A Time to Reflect

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

Zorro stood up in his seat, as the space inside the carriage was much too restrictive.  The weird sound came again from ahead of him and Tornado and the mule pranced and snorted, but to the stallion’s credit, he didn’t run away.  Zorro’s hand touched something.  A pistol.  Bernardo had left a pistol, just in case.   Zorro picked it up and jumped from the carriage.  His eyes studied the pre-dawn dimness of the road ahead, and he was barely able to see the form of a lizard-like animal about the size of steer standing on its hind legs as though studying its surroundings.  It was silent as well as still for only a moment and then it burst into action.  Not toward him but toward the mission fields.  It was soon out of sight, but Zorro could hear its cry as it found its prey.  A high-pitched squeal and then the cry of a stricken calf sounded in his ears. 

Sitting back down in the carriage, Zorro struck the reins to the hindquarters of the nervous mule and raced toward the Mission entrance.  The strange creature would be busy with its kill and Zorro could get Manuel into the Mission and Tornado and the mule to safety in the stables.   Just as he pulled in front of the Mission, the great door opened and Father Felipe, his face wreathed with the bright light of a lantern, appeared.  A neophyte, Pedro, stood behind his shoulder. 

“Zorro!” the priest cried.

“I have a wounded man and you have a very dangerous and strange predator,” Zorro said quickly, cutting off anything else the priest might have been about to say.    Father Felipe nodded, handed his lantern to Pedro, and came over to Zorro to help care for Manuel.   “Father, if you and Pedro can take Manuel, I will get the horses to safety.”

“Yes, Señor Zorro, do that quickly and then you must come in and tell me about this strange animal that dares to kill so close to habitation and can awaken those deeply asleep with the strength of its cry,” Father Felipe said, taking Manuel Villegro in his arms and carrying him into the Mission. 

Zorro quickly settled the animals into the stable, listening for the sound of the large lizard.  After the rest of the cattle had stampeded away from the scene of the killing, there had been nothing, no sounds, no indication that anything was out of the ordinary.  However, Zorro didn’t let down his guard until he had barred the heavy wooden gate of the stable behind him and he was inside the sanctuary of the Mission.  He found Father Felipe in the infirmary tending to Manuel. 

“You have taken very good care of young Villegro, Zorro,” Father Felipe said.  “I have little else to do, except make him comfortable.”  He turned to the outlaw.  “Did you give him a sleeping draft?”

“Yes,” Zorro said with a slight smile.  “It made it much easier to care for him as well as to bring him here.”

The priest nodded.  “Now about this creature.  Several of my neophytes wanted to go out and fight it, but at this hour and as vicious and strange as it sounded, I felt it better to let the beast have its meal in peace this time.   We will examine the area when there is more light.”

“That is wise,” Zorro replied.  “I was attacked by one while I was rescuing Manuel.”  He paused and gazed directly into the cleric’s eyes.  “I considered myself very lucky to be alive after I had examined it.”

“Then you killed one of these beasts?”

“Yes, with a great deal of difficulty,” Zorro said tersely.  He pulled out a piece of paper where he had jotted down some of the measurements of the dead animal.  Included was a quick sketch he had made.  It had much less detail than his initial drawing, but it still showed the features of the giant lizard.  “Here is what it looked like.  And from what I saw this morning, it’s very fast, and not the least bit afraid of man.”

Father Felipe held the paper closer to the lantern and read aloud some of Zorro’s notes.  “Four and a half feet tall and almost six feet from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail.  Head like a lizard with sharp canine teeth, horny crest on its head.  Three large claws on each foot with a sharp and pointed dew claw on its front feet.”  He looked up at Zorro.  “What kind of animal is this?  I have never heard of such a creature before.   Where did it come from?”

There was a slight stirring from another bed and Zorro whipped around.  A voice accompanied the noise.  “From the Jurassic period,” the voice said sleepily in stilted Spanish, as though it wasn’t his native language.

“Jurassic?” Zorro and Father Felipe said together.   With the lantern in his hand, the priest walked quickly to the side of another bed and sat down in a chair near the speaker, Father Felipe’s other patient.  Zorro hadn’t paid attention to the other occupant of the infirmary when he came in.

“How are you feeling?” Father Felipe asked. 

“Tired,” the stranger said.  He looked around.  Even in his illness, there was curiosity in his eyes. 

“You have a fever.  It seems to have gone down a bit, though,” the priest told him after laying his hand on the sick man’s forehead.  “You had a wound that had become infected.”    The stranger sighed but said nothing.   “What is your name?”

“Doug,” he said and then seemed to realize for the first time to whom he was speaking.  “You are a priest?”   Father Felipe nodded.   “Where am I, Father?” Doug asked.  Then he began speaking to himself, as though taking inventory of his surroundings.   His eyes roved around the room, but he didn’t notice Zorro standing in the shadows of the lightening room.  “Spanish.  The clothes.  Room.  Early nineteenth century.  Spanish West, perhaps.”

“My son, you are in the Mission San Gabriel.  Near the pueblo.”

The man’s brow furrowed and he closed his eyes.  After a moment, Zorro began to think Doug had fallen asleep.  Then the dark eyes opened again.  “I am sorry.  I . . . I am not trying to be rude.   My name is Dr. Douglas Phillips.”

“Doctor?” Father Felipe asked. 

“A scientist, not a medical doctor,” Doug answered.  He continued to scan his surroundings.  “Mission San Gabriel?  That’s near Los Angeles, right?”

“Yes, Doctor,” the priest answered.  “You are Americano?”

“Just Doug, please, Padre.  And yes, I am an American.”

“What did you mean by Jurassic?” Zorro interjected, thinking that this man knew something about those lizard creatures.

Doug started, as though he was being reminded of something he had done wrong.  And indeed he had done, he thought sluggishly.  He had given more information in this time frame than the people were able to understand and while that seemed to have no other effect than to make their sojourns into the various time frames more difficult at times, he still didn’t like to divulge too much. 

Doug had learned long ago that very little that he or Tony did or tried to do seemed to alter the fabric of time.  In fact, he had begun to wonder if he and his partner were actually part of that fabric; that what they did in the past was what was supposed to happen to make the timelines flow toward the conclusions that he knew in his time.  There was a slight pounding behind his eyes and Doug dropped that line of thought.  It was too confusing to deal with in his present condition. He was just too tired.  He closed his eyes a moment and considered just staying that way; sleeping as he really wanted to do.  But then he took a deep breath.  He had begun this thread; he needed to give them a bit more information.  Then perhaps he could sleep.  Remotely, he wondered why Tony wasn’t fielding these questions.   “The Jurassic is a period of time.  A long time ago.  Before men came along.”   Even though he had a basic understanding of the Spanish language, he was still glad of the language program chip that had been inserted behind his ear by alien invaders during one of their transfers.  

“God created men,” Father Felipe corrected Doug with a slight frown.  “He created all the creatures we know of.”

“I really do not want to get into an argument over religion and science, Father, but we really don’t know how long the creative periods were—how long a day is for God as opposed to us.  Nor do we know if there were creations that disappeared before records were kept. The creatures you were talking about came from the past.”   He remembered that someone other than the priest had asked the last question, and he peered into the shadows where Zorro stood quietly.  When he was finally able to make out the masked man, he gasped.  “Zorro?  You are real!”

Zorro smiled and stepped forward into the light of the lantern.  The sun was beginning to show outside the window and soon the lantern would be unnecessary.   “I would hope so.”

“No, you do not understand.  Uh, the stories . . . you are a myth.”  Doug stopped, confused.  There were many things that he had thought myth or legend that had turned out to be real during this time he had spent traveling.  He smiled weakly.  “But I guess you are not.”

Zorro nodded, puzzled as to where this foreigner could have heard about him.  “I am no myth.   Where did you hear of me?”

Doug was about to tell of the stories he had read as a youth, the comics, the books and movies, but stopped himself.  He didn’t know just how long this man had been acting as the masked seeker of justice.  In fact, he couldn’t know if everything of the legends of his childhood were factual or if there was a little fact and a great deal more fiction.  For all he knew this man in front of him could be an actual bandit.  But if that were so, then why would the priest be so comfortable standing in the same room with the masked man.  The pounding in his head precluded more investigative thought.  “Someone told me about you, but I thought they had to be making it up,” he finally said.  He felt so tired.  Closing his eyes, Doug began to drift off to sleep, then he remembered something.   He had wondered where Tony was and realized that he had not heard his friend’s voice, nor had he seen him.  Could one of the creatures….?   No, it was not even a thought that he could finish.  “Tony!”

“Tony?” Father Felipe asked. 

“My partner!” Doug said, trying to sit upright.  “Where is Tony?”

“You were discovered by my neophytes in the cornfield just before dark and brought to me,” Father Felipe said.  “There was no one else with you.  You appeared to have walked from the hills, but from which direction I cannot guess.”

“But we always travel together,” Doug protested.  “Are you sure?”

The priest nodded.  “Your friend would have been brought to the Mission had he been with you.”

Doug was puzzled.  After the first transfer, they had always been sent through time together.  They were temporally tied together, or at least that’s what Ray had told him during one of their voice-to-voice communications.  Of course, there had been slight separations.  Several hundred feet to a quarter mile.  Maybe Tony had been transferred someplace close.  But if some of the carnosaurs had come with them, Tony could be….  Again, he didn’t want to even think about the possibilities.

“What are those creatures?” Zorro asked.  “You seem to know about them.”

“They are a species of dinosaur,” Doug said cautiously, not wanting to say more than he had to.  Dinosaur bones and fossils had been found, but the science of paleontology had not really begun until later.   “Dinosaur means….”

“Terrible or fierce lizard,” Father Felipe answered.  “It is Greek.  I am familiar with Greek,” he added with a wry smile.  “Although to your credit, many of my fellow Franciscans are not.”

“Yes,” Doug replied, still feeling slightly foolish. 

Zorro was startled.  He had concluded that these animals were somehow related to lizards, but had no idea of the correctness of his conclusion.  And terrible was an apt description.   “How did they get here?” he asked.  He noticed Doug’s reticence to answer and wondered what other secrets this man held besides his knowledge of a strange and dangerous creature. 

“Too complicated,” Doug said tiredly.  “But Tony….”

“Now that it’s light, I will look for your friend,” Zorro said, but there were other things he needed to know and if this man, ill though he was, could supply the answers, he had to ask.   “Do you know how many of these creatures there are?” he asked.   “How did they get here?” he repeated.  Doug looked reticent, unable or unwilling to divulge anything. 

“I think that if there is danger to the people here, we need to know all we can in order to protect them,” Father Felipe said, his voice quiet but determined.   He picked up a bottle of watered down wine and poured it in a mug next to the bed stand.  Then he held it to Doug’s lips and let him drink some of it.  As the sick man swallowed, he added, his voice softly urgent, “Please, help us.  I heard the death screams of one of the cattle less than an hour ago.  I do not wish to hear screams from one of the people here.”

Doug pushed away the mug and nodded.  “I understand your fear,” he said.  “I just have no idea how to tell you what you want to know.”

“Just tell us,” Zorro coaxed, wondering what could be so difficult, so mysterious.

Doug stared at the far wall, now bathed in early morning light.  Another priest entered the room.  He was younger than Father Felipe, but wore the same gray robes of a Franciscan.  His eyes took in Zorro, nodded to the masked man, but then turned back to the older priest.

“Father Felipe, it is almost time to ring the bell for the morning Mass,” the priest said.

“Father Marcos, please lead the Mass for me.  It is important that I attend to our patients,” Father Felipe said.  “And please have all the worshippers come to the chapel in groups; not alone.”   The priest nodded, not asking anymore, and turned and left.   Father Felipe motioned Zorro to sit down in a nearby chair.  Then he turned back to Doug.  “Please, help us deal with these creatures.”  When it came, the response was not in the least what he expected. 

“The carnosaurs are from the past.  They got here by a tunnel through time,” Doug said softly.   “Just as my friend and I came here.”  He paused to let his bombshell sink in.  For a moment there was total silence, broken only by the peeling of a large bell nearby. 

“A tunnel through time?” Zorro asked, incredulous.  His mind reeled, wondering how such an impossible thing could happen.

“Tony and I are from the future; probably about a hundred and fifty or more years in the future.”  Doug motioned for more of the wine.  Father Felipe handed it to him.   Taking a drink, Doug gathered his chaotic thoughts, trying to explain in a way that these people could understand.  He had no illusions that this Zorro, while probably very clever and astute, was no ‘superhero’ like those he had enjoyed in the comic books of his youth.  He was a man, as was the priest.   “It is still experimental and Tony and I have not been able to return to our place of origin.”

“So you travel from one place to another through this tunnel?” Zorro asked. 

“Yes.  We transfer from, not only one place to another, but one time to another,” Doug explained.  “Most of the time, just Tony and I are transferred, but something must have gone wrong with the tunnel and some of the carnosaurs came with us.”  He paused to take another drink.  He seemed to be insatiably thirsty.  “I have trouble remembering, but I think there were only a few, four, I think in real close proximity to us when we left the Jurassic time zone.”

“I killed one.  There was another outside the Mission this morning,” Zorro mused.  “Which means that it could be the only one, or there might be another one or two.”

“Could you look for Tony for me?” Doug asked, his eyes pleading. 

“Yes, I will go now,” Zorro said.  “I have a very fast horse and will search the area where you were found and then work my way toward the hills from there.”

“Thank you,” Doug murmured, so tired now that he literally couldn’t keep his eyes open.  Soon he was asleep, while the two men who had been listening to the fantastic tale gazed at each other in open wonder. 

“I think I had better go,” Zorro finally said.  “I will come back and check on Manuel and Dr. Phillips later.  If I find his friend, I will bring him here as well.” 

“Yes, I worry about this friend of his.  And not just because of the creatures that they inadvertently brought here.  We know how the comandante feels about foreigners,” Father Felipe concurred.  Zorro started to turn away.  “Please let me leave you with a blessing, my son.  I think with all that has happened, you will need God’s help in this endeavor.” 

Zorro nodded and kneeled before the priest.

 

 

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