A Time to Reflect
Even as he struck the first carnosaur with his
makeshift club, Tony felt the air around them waver, sparkle. The ground became tenuous and then absent and they were
swirling in a vortex of colors-- cold and whispery that told them they
were on their way to some other place, time and danger.
Let it be cooler, drier, safer.
Tony mentally laughed. Probably
Antarctica, which was certainly cooler and drier. But safer? Ha!
Nothing they had done or seen was safer.
The Titanic, the Battle of New Orleans, Arthurian England,
Jericho, communist Russia, Nazi Germany, WWI Italy, Troy, Krakatoa, the
Alamo, Little Big Horn. The
pictures swirled and coalesced like the air and view around him.
He was falling and rolling, twirling and tumbling.
His mind was alternately on fire or freezing.
He closed his eyes and still he saw the vortex around him.
Where would it be this time?
Again he laughed. Time—a
blessing and a curse. Some
people would give all they possessed to see some of the sights he and
Doug had seen, but right now, he would give his right arm for home. Or a week or two of tranquility even if it was away from
Then Tony was falling to the earth, feeling the
solidity of everything around him.
He tried to tuck himself into a ball to roll when he hit the
ground. It helped, but not enough to avoid the bruising impact
against hard earth. The
dust puffed as he hit the ground, making him cough and wheeze.
It was drier, but Tony didn’t have time to even think about
that. He came out of his
roll and into a crouch to await whatever danger he might have fallen
into this time. But he saw
nothing. At least nothing
of an immediate danger. Slowly,
he rose and turned, looking for any signs of human presence.
There was nothing. A
harsh call from above caused him to look up.
An eagle or hawk, he surmised.
Again, Tony studied the area around him.
There were dry hills in the distance, sagebrush and course grass
near his feet.
Brushing the dust from his clothes, Tony looked
for Doug. Usually they
landed together. Occasionally
they had been spatially separated.
Once they had been temporally separated, but not since that one
early transfer. “Doug?”
he called. No answer. “Doug!”
he shouted. He called his
friend’s name again, even more loudly.
But the only answer was the taunting echo of his own voice.
The ground seemed to be bathed in a muted red
glow and Tony turned to see a huge red-orange sun sitting on the back of
distant hills. He watched,
transfixed for a moment, then he again pondered his predicament.
It was already cooling and he was out in the middle of nowhere,
alone and with no shelter. Where
is Doug? he wondered and worried.
needed to try and figure out some reference points.
Where he was, mainly.
Fairly dry, judging from the flora and the dusty soil.
Rocky hills around him. Sagebrush
and mesquite. Maybe Mexico
or New Mexico. Perhaps
southern California. Of
course, he could be in Korea or Macedonia, too.
Similar topographies. Similar
topographies, but not similar plant life-- no mesquite in Asia, as far
as he could figure. Still,
he couldn’t be sure about anything until he got more information.
Tony decided to head toward the setting sun.
If he could see something from the ridge, maybe that would help
him get a better idea of his location.
Or maybe he would spot Doug.
If there were some sort of habitation, perhaps Doug would be
there already. Tony was
concerned about his friend. Doug
hadn’t looked well at all, despite his reassurances to the contrary.
Tony was sure that some kind of bug had made it through a purging
transfer recently. Determined
to reach the hill before it was totally dark, Tony began trotting toward
the setting sun. The
dry, cool air was refreshing after that little stint in the Jurassic and
he was able to make good time, getting to the crest of the hill just
after the sun had fully set. He stood panting, catching his breath, gazing toward
the west. In the distance
was the glint of water. The
ocean. Could be California, he thought. His dad had taken him on a tour of southern California before
that ill-fated military transfer to Hawaii.
They had visited spots that appeared much like this.
He gazed over the sloping meadow below and then turned in every
direction, trying to spot anything that could indicate habitation or
better yet, Doug.
The twilight deepened and Tony spotted the
twinkle of firelight to the southwest.
While he realized that this was most likely wilderness of at
least a hundred or more years in the past, the traveler decided that he
couldn’t stay up on this ridge all night.
A breeze was already kicking up and it would get colder.
He had to at least keep moving.
At least in this possible time frame, there were no carnosaurs.
A quarter moon was already high above him and
gave little light, casting shadows that distorted more than pointed out,
but Tony carefully trod down the hill.
Using the brightest stars to guide him, he walked toward the only
sign of human habitation he had seen in this place.
In the distance a coyote howled and Tony shivered.
Another answered and in a different direction he heard the soft
sound of an owl hooting. After
walking some distance, Tony saw a burly oak in front of him and he gazed
at it, pondering. Should he
continue toward the firelight, or should he take refuge in the tree?
Where in the world is Doug?
But Tony realized that the safer course was to spend the
night in the tree, waiting until the light to continue his hunt.
While it seemed much safer than the place from which they had
come, he had already heard several predators and he remembered that once
upon a time, bears, mountain lions and wolves roamed the western North
With a sigh, Tony approached the tree and
studied it. One limb was a
little lower than the others and he scrambled up to it.
Soon he was settled in the crotch where two large limbs converged
with the trunk. It
was not the most comfortable bed he had ever slept in, but it was
somewhat safe. Tony heard
the distant howling of coyotes or wolves and tried to sleep, shifting to
get more comfortable. Despite
the rough bark against his back, he quickly drifted off.
Doug didn’t remember falling; coming back to
earth. He didn’t remember
taking off his jacket or walking, walking, walking.
He didn’t remember falling onto the dusty ground and he
certainly didn’t remember the surreal voices asking him things in a
language that wasn’t his own.
He only remembered cold and hot, hot and cold and being so very
tired. Deathly tired.
Only vaguely did he remember someone picking him up, carrying
him, laying him in a rough, hard bed.
Water; someone giving him water.
It was cool on his parched throat.
And then he remembered nothing at all….
Father Felipe looked down at the feverish
stranger lying in the small room that served as an infirmary and
pondered. Where in the
world had he come from? The
man had muttered something unintelligible, but the priest couldn’t
decipher anything. The
clothes were totally confusing, but he thought that the sick man might
be an American or British from the look of them.
If so, though, how did he get here?
There had been no news of any foreigners in the area.
Shaking his head, the padre cleaned the infected wound on the man’s arm as well as the long slash on his leg, then bound both wounds up. Father Felipe wondered where this stranger had been. The wound on his leg appeared fresh, in that there was still blood evidence, but it had closed without any kind of binding. Confused, the priest noticed that the trousers’ leg had not been torn, either. The cut on his arm appeared to have been made by a sword, but it had become infected. Father Felipe would dress both wounds again in the morning, praying before he went to bed for the man’s recovery. The priest sat back and gazed carefully at the visitor. A large man, perhaps even taller than Diego de la Vega, the stranger was lean. He was also fairly young, perhaps early thirties, the priest thought. His hair was short, medium brown, his skin fair. With a sigh, Father Felipe got up from the chair and gave a few instructions to Pablo, his medical assistant; then he headed toward the chapel where he lit a candle for the sick man.
The creature gave a loud, hissing cry and then
collapsed on top of the masked man.
Zorro felt the hot blood from the several wounds soaking his
shirt and running down his cheek where it had splashed during the fight.
When the beast made no more moves, Zorro dropped the knife and
tried to heave the body off him. He
had been pinned in an awkward position, across his lower chest where he
couldn’t easily use his legs or arms.
Its weight was like a crushing boulder and he figured it had to
be at least the weight of two normal-sized men lying across his chest.
He wriggled and pushed, using his legs to try and lever himself
out from under the beast. He
was making some progress when, suddenly, in the dim light, Zorro saw
another figure standing above him, gesturing.
‘I will pull; you push,’ Bernardo motioned
with his fingers, then he grabbed a back leg and pulled.
With the mozo’s help, the task became easy and
soon Zorro was on his feet staring at the animal.
“Help me get it into the cave.
I want to examine it,” he said.
Soon they had it dragged in the cave.
Tornado snorted and rolled his eyes in fear and the two men
pulled it closer to the stairs that led up to the casa grande.
Bernardo brought the spare lantern to Zorro and lit it from the
one that he had been using to tend to Manuel.
Zorro and Bernardo stared at the dead creature at their feet,
unable to say anything in their amazement.
Holding the lantern close to the head, Zorro examined it
carefully, gazing at the elongated snout with numerous razor sharp
teeth, slight bony crest from the front of its face to the top of its
head. The neck was long,
about the same length as a horse’s, but more sinewy.
The torso was built for running, but the shoulders were also very
powerful, the front legs muscular.
Somehow Zorro didn’t think it was just from running its prey,
but also from tearing flesh. The
front claws were like scimitars and he felt very lucky to have been able
to strike the killing blows as quickly as he did.
The back legs were larger and also powerful.
Bernardo tapped on his arm and Zorro pulled his
gaze away from the dead creature. ‘What
is it?’ Bernardo gestured with one hand.
“I have no idea,” Zorro answered softly.
‘You are very fortunate,’ Bernardo added.
“It resembles a large lizard in the conformation of its
head.” He pointed to the
ridge on its head. “But I
haven’t seen a lizard with something like that.”
Then he pointed to the front claws.
“Not even a mountain cat has anything like that.”
Bernardo gestured to the animal and then to the
front of Zorro’s costume. In
the flickering light of the lantern the drying blood and the black of
the costume were hard to tell apart, but the mozo’s signs were easy to
“I was very fortunate, Bernardo,” Zorro
murmured. “Those claws
are as sharp as sabers.” He
paused. “I cannot imagine
what this thing can be.” Bending down, Zorro took off his mask to examine the creature
more closely. He judged it
to be able to stand about four feet high and its length, including the
tail was close to six feet. A
very efficient killing machine. But
why hadn’t any of these things been seen before now?
Something this large, powerful and quick wouldn’t have stayed
unknown for all this time without there being at least a rumor of it.
He hadn’t even heard of a slight whisper of such a creature
among the Indians and they knew about everything that lived and grew in
the region. Shaking his
head, he studied the animal again.
It would begin to decay within a day or so.
He needed to get some kind of measurements, description and a
sketch of it before it had to be disposed of.
“I am going to get some writing paper and take down some notes
about this thing before it has to be buried.”
Diego got up and began walking toward the stone
steps. A tapping noise
stopped him. Turning, he
saw Bernardo signing. He
watched patiently until the servant was finished, then he nodded.
“Yes, we will have to find a safe place for Manuel before
morning. I had not forgotten,” Diego said. “I had in mind to take him to the Mission, Bernardo.
There Father Felipe can take care of his wounds and Manuel will
be under the protection of the Church.”
Bernardo nodded, smiling.
“But there is time for me to clean up, write down some notes
about this creature and then take the boy to the Mission.”
Bernardo signed again, ‘When you get back, I
will get a carriage ready.’
“Yes, definitely, the carriage would be easier
on young Villegro,” Diego said. “I
will be back in a short while.” Without
waiting for a response, the caballero dashed up the steps and out of
Bernardo turned back toward the wounded man
after another long look at the vicious creature near the foot of the
stairs. Tornado echoed his
mood by snorting and pawing the hard ground.
When Diego returned, his arms were loaded with
writing and drawing utensils, and he had changed into a clean costume.
“How is Manuel?”
Bernardo signed that he had finished cleaning
his abused back and the young man was sleeping soundly, thanks to a
sleeping draught he had given him.
will take down some notes on this creature and then we can take the boy
to the Mission. Give me a
hand and I can get this done more quickly.”
Diego laid down his supplies, including a very large book. Bernardo looked inside the leather bound cover.
It was about various creatures of the world.
He looked up. Diego
shrugged. “I don’t recall reading anything about such a beast, but
thought I would bring this down anyway. I
may have missed something.” Bernardo
nodded and took the paper and pen from his master’s hands.
Diego began measuring the strange beast, calling
out the numbers to Bernardo.
Then later, while Bernardo left to get the carriage ready, he
jotted down a description before attempting to draw various features of
its anatomy. He wasn’t even aware when Bernardo returned to the cave
until the mozo tapped him on the shoulder.
Bernardo indicated that the carriage was a short
distance away, ready for the trip to the Mission.
“Yes, I should leave now,” Diego said, putting aside the
writing utensils and then putting on his cape and mask. Picking up the injured man, he called to Tornado to follow
and then he ducked through the brush hiding the entrance. Bernardo and the horse followed.
After Manuel had been made comfortable in the
carriage, Zorro got into the driver’s seat and picked up the reins.
Bernardo gestured to himself and frowned.
“No, Bernardo, it would be much easier to
explain that I took the de la Vega carriage.
If you were along, it would be much more difficult to come up
with a logical explanation for your presence,” Zorro said.
“Besides, I am worried about any other creatures like this.
Surely there would not be just one.”
He laid a hand on Bernardo’s shoulder.
“No, it’s better if you stay here.”
Bernardo sighed lustily and nodded.
Zorro shook the reins and the carriage rattled off into the
darkness. A whistle and
Tornado trotted along behind. It
was only a few hours before dawn, but without moonlight, it would take
all of that time to get to the Mission.
As the mule trotted along the familiar roadway toward the pueblo,
Zorro listened for strange sounds.
He also listened to Tornado, trotting alongside the carriage, for
any indications of anything amiss.
This creature was like something out a horrible nightmare.
It seemed to be fearless, vicious and deadly.
Unlike most of the wild creatures around here, this beast seemed
to hold no regard for man. For
something like that to be on the loose near the ranchos, as well as the
Mission and the pueblo was a chilling thought.
If there were more, they would have to be killed or captured.
There was nothing other than the normal sounds
of the night—insects, night birds, an occasional coyote howling.
They continued their slow way toward the Mission until just
before dawn, when the eastern hills began to turn rosy and then golden
with the rising sun, Zorro saw the brightly whitewashed walls of the
Mission before him. He
sighed his relief and urged the mule to a faster trot.
It was then he heard the same high-pitched squalling that he had
heard before the attack of the first creature.
Tornado neighed his fright and then cried out a challenging
scream of his own. Zorro
slapped the reins against the mule’s rump, but the animal needed no
further encouragement. It broke into a run toward the Mission, as though knowing
that safety and sanctuary lay within the thick walls.