A Time to Reflect

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

Zorro was amazed at the resiliency of the creature ahead of him, but wasn’t surprised.  He knew his aim had been true; that the ball had gone through the lungs and most likely damaged the heart, but there was still enough life in the animal to cause death to himself.  It was in a death frenzy of sorts, determined to reach its tormenter before it died.  Zorro had seen it in other animals, but not with the same kid of ferocity as in these carnosaurs.  This was when he hoped that Doug Phillip’s story, outlandish as it was, was indeed true.  Otherwise, the idea that there might be legions of these things breeding in the hills was appalling. 

It didn’t stop at the sight of Zorro’s knife.  Indeed, it totally ignored the weapon, charging down on him as though he was some kind of enraged bull enticed by the prickings of the picador’s lance.  And as a matador did when the bull was upon him, Zorro leaped nimbly aside at the carnosaur’s approach, jabbing it as it rushed by.  With another enraged cry, the creature quickly skidded to a halt and pivoted around.  Just as quickly, Zorro dashed to a place that would give him best advantage and waited for the carnosaur’s next charge. 

It seemed to be slower this time, but there was still life in the eyes.  Blood streamed from the wound in its side and trickled from its nose and mouth.  It was only a matter of time, but Zorro must still be ready, be alert to whatever this beast could do in the moments it had left.   It was still very, very dangerous.  The carnosaur charged, emitting a squalling roar that echoed loudly in the cul de sac.  Again, Zorro leapt nimbly aside, having used his cape as a matador would; fooling the creature into thinking he was larger than he really was.   As the carnosaur rushed by, Zorro stabbed it again, but this time he wasn’t able to hang on to the knife.  It was jerked out of his hand and left quivering in the side of the creature.  This time it seemed to feel the foreign and pain-dealing object and thrashed around at the edge of the pond, biting and clawing at the offending weapon, spraying water everywhere. 

Finally it was able to snap the handle off, leaving the blade deep in its flesh and that, too, seemed to enrage it.  It jerked around, still biting at its side and Zorro was temporarily ignored.  The outlaw backed away, letting time deal with the dying animal.  It continued to thrash about near the edge of the pond, sending water spraying through the air.  The pond itself became tinged with pink as the carnosaur continued to fight its own death, lifeblood flowing from its horrible wounds. 

Suddenly it stopped, took a great shuddering breath and looked around, the lidless yellow eyes gazing around.  It spotted the man in black and squealed, bringing its purpose back to killing its tormenter.  This time it charged erratically, tottering a bit as it waded out of the water.  Zorro decided that the end was near and retreated behind a stand of rocks, climbing up to the top, out of reach of the giant lizard.  The animal gazed up at him, the eyes baleful, then it coughed and hissed, staggering.  It turned toward the pond, but before reaching the water, collapsed onto the ground, its hissing ragged.  Finally, there was one last shuddering breath and then it was still. 

Zorro waited a short while and then approached the carnosaur.  There was no movement when he approached and he was assured that it was dead.  He judged the animal to be a little larger than the other one, but whether smaller or larger, Zorro hoped that this was the last.  What had Señor Doctor Phillips said?  There had been four that attacked when this tunnel had carried them from the land of these beasts to this time and place.  So there could be two more.  It was imperative that they be found and destroyed before they actually killed someone.  He needed to warn Sgt. Garcia, as well.  Of course, that would take a bit of doing—to somehow convince the poor sergeant of the guard that such animals existed and that the danger was very real.  Personally, Zorro wouldn’t blame him for not believing such a story.  He wouldn’t believe a tale about giant lizards, either, if he hadn’t seen the animals with his own eyes. 

Zorro walked back to where he had left Tornado and found the stallion waiting impatiently, pawing the hard ground, snorting.  The horse whinnied when he saw his master and Zorro smiled, reaching a gloved hand toward the black stallion’s neck.  Tornado shied back and Zorro realized why.  There was blood on his gloves--the lizard’s blood.  Zorro pulled off his gauntlets and then stroked the stallion.  Tornado snorted and rubbed his chest with a soft, velvety nose.  Laughing, Zorro pulled the gauntlets back on and mounted.   The stallion picked up on his mood and whinnied softly, shaking his head impatiently.

“Yes, my friend, it is time to look for that other American.  With at least another of those beasts running loose, we need to find him and get him to safety.”  What was left unsaid was the fact that if Doug Phillips’ friend showed up in the pueblo, he would be subject to the comandante’s mercy.  Luvisto’s hatred of all foreigners was well known, exceeding even the strict bounds of Spanish law.

Zorro guided the stallion up the path, ordering him to wait just within sight of the dead carnosaur.  Tornado was nervous, but did his master’s bidding.  Dismounting, Zorro pulled out a rope from a saddlebag and tied it to the saddle, tying the other end to one leg of the dead creature.  He couldn’t leave it rotting in the pond.  Water was precious in this area and even one polluted stream or pond could mean disaster to a landowner.   Again, Tornado showed his displeasure by snorting, but when Zorro mounted and ordered him to pull the giant lizard, he did so, straining against the rope.  Slowly they were able to drag the animal down the path to a point where the rotting flesh wouldn’t foul the stream.   Most likely the scavengers would take care of the carcass, but you could never be too sure with something as strange as this.     

They had soon traversed the rest of the path down from the spring and were galloping toward the area where Zorro had assumed the other traveler might have . . . what? Arrived?  How would one arrive through time?  Shaking his head, the masked man simply could not comprehend such a scene and finally decided to cast about between the Mission and the pueblo. 

 

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Tony kicked the horse to greater effort, but he knew that it was only a matter of time before this horse, which had not appeared to be a really sturdy animal anyway, was totally spent.  There had to be someplace where he could hide.  This area was filled with arroyos, rocky hills, small canyons.  To his left, Tony saw something that looked promising.  If he could reach the area before the soldiers pursuing him, maybe he could let the poor horse go and hide in some cave or crevice that the horsemen behind him couldn’t follow him into.   He had to take a chance.  He had become sick of being imprisoned.  It was bad enough that he was a prisoner in time, but that he was spending so much of that ‘time’ locked in various jails, prisons and dungeons had affected him more than he would like.   Pulling the reins ever so slightly, Tony felt the horse respond and head toward the rocky outcroppings. 

He stole a quick glance behind him and saw that the soldiers continued to gain on him.  Soon they appeared to be almost in rifle range, but then Tony remembered that in this era, rifles were muzzleloaders and not as accurate as later repeating rifles.  The soldiers probably were content to just let him run his horse into the ground and then capture him at their leisure. 

After a while, Tony looked over his shoulder again and noticed that the dust had drifted away from his pursuers.  There seemed to be fewer of them and they had slowed up.  Where were the others, or had he imagined that there were more?  Why were they slowing?  Were their horses as spent as his was?   Tony was confused, but he was still resolved to not be captured.  Ahead of him lay a network of large boulders, strewn up the side of the hill, laced with small trees, brush and places where only a person on foot could traverse.  It was a perfect place to get lost in and then sneak away later.    

Urging the wheezing horse on toward the rocky hillside, Tony prepared to leap from it as they got closer.   Then he saw the reason for the soldiers in the posse seeming to be fewer and why they had slowed down.  Ahead of him on a trail that paralleled the one he was riding toward, came the commander and one of his men.   In despair, Tony realized that they knew this area and he didn’t.  They knew that there was another route, a shortcut, and they had taken it.

Tony had no recourse but to continue his race for the rocks and hope that he could at least find a place to make his stand.  Bending low over the winded horse’s neck, Tony coaxed it on with his voice.  The horse was slick with sweat and its strides were getting slower.  Suddenly Tony heard a sharp crack in the air above him and almost simultaneously, he felt a sharp, fiery pain across his back.  His horse stopped short in fear and surprise.  Tony looked to the side and saw that the comandante had a long bullwhip.  In horror, and before he could do anything other than be aware of it, Tony saw the end of the whip rise, snakelike and then fall, wrapping itself around his neck.  Then he felt himself jerked from the saddle and he fell hard against the ground.  The wind was knocked out of his body and Tony gasped for breath.  The whip/noose jerked him prone on the ground where he choked in the dust, and then the whip loosened.  With that little respite, Tony sucked in a deep breath and pulled the leather away from his neck.  Still gasping, he staggered to his feet just in time to hear a squalling, high pitched hunting cry and for a moment he stood stock-still in horror.  It was the same hunting cry he had heard back in the Jurassic.   It was the call of a carnosaur.  But here?  In California?  Had the creatures been transported here with him and Doug?  He looked up and saw one of the flesh-eating dinosaurs standing on a boulder, its small eyes darting between him and the soldier.  It seemed to be considering its options; which one of them would be the easiest prey. 

Finally, the dinosaur launched itself from the rocks.  It landed between him and Luvisto, hissing, then watched with cold fascination as the commander’s horse bucked and squealed in terror.  It shook the rider from its back and bolted back down the path from which it had come.  Luvisto got up shakily and stared in horror at the beast.  The other soldiers’ horses followed the lead of the first one and bolted away in panic.  One soldier fell off awkwardly and lay motionless, while others hung on to their retreating horses for dear life.  Soon there was only Tony, Luvisto and the carnosaur the size of a hefty steer.  It hissed again and approached the Californian, slowly at first and then more assuredly.

Luvisto seemed to shake out of his fear and he grabbed his whip from the ground, popping it in the creature’s face.  The carnosaur stopped short, squealing in pain and then it roared its loud cry again.  As much as Tony disliked the way the man had treated him, he could not just stand there and watch the commander be torn apart by something that was here because of him.  “Get out of the way!  Drop down!” he shouted.  The unconscious soldier had a pistol strapped to his waist.  Tony rushed toward him, hoping the gun was ready to fire.  It should be; this was a soldier after all. The unconscious man was only twenty feet away, but the distance seemed miles as he ran. Just as he grabbed the pistol, Tony heard the squalling of the carnosaur almost in his ears.  Raising the pistol even as he was pivoting toward it, he took quick aim.   The reptile had seen his motion and was now charging him.  The chest.  Lungs.  Aim for the chest!   Tony held his hand steady, pulled back the hammer and then squeezed the trigger.  The pistol fired with a roar and the ball hit the carnosaur in the chest.  It stopped, staggered and then screamed in anger and pain.  It charged again and Tony leaped to the side, feeling the rough-skinned body pass so close that he could have reached out and touched it had he been so inclined.   

Now Tony ran toward the commander, having seen something resembling a picador’s lance lying between the two men.  If he could just reach it in time.  He heard the sharp report of another pistol and then the squealing of the carnosaur again.  Something slammed him to the ground just a few feet away from the lance and then he felt sharp, horrible, debilitating pain running up and down his leg.  Despite the pain, Tony rolled over and saw the carnosaur standing above him, the claws pawing the air.  It cried out again, this time it seemed an angry cry and then the eyes stared down at him, cold, viciously cold. 

Tony scrambled backward, until he felt the lance, but before he could do more than drag the weapon toward his body, it was knocked out of his hand by the carnosaur.  Blood streamed from the two pistol shot wounds, but the creature seemed to be ignoring them, only intent on destroying his tormenters.  It squalled angrily and lunged toward Tony, the innumerable, sharp teeth ready to close on him.  The only thought that he could hear rattling in his brain was that now he would find that rest he had been longing for.  He felt the heat of its breath, along with the waves of pain that matched the beating of his heart.  Tony waited for the inevitable.

Then the ground vibrated beneath his back and a horseman galloped close by. The carnosaur screamed a challenge, placing one forepaw on Tony’s chest to pin him while shifting its attention to this additional annoyance. Tony wondered if Luvisto had gotten to his horse, but there didn’t seem to have been enough time. Then he saw the horse flash by again and Tony saw that this was someone else, someone who hadn’t been here before. The horse was large and coal black and the rider was wreathed in black, including what seemed an enormous black cape.  Like a professional picador, the man and his horse danced in and out, pricking the dinosaur with what appeared to be a toothpick of a sword, jumping away when the carnosaur snapped at them. 

But what could he do with a sword? Tony thought despairingly. Then he remembered the doctor’s words—something about Zorro.  Zorro?  He wasn’t joking. This was Zorro!  How in the….

“Tony!” Zorro called out.

Tony’s mind reeled, wondering remotely how this man in black, no matter what the American’s boyhood books had said about this Spanish American hero, could know his name.

“Tony, can you reach the lance?” Zorro called again as he and his horse danced in and tormented the creature again. “The lance to your left.  About three feet.” Again, Zorro danced in, pricked the carnosaur again, but this time the creature had had enough. He lifted the foot that had been pinning Tony painfully to the ground and reached out with both forelegs to slash at Zorro’s horse that had nimbly danced back out of the way.  The dinosaur took several steps away from him trying to reach his more capable tormenter.   The black horse reared just out of reach and Tony scrabbled in the dust for the lance.  Sweat rolled into his eyes, making him blink, but finally his fingers touched the wooden shaft, then curled around it. Despite the pain, he pulled himself to a sitting position and then staggered to his feet, using the lance as balance. 

Zorro grinned his approval and then called out again, “Just throw it at me.  I’ll catch it.” 

His horse danced to one side and Tony threw the lance with the little bit of strength he could muster.  Tony fell heavily to the earth again, knocked down by the carnosaur’s tail and he saw the air around him darken and dance out in and out of focus.  The dinosaur had moved another step from him, but that was small consolation to the American.  He couldn’t have gotten up again.  The pain radiated through his whole body.  He knew that he was losing blood, but he couldn’t even reach down to close the wound with his hand.  As figures, light and motion came back into focus, he saw Zorro stab the predator in the throat and then stab him in the upper chest.  The carnosaur squealed in its pain and anger and then snapped the pole in two.  It seemed to be finally feeling the affects of its wounds.  It staggered toward him and then toward Zorro and his horse. 

“Move aside, Zorro!” another voice called out and Tony saw the stallion back away.  A pistol shot sounded painfully close and the echoes of the blast continued to reverberate back and forth among the rocks of the narrow valley for what seemed forever.   The shot had been true and to the head.  The carnosaur wavered and then staggered again and finally collapsed, just inches from where Tony lay. 

Tony felt the ground shake with the impact.  Zorro was instantly off his horse and by his side, at the same time, jerking off a sash that encircled his waist.  “You are bleeding badly.”

“How . . . how did you know my name?” Tony asked shakily and then felt inane at such a question.

“We have a mutual friend,” Zorro said with a grim smile as he tore the material into two lengths. 

Tony gasped as the masked man drew the cloth around his upper thigh and then tied it tight.  “Doug,” he finally breathed. 

Zorro nodded, but didn’t say anything, only continued working on the wounded man. 

“Is Doug all right?” Tony asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

Again, Zorro nodded. “I believe he will be all right.”  Then he smiled.  “He was worried about you.”

“I should arrest you, Señor Zorro,” came the voice beyond Tony’s line of vision before he could respond to Zorro’s answer.

“Perhaps after we tend to this man’s wounds,” Zorro replied tersely.  But there was a hint of a smile on his face.  “Capitán, could you render the loan of your banda for this man, foreign though he is?”

Luvisto’s face swam into Tony’s wavering vision and he saw the commander nod.  When Zorro tied the next piece of material around his leg, Tony was unable to restrain himself.   He moaned in pain.  

“You have bled a great deal, my friend, but it seems that the beast did not pierce any large blood vessels,” Zorro said as he continued wrapping Tony’s leg.  His work was quick, but efficient. “But you will soon need the attention of Dr. Avila.” Zorro looked up at Luvisto.  “Will you permit this American the aide that he needs, Comandante?” he asked gently.

Tony closed his eyes briefly, unable to hold the two men in his focus.  Ironically, he heard the sound of a hawk or eagle crying out in the sky, the scuffing of a hoof against hard ground, but nothing else.  Then everything seemed to fade away.

 

 

 

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