What was I supposed to do? I wanted to take Daniel and run away from what I saw. I wasn’t a cop. I wasn’t a soldier. I wasn’t a grown up of any flavor. I was just fifteen … a kid … a girl on top of that … I wasn’t strong enough. What did I know about how to stop the bad guys? I looked heavenward and told God how much I didn’t particularly appreciate it that he’d show me something I was so powerless to stop. I was really cranking up to get angry when my head got all quiet and a strange thought entered it like a whisper. “Who said you are powerless? It is written ‘all things’ and that means ALL things … assuming you are willing to try.” Yeah … that’s what the Book says – ALL things. So, did I believe It or not?
Then I remembered what I had done at the camp where Daniel, Jeff, and I had been taken. I remembered that I had not just sat down and given up, told myself that I was too young to do anything or waited from someone to rescue me, and I had been even younger then and certainly less experienced looking after myself. I looked around and opened myself up to the possibilities.
There were four men torturing Abel but as I looked more closely I saw two unarmed men standing far back looking more than a little green around the gills. I wasn’t sure if it was because of what was happening to Abel or from the smoke that kept blowing their direction. They had on street clothes rather than the Blue Hat uniforms but they were wearing some kind of vest looking thing that reminded me of what the old school crossing guards had worn, only UN blue in color. They were standing by what looked like the packs of the other four.
I made my way down closer to those packs, trying to avoid all of the loose rock on the steep side of the ridge; I didn’t want any rattle drawing attention to me. I needn’t have bothered as they were both so appalled and fascinated by what they were watching that nothing else seemed to penetrate their senses. That’s when I realized I had seen the two unarmed men before. One of them had been a coach at the highschool and the other guy had been a manager at the grocery store where Momma had taken most of her business. I left off thinking about that for the time being as I couldn’t let it get in the way.
I had to do something to stop the men from hurting Abel any more than they already had. If I started shooting more than likely they’d start shooting back. I wanted to save Abel but I needed to stay alive to do it. And in all of the ruckus a bullet could hit Abel and any risk I took would be for nothing.
The smoke from the fire as well as the smell from the green wood they were using to make the fire hot kept blowing back at me; it was irritating my eyes and throat. The idiots had thrown some sumac branches on their fire and it smelled nasty. The torturers didn’t notice because of the wind direction and because they were having too much fun but the two townies were sure noticing. They must have been scared spitless though of those Blue Hats because they never moved or complained which I found odd. While I was complaining to myself about the commonsense some people seemed to be missing I spotted a butane canister – the kind used for small camp stoves – that had rolled out of one of the packs.
After that things must have happened very fast though it seemed like I was moving through molasses at the time. I reached through the underbrush and snatched up the butane canister holding it like a brick of gold. See, Dad had taught me more than just how to shoot and how to hunt; first he had taught me how to be safe around the farm and in his workshop where he kept his tools, especially the different tanks he used for welding and other sorts of farm work. That butane canister was my ticket to cause trouble by doing the exactly wrong thing with it.
At the base of the shale rock that layered the side of the ridge I built a quick small fire and put the butane canister in it. You ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen someone trying to hunt a nonexistence hole to avoid the consequences of something they’ve just done. I’m sure I looked cartoon stupid but I didn’t care, I knew what was coming as Daddy had shown me once just for kicks when he had to blow a big stump out of a field he was clearing.
The four men had stepped back to admire their handiwork when one of their packs made a squawking noise that startled me. Dang blasted but they had a radio which meant there were more of them somewhere around. The four men came over to the packs and picked up the radio before quickly retreating as they finally noticed the smoke. The guy with the ratio jabbered into it for a few words and then got a real bent out of shape look on his face. He turned to the two townies and told them in English, “Cut Montoya down. He is to be returned and put on public trial.”
The townies hustled over to Abel, avoiding the body of the old woman. They cut the rope loose and Abel just fell over and lay limp though I could just make out the sound of retching that he made from the pain and shock he must have been in. I didn’t have time to be confused that they’d called him by a different name; that would come later.
It took longer than I thought it would but the bang of the exploding canister was just awful when it did happen. And so was the damage. Dad had told me that an exploding butane canister reminded him of an exploding claymore. When I asked him how he knew that he got a self-conscious grin on his face and said for me to never mind about how, just that it was. That usually meant that it had something to do with some naughtiness he’d gotten up to as a teenager. I’d overheard stories from some of Dad’s old friends that came around once in a while and Dad sounded like the kind of boy he would never have let come near me which was kind of ironic if you think about it.
A lot of the power of the explosion went into the hillside but rather than be a good thing for bystanders it was the exact opposite. Loose shale rock went pelting in every direction like shrapnel from a bomb explosion. The four Blue Hats never stood a chance. They were cut down where they stood and a bloody mess they were too. I didn’t dwell on it though as I was too busy trying to survive the rain of rocks and dirt that came down on me. I was lying in a little ditch several yards away but I wasn’t able to avoid all of the power of the explosion. My ears were ringing and I had some cuts on me, a particularly bad one on the back of my left wrist where a sharp rock had come down and cut me where I was trying to protect my head. I remembered to keep my mouth open but I was still rattled.
The two townies were down and pretty beat up but not out. I was trying to figure out what to do next when there was another rumble. I jumped back into the trees just in time. Some large boulders from further up started sliding down the incline and the men panicked and started running away, thankful not in the direction where I’d left Daniel.
There wasn’t any time left. I ran out of the trees and over to Abel to find that he was still breathing but not real together mentally. Something cracked behind me and I saw a big chunk of rock outcropping give way. I thought we were bug guts for sure but it slid down and blocked the trail behind the townies. It would slow them down if or when they came back but I wasn’t counting on it slowing them down too much.
“Abel … Abel … listen, this is going to hurt like the dickens but I’ve got to get you out of here. If you can help me keep you on your feet I’d appreciate it.”
No response but he did seem to be trying to pick his feet up and move them about half the time; the rest I simply dragged him. Abel, though he was skinny as all get out, was no lightweight. His bones must have had a core of lead in them.
“Dacey! There was a big boom and …,” Daniel started losing his speech. It got a little worse when he saw Abel’s condition.
“Easy Daniel, don’t lose it on me, you are going to have to help. I need you to watch him for a sec. I’ve got to go back for Dad’s gun. Give him a little bit of water if he comes to.”
I don’t know if I was being too hard on my little brother or not, but the truth was it wasn’t just Dad’s gun that I was going back for. I ran down the trail, picked up the rifle and then went straight to the automatic rifles that the men had dropped during the explosion.
I had to keep myself from looking at the gross mess I’d made. Between the rock shards and their proximity to the explosion … well they were just a grade A mess and there is no need to go over it all again. I would have simply dragged all four packs away with me but they were too heavy. They had to weigh at least forty to fifty pounds each. I ran what I gathered in dashes back to where I’d left Daniel watching over Abel. On my second dash back I found Abel conscious, on his stomach, and pawing at one of the rifles.
“Are you crazy? Look, you aren’t in any shape to try and load one of these puppies. Your hands are all icky and sticky and you are shaking like a leaf. I’ve only got one more run and then we’ve got to figure out a way to get out of here. Save your energy for that, you’re going to need it.” I’m not for sure he listened to me but he did stop fidgeting so much and I was able to finish what I had been doing.
I ran back down for the third and last time, threw the remainder of what I’d decided to take in a now empty pack that I’d upended onto the ground and then stood looking around trying to decide how to cover up my crime. If someone came back they would see four dead men whose bodies had been … well, not desecrated exactly but I had forced myself to go through their pockets and swipe some of the stuff they carried. They’d be able to tell that the packs had been dumped on the ground and gone through and that two of the packs were actually missing. They’d also see that four automatic weapons were missing as well as any kind of ammo. I had no idea what story the townies would tell but even if they didn’t suspect someone set off the explosion then they’d sure suspect it after they came up here after their dead.
Just then I felt a vibration through my feet and the tree that Abel had been tied to started leaning over and out into nothing. I realized then that the whole clearing was actually nothing more than a large ledge. Oh rubber baby buggy bumpers. I back pedaled and then turned and ran as the ground started to give way. It felt like the falling ground was following me down the trail. I stopped when I got back to where I had left everyone and turned to look. A good chunk of the mountain side had slipped and taken everything with it. Both Daniel and Abel gave me a wide eyed stare.
I tried to shrug nonchalantly. “Ok, so maybe I made an even bigger mess than I expected to.”
Abel made a really odd snort, like a piece of a laugh that got pushed out of his nose accidentally, and then sighed as his head kind of lolled to the side; he was out of it again.
We were safe, at least for a while, but that didn’t change the fact that I still needed to find a way to get all three of us … make that four as Dog had come to though she was still obviously weak … back to the sink in one piece. We were already going to be pressed for time and I worried that we would have to stay a night out in the woods.
There was no way that Abel was going to be able to walk back home. A picture of an old cowboy movie jumped into my head. These dudes had a friend that had gotten shot but they couldn’t stop traveling through the badlands or they’d run out of food and water. They built a travois kind of contraption, something like an old hospital stretcher, and they dragged him. Man it was a good thing that Dad taught my scout troop lashing. That is where you take rope or vines and tied things together to make other things.
I took the cord that I’d swiped from the dead Blue Hats … and their ax too … and cut down two saplings and some branches and then lashed it all together to make something that looked like I remembered from the movie. Abel, when he was conscious, looked like he wanted us to go on without him but I decided to simply ignore him. Just because someone wants to play hero doesn’t mean you have to let him.
Rolling Abel onto the travois was not fun for either one of us. First I had to roll him over onto his back which made him nearly break his teeth to keep the scream in and then I had to roll him over again so that he was face down on the branches. We laid Dog beside him and then I tied the two extra packs across Abel’s legs to hold him onto the travois and keep him from sliding off.
There had been a tow strap in one of the packs and I used a length of it to tie to the end I was going to lift so that I could carry the weight balanced on my shoulders rather than in my hands. Daniel’s job was to follow behind us with a branch destroying the drag marks we would make.
At first I had to stop every five minutes or so to try and rebalance the load but eventually I got into a rhythm. It was dusk before I finally admitted that I wasn’t going to make it much further.
“No Dacey, I don’t wanna sleep outside.”
“Daniel, I don’t want to either but …”
“It’s gonna rain Dacey.”
I looked up and sure enough it seemed we were in for more wet stuff. If it had just been rain I was worried about I would have bullied my brother into setting up camp whether he liked it or not but the weather was turning bitter cold and I could feel the sweat on my body drawing what little heat I had away from me. It wasn’t rain we were looking at but sleet, or maybe even an early dusting of snow.
“OK, we keep on, but if you fall behind or get out of sight of me I’m going to be totally hacked.”
“OK Dacey,” he answered, glad just at the idea of not having to stay outdoors.
Three more hours, and in total darkness, we finally got to the sink. I had felt icy drops of wet falling off and on for about twenty minutes but he hadn’t really opened up on us yet. Daniel was exhausted beyond speech and he was so cold to my touch that it scared me. I reached down and touched Abel to feel the same thing.
“Daniel … Daniel …,” he finally looked at me. “Listen to me buddy, I want you to go down and wait in front of the door. I’ve got to bring Abel down.”
Daniel pointed at Dog and she must have seen him. She got up weakly from the travois and tried to go to him.
“Oh for pity sake. Go Daniel, I’ll carry Dog.” That’s what I did but instead of leaving them there I opened the door and shoved them both inside the little anteroom and then went back up for long, tall, and heavy.
“Hey Abel, you in there anywhere?” I asked trying to see if he’d respond. He opened one eye a crack but it kind of rolled around in the socket like he couldn’t focus.
“OK, this is so not going to be fun. First off, I have to trust you not to tell anyone about this. I wouldn’t like doing anything bad to you but Daniel is all I have in this world and his safety is more important than my wishing to not have to be bad.” I could tell he was hearing me but I wasn’t sure he was understanding me at all. “Second, you weigh a ton and I can’t carry you down so unless you help me some here I’m going to have to roll you down and with your back being like it is I can pretty much guarantee you won’t feel too good afterwards.”
He didn’t move. I really didn’t want to hurt him but I really couldn’t carry him down and trying to slide him down on the travois just wasn’t going to work. I started untying him and then from someplace he must have found the energy to move but I could tell that he wasn’t going to get far.
That was definitely not the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life. I basically had to walk backwards holding onto the guardrail while he walked forward leaning on me. We made it into the anteroom but I hadn’t thought that Daniel would still be there. I tripped over his feet and we both went down. Abel squashed me flat and drove all the air out of me. In the process he busted his nose against my chin and it started bleeding like a gusher.
I’m not going to bother describing the rest of the comedic routine of digging Daniel’s foot out of my back, wiggling out from under Abel and then dragging both him and Daniel to the living area where I lit the fire and hoped they’d thaw out while I finished dealing with things.
Dog came limping cautiously into the room. “I hope ‘cause you are a girl it means you’ve got manners and won’t make a mess. I’ll bring you a bowl of water in a bit. Do your best to keep them from acting stupid will you?”
It is pretty sad when you are down to talking to a dog like it can understand you all the way like a person could. I left and drug down the packs and left them in the anteroom. I went back up to get the travois and pull it out of sight and got soaked for my trouble. I also had to make sure the chickens were going to be warm enough and did what I had to do for them.
I didn’t care about much after that but I still had sense enough to know I couldn’t sleep in wet clothes so I changed and then walked out to fall across the sofa. I was asleep before I even got comfortable.
The fire was just coals but I could hear scratching around. My eyes cracked open and for a brief moment I was back to when Jeff lived with us. Then I jumped as everything came back into focus. I rolled off the sofa and went over to where Abel was trying to put wood on the fire. Dog was there too and I remembered I hadn’t gotten her any water.
“Sorry girl I’ll get some in just a minute. Abel, stop fooling with the fire and lay back down, I’ll get it. I’ll bring back some water … might as well clean your back too.”
Abel’s eyes were glassy with pain but he knew me and let me take the wood from his hands and push him over to lean on the poofy chair that matched the sofa. I stood up, not too steady on my own legs, and went and got everything I needed. I put a bowl of water down for Dog and she lapped at it eagerly but with dainty manners that I appreciated. At least I didn’t have to worry about dog slobber all over the place on top of everything else.
Abel sat on the floor, leaning on the chair. I saw that he’d taken what was left of his shirt off and I felt guilty again. This would have been a lot easier on him if I’d done it as soon as we got in. I sat down to start cleaning his back when with more speed than I’d expected he turned and snatched the wet rag from my hand.
“I so don’t think so. I bet you can’t even reach most of the dirt on your back much less be easy enough not to open those blisters up. I’ve given Daniel a bath more than a few times so washing your back isn’t going to be that hard … so long as you cooperate.”
He kind of drew back from me like I’d hurt his feelings and then looked at me kind of strange, closed his eyes, and shook his head. “I sure hope you aren’t shaking your head no because if I can wear Daniel down I can wear anyone down.”
A soft snort was the only response until he opened his eyes and handed me the rag before slowly turning his back to me. “Now I’m not saying this isn’t going to hurt but I’ll be as easy as I can. I’ll be as gentle as I would with Daniel.” That got me a look out of the corner of his eye, one I didn’t understand but I was too tired to go after figuring it out.
It took me nearly an hour to clean him all up proper but after a while he drew the line. I finally agreed it made more sense to show him the bathroom and let him clean the rest of him up.
I knew that his clothes were filthy. They didn’t stink, but they were dirty. And though some of Abel reminded me of Jeff it wasn’t because they were built the same. Actually Abel reminded me more of pictures of Dad when he was younger. I hadn’t looked through Dad’s things in a while, only Momma’s when I grew out of my tops and such. I opened the chests and slowly pulled out a few things and realized they’d swallow Abel whole. Then I remembered Dad’s box of jeans and work shirts that he swore he was going to get back into. I finally found them way in the back of the storage area and at the same time I remembered how Momma would sigh and shake her head every time Dad insisted on putting something into those boxes. “John, just give them to the church closet. You know you’re never …”
“Never say never. Do I complain about all them dresses you keep on the off chance they come back into style?”
Mom would humph, “That’s different.”
The memory made me smile but sad at the same time. I shook my head and said to heck with it and pulled out some of the smallest waisted jeans in the pile and a couple of the shirts and walked back to the door of the bathroom where I knocked.
He jumped and then groaned. “Abel, don’t take this the wrong way but those clothes you were wearing need a good wash. I’ve put some stuff on the doorknob here … uh … you might have to … uh … hold onto your … er … um … your under things but if you don’t mind the smell of cedar here are some pants and shirts that might suit you.”
No response but I could imagine Jeff would have been outraged enough to give me the silent treatment if I’d said something similar to him. I walked away but as I turned into the kitchen I heard the bathroom door click open and then after a moment click shut. A little while later as I stood at the stove fixing an omelet I turned to find Abel holding himself up by his arm on the wall.
I walked over and took his dirty things from him and saw he was in real pain. He’d left the shirt half unbuttoned and completely untucked. “I hope you don’t get cold. It stays cool in the cave all year long.” I looked down to see his feet were tucked into moccasins but they weren’t laced up. I helped him over to the table and had him sit on the bench since it didn’t have a back.
“I don’t mind if you want to lay your head down until … hmmm … I think it is close enough to breakfast to call it that. Thirsty?”
A dry click of a swallow and a nod told me yes so I poured him some water and then put some powdered Gatorade in it. “This may taste nasty but burns can knock your electrolytes out of balance.”
I got a confused look from him. “You know, your salts. When you lose a lot of fluids.”
He shrugged and then winced in pain. I set the drinking cup at his place and then turned to flip the omelet that when it was cooked I would split between us.
He remained silent but gazed longingly at the plate and stood quickly as I went to sit down. “Uh …” I didn’t know what to say; he was acting weird. He finally looked over in the direction where Daniel still slept and I said, “I’m going to let him sleep for as long as he wants. He did a big job covering our trail and it was cold.”
Abel got all shamefaced and I told him, “You know, just because I said my brother did a big job didn’t mean I was complaining or saying something to upset you. It was what it was, that’s all. Now please sit down and eat, you make me nervous when you pop up and down like that.”
He did sit back down and I was glad to see it. He was getting a little gray around the edges again and I didn’t want to have to clean him up off the kitchen floor. He ate the food I put on his plate like it was the best thing he ever put in his mouth; it was kind of embarrassing but at the same time I was getting a charge out of it and when I offered him some cold biscuits we hadn’t eaten and some of Momma’s preserves to go on them he acted like he’d found the lost Ark or something.
“Look, now you’ve eaten and while Daniel is asleep I think we should … get a few things straight.”
Abel nodded his head cautiously.
“I may be young but I’m not stupid,” I said eyeing him. “Since the beginning of this whole mess I’ve seen Blue Hats three times since they killed my parents and we escaped their re-education camp … and all three of those times have somehow had something to do with you.”