Jessie Maverick's Kin

Chapter 10 Pain

Everything he could see was blurry and distorted. Strange shapes and colors swam before his eyes and every square inch of his head throbbed painfully, even his eyeballs. Where was he? Why couldn't he focus? Why did everything in his head hurt so bad?

He tried to blink but his eyelids didn't seem to be working. He tried to turn his head to the side. Big mistake. Not only could he not move, every nerve in his body was screaming. He'd never hurt like this in his whole life. Not even when he fell out of the hay loft window in the barn when he was ten years old and landed so wrong that everyone thought he split his skull wide open. Maybe he should close his eyes and try this again.

That sounded like a good idea. He closed his eyes and slowly, painfully reopened them. Of course, several hours had passed by the time he opened them again. He was in and out of consciousness numerous times before he remembered that his intention was only to close and reopen his eyes. He heard a voice murmuring words that he couldn't really hear and didn't understand; it made as much sense as the images that swam in front of his face. And there was the pain. Again. Still. Forever and ever. Amen.

That was funny. He tried to laugh but nothing happened. He tried to remember who he was, where he was, even why he was. It. wouldn't.work. His brain was like a fish floundering in the air, gasping for water that didn't exist. Like the fish he and Bret had tried to drown. Wait. There was a name. Bret. His . . . . . his what? Father, mother, sister, brother, son, uncle, horse? Bret. He repeated it over and over in his head until it became a mental chant. . . . STOP!

He lay still, with his eyes closed, waiting for the pain to go away. It didn't. Sometimes it hurt so bad that he couldn't breathe. He wanted to scream in agony but he couldn't. The pain would build to a crescendo until it was almost unbearable. Then his head would explode and he'd lose consciousness again.

Time passed. He didn't know how much, just that it hurt a tiny bit less the next time he heard noises. And every once in a while there was a word that sounded familiar. What was that one from earlier? Oh, right, Bret. He should know that name. It was right on the very edge of his mind, like grasping for . . . . what? Grasping for what? Why couldn't he make his brain work? He tried opening his eyes again but everything was dark, black as night, Bret would say. Again with the 'Bret.' Who the hell was Bret?

Wait . . . there was someone there. Someone murmuring, almost in his ear. Words. " . . . . too much time . . . . . can't leave . . . . Momma." That stuck. Momma. He remembered Momma. How she smelled, how soft her touch was, how gentle her words were. Momma who held him and rocked him and sang to him until his fever got so high that he started to slip away . . . until she promised him the gift . . . . if he would stay. And he did. But he didn't want to any more. It hurt too much.

He drifted off again, in and out while the night slipped away. There was a voice, a woman's voice. Momma? No, somebody else. Samantha? Caroline? Melodia? Who were these people? And why did it hurt to remember their names? Georgia. It popped into his head, just like 'Bret' had. Georgia. Sweet Georgia. She was an angel. No, angel, no. Not an angel. Something . . . . else. It hurt and wouldn't stop. Make it stop, Georgia. Make it stop.

Sleep. Real, honest to goodness sleep. Not unconsciousness but sleep. And in sleep, dreams. Dreams about Momma and Pappy and Cousin Beau. Uncle Ben and Lily Mae. And Bret. At last he knew Bret. His brother. His best friend. His worst nightmare. Bret that made him laugh. Bret that scared him to death. Bret that always had his back. Thank God they hadn't beaten Bret.

Wait. Did he say beaten? Is that what happened? He was beaten? Now he remembered. He saw the men. His gun was already lying on the far side of the bed. There was no defense. He felt the pistol crack across his head. And the pain. Again and again the pain. Over and over the pounding on him while men forced him still and stopped him from escaping. Until he couldn't run. Couldn't stand. Couldn't breathe. Then nothing. Until he heard Bret's voice begging him to stay.

So he stayed.

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