Summary: It’s a stagecoach trip, and everything goes right. Right?
Rating: T (1,740 words)
Joe sat up, looking around. “What was that?”
“Gunfire, what do you think it was?” Adam said, his heart lurching in fear as he leaned towards the window to get a better look.
The stage lurched sideways and raised voices could be heard just outside the door. Adam felt a hand on the back of his shirt followed by a hard tug. He tumbled backwards in the seat as the sound of gunfire erupted again. He made a grab for Joe, but he missed when the stage tilted onto its left wheels – knocking him and his brother into the wall.
The stagecoach tilted precariously on its wheels for an eternity before slowly falling onto its side, slamming against an outcropping of rocks.
When he opened his eyes, Adam couldn’t tell how much time had passed. All he knew for certain was that it had been daylight when they’d been attacked, and it was still afternoon. He hoped that meant he’d only been out for a few minutes rather than a few hours.
Stifling a moan, he sat up and cradled his throbbing head in his hands. Every time his heart beat an answering echo passed through his abused body. He didn’t think there was a part of him that wasn’t a bruise or a cut. Adam carefully rolled onto hands and knees, trying to catch his breath and not give into the nausea.
Moving gingerly, he stood up, leaning heavily against the rock wall in front of him. The splintered remains of the coach he’d been riding in with Joe blurred in and out of focus for a few dizzying minutes.
Oh, god, Joe! Adam turned too quickly and the world swam before his eyes. He took deep even breaths, trying to calm the desperation that had taken up residence in his heart. He let go of his purchase on the stone and took in his surroundings. The bodies of the driver and guards lay a few feet to his left, just beyond the wrecked carriage. The luggage was scattered about and looked to have been thoroughly searched. He was glad to see there was no immediate sign of the robbers nearby. The horses were nowhere to be seen.
“Joe!” he called out, his voice sounding weak to his own ears. He turned and didn’t see his brother behind him either. He swallowed thickly as he realized the only place left for his brother to be was in the wreckage. He climbed onto the side of the coach, his silent pleas to God for Joe to be alright becoming a mantra.
Peering into the darkness, he could barely make out a crumpled form against the opposite side. “Joe!”
The figure below him didn’t move. Adam clambered down, praying he didn’t bring the remains down onto him or his brother. He let his hand rest on Joe’s neck, searching for a pulse and praying he would find one. After a moment, he let out sigh of air he hadn’t known he’d been holding. A pulse was there, slow but there. Any sign of life was better than none, he thought to himself. A gash ran along the hairline on Joe’s left side, blood still seeped from the wound and continued to run down his brother’s face. Adam felt for broken bones. The ribs on his brother’s left side gave a bit but, other than that, there didn’t seem to be anything else broken.
Sighing to himself, Adam considered his predicament. He wasn’t sure how he was going to get Joe out and not cause more injuries. Not knowing how far they were from the way-station, he didn’t want to make things worse than they already were.
His vision suddenly dimmed, and he leaned against the roof of the coach, praying he wouldn’t pass out. ‘Slow, even breaths,’ he repeated to himself. After a few minutes, Adam’s head began to clear and the nausea abated. Adam steeled himself and pulled at the limp form in front of him. Even unconscious, Joe groaned low in his throat. Swearing to himself, Adam muttered apologies to his brother.
The weight of Joe pulled at his already abused muscles, sending tremors of pain throughout his body. Adam tugged his brother upright and, hoping he wasn’t causing more damage, draped Joe over the edge of the coach where door should have been. His ragged breathing drowned out any other noises as he rested his aching head against the floor of the coach. The world blurred and he fought not to lose consciousness.
With trembling hands, Adam clamored up and out of the carriage. Steadying himself, he finished dragging Joe out of the wreckage. Adam was terrified that one of Joe’s ribs could have punctured his lungs. He gently lowered Joe to the ground, the rock wall and stagecoach providing a bit of shade from the setting sun.
Adam began sorting through the remains of the luggage; he hoped to find something that could be used to bind Joe’s ribs and head wound. The findings were paltry to what he needed but he wasn’t about to complain. Further investigation of the area yielded two full canteens, and Adam sent up a silent ‘thank you’ for the miracle of water. He knew they could last a few days without food, but there was no way to survive in this heat without water.
He bound Joe’s ribs as best he could and used some of the precious liquid to wash the blood from his brother’s face. He couldn’t let himself think about the possibility of not getting help in time. Surely, once they were overdue, someone would come for them. Given how much gold had been on the coach, if they were five minutes late, surely there would be a posse out to search for them.
The sun had long set by the time Joe opened his eyes. A fire burned in the edge of his vision, the smell of burning smoke assailing his nose and making him want to gag. His head pounded with a slow, nauseating roll. When he tried to take a deep breath, he couldn’t contain the sharp gasp at the pain simply breathing caused him.
At the sound, Adam’s face appeared over him, worry etched into his oldest brother’s face.
“Joe, you back with me?” Adam asked, trying not to hope too hard that Joe would remain awake. Several times his brother had appeared to wake up only to have the green eyes shut a second later. The first time it had happened, Adam was sure he’d watched Joe die in front of him.
Joe seemed to have trouble focusing on the face in front of his eyes. Everything looked as if he were standing in the middle of a heavy mist. He started to go back to sleep, but Adam’s hand gently shaking him kept him awake.
“What?” he asked, trying to make his voice work properly. His throat felt as if he’d tried to swallow an entire desert. He felt his head being lifted and cool water in his mouth. Swallowing readily, he drank as much as Adam would allow before the canteen was removed.
“That’s enough for now. The last thing we need is for you to get sick again on top of everything else,” Adam said, putting water aside. “The coach was robbed, and the stage went out of control. It slammed up against those rocks. The gold’s gone, so are the horses.”
It took a moment for the words to sink into his muddled brain, but finally Joe asked, “What about the others?”
“They didn’t make it. It’s just us, and I have no idea how to get us out of this one.”
“Walk out…we’ll walk out.”
“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but you’re not exactly too steady there.”
Joe smiled at the words, knowing it was the only way his brother would let himself show worry he felt. “Just my head and ribs. Legs are fine. We’ll walk out together.”
Adam nodded his head in agreement. He knew there wasn’t much choice left to them. He’d already had to use half of one canteen to clean wounds and small sips of water while waiting for Joe to wake up. The meager amount left wasn’t enough to last them until rescue. He’d been trying to figure out how far they were from the station and, as best as he could tell, they were over a days walk away. There was no doubt it would be hard, especially as hot as the desert was sure to get.
The day dawned as bright and hot as Adam had predicted. He had passed out not long after Joe the night before and, having stiffened up during the night, was now moving like an eighty year old man. Every muscle protested the slightest movement he made, pain still lancing through his brain, and he couldn’t imagine how hard this trek would be since Joe was in the same shape he found himself in.
Adam moved carefully about the small camp. He let Joe rest a bit longer while getting their meager gear ready for the hike across the hard-baked earth. Gingerly kneeling beside Joe, he called softly to his brother.
“Joe, come on. It’s time we left.”
For a minute, he didn’t think Joe would wake up. He let seconds tick by before calling to Joe again, this time a bit louder.
“Joe! We really need to get out of here.”
The worry he’d felt the night before came back full force. What if Joe couldn’t wake up? His fears were allayed as Joe began to wake up, albeit not as fast as he would have liked.
“Yeah, it’s time for us to move out. It’s not going to get any easier.”
Joe started to nod his head in agreement but realized what a mistake that was seconds later as someone with a hammer started banging on the inside of his skull. His stomach lurched at the sensation, and he couldn’t do anything except turn away from his brother while he retched. He could feel Adam’s hand on his forehead, giving what support he could.
Adam reached behind him for the canteen and passed it to Joe. “Here, rinse your mouth out and take a couple of small sips. We’ll get going as soon as you’re ready.”
“I’m ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s go.”
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