Sunday, December 16, 2012
'On the Nature of the Gods.' Excerpt.
Hope Ng baked in the hot sun, rising ever higher in the desert sky. Tied with rawhide thongs at ankles and wrists, scratched, bruised and with her clothes half torn off, the raven-haired Hope prayed for a miracle.
Deep in her heart lurked despair, for persistent struggles in the chill dawn hours had convinced her escape was impossible. Nearby, the thin tendril of smoke and rank smell of the fire was the only trace left behind by the war party.
As the shadows shortened, the first pangs of real thirst came, and she knew dread. She was going to die out here, never mind the carnage that had once been a peaceful train of settlers heading to a better life. It was all gone now, with clumps of bodies, families and individuals still recognizable in the stiffened attitudes of death. Most of the long line of wagons still smoldered.
Overhead, ominous black shapes circled, the long tip feathers trembling, always seeking an easy way. Their bony nostrils would be flaring in excitement, heads craning to take in the scene and the forms below.
It wouldn’t be long now, and they would come down. They would land within fifty yards, maybe closer. Then the awkward, half-hopping, half-sideways shuffle would begin. They would screw up their courage. They would look her over carefully. Their desperation for a meal and simple competition against their peers would embolden them. They might start on the dead first, but sooner or later she would be food for the vultures.
It would be better if she died of thirst or starvation first.
Somewhere nearby a hoof clinked against stone, a tiny, insignificant sound, but one out of place in a country still quiet after a windless dawn.
Hope’s heart thudded at the thought of them coming back to take care of some unfinished business.
Again it came, the strike of bone on rock, as two small birds in a scraggly bush in her peripheral vision dropped out of the thin foliage and fluttered away, towards the sun and into deeper shadows.
“Who’s there?” she called in an agony of suspense.
She prayed they would just kill her quickly and have done with it…
There was a faint but guttural grunt and several thuds came through the sand under her back, but she could hear little over the soughing of a rising breeze. Hot, sharp grains of sand stung her cheek, wet with fresh tears.
A hoarse breath, sounding wet and thick, came from right behind her head where she couldn’t see it, no matter how she twisted her neck and shoulders.
“Oh, my God,” she said.
Was she to be eaten by a Grizzly or a big cat? Her mind worked frantically to analyze the sounds. She sobbed in fear and frustration, yanking to and fro in fury, in one last forlorn attempt to break free. A horse blew, and a long dark shadow fell over her face, revealing in black silhouette the head and forequarters of the animal, one with a halter and a patch of white on the forehead.
“Ah!” she breathed.
She fell back on the sand exhausted again.
“Howdy, ma’am,” said a deep male voice, cultured and somehow unsullied by the twang and drawl of the typical Southern male. It was an honest voice, a good voice.
Leather creaked and another shadow fell across her as she looked up at her saviour in relief and a special kind of pleading humility.
“They give you a rough time, ma’am?” he asked, and she finally got a glimpse of his face.
She gazed breathlessly into kindly blue-black eyes, unusually large and expressive, tall and broad-shouldered as he was. The big fellow took off his hat, revealing a widow’s peak, and long dark hair sweeping out like the waves from the front of a windjammer. He mopped his brow with a blue and white paisley bandanna, carefully replacing his headgear.
“It—it was horrid,” she said. “Oh, thank God you’re here!”
“Indians are smelly, beastly creatures,” he advised, kneeling close and raising a canteen to her lips, the canvas cover delightfully cool and wet on her sternum, still heaving with exertion and emotion.
He dribbled cool, cleansing water on her lips and she tasted it greedily.
“They killed everyone, men, women and children,” she said in a gush of release. “They tied me up and were fondling me, and kissing me, and touching me. I think I belonged to one of them. Or rather two of them had a share in me, or it might have been a lot worse.”
“Yes, the other ones would have to show at least some respect for the property of a chief,” he said. “They was probably just funnin’ with you, ma’am.”
At the time, she was sure they were going to do it. What had gotten into their heads, to make them just break camp like that and go madly riding off was a mystery she had no interest in solving. Her head thudded back down into the sand. She lay there breathing quietly in a state of near-bliss.
'On the Nature of the Gods' is available from Barnes & Noble. Blurb: Jeb is one of the toughest men alive, and he demands respect. After a personal humiliation at the hands of the New York City cops, he sets out on a trail of vengeance. In company with his intuitive horse Rooster, it leads him to the evil Dr. Schmitt-Rottluff, the gaslight era's virtuoso of illicit cloning and mind-bending manipulation of the human genome.