“I think they all got kilt when them damn guns opened up on the house. Ain’t nobody been around for days.” Jasper pulled the barn door closed behind them.
Ethan said, “Part of the main house is standing. Maybe there’s a bed.”
“Youngster, eventually someone will come around and we don’t want to get caught in the house. Down here, it ain’t luxury, but it’s safe. Ain’t much chance they’ll ever find us. Beggars cain’t be choosers.”
They holed up under the floor of a barn. It had been designed for cattle with gapped floorboards to allow the cow manure to be swept off the main floor and collected in the lower level for use in the fields. No cattle had lived in this barn for years, though the sub-level still held the odor of manure. Ethan and Jasper cleared a corner and filled it with straw to hold their warmth at night. Only four feet high, the crawl space provided better shelter than the damp cave where they had slept the first few nights.
Jasper spread out the results of his “hunting” expedition. “Got them a nice root cellar. Enough to last all winter.” He’d brought carrots and apples and a fat slice of cheese. He also set in the corner two pistols, a bag of shot, and two bags of black powder.
“You’re building an arsenal, Jasper.”
“Cain’t have too many weapons. Got ’em scattered around in case of trouble.”
Jasper dove into the food, but Ethan merely munched half-heartedly on a carrot.
“Still feelin’ poorly?”
“I have a fever. My wounds are festering. I’m a mess.”
“Cain’t pull through if you don’t eat.”
Ethan stared into the gloom under the joists and then settled into the straw. He closed his eyes and thought of the place he had started from – the infinite place through which he had searched to come here. Time melted away and Ethan hovered at the brink of that place. He could see it, sense it, but he could not plunge into it. Without Memnon to free him, he remained stuck in this body. Until it died. But then what? Would he once again be able to hold himself together through the chaos of death? He had been here a long time, longer than his other jumps. Did he still have a body alive back in his own time?
“No. I was trying to get out.”
“Of this body.”
“Why you want to die?
“I don’t want to die. I want to move on. I’m not getting any closer to this way.”
“Youngblood, why are you in such a hurry? If you can really do what you say, then you have all the time in the world.”
“I’m in horrible pain, Jasper.”
“In a day or two, you’ll either start to get better or you’ll get worse. If you heal, you’ll have a much better chance of findin’ your wife if you have money. Lots of money. If you know where the gold is, you’ll have lots of money. Why don’t you jes’ hang on and stop lookin’ fer the easy way out? You may be closer than you think.”
Ethan blinked at the shadowy face hidden in its cloud of beard.
Then he reached for a piece of cheese.
Ethan slept fitfully through the early night and woke to the steady wheeze of Jasper’s breathing. Ethan rolled against the rough planking of the wall and peered through the cracks at a sliver of Milky Way. Pain made it difficult to sleep, but something else nagged at him. Like a voice carried on the wind, a rising, falling, intermittent something danced just beyond Ethan’s grasp as if he were about to remember a dream.
He wanted to reach out his senses, see if he was in the right place, the right time. But without Memnon, he didn’t seem able to wander out as far as he had done in the lab.
Ethan dug deeper into the straw. He closed his eyes and visualized Beth’s face. He concentrated on her unique energy. Again he heard something like a distant voice, some vague message he could not understand. Like a ham radio operator trying to tune in a signal from the other side of the globe, Ethan focused on the signature energy of the woman he loved. She seemed closer than ever before.
The grass felt cool and soft against her back. The blue sky had a tinge of pink cloud. A face loomed above her and blotted out the sky. Chocolate brown eyes came close and she lifted her head to kiss him. His hand stroked her naked flanks and suddenly she could not get enough air into her lungs. She wrapped her arms around his neck more tightly and pulled him closer. Tiny spears of pleasure shot through her in anticipation as the weight of his body settled onto her. She closed her eyes and reveled in the feel of him, the sweet smell of his skin. She wanted him now and nothing else in the universe mattered. Now.
She awoke with a start and became instantly disoriented, floating in a black place. In panic, she reached out around her. Cloth. She felt cloth, not skin. Through the window a star stood as a single spark against the sooted background of space. Where was she?
Her wake-panic subsided. The pleasant remnants of the dream orgasm still washed through her. That man. She felt a deep connection, a complete familiarity with her dream lover. The touch of his hands left a lingering sensation, one she had felt many times before and wanted to feel again. A shiver ran through her, but not from the chill of the room.
Am I losing my mind?
She watched the single star framed in the window. Was it as lonely as she?
Beth watched it until the gathering light of dawn snuffed it from the heavens.