Memories in the Dust
“You are delirious, my son.
Please, be calm. Bernardo
is getting something to help ease the pain and clean the wound.
You will soon be feeling better,” Alejandro said soothingly,
alarmed at his son’s declaration. He continued to keep a firm hold on Diego’s shoulder,
keeping him from moving around. With
his other hand, he kept pressure on the wound and was gratified to see
that the bleeding had subsided.
“I am already feeling better because of your
There was a slight pause and Alejandro thought that
Diego might be dozing. That,
too, would be good, the old man thought.
But Diego was not asleep.
He stirred slightly and said, “But I am not delirious.
I am perfectly…aware. I
am only tired. Very tired.” Another
pause and then, “I think I might be more comfortable, might be able to
breathe easier, on my side, por favor,” Diego murmured.
While despondent over Diego’s chances of
survival, Alejandro was still amazed at his son’s lucidity.
According to what he had seen and what Bernardo had signed to
him, Diego had to have lost a great deal of blood, but here his son was
having a conversation with him. Carefully,
he helped ease Diego from his stomach to his uninjured side.
He did notice that as soon as he released pressure from the
wound, the seepage of fresh blood began anew, although not nearly as
profuse as before. Sitting
on the edge of the bed, he pressed the bandage against the wound firmly
and wondered again, how they were going to care for such an injury.
Bernardo quietly opened the door and slipped in, several bottles
in his arms.
“I am Rantiri,” Diego said suddenly.
“The place where I… your son was kidnapped,”
Diego said slowly, “…was not Hell.
It was a spaceship. Nave
Alejandro was numb.
His son was talking nonsense, his brain befogged by shock.
He started to respond, but Bernardo quietly laid his hand on his
sleeve and shook his head. His free hand signed, ‘Let him speak while we work.’
Alejandro nodded and watched the servant open up two of the
bottles and set them on the little stand next to the bed.
The old don motioned to the door and Bernardo walked over
to lock it, assuring them of absolute privacy during this time.
“Diego, Bernardo is going to clean your wound now
before we bandage it. That
is all we can do until we can get Dr. Avila here.
But it will be painful.”
“Your son was taken in the spaceship and I was
left to take his place,” Diego said, seemingly oblivious to
For the moment, Alejandro only partially listened
to the incomprehensible babblings.
He watched as Bernardo wet a cloth with the potent astringent
made from a mixture of brandy and local herbs.
When the mozo was ready, Alejandro took away the bandage,
but didn’t release his hold on his son’s shoulder.
“Your son is special.
My people need him…AAHHH!” Diego’s body jerked and then he
pushed his face into the pillow, effectively muffling his cries of pain.
As Bernardo continued to wash the wound, Diego’s fingers
clenched and unclenched, but no sounds emerged from him except for muted
moans. Finally Bernardo
finished, put the cork back into the bottle and poured some liquid from
the other bottle on a clean bandage.
Alejandro saw bewilderment in the face of his son’s mozo
as they placed the bandage over the wound.
It probably matched the puzzled look on his own face.
Unbelievably, the bleeding had almost stopped. A faint ray of hope found its way into the old man’s heart
and he saw the same hope in Bernardo’s eyes.
While Don Alejandro held the bandage firmly in
place, Bernardo wrapped clean linens around Diego’s body to hold the
compress in place. Thankfully,
Diego had lost consciousness near the end of Bernardo’s ministrations.
They eased his body into more of a sitting position, placing the
pillows behind his head and back to make him more comfortable.
Immediately, his son’s….
But he said he was not Diego!
Could he be telling the truth?
No…impossible! ….breathing eased.
Alejandro was gratified to see Diego’s chest rise and fall in a
more natural manner, his breathing sounding less harsh.
“Bernardo, you need to ride into the pueblo
and get Dr. Avila. I will
write him a note. Make sure
that after he reads the note, you take it back.
I do not wish it to be left lying around in case there are
questions. I do not know
what the doctor can do, but we have to try,” Alejandro said.
Walking over to the little writing table, he pulled out paper, a
quill pen and a tiny bottle of ink.
Quickly, he penned an urgent note for the doctor to come to the hacienda.
While the ink was drying, Alejandro asked,
“Bernardo, what do you think about what Diego told us?
What kind of delirium is it that will cause the imagination to
make up such things?”
Bernardo signed carefully as the old don watched.
“He has talked of spaceships to you, too?”
Alejandro watched the mute sign and then shook his head.
“It is still impossible. If
this is not Diego, then where is my son?
Alejandro folded the letter, sealed it with wax and handed it to the
servant. With a shrug,
indicating that he, too, had no answers, Bernardo put the letter in his
vest and slipped out the door.
Alejandro pulled a chair next to the bed.
He noticed that one of the bottles on the table contained wine.
Sniffing, he realized that Bernardo had the foresight to water it
a bit for Diego to drink and he poured some into a small glass sitting
on the nightstand. The
slightest of sounds alerted him to the fact that his son was awake.
“Would it be possible to have some, por favor?”
Diego asked softly. His
face was drawn and ashen, his eyes testament to the pain he was feeling.
“Of course, Diego.”
Alejandro held the glass while his son drank from it.
“Gracias,” he murmured when he had
finished. He seemed to be
struggling to stay awake. “Where
“He has gone for Dr. Avila,” Alejandro
“You do not believe me.”
It was a statement.
“How can I, Diego?
It is too fantastic. You
“Do you remember the behavior of the horses after
the abduction?” asked Diego.
“Horses are often skittish.
They smelled brimstone or something similar,” Alejandro tried
to reason. He felt a
gnawing inside of him. Bernardo
had told him of Tornado’s similar reactions several days after
“Do you remember my rustiness with the blade
right after my return?” Diego asked.
Alejandro nodded, the gnawing feeling growing into a hard knot of
fear. “And do you remember when I said something in a language
that you didn’t recognize?”
“Yes,” Alejandro answered, the hard knot of
doubt continuing to grow in his chest.
He was so confused, wanting to believe this fantastic tale,
because to do otherwise would force him to watch his only son die.
“Did Bernardo tell you that I talked to him about
“Yes, he did.” Alejandro’s certainty was shaken, but not toppled. Then it came to him, the way he would know for sure. Diego had been slashed in a knife fight only the year before. There would be a scar on his left arm. Reaching down, he held up the wounded man’s arm and saw the smoothness of unmarred skin. His eyes opened wide in shock. This was not Diego. This was not his son! But how? And where was his Diego?
He watched the man on the bed pause to gather air
into his ravaged chest. The man who looked identical to his son, who
sounded like him, acted like him. “Who
are you?” Alejandro’s
words were soft, but they were like projectiles in their delivery.
“And if you are not Diego, where is he?
Why was he taken away? Why
are you taking his place? How
can you know so much about him that you would fool even me?
What is the reason for all this and why are you telling me this
now? To torment me?”
“No, I replaced your son to dispel the talk . . .
about demons and visitors from other worlds . . . although just the
presence of Zorro pretty much did that.”
“Why then? Why
was he taken?”
Diego took a deep breath to speak and then he
Alejandro saw him shudder as a wave of pain coursed
through his body. “Even
though you are not my son, I am not so cruel as to force you to talk
when it is painful.” Alejandro
could see a conscious effort for control and saw his son’s will in
“A little more wine, please,” Diego asked. Alejandro poured some more wine and again held it for him as he drank it. “It is hard to explain,” the wounded man continued. “Despite some outward differences, my people and your people are very similar. But there is something that we needed, something that your son had within his body.”
Alejandro paled at the implications of that statement. “What….”
“No, he was not harmed.”
There was a pause. “What
he had in his body could be taken without hurting him. It is something in his blood.”
“Then why kidnap him, if all you needed was some
of his blood? You could
have taken some blood and then let him go,” Alejandro asked, his mind
becoming more and more confused; despair filling his heart, anger and
frustration following in quick succession.
Diego moaned again, softer this time.
“I have…asked myself that question as well.
Even I do not understand everything.”
He paused. “The
Rantiri are desperate. We
are…not complete. Your
son would make us complete. Hard
to explain.” The eyelids closed, as though too heavy to stay open, and
Alejandro stood and began to pace, wanting to cry
out in rage. Santa Maria! Why?
What is going on? He
looked at the person on the bed and wondered at all the unanswered
questions. How could there
be someone so identical to Diego that it would fool him? Why was this
Diego telling him this? Would
his son ever come home? Dios, please bring my Diego home.
He paced some more and then decided that he had
better put the mask back on Diego before the doctor arrived. He found where Bernardo had laid it and gently raised
Diego’s head and placed it over his face, tying it in the back as best
as he could. He added the
bandanna. As if on cue,
there was a soft knock on the door.
Going to the door, Alejandro cracked it open, and
seeing Bernardo and the doctor, admitted them.
Doctor Avila crossed the room and placed his ear against
Zorro’s chest, listening alternately to both sides.
Then with Bernardo’s help, he moved the injured man on to his
right side so he could examine the wound.
Zorro awoke and lay still, not saying anything.
Seeing that his patient was awake, Dr. Avila began asking
questions—about his breathing, how much blood he thought he had lost,
how much pain he was experiencing, dizziness, weakness.
Finally, after replacing the bandage and helping the wounded man
back into a reclining position, he straightened up, shaking his head.
“Señor Zorro, it amazes me that you were able to get
this far from El Diablo’s camp. Your patron saint is truly looking out for you, because you
really should be dead by now. It
is very apparent that you lost a considerable amount of blood before
ever reaching this hacienda.
The paleness of your skin and your weakness is testament to that. It is also apparent that the bullet went through your left
lung, breaking at least one rib on its way in.
But what is truly miraculous is that I hear no stirring of air on
the left side of your chest. It
is as though the damaged lung has cut itself off.
I am also astounded that the bleeding has almost stopped.
The only bleeding that is occurring at all is that from the
entrance of the wound, not the damaged lung. I have never heard of such
a thing! There should be
both the escape of air and profuse bleeding.
However, I will not question whatever miracles God chooses to
send to you.”
“Can you get the bullet out?” Alejandro asked.
“No, Don Alejandro.
I have seen more gunshot wounds than I care to think about.
The paths of musket or pistol balls are sometimes strange indeed.
They do not travel in a straight line through the body; bones and
flesh often deflect them. I
believe that I would cause more harm than good if I tried to dig out
that ball. I am pleased with his condition considering the nature of the
wound. It is better than I
or anyone could hope for. Perhaps
if Señor Zorro is kept warm and quiet and given medicine to help
relieve any pain he has, he might at least live, but the ball will have
to stay until one better than I comes along.”
“Thank the Holy Mother for a bit of good news,”
Alejandro said thoughtfully.
Zorro continued to listen without saying anything.
“That is optimistic news, señor,” Avila
corrected him. “You also
have the problem of a wanted man residing in your house.
If your servants are very trustworthy, I will give you two days
before Sgt. Garcia is forced by duty to come out to your hacienda
and check out the ‘rumors’ that will surely begin circulating.
He shouldn’t be moved, but we cannot help what sometimes must
“Thank you for your help, Doctor Avila.”
Alejandro watched as the doctor laid out several
packets of medicine and listened as he gave instructions for their use.
“And Don Alejandro, please give my greetings to
your son,” Dr. Avila said as he gathered up his supplies.
“I will, Señor Avila,” Alejandro
“Let me know if Señor Zorro comes down
with a fever. That is my
biggest worry right now.” Alejandro
nodded and watched the doctor walk out the door behind Bernardo.
“You have many more questions, fa…Don
Alejandro,” Zorro said quietly. “I
will do my best to answer them.”
“Are you still in pain?” Alejandro asked.
Zorro shook his head, but then answered.
“Yes, but it is not enough for the medicine.”
“How could you look so much like my son that you
completely fooled myself and everyone else who knows Diego?”
“There is a part of me that is Diego.
I said that there is something in your son’s blood that my
people need. It was
something similar that made it possible for me to look exactly like
“I do not understand.
You look to be Diego’s age.
My son was abducted only months ago.”
“Before Diego was abducted, I did not exist.
I was created to take his place and some of his blood cells were
used to make me look like him.”
Alejandro gaped at the wounded man on the bed next to him. “Only God can create life.”
“Then God gave that ability to the Rantiri
ancestors, because the entire population of Rantir is created,” Zorro
said with a wan smile, which changed quickly to a grimace.
“You are speaking sacrilegiously,” Alejandro
said tersely. Bernardo
quietly slipped into the room and stood beside the bed.
He brought his hand up and rubbed his chest, and then he pulled
the mask down. “I am very
sorry. I did not mean it
that way. But it is the
truth. The Ancestors were
given the power to create beings very much like themselves.
They did so as they, themselves were dying out.
The created Rantiri are the only thing left of the Ancestors.”
“I cannot understand all of this. Why are you telling me these things? It would have been easier, if you die…” Here Alejandro paused, not wanting to sound cruel or morbid,
and also not wanting to wish death on anyone, even someone who had
pretended to be his son for the past several months.
Looking at his son’s ‘twin’ Alejandro saw that the
wounded man didn’t seem disturbed by his words.
In fact, he seemed quite serene.
“If you die, it would have been easier for me to think that you
are my son, and that he died honorably.”
“I understand and that was the original intent. My original directive was to make sure there were no lingering reports of visitors from other worlds.” Here Diego smiled. “…Even demons from other worlds, and then I was to die. But it was a quickly conceived and poorly carried out plan. Our leader didn’t take Zorro into account. He had no idea of your son’s great worth to your people here.” The effort of talking was finally catching up with the wounded man. He sat quietly, breathing shallowly. After a few minutes, he continued. “I am telling you this because I believe that your son will somehow find a way to come home.”