If you are wondering where to find the beginning of the story, see Part 1 or Part 2.
This one was difficult because there reveals, and I don’t want to give away too much.
I had some amazing help from my friend Pablo Orozco on the European Spanish. Also, Meri, Drew, and K.M. all helped me work out some issues I was having and assisted the removal of the stiffness from my writing. Without these fine folks, Part 3 would not be what it is. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! What an incredible learning experience.
This story is a labor of love. Check out the inspiration if you have time.
Rue From Ruin – Part 3
So damn close!
The sun is a melted tangerine sinking toward the horizon.
Melted tangerine probably isn’t a thing, the finicky thought follows immediately.
I’ve been running all day in this stupid chaffing overall I grabbed from a hook in some abandoned barn, and I’m tired. Can’t remember the last time my muscles felt this exhausted. He’s got to be somewhere near. As an urgent reminder, the tincture materials swing at my neck. There isn’t much time.
Maybe I’ll just let the change happen, and then catch up with the Professeur and rip his lying throat out.
It’s so tempting. But no.
My wife Marilyn and little Kara deserve answers. It’s his fault, what I did to them. And he can’t keep running forever.
Eventually, he will fall asleep on a train, or in a hostel, or under a bridge. He will have to rest. No one can stay awake forever. Even the cursed must sleep – I would know. It hits me then just how tired I am. I’ve been up for thirty-six hours minus that short rest at dawn. I’m so worn down it feels like I’m going to collapse.
If I don’t drink my tincture tonight – what will happen? Will “the beast” take over and decide to lay down for a nap? Something tells me it won’t. I would probably just die of exhaustion in the morning like a horse flogged to gallop all day in the desert. Inexplicably, Another One Bites The Dust by Queen is now playing in my head. I start to contemplate the level of impropriety my brain is capable of and halt refocusing on the immediate need.
The sun has now sunk to the point of touching the horizon. It’s ruddy, and the optical illusion of its line of light is expanding across the western horizon.
I’m going to wolf-out soon if I don’t take action. It’s now or never.
Running to a vantage point at the top of a nearby knoll, I see several buildings. There are barely ten of them huddled tightly to form a village. Most of the structures are built of the pale stone common in the region. Looking south, I can see the shadowy forms of the Pyrenees Mountains in the distance. I’d been focused on my search for signs of his passage on the ground, and I’d almost missed the proverbial forest for the trees. Focusing my search, I look for water to mix with my tincture because swallowing the vomit-inducing liquid straight isn’t in my repertoire. I spy an ancient looking rock-rimmed well. It could be right out of a storybook. Jogging down toward it, I keep an eye out for locals but don’t notice any. Hopefully, the reservoir isn’t dry; a relic of days gone by, but never removed, just capped.
Reaching the short structure, I see that there is a bucket. I can smell the dampness of deeper water. Luck. Finally. I drop the wide, rusted iron receptacle into the depths. I barely remember to catch its recently attached, and still crunchy, nylon rope. The tincture pouch has to come off my neck. I grab and yank.
It doesn’t break. Frustrated, I wait to hear the bucket splashdown; it does, and I breathe a sigh of relief. There is water.
In a huff, I begin yanking it back up. The sun sinks further as I hand-over-hand the rope frantically. Only a quarter of the fiery globe is still visible. The horizon has faded to a rich red as the purpling of twilight sets into the east.
The decrepit container clanks up over the edge, catching the lip slightly. I slam it down on the brink of the well with a dull clang. Reaching for the strap around my neck, I lift it up and over my head. My frantic fingers fumble for the cord tied around the mouth of the pouch.
Finally, it’s open! With only a sliver of sun left, I pull out the tiny bottle of tincture, spin off the lid and shakily deposit a single drop into the bucket of water. I replace the lid and hope like hell it isn’t too diluted. Then, I raise the nearly full bucket to my lips and drink.
With my hands this close to my nose, I can smell the blood still crusted under my fingernails. This morning’s quick splashdown wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped.
I gulp down four huge swallows in seconds.
Then it happens. I feel the cold metal of a firearm pressing into the back of my neck. The pressure is uneven, with the top edge of the barrel biting deeper into my flesh. “Tranqui,” a low yet feminine voice says. My Spanish is even worse than my French. Without a pocket translator, there’s no way I can say exactly what she said, but the meaning is clear. I slowly set down the bucket and raise my hands above my head, careful to clutch the pouch of tincture in one closed fist.
“¿Qué estás haciendo aquí?” she says. I just shake my head. The next statement is under her breath, but I hear it because… yeah, “Capullo estúpido.” Then louder, “Parlez-vous français?”
I shake my head slowly and say, “Pas vraiment.” Not really.
“American?” she replies with a mild accent. “Makes the sense.”
I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or not, so I decided to err on the side of not. I was the one drinking madly from her well after all.
“Yes, American,” I said. “How’s your English?”
“Much better than your French,” her rich contralto reply. “You are the second man I’ve caught on my property this day. Am I holding some fiesta I wasn’t to know about?”
I understand that word, “No, no party señora,” I reply, hoping to ease the tension by using what little Spanish I think I can speak. Total backfire.
“Turn around! And keep your hands up!” she says. I oblige, as I do for all women holding me at gunpoint. My eyes are greeted by something unexpected. A tall, dark-haired Spanish girl, probably only in her mid-teens. She considers me and asks, “Do I look like la señora to you, señor scruffy-man?”
“No,” my heart goes out to this girl who’s discovered two intruders here today. Strange indeed. I want to comfort her, but by the agate-hard look in her eyes, she doesn’t want to hear it. As if to prove my thought, she nudges my ribs with the high-gauge shotgun she’s holding.
“We’re going to go to have the talk with the police now, scruffy-man. After you,” she says.
The scattershot loaded in her gun won’t keep me down for long. But I don’t want strange stories to circulate about me. That’s the last thing I want for so many reasons. Could I even get away as tired as I am? We walk into the rough square of buildings, and I observe a red-smeared hypodermic needle in plain sight. The blood looks fresh. It has to be a sign of his passage. Confirming my suspicion, the Spanish girl doesn’t notice it at all.
At least I haven’t lost the trail.
Continue the story in Rue From Ruin – Part 4.