Memories in the Dust
Diego gazed at the coal black stallion in great
frustration. He was dressed
in costume but had pulled down the mask to deal with this latest
problem. There had been no
time to come down alone and get acquainted with the horse.
The last two days his father had felt the need to quietly
celebrate his return. They had played chess and bruja together,
talked in the library, walked the nearby hills, and taken the carriage
into the pueblo often. Diego
had not had an opportunity to even think about the reaction of the
horses until earlier this evening, when he had received word that the
bandits had raided the mission the night before.
Diego remembered his father’s… that sounded
strange to him even with the complete memories of the Designated One
that had been given him on the ship after his creation.
have absolutely no experience with a concept of a nurturing biological
entity, someone who had cared for and raised another entity from
babyhood, that had taken him aback for a few brief seconds.
Alejandro, ‘Father,’ had been watching him in eager
anticipation, wanting to hear about his absence.
He had mistaken Diego’s confusion for reticence and had given
him the opening he had needed.
“My son, if you wish to wait for a bit before
telling me what happened to you after you were kidnapped, I
understand,” the older man said gently as they sat by the fireplace in
the sala, smoking cigars. “Was
it that bad?”
“Sí, I was held in a tiny room, recaptured several times when I tried to escape, but I do not remember everything either, Father,” Diego explained, not telling any lies, but certainly not telling the whole truth. “I think they were from far away. Whether they were demons or not…? I am not sure. I finally was able to make my escape during the confusion of their departure.” The little bits of information, plus the possibility he had given of partial amnesia seemed to mollify his father, at least for the moment.
Then had come the news that El Diablo was beginning
his campaign of terror once more. He
had attacked some of the mission workers apparently feeling emboldened
enough in Zorro’s absence to begin a campaign of revenge. His father had wondered aloud why it had taken so long
for the bandit to take action. Diego’s
own answer that El Diablo’s gang had had the hell scared out of them
had been received with a great deal less humor than it had been
“Tornado,” he called softly, thinking, How
in the world can I follow through on the orders of the Director if I
cannot even fool a horse? It
was confusing, having all of the memories and thoughts of the Designated
One in his mind alongside of the thoughts and memories of the Director
Jerintas. Whenever he let Diego’s feelings take over, the others
managed to intrude, momentarily putting him off balance.
Sorting them out had become easier since he had come to the
Designated One’s house, but it still took a great deal of effort.
Now this! And he
genuinely felt an affinity for this horse.
It had carried the Designated One—him-- to safety many times.
He closed his eyes to concentrate better.
Everything was so new to him, but he had to succeed.
His heart slowed. If
he let himself become Diego de la Vega, he knew he could succeed. He
opened his eyes.
Bernardo stood nearby, watching with concern in his
eyes. He started forward,
but Diego stopped him with a slight gesture of his hand.
This would have to be something that he did for himself and he
would prefer to do it alone. “Bernardo,
go back to my room and wait there.
Tornado is still having trouble recognizing me and I need to work
with him alone.” Bernardo
paused only for a moment, then nodded, turned and left.
“Tornado,” Diego said, even softer than before.
Then he began talking, walking a bit closer as he spoke.
The horse gazed at him with curiosity, but also with the wary consideration of one studying a stranger. And essentially I am, Diego thought. Tornado snorted and shook his head. Diego stopped his advance but not his monologue. Softly he spoke to Tornado, letting his Diego memories take over, pushing the other memories deep into his subconscious. Slowly he began to approach again, never taking his eyes off the magnificent stallion’s eyes, never pausing in his one-way dialogue.
Finally Tornado reached over and touched his
outstretched hand, sniffing, trying to figure out how something so very
different in one way could be the same in others.
Slowly Diego reached up and stroked the horse’s muzzle, his
touch as light as a feather. His
heart reached out for the stallion, and he yearned to be the part of the
horse’s life as it had been ‘before.’
Tornado snorted, but didn’t pull away and Diego continued his
touching, reaching toward the eyes and ears, rubbing between them and
then letting his hand follow the lines of the graceful neck.
Within the next half hour, Diego alternately stroked the horse
with his hand and rubbed with the curry brush, only stopping when
Tornado began nuzzling him.
Slipping on the mask, Zorro mounted without any
further problems and rode out into the cool, clear night. The moon was
just rising over the far horizon, bright yellow and bloated looking. The image of a dusky red moon, chased by another, tinier
white one flicked through his memory, but Zorro pushed that thought from
his mind and urged Tornado toward the mission, trying to get there as
quickly as possible. While
he had anticipated having to take some time letting the stallion get
used to him, it had taken longer than he had thought it would.
The news of the bandits’ attempted retribution
against the priests and the neophytes the night before had led him to
strongly believe that they would attempt another attack tonight.
And while the inhabitants of the mission had succeeded in turning
back the assault with bows and arrows and sheer numbers, Zorro felt that
tonight, El Diablo would come better prepared.
The outlaw had to chuckle at the fact that the mission Indians
seemed to have their own sources of information about the dealings of El
Diablo. Just as Bernardo
was ignored, so too are the Indians, especially their children.
Just before reaching the crest of a hill
overlooking the mission, he paused, dismounted and continued stealthily,
crouching low. Tornado
followed, his hooves making only the barest of sounds in the soft dirt.
In the moonlight, shadows flowed eerily, but he was still able to
make out furtive figures skulking near the back gate of the mission.
“Tornado,” he whispered near the horse’s ear,
“stay here until I call you.” The
horse whickered softly, but stayed in place. Still crouching low, Zorro
slipped from tree to bush to rock, pausing periodically to listen and
look. The sword in its
sheath felt comfortable as it bumped lightly against his thigh; the soft
breeze lifted the ends of the cape causing it to flutter softly as he
slipped across the mission grounds.
Near the large monastery courtyard, he paused
again, listening intently, straining his ears.
There! he thought, hearing a snapping of a twig, the
rustle of leaves near the pepper tree.
He slipped through the cemetery and peered around the corner of
the building. Three dark
figures skulked toward the monks’ quarters.
Moonlight flashed on the blades of knives and barrels of pistols.
Zorro raced stealthily toward the tree and, grasping a lower
branch, swung up into it. He
took a moment to see where each bandito was located.
One turned toward the tree and hissed, “I heard something, Manuel.”
“You are loco!” whispered another.
Zorro grinned, quickly forming a plan, his Jerintas
memories completely repressed. He
gave a low moan, elongating the sound until it sounded as though it was
coming from the farthest grave in the nearby cemetery.
All three bandits spun around, their mouths forming round O’s of fear. “What was that?” one asked. Zorro let out another moan and then leaped from the tree, his cloak spreading behind him like wings. Landing lightly on his feet, he whipped out his sword, the sound more like the hissing of a snake than the rubbing of metal.
“Zorro!” they cried, almost in unison.
One pulled out his pistol and fired, but Zorro had already jumped
nimbly aside into the darkest shadows of the huge tree.
Laughing, he called out, “I am very much alive,
and able to send you to purgatory, unless you surrender.”
He leaped back into the moonlit courtyard, his cape swirling
around him as though it had life of its own.
Two of the bandits dropped their weapons and fell to their knees, moaning in fear, but the third whipped out a sword and lunged at Zorro. Laughing, the black clad masked man easily parried the wild thrust, answering with a slight motion of his wrist, which parted the bandit’s shirt, and caused the buttons fall into the dust. With a growl, El Diablo’s man slashed wildly, but Zorro ducked easily, returning each attack with one of his own. Finally, the masked man reached in and almost delicately tweaked the sword from his adversary’s hand.
By this time most of the inhabitants of the
monastery had popped their heads out of the doorways and windows. They appeared to have been anticipating the arrival of the
bandits, having in their hands spears, bows and arrows and garden tools.
They rubbed their eyes and gasped, some crossing
themselves in fear. The
whispered word, ‘Zorro’ almost became a chorus.
The bandit, now weaponless, cringed at Zorro’s
feet. “No, Señor
Demon, no! Do not kill me, por
favor. I will
Loud enough for everyone to hear, and making up his story as he went, Zorro said, “I am no demon, señor, although I have had to fight a few. With help from the santos and God I am back. Mainly, I believe, so I could come back after you and your leader, El Diablo. Does El Diablo think he can get away with attacking priests and mission workers?” Looking toward a doorway where Father Felipe stood watching, he added, “Padre, if you will send some of your Indians to tie up these men and also send someone to alert the lancers, then I shall take my leave.”
“Well met, Señor Zorro,” the priest said, holding a large wooden crucifix in one hand and making the sign of the cross with the other.
The Indians and monks tied up the three bandits,
while keeping an eye on their spiritual leader and the masked man.
Sheathing his sword, Zorro held out his hand to the priest, a
bright smile on his face. Father
Felipe took the outlaw’s hand and shook it warmly.
Zorro looked down at the smooth wood of the crucifix, and then
looked back into the priest’s face.
“Padre, I assure you, I am Zorro.
I am not a demon or a devil.”
“I believe you, Señor Zorro,” Father
Felipe said quietly. “But
it does not hurt to make sure. It
is good to have you back.”
“Believe me, Padre Felipe, it is good to
be back. I hope it will be
safe now for you and the rest of the priests and neophytes tonight.”
Zorro whistled and was gratified to hear hoof beats indicating
The stallion pranced almost shyly in front of him, but didn’t move away when he grasped the saddle horn and vaulted onto the horse.
“Señor Zorro, please come back when you
can talk about your experiences,” Father Felipe told him.
“I will, Padre,” Zorro returned, smiling
broadly and saluting, knowing that to continue to allay suspicions, he
would have to visit the priest in the near future.
Turning Tornado’s head, he rode into the hills, feeling a deep
sense of pleasure and well-being. Pushed
away and forgotten were any Rantiri directives and memories that
Jerintas had given him.
The day of the second excursion dawned slightly
overcast, cool, but not overly so.
“This is perfect,” Minta said as she and Diego left the
building. He again received
curious stares from newer units. “I
had worried about staying warm enough if we were out after dark.
These jackets will keep us at least partially warm.”
Once outside, Minta grabbed his hand and pointed
toward a nearby wooded area. While
the foliage was not dense, it afforded more privacy than the pond had. They
walked along a neatly groomed path.
Diego gazed thoughtfully at the vari-colored flowers and
purple-veined leaves on droopy limbed trees.
Small, scaled long-toed creatures hung upside down from limbs,
peering curiously at them with large and round eyes, their skin a light
shade lavender. Diego’s
sense of alienation deepened and he wondered why Minta’s place would
seem so different from the place he dreamed about each night.
“What are those?” he asked, pointing to the creatures as they strode along. The reddish hued sun filtered through the leaves, seeming to set spots of the forest floor on fire.
“They are crilors.
They eat fruit,” she answered, not slowing her pace.
After walking for several more hours, Minta stopped.
“We’ll take a few minutes to eat some lunch and then continue
through the park to the service center.”
“Service center?” Diego asked, taking a proffered fruit roll. He was glad for the rest, this much walking had tired him out, much to his chagrin.
“It’s where people learn more about what is in
this park. It’s also
where people leave their commuters while they explore in the forest. It is also a place where one can borrow a commuter that will
take us to the nearest city.
When we get to the city, we will rent another commuter that will
take us to a large ship that will take us to your home.”
“Oh,” he said, trying to assimilate what Minta
had said. “Will the trip
take long, the one that will take me home?”
“Yes, Diego, but not that long. The ‘commuter’ is a very fast one,” Minta said
hesitantly, not wanting to give Diego more than he could handle
technologically at the moment. They
finished in silence, listening to the tree-dwellers chirping, whining
and droning. As the
sun’s heat penetrated even the shadiest parts of the forest, Diego
stripped off the jacket.
“Did you get enough to eat?” Minta asked,
digging around in her oversized carry-all.
“Yes, I did,” he replied, watching her
“Good, now we put on the disguise,” she said
with a smile, taking out a jar, a knit cap and a cloth.
“Disguise?” he asked, not sure what Minta had
“Something to hide your white skin and dark hair.
We don’t want anyone to notice you, or we won’t be able to
get you home,” Minta explained.
A disguise . . . .
He pondered the idea for a moment as images of black leather boots and a
dark cloak swirled through his mind? Then
it was gone. Minta handed him the cloth and the now-open jar with a dark
paste. “How do I do
“Just rub it on your face, arms, neck and anywhere your skin is exposed,” Minta explained. She watched intently as Diego dipped the cloth into the jar and began rubbing the mixture on his cheeks. After he had applied where he thought it was needed, she took the rag from him and covered the places he had missed. Her hand paused slightly when she was working on his neck, enjoying the warmth and closeness of his body.
Diego smiled, lightly touching one darkened finger to her arm. “It is interesting. We are the same now.”
Minta nodded, returning his smile. When she was
finished, she handed him the cap, which, while unusual this time of
year, wouldn’t be as noticeable as his dark hair.
He put it on, and looked at her expectantly.
His now swarthy skin made him look roguish. “Perfect, Diego. You
don’t have to wear the cap right now, but as soon as we reach the edge
of the woods, you will need to put it back on.
You shouldn’t stand out… oh.”
She paused, looking him over intently.
“The hair above your lip.”
Minta got up and walked a few paces away from him.
“It is called a mustache,” he said quickly,
feeling the rightness of the recalled word even as he said it.
Minta looked at him quizzically for a few seconds before smiling. She was beginning to expect newly remembered words and thoughts to come from her student at any time. Nodding, she continued, “But then again, maybe not. The color of your . . . mustache blends with the dye. If you don’t get too terribly close to anyone, it shouldn’t be noticeable.”
did not wish to take it off,” Diego said so matter-of-factly that
Minta chuckled softly. He
helped Minta gather up their picnic supplies and they continued down the
path. A light breeze made the leaves rustle and cooled the pair as
they walked. Diego noticed
that this path was not as well groomed as the one before.
They had to walk more carefully, paying closer attention to
rocks, roots and debris. But for some reason it made him feel more
comfortable. It didn’t
make him feel less tired, though. Despite
the rest during lunch, Diego still felt tired and wished he could take
at least a short siesta, but he knew that they must get to this
‘service center’ as quickly as possible, though, so he said nothing.
As the sun began slipping toward the horizon, the path ended.
“Put your cap on,” Minta told him, and after he
had followed her direction, walked out onto a wide expanse that seemed
to be covered with flat gray rock, much like in the picture of the
commuter that Minta had shown him.
A building sat across from the flat rock, with people coming and
going in and out of it. “This
is one of the entrances of the park.
Just follow my lead and don’t say anything unless someone says
something to you. We are
going to get a commuter for hire to take us to a terminal.
It will be a short trip, but the terminal will be much larger and
busier, so you must do just exactly what I tell you to do.”
Diego pondered Minta’s words, trying to
understand. This place
already seemed incredibly busy.
Seeing his look of bewilderment, Minta added,
“Everything will be all right, though.”
Diego nodded, even though he wasn’t entirely sure he could
imagine what was coming next.
Some commuters drove into the large space in front
of the building, while others drove out.
One of the vehicles made a whirring noise, along
with other sounds that he could not recognize.
Heat seemed to reflect from the dark stone area in front of them,
making the sweat stand out on his forehead.
Not knowing if the disguise could be wiped away, Diego resisted
the temptation to wipe his brow.
Everything was so confusing after living in the confines of a hospital room, but this was the way that Minta said she was going to get him back to the home of his dreams, so he would do whatever it took to get there. With a resolution borne of desire, he followed Minta across the flat rock and into the building.