“Motherfucker!” Jim yelled as he tossed Theo to land and bent to search the tepid water for his cell. His heart raced, and panic was taking over. He would never make it back to town on foot. Five minutes of searching produced the phone. It was completely waterlogged and would probably never work again but he removed the battery and blew the water from the case. He would cross his fingers and hope that a little time in the Arizona sun would dry it out.
“Can your machine be saved?”, asked Theo.
“I don’t know yet.” He said as he untied the legs of his pants and redressed. Not an easy task with his injured leg and newly swollen kneecap. His only luck being that the plastic bottle had stayed in his pocket. Filling it with the fresh rainwater he had almost drowned in, he drank the bottle down three times. It shouldn’t make him sick, but who knew.
Jim and Theo walked to the entrance of the mine. To the sunlight. Getting out of the cave was only the first step towards getting home. Now came the hard part.
Theo hung back from the opening, shielding his eyes from the harsh light. Poking his head out, Jim could see that it was almost dark. The sun would be setting soon and he could hardly believe that it was still the same day. Or maybe it was the next day, he’d obviously lost track of time while in the mine.
“We can wait for it to get dark, so that you won’t hurt your eyes and I won’t be seen. Those assholes who shot me might be around still.” Jim stretched out on the hard ground. Using his arms as a pillow, he lay on his back and elevated his swollen leg. He wasn’t going to make the mistake of sleeping again but it felt good to rest.
“Theo, I’m sorry I dropped you in the water.”
“Eh, it was an accident. You saved me, that’s all that matters.” Theo balled his body up and looked exactly like a rock, presumably to sleep.
“Yeah.” At that, Jim went quiet and waited for darkness to fall.
Coming down off the mountain in the dark was a slow endeavor, every step was an excruciating gamble for Jim. They walked towards the lights shining from the mine a couple of miles up the road. It was smarter to check there for help since town was fifteen miles in the opposite direction.
Theo had trouble keeping up with Jim, even with his limping gait. Jim finally took pity on him and hauled him up onto his shoulder.
“Wait!” Theo whispered excitedly as they passed by a dried up riverbed. “Look.” He pointed to the curve of the wash and the light that reflected and shimmered there. “Someone’s got a campfire going down there.”
Jim could barely see the golden light on the rock. Sneaking as well as he could to the bend, he peeked around to see who it was. If it was the men in the red Jeep. Theo made sure to keep his green glow off because they didn’t need to be spotted.
“My truck!” Jim sobbed. It wasn’t a campfire burning, it was the remains of his F150. “The bastards burned my truck. I just got it paid off.” With a hand covering his nose, he peeked into the bed. No rocks were there, as he suspected, they had taken them.
Theo coughed and patted his friend on the head for comfort. Not something he was able to do usually but riding on Jim’s shoulder had some perks.
“We need to keep moving Jim.” He nodded his agreement and hobbled back towards the road. Coyote yips and howls echoed through the canyon. Long spindly arms wrapped securely around Jim’s head.
“Theo, buddy, you gotta let go of my head. I can’t see to walk.” He loosed his hold but kept his fingers threaded in Jim’s gray hair. He chuckled, “I don’t like the coyote calls either but we don’t have to worry about them. The small ones they got out here couldn’t take down a man.” Theo calmed his breathing, “It sounds like a lot of them, a big group, they might then.” Jim shook his head, “Nope, not even then.” He squatted down and picked up a long skinny piece of ironwood that had been displaced during a flood. “Especially if I got a stick. Feel better?”
“I suppose, they’d probably eat you first anyhow. All soft and tender, like you are. I could run away while they feast. Okay.” Theo cheered up and patted his head once more.
“Yeah, thanks buddy.” Jim rolled his eyes.
Jim walked up a particularly steep hill in the road and was taking a break at the top so he didn’t pass out from all the panting he was doing. “I can see it now. The new mine.” Theo told him.
Jim could see the pings of light in the distance but no actual buildings. “All I see are the lights. How’s it look? Anybody working? Are there cars in the lot?”
Theo concentrated for a minute then answered, “I see a man smoking, and a man working a tractor. There’s two vehicles in front.”
“Great! I can get a ride back into town.” Jim let out a giant sigh of relief, his leg didn’t feel so bad anymore either. He was as good as saved. They continued their moonlit desert stroll.
“Goshdamned, teddy bear cactus! Right in my fuckin hand!”
Theo continued pulling the thread-like spikes from his hand. “Sorry Jim, I would’ve warned you but I figured you’d see the arm sticking out into the road.”
“Humans don’t see in the dark, Theo. Ahh, careful!” He was able to pull the stickers from Jim’s skin without worrying about getting stuck because Knockers’ skin was so tough, cactus’ couldn’t poke them. Twenty minutes went by while Jim got his hand cleaned of miniscule needles.
Dejected, tired, and on his last leg, literally, Jim made it to the security fence surrounding the new mine. A sign was posted, “No Trespassers – Red Mist Mining Co. Inc.” There was a chain on the fence but it was loose enough for him to slide his body through.
Theo drummed on his scalp in excitement, “We made it, we got to the mine, I can smell the gold from here!”
“Yep! All the gold you can scavenge. Welcome to you new….Shit!” Jim ducked behind a white truck. It was one of two vehicles in the lot. The other was a ruby red, four door jeep.
More to come…….