“They’re culled. Breeders profit from the reputations of their birds. A runner can’t be allowed to breed, so it’s killed during the match.”

The next birds were already weighed and in the pit. Their handlers teased them, putting them beak-to-beak, allowing the birds to peck at each other, enraging them.

At the shouted command from the new referee, the birds were released.

As the birds collided, the black one fell back. The red bird gave chase; the black bird ran. The handler of the red bird shouted, “Count.”

As the referee called “Handle,” both men caught their birds. Leslie watched as the handler of the black cock that ran caught his bird and jerked its head from its neck, tossing the head outside the ring where it landed in the dust. Leslie spotted three other heads there, and as she watched the severed head of the black bird, the mouth opened as if to crow, but no lungs were left to provide the air. Tendrils of sinew trailed from the head, leaking blood into the dust of the ground outside the fenced pit. The black, lifeless eyes stared at her.

The body of the headless cock flopped around the pit, squirting blood on the spectators. Lesley rose and ran, with Zach chasing after her. She heard the laughter of the men behind her, the laughter of their narrator as she fled from the barn. Zach caught up with her, and pulled her into his arms.

“I’m sorry. I should never have taken you there.” Lesley sobbed on his shoulder. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“Yes. I’m fine.”

They strolled along and stumbled upon the cantina another block down the dusty street. As they entered the vestibule, Lesley saw her reflection in the mirror. Blood flecked her face and clothes. She reached for her handkerchief to wipe away the spots, the bloody reminders of all she had witnessed. But she pulled her hand from her purse, leaving the handkerchief in its place. She tugged on Zach’s sleeve.

“It’s time to go back,” she said. “We can order room service.”

As Zach searched for their driver, Lesley stood across from the pier and looked back down the street at the barn. She couldn’t believe humans could be so cruel. Disgusted, she turned her back to the spectacle as she walked to the taxi that would return them to their hotel. Zach opened the door for her. She moved to get in, and with a look back over her shoulder, she saw one of the handlers bring out a bucket of dead cocks, pitching them in a barrel along the side of the barn.

CD MITCHELL’s debut story collection God’s Naked Will is due for release September 15, 2013, from Burnt Bridge Press. Chicago Photographer Jennifer Moore has prepared a photographic essay for this story that can be seen on her website; “Original Sin” is also the title story of a prose/photographic collaboration with Jennifer Moore currently submitted for publication in Europe. CD Mitchell has seen the courtroom as a prosecuting attorney, a defense attorney, a special judge, and as a defendant. A professional boxing career ended with a record of 45-5 with 38 knockouts.You can find him online at www.cdmitchell.net