We smelled the body even before we saw the circling vultures.
The road to the old Carson Mine, or more precisely, what was left of it, ran for about a mile and a half, winding its lazy way along the side of McCafferty Canyon. It was weed, mesquite, and cactus choked. Not to mention lots of loose rocks—ankle breakers every one. Matt told me that it wasn’t a whole lot better back on August 8th 1952—the date of the time-travel accident that would cause so much tragedy in his life. The Carson Mine was ancient even then, dating back to the late eighteen eighties gold rush days. It was named not for the famous western hero, but for a much lesser known local Tucson business mogul; Victor Carson.
A gentle breeze blew in our direction. On it was carried the unmistakable scent of rotting human carrion. The giant birds had picked it up as well, as their lazy circles in the sky grew lower and lower. The odor was coming from a place not far from the recent campsite of the four McCabes.
We made our way there now.
A dead man lay sprawled over the recently dug grave of another. The murder weapon, a shovel, lay to one side. Even though the body was beginning to blacken and bloat, Matt was easily able to identify the man as his now very late grandfather, Aedan McCabe. We couldn’t know for sure, but it seemed likely that the grave was for his son Roan.
Their long lives, and time-travel days, were at last over.
Joshua McCabe was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t hard to imagine him as the perpetrator.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“I should have guessed,” Matt said. “The mental illness in him was never as easy to see as it was in his sister. But it was there. I just refused to admit it.”
“Where do you think he is?”
“Who knows?” he said sadly. “What I do know is that he won’t be gone for long. He’ll be back.”
“What now, Matt?”
“How you holding up, Johnny?”
“Been better, Matt. But I’ll be okay.” In truth, I felt like I was about to vomit up the breakfast I hadn’t even eaten. My body was beginning to sweat in the morning sun, although I was chilled to the bone.
“I’d like to keep going, Johnny. I’d like to end it this morning. I’m glad the watch is gone. Promise me you’ll never get it back. It drove these two men mad. Both of them, and myself as well, meddled in things they shouldn’t have. You’re looking at the wages of their sin. Hell, Johnny—I’m the wages of their sin—and my own.”
“Let’s end it then, Matt. Let’s drive a stake right through the middle of its heart.”
“The mine is about a mile or so. Can you make it that far?”
“Yes. I can make it.”
We started up the road. It was still fairly cool, but it was plain to see that the morning would heat up fast, just as it had all those years ago. We walked on in silence. For some reason, it didn’t much seem like a time for small-talk. I could see the bleak entrance in the distance, just above a rock cliff.
At last we were there. The mine looked ominous enough at a distance. Up close, it was nothing less than foreboding. The entrance formed a mouth—with teeth. Above that, two smaller and shallow glory-holes formed eyes. Not friendly ones either. This place looked like a Halloween jack-0-lantern. Made of stone. My stomach lurched again as I thought of my friends bones slowly rotting away for years in that airless ossuary. There was a flat area on the outside, maybe half an acre in size. Barbed wire tried unsuccessfully to block the way in.
Matt asked me if I wanted to see the inside. He sounded like a tour-guide. I would have loved nothing more than to say no, but I knew we had to check the interior for Joshua. I drew my little Smith. For the first time, I noticed that it was empty, and had been since the tunnel. I had a couple of speed-loaders along with me and used one to recharge the little revolver as we entered the shaft. Matt still had his forty-five, but didn’t pull it. Looking back, I realize now that perhaps he was already beginning to see his fate, and just didn’t care.
Once inside, the temperature dropped sharply, as did the light-level. There was an additional hole in the roof of the shaft that provided minimal illumination, and our eyes quickly adjusted. I could make out the small room to the left, just where Matt had depicted it in his stories of that day. The door was long gone and a quick glance proved that it was unoccupied. Ahead, and to the right, the shaft opened up a bit, forming another slightly larger room. There, in the middle, was the vertical shaft that had once become a small mass grave. Someone had tried to cover it with plywood, but it had been recently kicked aside. I could easily make out the fresh scuffs in the wood. Somehow I didn’t relish the idea of checking out the interior very much, but I forced myself close enough to peer over the side.
It was empty.
I turned to look at Matt. A slight rueful smile played on his lips as he slowly pulled off his shirt, exposing his bare torso. He wrapped the arms around his waist. My eyes were pulled immediately to his upper chest and shoulder area and its mass of scar tissue, courtesy of Kylie Blakely’s butchers knife. I hadn’t seen it before. The woman had done quite a job.
He was re-creating that horrible day in 1952, almost to the letter. One little difference though. This time he re-tucked his pistol outside of the knotted arms of the shirt. Matt was ready for action.
And the time had come.
He held out his hand.
I took it.
And once again, it was August the eight—nineteen hundred and fifty-two.
And there were voices outside.
I looked around. A door had magically appeared on the entrance to the old arms room. The padlock lay on the floor. The plywood over the hole disappeared. The temperature dropped a few more degrees. I was back at the beginning—with my friend. A friend with which I had stopped a serial killer and a madman, faced Jack the Ripper in a narrow passageway of Hell, and much more recently—saved the world.
But now, this time, I could do nothing.
He looked at me. He didn’t have to ask the question that was on his mind.
I nodded. “I know the rules,” I said.
He placed his hand gently on my shoulder. “See you in a few,” he said.
“See you in a few,” I repeated. Matt turned then and walked out into the sunlight. I stood stupidly, listening to the muted sound of voices outside the mine—one was Matt’s. Others I did not know. I knew what was happening. I Had heard the story many times before. This time I simply waited for the outcome. I waited for the jury to come in. I waited to find out if my friend lived or died.
The shooting started—a lot of it. Full automatic fire, spaced with short bursts of pistol rounds. Each one wounded my heart. Yet I remained frozen where I was, unmoving—waiting.
Finally, it was over. I could smell gunpowder as it drifted into the mine. There was nothing—no sound. Not a voice. Nothing. Stone, cold silence. I waited, hardly taking a breath. Finally, after the space of perhaps a minute, I heard footsteps approaching.
Matt McCabe appeared before me. Alive. Whole. And unharmed.
He tossed his empty pistol on the floor or the mine. His eyes met mine, unspeaking. And then he simply said, “They’re dead, Johnny. All three. The third man was just behind me, about twenty feet away. I got them all.”
“What about the watch?” I asked. I could plainly see it in his left hand. It, just like Matt, was uninjured. Matt tossed it on the floor too. Right next to the pistol. Then he kicked both into the hole in the floor.
“Let’s go home, Johnny,”
“Let’s go home, Matt,” I agreed. “I think I’m just about ready for that hospital now.”
Again Matt placed his hand on my shoulder, and we returned. We were back in the present. I glanced in the hole again. No sign of either a watch or a gun. But then, over the years a lot of debris had been tossed in, no doubt burying both. It was a good place for them.
We walked outside.
“What about Cindy Matthews?” I asked. “What about Lucas McCabe?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Matt replied. “I don’t know how that all worked out. I can’t even guess. I know Cindy’s dead now. I know I attended her funeral. All the rest? Well, Johnny, that I’m leaving in the hands of God. Now—right here today, in this place and time, I’m going home to my wife and child. Linh and Matthew Albert McCabe.”
Wordlessly, I shook my head yes. We both walked out to the edge of the cliff. It was going to be a beautiful day. It was good to breath fresh air. I could see light traffic on the Arivaca road heading into town a few miles away. I looked at the face of my friend. For a long, long time he had been torn between two worlds, and between two times. Not any longer. He was finally a free man. Free of the past, free of his curse. No longer a time-travel freak. Just a normal man.
Heading into the future.
And then it happened. Way too fast for me to be able to stop.
Joshua McCabe had been hiding in the bushes, just outside the mine. Now, enraged that his grandfather had survived the shootout, he charged. Matt didn’t see him in time either, as Joshua screamed the word “bastard” and crashed into him, both men sailing over the edge of the cliff, tumbling soundlessly in the air. I reached out reflectively to try to grab them—much too late.
I heard them hit the rocks below, with a sickening thud, and then sliding noises. I tried to look over the side, but was unable to see anything. Hurriedly, I worked my way around the stone cliff and down to where I thought they would be. My stomach lurched hard with the exertion and my legs once again were trying to give out on me. My condition was worsening fast.
I found Joshua first. He was dead—his neck plainly broken. There was no pulse. Blank, lifeless eyes looked at me. Matt was just below him. At a glance I could see his fractured leg with a long piece of bone protruding from it. An arm was also grotesquely turned behind his back. I suspected a hip fracture as well, from the twisted aspect of his torso. Much worse than that was his grossly split head, just behind his hairline. He had landed on the rocks hard. Blood poured out as well from his nose and mouth.
I didn’t know how it was possible, but I found a faint pulse when I checked his wrist. I knew I needed to get him help as quickly as I could if I were to have a chance of saving his life. I tried my cell phone, but there was no signal. I ripped my outer shirt off and wrapped it around his head to try to staunch the blood flow.
Unbelievably, he regained consciousness for a few moments and opened his eyes.
“Joshua. Where’s Joshua?”
“He’s dead, Matt. I’m sorry—he didn’t survive the fall.”
His voice was faint, and halting. ‘Two of them, Johnny. Two grandchildren. Two times I have been there at their deaths.”
“It’s not your fault, Matt. You didn’t do this. You didn’t put them on the paths they took. You can’t blame yourself for this.”
“Tell that to God for me. Will you do that, Johnny? Please tell that to God for me.” His voice faded out.
“You aren’t meeting him today, Matt. I’m getting you out of here,” I said. I placed my hand on his forearm. I tried to will us away with all my strength. I tried to transport us to safety. I willed us to be gone with all my heart, mind, and soul. And nothing happened.
Not one single thing.
Matt was going out again. “Matt—I can’t get us out. It’s not working for me anymore. It must be the radiation. You’re going to have to do this, buddy. One more time.”
“Not today, I’m afraid, my friend. Not this day. Please, Johnny, drag me away from the mine. Don’t let me die at this hellish place—again.”
At those words, he passed completely out.
No cell phone, and no ability to transport us, I looked around in disbelief. We were near the bottom of the cliff. There was a fairly steep slope of loose shale, and then a space of maybe two-hundred yards of cactus and weeds to get back to the mine road. I thought that I might be able to pick up a signal there, but there was no way I was going to leave my friend behind and go for help alone. His final words haunted me. We were either going to get out together, or he was going to die with me.
I would keep my word. I wouldn’t leave him alone—at the mine.
I pulled his body down the rest of the slope. It was easier than I thought it would be. At the bottom, I bent down to pick him up and hoist him over my shoulder. My stomach lurched hard, and a sharp pain radiated up my spine. The world darkened around me as my legs turned to mush, but somehow I wrestled his body over my shoulder. I ignored the grinding sound of the bones of his body, and the sloshing sound of blood as it poured over my back.
I stumbled about half way to the road. I’d never be able to explain how I was able to make it that far by myself. But that was it though. I could go no farther. I sunk to my knees and lowered his body to the stony ground as gently as I could. His face was as white as snow. The blood wasn’t going there anymore. Again, I felt for a pulse and detected a still present heartbeat.
I told him how sorry I was. I said to him that I hoped it was far enough from the mine. I told him that here at the end, I wished I had been a better friend. I apologized that I was not going to be able to bring him home like I had said I would.
I told him I was sorry that I had failed him.
I told him that I loved him.
And I said goodbye.
And then I passed out too.
Then I lay still—dying in the desert—beside the best man I had ever known.
And at last the stars came out—and the cold comforting darkness enveloped us. There were voices in the dark, speaking softly—saying things I did not understand.
Thanks for reading today. Be back in a few days with the Conclusion and Epilogue.
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