A few choice words sprang to mind when a concentrated blast of air smelling strongly of dry heat and dust hit him squarely in the face. Wind driven grit stung his flesh and threatened to filter up his nose. Raising a hand, he cupped it around his lower face to ward it off as he shifted, easing onto his back.
The change in position ignited an explosion of excruciating pain in his left shoulder. It expanded, wrapping around his chest and radiating into his upper back. He gasped, inhaling a mouthful of grit. The resulting coughing fit made matters worse and he curled into himself, struggling for control. It seemed to take much longer than he liked but he was finally able to draw a cautious if shaky breath. Blinking the moisture from his eyes he focused on his surroundings.
Cobwebs thick with dust hung in silken tatters overhead. More cobwebs draped the remains of a shattered wheel propped in a far corner. There wasn’t much else to see; odds and ends of discarded leather, the handle of a hoe split lengthwise, what appeared to be shards from a bit of broken pottery.
What was this place? He didn’t remember it and that worried him but in a distracted sort of way. Wherever it was he instinctively knew he had been here too long.
The mud chinking between the rough hewn planks had crumbled away allowing light to spill through the gaps. He turned his head slightly, glancing upward, squinting against the glare. His wandering gaze latched onto a spider busily at work cocooning a hapless fly in skeins of gossamer fine thread.
He swallowed, mouth parchment dry.
The events of the previous day came back in a sickening rush; the mingled screams of wounded men and panicked horses, the echo of gunshots ricocheting off canyon walls, the smell of blood and piss and gunpowder.
Escala, you bastard!
He flung an arm across his eyes, the coppery tang of blood filling his mouth from where he had bitten the inside of his cheek.
By rights he should be dead, would have been except he had hung back, unhappy with the change in plans. It hadn’t kept him from taking a bullet but it had saved his life.
Easy to see why they called the man Arana; the spider. All the time they had ridden with him he had been setting them up, weaving an elaborate web of lies and deceit, waiting for just the right moment to spring his trap. Now it was over and the rich hacendado was a little richer.
His anger flowed out of him like water from a leaky bucket. The pain, mental as well as physical, sapped what little strength he had. He surrendered to the darkness, giving up without a fight. His eyes drifted shut.
The shafts of light were longer when he awoke the second time, the heat not as oppressive. He lifted a hand, batting at the flies swarming his face, silencing for a too brief moment their incessant drone.
He probed the wound in his left shoulder, reached and found the exit wound high in his back. He sighed in relief. He had had worse. At least this go around there was no bullet to dig out.
An anxious nicker captured his attention. He and the leggy bay gelding eyed each other with wary suspicion. His own horse had been a victim of a well-placed bullet and he counted himself fortunate to have caught this one when it had stumbled and almost gone down in the confusion.
The gelding’s nostrils flared, gathering his scent. It snorted, pawing the ground and snagging a dangling rein beneath its hoof. He felt a pang of remorse, knowing the horse had gone without food or water. He had been lucky to secure the door and drag the saddle from the animals back before collapsing.
He pushed himself upright, one hand to the floor to steady himself until the world settled. His saddlebags, the only thing he had been able to retrieve from his fallen horse, lay within easy reach. His spare shirt was sacrificed for bandages which he used to pack the wound the best he could.
He made his way to the door on wobbly legs, resting his cheek against the wood as he leaned into it, grateful for the solid support. He took a moment then opened the door a crack, just enough for a look. Close by was the shell of a house, the wall facing him scored by fire, its door hanging open. His eyes lifted, followed the swell of a series of low hills. He knew now where he was. His practice of becoming familiar with the surrounding countryside when doing a job had once again proven its worth.
Somehow he got the horse saddled. Drawing his gun he led the gelding into the yard, keeping it between him and danger as he walked it slowly in a tight circle, alert to any possible threat.
To the north, a dark smudge in the sky suddenly broke and scattered only to reform before lazily spiraling downwards. His gut churned, knowing exactly what that implied.
Holstering his gun he lifted his left foot, working it into the stirrup as he wrapped his fingers around the saddle horn. He pulled himself up, slinging his leg across the gelding’s back. White-hot pain lanced through his shoulder and he leaned forward, right hand pressing against the wound. The horse pranced sideways, skittish. He fought down a wave of nausea, brought the animal back under control. The gelding stretched its neck, tossing its head with a jingle of tack.
Gathering the reins, he turned the horse, urging it forward. There was water not too far off now that he had his bearings; water and a place to hole up until his wound had a chance to heal.
It wasn’t easy, riding out. Patience did not come naturally to him. It was hard earned, like so much else in his life. But he could wait. They would cross paths again, he and Escala. It was inevitable. And when they did it would be the spider who would find himself trapped in a web created by Johnny Madrid and then, then there would be hell to pay.