Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

 

The force of the ball slamming into his back threw Zorro forward onto the ground.   He knew he should get up immediately and face his attacker, to protect himself, but the shock of the wound left him struggling to pull air into his lungs.  His whole left side felt numb for a minute and then the pain began, radiating outward from the left side of his back and through his chest.  With a groan, Zorro realized that he had, without meaning to, fulfilled Jerintas’ directive.  He had alleviated the speculation of demon or extraterrestrial visitation, and now he was dying, as had been intended.

He heard a shuffling near him and then felt a toe jabbed in his ribs.   “You may have killed my brother, but he will now know that his death was avenged,” a voice muttered in a tone of deep satisfaction.

Recovering from his shock and mustering his waning strength, Zorro rolled over and grabbed the bandit by the leg, twisting his foot and jerking it out from under him.  Then he got up as fast as he could, grabbing his sword from the ground where he dropped it, but the bandit was up and facing him just as quickly.   His opponent’s face was filled with pain and Zorro saw that this was the bandit he had stabbed in the shoulder early in the fight.  

With an angry growl, the bandit threw the pistol at him and Zorro let it hit him in the chest, preferring not to experience the even more excruciating pain that ducking would bring him.  Instead he took two quick steps forward and ran his sword through his attacker’s heart, pulling back as the man slumped to the ground, a surprised look on his face.  He stood, panting slightly, feeling the slight wheeze of air from his wound.  His back felt sticky, his thoughts sluggish and he knew that whatever he was going to do needed to be done quickly.  Pulling off his sash, he drew it tightly around his body, covering the area of the wound, jerking it as hard as he could and tying the ends in a knot.  Zorro felt constricted, but hopefully his efforts would slow the bleeding.

Breathing slowly, feeling a heaviness in his chest, he whistled and was answered by Tornado’s piercing cry.  Within minutes the stallion was prancing in front of him.  “Tornado, come with me,” he said softly. With one hand on the horse’s withers, he walked toward the extraterrestrial wreckage, pondering how to destroy the evidence.  Although his Jerintas memories gave him general knowledge of spacecraft, they didn’t include demolition expertise.   

Stepping inside the shattered ruins, Zorro studied the remaining equipment.  In one very dim corner, he saw a tall, narrow cabinet that looked somewhat familiar.  Walking over to it, he found the locking mechanism destroyed, but the door was still stuck.  Grabbing it with both hands, he gave a mighty pull even though the ravaged muscles and flesh sent searing messages of agony throughout his body.   The door came open, but he continued to hang onto the handle, panting, waiting for his vision clear. Finally he looked inside the bin where various weapons were stacked inside, and pulled out several laser rifles, dragging them across the deck and out the door where he stood them against a tree trunk.  Pausing slightly to catch his breath, Zorro picked one and returned to the spacecraft.  He took quick aim and fired, the thin beam of light searing the already damaged instrument panels into slag. He continued to do this until the acrid scent and smoke of burnt plastics sent him stumbling outside the wreckage, where he fell to his knees, coughing, nearly fainting from the pain.  Finally he willed himself to stop, although his lungs protested. 

He selected another of the weapons, this one more powerful looking.   Instead of going back inside, he aimed from the doorway, careful not to let the tendrils of yellowish smoke reach him.  Pain throbbed across his back and into his chest, but he ignored it, pushing his discomfort as far to the back of his mind as he could, determined to finish the job that he had begun.  This beam was more powerful and Zorro’s aim was true.  Instrument panels continued to melt, metals and plastics running together, sliding into puddles of dark gray and sickly yellow on the decking.  Wiring was exposed and then it, too, was melted, adding to the putrid soup.  Smoke wafted to the top of the small craft, creating a brown cloud.  Suddenly, there was a small pop and flame burst out of the panel, snapping and roaring like a wild, ravenous beast trying to consume everything before it.  

Zorro backed off, allowing the morning air to push the lingering tickling scent of burning electronics and plastics away from him.   Behind him, Tornado snorted nervously, his hoof scraping the hard earth.  Turning slightly, the masked man laid his gloved hand on the horse’s neck.  Tornado snorted again, shaking his head.  “It is all right, Tornado,” he murmured, patting the glossy ebony hide.  Soon the wreckage was fully engulfed in flames.  With a nod of satisfaction, Zorro began throwing the weapons he had pulled out back into the burning craft, only leaving one, the large rifle, to finish the job of demolition if it was needed. 

Grabbing hold of the saddle horn, and trying to ignore the sharp spears of pain that coursed from his back down to his legs, he swung onto Tornado.  Both man and horse stood statue still, watching the fire that was brighter than the morning sun.  Finally his Rantiri memory gave him reason to fear such a great conflagration and Zorro tossed the remaining rifle into the fire, riding away as fast as he could down the rugged trail.  He was just past El Diablo’s camp when the sharp cracking boom of the exploding spaceship broke the relative silence of the morning, and made Tornado snort in fear and dance sideways on the path.  “Calm yourself, my friend,” he murmured, patting the stallion on the neck.  To his relief, the prancing eased as they continued down the trail. 

At the opening of the arroyo, Zorro paused a moment to let the morning sun not only warm his face, but his bones as well.  The sun seemed almost to renew some of his strength and he turned slightly north toward the hacienda, toward home.  He could not be found here.  He could not be found lying in the dust.  Zorro could not end that way.  How could he have failed so completely?  Jerintas had no idea what he had interrupted!  The instructions that I was given by the Director were ludicrous, unrealistic and totally cruel to these people here on this little corner of this world.  Jerintas saw Diego de la Vega and his people as backward and primitive, but they still have emotions; they hurt, they love and they think.  They hurt when the sun dries up their corn before the kernels form or when their children die, or when their taxes are so high their sons or fathers are sold to work in the tin mines.  They love their children, their church, the fruits of their labors, the land, the sun and the clean, crisp air.  They love their hero, the fox, this Zorro for whom I have substituted these past months.  They think he is forever, and in a way he is.  His spirit lives on in the indomitable spirits of these people who have made their lives in this harsh, but rich land.  But they need a physical hero; they need someone to continue to give them their hope.  

Zorro looked up at the sun once again seeing the lateness of the morning.  He felt a sticky wetness underneath him on the saddle.  The makeshift bandage couldn’t handle the damage the one bullet had done.  Do I really believe that the Designated One can possibly return?  Or will Zorro die with me, an inferior substitute?  If there is any chance that the chosen one can return I must prepare the man I have come to know as ‘father.’  Also Bernardo…he too, has to know that his master might be coming home.

Coming back to the present, Zorro saw that Tornado had been cantering unerringly toward home.  He gently patted the horse’s neck to show his appreciation.  Since it was day, he stopped before riding down into the area where the entrance to the secret cave was located.  There was no movement other than a few steers grazing on a distant hilltop and several hawks wheeling above him.  Magpies called sharply to each other, hidden in the brush.   Zorro felt increasingly weak and knew that he had to get home before he became so faint that he couldn’t stay on Tornado anymore. 

The brush that hid the entrance of the cave beckoned invitingly to him and Zorro carefully ducked as Tornado walked through, almost gingerly, as though he realized the condition of his rider.  The dim coolness of the cave caused Zorro to shiver lightly.  He paused momentarily before carefully grasping the saddle horn and swinging his right leg over the saddle.  He kept his hold on the horn until he felt his foot touch the rock floor of the cave, then his hand slipped as he pulled his left foot from the stirrup.  He almost collapsed, but managed to grasp Tornado’s mane until the dizziness subsided.  Then he slowly walked past the stallion and began the journey to his room, up two flights of roughly hewn stone steps. 

The steps seemed formidable, huge things meant as barricades, not a pathway to peaceful rest.  Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Zorro made his way into the secret room, then into his bedroom, jerking the mask down as he stumbled across the room.  His knees buckled as he reached the bed and he sank to the floor, his hands grasping the bedding as though it could hold him up, but the coverlet only pulled toward him and he simply lay his head against the soft mattress. 

 

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Alejandro looked up from his cup of champurado at the approach of the mozo.  “Bernardo, has Diego…awakened?” he signed, seeing another servant cleaning near the doorway.  He tried to mask his worry, but didn’t succeed very well.  Bernardo only shook his head, but he too looked worried.  The other servant left the room and the older man looked around quickly and then murmured, “Go and check the cave again.  It has been too long this time.” 

With a nod, Bernardo did as he was told, slipping through the cabinet and into the secret cave.  Pattering down the steps, he was relieved to see Tornado placidly munching on hay stolen from the pile in the corner.   He sighed in relief and, with a smile, uncinched the saddle.  Don Diego had returned home and was so tired he had simply gone up the stairs and gone to bed without taking care of the stallion or saying anything to anyone.  While this was unusual, it had happened before.  Bernardo reached up to grab the saddle and stopped with a gasp, his heart pounding.  The entire saddle was coated with a dark substance.  He carried it around the horse and laid it down near the lantern.  Bernardo’s breath hissed audibly.  It was blood! 

In panic, the mute grasped the lantern and ran down the corridor, noticing the small smears on the steps.  Just past the panel behind the sala, he found the cape lying in a heap.  He reached the secret room and rushed through the small door to Don Diego’s room.  His patrón was kneeling by his bedside, praying.  No, it wasn’t prayer; Don Diego had collapsed in that position.  Bernardo dropped down beside the younger man and looked him over in the late morning light.  The shirt was pasted flat to his back.  Gingerly, Bernardo shook his master’s shoulder and heard a soft moan.  Don Diego’s hands tightened around the bedding and his eyes opened slowly, although they seemed somewhat glazed and remote.  Finally they focused. 

“Bernardo?” he asked softly.  The servant nodded.  “I…got careless…and paid for it,” he added.  “Please help me into bed.  I…I am so tired.”

Bernardo grasped Don Diego’s arm and helped him rise to his feet, struggling with most of the bigger man’s weight.  Soon the wounded man was sprawled face down on the bed.  With the prickle of tears stinging his eyes, Bernardo pulled off Don Diego’s boots, hat, bandanna and mask.  Earlier in the morning he had poured fresh water into the washbasin in anticipation of his master’s return.  He pulled it close to the bed. 

He also had to get fresh linens for bandages as well.  Don Diego was asleep right now, but his breathing was labored.  He had to get Don Alejandro.   Don Alejandro would know what to do.

First he went into the back room where the linens were kept and grabbed an armful.  In the sala, the old don was adding entries to the sales books, but looked up when he heard the mozo enter.  Gratefully, the servant noticed that Don Alejandro was alone.  Evidently Bernardo’s face still showed his shock, as the older man paled and immediately dashed toward the outside door.  As they ran up the stairs, Alejandro turned to the servant.  “Is he hurt?”

Bernardo nodded and made motions indicating the severity of the injuries. 

“He was shot?” Alejandro asked softly, his voice trembling.  Again Bernardo nodded.  Both burst into the room at the same time.  Don Diego was in the same position that he had been when Bernardo had left.  

Carefully the two men peeled off Diego’s sash and shirt.  Bernardo ripped up some of the material and dipped it into the basin.  “Oh, Diego,” Alejandro murmured as he, too, took some of the linens and tore them into strips for bandages.  “Bernardo, get some medicines to help clean this.  Quickly!”

Bernardo dashed through the door of the secret entrance.  As gently as he could, Alejandro pulled away the makeshift bandage.  Blood welled slowly up from the wound, bubbling slightly as though it was boiling in a pot.  Coldest despair gripped the old man.  Surely this bullet went through a lung.  It is amazing that he even made it home! he thought as he took a strip of the clean linen and tried to wipe away the blood, only to see it saturate the clean linen cloth.   Taking another one, he simply pressed it against the wound, gratified when he heard the slight wheezing of Diego’s breathing ease. 

Holding the cloth against his son’s back with one hand, he used the other one to pull a damp cloth from the basin of water.  With it Alejandro gently wiped his wounded son’s brow.  Diego moaned and tried to move.  Alejandro held his hand firmly against his son’s back.  “Do not move, my son.  Bernardo is going for medicines.  We will clean and bind the wound so that you will feel more comfortable,” the old man said softly, trying to reassure his son.  He wished there was some kind of reassurance for him.

“But there is something I must tell you,” Diego said, pausing for breath.

“Son, lie quietly,” the old man gently admonished.  “Just wait until you are feeling better then we can talk.”

“No, it is something that I must tell you now . . . while I can,” Diego insisted, his voice seemingly stronger.

Alejandro was alarmed at what he could only see as a deathbed pronouncement.   “No, wait, my son.”

“I am not your son,” Diego stated. 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen
Memories Prologue
Zorro Contents
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