I got really carried away with this one, and will be working more with the characters and the story. But I pruned it to about 2200 words total, to keep it to two posts. The longer version will show up somewhere, sometime...probably in that anthology I keep saying I'll assemble!
Jake thought maybe he should lay off the whiskey. He had to be hallucinating. Nothing about the kids looked right, not for white kids, not for Indians. Especially not the one with the tail. Jake refused to think about that.
Hallucination or not, they couldn’t stay where they were. Jake knew he’d been followed into the desert, and the men behind him would kill a kid without a moment’s thought. Jake slid down off the horse, and stood still until the children stopped cringing.
“Well, I guess you can’t understand me, and I can’t understand you, but come on, let’s get you somewhere safe.” Jake held out his water flask to the girl who seemed to be in charge, mentally figuring how long it would last and how far it was to the spring at Cima. They’d make it, though they might be thirsty.
Then he looked back. The outlaws’ dust was closer. “We’d better skedaddle.” They didn’t understand his words, but the tallest girl looked where he looked, and seemed to understand the situation.
I couldn’t understand his speech, but the stranger’s meaning was clear enough. Someone was coming after him, and not in a nice way. We knew about that sort of thing, and since he seemed willing to help us find our way out of this bizarre desert, we got up and went along. He noticed right off that Lessa was hurt, and wanted her to sit up on the giant animal.
Lessa was scared of the beast, but she was weak. The wound wasn’t bad, but she’d lost some blood, and she couldn’t keep up. She let him lift her to its back.
Wherever the Sphinx had landed us this time, at least they drank water. There was that one time…
The kids were quick, Jake saw, and they were tough. Even the one with the bloody bandage was game. He could see old Buck scared her silly—and what kind of kids had never seen a horse, anyway?—but when the boss girl told her to, she rode him.
Trouble was, they might make it to the wells at Cima, but what then? If he’d been alone, he’d have run for it. But with five of them and only one horse, they couldn’t even think about it.
Jake looked back again at the line of youngsters trotting along behind the horse. They looked tough, and one of them had a bow and quiver. That puzzled him, too. Not that bows were unusual in the area, but the bow wasn’t like any he’d ever seen. These kids were different. Jake shrugged. They were his responsibility now, whatever they were.
We trotted along for an hour or so, following the man and the big creature. Lessa was pale and squirming with discomfort when the man suddenly ducked aside into a clump of trees, and there was a little pool of water in the middle of them. He made a bunch more of his strange noises and lifted Lessa down from the beast.
He set to piling rocks and things to make some defenses, and we set to helping him. I had a thought.
“Joc, you climb up that tree thing and keep a lookout.”
A while later Joc slid down from the tree and said, “Someone’s coming.”
I tugged the man’s arm, and Joc pointed. The man couldn’t understand us, but he got the message. Now we could all see the dust cloud, and mounted men in it. I drew my sword, and Joc strung his bow. I wished we all had them. The man didn’t seem to be armed, though he had a long metal and wood stick that he laid carefully over the rocks. He handled it like a weapon, but it just looked like a club, which wouldn’t do much good, especially if whoever was after us had bows.
Jake glanced at the children. They looked calm. Did they understand what was about to happen? The one with the bow had strung it, and while it didn’t look like any bow Jake had seen before, it looked serviceable. The swords would be no use against guns.
Jake smiled grimly. He’d expected to die violently. He just never would have guessed he’d be defending the strangest bunch of kids he’d ever seen, against the meanest outlaws he’d ever met.
The attackers came on fast. I could hear the pounding of the great riding-beasts’ hooves, and then some kind of explosion. I guessed we hadn’t hidden too well, or they knew the spring, because they came right at us. Something hit a rock and showered us with stone chips.
We huddled lower. There were weapons here that we didn’t understand, and I felt really afraid for the first time. This was starting to look too much like the battle we’d escaped when the Sphinx brought us here: a lost cause.
I heard the man grunt, a kind of muffled sound as though it had been forced out of him. Something had torn a hole right through his shoulder, and blood soaked his shirt. He was still upright and his long stick was making explosions, but he was pale as water and I knew that shock and blood loss could kill him fast. Behind me I could hear the Sphinx whimpering.
I crawled over to the man and cut a strip from my shirt. When I touched the wound, the man flinched, but he went on firing his strange weapon.
I heard the Sphinx cry out again, and I knew what was coming. Well, just like last time, I thought. The Sphinx’s random transfers were better than staying where we were.
Jake knew he was hit hard. This was it, then. When he’d lost enough blood, he’d pass out, and Barlow would charge in.
When the girl began to bandage his wound, Jake was startled, but kept firing. That was the important thing. He doubted he’d make it, but he’d do his best for the kids. The older boy, the one with the bow, shot too. Jake saw an arrow go through one of the outlaws, who tumbled from the saddle and lay still. Jake whistled softly. That was some bow, and some shooting.
There were too many of them. There wasn’t time to reload the rifle, even if he could have with one arm useless. Jake dropped the long weapon and pulled out his six-gun. His vision was blurring. He would pass out, and then they’d all die. “Sorry, kids,” he whispered, and the world spun to black.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015
|The sort of country the children walk through.|
Looking at this...I think the next photo essay will have to be about the Eastern Mojave and the Cima Dome, where this story takes place!