A blazing sun filled Jed's dreams and burned his skin. He tasted the salt from the ocean that pounded out of sight, over the hills of yellow sand. The waves flowed to the shore and receded, commanded by a deep, powerful voice singing a song that made no sense, yet eased Jed's pain.
Jed opened his eyes, but it was still dark and he could see nothing. Sweat covered his body and he felt the tiny pains of small twigs and leaves as they stuck to his naked skin.
"Ah, Jed, you're awake." He knew the voice.
"Lone Wolf? Jed tried to sit up, but found his limbs too weak. He closed his eyes and breathed, the air around him filled with a sweet, smoky smell. "Where are we?"
"I made a sweat lodge. I had to purge the poisons from your system." Jed sensed Lone Wolf's shrug. "It's crude, but it's the best I could do. I didn't have a lot of time." Lone Wolf lifted Jed's head and held a cup of cold water to his lips. Jed drank greedily, emptying the cup.
"The weakness will pass soon, Jed. Then we should continue our journey." Jed heard Lone Wolf fill the cup again. He drank the cool liquid. This time it seemed tinged with something bitter.
"I spoke with August before I came after you, Jed. He planned to go to Vegas to get Maddie from Sam." Lone Wolf spoke calmly.
Jed wrinkled his forehead. "So Sam is going to Vegas."
"It appears so, perhaps at the request of someone who signs his instructions with 'Dr. M.D.'."
"Dr. Doctor? That's odd."
"Sadly, it is very likely the same person who engineered August's capture many years ago." Lone Wolf said. "He said you know the story."
"Most of it. None of the rescue," said Jed.
Lone Wolf cleared his throat. "A story for another time, perhaps. Your father was an amazing man and a great friend to me."
"We have to get Maddie. And we can't let August go alone."
"I agree. We are, however, already a day behind August." Lone Wolf smiled. "Though I think I might know a way to catch up to him." Jed felt Lone Wolf's strong arms behind him as he helped him up. "You can wash in the river next to us. Then we can go."
Jed looked around at the darkness, puzzled. "Lone Wolf, why is it so dark?"
A long moment passed. "Jed, it's noon. We are shaded, but it is not dark."
Jed passed his hand in front of his eyes. "Then we have another problem." He placed both palms against his closed eyelids. "I think I'm blind."
Lone Wolf leaned forward, patting his horse on the neck. "We're almost there, Gizhii. Just over the next rise." The big horse snorted and shook his head.
"Am I adding too much weight?" Jed sat behind Lone Wolf, relaxed and moving up and down with the horse's rhythm.
Lone Wolf smiled. "No, Gizhii can take a lot more weight than this. He's a little bored. I'm making him go too slowly." Lone Wolf patted the horse's neck again. "How's your eyesight?"
"Things are blurry. I can make out shapes and shadows." Jed rolled his shoulders to loosen them. "What does 'Gizhii' mean?"
"It means 'fast'," Lone Wolf chuckled. "Depending on the usage, though, it can also mean 'loud', but don't tell Gizhii."
They rode in silence for a while. "So what do you think was wrong with me? I don't get sick."
Lone Wolf nodded. "I thought about it quite a bit. We suspect Sam infected everyone with this werewolf virus, but that should not have affected you." Lone Wolf paused. "I think Sam poisoned you, probably to force August to pursue him, taking Maddie as bait." Gizhii moved over the top of a hillock and started down toward a farmhouse in a small valley. "Not a bad plan, but not a great one. I think the poison he gave you made you susceptible to the werewolf virus despite being Transformed."
"So I was poisoned and sick. Great," Jed muttered.
"You were much closer to death than I care to tell you, Jed. Gizhii and I found you barely in time."
"Thank you, Lone Wolf," Jed said. He reached up and patted Lone Wolf's shoulder. "I can never repay you."
"It is what family does for each other, Jed Stone. And you are family to us." Lone Wolf let Gizhii trot into the front yard of the small farmhouse. "We are here."
They dismounted and Jed stretched his legs. Lone Wolf disappeared into the barn, whose double doors stood wide open. He wasn't gone a minute when a thin, wiry man came toward Jed, carrying a rifle. He had shoulder-length raven-black hair and eyebrows like furry black and white caterpillars. He stood five inches shorter than Jed, but the rifle he carried was full sized. Jed could see the fuzzy outline of both man and rifle. He didn't move.
"Not too keen on strangers here, young fella." He brandished the rifle back toward the road. "Best mosey back where you came from, and we'll be fine." His deep-set, dark brown eyes glared at Jed from a tanned face, tinged with age, but showing no signs of whiskers.
"Caru! Is that any way to treat a guest?" Lone Wolf walked from the barn, smiling.
Caru lowered his rifle and wrapped bronzed arms around Lone Wolf. "Lone Wolf! It has been a long time, Brother!"
Lone Wolf pointed at Jed, grinning at Caru. "And why were you giving Jed such a hard time? You know Gizhii, so you knew it was me."
Caru laughed. "Well, I have so little time for fun anymore, especially with young people." His eyebrows raised and looked like they were going to crawl off his head. He addressed Jed. "You are a young person, right? Not like Lone Wolf here?"
Jed looked at Lone Wolf quizzically and replied to Caru. "Yes, I'm still young, but I'm working on getting older." He held out his hand. "Jed Stone."
"Stone?" Caru stood back and looked at Jed intently. "Yeah, I see your old man in you, now that you mention it." He nodded his head. "A good man in some very bad times," he added.
"So I always thought," said Jed, smiling.
"We need a lift, Caru." Lone Wolf waved at a large barn at the edge of a long field. "You still have your plane?"
"Of course I still have my plane. And it flies," said Caru. "If I could find more fuel, I'd fly more often, but we do what we can. I keep her in shape, though." He narrowed his eyes. "Where do you need to fly to?"
"Vegas." Lone Wolf said.
Caru stepped back, his mouth dropping open. "No! Not that again…"
Lone Wolf nodded. "It's a long story, but I'm afraid so. And August is voluntarily walking into it this time." Lone Wolf looked at the short Indian. "I can fly it, you know."
"Yeah, I know you're a pilot. She doesn't fly without me. That's the bottom line," Caru said.
"I didn't want to involve you if I didn't have to."
"Involve me?" Caru laughed, gasping and finally catching his breath. He wiped the tears from his eyes. "Lone Wolf, I volunteer, like last time." He motioned to the two men and they walked toward the house, leaving Gizhii to graze on the tough grass in the yard. "It can't be the same guy, can it?"
Lone Wolf shrugged as they entered the neat house. "We don't know, but it is likely."
"Ah, we should have shot him the first time. I always said so." Caru reached in a box and pulled a thick loaf of dark brown bread from it, tossing it to Lone Wolf. He disappeared into the pantry and came out with a large block of cheese and a huge sausage, which he set on the table. He put a large knife on the table for cutting the food.
He bowed his head. "Lord, we thank you for this food. I thank You for this company. And thanks for proving me right, even if I had to wait a decade for You to do so. Please bless the food."
"And the cook," added Jed. Lone Wolf nodded. Jed's hunger took over and he started eating.
Caru talked while he stuffed food in his mouth, chewing vigorously. "Vegas. About 450 miles, give or take. Close to three, three and a half hours." He looked at Lone Wolf. "August coming back on the plane?"
Lone Wolf shrugged. "Don't know yet. There might be more than August. Probably Maddie…" Caru raised his eyebrows and Lone Wolf pointed at Jed. "… his wife."
"Plane seats four, total," said Caru.
Lone Wolf paused. "We'll figure something out. Will you wait for us at the airport?"
"I hate sitting around in airports," Caru said, sitting back in his wooden chair.
"Everyone does," Jed said, around a mouthful of sausage.
Caru laughed. "No, I'm in for the whole adventure. Life is peaceful, but sometimes you need some excitement, you know?"
Lone Wolf indicated the rifle in the corner. "You have much ammo for that thing?"
Caru shook his head. "Nope. A couple boxes. Using a bow most days. I have plenty of arrows."
"Just like the old days," Lone Wolf commented.
"Your old days, not mine. I grew up with guns and television and rock and roll." Caru's eyes twinkled. "I miss the guns, but I still have the rock and roll." He looked at Lone Wolf, still grinning, and pointed at Jed. "The kid can put the food away, can't he?"
Jed barely looked at them, the food disappearing as fast as he could chew it.
Lone Wolf smiled at Jed. "He's had a tough few days."
Caru shrugged and got up from the table. "Well, I guess you can tell me the whole story while we get the plane ready."
Jed looked up as the two men stood. "I'm sorry. I'm so hungry." He staggered as he stood up. "And now I'm so tired…" Jed started to topple to the floor but Caru caught him, lifting him and carrying him to a long sofa.
He looked down at the sleeping Jed. "Well, that's odd. I guess it has been a rough few days," he said to Lone Wolf.
Lone Wolf took Jed's pulse. "He'll be okay. I think it's exhaustion. Nothing we can do about it now." He looked at Caru. "When can we leave?"
Caru headed for the door, Lone Wolf close behind him. "Two hours, maybe less. We'll be in Vegas by mid-afternoon." He chuckled. "We'll let the kid sleep. The young always need more sleep anyway."