Friday, July 13, 2007

Thirty Seven

"Diana came in from the west," Aguilero said, examining the hoof prints. "But Sachi took a trail from the south. Both of them seem to have spent most of the time lost." He shook his head in disgust. "I have no idea which way is going to be faster."

Coyote closed his eyes. "Take Sachi's trail."

"Are you sure?"

"I knew we had to come back, didn't I?"

"Too bad you didn't know it before my girl was dead." Aguilero kicked his horse and started following the tracks that Sachi's mare had made across the meadow.

"You think I wouldn't have made us come back sooner if I'd known? You think I wanted this to happen?"

"Stop it, both of you," Will said. "Save it for when we find them."

They followed Sachi's tracks all morning, veering off the trail only when Coyote could point with certainty to some faster way. At mid-day they came upon Pepsi's dead horse. They looked at the animal solemnly as their own horses skittered and tugged at their bits. Will jumped to the ground and suggested they move the mare out of the road.

As they were dragging the horse into the weeds, they found the torn remnants of Macy's and Diana's clothes, and Aguilero picked up a knife and bracelet that had been left in the dust. He tried to put the bracelet on his wrist, but it was too small so he dropped it into his pocket. The knife he added to his arsenal.

A little farther on, they found a deserted camp. The fires had long since gone cold and the raiders moved on, but they had left their dead behind. "What kind of sick bastards don't bury their own?" Boeing asked.

"I guess they figured someone might come after them." Will looked from one body to the other, pleased that even at a disadvantage, Diana had managed to kill two of them. He had an urge to carve the corpses into bloody bits that he could grind beneath his heels, but for now there were more important matters to pursue.

They moved on, Coyote and Aguilero in the lead. The trail was easy to follow now. Even so, it was dusk before they made out a few dim shapes in the distance. "Hold up," Will said. "We'll wait until they camp for the night."

They found a place to shelter and settled in to wait, each lost in his own dour thoughts. Boeing had some pemmican that he parceled out, and Will shared what was left of his water. When it was dark enough to continue, they remounted and set off again. When they caught sight of the campfire, they reined in.

"Five of them," Will said. "We can take them out, no problem."

"Unless they posted a guard."

"They don’t seem like cautious types."

"I bet they're drunk. There were a lot of bottles back at the other camp."

"We'll split up and surround them," Will said. "It won't matter if they're drunk, sober, or what. They'll be dead before they can do a goddamn thing." He split the group, and told the others to wait for his signal.

As Will circled the camp, he eased up on the emotions that had been building inside him all day. He had been struggling to keep his head clear, but now his mind was on fire, remembering the bloody strips of clothing they had found and what those men had done to the girls. A dark, ugly rage swept through him. Now that he had the raiders in his sights, he would rip the living flesh from their bones.

He moved his horse into position. The bastards hadn't yet posted a guard for the night and they wouldn't live long enough to learn from their mistake. He drew his pistol, breathing hard with anticipation. With a shout, he fired the signal shot and spurred his horse down the hill.

Hooves pounding, the four men burst into camp. The raiders jumped to their feet, fumbling too late for their weapons. Will shot one through the chest, while Aguilero sent another sprawling into the dust. Boeing fired and caught a man in the throat, but another raider dug a knife into his horse's flank and made a run for it while Boeing fought his panicked mount.

Coyote gave chase, felling the man with a bullet to the back. He leaped off his horse, knife drawn, and stabbed him over and over, carving him up with abandon as Will took aim at the last outlaw, who fell to his knees with a whimper. With a cruel smirk none of his companions had ever seen before, Will motioned for Aguilero to haul him to his feet. Then he drew his hunting knife and disemboweled him alive, grinning in satisfaction as intestines spilled onto the ground and blood soaked into the earth.

Aguilero threw the dead man to the ground and began stomping and kicking his face. Will rushed to join him, but a movement out of the corner of his eye made him stop and whirl around. It was Coyote, painted in blood and waving a dark, ragged thing like a banner. "I scalped the son of a bitch!" He tossed the scrap of flesh into the fire where it reeked and smoldered. His eyes lit on a bottle nearby. He picked it up and sniffed it, then took a long hard pull.

They passed the bottle around. Inspired by Coyote's bloody face, Will scrabbled in the blood-soaked mud. "I can do better than that," Aguilero said, and began cutting up the nearest body, rubbing blood on his face with both hands before taking another pull at the bottle. With the fire of rage and cheap corn whiskey in their veins, they fell on the bodies, hacking off genitals, ears and fingers, slicing torsos open and tossing organs and mangled bits into the fire. They hit the bottle again, and the moonshine and sickly smell of burning flesh fueled their bloodlust as they chopped up the dead men in a frenzy.

They spent half an hour in a madness of mutilation, only to find themselves suddenly exhausted, the urge to destroy ebbing as quickly as it had washed over them. Breathing hard, they stared at each other, scarcely recognizable for the gore and dirt matting their hair, staining their faces and clothes. Aguilero examined the bloody knife in his hand as if seeing it for the first time, while Boeing and Will shook their heads and looked around at the bones and flesh that remained.

Coyote stumbled to the fire and sank down in a drunken stupor, staring at the flames and charred residue of bones as if there were something in there visible to him alone.

Will sat down beside him. In a flat voice he asked, "What do you see?"


"I'd be happy if you never saw anything again," Aguilero said.

Coyote buried his face in his hands.

Will knew he should say something, get up and give the others some orders. They needed to get back to the mines before anyone came after them, but the world was spinning and he was just too tired.

"I'll collect the horses," Boeing said. "I guess we want to take theirs with us?"

Had he any energy left for gratitude, Will would have blessed him for taking charge. "If they're not skittish at the smell of blood, yeah. We'll take them."

While Boeing rounded up the horses, Aguilero stood in front of the fire, staring at nothing. He didn't move for so long, that Will finally told him to sit down. "Unless you feel like catching horses."

As if in a dream, Aguilero took Pepsi's knife and dug a groove down the inside of his arm. "It's all so crazy. I don't know how to make it feel real."

"That won't help." Will got to his feet, cut a strip from the tail of his shirt and wrapped it around Aguilero's arm. "Don't do that any more. None of us is up for it."

"But nothing feels real."

"Be grateful."

A few minutes later, Boeing brought over some of the horses. "I'll need help catching the rest.” While Coyote and Aguilero settled into their saddles, Will went with Boeing. "You going to be all right?" Boeing asked.

"This isn't about me."

"Harley's going to have something to say when we show up looking like this."

"I don't care." He clucked to one of the horses and grabbed its bridle. "In fact, I don't give a damn about anything right now."

They caught the last of the horses and led them to where Coyote and Aguilero were waiting. "I think there's a shorter way," Coyote said.

"You think, or you know?"

"I know."

"Good," Will said. "Lead us home, then."

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Alice Audrey said...

There's a hint of Lord of the Flies in this.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

I never thought of it that way, but maybe you're right. As I wrote this I was just thinking of what a guy like Will would do to someone who had raped the girl he loved, if he could do whatever he wanted with no consequences. You don't mess with Will Channing. As for Coyote, we already know he's crazy, and Aguilero is neurotic as hell.

Alice Audrey said...

I assume there's going to be all kinds of fall out from this.