By Maz McCoy
Kid Curry groaned as he regained consciousness. His head hurt. It felt like it was in a vice and someone was slowly, twisting it tighter. Reaching up to push the vice away he touched the left side of his head and winced. His hair was sticky with congealed blood that sat on top of an egg sized lump.
What the heck happened to him?
With eyes still shut he assessed his situation. Lying on the ground, face down, sun on his back. Had he been hit from behind? Shot? He knew his left arm worked. His right? He moved his fingers. Seemed fine too. Tentatively he tried his legs. Toes wiggled inside boots, his legs did as they were told and there was no pain in either.
Kid opened his eyes. Oh, sheesh that sun was bright. He squinted. Tried again. Okay, that was better. He turned his head carefully to the right. The vice tightened. He turned to the left. Same again. Let’s hope no one asked him any questions he had to say ‘no’ to.
Raising himself onto his knees Kid looked around. Dust. Scrub as far as the eye could see. A few cacti and a sunbathing lizard that scuttled away when he moved. He was in a dry river bed by the looks of it. He sat back on his heels. No horse. A thought struck him. His right hand dropped swiftly to his side. He left out a heavy sigh. No gun. No gun belt either. He reached into his vest pocket. The few coins he had were gone too.
What the heck happened?
With some difficulty Kid got to his feet. The world swayed sideways and he grabbed for the nearest thing, which turned out to be a bush. He caught hold of a thin twig defoliating it as he regained his balance. Once stable, Kid squinted at the sky. The sun was high. Midday. He licked his lips and found the bottom one split. He surveyed the area closest to him and that’s when he spotted his hat. Some good news at last. He attempted a smile but that hurt so he settled for a grimace. Staggering the few steps to where his hat lay on its crown in the dust, he reached down, grabbed his hat, waited for the world to stop spinning and then straightened up. It was comforting to rest the hat back on his head and the brim shaded his eyes.
Okay. He had no water. No food. No gun. No horse. He had no idea where the nearest town was nor what had happened to him. He was in trouble.
“You’re not safe on your own are you?” a familiar voice remarked.
Kid turned around and the world spun with him. The contents of his stomach whirled too and before he could regain control, they projected themselves into the dirt. Hands resting on his knees, Kid breathed heavily.
“That was unpleasant,” the man stated.
Through narrowed blue eyes Kid looked up.
Hannibal Heyes sat on a boulder not four feet away. Arms folded, he gave Kid a dimpled grin.
“Who else were you expecting?”
Kid squinted hard as he wiped his mouth with the back of his gloved hand. There was something wrong with Heyes. He was there but not there. It was…weird. “That really you?”
Heyes looked down at himself. “Sure looks like me.”
Heyes shrugged. “I had a bath.”
Kid gave a heavy sigh. “Where are we?”
Heyes shook his head. “I can’t tell you that.”
“Just not where you expected us to be?”
“No to that too.”
“I can’t tell you because you don’t know.”
“I can only tell you things you already know.”
“No change there then.” In too much pain and discomfort to play his partner’s word games Kid straightened his back and Heyes got to his feet. “Any idea what happened to me?”
“You have to figure that out for yourself.”
Kid sent his friend a sideways look. “Terrific.”
“But don’t worry, I’m gonna help you find your way back,” Heyes stated cheerfully.
“Yep. Champeen tracker of all Southern Utah, remember?”
“So you keep tellin’ me.” The vice tightened around Kid’s head and he shut his eyes until the pain passed.
“Best get moving then.”
“Which way?” Kid asked his eyes still clamped shut.
“See that bluff in the distance?”
Kid looked. “Yeah.”
“Looks kinda familiar, don’t you think? I reckon you should head for that.”
Now that he mentioned it, it did look familiar. “Why should I head for that?”
“I reckon you passed that way. Might lead to a town.”
“But you don’t know that it does?”
“No, but you don’t have any better ideas.”
Heyes was right. Head for the bluff.
“Okay so…” Kid looked around. Heyes had vanished. Now that really was weird.
Kid’s mouth was parched. His tongue swollen and he couldn’t seem to make any spit. He had to consciously raise each foot for every step he took. Left one forward, right one forward, left one again. The sun fried his back as he plodded towards the bluff. The bluff didn’t seem to be getting any closer. But then it didn’t seem to be moving further away either. He was so thirsty. All he could think about was water. Cool, babbling streams. Lakes. Ponds. Rivers. Waterfalls. Droplets of dew glistening on the grass. A raindrop trickling down a window pane. A fountain he’d seen in Denver. God, he was thirsty. His throat felt as if it had been sandpapered. He staggered to a halt.
“You can’t stop now,” Hannibal Heyes informed him.
Hands resting on his hips, Kid took several shallow breaths and looked at his friend through narrowed eyes. Heyes was silhouetted with the sun behind him. “Where’d you go?”
“Nowhere.” Heyes walked several paces ahead. When Kid didn’t follow he looked over his shoulder. “You hafta keep moving.”
“I know.” Kid made no attempt to move.
“Come on, then.”
“You go on ahead. I’ll catch up to you.”
“I’m not going without you.”
“Heyes, I need to rest.”
It was Heyes turn to place his hands on his hips, only for him it was an expression of frustration. “You are in the middle of nowhere. You have no water, no food and no gun. If you don’t get to shelter or find water, you’re gonna die out here. Is that what you want?”
“So come on, get walking.”
“I’m catchin’ my breath.”
“It’s caught, come on.” Heyes walked a few paces away. Once again when Kid didn’t follow he looked back over his shoulder. “Well?”
“You don’t give up do you?” It was a rhetorical question but Heyes decided to answer it anyway.
“You know me well enough to know the answer to that.”
“Have you always been so bossy?”
“Again, you know the answer to that.”
“How come I’m suddenly such a genius?”
“My influence finally rubbed off I guess.”
Heyes headed towards the bluff and with a heavy sigh, and even heavier feet, Kid followed.
Kid’s knees hit the dirt with a thud. He closed his eyes willing the thump, thump, thump in his head to stop. Overhead a buzzard circled and circled and circled. It had been following Kid for a while now, conscious of the fact that the man below was struggling to survive. Kid’s throat was swollen so much his airway was closing. He found it hard to breathe. His lips were dry and cracked; his eyes heavy. The buzzard gave a cry. The bluff, though closer now, was still agonisingly far away.
“I’m not dead yet,” Kid informed the bird.
“Glad to hear it.” Heyes stepped into view.
“Back again, huh?”
“Yep. Stopping again?”
“’Cos I can’t go any further.”
“You’re gonna have to.”
“I know, but I can’t.” Kid rested his forehead on the ground. “I can’t.”
“So this is it? You’re gonna break up the partnership? Give up? Die in the desert?”
“Shut up, Heyes.”
“No need to get proddy.”
Kid opened his eyes to see two dark boots in front of him. “That ain’t encouragin’.”
“Just stating a fact. That ol’ buzzard up there is hoping you’ll quit breathing so he can have dinner. You really gonna give up now?”
“I’m thinkin’ about it.” As Heyes sat down in the dust beside Kid two blue eyes fixed on him. “Whatcha doin’?”
“You to decide what to do. You know, keep walking or give up and become bird food.”
Kid shook his head then regretted it. “Why do you always talk so much?”
“I am encouraging you.”
“You remembered what happened to you yet?”
“Hmm.” Kid let out a long sigh, then pushed himself to his feet. Heyes scrambled to stand beside him. “We going now?”
Kid looked into the distance, focusing hard on the rigid outcrop. “Yeah, I guess.”
As Kid headed off, Heyes followed a few steps behind.
Kid turned to face his friend. “Heyes where did you…?” Heyes had disappeared again. “That’s gettin’ real annoyin’.”
A wave of relief engulfed Kid Curry as the shadow of the bluff fell across him. His body thanked whoever would listen as the rocks finally shielded him from the heat of the Sun.
“Made it.” He managed a weak smile.
“To the bluff, yeah, but you got a whole lot further to go,” Heyes reminded him as he strode into view. “You have to find water.”
“I know, Heyes, I know.”
“And food too. You know how much food means to you.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Best start looking.”
“So come on.”
Kid didn’t move. “How come you keep disappearin’?”
“You know why.”
“Oh, not this again. Can’t you just answer the darn question?”
“’cos I’m not really here.”
“So I’m talkin’ to myself now?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Just like always, huh?” Kid smiled but Heyes turned serious.
“Come on, Kid, let’s go.”
“Okay. I jus’…I jus’ need to…” Kid’s shoulders dropped. The pounding in his head intensified. A wave of nausea engulfed him.
Kid Curry’s knees buckled. He saw Heyes fade into the distance, felt his body falling and then there was only darkness.
“Hallo. Kan du høre meg?” The blond man lying on the ground did not reply. Karl Heglund turned towards the covered wagon where his wife, Lisette, sat holding the reins. “Han er bevisstløs.”
“Bruke Engelsk. Use English, Karl. We must practice.”
“He is not waking. Hurt bad, I am thinking.” Karl knelt beside the blond man. “Hallo. Hallo, mister.”
There was the sound of footsteps and then Lisette crouched next to him.
“He is young.”
“His head.” Karl pointed to the wound, exposed now that Kid’s hat had rolled away.
“Bring medicine. A cloth for a bandage.” Karl headed for the wagon. “And vann, water. Karl, bring water.”
Lisette brushed the hair out of Kid’s eyes and muttered soothing words. He was like so many of the young men back home in Norway. When her husband returned she poured water onto a cloth then wiped it across the blond man’s forehead. As Lisette tended the head wound the young man stirred. “Karl! Karl, he wakes.”
The tall Norwegian returned to his wife’s side as Kid’s eyes opened.
“Hallo.” Karl looked at the injured man. “Can. You. Hear. Me?”
“Water,” Kid managed to whisper.
Karl handed Lisette a canteen and she gently poured some between Kid’s parched lips. He gulped frantically.
“Sakte,” Karl advised. “Slowly. Drink slowly.”
Confused blue eyes moved between the man and his wife. He tried to sit up and groaned.
“Rest. I tend your wound.” Kid took Lisette’s advice and lay back. She poured blissfully cool water over the wound, placed a wad of cloth on the side of his head and then turned her attention to a piece of gauze.
“My…My friend?” Kid queried.
“You are alone,” Karl informed him. “You here. No other.”
“He was here.”
“No one here.”
Kid studied the man and then the woman as she began to gently secure the cloth to his head with a strip of gauze.
“We go to Barrow. Byen. Town. With us, we take you.” Karl smiled, hoping the young man understood.
“Maybe, your friend, he will be there,” Lisette suggested as she secured the gauze with a small knot. She gave Kid a reassuring smile.
Heyes was not here. Somehow Kid knew that and yet he had been sure Heyes had been with him, helping him all the way. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps Heyes would be in Barrow. It did sound familiar. Maybe there he would find his friend. Maybe there he would find out what had happened to him.