Chapter 9 Waiting For The Moment To Turn
20,000 miles to an oasis
20,000 years will I burn
20,000 chances I wasted
waiting for the moment to turn.
Verda was tired, she’d been on her feet all morning. The lunch rush was over now and she could sit down for a few minutes. Dan, the bartender would take care of the few men left in the saloon. She caught Dan’s eye and gestured toward the back. When she saw him nod, she quickly walked back through the kitchen and out the side door. Sitting down on a little stool under the big tree, she hiked her long dress up to her knees, kicked off her pointed boots and rubbed her aching feet.
When her feet stopped protesting, she reached in the little pouch she wore around her waist and pulled out some papers and loose tobacco. She rolled a cigarette, lit it, leaned back and contemplated the small town and its people. The squat saloon with its oddly shaped hotel on top, bank, general store, and the assay office on one side of the street competed with the blacksmith, the feed store and the jail on the other to comprise the entire main street of Sunset, Nevada.
A posse saddled up in front of the jail. She watched the new sheriff, Grip, mount that mean black stallion. He was the only person in town who had tamed Parnell’s wild stallion enough to get a saddle on it. The horse, Satan, was sure named right. Two weeks ago, Parnell had tried to mount the green horse; it had shied, threw him and broke his neck. It had been almost unbelievable, everyone standing out in the desert sun, Parnell laying there dead and no one stepping up to move the horse.
They were all afraid, until Grip had walked forward. He’d touched the horse once and led it away. The next day, he was riding it. Verda shook her head; they were two peas in a pod, the mean horse and the vicious stranger that McGee had recently chosen to be the new sheriff. Everyone in town was afraid of him, and some said he had a sort of second sight. Verda tried to stay as far away from him as possible.
She glanced up at the sun and decided she had just enough time to run home to her room to change before the miners would start rolling in for Granny’s homemade chicken and biscuits. No one could make a dinner sing like Granny, she was the best cook in the county and McGee paid her good coin to stick around and cook for everyone. Verda stood up and threw her cigarette into the sand.
The posse thundered away into the vast desert.
The sun sparkled on the river and the fish had moved toward the cooler water at the banks. Trout loved to hide in the shady reeds this time of day.
Kale was sitting cross legged on the bank of the river, the cane pole clutched tightly in his hands. He knew he had to wait patiently. To keep himself occupied, he watched something shining out on the desert plain steadily bobbing closer to the river. Having grown up around the river and the desert out country, he wasn’t the least alarmed. He knew whatever was crossing the desert, he would see long before it arrived and he could hide just like Defoe had taught him. After all, he was ten years old now and nearly grown, he could handle whatever came his way. Besides, he needed one more fish for the stewpot tonight.
Suddenly the pole jerked and Kale almost yelped with surprise. He started working the fish. He didn’t care about watching that bright spot in the desert anymore, all of his attention was focused on the fat river trout he was trying to land.
Spike, his hair shining in the sun, had walked steadily for two hours while carrying Buffy in his arms. The river that seemed so deceptively close from the hilltop had turned out to be much farther away.
In a bid to get there faster, he had opted to abandon the road, which wound around on its way to the river and instead struck out straight across the desert.
While he walked, Spike spent his time alternating between worry over Buffy and cursing the insanity of Cantilly demons and crazy slayer dreams. He had just added alternate dimensions to his rant while picking his way around yet another cactus when he heard the third snake.
When the first rattlesnake bit him Spike had been amused, after all he didn’t have to worry about poison. After the second, he’d become annoyed and somewhat irate. He heard the telltale rattle of the third, looked down and beheld a three foot snake stretched out, blocking his path. His patience with the desert and everything in it over, Spike lifted his Doc Marten and trod heavily on its head. It made a very satisfying crunch as he mashed the rattler into the hard packed sand. When he was content that the entire snake was mashed completely flat, he smirked, stepped across and continued resolutely toward the river.
He could smell the water; it couldn’t be too much farther to the riverbank. Listening to Buffy’s reedy heartbeat, he only hoped he wasn’t too late. She hadn’t fallen into the quiet stasis that had marked Dawn’s encounter, instead the Slayer’s already high fever continued to escalate and it was this that really worried Spike. He knew humans succumbed to high fevers all the time and Buffy was literally burning up; he could feel the heat emanating from her skin.
The fever wasn’t her only unusual symptom. Spike had to constantly hold her tightly against his chest. Buffy would occasionally struggle strongly against him before subsiding into fevered muttering. It was a good thing that he was as strong as she was, or he would have dropped her more than once by now.
Spike was also beginning to be concerned for himself. This trek across the desert was taking its toll on him as well. Having only drank that one small bag of pig’s blood, he could feel the hunger starting to surface and other than the cowboys they had watched from the hill, he hadn’t seen any other people or mammals. Spike knew that most animals in the desert came out to feed at night when it was cooler, but he knew he couldn’t leave Buffy alone long enough to hunt. She was just too vulnerable in this condition. He gazed at the small woman in his arms. Even ill, she was incredibly beautiful. He shifted her slight weight and sighed.
Kale finally landed the fish; it was even bigger than the one Defoe caught last spring. He carefully placed it in the reed basket floating in the cold river water. Looking up he noticed a man with bright blonde hair making his way toward the riverbank, carrying a limp girl in his arms. Kale fought his natural inclination to holler hello, and instead did what he had been taught. He dove into the tall reeds growing next to the river and hid, watching quietly.
Spike finally reached the river. Taking off his duster, he laid Buffy gently down beside the bank and started rummaging in the backpack. He found her empty soda can from earlier and snorted. Trust the Slayer to refuse to litter, even in the wild country.
He walked down to the water. As he dipped the can in the cold water, he called out to the tall reeds. “Ya might as well come out; I know you’re hidin’ in there. I’m not goin’ to hurt you. Got all I can handle with her.” He chuckled. “Besides, next time you hide, you might want to take all your kit with you, just a friendly piece of advice.” He finished filling the can as the reeds rustled.
A small, slightly built tow headed boy of about eight crawled out. “I didn’t have enough time to put everything away. I know to do that. I was busy landing the biggest river trout in the entire county.” He spread his hands wide to illustrate the enormous size of the fish and grinned at Spike. “My name’s Kale.”
Spike chuckled at his exuberance over the fish and reevaluated his estimate of the young boy. Probably closer to ten or eleven and not dumb either. Taking the can of water, he walked back to Buffy, with the small boy following along.
Kale reached into his pocket and pulled out a slightly dirty bandana. “Here, mister, you can use this for the water.” He held it out shyly to Spike. “That is, iffen you want to.”
Spike smiled at the boy. “Thanks, that’s kind of you, Kale. My name’s Spike.” Taking the bandana, he loosened Buffy’s shirt, poured some of the water on the bandana and started wiping down her face and wrists.
“So what’s wrong with her Mr. Spike? She don’t look too good, like maybe she’s got river fever or something”.
“Something nasty got a piece of her.”
Kale stood up. “Well, if it’s an animal bite, you need to bring her to Celeste. She can heal anything like that. She’ll be good as new in no time.” He pointed toward the road. “I live with her and Defoe on our farm. It’s only a little ways over that hill.” He started pulling out the basket of trout. “Besides, we’re gonna have fish stew for dinner, it’ll be right good, too.”
Spike made a split second decision. He liked the boy and he needed to get Buffy some place safe for the night. He shrugged and lifted her up into his arms again. “Lead on Kale.” He smiled down at the boy struggling to carry his fishing gear and the basket laden with the trout. Maybe they’d finally caught a break in the guise of this man-child.
“So, Kale, how do you make fish stew?”