Wind Walkers: Open Land

Wind Walkers: Open Land

A Chapter by J.A. Marquez
"

Bethany and Gomez take time to heal and prepare themselves for their journey west.

"
The solitary window of the cabin allowed a stream of golden sunlight to peek in from outside. In it's soft glow the ragged forms of Gomez and Bethany were barely visible tucked beneath the quilt. Muffled snores and pained breaths filled the stillness of the room. The blood hunters had long retreated into hiding, allowing Gomez to finally collapse into a deep sleep.

What stirred him to waking were the suffering whines coming from Bethany. All the adrenaline that had been coursing through her blood was wiped out and she was left with the horrific burning of her broken flesh. It was far too strong to sleep through - the incesant trembling racking her bones.

She tried to move, but found that the swelling kept her still. Gomez dutifully pulled back the blanket to inspect her cuts. They were still fresh looking, red and bloody. Bethany gritted her teeth as the rough skin of his hand grazed one of the tender gashes.

"These are very deep." He observed. "They need to be washed to avoid infection. I'll go to the lake and get some water. Try not to move too much."

He stood and stretched, careful to keep his weight off of his bad leg.

"Aren't you hurting?" Bethany wondered, amazed that he could stand at all.

"Of course, but neither of us is going to get any better just laying here. I'll be back in a few minutes."

He left, closing the door tightly behind him. Bethany tried again to at least roll her self to her other side so that her right arm could have a rest. It felt like her skin was being ripped away. With her back pressed to the cold floor she paused and took a deep breath. Then she rolled once more so that she was facing the metal bed frame. Standing on the floor beside the foot of the bed was the glass bottle that Gomez had used to disinfect their wounds. It was half empty, the clear liquid glittering like a pool of fresh water. Bethany slowly reached out her arm. Her muscles resisted, tensing harder the further she stretched. Her fingers grazed the glass. She let her arm retract and breathed away the resulting pain. The bitter medicinal liquid taunted her, offering relief, but staying just millimeters out of her reach.

Defeated, she closed her eyes and allowed her self to cry. It was astounding how quickly her entire life had come crashing down. Her future, which days ago seemed so certain, had been torn from her. The wind walkers were gone. Lydia was gone. Caleb was gone. Bethany's father was gone. All that was left was the unrelenting pain and sorrow - and Gomez.

The door swung open and he came in holding a discarded pail full of fresh water. The weight of it threw him off balance so that he waddled like a flightless bird toward Bethany. Then he knelt at her back and with his hands splashed the cleansing fluid onto her skin. It stung for a brief instant and then came a flood of cooling relief. Bethany could not hold back her sighs of gratitude.

"You're very strong, you know." He complimented. "In fact your resilliance is probably the only thing keeping you alive."

This was too morbid a thought for Bethany.

"It's you that's keeping me alive. Without you here I would be helpless."

Gomez stilled and dropped his hands.

"If it wasn't for me you would be landing somewhere right now with your tribe."

"I made my own choices." She objected. "Besides, Papa would have exiled me sooner or later if I didn't marry Caleb. He said so himself."

"What's so special about that guy, anyhow? He seemed like a real jerk to me."

Bethany allowed herself a smile at his crude way of speaking. Gomez was so much different than the men of her tribe, not only in looks, but in his strange mannerisms as well. She wondered if all white coast tribes had similar attributes.

"He is our -" She caught herself. "I mean their - best hunter."

"Is that all?" Gomez chuckled as if this were highly amusing.

"Well, I suppose he's not bad on the eyes, but inside he's as repulsive as the blood hunters." Bethany shivered thinking about the unfiltered hate he had inflicted upon her.

"Your father must have really liked him to cast you out the way he did." Gomez said with a distasteful undertone.

Bethany did not know what to say. How could she explain, or even begin to comprehend the logic of a man who threw away his own daughter.

"I defied him." She defended, unsure why she felt such a need to do so.

"I don't mean to imply anything." He said. "My father was no better."

Silence followed, each of them in their own headspace. Bethany tried to keep thoughts of her life among the wind walkers at bay. That was the past.

Gomez leaned over her and grabbed the liquor bottle. Then he gently lifted her to sitting so that she could drink.

"It tastes awful." She sputtered.

"My father once told me that before the fall of the great nations people would drink this for fun." He took a long swig. "I think it's more of an acquired taste."

Bethany rested her cheek on her arm, her knees tucked close to her body. Her hair fell in tangled tresses over her shoulders and down her back. She could still smell the offensive odors coming off of her and was grateful that Gomez ignored them.

"I want to go to the lake." She decided.

Gomez seemed uncertain.

"You can barely move."

"I need to feel clean."

No further argument came. He got to one knee and put her arm around the back of his neck. Bethany pulled her long skirt up to cover her chest. Together they stood and he held her shoulders while she found her footing.

"Are you okay?" He asked her, worry evident in his expression.

"Fine." She lied.

In all of her body she felt deep aching. Her head spun and made her eyes hurt. She felt like collapsing back down, but she so badly wanted to wash away the stain of the past.

Gomez led, taking one step at a time and allowing her as much rest as she needed. The stairs were a challenge, but once they were on the golden sand Bethany lost her balance completely. She swerved and started to drop, but he caught her.

"Are you sure you can do this?"

"I can. I need to."

Patiently he waited while she righted herself. Her steps were small and measured. A trip that normally would have taken seconds was slowly conquered over a matter of minutes.

The water was like heaven on Bethany's feet. She let it soak into her skin and wash away the dirt and sweat.

"I'll give you some privacy." Gomez offered, already inching away as she stepped deeper into the water.

"Come in." She said, waving him into the water.

He waited at the shore as she drifted further in, her skirt floating in an almost ethereal plume.

"Someone needs to keep watch." He pointed out.

Even in the safety of daylight there were still dangers. Tribal warriors could be hiding among the trees, waiting to take them prisoner. Other exiles posed a threat as well. Their allegiance was to nobody and most would not have a second thought about killing another human being.

Bethany did not hear him. She was floating on her back, calmed by the feeling of weightlessness. She closed her eyes and imagined that she was high above the lake looking down. Never again would she know what it was like to fly - to look out over the edge of a basket and see the vast expanse below. She rolled in the water and treaded with her arms and legs. Already she felt so much better than she had hoped for. It was as if the water sucked away all of the pain.

With gentle strokes she rubbed her hands along her skin, cleaning herself the best that she could. Out of habit she turned around to see if she was being watched. Gomez was seated in the sand facing the trees. In the sunlight his back looked far worse than it had in the cabin. The cuts were long and red, still seeping with blood.

Bethany waded to the shore and padded along the sand to where he sat. Her skirt was dripping around her knees and hung on her chest like a rag. She crouched next to him and followed his gaze. There was a path going into the forest with a wooden sign at the trailhead.

"You should wash yourself." She said.

Gomez jumped apparently startled by her. He hadn't even noticed her approach.

"Are you alright?" She asked him.

"I was thinking we should take some time to heal before going west. There are few shelters in the wooded areas and the plains. You'll need to be strong enough to run if anything should happen."

Bethany pictured being chased by blood hunters. It was a greusome thought.

"I'll keep watch if you want to bathe." She said.

He contemplated a moment, visually assessing her condition. Then he got up and started into the water. He did not go far, staying in the waist deep shallows. Bethany turned away out of respect as he had done for her. Modesty was important, or at least it had been in her tribe.

She listened to the trees rustling in the breeze and every once in a while the sound of a bird's song. There was a certain serenety to their isolation. There were no children screaming or men hollering. The women's constant gossip was unmissed as well. Bethany thought it might be a satisfactory way of life if it weren't so dangerous.

From the corner of her eye she noticed something out of place in the sand. It was barely poking above the surface, but she was certain there was something there. She got up to investigate, her muscles far more maleable now. Beneath the sand in the place where the whipping post had been was a canvas bag. It was dark in color and had a silver latch on its front. Bethany recognized it immediately. She dropped to her knees and started digging wildly.

"What are you doing?" Gomez asked her, running up onto the sand to see.

"Lydia left her bag for us." She said without stopping.

The bag came free and she dumped the contents onto the sand. There was a vile of something, an antibiotic Bethany thought. With it was a loose dress and a pair of sandals and some flint. Wrapped in the dress was something hard and heavy. Bethany shook it out. A sleek black pistol lay in the sand, a deadly godsend. At the bottom of the bag were several handfuls of dry bulgur mixed with salt.

Bethany felt her throat tighten and her eyes began to pool. Even in their worst hour Lydia had come through for her.

"There's something else in this dress." Gomez said, pulling out the folded paper.

He opened it and revealed a map of the great nations. Pinpoints littered the paper which Bethany recognized as the places they had landed.

"This is one of my father's maps." She gasped.

"That advisor of yours sure is helpful." He said grinnimg.

"I was so sour to her." Bethany recalled her most recent dispute.

"That's what friends are for." His voice was distracted as he carefully studied the map.

He placed a finger on one of the pinpoints just over halfway between two seas and far above a third.

"This is where we are." Then he dragged his finger to a point at the bottom left corner of the map. "This is where I came from."

It was an incredible distance. The wind walkers were nomadic, but they tended to stay away from the oceans. Storms were their greatest threat so they followed the dry season, steering clear of trecherous conditions.

"You've come so far." She marveled at him.

"Not without trouble." He winced involuntarily and touched the scar on his side.

Bethany watched him, curious about his past.

"Well, we have this now." She cautiously plucked the gun from the sand and put it back into the bag.

Gomez stared pensively at it as she did.

"That won't do us much good if we encounter a hostile tribe."

"Is that where those scars came from?"

He sat back on his knees with his shoulders back. Bethany half expected him to slap her the way her father had when she questioned his integrity.

"The plague isn't the only viscious killer out there. Men who crave power are just as dangerous as any blood hunter."

A chill ran down Bethany's spine.

"Here," Gomez held out the dress to her. "put this on."

She turned her back to him and slipped the dress over her head, then wriggled out of her skirt. It felt good to be in something clean and dry. The dress was loose so it didn't cling to her back. She wished she could thank Lydia for her help.

"Look at this." Gomez said, his voice eager.

Bethany turned and followed his hand. There was a faint red dot on the map slightly west of them. Bethany's heart leapt.

"It's a new camp. She told us where they were going!"

"How did she manage that?" Gomez asked her.

"She must have gotten into my father's charts. She's guiding us."

"Or Caleb is."

His cynicism was unwelcomed.

"Why would he do that?" Bethany retorted.

"Maybe he wasn't quite done with us. I know his type - always out for blood."

"Caleb's nothing to worry about." Even her own confidence was shaken.

"In any case we should be cautious. We'll go to this site tomorrow and see if they've left anything more."

Bethany folded the map and put it back into the bag.

"We should get some wood for a fire." She suggested. "So we can cook the bulgur."

Gomez seemed wary, but he followed her to the treeline where old logs and driftwood were scattered across the dirt. They collected the wood and started for the cabin. Bethany built the fire while Gomez fetched clean water. When he returned Bethany was studying the glass vile.

"What's that?" He asked her.

She held it out to him and shrugged.

"Maybe an antibiotic. This is from the healers collection."

He turned it over in his hand and eyed the clear syrum inside. Then he opened it and squeezed a single drop onto his finger.

"What are you doing?" Bethany asked.

"Making sure it isn't poison." He said and then licked the drop away.

"You aren't a very trusting man, are you?"

His eyes darkened and he waited. Nothing happened to him.

"We'll save this for the future if it doesn't kill me."

Bethany rolled her eyes and turned back to the fire which was roaring in the hearth. It burned her face and made her sores sting.

"Let me." Said Gomez, stooping down to take her place.

She backed away from the heat and crossed her legs.

"I've never been in the woods before." She confided.

"Why doesn't that surprise me?"

"Papa always said the open land was dangerous."

Gomez smirked.

"Well, it looks like the inside of your camp wasn't exactly a haven either."

Bethany took offense.

"They aren't so bad." She argued.

"You have to stop defending them like they're your tribe."

"But they are - were."

"They beat you and left you to die. You're dead to them as they should be to you. I'm your tribe now." His words were hard, but rang true.

Bethany chewed her lip.

"I was so desperate to be free that I ended up alone."

An annoyed sound came from Gomez.

"What am I doing here if you're so alone?"

"You're here for me now, but what happens when we get to the white coast? What will keep you from leaving?"

His gaze softened and he took her hands. She swallowed down the sigh that swelled in her throat. His hands were rough and warm and his grip was firm, but it was not in the overbearing way of Caleb or Jonah. There was a gentleness in his touch that made Bethany's heart race.

"If I wanted to leave I would have. You're a stranger to me. I have no obligation to stay. I'm here by choice and I'll stay so long as you want me to."

The thock tension began to suffocate Bethany.

"I need some air. It's warm in here." She waved a hand at her face and excused herself.

It was mid afternoon now and the sun was blazing. She sat on the porch steps and yet another flood of tears came pouring out. Only this time she did not hide her pain. Angry gargles came out of her and her face seemed to seep from every opening. Her body trembled as she let go of the past. She cried away her tribe and her father. There was no use wasting her energy on them any longer. Gomez was right. It was just the two of them from here on out.


© 2015 J.A. Marquez


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You're very deft with your use of words and structure. Everything fits where it should spot on. The pacing is just right as well. I look forward to reading more!

Posted 6 Years Ago


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J.A. Marquez

6 Years Ago

I am flattered. Honestly, coming from you that is so encouraging. You're incredibly talented so I va.. read more

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Added on April 8, 2015
Last Updated on April 9, 2015
Tags: dystopia, fiction, adventure, coming of age


Author

J.A. Marquez
J.A. Marquez

South Lake Tahoe, CA



About
If you want to know who I am, read my stories. Many are works in progress, and many are just a few sentences, but each one is a piece of my soul. more..

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Unbroken Unbroken

A Story by J.A. Marquez