Well, I can only say the past year and some has been a ride. Much of it not so pleasant. I've been working hard to ride on through that storm and can say I'm starting to see the "weather" lighten up a bit.
Plans I'd made blew up like a circus tent in a tornado. It's taking me some time to clean up that mess but I believe I'm beginning to see some progress. Biggest problem, as is usually the case, is figuring out which way to go.
Another problem's been that a pair of stories I've been working on seemed to get tangled up just as my own world did. The work is paying off and those tales are getting sorted out. I'm hoping to be able to publish the next in the Taylor series in the late summer or early fall and the next story in the Jensen series sometime later in the fall. As always with such plans I hope for the best, work hard and wait to be able to look back and see what happened.
While I'm doing that I thought some might find interest in the first bit of that next Taylor story...
This is the current working title... Let's see if it endures to be the title of the published work!
Many Thanks for your Patience
~ Chapter I ~
Four large, black silhouettes floated on the invisible wind. They circled descending slowly from a nearly cloudless sky. Far below them the carcass of a man lay twisted and crumpled among the large stones of a boulder field that had been tumbled down out of the mountains by some ancient flood.
The birds were big, ugly creatures with black feathers and grotesque, bald red heads. Having not found a decent meal in days their hungry eyes stayed fixed on the unmoving form laying among the rocks below as they slowly lost altitude.
A dust devil spun up in the mid morning heat whipped the grass and raised a thin plume of dust. The wind rustled the hair that lay across the man's bloody forehead as it crossed over him.
The shadows of the large birds passed over him several times as they lowered in the sky. Those shadows flickering the intense sunlight beating down on the man roused him and his eyes fluttered open.
He lay there for a while just staring up at a couple white puffballs of clouds that chased each other across the blue sky above him. Eventually a curious thought pushed into his glazed and blank mind. He didn't know where he was. Or, why he would have chosen to wind his bed in amongst all those rocks.
It was then he noticed his face felt strange, wooden. He wondered who the Indian was pounding on that drum and why he was doin' that in the middle of the day. It took a few more seconds to realize that the pounding wasn't someone thumping on a drum. The booming began and ended right between his own ears. At almost the same moment he became aware of an equal though silent throb of pain deep in his side.
Ever so slowly he lifted a hand to his face. The other was pinned under him by his body. Gingerly he probed around with his fingers and found the crusted and tender wound above his ear. Though he could feel where the blood that had run down his face and neck had dried, the flow seemed to have stopped. At the least it had slowed to a trickle his fingers could not detect.
"Now how'd that happen?" he wondered.
In an effort to see what might be causing that great and discomfiting throbbing in his side he lifted his head to try and look down. A sudden explosion of white stars that doubled the throbbing in his skull caused him to sag back to the ground wheezing for breath and reeling as if the mountain itself was falling over.
After some few minutes he made a second attempt to lift his head only to fail once more. Though this time not quite as violently.
When the blindness of the exploding stars receded he did manage to slowly roll onto his back and move his limbs to take stock of them. He already knew his left arm worked so he first slowly moved his right. Holding the hand in front of his face he slowly moved each finger and turned the hand over and back.
"Two good arms. That's a start" he thought in a fog. He slowly moved his left leg twisting the foot back and forth, and then the right.
"All seem to work and be whole" he said quietly but out loud to himself. He'd spoken with some difficulty. The words had come out tangled and garbled. His tongue was swollen with thirst and wanted to stick to the roof of his mouth. "Just the hide split on the my head__and whatever's wrong with my side." This thought he only thought. Speaking to himself, as was his habit, had proven more difficult than its worth.
Again, the simple lifting of his arms and legs had taken such effort that it took his breath. Several minutes passed to regain that air and for his heart to return to something of a more normal pace.
Ever so slowly and moving by tiny increments he worked himself back over onto his right side, away from the pain that throbbed in his left. Again he had to wait until another wave of nausea and exploding stars brought on by his movement had receded.
This time he slowly got his arm under himself and as slowly as he could manage pushed himself upright. It took the most intense effort he could imagine. With gritted teeth and his eyes screwed shut against the pain he pushed himself to a sitting position. He struggled mightily to not fall back. The last of his strength was spent twisting just enough to let himself sag back against the large boulder beside which he had been laying.
It was more like a controlled collapse than sagging. His mind focused on slow and easy. He was pretty sure anything sudden and his head would simply burst like an over ripe boil.
The ground spun crazily under him. He could feel it tilting even if his closed eyes prevented him from seeing it. His fingers clutched at the rocks to hang on and not be thrown off the heaving ground. He struggled mightily to keep down whatever it was he'd had for breakfast as it fought to climb back into his throat. The consequence on his head of retching was too fearful an idea to allow.
"Breakfast? Had I eaten breakfast? When? Today? Yesterday? How long have I laid here?" Confused questions tumbled through his thoughts as he waited out the worst yet of the waves of pain and nausea. He forced all of his concentration into just breathing.
"Slow, deep and steady" he silently repeated over and over. The effort to calm the churning in his guts and the pounding in his head required everything he had. Yet that breathing was hobbled by the searing pain in his side.
After a time he opened his eyes again. It took considerable effort and several seconds to get those eyes to focus and see a single image. He found himself looking at his horse. That struck him as odd. He didn't know why, just the random thought that the horse shouldn't be there. It was grazing, saddled and bridled, in a patch of grass that had sprouted in one of the small open spaces amongst the stones in the field of boulders.
"Would have been better if he had left" he thought. "At least if he went home somebody'd come looking and I could just sit here and wait."
That thought triggered another; "Home? Where is home? How far? Just where exactly is here?" His head slowly began to swivel as he sorted through the confusion fogging his brain.
The vision of a man rising from behind the great, half buried boulder floated out of the fog just then. He saw the man's rifle lift toward him as he reached for his own pistol__with the clear knowledge that he couldn't draw it in time. He remembered the plume of smoke from the muzzle and and the wicked, sledgehammer impact of the bullet as it spun him in the saddle and tumbled him off the back of his horse. Then the fog closed back in around his memory.
"Gunshot! Again!" he thought. "Now I know how." He only remembered one shot but he counted two wounds. "My head and my side. "He shot me twice? From close up__and I'm still alive?"
He looked down at his side and pulled the bloody shirt tail loose to expose the wound.
"Hmmph! He missed!" the man laughed sardonically__triggering another spasm of stars and pain.
"Nothing much funny here" he thought with a grimace; "I really need to stop doin' that."
The bullet had struck a rib solidly but so far to the side that it glanced off. It only delivered a heavy blow. Though it had surely broke the rib it hadn't penetrated. For that he was grateful.
"But then..." he wondered.
Without moving his head he scanned the rocks beside him and almost imperceptibly nodded. There was a small patch of blood where his head had struck the rock when he fell. He'd only been shot once. Ironically he thought; "The most dangerous wound is that knock on my brain pan. Not the bullet from that dry gulcher."
Clumsily the man felt of his ears in an effort to calculate how serious the wound was. He held his finger tips up in front of his eyes looking for blood. He couldn't be certain sure but he believed he'd not bled from his ears; though from the hammering between his ears he felt like his skull must have an axe buried in it.
His vision shifted back to the horse and settled on the canteen hanging from the horn. Sweet precious water. What he'd give for just a swallow. With his eyes fixed on the canteen he began to scoot. He scooted sliding across the ground on his butt because it had taken so much effort to sit up he didn't want to surrender that by laying down and crawling. It was far more distance to the horse than he could hope to manage at once. Every few minutes he'd scuttle his way a few inches closer. He pleaded silently for the horse to not wander farther away or spook from his scuttling and grunting. It took more than an hour of scooting on his backside from rock to rock to get close to the animal. Good fortune co-operated when the gelding grazed a few steps closer.
The greatest obstacle in the whole ordeal would be to rise from the ground when he got close enough and capture it. The motivation for him to endure the pain of his ordeal remained clearly visible hanging from the saddle; that canteen. His parched tongue and throat pleaded for water.
The man leaned against the final boulder just feet from the horse. It had ceased grazing now and stood hipshot watching him. It seemed unconcerned.
Confusion from the whack on the head still dogged his mind. It took him a good bit of time watching the horse to remember its name. "Jiggs!" he finally blurted out loud. The sound of its name caused the horse to set his foot down and raise his head just a touch. "That's right you jigging bastard. You know me... and might could be my brain pan is busted..." he closed his eyes momentarily as another wave of sickness passed through him__ "but... you know me too" he continued softly.
The man extended his hand slowly and spoke softly, almost a whisper; "Jiggs. Step over here buddy. I'm in a bad way. This is one time I really need you to earn your feed."
He held his hand out for long moments speaking softly. Finally, with agonizing slowness the tall grey gelding took a couple steps and stretched his nose to sniff at the extended hand.
The wounded man suppressed the urge to grab for the broken remains of his get-down rope still hanging from the grey's head. Somehow the reins remained looped around the saddle horn. Slowly, ever so slowly, so as not to startle the animal he reached for the hanging bit of rope. When he'd grasped it and pulled the horse another step closer he slumped back against the rock and sat with sweat streaming down a heaving chest.
"I've got a horse and I've got water now. I just might live" he thought to himself.
He sat catching his breath and holding onto the horse that meant the difference between life and death. He let his mind drift back to pondering how he'd got here. Who shot him and why?
The memory of the man's face came out of the fog clear and sharp, but no name appeared to identify it by. Other than that his own name was the only fresh revelation; "Jebediah Taylor." He mumbled it out loud to himself when it popped up amongst his random thoughts. Beyond that his mind was mostly a confused buzzing mix of smoke and unrecognizable flashes of thoughts and visions.
"Musta been a hard rock" he laughed. Anyone hearing his mumbling would have had great trouble understanding his speech. They'd likely think it all the mumblings of delirium.
Right about then was when the vision of her face floated through the kaleidoscoping visions in the fog of his fevered brain. "Myra" he mumbled absent mindedly. That caused him to sit up a little straighter and repeat her name with greater animation; "Myra!"
"I could be in considerable trouble here" he worried. "She's not gonna be a pleasant girl to be around when she finds out I got myself shot again!"
That idea was still stumbling through his thoughts when another rode up alongside; "Myra has two sons. Hell, I have two sons. Huh! Where are they? Why'd they leave me here..."
He sat up as erect as he could manage and squinted through the blazing sun with panic joining the hammering between his ears. He began to scan all around moving his head faster than he should have. The effort made him dizzy and nauseous all over again. Twisting around so he could see behind where he sat was almost more than he could manage. But force it he did. He'd a strong need to know. He searched left and right and back again but there was no sign of another horse. No sign of another man down.
Calming down a little he again spoke to himself in his garbled croaking; "Ok__I can't see any sign that they... I'm here alone." He nodded slightly. "That's a good thing." With that he turned his gaze back to the horse standing above him.
Slowly he planned out each move. Each step that he'd have to take to get to his feet. He couldn't afford to fall and spook the horse.
If he fell, he'd die right there in those rocks.
If he was going to live he had to swing a leg over that saddle. It was in his head that he had but one shot and one alone.
"You've always been a unsociable goosey sort. Especially with anybody new. I'd bet my liver that's why you're still here" he whispered softly to the horse. "Somebody tried to gather you up. I'll bet they dallied that rawhide get-down and it split when you pulled away. Lucky for me you're not much past green broke" he grinned weakly.
"I'm needful of you bein' gentler than you've ever been before."
He wrapped the short length around his hand and setting his heels he softly pleaded with the animal; "Whoa Jiggs. Whoaaaa." He braced against the rope as he pulled to gain his feet. The horse mostly did as asked though his failure to completely obey was a benefit. He nervously backed a step as the man lurched off the ground and truely helped pull him to his feet. At that point the wounded rider half slumped half fell against the horse's shoulder. One hand grabbed a fist full of mane while the other reached for the horn. He seized that apple in a death grip as he buried his face wincing from the dizzying pain pounding in his skull.
With his chest heaving, his eyes clamped shut and his head tucked against the horse he stood sagged against his mount willing himself to not fall.
"That was fun" he said to the horse in a choked voice when he'd recovered enough to speak. If you considered the croaking sounds coming out of his throat to be speech. He reached for the canteen hanging on the saddle. His fingers and lips tingled as he fumbled with the cap. A sweeter taste he'd never known than that warm cloudy water sliding down his throat. A third of the canteen was emptied, some of it spilling down his neck, before he stopped swallowing and replaced the cap.
The next great ordeal he must overcome was to somehow lift his broken body up on top of the horse.
"Just standing up near killed me. This'll likely finish it."
With a hand gripping the saddle and but a single step at a time he coaxed the grey to move over close beside, almost straddling, one of the good sized boulders. Leaning against the horse and still clutching onto the saddle he managed to carefully shuffle himself up onto the rock.
From there he had no choice but to lift his foot into the stirrup, grit his teeth and with an agonized groan focus every shred of everything he had to hoist himself up into his saddle.
Knowing there'd be no second chances he held back nothing. The effort left him leaned over the horse's neck. For a few seconds his mouth hung open like a beached trout. He gasped but no air moved. Sounds he wasn't sure he'd ever heard before finally began to escape his throat. It was a mixture of gasping, wheezing and something else he wasn't sure what to call. It sounded to him like part groan and part squeak that had ambitions of being a scream.
Truth was he had great difficulty even hearing that over the hammering in his head that would have drowned out a thunder storm.
Jiggs, in defiance of his name, only shifted a few steps. His butt swung in a half circle but otherwise he remained surprisingly steady. His head cocked over to one side so he could look back at Jeb. The young gelding wondered if this was some new lesson from the man and what it was he was supposed to do.
Once again Jeb sat without moving. It took many minutes laying on that horses neck for the cacophony and nausea to recede. When it had he slow-as-sunrise pushed himself upright.
"Wrong again__Maybe today__ is not the day__ I turn up my toes" he mumbled haltingly.
His squinted eyes looked off into the distance. He stared off at the horizon for long moments before his head dropped. It was hard to tell if the rise and fall of his chin was from his breathing or a nod.
With his chin tucked against his chest he spoke softly; "Take me after 'em Jiggs. They tried and they failed".
Deep in his dark bloodshot eyes a fresh fire smoldered. It was the fire of the feud. A vengeance that smolders with a cold and merciless rage."They should have made sure. I ain't dead yet. Their mistake. Let's go find 'em and collect what's owed."
That's it for now folks... I gotta get back to the story and keep following where it leads me.
- BK Gore