Storms Never Last
Chapter 7: Terry
Copyright© 2010 by Jake Rivers
I lay there in the dark, in the unfamiliar room. Sleep was both desired and not. To sleep was to still the mind of turmoil, of pain. Yet sleep would call forth unwanted dreams, dreams of happier times, times now gone.
I had been back in Lima for two days, back at the Crillón, back to a new world of confusion, loss, and anger. Yes, anger. It was God that held the power of life and death for us. How could I be angry at God? Yet there was the interminable bureaucracy of trying to solve the simplest problem in a Latin country. "Si, Señor. Mañana, por favor." "No, Mister Fisher. You must go the Mayor's office to do such a thing."
Even the Embassy with their pretentious, "You just have to wait, Mr. Fisher." Or, from a friend, a soon to be ex-friend, "Terry, you just have to keep hoping. Maybe she was at a nearby village. You can imagine the horrendous confusion."
I knew she was gone. I saw the incredible number of photos of the devastation. I saw the video's that ran over and over on the television. It was like the worst war scene, nothing left standing. It was disaster beyond imagination. If I had written about this as a book, I would have been laughed at as being too fanciful. I saw Annie in a crude room with a dirt floor. She was leaning over a patient with an ophthalmoscope in hand; the characteristic crease in her forehead as she squinted in deep concentration at the mysteries to be found in the eye of a twelve year old girl with a cancerous retina.
I tried to imagine the wall of mud, rocks and water that came hurtling down the valley floor at a hundred miles an hour. Was there a moment when some small distant noise made her stop and think about her impending doom, the end of her destiny? After the forty-five seconds of the quake ended, did she pause and think of me, a brief smile lighting up her face? Was there instant oblivion, with some god-like referee in the heavens putting his hands together in a divine time-out, calling a halt to life, love, pain ... hopes and dreams, even the most basic sense of "I am?"
Restless, I got up and turned on the light. I looked on the unopened bottle of Pisco, the local brandy, sitting on the dresser. I knew that offered nothing for me other than momentary oblivion. I had to decide what to do. Should I stay here, wallowing in my anger and despair? Should I go home and try to put my life back together, making something when I felt as if I had nothing?
I made a commitment to myself to end this indecision tomorrow. I had cadged a flight on a news helicopter with a photographer who had done the photo work for several of my wine articles—not his usual line of work, but as a favor to me. We would be making low and high level flights over the devastation zone, and would land on a hill about a half-mile from of where the clinic had stood. I resolved to move on, and try to invent a new life without the sweet girl that had meant so much to me since that kiss in the rain fifteen years ago.
The flight was a combination of catharsis and confusion. From high above it was beautiful in a way, majestic in the sheer size of the flood of mud. As we flew low over Yungay, my friend waved his hand at what had been a moderate sized city. "There were twenty-five thousand people living here. They have found ninety-two survivors. Most of these were on a slightly higher part of town where the cemetery and stadium were located." Neither of us could find a possible remark on the horror of that.
We parked on the hill, and the pilot pointed out where the clinic was. He had been there a number of times and remembered a group of three palm trees, close together, making a perfect triangle. We could see the top part of these trees standing forlorn above the mud. A quirk of nature allowed the palms to remain standing as sentinel over the graves of those who were working at the clinic. It was a sad tribute to a former place of hope.
I wanted to go to the trees and dig deep looking for my love but I knew it made no sense. It would be like looking in the ocean for a particular drop of water. Later the Peruvian government would make this town a national cemetery, forever not allowing excavation of any kind.
I cried my tears, and left to go home and search for life. A new storm was upon me and I didn't have Annie to help me reach the point when the storm would inevitably end, as storms always do. I
had no one to hold my hand, no one to make the sun shine.
"Dammit, Terry! I know how you feel but you just can't sit around and mope."
"I know, Dad. I've thought a lot about it and I guess it's that there isn't any closure. I know Annie died in that mudslide. I know it in my mind and in my heart. But still..."
"Yeah, I know. Listen, I know you've been helping around the vineyards, but there really isn't that much to do at this time of year. Why don't you take your boat and go up to Shasta for a week. Rent a houseboat and just fish for a week. Or, hell, finish that Western. I tell ya, if he kills off her dad he will never ride off into the sunset with her."
I laughed a little at that. Actually, that was the problem with my latest novel I was trying to solve. I'd been keeping dad up to date with the story as I wrote it, but with a tough plot problem and what happened to Annie I was kinda stuck. The protagonist was in love with the girl at the ranch next to his, but he had just found evidence that her dad was rustling cattle all over the basin, including his. I needed to make some progress, because I'd been avoiding calls from my agent. I had a lot riding on the success of, "Death Rides the Range." Mostly, it was I wanted to do more work like this but I had to do a good job on the one in hand first.
"You are right, Dad. That sounds like a great idea. I'll call and see if they have something available, and maybe take off tomorrow."
I called and was pleased to find that they had a small one available. They had sizes from sleeping over twenty to sleeping eight. In reality, it was just a one bedroom with beds that pull out, and a kitchen/living area. It would do fine for one person. I'd find a quiet cove and stay there for a week, taking my boat out to find some good fishing holes.
I left early the next morning, knowing that it would only take me five or six hours, even stopping off for breakfast at a great place just east of Red Bluff (the other great breakfast place—we're talking world-class—is in what passes for downtown Yreka, about twenty miles below the Oregon Border on I-5).
I pulled into the marina around noon and was on my way just before one. I'd stocked up at a Safeway in Redding with everything I'd need. I took it slow towards the east on the Pit River arm of the huge lake ... it has a surface area of about thirty-thousand acres. About six I turned off to a side arm that cut off to the south, where a small creek flowed into the lake. It was a place I knew well and as expected, there was no one there. I got the houseboat anchored and everything set up, and then made a light dinner.
I read for a while. I'd found a book written by some cattlemen's association about the history of cattle in the area of Wyoming I was writing about. It was interesting reading, but that had no effect on keeping me from nodding off from time to time, finally into a restless sleep and into the middle of a range war.
I found Tom, my foreman, in the bottom of the ravine. It was clear he had been gutshot and left to die in solitary agony. I felt a surge of hatred at Millie's father. As much as I loved her I had a killing anger towards him. I stood up, looking at Tom's horse, one he raised from a foal and was the one thing in life he'd ever truly cared for ... his leg crippled with a careless shot and left to die like his master. I slid the .44 slowly out of the holster, dreading the task, but knowing it was my job to do. I raised the gun carefully, lined it up and ended his misery with the sudden noise in the quiet woods sounding a discordant note.
As I eased the pistol back in the holster, I felt something slam into my side, knocking me to the ground. The flat sound of the rifle almost sounded like an echo to the more robust bang of my .44. I wasn't sure how badly I was hurt, but I knew if I moved I was dead. I held still and after what seemed like a long time, there was another flat whang as a bullet kicked broken rock into the side of my face. I waited, and shortly I heard his horse sliding down the side of the ravine. It slowly walked towards me, kicking small rocks or clopping on the hard ground.
Mu gun was underneath me, so I carefully eased my hand down to finally feel the hard smoothness of the bone handle. The horse stopped, and a smooth whisper told me I had run out of time. At one with the loud click of his pistol being cocked I rolled over, shooting as fast as I could. The gunsmoke cleared and I saw the range tramp lying dead on the hot rock. It was clear that I owed my life to his surprise at my sudden movement.
I looked closer and I saw it was Doggie Lewis, a no account drifter that would shoot his mother for a double eagle.
I woke later with the shadows deep on the ground. My horse, a large pinto with large splashes of black and white coloring was kicking me gently with his forefoot. The reins were still trailing ... I grabbed them, and pulled myself up. I had bled a lot from the bullet that passed through my left side, right above the belt. The bleeding had slowed, so I stuffed my bandana under my shirt. Blood was dripping slowly from the rock cuts on my face, but I just wiped it on my sleeve, catching most of it. I dragged myself up to the saddle, and holding as best I could, I whispered, "Home, Storm, get me home.
I came to when my horse stopped in the yard. I saw the black mare that Millie rode, hitched to the rail in front of my ranch house. She stepped through the open door, looking as lovely as ever. Her hair was the color of whiskey, the good stuff always hidden under the bar ... the soft brown eyes that could enchant you or freeze you with an icy look, depending on her mood. The lips a fresh red, needing no artificial help, her rosy face white now with shock. I felt dizzy and slipped out of the saddle, not feeling the hard slam as I hit the ground. I was unaware of her kneeling over me, crying, as she wiped the blood from my face and held me tight.
Waking, feeling lethargic, sensing a dull numbness in my side, I looked around, seeing the seemingly strange place I was in. I walked out the open door, the fresh warm evening air finishing the job of waking me up. The numbness in my side tingled for a bit then went away. I rubbed my face, and looked at my hands, half expecting them to be bloody. I came fully awake and marveled at the reality of the dream. It seemed I could feel the slam of the bullet, hear the echoing shot, and smell the sweaty horse. I saw the beauty in the girl, and knew that if she was real I would love her.
The week went both slow and fast. Each day was a slow-moving panoply of fishing, reading, writing notes on the novel that came to me fully formed from the dream, and occasional naps. I had no more dreams and caught few fish. I drank a couple beers a day, usually in the late evening as I would relax on the back deck of the house boat. I ate when I felt like it and a couple times had fish to fry for breakfast. I took my boat out a couple of times, not fishing, but looking around, enjoying the rugged beauty of the area.
I thought a lot about Annie, and the quiet world I was hiding in slowly worked its magic, as I more and more remembered the good times and let the rest slide off into the quiet sunset each evening. I knew I needed some kind of closure on her death, but had been putting off thinking about it. Dad had suggested some kind of memorial service, maybe we should go ahead with that.
Also I'd been in regular contact with the embassy in Perú, but they kept putting me off. I could understand their problem, there just wasn't any information. Well, I guess I'd better get it wrapped up when I got back. I wasn't putting off grieving for her. I knew that by now there was no hope.