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 The Long Road Back - Part Eighteen - Into the Badland - 3000 words

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Cal

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Join date : 2015-11-11

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PostThe Long Road Back - Part Eighteen - Into the Badland - 3000 words

---oooOOOooo---

The Long Road Back
(Haff & Wong seven)
By Cal

---oooOOOooo---
Part Eighteen
Into the Badlands
---oooOOOooo---

We’ll need to back track just a little

The Bounty Hunter had awoken to snarling, yipping and panting.  He lifted his head and saw the dark woods swirl before him.  Somewhere at the centre of his vision were two pairs of yellow eyes. The pairs of eyes swam round each other in synchro, coming closer.  He could practically feel the drool from the snarling muzzle.  He felt a rock under one hand and launched it in the direction of the eyes.  

Grasping his neck with the other hand he pushed and squirmed his way backwards till his back hit a tree.  He’d managed to find another rock which he hurled into the darkness.  He wanted to shout, or even scream, but no sound would come from his mouth.

His voice died somewhere, high up in his throat.  

The hand at his throat was already filled with blood and more blood split down his front to soak into the Mexican blanket. He changed hands, grasping at a hefty old branch lying close by his left side. He dragged it nearer, ready to use as a weapon. More rocks were pulled closer to his right side.

Then he tried swallowing.  That he could do.  

Breathing was harder.

His fingers found the long gash under his chin.  The blood flowed like a waterfall.  He pulled to loosen the knots of his bandanas.  He always wore two.  One tight, carefully folded around a soft metal collar that hid the hanging scar.  The other, loosely wound around his neck to hide the first.  

When people saw a hanging scar, they were too quick to jump to the conclusion that, that alone was evidence enough, to make a man a murderer.

Truth was, that near hanging when he was barely full grown, the day he’d come across his folks being slaughtered by outlaws, had set him on his path to rid the World of men wanted Dead or Alive; every last murderer he could find.  Of course, he’d come to like the money for their bounties too, that gave him the means to hunt down more murderers, and slaughter them.  He’d got good at killing, but he’d always stayed on the right side of the law.

He rewound the cloth around his neck and pulled it as tight as he dared.  The second cloth was also wound and knotted higher.  The bleeding eased.  Didn’t stop.  He fought hard to keep his head up and his badly focussed eyes open.

More snarling woke him a second time.  

His head shot up, which set the World spinning again, but he launched a rock and heard a high pitched yelp.  He guessed with all this blood he must smell near irresistible to the night’s denizens.  

He didn’t like the thought of becoming wolf, or coyote bait.

‘How much night is left? Can’t be much … Who’s alive to find me if I pass out again?’

He attempted another soundless call for help, thinking he’d rather take his chances with the humans, any humans, even if all they did was make a better job of killing him.  If he’d had a pistol in his holster, and the bullets, he might just have put an end to it himself, there and then.  He didn’t like the way his brain was telling him this was gonna pan out.  Well, he didn’t have a pistol, and his gun belt was near empty of bullets anyway.

He opened his stinging eyes wide and worked hard to keep them open.

Life hadn’t given him much to hang on for, but, now he thought about it as he fought for every hard won breath, suddenly, fighting to stay alive seemed very important to him.  He tightened his grip on the sturdy branch.  

‘Let any of them critters come within swiping distance’ he thought darkly.  ‘I ain’t dead yet!’

---oooOOOooo---
Back to the morning

“He’s alive!?” said Lom kneeling down to lift the sagging head.  “Didn’t either one of you bother to check?”

“You had us looking for a body Lom!” snarked a proddy, over-tired and bamboozled Heyes.  

He was totally exhausted and felt like laying down and dying himself.  Seemed almost rude of the Bounty Hunter not to take the opportunity to rest in peace when it was offered to him on a plate like that.

The bounty hunter, roused from near death, stirred to action.  The branch in his hand lifted, in slow motion, to swipe at unseen yellow-eyed wraiths. He gasped out more wheezing bubbles as he tried to shout at his imagined assailants or call for help.

Lom caught the branch easily and stared into the man’s terrified eyes.

“Hey …easy …we’re here to help.  Mind you, for a minute there …we were fixing to bury you! We thought you were dead.”  

The Bounty Hunters eyes became more panicked than ever.

Lom looked a bit embarrassed to have blurted that out.  It was his day for blurting things out it seems. He tried to look calm and reassuring as he investigated the huge gash under the Bounty Hunters chin.

“I better take a look at that wound for you” he started but the Bounty Hunter grabbed his hand and stopped him loosening either of the bandanas.

The Bounty Hunter looked up, startled for just a second blinking his unfocussed eyes. He registered the human faces, sighed heavily and fainted back to unconsciousness, his exhausted brain telling him that the struggle was over, the cavalry had arrived, he could sleep at last.

‘The cavalry’ eyed each other, stunned.  

They weren’t at all sure this was good news. Kid slid an enquiring look to Heyes, to see what his partner was making of this apparent resurrection. Heyes jerked his head just a tad, and both partners turned their backs on Lom and his patient.

“How can this be? How can he have lost that much blood …and still be alive!?” questioned Heyes in a loud stage whisper.

“I don’t know.  What does it take to kill him!?” questioned Kid incredulously shaking his ridiculously tired head. “Should we tie him up do yer think?” he asked, thinking if he did, he’d be using his own ties this time.

“No!” said Lom loudly from behind them.  

He was trying to use the blanket to warm the man up, now he’d realised he wasn’t dealing with a corpse.  

“We gotta get him to a fire, warm him up.  See if we can get some water into him… the bleeding seems to have stopped I think. This stains looking old now I can see it properly, real dark and near dry.”

“Lom …He was gonna…” started the two ex-outlaws in unison, turning back to face the sheriff.  The boys did synchro finger across throat gestures with added gurning faces, which under the present circumstances may have been a little insensitive.

“But he didn’t!” said an infuriated Lom. “Judge a man by his deeds, not his intentions.  That’s how I’ve lived my life.  Now, are you two gonna help me move him to the fire or not!?”

The boys exchanged an uncomfortable look, shuffling their feet, shrugging and raising their eyebrows.  

In the distance more rifle fire resounded around the canyons of Devils Hole.  

Kid looked North counting the shots (and probably identifying the type of rifles and their number – I wouldn’t put it past him).  He looked very worried.  Haff was in mortal danger from the prisoners they’d let escape, and he was feeling just a little guilty that they’d found the guns he was supposed to have hidden.  If he hadn’t been so darn tired, he could have found a better hiding place.  

Bone weary or not, he had to do something to help, and Haff was far more important to him than this murdering Bounty Hunter.

“We gotta help Haff” he said simply to Heyes, ignoring Lom’s question.  

Then he took a proper look at Heyes.  

They were all three ridiculously tired but the eventful night was weighing most heavily on Heyes, and it showed.  Kid could see it plain as day.  His partner was beat.

“If I asked you to stay …and help Lom …while I help Haff… would yer?” he asked already shaking his head, anticipating Heyes’ answer.

“Come on Kid… you know bad things happen when we split up” smiled a bone weary Heyes, fighting to hold Kid’s intense gaze without yawning or showing any other signs of tiredness.

Heyes returned the stare with an amused one of his own, mouth set in a tight line.  

Kid saw there was no point in an argument, and folded.

“Right …Come on… Lom.. we need to move your friend here …Heyes ...Go fetch the horses.” Kid already had the Bounty Hunter’s feet lofted.  

Heyes stood for a minute looking dazed, wondering how it wasn’t him giving the orders, then he shook himself, turned and ran to fetch their mounts.

---oooOOOooo---

Haff had taken Weaver and Crease into the first sharp crags of the Badlands by the time the sun had begun its ascent.  It had given him lots of dark deep shadows to stay hidden in.  He was staying just far enough in front to keep them interested. He’d pushed some feathers into the bead band around his forehead to flag his position, and made plenty of noise for them to follow.

As the first rays of proper sun broke over the tall crags, and found their way to the rocky floor in the more open spaces, he found one of Flower of Mornings trail markers; a large light coloured rock from the crags themselves, with a smaller dark, round, polished river pebble beside it to show the direction.  

An easy trail indeed.

He was just leaning down from the pony, to retrieve the river pebble, when he was surprised by a rifle crack from far too close a range.  A stinging gash, an inch long, on his upper arm showed just how close that first bullet had come to his head.  He abandoned the attempt to retrieve the pebble and high tailed it for cover.

‘How had they got guns?!’ he thought, finding cover in the deep shadow of a towering monolith.  

He tied a piece of cloth around the wound and waited for his pursuers to catch up.  

‘And what should I do now, carry on as planned …play rabbit, or double back … and kill them?’

He hefted the large serrated knife in his hand.  He also had a rifle on a strap across his back. The flesh wound wouldn’t stop him using either one.

He could not risk them finding Flower’s trail.  The river pebbles would stand out a mile up here, even to an idiot. He shook his head at the folly.  It had seemed like a romantic game when they’d ‘talked’ about it last night, well, used hand gestures and other charades to decide on a plan.  Wong’s bag of black pebbles had seemed a perfect solution.  Heyes would certainly recognise them.  Now, the lovers trail seemed very foolish.  Flower thought she was leaving an enticing trail for her love struck, new husband to follow with his friends, not these killers.

He made a decision.  

He would lead these men as deep into the Badlands as they would follow, just as planned.  He could keep out of range of their guns and still show out now and again.  Then, he’d double back and follow Flower’s trail himself. He’d be at her side to protect her as a husband should. Heyes would recognise the trail easily enough once he saw that first sign and he could lead the others out.

He waited.  

Nothing happened.  

‘Where are they? They should be here by now. They must have seen which canyon I took from the stream.’

He allowed just the top of the feathers to push up into the sunlight above his head, expecting a rifle bullet to ping off the cliff rock behind him at any minute.

Nothing.

Suddenly, it dawned on him that he’d left the river pebble in place, pointing out the path to follow.  Weaver and Crease would have to pass that spot, to reach this canyon.

‘Damn …It’s still there! What if they’ve already spotted it?’

As if to answer his question, more rifle shots rang out.  These were further to the North, not back in the direction of the cave house. Haff’s heart leapt to his throat as he realised what the shots must mean. Weaver and Crease had found a new target to shoot at.  It was too soon for it to be Heyes and Kid.  

He urged his pony to a gallop from a standing start, back down the canyon towards the trail marker, rocks and dust flying in all directions.

---oooOOOooo---

Kid and Heyes wasted no time following Haff North to the Badlands.

Riders in daylight could cover a lot more ground, a lot more quickly, than those that had set out before dawn, and this was well trodden ground for two of Devils Hole’s most notorious former residents.

They didn’t bother to look for tracks; Kid and Haff had had a brief conversation about the best way for the Indian to go, to be sure to lose the prisoners with little hope of them returning to find the true trail, for days and days, maybe even never.  Well most likely never.

They were very soon coming down into the basin of the stream where Haff had said Flower of Morning would begin leaving markers.  They scanned the rocky floor as they rode, looking for anything out of place, or even blood.  They’d first heard that single shot when they were stood with the Bounty Hunter.  Then a short burst of firing not long after that, that sounded further North.

Since then nothing.

‘Maybe they were just shooting at game…’ thought Kid hoping not to find blood. ‘First light’s a real good time to find a deer at water… Perhaps they just couldn’t pass up the chance at food.  They sure gonna need it …they didn’t take no supplies.’

As if to mock his thoughts, another volley of rifle shots rang out.  Kid’s well-tuned ears discerned at least three different guns this time.  They’d come to a parting in the ways, and they pulled up and scanned the trail ahead.  There were many choices at this point.

Heyes seemed fascinated with the rocks by the stream bed. He was off his horse examining the ground.  

Kid stayed in the saddle watching for signs of life.

There were three canyon openings at this point, one large and yawning.  Kid knew that would lead to a blind end in just a few miles.  The two to his left were an uninviting pair, but both were useful to head North if you knew where to go. There was also a trail up to the higher land to his right, if you could call a deer track a trail, and the stream bed itself, that took you down apparently in the wrong direction till it doubled back around a high cliff.  Kid knew that that gave access to the best trail North and that was the one Flower of Morning had used.  Again, you had to know when to leave the stream.   It was easy to miss.  He’d gone after game here many times, but he stuck to the trails he knew, a man could easily lose himself in these crags and never find his way out.

“Haff was sure right about it being an easy trail to follow…” grinned Heyes pointing out the rock and a river pebble pointing the way downstream. “But there’s some blood here…and other tracks too.  One heavy horse, or a horse carrying two riders, headed that way” He pointed towards the furthest of the pair of canyons, but doubled back … and entered the stream ... here…” He walked just a few yards further up the stream to point.

Kid looked at the narrow canyon mouth.  That was the way Haff had planned to take the outlaws.

“Heyes …I think we should split up …” He’d only glanced towards his partner in his constant scanning, his horse dancing as he turned it to face the far canyon.

“Yep…” said Heyes grabbing at his reins to mount.

“Don’t argue…” started Kid. “Oh?!”

Heyes laughed.

“When you’re right, you’re right Kid… We gotta help Haff …and we gotta find out who’s shootin…”  He tipped his hat as he hit the saddle, and took off into the stream.

Kid shut his open mouth and headed towards the far canyon.  He hadn’t got far along the narrow, difficult passage, when Haff came skidding around a bend at full gallop, nearly colliding with Kid’s big black. Kid took in the panic in Haff’s eyes the bandage around his upper arm and the rifle in the Indians hand.

“They have guns!” they both shouted at the same time.

“I know!” they both answered.

“Come on” shouted Kid.  “They found the stream trail! Heyes is headed that way now.”

Kid wheeled his horse around as quick as he could in the narrow passage but Haff, impatient to keep moving, pushed past him and took off again.

Kid pushed his horse to a gallop in the pony’s wake, banging his legs against rocks and just ducking under overhanging rocks that he’d been very careful to avoid on the way in.  He looked at the smaller rider and pony ahead with envy.  Haff’s mount seemed built for this terrain.

Skidding back into the daylight of the open area by the stream, Haff set the pony to climb the deer track, leaping from small shelf to small shelf. Kid came to a skidding stop at the bottom of the climb.

“Not that way Haff.  This way” he shouted.

“I can get ahead this way” shouted Haff over his shoulder.  “You follow Heyes. We’ll trap them between us …”

More rifle fire barked out. It seemed closer this time.  Devils Hole’s brooding aura seemed offended by the interruption to its serenity.  

Haff pushed the paint to leap faster.

Kid took off downstream after Heyes.

---oooOOOooo---

Next part HERE http://asjbuckshot.forumotion.com/t403-the-long-road-back-part-nineteen-without-a-paddle-3700-words#1053


Last edited by Cal on Wed 19 Oct 2016, 1:38 pm; edited 1 time in total
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The Long Road Back - Part Eighteen - Into the Badland - 3000 words :: Comments

That was a surprise and action-packed chapter!
 

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