Memories in the Dust

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

“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 help.” 

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. 

“What??”

“The place where I… your son was kidnapped,” Diego said slowly, “…was not Hell.  It was a spaceship.  Nave espacio.

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 Alejandro’s statement. 

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?  Why?”  Sighing, 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 is Bernardo?

“He has gone for Dr. Avila,” Alejandro answered.

“You do not believe me.”  It was a statement.

“How can I, Diego?  It is too fantastic.  You are delirious.”

“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 Diego’s return.

“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 spaceships?”

“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 moaned. 

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 that, too. 

“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 ‘Diego’ slept.  

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 be.”

“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 murmured. 

“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 him.”

“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.

Zorro sighed.  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.”

 

Chapter Nineteen
Memories Prologue
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