This is a story about a FANTASY written for consenting adults. If you're not both of those, don't read it. Characters in a FANTASY don't get sick or die unless I want them to. You don't live in a FANTASY so be safe. The fictional characters in my stories are trained and experienced in acts of FANTASY - don't try to do what they do - someone could get hurt.
If you think you know somebody who resembles any of the characters here, congratulations, but you're wrong - any similarity between the characters in this story and any real person is purely coincidental, since all of these characters are figments of my dirty little imagination.
This is my story, not yours. Don't sell it or put it on a pay site. You can keep it and/or give it away with all of this information intact, but if you make money off of it without my permission, you're breaking the law and pissing me off.
Alex pulled himself another agonizing inch up the steep wall of the gully. Just a couple more feet and he would be safe, but every breath felt like a knife plunging into his side where his rib had been broken. The rest of him was in no better shape, either.
His left eye was swollen shut, and the flap of skin hanging from the cheek beneath it left bone exposed. There was hardly an inch of his body that wasn't deeply bruised and gouged by the chains with which the motorcycle gang had beaten him.
Black and purple thunderclouds loomed over the mountain above him and the time between the strobed flashes of lighting and the rumbling pressure waves of thunder was growing shorter and shorter. Looking up, he could already see the silver shroud of rain hanging from the bottoms of the buttressed cloud masses. It would not be long before tons of that rain collected in the smaller gullies uphill and cascaded into this wash, sweeping down upon him, laden with logs, rocks and other debris. Alex gritted his teeth and pulled himself further up the almost vertical wall. Below and behind him, he could still hear the grumbling engines of the motorcycles and see the sweeping beams of their headlights as the riders searched the countryside around Lakeside and Pinetop for him, or for his body.
By no stretch of anyone's imagination had Lakeside or Pinetop been big enough before the Sickness to have survived as a community in the wake of such a devastating disaster. They had, however, one critical resource that many other pre-sickness cities and towns could no longer claim: a year-round supply of fresh water. Thanks to Show Low Lake, Rainbow Lake and the smaller Lake of the Woods, a new, thriving community had grown up where before had been a scattered collection of 'vacation' homes and service businesses.
Alex had gotten the radio call about some kind of trouble there and had ridden into town unaware of what awaited him. The sudden roar of powerful engines and the darting of the nimble motorcycles had been too much for Buck. He had reared suddenly, dumping Alex to the pavement before his hooves clattered off down the street. Surrounded by the chain-wielding, leather-clad gang, Alex had not even had a chance to remove the thongs from the hammers of his twin six-shooters before he was pounded to a bloody pulp.
Knocked repeatedly to the ground by a dizzying parade of roaring, lunging motorcycles and their laughing, leather-clad riders, Alex had barely managed to throw himself into a ditch, and under cover of the darkness precipitated by the gathering storm, drag his battered body out of town and into the hills. Once it rained, there would be no trace of his passage. None of the bikers had shown any skill or inclination toward tracking, but there were others in the community whose aid they could coerce, as soon as they thought of doing so.
Now, the storm that would have saved him threatened to become his demise. He was well aware of the kinds of flash floods that such a storm could produce, and he struggled mightily, pushing the pain and the deathly weariness of his body to the background. At last, he threw an arm over the shoulder of the bank just as his ears picked up the ominous roar of rushing water. Grinding his teeth against the pain, Alex gave a final heave, but a rock gave way beneath his boot just as a solid wall of muddy water careened around the bend above him, sweeping tons of rock and debris before it. His broken ribs screamed in agony, but it was not in Alex's nature to quit. With one last effort, he threw his tortured frame over the lip of the gully, feeling consciousness slip away as the raging flood thundered past like a freight train, its muddy death only inches from his boot.
Alex did not know how long he lay unconscious, but when he awoke, it was pitch black and fat raindrops were pelting his battered face so hard that it felt like a repeat of his earlier beating. Ignoring the grating of bones in his side and the agonized protests of his torn and bruised flesh, Alex dragged himself to his feet and staggered uphill, seeking some kind of shelter from the raging storm. He no longer feared pursuit, since the water would obliterate all signs of his passing and chase his pursuers into shelter, but he was in no shape to travel especially in this storm, and his body needed healing rest.
Revealed by a flash of lightning, he made out the sharp outlines of a Yucca plant. His knife, thankfully, was still with him, as were his tied-down guns, and he cut several of the sharply pointed, fibrous leaves from the Yucca, tucking them under his belt as he walked.
Alex stumbled and fell a number of times as he staggered through the storm, and his pain wracked mind almost missed the overhang when it was briefly exposed by another flash of lighting. Wearily, in exquisite agony, he dragged his body on hands and knees under the stony outcropping, finding a dry, cozy nook about four feet across and two feet wide near its center.
The temptation to sleep was almost overwhelming, but he took one of the yucca leaves from his belt, and using a flat stone as a work surface, pounded the leaf gently with another, rounded, stone, occasionally pulling the pulped leaf through between the two pieces of rock to strip off the pulp. When he was satisfied that he had removed as much of the pulp as possible, Alex held between his fingers the sharp needle tip of the leaf, from which dangled a long tassel of hair-like fibers.
One by one, he stripped the outer fibers away until he was left with a single strand, still attached to the sharply pointed tip of the leaf. Carefully, he cleaned the remaining fiber of the last vestiges of pulp and sand, then, using his fingers to feel the edges of the cut on his cheek, he closed the hanging flap of flesh over the wound.
Ignoring the new pain, and working slowly by touch, he crudely sewed the piece of skin back into place, using the Yucca needle and fiber to suture the edges of the cut. With the last of his strength, Alex searched for other injuries on his body. The ribs, he could do nothing about, and the rest seemed to be small cuts and abrasions over large bruises, some of which he treated with more pulp from the Yucca leaves.
Satisfied that he could do no more, Alex found a reasonably comfortable position, and using his rolled-up gunbelts as a pillow, curled up against the cold. Even with the rain, the weather was mild, but evaporation from his wet clothes chilled him. Exhausted, Alex put the cold and his pain out of his mind as best he could and slept.
When he awoke, Alex was puzzled by his surroundings. He seemed to be in his own bed, but how could he have gotten from the hills above Pinetop to Hidden Valley?
"So, you decided to rejoin the living after all," Juan Quiñones said as he came into Alex's view, grinning from ear to ear.
A dark skinned, dark-haired woman entered behind the hill man carrying a steaming bowl of something. Smiling at Alex, she shouldered Juan aside, saying, "Hush, old man. He needs food, not conversation."
Turning to Alex, she sat on a chair near the bed and said, "Here. Have some of this soup. I did not think you would mind sacrificing one of your chickens for a hot meal. I am Flora. I am the closest thing that ugly Indian will ever get to a wife."
Far from being insulted, Juan smiled tenderly at her and replied, "You did not think I was so ugly last night, woman."
"In the dark," she snorted, "everyone looks the same. Don't you have chores to do?"
Flora blew on a spoonful of the soup and held it for Alex to sip. The broth was delicious and he suddenly realized he was ravenous.
Once his hunger was taken care of, Alex's puzzlement and curiosity returned. "How did I get here, Flora? Last I remember I was shivering under a rock in the hills above Pinetop."
"I will let Juan tell you that story," she smiled, smoothing the covers over him. "I hope you do not mind, but I cleaned up your sewing job a little. Perhaps the scar will not be too bad now. I did not know anyone still knew this way of stitching a wound with Yucca fiber. Did you also use the Yucca needle?"
"A man uses what's to hand," Alex shrugged, "but I thank you for fixin' my patch job. I never was much hand for sewin' and not bein' able to see what I was doin' was even more of a handicap."
"It is good you closed the wound. Infection might have set in, or worse. This time of year is bad for blowflies. You rest now. That is what your body needs most."
"I need to get some stuff together and get back to Lakeside," Alex said, starting to pull the covers back. He realized, as he did, that he was naked under the sheets, and hurriedly covered back up, his face red with embarrassment.
About that time, as Flora tactfully turned away, Juan returned, apparently having heard at least part of the conversation.
.... There is more of this story ...