Awake on his Back, Part 1

Jim awoke on his back, looking up at the stars.
He blinked a few times before realizing how cold he was.
His clothes were damp, but he knew it hadn’t rained because the sky was clear.
The dampness must have been from dew settling on him, which meant he had lain there for a few hours at least.
He stood slowly, and halfway up his head began to throb and he suddenly felt very thirsty.
He touched the side of his head and the bone felt soft. When he looked at his fingers they were dark with what must have been his blood.

He stood in a grassy area with trees on one side and a dirt road on the other, with more trees beyond that.
The moon shone half-full, casting just enough light for Jim to walk without tripping.
Looking up, he knew that the outer curve of the Moon always faces the Sun, and that a half-moon always leads or trails the Sun by 6 hours.
It was pointing toward Jim’s right as he faced the road, which meant that either the Sun had just set and that way was west, or the Sun would rise soon and that way was east.
Not having even a rough idea of the time, he looked up for the Big Dipper, then found the Little Dipper, the handle of which he knew always pointed north, and traced it to Polaris, the North Star behind him, which meant that the Moon pointed west, meaning it must have been about 10 in the evening.
So he hadn’t been out cold for more than three hours.

Jim thought he saw some kind of structure east of where he was, and began walking.
It turned out to be a rusting water pump, fixed into a concrete slab by the road.
There looked to be the remains of the foundation of a house a little further along the road, and the pump seemed to be all that was left.

He pumped the handle a few times before icy cold water began splashing on the ground.
He knealt, cupping his hands and gulping quickly until his stomach felt bloated.
He stood and wiped his mouth with the back of sleeve, only then noticing odd grooves in the concrete.
Jim knelt again and ran his fingertips across it and saw that the concrete was not nearly as old as the pump, in fact it looked as though it couldn’t have been poured more than a few weeks before, as it still had the peaks and other markings of the trowel used to spread it, which had not yet been weathered.

And that made the grooves he saw even more odd.
They were about half an inch wide, but very shallow; it was only the angle of the shadow cast by the Moon that allowed him to see them at all.
They must have been created by someone writing with his finger in the cement several hours after the cement had been poured, just as it was beginning to harden permanently.

Jim thought the grooves formed letters but couldn’t be sure. Then he had an idea.
He began pumping the water pump again, splashing the water with his other hand over to where the grooves were, then kicked the excess water away with his foot.
Then standing up and turning around he saw the words clearly, etched in the cement: “Talos 20m” and an arrow pointing up the road, past the foundation of the house.

So the message must have been meant for him; few others knew what Talos was.
Jim’s memory of the previous day began returning to him.
After the fight, some of Jones’s men must have driven him and Paul out to this place, and while Jim was unconscious, Paul must have found the still-soft cement and etched the message.
And then they must have left, leaving Jim for dead.

He began feeling sick to his stomach, but hungry at the same time; he hadn’t eaten in about 36 hours.
Feeling weak, Jim sat on the slab and considered his options.
He had to follow the trail, but had to eat something before making the 20-mile hike.
However, there was nothing else to do but begin walking, and hope to find food of some kind soon.

After a few deep breaths, he stood and began walking up the road.
He glanced at the old foundation as he passed it, wondering if there was any chance of finding anything worth salvaging, when he thought he saw a sliver of light among the stones.
Then, the faint sound of voices reached him.
He ran to the nearest thicket of trees as a trap door opened in what must have once been the floor of the now-absent house.
A man crawled out, silhouetted in the light from below, talking to someone inside, “I don’t know. Yeah, tomorrow, I guess.”
He picked up a bucket from near the door, then paused to turn on a flashlight, and walked over to the water pump.

Jim realized the meaning of the message; Talos wasn’t 20 miles away, but only 20 meters!
Jones’s men must be inside, although there were no horses in sight, so at least one of them must have driven them away somewhere.
Jim’s fear now was that the man with the bucket would notice the message etched in the cement.
But the man didn’t seem to. He filled the bucket and headed back to the trap door when a voice called out, “Check on that other guy.”
The man grunted and turned to walk to the place where Jim had woken up.
When he saw that Jim wasn’t there, he looked back at the door and yelled, “Hey! He’s gone!”

A second man poked his head through the door, shouting, “What?!” and climbed out.
The two ran to the place where Jim had lain unconscious and one of them bent down to feel the grass with his hand.
“It’s dry, and warm. He can’t have gone far.”
The first man shone his flashlight all around him, but the beam was too weak to reach where Jim was hiding.
The second man stared at the grass where Jim had been tracing out the footprints Jim had left in the damp grass.
“Looks like he stood up and walked over there.” He said, pointing at the water pump.
The two followed the footprints to the cement slab.
“Let’s see. You must have made those… and then this set goes to… the road.”
They walked to the edge of the dirt road and the second man crouched down again.
“The mud’s packed down too tight. I can’t see the tracks.”
“What do we do?”
“If we had the dogs we could send them out.”
“They’re back in Antioch.”
“Yeah. We shouldn’t have had Ethan take the horses. Well, we know he probably went west that way, toward town. If we try to track him he’ll hear us a mile away. Better just let the guys in town know that he’s heading their way.”
“Bremmer’ll be mad.”
“Meh. That guy can’t have seen anything. He was out cold before we brought him here. Oh well, better get on the radio.”
The two men walked back to the trap door and climbed inside.
Just before shutting the door, the first man shone his flashlight one last time over the water pump, the road, and the trees where Jim was hiding, and then he stopped.
Jim held his breath and realized that the back of his blue jacket must be sticking out from behind the tree.

The second man yelled up from inside, “Come on, already! You’re letting all the cold air in!”
“Just a second.”
The first man slowly closed the trap door, keeping his eyes and flashlight on the tree behind which Jim stood, not moving.
The man walked slowly and silently toward the tree.
He reached out his other hand, and just as he was about to take hold of the jacket, Jim jumped out, grabbed the flashlight, and ran like Hell.
Jim turned off the flashlight right away and headed for the woods on the other side of the road.
The man was close behind, but Jim had to slow down for fear of running face-first into a tree.

, and shut the door.

He felt in his pockets for his wallet or keys but found nothing