After her embarrassing run-in with the solemn man and his hawk, Michelle almost altered her jogging route. In the end she chose not to. After all, she had never seen him there before and she had told him that she jogged that way every day. Chances were more than likely that he would take care of making sure their paths did not cross again. Michelle's logic proved correct. She did not see him the next day, nor the day after that. She recounted the tale to friends on Friday night to rounds of teasing, milked it for sympathy and got a free lunch from her friend Marcie on Saturday, and had forgotten completely about it by Sunday.
Weeks passed, busying Michelle with preparations for the end of the school year and the thoughts of an entire summer off of work. She was trotting along her normal route mentally reviewing plans for some summer study projects when she saw the familiar shape of the hawk wheeling in the sky. A large smile split her face despite herself, and she stopped on the sidewalk to watch the bird hunt, vowing she would be on her way after no more than a few moments' indulgence. She tore her eyes from the hawk long enough to give a wave at the tall, somber figure across the field. How ya doin? Remember me? Give my regards to the stick up your... She looked back towards the sky just in time. The hawk was headed right for her.
With a cry, Michelle tossed up the arm she had been waving with to protect her face. She stifled an obscene comment as the talons hit and locked on. There was a burning that she knew was blood being drawn and she staggered, buffeted about the head and chest as the bird flapped its wings in an attempt to stay righted and settle its weight on her wagging arm. She was sure the bruises and gouges she was going to sport from this little incident would make her look like some kind of mugging victim, but she couldn't quite quell a feeling of elation as she managed to steady her arm and found herself eye to eye with the hawk.
"Your daddy is going to be so pissed," she whispered, a huge, stupid grin spreading across her face as she finally got to examine the bird close up. The creature shifted, causing her to bite her lip and muffle a few choice words. Some of those gashes were probably going to need stitches - what she wouldn't give for one of those leather gauntlets. "Ah, but I need to get you back to Mr. Congeniality, don't I?" she sighed. The bird snapped at her irritably; most likely Michelle wasn't doing something right. Maybe she expected a treat. "Sorry, girl. Got nothing for you." The leather straps dangling from its legs were still there. Michelle took hold of them, wondering what she would do if the hawk got upset. Lose an eye and another pint of blood, probably. Still, a bird like this had to be worth thousands, not to mention the sentimental attachment. Ol' Blond and Bitter looked like he had enough to make him cranky without losing his hawk because of some dippy jogger. She would do her best to get the hawk safely handed off to him, if only so she didn't have to be responsible for adding to whatever burden the world had placed upon his shoulders. Gingerly she took a step forward. The hawk shifted again to keep balance, but otherwise seemed content to stay. Gritting her teeth against the pain of the talons hooked into her arm, Michelle started cautiously forward across the field.
She didn't have far to go. Tall, blond and frosty himself was headed across the field at a dead run, slowing only when he had drawn close enough that he might startle the bird. "Sorry about that", Michelle smiled sheepishly when he was near enough that she wouldn't have to shout for him to hear. "I don't know if she thought I was cuing her when I waved, or what. I'm really sorry."
At least he looked humanely concerned as he carefully transferred the hawk to his own gauntleted arm. He sighed as he took the jesses and was able to turn his attention to Michelle. "Your arm! You shouldn't have done that."
"I didn't know she'd try to land, or I wouldn't have waved. I'm sorry."
He gave her a look. "Not that -- you shouldn't have tried to bring her over. Your arm is badly wounded."
"Ah", she looked at where blood was dripping from several deep gashes. "It's just a scratch. Besides, she's beautiful. I didn't want you to lose her."
"Thank you", he said, sounding more formal than appreciative. "Put your hand here to try to slow the bleeding." She didn't really have enough hand to do the job. He hesitated for a moment, exhaling through his nose, then made a decision. "You'll have to come with me. I'll clean the wounds and then dress them until you can see a healer."
He probably thought she was faking this just to get a chance to talk to him. "No, no, it's not that bad. I'll just run home."
"Forgive me, lady, but you live a mile and more away. I could not permit you."
Ah, he had remembered. How kind, she thought wryly. Still, her stuffy stranger was probably right. She might not necessarily need to go to the emergency room, but they weren't the kind of cuts you wanted to go jogging with. "I don't want to be a bother."
"Last time you were a bother. This time you are in need. Come with me."
Michelle directed a slightly dry look in his direction, but without returning her gaze, the man wrapped his free arm around her and began propelling her quickly toward the little house at the end of the dirt track. She wasn't really feeling weak, just a little shocky, but she had to admit they were covering ground faster with him gently hauling her along. "Where are we headed?"
"You live here?" That couldn't be right. "Besides that once, I've never seen you out."
"I'm not sure why you saw me at all." The remark was cryptic and, Michelle decided, rude.
"Look, I really do apologize for bothering you", Michelle glared at him, jerking herself free from his grip. "If you will let me use your phone, I will call a friend to come pick me up and I'll leave. You've made your wishes to be left alone more than perfectly clear and I have no desire to disrespect them."
Again he gave her one of those quizzical looks, but only commented, "Forgive my lack of courtesy. You must be on your way quickly, but I will see to your wounds first. I regret that I cannot lend you the use of a phone, but I do not have one."
"What do you mean you don't have a phone?" she demanded, then frowned. To the left of the little house was a rail fence separating a dusty orchard. The rows of trees weren't necessarily unusual in this area... except that the industrial park abutted a small strip of shops. Wheeling around to look behind her, she saw the orchard leading off to the west and only dried fields to the east. Only fields. No industrial plants. Michelle experienced a wave of disorientation. "I.... I think maybe I've lost a little blood or something." Where the hell was she?
The man backtracked a few steps and took hold of her again, propelling her firmly forward toward the little house. "Time, lady, is more important than you think."
He was right - if she just had a chance to sit down and maybe elevate her feet for a few seconds to get enough blood back to her brain, the little trick her eyes were playing on her would go away. She allowed him to guide her up onto the small porch and into a dark interior, cool but without air conditioning. Something about the general state of the woodwork and the smell of dust made her half expect to see the gutted remnants of an abandoned house, but blinking in the dim light, she decided it was just spartan and somewhat run down. Her host had meanwhile set the hawk down on the back of one of the two wooden chairs around the tiny table and fastened its jesses to a spoke. "You're very brave," he murmured as he swiftly secured the bird. "Your injuries could have been worse."
Was that a compliment or a reprimand? "Uh, thanks."
Michelle peered around, at first looking for a place to stretch out and put her feet up, then just to attempt to put some sense to what she saw. This was definitely an old house. The wall paper was faded and dingy, peeling in some places. The hardwood flooring was dried and dusty like the walls. An empty fireplace looked like it hadn't been used in years. She peered closely at the light fixtures on the walls. "Are those... oil lamps?"
"Yes," he said shortly, coming back to take her firmly by the non-wounded elbow and haul her politely into through a kitchen area. This room as well was very dim, but she caught glimpses of cupboards, a butcher block island, and brass pans hanging from a rack on the ceiling. No refrigerator, though. Odd. Putting his free hand in the small of her back, he propelled her gently out onto a sheltered back porch. "The light will be better here."
She craned her neck around to watch him rattle through a cupboard and then turned her body to look as she heard a strange slurging noise. He came out with a basin of water and an armful of bandages and ointment. "Let me see your arm."
Michelle stared at him while he took a clean cloth and began gently swabbing blood away. "Why don't you have indoor plumbing?"
"I do have indoor plumbing."
"Then why did you have to get the water from a pump."
"Because I did't want to take the time to walk to the well."
"Do you even have electricity?" She craned her neck to look around and saw no evidence of it.
"You're starting to bother me again," he warned, dampening a fresh cloth with the contents of one of the jars. "This may sting, but it should clean the wounds."
"I'm sorry," she apologized with little sincerity. "I'd just really like to know what's going on."
"There's nothing going on -- my apologies," he murmured as she winced at his ministrations. He continued. "I'm going to bandage up your arm and walk you out and then you'll be on your way." He hesitated a moment, then looked up to meet her eyes directly, something he seemed to have been avidly avoiding since she'd first seen him. "You say you... jog by here every day."
His gaze was steady on hers, concerned rather than aloof. Michelle noticed his eyes were very blue. "Change your route. Don't come by this way again."
No electricity. No water. No mailbox. A house that she had never realized was here before. It came out before she could consider the wisdom of such a direct question. "Are you growing pot?"
"What?" He looked momentarily confused, then glanced at the rack of pans hanging from the kitchen ceiling. Shaking his head slightly, he began wrapping her arm in clean strips of cloth.
Michelle peered around the back porch for signs of a methamphetamine lab. She saw none, but something else occurred to her. "No steel. Nothing around here is made of iron or steel. What is your pump made of?"
"All done." He tightened the last bandage roughly, making her yelp a bit. "Sorry." This time he didn't sound like he meant it at all. "Will you be well to get home?" He was already on his feet again, dragging Michelle to hers as fast as courtesy and her arm would permit.
"This is all exceptionally odd."
"I concur completely. But as I said before, lady, time is of the essence." He began pushing her back through the house. "I will help you as far as I can, and I beg your pardon with the greatest humility that I cannot see you safely to your home." He did sound sincerely upset over that."I ask again, are you well to continue home?"
"Now that I'm not bleeding everywhere, I'm fine." He had her by the arm again and was whisking her down the dirt road so fast she almost had to run to keep up. The only metal on him was what appeared from a bit of tarnish to be actual silver buckles on those boots. The close inspection could not help but to remind her again that he was very handsome. Michelle shook her head a little bit. Nothing like a mystery to make even a crab like this man appealing. The dirt road was giving way to the track again and still there was no sign of anything besides field and orchard.
"I can go no further." He stopped. She turned and frowned at him. "Go carefully and be safe." He seemed very uncomfortable.
Michelle took a few more steps, then turned around. "What's your name?" She stopped, thunderstruck. She was standing behind a weed encrusted cyclone fence at the edge of the empty field, starry night sky above her. Completely alone. Over the fence, she could see the orangey glow of a street light. There was no little house. No orchard. No tall solemn stranger.
"Shit," Michelle muttered, with feeling. She must have been injured substantially more severely than she thought. Now was not the time to try to figure this out, though. She needed to get out of here before she got picked up by the cops for behaving suspiciously.
The gas station on the corner had the time as three thirty in the morning. The gashes on her arm weren't that big a deal, but this profound a loss in consciousness was nothing to be sneezed at. She was missing almost ten hours. Who knew what could have happened in that space of time. Or why. A trip to the emergency room was in order and driving herself wasn't that great an idea. She still had her wallet, at least. Hi, Mom. Can you come pick me up at a gas station? I met this good-looking guy and next thing I know I woke up in an empty lot at three in the morning. Can you take me to the emergency room so I can see if I've been drugged or raped? Wasn't gonna happen. She called a cab and ate an ice cream bar while she waited.
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