HIS HEAD HURT.
His arm hurt.
When he thought about raising his eyelids, they hurt, too.
Everything hurt! Oh man, what did he get into last night?
He did not want to open his eyes.
He didn't want to move. Maybe his conscious mind could will itself back into unconsciousness--and sleep off the hangover threatening to explode the minute he sat up.
He was in pain, but not tremendously so. If he just kept his eyes closed and lay where he was, wherever that was, he would go back to sleep and everything would be better when he woke up.
He tried not to think about the pain that increased as he began to wake up in spite of himself. The steady throb in his forearm was the worst, but his head hurt, too. He wondered if maybe he hadn't broken his arm, but the thought was detached; he was not overly concerned about it. He did not want to acknowledge the pain's existence. If he just didn't move. If he just kept his eyes shut.
Back to sleep, he ordered his stubborn mind. A mind that was rousing itself even as he tried to will it back to oblivion.
He let his eyes open to the merest of squints.
His cheek was lying on frozen ground--a thin layer of snow--no, frost, seemed to be covering everything.
He was ... in the woods?
His eyes opened in their own rebellious partnership with his waking brain. Jack Frost had indeed dusted the ground liberally--everywhere except where his numb body had melted or blocked it. He wondered how long he had been here.
He lay on his stomach and though his front was soaked from cheek to knee, (he guessed his feet were keeping his shins off the ground) it felt relatively warm and he was still hesitant to move.
He closed his eyes again, wishing that whatever had happened to him last night hadn't. Maybe a cop would come along and, having the courtesy not to wake him, take him to a hospital or detox ward. When he woke up again he would be lying on crisp white sheets, clean, dry, and pain-free. There would be an IV running into the back of his hand supplying drugs and saline solution.
Yeah, and then a Hollywood-beautiful nurse would come into the room with a half-open blouse and no bra.
Let's get real, Traylor.
The pain was getting worse, and Brian realized that he was not only sober but now fully awake.
He turned his head enough so he could open his eyes all the way and saw an arrow sticking out of his throbbing left forearm. Situated halfway between his wrist and elbow, it rose perpendicular to the ground like some 19th-Century monument to--
What? An arrow? What the hell was he thinking? An arrow?
Brian Traylor sat up much too quickly and felt as if a machete had been slammed into the top of his skull. His right hand automatically shot to his head and felt sticky hair. Hesitantly, knowing what he would find, Brian brought the hand down and confirmed the blood on his fingers. He rubbed them together as if testing the blood's reality.
He didn't seem to be hurt anywhere else -- just an arrow a few inches above the wrist and a crushed skull; no real problems here, Doc.
He cradled his forearm in his right hand and looked around himself.
What the hell?
He was in a forest, an old forest, because the trees were humongous. He remembered a vacation in Vermont when he was a kid. Those trees had looked like this. The frost had already begun to melt, and everything around him seemed to be wet. He smelled smoke and slowly turned his head to find its source.
A wooden wagon, most of the front of it burned away, still smouldered. Its two wooden wheels in front were burned, leaving only the metal rings that had outlined them. The back half of the wagon seemed intact, only the front having wisps of smoke rising in small streams. The air was calm and the smoke seemed to lose itself long before it reached the tops of the giant trees.
He closed his eyes. Again he had to ignore the pain in both his head and arm.
All right, where was he last night? Had someone called him to go out clubbing or something? No, don't be ridiculous. He was not the type. He much preferred to stay home and read rather than go out with ....
Go out with whom? Who were his friends? Eyes still shut, he tried to remember. Where did he live? What did he do? His heart began to beat faster, and he had to tell himself to calm down.
You took a shot to the head, Stupid. If it's amnesia--if--then it's almost certainly temporary. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. Let's figure out where we are and then we'll figure out how the hell we got here, okay?
It was a road... of sorts. Road was actually a gross exaggeration. There were a couple of dirt tracks twisting around the trees of a dense forest, and the wrecked wagon now sat on it, effectively blocking what little passage there was.
Attached to the yoke or collar or whatever you called the thing that hooks a horse to a cart, was a huge cow. Its rear end had pretty much burned along with the front of the wagon, and the smell of roast beef that mingled with the wood smoke was not an unpleasant one.
Roast beast, his mind interjected, and he smiled even though he had no idea where the thought had come from.
He needed to get up and inspect the wagon, but first he had to take care of his arm.
His mind quickly supplied him with a John Wayne scenario. Brian would break the arrow in half with his good hand. He would bite down on the broken off piece of staff as he quickly and effortlessly pulled the other end from his arm.
Brian reached for the arrow with his good hand. Just touching the shaft shot an explosion of pain in his forearm. He whined like a little girl and raised his good hand away from the arrow as if it had touched a hot stove.
He felt frustration like he hadn't since he was a kid and the thought of crying actually crossed his mind. He did not have the guts to do this. But it had to be done. Eventually the arrow would infect the wound, and the infection would definitely mess him up, maybe even kill him.
The closest tree, maybe two yards away, was as big around as two men. He stood up with a lot of effort and took small steps toward the tree. His right hand cradled his left arm during the trip to the tree, and now he released it.
His left arm was on its own now, and the arrow quivered in the air. Brian snatched the feathered end to keep it still, and then placed it against the tree trunk. Every touch, every movement felt like scalpels being thrust into his forearm.
To hell with breaking the shaft in half, he thought.
Holding his breath he used his body weight to push his arm hard and fast against the tree, this time screaming as the arrow's shaft slid through his arm.
With its center of gravity now even more displaced, the arrow bobbed up and down like one of those novelty drinking birds. The pain made Brian breathe heavily, and he was afraid of hyperventilating. He grabbed the arrow just behind the stone-carved arrowhead and frantically yanked the feathered end on through his arm.
His breath came and went in deep chuffs. He was dizzy. Brian leaned his good arm on the tree and rested his head on it. A deep wave of nausea rolled in his midsection and his mouth filled with spit just before he vomited on his moccasin-clad feet. Panting, he shuffled around to the other side of the tree and sank until he was sitting with his back against the bark.
Dazed and probably in shock, Brian realized, he stared at the bloody arrow he still held in his hand as if it were a talisman that would lead him to answers.
His forearm now bled freely from both holes, and Brian raised it over his head, clasping his left elbow with his right for support. He needed to use his belt for a tourniquet, he thought, and reached down for it, leaving his wounded arm raised. His left arm shook above him and droplets of blood showered his head.
He wasn't wearing his belt. He wasn't wearing his pants, his shirt, his shoes, or his anything else. He was dressed for a Halloween party and he was going as Tonto, the Lone Ranger's sidekick. He had on a heavy, hand-sewn, buckskin shirt and loose pants. Even his shoes were leather. Moccasins, Brian thought. Did I die and get reincarnated as an American Indian?
He stood up and wiped the puke off his shoes as best he could with a tree branch he found lying on the ground.
Hell, he thought, reincarnation was no crazier than any other idea he could come up with.
What the fuck?
His arm continued to bleed.
The Davy Crockett pants did not have a belt, but a leather thong threaded through two holes cut in front of the pants like a shoelace and eyelets. If he took it out of the holes it would not be long enough to use as a tourniquet. The arm still bled copiously, and Brian knew he had to find something soon or he'd bleed to death.
The hell with it, he thought, and removed his buckskin pants. No underwear--of course, he thought, would Tonto wear underwear while galloping alongside the Lone Ranger? He tried using his teeth to tear a strip out of one of the legs, but the hide was too tough. He felt himself getting dizzy again and knew time was running out along with his blood.
He reached down and picked up a branch that was maybe a foot and a half long. There would be no shortage of firewood in this jungle of a forest, Brian thought--there was dead wood everywhere.
He looped a pant leg around his arm and used the stick to tighten the tourniquet until the blood flow first slowed, then stopped. He tightened it until the bleeding stopped altogether and wished for some Tylenol. He could use a splint, too, as long as he was wishing for things. What happened to that Hollywood Nurse who was going to give him drugs in the hospital? Never a cop around when you need one.
Now that the bleeding had stopped he became more aware of his surroundings--dead cow, half-burnt wagon--
Brian could not remember anything about himself, but he was pretty certain he had never been a boy scout. A city boy through and through, the thought of being in the woods--being alone in the woods--scared the shit out of him, if he wanted to be honest with himself. He didn't know why he knew these things about himself, but he did.
He heard nothing coming from the forest--no little animals (or big ones, thank God), no running water, birds, nothing. He thought that strange, but blew it off and walked over to the wagon.
On closer inspection the huge cow turned out to be an ox with a crushed skull. Although the back half of him was roasted from charred to medium in the direction of ass to head, the front was covered with about a million flies. Brian could already smell the odour of death coming from the head and shoulders of the animal.
A flat rock, maybe four inches long and half an inch wide lay close to the broken top of the animal's head. The painted rock was tied with rawhide strips to a foot-long branch.
He picked up the weapon or tool and saw the rawhide strips had been shrunk so that the rock and handle were pretty much all one unit. Brian didn't think he could get them apart without cutting though the dried rawhide.
The dull hatchet felt perfectly balanced. More of a hammer, Brian thought, or a skull crusher his rebellious mind said.
He wished he could stick the handle into his belt but Tonto did not wear a belt, and he was standing here nude from the waist down, anyway. At least it was a clear morning and the sun was coming up. His chill was forgotten and he felt comfortable in spite of being half-nude.
He checked his arm and found the holes beginning to scab up. Thank God for small favours, as his old man used to say.
His old man--did he remember? No, he could remember the saying, but not the man. Damn it, who was he? Where was he?
The wagon had been traveling on the most rudimentary of roads--just a couple of ruts that ran through a densely-treed forest. The trees were so plentiful Brian could see no more than twenty yards into the forest. The canopy above him was just that, a ceiling so dense the foliage was almost opaque.
All this nature spooked him.
Shakily, his left arm still incapacitated under the soft buckskin pants, Brian continued to inspect the wagon. His arm throbbed in time with his heartbeat as he walked toward the rear of the ox cart. He hoped he might find something he could use for a better tourniquet and maybe even a sling.
In the back of the wagon he found the charred remnants of three small wooden barrels, one of which held flour, a smaller one, salt, and a still smaller barrel of black gunpowder. The flour and salt were burned. The black powder--the closest barrel to the front of the wagon--was wet, lying in damp clumps, as if it had been soaking wet not too long ago.
A couple of feet to the side Brian found an old-fashioned rifle lying on the ground. His first impression was that it was too long, at least five feet. Maybe it was a fake rifle.
No, he thought, bending over and picking it up, it was definitely real and heavy as hell.
And it wasn't a rifle at all, he thought as he turned it this way and that with his good hand. Man, it was heavy. Rifles had grooves cut into the barrel, making the bullets spin. That made for a longer and more accurate shot.
This was a musket--a smoothbore, he thought they were aptly called, and probably wasn't worth a damn at more than twenty five yards.
How the hell did he know this shit? he thought furiously. Just who was Brian Traylor?
He went back to looking in what remained of the wagon, hoping to find some kind of an answer or at least a clue. He picked up the charred remains of what had once been a powder horn, but the heat of the fire had cracked it into uselessness now.
Brian kicked around the ashes and found a lot of burned, ruined... stuff. Here was a now-useless wooden canteen, there, a ruined trunk whose lid had burned away along with at least the top layer of clothes packed into it.
Brian bent down to examine the trunk's contents. He lifted the charred remains of red cloth on top and saw it was, or had been a pullover shirt. It still had a good sleeve, so he drew it all the way out and flapped it open to its full length. Using his teeth and one good hand, he untied the pants from his arm. He let the pants and the stick fall to the ground. He inspected his arm.
Both entry and exit wounds had scabbed over enough to stop the bleeding, but they both still throbbed in pain. Not much he could about that.
Brian took the shirt's open collar in his teeth and wrapped the sleeve around his injured arm, making sure to cover both exit and entry holes. He tied the sleeve in a bow knot and pulled it tight. Now, if he could ... with a little effort he put the remaining sleeve through the shirt's neck and made himself a crude sling.
He inspected the burned, dirty cloth on his arm. Not too bad, he thought, surprised at how efficient and practical he had been.
And we spare no expense when it comes to hygiene, he thought. But at least the injured arm felt better wrapped up.
He picked up the buckskin pants and pulled them back on. He managed to thread the rawhide drawstring in front of the pants into another bow knot, but the leather trousers were definitely not what one would call snug around his waist. He would just have to try to stay out of any foot races until his other arm healed.
He felt much better having pants on again, even fitting loosely. He turned his attention back to the trunk.
Another, larger wooden canteen was packed into the chest. Although burned through, its leakage had spared the trunk's last item, a thick woollen blanket.
Brian carried the blanket to a small grassy area near the base of a tree and laid it flat on the ground. He set the musket on top of it and turned back to the scene of destruction. The Indians--or Indian, he thought--couldn't have done a better job at burning the wagon had they spread around a few gallons of gasoline. Everything was destroyed.
Well, almost everything.
He took a quick inventory--a blanket, a tomahawk, and a musket with no powder or ball. That and a couple of bucks would buy him a cup of coffee someplace. He looked around again at the forest and the simple rutted road. A chill that was probably long overdue ran up his spine and he shivered uncontrollably for several seconds.
Brian hated that word. Though he couldn't remember his past--except that it certainly was not in a time when people drove around in wagons pulled by monstrous bovines and shot muskets--he knew certain things about himself.
His name was Brian Traylor.
He liked cars. He drove a used Prius, one of the first electric/gasoline hybrids they started making at the turn of the 21st Century. What century was he in here, he wondered.
And why the hell was he taking this time-travel shit so cavalierly?
Another shiver came unbidden and he had to will himself to stop shaking. It was just cold, he thought, that's all. His breath was still visible (if he held his mouth open and breathed slowly), and all he had to wear was this baggy shirt and pair of pants.
Brian brought the ends of the blanket together and held it like a suitcase to carry his musket and tomahawk. His left arm still hurt like a son of a bitch, but the constant pain was already becoming a fact of life and more tolerable when thought of it as such.
The sun had climbed almost to the top of the trees while he considered his situation, and the frost was already gone.
Where was he? When was he? It could be spring or fall in most parts of the continental United States.
The new buds on the trees told him it was early spring. At least wherever he was going, he'd have a few months to get there before winter set in.
A few months? Where was he going? Where had he come from?
If he could remember he drove a Prius, he should be able to remember more. Did he remember snow? Yes, he could remember a long wooden toboggan and sliding down the grassy hills of freeway cloverleafs.
Not lie, he thought, but L-I-E. What did that mean? A freeway, somewhere, and it came to him in a flash--Long Island Expressway. But that's not where they went sledding; they went to where Wantaugh State Parkway connected with the Southern State Parkway and sledded down the cloverleaf hills.
He shivered again, though only a little and this time it was a welcome shiver. It came from the sun's warm rays that now reached him through the trees.
Brian set the blanket back down and picked up the tomahawk. He was grateful for the loose-fitting buckskin pants as he slid the stone hammer's handle into the waistline. That's better, he thought, and slung the blanket over his shoulders like a serape. He carried the musket in his right hand, and walked around the wagon, inspecting the ground.
No ammunition, but he did find one more goodie just a few feet from the side of the wagon.
The knife was about a foot long if you counted the polished wooden handle. Its blade, sharp as a straight-edged razor Brian found when he lightly ran his thumb along it, curved to a wicked point. There was even a sheath with a slot cut into the top for slipping through a belt. If he had a belt, Brian thought. He slid the knife into its sheath and stuffed the sheath into the top of his pants.
The knife and tomahawk, one on either side of his waist, balanced each other out pretty well. Not only did the weapons fit, they snugged the leather britches up around his waist. He placed one hand on the knife handle and the other on the of the hatchet head. Brian had to smile--he felt like a primitive Wyatt Earp.
He looked back at the fire-damaged wagon. If Indians had come here and stopped him, and that seemed likely, why had they left the ox? Why leave him weapons? Why had they left him alive?
Nothing else looked like it was in good enough shape to worry about, but weapons--even a city boy like Brian knew you took your enemy's weapons.
Was he an enemy, or just a luckless white guy in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Why just shoot an arrow into his arm? Why not kill him?
And who the hell was he, anyway? Where was he from? When was he from? He felt like he was going nuts. Whaddaya mean going? Har, har, har.
He remembered television. He remembered the horse-shit "stories" his mother used to watch on afternoon TV. The soap operas where the hero or heroine would get hit on the head and become amnesic, but he knew that was bullshit. Jimmy Ahearn had cracked his skull open after being hit by an SUV once. He had trouble remembering what he had for breakfast that morning, but his doctor had told him that amnesia like you see on TV almost never happened.
Jimmy Ahearn--tall kid, dark hair. Best friend? No, but a good friend. He lived ... he lived on the street that intersected Brian's--just two houses up from the corner.
There was a mailbox on that corner.
Brian forgot he was about to leave. The wind had picked up a little and a few embers glowed in the remains of the wagon. He leaned the rifle--the musket--against a tree.
If he could remember this, he could remember more. Think, damn it. Remember!
But he couldn't. He stood there for what may have been half an hour thinking about Jimmy Ahearn and the mailbox with no luck. His name was Brian Traylor. He lived in the 21st century. He must have grown up on Long Island, and he used to have a friend named Jimmy Ahearn. Jimmy lived a half block or so away from him.
But that was when he was a kid. What about now?
He drove a VW Beetle. What did he do for a living? Was he a mad scientist who had invented a time-machine in his basement? He remembered Cliff Robertson starring in the movie they made from H. G. Wells' The Time Machine.
All right, that's it, keep it up. If you can remember that you can remember more. He moved slightly, bumped his arm on the tree and his wounds flashed in brief but violent pain.
He hugged his arm with his good hand and reminded himself he could very well die out here in this fucking forest if he didn't get some help real fast.
He felt frustrated, pissed, lonely, forgotten.
He looked at the remains of the wagon and ox. Did the ox have a name? Was he a pet, or just a means of transportation? Would anybody give a shit that he was now roast beef out here in the Neverland Forest? Did anyone give a shit Brian Traylor was out here? Did anyone know he was here?
Brian hadn't thought of that. Even if he was a mad scientist working in his basement or garage, there was probably someone--Igor, at least--that would notice him missing. But even if they did, how would they get here to save him?
The same way he did.
How the hell was that?
Think, damn it. You must remember something. You were traveling in a wagon. You were probably traveling in the wagon. No, he knew he wasn't an Indian, so he must have been driving the wagon.
Where the hell was he going? Where had he come from? He had gone through all the ashes and found close to nothing in the way of supplies. It appeared he had been traveling alone.
He thought. He tried to remember.
But he couldn't, at least not right now. Later, probably, the memories would come. Maybe when he started traveling in the direction the wagon had been heading. He had to have been going somewhere, right?
He sighed loudly and had to will himself out of his despair. Fuck that, he thought. No giving up. Never say die.
His trusty musket (with no ball or powder) in his right hand, the knife and tomahawk tucked into his pants, Brian walked in the direction the ox had been taking him.
Less than twenty minutes later he heard them.
He saw them a second later but by then it was already too late.