Continued from Chapter Eighteen
["The Mastodon Diaries" is rated NC-17 for Violence, Language, and Graphic Sexual Content. Reader discretion is advised.]
Scully’s fingers grazed her neckline, instinctively searching for her cross. An old habit. It wasn’t there, of course; the scarred caveman had stolen it weeks ago.
The necklace’s absence added to her unease, but it didn’t lessen her faith. Mulder would return. And she would stay alive until he did.
Her hand dropped away from her collar, and she glanced again in the direction Mulder had gone. He was nowhere in sight, yet she felt his presence as solidly as if she held him in her arms. In her heart she was with him as he ran toward Turkey Lake with Gini clutched to his chest, trying to save their lives.
She had no intention of sitting idly by while he did all the rescuing. Casting his jacket aside, she thrust her hands into the muddy water and reached for her trapped ankle, hoping to unlace her boot and perhaps slide her foot out of it. Her fingers encountered wood, not leather or bootlaces. The knot was out of reach on the far side of the branches that trapped her.
Another idea came to her: maybe she could lubricate her ankle with mud, allowing her to slip free, boot and all.
She scooped up a handful of slime from the quagmire and applied it to her pants leg, pressing it as best as she could into the tight crevice around her ankle. It was cold, but slick. She wriggled her foot, trying to work it free.
“Damn it!” It wasn’t going to work. The tree branches were too snug.
Frustrated she threw a fistful of mud at the fallen tree. It hit the bark with a rough slap and clung there for a moment, before slipping off and landing with a splash in the swamp.
There *had* to be something else she could try.
She swiped angrily at a loose lock of hair, smearing mud onto her face in the process. When she tried to clean it off with her sleeve, she managed only to muddy herself further.
Great. Whatever. She took two deep breaths and tried to calmly assess the situation.
Her leg was caught in a triangle formed by the downed tree and two crossing branches. The branches were stout -- eight or ten inches in diameter -- and were broken off at the ends several feet away from the trunk. The larger branch slanted down from above and was embedded in the mud. The smaller snaked up from underneath her leg and pointed skyward. Together they held her foot about six inches above the ground.
She eyed the smaller of the two branches. It might take awhile, but she could try whittling away at it with Mulder’s knife.
She grabbed the pack and quickly rummaged through it.
The knife wasn’t there. She looked again, deliberately slowing down and searching more methodically.
“I know I put it in here.”
A second and third examination proved fruitless. The knife simply wasn’t there.
Mulder’s coat...maybe he’d taken it out of the pack and put it in his coat pocket.
She grabbed his jacket and went through each pocket. Glasses, phone, handkerchief...oh...
The fertility idol? What the hell was that doing here?
She cupped the bone figurine in the palm of her hand. Its smooth surface felt surprisingly warm, and its pale luster practically glowed against her muddied skin. Strange that Mulder would have bothered to bring it, considering all the trouble it had caused them.
She stuffed it back into his pocket, along with his other things.
Maybe he’d put the knife in *her* coat. She fished into her own pockets, growing more desperate as she removed each item, emptying her pockets completely but failing to find the knife.
“Give me a break, please?” she asked God, turning her face toward the overcast sky.
A vulture circled high overhead, its wing feathers spread like an open hand.
“Don’t even think about it,” she growled at the bird.
Mulder must have taken the knife with him, she decided. Or left it inadvertently back at the cave.
“Fine,” she said, grabbing one of the spears. She’d make do with the spear’s stone point. It was sharp enough to cut wood, albeit not as durable as a stainless steel blade.
Leaning forward, she tested it against the smaller of the two branches that held her leg. The blade peeled off a bit of bark and made a shallow gouge in the wood. She might be able to make some progress after...four or five hours!
She glanced again at the buzzard.
“Get the hell out of here!” she shouted, and began chiseling in earnest.
* * *
Intellectually, Mulder knew he should pace himself. He was a practiced runner, who jogged three times a week, five miles at a stretch. Although built for speed and distance, he understood the importance of timing and rhythm, knew he should stay hydrated, breathe deeply, evenly, or else he would hit a wall of crippling fatigue. If he ran all out, ignoring the metronome of common sense, his leg muscles would cramp, his heart pound, lungs ache, and eventually, lightheaded and dizzy, he would vomit or collapse or both. He knew this. He did.
Yet he ignored his intellect and his body’s warnings. He refused to hold back and conserve his energy. He poured everything he had into covering as much distance as possible in the shortest amount of time because six, seven, eight hours from right now meant nothing. They were an abstract and in his current state of worry, he was incapable of comprehending them. Only this moment mattered. The rocky path beneath his feet, the hill ahead, the downed tree he would either have to vault or go around. His legs charged forward, Gini bounced in his arms. Each breath burned his lungs and seared his throat.
It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered...nothing except Scully, trapped in the swamp, sitting in mud...waiting...waiting for him to come back with reinforcements.
Jesus, how was he going to convince anyone in the tribe to help him?
He pushed the question out of his mind and concentrated on running instead. Keep going, he told himself, just keep going. Scully’s waiting. Gini needs help.
Lengthening his stride, he splashed through water at the shore’s edge. The stream ran shallow here. Gravel lined the banks, providing solid footing. Icy water filled his boots and momentarily soothed his blistered feet. A few branches overhung the path and he ducked as he passed underneath them, letting their leaves brush him, welcoming their coolness on his overheated skin.
Perspiration pooled in the crevices of his neck, ran down his spine and chest, saturated the waistband of his pants. His armpits felt sticky, his undershorts sodden. Sweat dripped from his nose and beard, from his hair, which flopped in wet clumps with every stride.
Gini moaned and he readjusted his grip. His hands were slippery and numb, and he was having trouble hanging on to her. No doubt he was holding her too tightly, hurting her, but carrying her made it difficult to keep his balance and impossible to pump his arms for more speed.
“Hang on, baby. I’ll get you there,” he promised, although he was uncertain if she could hear him, and even more uncertain if he could keep that promise.
Blinking the sting of sweat from his eyes, he looked for familiar landmarks. He’d been practically comatose his first time traveling this way, and now he recognized nothing. Only the memory of Scully whispering “sweetheart” into his hair while he fell asleep in her arms stood out in his mind.
She had used the same endearment back at the swamp. “I love you, too, sweetheart,” she’d said.
A painful lump rose in his throat. She loved him. Imagine it. It was exactly what he’d wanted, only now he was in danger of losing it...losing her.
His protective instincts were telling him to turn back, guard her, keep her safe. They pulled at him like grasping hands, weighted him like stones. It took every ounce of his willpower to keep moving north, away from her.
A thicket of reeds clogged the stream up ahead, blocking his path. To avoid them, he sprinted up the bank and ran beneath the trees, covering Gini’s head with his open palm to shield her from lashing branches.
The forest was a mix of evergreens and hardwoods. Acorns crunched beneath the pounding soles of his boots. Briars clogged the understory, snagging his jeans and striping his skin with shallow scratches. The air smelled peaty; the stream ran brown and thick with silt and weeds. He was thirsty, but this wasn’t the place to stop for a drink.
Forested mountains rose to the east and west, creating a shadowy corridor. The tallest peaks were capped with snow. He imagined their coolness, what it would feel like to lay on his back in a deep, white drift, maybe make a snow angel, and forget all about swamps and angry tribesmen and running, running, running.
Jesus, how far was it to the village?
He regretted trading his watch to Dzeh. The sun was hidden behind a blanket of thick clouds, making it almost impossible to judge the time of day. From the ache in his legs he guessed he’d been running for about forty-five minutes to an hour, which meant he had seven or eight hours still to go.
Ahead the stream snaked on and on.
* * *
“Dzeh! Join us!” Wol-la-chee shouted from his place near the Prayer Lodge hearth. Flanked by Lin and Chal, he beckoned Dzeh with a boisterous wave.
“It is good to see you here, Nephew,” Lin said as soon as Dzeh was settled cross-legged beside them. The older man’s lined expression was restrained, but beneath his graying brows, his eyes gleamed with genuine pleasure.
Wol-la-chee clapped his cousin’s arm. “You have been away from us too long. I am relieved the Spirits have shown you the path back.”
Dzeh nodded and grunted with appreciation. He’d missed being among his kinsmen -- Lin and Wol-la-chee in particular -- and it felt more comfortable than he had anticipated to be back in the Lodge.
The oversized room was crowded with men, gathered in clusters around the large central hearth fire. They joked, drank wo-chi, shared food. Many were painting their bodies with brilliant pigments or adjusting their fine cloaks and ornaments. Hair was being shorn or braided or adorned with feathers and beads. An elder from Turtle Clan was getting a fresh tattoo. The men’s moods were genial and relaxed. They had enjoyed another bountiful summer and were making the most of their final moments together.
Dzeh noticed Chal’s smile had lost much of its customary sparkle. The boy nodded in polite agreement with Wol-la-chee’s greeting, but sadness haunted his almond-shaped eyes.
“It is good to see you with my Owl clansmen, Chal,” Dzeh said, acknowledging the new bond between them. Their shared experience in Ye-tsan would forever link them as closely as kin in Dzeh’s heart. This boy carried no Owl blood, but he had risked himself on Gini’s behalf -- a rare sacrifice among men who tended to recognize their lineage before all else.
“How is Klizzie’s health?” Chal asked. “My mother says the baby does not let her eat.”
Lin and Wol-la-chee frowned at the boy’s comment. Women’s concerns in general were inappropriate subjects of conversation in the Lodge, but this one in particular was unsuitable, given the Clan’s belief that Klizzie was carrying the offspring of an outsider.
Dzeh knew Chal was not intentionally trying to insult him. The boy’s mother had been generous to Klizzie, sharing her food and fire, asking for nothing in return. It was obvious that Chal possessed Ho-Ya’s compassionate spirit.
“She is a little better,” Dzeh said. He avoided looking at Lin or Wol-la-chee’s faces, expecting that they wore expressions of pity...or humiliation on his behalf. Undoubtedly they were embarrassed for him, perhaps even ashamed to be associated with him. In their eyes and those of all clansmen, the Spirits had judged him a contemptible man, unworthy of the gift of a child. Everyone believed that honor had been given to Muhl-dar.
“When are you going to paint yourself, Dzeh?” Wol-la-chee asked, courteously changing the subject. He reached for two bowls of pigments...a shade of red that matched the spirals above his eyebrows, and a bright yellow, the color of the stripe running down the length of his hooked nose.
Dzeh waved them off. He was not in a celebratory mood.
“You must, Nephew,” Lin insisted. “It is tradition.”
“Tradition does not concern me the way it once did,” Dzeh murmured.
Lin and Wol-la-chee exchanged troubled glances. Taking part in the Mastodon Feast was a way to express pride in one’s clan. It reinforced familial bonds, while declaring to the world, “This is who we are. Look upon us and know we are a family, united and strong.”
It was unthinkable to flout the custom.
“You cannot mean that,” Lin said, his tone hushed. “To say such a thing insults the Spirits.” His storm cloud expression warned that Dzeh was in no position to be insulting anyone right now, let alone the Spirits. They had already demonstrated their displeasure.
Dzeh longed to set his uncle straight on the matter. The truth about Klizzie’s pregnancy crouched like a snarling cat upon the tip of his tongue, eager to spring into Lin’s ears. But Dzeh bit back the words.
A hush fell over the Lodge at that moment. The men directed their attention at the door, where Klesh was standing with squinting eyes and proud shoulders.
Painted with the dark, geometric patterns of Badger Clan, Klesh looked more fearsome than usual. He wore only a plain loincloth and cloak, but his hair was greased until glossy, and his beard was plaited into countless tiny braids, resembling slender, scaled snakes. A frayed owl feather dangled from one ear, a blatant insult aimed at Owl Clan. His face was no longer mottled by his clay mask of grief, and his scars seemed to writhe in the flickering firelight. The worst of them connected his left eye to the corner of his mouth, creating a mean crevice that swallowed all light.
On his wrist he was wearing the strange silvery ornament, the one he claimed had bound him to Tse-e’s corpse, put there by Muhl-dar. It rattled and twirled as if alive. Even more astonishing than the bracelet was the Eel Clan thunder weapon he wore around his neck on a stout rawhide cord. It gleamed brighter than the smoothest stone, and Klesh stroked it possessively with one scarred hand.
“Where did he get that?” Lin asked, keeping his voice low so that only Dzeh, Chal and Wol-la-chee might hear.
Dzeh gaped at the weapon, dumbfounded because he had hidden it after Muhl-dar left. Klesh must have discovered it buried in the bottom of his tool kit at the back of the hut. Its presence stirred unwelcome emotions. He wished he’d thrown it into the lake or buried it deep in the woods, so he would never have to look upon it again. It reminded him of the mastodon hunt, when he and Muhl-dar were still Trading Partners and friends...before the chindi’s unspeakable betrayal.
No one beckoned Klesh to their group. He received no friendly waves or welcoming smiles. Many lowered their stares so as not to attract his unwanted attention.
Klesh studied each man in turn. A dismissive, deprecating laugh chuffed from his nose as he walked to the hearth, wrist ornament clinking, owl feather ruffled by the draft. He chose an empty spot, as far from the others as was possible in the crowded lodge, and squatted beside the fire. Ignoring the men’s clucking tongues and insulting murmurs, he sat alone, eyes fastened on Dzeh.
“Why is he like that?” Chal asked.
Dzeh shifted his position so that his back was to Klesh. “He was mauled by a saber-toothed cat when he was a boy.”
“No, I mean...why does he act the way he does? Why does everyone hate him?”
“You are a Badger clansman...surely you have heard the stories,” Dzeh said. He studied the tattoo on Chal’s smooth shoulder. It matched the harsh, geometric patterns that decorated Klesh’s scarred flesh, a sharp contrast to the curvilinear designs worn by Owl clansmen. Klesh and Chal were cousins, he reminded himself.
Chal’s hazelnut eyes remained fixed on Klesh. “I heard he saved Klizzie’s brother from being mauled by a cat. I do not understand why he was banished for it though and not treated as a hero.”
“He was banished years after saving Tse-e,” Dzeh said.
“Because he defied Clan customs,” Lin said, narrowing his eyes at Dzeh’s unpainted skin. His criticism was clear: it was wrong to ignore tradition.
“Which customs?” Chal seemed oblivious to Lin’s condemnation or Dzeh’s dishonor.
“It was years ago,” Dzeh said, wishing to deflect the boy’s curiosity. “It is no longer important.”
Chal persisted. “If it is no longer important, then why is Klesh still treated as an outcast?”
Wol-la-chee huffed with impatience. “You are being meddlesome and rude, boy. This is not your concern.”
Chal lowered his eyes out of respect, even as he reminded them, “Klesh *is* my cousin.”
“Then ask your kinsman, not us.”
“No!” Dzeh objected. He didn’t want Chal or anyone talking to Klesh about those troubled times. Klizzie’s latest secret was at stake. There was no telling what Klesh might divulge if given the opportunity. “Chal, because he is your kinsman I will tell you this: four years ago he insulted me, he insulted Owl Clan, and he insulted Badger Clan. It is a difficult thing for us to talk about...or forgive.”
“But...is his courage and sacrifice on Tse-e’s behalf worth nothing?”
“Of course, but there is more to it than that,” Lin said. He combed gnarled fingers thoughtfully through his beard. “He was cursed by the Spirits even before he was born.”
This revelation surprised Dzeh. He knew that Klesh had always been plagued by the poor reputations of his parents. His father was a relentless gambler and his mother paid her mate’s debts upon the sleeping skins of other men. Everyone knew this. But what had it to do with curses? Such choices were men’s to make. If they chose unwisely, they were considered foolish or contemptible by their kin; the Spirits only cursed a man when he was truly despicable.
“What are you talking about, Uncle?” Wol-la-chee asked.
“Cursed how?” Chal asked, his brows drawing together, creating an unfamiliar crease in his young forehead.
Lin shifted uneasily, clearly reluctant to discuss what he knew. After a long pause he glanced at Dzeh and said, “He is al-tkas-ei lit -- the son of his father’s Trading Partner.”
“He is?” Wol-la-chee asked, stealing the words from Dzeh’s mouth.
The news rocked Dzeh. Lin was claiming that Klesh was an outcast not because of his inappropriate behavior with Klizzie, or because of his parents’ poor reputations, but because of the circumstances of his conception.
The son of his father’s Trading Partner.
Dzeh felt the sting of bees in his belly. He had anticipated his own life would be made difficult by the circumstances surrounding Klizzie’s pregnancy, but not his baby’s.
“I had not heard this about Klesh,” he said, trying to hide his nervousness.
“It is something that is known, but not often discussed,” Lin said. “Especially outside Badger Clan. I learned of it from my own Trading Partner.” Lin’s Partner was Cha-Gee, a respected Badger Clan elder. “Chal, you are young and it has been many years since Klesh’s father passed into the Spirit World. It is wrong for us to speak harshly of him, even if he was not well-regarded while alive.”
Dzeh glanced at Klesh, alone in the center of the Lodge, and it was as if he were seeing him through new eyes. Without question he was a loathsome man who had done despicable things. For as long as Dzeh had known him, he had been treated with contempt. Would he be different if he had been shown respect and compassion, instead of disgust?
No doubt it was too late for Klesh to become a good man, even if the clansmen changed the way they behaved toward him; he was who he was. But what about Dzeh’s unborn child? Was the baby doomed to endure a similar fate?
If Dzeh were to tell the truth about his baby’s paternity, he would risk Klizzie’s and the child’s lives. Yet as long as he remained quiet, he risked its character.
He could see no way out of this terrible dilemma, and his hopes for a happy future sank like a stone in water.
* * *
Hill Air Force Base
Hangar 19 Computer Lab
May 14, 1998
“His name is Simon Pearsall. I met him in the future.” Jason shoved a chair out of his way. It careened on screeching castors across the lab, where it crashed into a workstation. The computer wobbled and a mouse clattered to the floor. Jason crossed his arms and dropped into the chair at another desk. “He was considered the leading authority on ‘Lost Time.’”
Lisa pulled up a chair beside him and sat down. She glared with impatience. “Lost time?”
“It’s a euphemism for HTR -- Hypnotic Thought Reform.” He toyed with the computer’s mouse, picking it up and twirling it by its thin cord.
“I’m not following you. What’s Hypnotic Thought Reform?”
“Psychological coercion...brain washing...mind control voodoo.” He swung the mouse in front of her eyes like a hypnotist’s watch.
“So Pearsall is a brain washer. Why did General Kaback send for him?”
Jesus, she could be naïve at times. “To make sure Agents Mulder and Scully don’t remember their little Pleistocene adventure.”
She lifted her thumb to her teeth and began to chew her nail. “Won’t the FBI notice when two of their agents turn up with lobotomies?”
“It’s not done that way.”
“Then how is it done?”
“Drugs mostly, and hypnotic suggestion. Selected memories are erased, false ones implanted in their place. Non-problematic memories are left intact. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.”
“You sound like you don’t trust the process.”
“It’s Oskar Stroehmer I don’t trust.”
“The Base doctor?”
“If you want to call him that. Forty years from now the world is going to refer to him as The Butcher. His experiments on living subjects make Josef Mengele look like Mother Teresa.”
Lisa rose from her chair and began to pace, thumb caught once again between her teeth. Jason wondered if she was worried about Stroehmer or something else -- like his attempt to sabotage the Project. Since asking him point blank about it earlier, she hadn’t questioned him again.
“If the agents aren’t brainwashed, they’ll report what they’ve seen, and that’ll shut down the Project,” she said at last, lowering her thumb and turning to face him. She appeared more agitated than usual. “Which is exactly what you want, isn’t it? You’ve been trying to put an end to it from the start.”
She’d guessed the truth. Rather than lie to her again, he decided to convince her to help him. “We have to stop it.”
“But why? This is your life’s work. Why destroy it?”
“Because I feel responsible.” He tossed the mouse onto the table. “The future...is my fault.”
“Is it as bad as that?”
“It’s intolerable.” He met her incredulous stare. He *had* to make her understand. “Think about it, Lisa. Imagine what it’s like knowing every detail of your life before it happens.”
She thought for a moment, then shook her head. “Most people want to know their future.”
“No they don’t, believe me. I’ve witnessed what happens when they learn about their failures and grief, the death of loved ones, of themselves. Knowing the future is not a blessing because it can’t be altered...only dreaded.”
“If the future is fixed, then what makes you think you can change it by ending the Project?”
That was his greatest fear: his fate...and the world’s...was already set and there was no undoing it.
* * *
“Mom, please don’t sing that song to William,” Scully says, stepping beyond her kitchen threshold into her living room, where her mother is sitting in front of a window. The sun is pouring through, highlighting dust and streaks on the cloudy glass. Maggie cradles the baby in the crook of her arm. He is nearly asleep, hypnotized by his grandmother’s lilt and the steady rock of her chair.
“Why not?” Maggie coos, planting her lips briefly on William’s brow. “‘Sweet William’ is a traditional folk song. From Virginia, I think.”
“‘Sweet William’ dies in the end. Or didn’t you notice?”
“Dana, the baby doesn’t understand the words.” She begins the penultimate verse, rocking in time to the song’s gentle rhythm. “His mother arose, and slipped on her clothes, to let sweet William in. No one was so ready as his mother herself, to arise and let him in.”
Maggie scowls, but concedes to her daughter’s wishes by humming the final verse.
Watching the baby drift off to sleep, Scully feels suddenly overwhelmed by sadness, and it has nothing to do with the song. It is something altogether different, a worry that cuts so deep it makes her heart ache.
Where is Mulder? she wonders.
She returns to the kitchen to put away the plate she is drying, and reaches toward the drainer for another.
Before she gets a firm grasp on it, she finds herself in an alleyway at night. She’s holding her crying baby’s hand, not one of the dinner dishes. William is in his car carrier, held by Frohike.
“Hey, Little Man,” Frohike says, quieting William’s fussing.
The Gunmen’s van waits near her car, and a dark-haired woman, whom Scully recognizes but has never met, stands beside her. This is the same woman who was with her the night William was born. She recognizes her from her vision--
This is a vision, too, she realizes. She hasn’t had one for weeks and wonders: why now?
Frohike passes William to Langly, then retrieves his diaper bag from Scully’s car.
“Your baby’s in good hands.”
He is so beautiful, this child of hers and Mulder’s.
Again she feels that empty ache. Where is Mulder?
“I need to know that you’re taking him to a safe place,” she says. “I need to know that you’re...that you’re taking every precaution.”
Where are they taking him? And why? Panic thrums in her veins.
“We understand,” Byers says. His face is sympathetic. He takes the baby, while Langly hurries to the van.
“Now, there’s a good chance that my phone lines have been tapped,” she says, “and if they’re tapped, they can trace you.”
They? Who is tapping her phones?
“We thought about that,” Frohike says.
Langly returns with a plastic bag and hands it to the dark-haired woman. “Six cell phones, their signals scrambled. Use each one once and then throw it away.”
What is going on? Scully still grasps William’s tiny hand and is reluctant to let go, yet at the same time she feels grateful to the Gunmen for agreeing to take him.
Tenderly, she kisses her son’s forehead, closing her eyes while she breathes in his familiar, powdery scent. “It’s going to be okay,” she tells him.
When she reopens her eyes, she’s no longer in the alley. She’s sitting behind a desk in an office at Quantico. William is gone. The Gunmen and the dark-haired woman are gone, too.
She reaches down, slides open the bottom desk drawer, and removes a printout of an email. The corners are dog-eared from frequent fingering. She lays it on the desk and smoothes it flat.
The subject line reads “Dearest Dana.” The return address is email@example.com.
It’s from Mulder.
Her lips quiver as her eyes move over the page.
//I’ve resisted contacting you for reasons I know you continue to appreciate. But, to be honest, some unexpected dimensions of my new life are eating away at any resolve I have left.//
Oh, God, what is this letter? Her eyes flood with tears. The words on the page blur, but she realizes she somehow knows them by heart.
//I’m lonely, Dana, uncertain of my ability to live like this. I want to come home. To you, and to William.//
Come home? Where is he?
When a tear falls and hits the paper with a slap, it makes her heart jump, and she is suddenly in her apartment again, in William’s bedroom. He is in his crib, the stars and moon of his mobile dangling above his head. Beautiful boy. Sweet William.
The familiar dark-haired woman appears in his doorway.
“Dana...the room’s all fresh for you. I threw out all the old bedding and bought some brand-new stuff, okay?”
This woman apparently knows her well. She feels like a friend. “Thank you.”
“I know it’s impossible to stop thinking about what he said about William,” she says, looking concerned, “but it’s all lies, Dana, and you were the one who proved it.”
What had she proved? Who was this woman talking about and what lies had she been told?
She feels as if her heart is breaking.
“And how should I prove it now?” she asks, without knowing why she is asking it. She knows only the searing pain of grief in her chest. “By insisting that I can protect him...only to learn too late that I can’t?”
“You say it as if you have a choice.”
She looks down at William in his crib.
“He didn’t have a choice to come into this life. I don’t have a choice about what he is or was...but I do have a choice about the life my son will have...”
Oh, God, no. Her son...her baby...Mulder’s baby. What is she thinking of doing?
“And shouldn’t I choose that he never have to be afraid of anyone or anything?” She loves him so much. She loves him enough to break her own heart to save him. “Can I ever really promise him that?”
Her tears are unstoppable. She is giving him up, giving him away, she realizes. What has brought her to this terrible moment?
And where is Mulder?
William’s bedroom fades into a snowy outdoor landscape. The dark-haired woman is joined by others, some familiar, some not. They are dressed in black. Scully’s mother stands to her right. Skinner to her left. The Gunmen are a few steps away perched at the edge of an open grave with bowed heads and sympathetic faces.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” A minister is officiating a graveside service. “We are here to deliver the body of Fox Mulder to its resting place.”
“We pray to God to deliver his soul and to resolve the deep mysteries he sought so tirelessly to uncover.”
“Let us pray now for his eternal peace.”
No, please God, no, she is losing them both, her son and her soul mate. The headstone reads: Fox Mulder, 1961-2000. A sob shudders in her chest, bubbling up from a well of despair so deep she is certain she will drown in it.
And Mulder is not there to save her this time.
She guesses there will be no rescue.
There will be no child to raise.
Mulder is dead.
* * *
“Mulder!” Scully woke with a start from her nightmare.
Or was it a vision?
Oh, please, not a vision. It represented a future she didn’t want. She would rather remain here in the Pleistocene, die in this swamp, than give away her baby or see Mulder die. The date on the gravestone was 2000. That was only two years away.
Her pulse pounded in her ears, and she was on the verge of hyperventilating. Each frantic exhalation fogged the evening air as she tried to control her breathing.
Night was creeping in like a silent phantom. The day’s overcast was clearing in the west, leaving the sky blood red. An appropriate backdrop, it seemed, for the bats swooping overhead, gobbling up pale moths and hordes of whining mosquitoes. The bats’ fluttering wings were echoes of the panicky thudding in her heart.
A sudden, chilly gust rattled the tree branches. For a brief moment she thought she heard the dark-haired woman’s final words in the creak of wood: “You say it as if you have a choice.”
Sometimes there are no good choices. Sometimes there are just choices. Her words to Mulder, spoken with the hope that he would not blame himself if things turned out wrong.
“He didn’t have a choice to come into this life,” she’d said to the woman in her vision about William. “I don’t have a choice about what he is or was...”
*What* he is or was? That made no sense. What did it mean?
Her throat was raw from gulping air; she needed a drink of water. Reaching for the gourd, she discovered she was holding the carved bone idol in her fist.
Maybe Mulder was right about it. It did seem connected to her visions; it had been with her every time she’d had one.
She didn’t believe in magic. Yet, cradling the tiny fetish in her palm, she considered an extreme possibility: the carving was some sort of key. She wasn’t sure how or to what, but it seemed to contain mystical properties, put there by a stranger’s faith in his gods.
The sunset tinted the carving’s smooth ivory surface a pinkish-red, and Scully couldn’t help but notice it was the exact same shade as Gini’s blood-tinged tears.
* * *
It felt like sunset had arrived forever ago, stripping away all sense of time. It might be close to midnight. Or mere minutes after dusk. Without his watch, Mulder had no idea how long he’d been traveling.
Sapped of energy, he no longer jogged, but shuffled, his gait irregular and too slow. His muscles worked mechanically, without feeling. Gini drooped in his arms, which ached more than he would have thought possible.
He didn’t know where he was or how much further he had to go. He knew only that he couldn’t stop until he reached Turkey Lake.
Would Dzeh kill him on sight? Or if a miracle occurred and he didn’t, what was Mulder going to say to persuade him to help rescue Scully?
“Hey, Dzeh. Here’s your sister. Sorry she’s in a coma. Now would you mind helping me out with a little problem I’ve got back at the swamp?”
Tree leaves brushed against his face and arms, sounding unnaturally loud to his ears in the dark. A waxing moon hung like a dim streetlamp in the eastern sky. It cast a shattered reflection in the water, which attracted fireflies in greenish-yellow swarms. The insects floated above the reeds, followed by phantom trails of incandescence. Somewhere upstream an owl hooted...a soft, desperate sound, which tugged Mulder forward.
Keep going, he told himself. Just keep going. You’ll figure something out.
A sickly odor clung to Gini, insinuating its way into Mulder’s sinuses until he could smell nothing else. The turtleneck she wore was damp with her sweat and urine. He considered removing the soiled garment and bathing her in the stream, with the hope that it might make her feel better, but he didn’t dare take the time. He also wasn’t sure if he had the energy to kneel at the shore and wash her. Christ, if he stopped walking, he might never start up again.
The desire to stretch out on the ground and let sleep take him was almost overwhelming. He fought against it by picturing a future with Scully and the son she seemed so certain they were going to have. Wondering which of them the baby might look like, he conjured up an image of an impish boy with strawberry-blond hair, blue eyes and Scully’s lightly freckled complexion. If they were lucky, he would inherit her integrity, selflessness and intelligence, too.
She’d be a great mom. Good thing; someone had to counterbalance his ineptitude. He had no doubt she would be fiercely protective of their baby, and love him thoroughly and unconditionally.
Like Emily. She loved that little girl enough to let her go rather than allow her to suffer. Putting her own feelings aside, she did what was right for her child.
She’d done the same for Gini only a few hours ago.
“Gonna teach’im t’play baseball,” he vowed, murmuring his promise into Gini’s hair, his words slurred from fatigue. “Buy him a bat and mitt the day he’s born. Little Yankees’ cap to keep the sun off his face, ‘cause the kid’ll pro’ly burn like his mother.”
Mulder noticed he was no longer walking. He stood swaying on unsteady legs, while Gini weighted his arms.
“Gotta keep going.” He forced his feet to move. Left...right...one...two. “Count with me, Gini,” he said, pushing on.
After several minutes it seemed a drum was beating inside his skull, keeping time with his footfalls.
One, two, thump, thump...
He listened more closely. It *was* a drum. Somewhere up ahead. Drums were beating and people were chanting.
Squinting past the trees, he spotted the flicker of several camp fires. Shadowy figures jittered around them. The smell of roasting meat drifted downwind, making his mouth water.
This was the ball field. He’d made it.
Thank you, sweet Jesus.
“Almost there, pipsqueak. Hope big bro’s in a forgiving mood.”
* * *
Hill Air Force Base
May 14, 1998
Simon Pearsall followed Captain Linden down a long, well-lit corridor. The conditioned air smelled like rubbing alcohol and bleach, tinged with the sinus-tingling odor of urine. Building 30 wasn’t Hill’s hospital; it was a human subject test lab. Behind these closed doors, a variety of physical and mental experiments were carried out on “volunteers” -- airmen who had been coerced into participating in Oskar Stroehmer’s pet projects “for the good of their country.”
There were few men Pearsall loathed as much as Oskar Stroehmer.
Captain Linden stopped in front of a security door. He took a key card from his pocket and inserted it into the lock. The catch whirred and the door opened. He gestured across the threshold at another, identical hallway. “Sir.”
Linden stayed behind when Pearsall stepped through the door. It closed automatically behind him, shutting the Captain out.
The corridor stretched endlessly ahead, lined on both sides by windowless white doors. He began walking, searching for Room 158.
The tile floor was polished and spotless, and his shoes squeaked with each long stride. Security cameras followed his progress. Behind him, sequestered somewhere in a distant room, a man cried out for help. The muted screams were silenced almost immediately.
A door opened up ahead and a bald man wearing a stained lab coat stepped out. It was Stroehmer.
“Ah, Simon.” He greeted Pearsall with a half-hearted smile, exposing a silver eyetooth. “You’re early. I intended to meet you down front.”
“I’m right on time,” Pearsall said without looking at his watch.
“Perhaps it was I who lost track of the time then.” Stroehmer’s smile thinned. He had bloodless lips and a wine-colored birthmark, which stained his right cheek and appeared to drip into his starched collar. His neck hung in purplish folds above his necktie like a vulture’s wattle. “Shall we?” He gestured toward the open door with one pale, papery hand.
The door led into an operating theater. Pearsall recognized most of the equipment: electrocardiogram, ESU, defibrillator and crash cart. Medicines filled the dozen or so glass cabinets. Atropine, epinephrine, ephedrine, lidocaine. Tongue depressors, gauze, and dozens of hypodermic needles lined the countertops in organized containers. A blood pressure monitor sat on a cart beside a tub-sized, stainless steel sink.
The most chilling aspect of the room was the arrangement of its operating tables. There were four, radiating out from a centrally located island, which contained some of the most peculiar instruments Pearsall had ever seen. He couldn’t even begin to guess their various uses. Four large-screen monitors hung over the island, for viewing laparoscopic surgeries. The island itself was littered with tools. Drills. Saws. Picks and swabs and hoses. The beds were equipped with full-body restraints.
It relieved Pearsall only a little to see a capnometer in one corner. It wouldn’t have surprised him to discover Stroehmer conducted his experiments without the benefits of general anesthesia.
“Why am I here?” he asked bluntly.
“Rest assured, the invitation didn’t come from me,” Stroehmer replied, equally blunt. “Kaback insisted on you. Lord knows why.”
“Probably to make sure you don’t kill anyone.” No sense beating around the bush; they both knew what Stroehmer did. “Who is your victim this time, Oskar?”
“There are two.” His eyes gleamed as brightly as his silver tooth. “Federal agents.”
“Federal--” Sometimes Kaback went too far. Clearly not everything that happened here at Hill could be blamed on Stroehmer. “Why?”
“They’ve seen some things they shouldn’t. Isn’t that the usual reason for doing what we do?”
It made Pearsall’s stomach turn to be lumped in with Stroehmer’s atrocities.
“When do we start?” He wanted to get it over with.
Stroehmer leaned dispassionately against an operating table and fingered the restraints. “As soon as they bring the calves in to slaughter.”
* * *
Scully shivered beneath Mulder’s jacket, arms hugging her chest, teeth chattering. Her legs were numb from so many hours of sitting in the cold mud; her hips ached from lack of movement. She wiggled the toes on her trapped right foot, trying to keep blood circulating through it.
All around her branches snapped, water dripped, crickets shrieked. Pale moonlight filtered through leafless trees, painting the swamp silver. A spider the size of her palm was building a web on the log above her leg. It methodically crawled from the main trunk to an upturned branch, weaving a delicate trap. Each gossamer strand was meticulously positioned, beautiful, despite its lethal purpose.
She thought again about her vision, trying to fit its pieces together and figure out what might have made her desperate enough to give William away.
I won’t do it, she promised herself, no matter what.
The idea of Mulder’s Cosmic Censor came to her. According to his theory, an all-powerful watchdog made it impossible to alter past history or future events.
She refused to believe it. She would never, ever give her son away. There were no circumstances that could convince her to do such an unlikely thing.
Mulder’s spear lay in the mud beside her, its blade shattered after four laborious hours of chipping away at the branch that held her foot. She’d managed to make only a shallow dent in the wood. Hesitant to continue with the other spear and risk breaking it, she decided to wait until daylight to start again, so as not to leave herself defenseless in the dark.
Feeling thirsty, she reached for the gourd. It was nearly empty. She set it back down without taking a drink. Her meager supply had to last at least another day, since the swamp water was undrinkable, thick with mud and algae.
Maybe she could slake her thirst by eating one of the wild plums in her pack. She was about to get one when she heard it: the distinctive, heart-stopping hiss of a snake. It prompted a deep and primal fear, standing her hair on end and contracting her dry throat. Instinct made her fumble blindly for her missing gun.
The snake hissed again. She could tell it was only a few feet away, on the log above her feet, although she couldn’t see it, hidden from the moonlight by shadows.
The spear would be useless against it in the dark. She needed a light. The flashlight batteries were dead and she doubted the light on her watch would reach far enough.
Maybe her cell phone display would be bright enough.
Moving as quietly as she could, she slid her phone from her jacket pocket and pressed the on switch.
The display wasn’t bright enough to cut the dark, but she caught sight of the snake as it slithered through a patch of moonlight. It was about four feet long and moving away from her. Thank God. It broke through the spider’s web when it zigzagged along the tree, causing the web to collapse and fold in on itself. The spider hunkered down and waited for the threat to pass.
A moment later the snake dropped from the log onto the ground with a wet slap and headed upland. Moonlight glinted off its scaled back as it silently skidded around a blowdown. Eventually it disappeared in the underbrush.
The spider cautiously unfurled its legs and began to rebuild its web.
Hands still shaking, Scully was about to power off the phone when she noticed an odd message in the display:
//Bringing you home. Carry phones. Stay together. --JN//
JN? Jason Nichols? The MIT scientist? But he’d died in a lab fire three years ago, while trying to destroy his freezing compound, the catalyst that, in Mulder’s opinion, was going to make time travel possible.
Either Jason Nichols never actually died in that fire or Mulder was right about him coming back from the future.
She stabbed at the buttons, looking for more information. “When? When?”
There was nothing more.
Looking again at the message, her hope for rescue turned quickly to disappointment. Stay together, it said.
A shiver ran through her, not brought on by the cold, but by dread. Suppose Jason Nichols launched his rescue attempt before Mulder got back? The message said they needed to keep their phones with them. Nichols must be planning to use the cells to somehow pinpoint their locations. Oh God. She had Mulder’s jacket, which meant she had both phones.
* * *
“Klizzie, I must talk with you.” Dzeh tugged urgently at her arm. Worry was evident behind the red spirals and yellow stripes of his face paint.
“What is it? What is the matter?” She allowed him to guide her across the dark ball field, away from the communal bonfire, where drummers had formed a circle and were beating a steady rhythm with their clapping sticks. “The celebration will soon start. We should not go far--”
“It is important.”
“All right.” She leaned into the curve of his arm, her concern growing.
Dzeh’s uncharacteristic disregard for Clan customs was a difficult thing to get used to. Earlier he had balked at dressing appropriately for the night’s festivities, and it had taken more than a little persuasion to convince him to put on his finest garments and paint his face. He had waved off her offer to braid feathers and beads into his hair, until she reminded him that to do so would honor Gini’s spirit. Only then had he allowed her to comb, grease and plait his hair. She had divided his beard into two long, thick braids, then tied bone ornaments onto their ends. She oiled and perfumed his skin according to tradition, until his tanned chest and shoulders gleamed, and he smelled like spearmint and pine. She fastened ornamental bands around his upper arms and wrists. Two more around his ankles. He looked handsome adorned this way, reminding her of their Joining Ceremony.
“Are you finished?” he had asked, scowling at her preparations.
She brought him his bear claw necklace and the unusual wrist ornament he had received from Muhl-dar when they first became Trading Partners.
“I will not wear those. They make me think of times I prefer to forget.”
She understood this -- the claw necklace in particular reminded her of the night Lin had explained the necessity of the mate exchange to Muhl-dar and Day-nuh.
“Give them to the boy Chal to thank him for coming to Ye-tsan with me,” Dzeh said.
She did exactly that as soon as she was finished dressing herself for the Feast. The boy seemed to appreciate the gifts, smiling sadly as he put them on.
“Are you sure Dzeh wants me to have these?” he had asked.
“Yes, they are to thank you for searching for Gini.”
“I was pleased to do that. I need no thanks.”
Klizzie liked this young cousin very much and wished things had turned out differently. He would have made a fine, caring mate for her Little Chick.
Dzeh led her to the edge of a slough where A-Chi Stream separated the field from the forest. Cattails grew as tall as a man in the damp soil, and their leaves rustled in the twilight like the whispers of Spirits.
Stopping beside a thicket of alder saplings, Dzeh took her in his arms and embraced her tightly. A distressing sigh shuddered from his lungs.
“What is it?” she asked, listening to the wild beat of his heart.
“I am worried about our baby.”
She drew back to look at his face. His eyes were wet with unshed tears and his mouth was twisted in fear. “Dzeh, what is it?”
“Klesh knows our secret. He knows you did not mate with Muhl-dar and that the baby is mine.”
No wonder Dzeh was so worried. This news stole the strength from Klizzie’s legs, and she clung to him to keep from falling. “Is he going to tell?”
“Not if--” He suddenly stopped himself and lowered his gaze.
“Not if what?”
“It does not matter. It is not my greatest worry.”
There was something more? Something worse?
“Tell me, my mate. What is it?”
He took a deep breath. “Lin told me something today...something I had not heard before.”
“What did he say?”
“He said...” Lifting his hand to her face, he caressed her cheek. “He said Klesh is the son of his father’s Trading Partner. Did you know that?”
She had not heard it. “Why does such old news worry you?”
His hand dropped away to settle on her belly. He cradled the curve of her abdomen beneath his wide palm. “Klizzie, the Clan believes our child is the offspring of *my* Trading Partner. I am afraid our baby will face the same sort of scorn that is given to Klesh , and maybe...maybe he will turn out to be like him.”
Anger flared in Klizzie’s breast as she considered this possibility.
“No, Klesh chooses to be who he is. Unkind comments cannot make a man evil.”
“Are you sure? Perhaps if he had been treated more respectfully--”
“We did not even know this truth about him until today, so how are we to blame for the way he is?”
“It is true *we* did not know, but the elders knew. And we treated him as they did.”
“We treated him the way he deserved to be treated. He has always invited meanness.”
“Because he is al-tkas-ei lit?”
Al-tkas-ei lit: mixed smoke. It was an old expression -- an insult -- often used by elders to describe persons of impure or unknown lineage.
“I do remember my father telling Tse-e and me to stay away from Klesh when we were very young because he was considered al-tkas-ei lit. I thought it meant he was part good, part bad.”
“That *is* what it means. Good because he carries the Spirit of Badger Clan, and bad because he also carries the Spirit of outsiders.”
“But people do not think that way now. Attitudes have changed. It is not considered shameful to be the son of a Trading Partner.”
“You are wrong, Klizzie. Attitudes have not changed. My own kin are ashamed because they believe I am not the father of your child. I have endured looks of disgrace, even from Lin and Wol-la-chee.”
She had noticed derisive glances directed at her, too, and had heard several unkind comments.
“Our child is going to suffer,” he said. Misery creased his brow, bringing pain to Klizzie’s chest.
“Are you saying you want to tell the elders the truth about the baby...that you are its father?”
“No! No, I do not want that. I want to protect you and our child.”
Again he embraced her, squeezing her so hard she could not fill her lungs with air. She was about to object when his lips covered hers. His fingers snaked into her hair, trapping her braids as he hungrily kissed her. She felt her own desire blossom, and gripped his muscled shoulders, while pressing her breasts against his chest. Her love for him was overwhelming and it brought the sting of tears to her eyes.
She wanted to suggest they slip into the woods to mate beneath the trees, but Ho-Ya’s warbling voice was calling to them from the bonfire, interrupting their unexpected moment of passion.
“We must get back,” she said, chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath and regain her balance.
“Let’s stay here.” His mouth captured hers again, although only briefly.
“We...we cannot.” She regretted saying the words. “There is already enough gossip about us.”
“Then we will do this later.” He linked his fingers with hers. “As soon as the Feast is over.”
* * *
Shrieks undulated across the ball field into the trees where Mulder stood hidden and motionless. Drums thundered like frantic heartbeats, mimicking his quickening pulse. Unsure what to do, he readjusted his hold on Gini and watched as figures writhed around a central campfire. It must be some sort of group celebration...or a war party.
The dancers chanted as they leapt and spun. Mulder recognized an occasional phrase from his word games with Gini, but not enough to make sense of their song.
“Wish you’d wake up, pipsqueak, and help me out,” he whispered. “I could *really* use a translator.”
Sucking cold air into his lungs, he tried to gather his courage. A bloodcurdling scream made his knees go weak. Jesus, were they running at him? He considered ducking behind a tree, but then just as suddenly they turned and ran in the opposite direction.
“Must just be part of the floor show.”
He worked up the nerve to take a step forward. The horde raised their spears and charged at invisible prey. Another flurry of ear-piercing screeches accompanied their mock battle.
“Naz-tsaid...naz-tsaid... naz-tsaid...” they chanted.
He recognized the word; it meant kill.
It is done...it is done...it is done...something. He was unfamiliar with the last phrase.
“Yeh-wol-ye hi-he a-di.” Whatever the hell that meant, it set them cheering.
The drummers beat more frantically and flutes punctuated the insistent boom, boom, boom, with high-pitched squeals. The entire company began to sing and clap.
“Guess it’s time we face the music,” he said, stepping out from the refuge of evergreens.
Climbing the slight incline onto the field, he carried Gini with one arm supporting her knees, the other beneath her narrow back. Her head slumped against his bare chest; strands of her hair stuck to his sweaty skin. Lifeless and sallow, she looked more like a specter than a living girl. Her mouth hung open and her breathing came in ragged gasps. He worried that every labored exhalation might be her last.
“Hang in there, baby,” he urged.
They’d come all this way. Please don’t let it be for nothing.
He aimed for the roiling bonfire and its halo of prancing savages. Their screaming rattled his spine and set his teeth on edge. He held out little hope they would let him live. That he might convince them to help him rescue Scully was as remote as the stars.
“Dead man walking,” he murmured as he passed the nearest goal post. He winced at the memory of being stripped, bound and pelted by stones. If there was a God in heaven Dzeh would run him through with a spear this time around, instead of letting that angry mob pound him to death with rocks.
He approached the crowd as if in a dream, unable to feel the movement of his legs or the ground beneath his feet. The dancers’ song seemed to fade into silence; the only sound he could hear was the hiss of his breath and the thud of his heart. His eyes locked onto the crowd as they cavorted, singing without sound, their movements becoming more sluggish with each floating step he took. Their faces turned gradually toward him, one by one, and even at a distance of twenty yards, he saw them blink in surprise, astonishment opening their mouths.
The bonfire exploded behind them in a silent upside-down shower of sparks, which fizzled skyward, illuminating the tribesmen’s spears, and making the men look as if they carried lightning bolts in their fists. Mulder followed the upward spiral of one brilliant ember, raising his gaze to watch as it dimmed. Behind it, Ophiuchus glistened in the heavens.
The Serpent Holder, standing as always between Hercules and Virgo.
A surprised shout drew his attention back to Earth.
“Do-ya-sho-da ,” someone gasped.
“A-tkel-el-ini,” said another.
The word “chindi” circulated the gathering.
Most of the tribesmen were now on their feet, watching him, waiting to see what he planned to do. Their skin was camouflaged with paint and they wore their long, dark hair in wild arrangements, bristling with feathers and quills. Their shoulders were caped with fur and their limbs rattled with bracelets and anklets of shell and bone. Their fierce demeanor and scowling eyes scared the hell out of him.
Straightening his shoulders, he scanned their painted faces, looking for Dzeh.
He spotted Klizzie first, sitting among a group of women. When her rounded eyes met his he raised Gini a bit, to prove to her -- to prove to all of them -- that he meant no harm. Klizzie stood and tried to come to him, but an older woman held her back.
“Dzeh!” she screamed as she struggled to be let free.
All eyes turned toward a knot of seated men, whose faces were adorned with red spirals and yellow stripes, making them look like vultures. Mulder guessed the gray-bearded man was the old hunter named Lin, which meant the muscular man beside him was probably Dzeh.
Mulder crossed the field and stopped about ten feet away from him. He held Gini out.
“She’s sick...” His voice abandoned him for a moment and he had to clear his throat to begin again. “She needs help. She needs...”
Shit, what was the word?
“A-zay...medicine,” he said, remembering. “She needs a-zay.”
Distrust hummed through the crowd.
“I-I’m not here to cause trouble,” Mulder said. “Uh... Neh-hecho-da-ne.” Jesus, he hoped that meant “friendly” and not “fuck you.”
Dzeh rose to his feet and eyed Mulder with suspicion. He took three cautious steps forward, closing the gap between them until he stood only an arm’s length away. Mulder was keenly aware of this man’s hatred for him; Dzeh was glowering with murderous intent and every able-bodied tribesman was ready to follow his lead and attack at the slightest provocation.
Sorely outnumbered, Mulder considered it a minor miracle they’d held off killing him this long.
“A-zay,” he said again, nodding at Gini.
Dzeh stretched out a brawny hand and laid it flat against the girl’s chest, no doubt checking to see if she were alive. When he felt her inhale, tears filled his eyes.
“Take her,” Mulder said, holding her out to the other man. “Yah-a-da-hal-yon-ih.”
Dzeh hesitated only a moment before he brusquely snatched Gini from Mulder’s arms. He carried her immediately to an older man who Mulder hoped was the medicine man.
Gini was laid on the ground at the man’s feet. All eyes were fixed on him as he knelt to examine her. After a minute or two, he made a pronouncement, most of which Mulder couldn’t understand. He recognized only the phrase “jish-cha.” It meant “among devils.”
The tribesmen all turned to face Mulder. A half dozen, painted like Dzeh, stepped forward and grabbed him roughly by the arms.
“Wait a minute, fellas, I didn’t come here to--”
A fist struck him in the stomach, knocking the wind from him. If not for the hands that gripped his arms, he would have collapsed to his knees.
“Can’t we talk this over?” he wheezed.
Another punch -- this time to his jaw -- silenced him again.
He tasted blood. Holding up his hands, he said, “Dzeh...come on, buddy, I--”
A third wallop to the back of his head turned the world black.
Continued in Chapter Twenty...
Special thanks to mimic117 and jeri for beta of Chapter 19.
To hear the song "Sweet William," go to http://judycook.net/swill1.ram. (requires RealPlayer)
See The Mastodon Diaries Dictionary for an explanation of the paleo-indian terms and names.