Why? Because I’m lying on top of a giant anthill. Once the sun comes up, the ants are going to wake up, head outside and do whatever it is ants do all day. At that point, they’re going to find me here and they’re not going to be happy about it.
Lots of stinging will follow.
It’s not the stinging that will kill me. No, it’s the lying stretched out in the summer sun with no water. That’s what will kill me. The stinging will just make it worse.
I pull on the ropes again, as hard as I can.
No good. The ropes don’t give at all. The stakes they’re tied to don’t come loose. Those Yaqui bastards knew what they were doing.
How did I get here, staked to an anthill in the Mexican desert?
I was riding back from my little adventure at the temple of the bloodthirsty Aztec god Xipe Totec. I was feeling sorry for myself about how it ended, and I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my surroundings. I got down off Coyote to take a piss and four Yaqui Indians jumped me. I never really had a chance.
Lucky for me they weren’t in a killing mood. More of a let’s-torture-this-Apache-idiot mood. They staked me out on my back on top of this red anthill. It’s a big one, at least four different holes. Home to thousands and thousands of ants. Red ones. Mean ones. I’ve tangled with red ants a couple times in my life, when I wasn’t paying close enough attention to where I was standing. It wasn’t what I’d call a pleasant experience.
What’s surprising about all this is that after going to all this trouble, tying me up and staking me down, they didn’t stick around for the fun. They took my guns and my knife and rode off. Just a little while ago.
They also took my hat. One of them was wearing it when he left.
Somehow that bothers me most of all. I understand taking my weapons. I even understand the whole part about killing me. The Yaquis and Apaches have bad blood that goes back a long ways.
But why take my hat? Yaquis don’t wear hats. The only thing I can think is it’s just to humiliate me more.
In case, you know, the whole being staked to an anthill thing isn’t bad enough.
At least they didn’t get my horse. They tried to, but Coyote’s too smart. They never even got close. They didn’t try for that long anyway, probably because Coyote doesn’t look like much, short-legged, long-jawed, kind of a dirty yellow color.
If they’d gotten hold of him, they’d have regretted it, that’s for sure. Because the other thing Coyote is is mean. As mean as a snake with a toothache. He’d as soon bite you as look at you.
Like he knows I’m thinking about him, Coyote comes walking up.
“Hey, boy,” I say.
His ears swivel toward me. He leans his head down and gives me a sniff. I can see he’s wondering why I’m lying here like this, when we have places to go.
“I could use some help,” I tell him.
I can read the look he gives me. Coyote and I are close like that. The look says, You got yourself into this mess, you fool. You get yourself out.
“Useless horse. After all I’ve done for you.”
Coyote wanders off and starts grazing. I’m going to have to come up with another plan.
How long can I survive here, stretched out in the sun, with no water? It’s September and still hot as hell every day, so maybe a day and a half if I’m lucky. By then I’ll be nothing but one big ant bite.
Then I hear footsteps approaching and I twist my head around, trying to see who it is. It’s an old man, wearing a big, floppy sombrero and a tattered serape. He has a large bundle of sticks slung on his shoulder.
“Hey!” I yell. “Over here!”
He shuffles over to me. His feet are brown and wide-splayed in his huaraches. He has large, sad eyes. He looks me over. When he speaks, he has a thick accent, but his English is fairly good.
“Is not a good place to lie, Señor. There are many ants, and when the sun comes up…” He makes little pinching motions with his fingers.
At first I don’t know what to say, his words are so unexpected. Does he not notice the ropes and the stakes? Is he joking? “Are you serious?” I ask him.
He nods sadly. “Is very serious. The ants, they will bite you many times.”
“I know that. I don’t want to be here.” I tug at my bonds to show him I can’t get away. The sun is very close to the horizon. It looks like a couple of early riser ants are already checking out this giant new food source lying on their doorstop. “You have to help me.”
“I don’t have any money, Señor. Nothing to rob. Only these sticks.”
“Not that kind of help.” Right then I get my first bite. It’s inside my pant leg, up by my knee. How did it get clear up there without me feeling it? The bite hurts, and I want to thrash around and try to smash the ant, but that will be a mistake. If I hold still, they may go easy on me. If I go crazy, it’s going to get a lot worse.
“You have ants in your pants, Señor,” the old man observes.
I squint up at him. It’s hard to see his face, shadowed under that sombrero. Is he playing with me?
“Do you have a knife? Can you cut me free?” Another bite, this one on my wrist. This is not going to go well for me.
He ponders this, then slowly nods. “I do.” He turns and starts to shuffle away.
“Wait! Don’t leave! Cut me free first.”
“The knife, it is not here. Is in mi casa.”
“How far away is that?”
He shrugs. “Is not so far. I return by noon. Today, I think.”
“Noon! That’s too long!”
He turns back. “You don’t want the knife?”
“I want you to free me.”
He puts the sticks down, squats down and studies my bonds. A couple more ants bite me. There’s a lot of them on me now, crawling inside my clothes, across my face, exploring this strange new addition to their world. Trying to figure out if they should say the hell with it and simply sting it until it stops moving.
He fumbles at one of the knots. “I am old. I cannot untie this.”
“Maybe there’s another way,” I say, desperately racking my brain for an idea. One comes to me. I whistle and Coyote comes trotting up.
“Get one of the rifles,” I tell the old man. Both the Spencer and the Winchester are still in their scabbards, tied to my saddle. “Hold still,” I tell Coyote. “Be nice and don’t bite him.”
The old man approaches Coyote slowly. Coyote lays his ears back and bares his teeth.
“Knock it off, Coyote! This is serious!”
I hold my breath as the old man moves closer. There’s no way to know what Coyote will do. He doesn’t like letting people other than me touch him, and he barely tolerates me touching him. His early memories of people aren’t all that good.
Coyote makes this kind of threatening sound and his ears are flat to his head, but he plays nice and doesn’t bite the old man or cave his ribcage in with a kick.
The old man draws out my Winchester and stands there looking at it.
“Is a very nice gun, Señor.”
Oh, no. Is he going to steal my rifle and leave me here?
“I’ll give it to you if you free me.” I hate saying that. The Winchester is a nice rifle. I’d hate to lose it. But I think I’ll hate being stung to a swollen lump even more.
He shuffles back over to me.
“Shoot the rope holding my hand.” This is not a good plan. His hands are shaking noticeably. If he’s not careful, I’ll get to add bleeding to death to the list of things going wrong with this day.
“It will ruin the rope, Señor. Is a good rope.”
“I don’t care about the rope!” I realize I’m yelling at him and make an effort to get myself back under control. It’s not easy. I’m collecting new ant bites at an alarming rate. I must have a couple dozen by now, but they’re still just stinging me for fun. Any minute now they’re going to get serious.
He points the rifle at my hand. “Do not move.”
I can’t move, I want to say. That’s the problem.
But I don’t. Instead I say, “Maybe you should get a little closer. So you don’t miss.”
The end of the barrel is about three feet from my hand, and it’s weaving alarming circles in the air. Getting shot has gone from being a possibility to almost a sure thing.
“I do not miss,” he says confidently, and squeezes the trigger.
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Go to Chapter 1 of Ace Lone Wolf and the Lost Temple of Totec.