Legal Disclaimer: This was a very early short fan story I wrote many years ago. The concept of Immortality as imagined in the Highlander universe and the character of Duncan MacLeod I don't own... obviously. All others are original with me.
No Place to Run... No Where to Hide
Caleb Dawes saw the flash of light before he heard the crash and the sound of the explosion. Somewhere down the 'holler' there'd been a car crash... of that he was certain.
Caleb shifted his shotgun in his arm and whistled to the dogs... Minnie and Mickey his youngest had named them. He liked the names... perhaps it was a good thing to send that young'un to the public school after all. Lula had been bristling with ideas and excitement ever since he'd agreed. Not that he'd had too much choice once the county officer had figured that the Dawes had a school-age child.
They were an older couple. Their children long grown... then Lula had been born... a late child... more like a grandchild. Caleb's missus had home-schooled the other kids... he'd seen no reason why she shouldn't do it this time too. But the county'd had other ideas.
By this time... Caleb had clambered down the side of Pritchard's Holler toward the site of the accident. There weren't too many people in this area of the county... so he'd do his duty and check this out. 'Sides... it was on his way home and the hunting today had been less than satisfactory. He only had three rabbits and a polecat in his poke.
The shadows were long by this time of day. Darkness always seemed to come early in the fall months... earlier than people thought it should. Perhaps they were still wishing for the long warm evenings of summer... and not yet ready for the long nights of winter. For whatever reason... Caleb had wandered farther in his hunt than he'd planned. It would be full dark before he got home, especially if he stopped to check on this accident.
Already he could see some flames reaching toward the sunset as if to join in the fiery tint of the evening skies. The rain of the past week should keep any real fire from getting started... still he'd have a look. Likely even before he could get word out if the fire spread... the firewatchers in their towers would know.
As he came upon the site of the accident... Caleb could already tell that the flames were dying down... finding no purchase in the damp undergrowth beside the curved road. Only the vehicle... what was once a late-model Toyota continued to burn. It looked to Caleb as if the car might have tried to avoid some deer that might have happened on the road and, likely going too fast had slid off into the gully, overturned, and exploded.
Caleb shook his head. City folks! They too often drove these roads as if they were on some racetrack! The crumbling asphalt was too often treacherous in these parts... too often it looked safe... and wasn't. Somehow the county kept promising road repair... but the roads that got repaired were the ones closer to the towns... not the ones out here... not the ones which only a few ever used.
A movement near the burning car caught the mountain man's eye. In the shadows he could just make out the crawling form of a woman. Swiftly he whistled the barking dogs to sit and climbed down into the gully to help.
She had reddish hair... cut short... above the shoulders... and was wearing jeans and a red sweatshirt. Blood streamed from a cut on her scalp. He leaned down to grasp her arm... startled by the look of terror in this young woman's eyes.
"I'm Caleb Dawes... let me help you Miss," he said, then turned and spat his chaw of tobacco out of his mouth. He wiped his mouth and then grinned a bit toothlessly at her.
The woman nodded briefly, moaning as she did so, then held up one hand to clasp his. Gently he helped her to her feet and guided her further away from the wrecked car.
"Look's like you was in a bad one Miss... Now watch your step... it's kinda slippery here." By this time he had one arm about her shoulders, holding onto her gently as the two of them climbed to the road.
Once on the pavement, the woman's legs buckled and she collapsed. The dogs whined to investigate but Caleb gave them another whistle to keep sitting. He needed to check this lady out and two sniffing dogs were not something he thought she'd appreciate right now.
Behind him the flames were even lower. Above... he could see the stars beginning to peek out as the sky darkened. He'd have to check her fast and then take her home with him... his and Millie's place was the closest. They'd think tomorrow about what to do then.
His gnarled and sun-tanned fingers felt the woman's scalp for the seriousness of her injury. He could feel a knot on her head... but no laceration. He wasn't certain about just where all that blood had come from. But he'd heard once that scalp wounds bled pretty freely. He wiped some of the blood away with his bandanna. "There now... do you hurt anywheres else Miss?"
"Hurt..." her soft voice was shaky, "I hurt all over... but less than I did... Richard." She turned toward the car and made to run to it.
Caleb held her back. "If he's in there Miss... he's a goner.... sorry." He looked around in the gathering gloom. "I can let the dogs check to see if'n they find someone?" When she nodded, Caleb whistled to the dogs to search. He knew they'd look about... if they saw anything... smelt anything... they'd freeze and bark. They were good hounds! But the dogs made no sign they'd found anything.
Meanwhile, Caleb finished wiping the woman's face. "Do you know your name Miss?"
"Yes... Diana... Diana Hamilton." Tears were mixing with the drying blood smears.
Caleb felt her arms and legs... "Well... Diana Hamilton... don't look like you got any broken bones. Like as not we can travel. Me and my missus... we live not far from here. In the light at the cabin... we can tend to you better. Right sorry about your man."
Diana covered her mouth with her hands and began to sob. "I told him he was going too fast... but he laughed at me... at my concern. Then that stupid deer was in the road!" Her voice broke up as the sobbing grew stronger.
Caleb looked around. He was a practical man... not given to social graces or involvement in the lives of others... but he couldn't leave this woman here injured and alone in the dark. He'd take her back to his place and let Millie deal with her. Then they'd get her into town. Tomorrow likely. He doubted he could get the truck up and runnin' tonight. "Yeah... deer do that this time of year... They jump out in front of you and then run off unless you hit them. Round here..." Caleb grinned, "We tend to hit 'em!"
Diana Hamilton laughed. It wasn't a chuckle or a roar... just the sound of someone suddenly seeing the absurdity of avoiding a deer and ending up dead.
"If you feel like it now... we can go... Could be somebody'll happen along here... Want I should leave a note as to where you are?"
Caleb found the stub of pencil he always carried and the little black book with its lined pages. Quickly he wrote a message in the book... tore out the page... and anchored it with a rock on the gravel edge of the road. Anyone stopping to investigate in daylight would know he'd taken a survivor to his place. It was all he could do.
He retrieved his shotgun and poke... helped Missus Hamilton to her feet. She leaned on his arm heavily at first... although not so much as before. Caleb whistled to his dogs and they headed to the other end of Pritchard's Holler... and home.
Overhead... it was now full dark... and from the wreck there was only a low glow and a few sparks. The way home would be dark as there was no moon tonight... but Caleb knew the way.
It took almost an hour. He could see Millie's shape in the rectangle of light that was an open door. Caleb whistled the dogs to head on in. That way Millie'd know he was on his way. Within moments he could see her move from the open door... so that he could focus on it as a lost ship might have focused on a lighthouse beam.
Within his cabin... he could see the flickering glow of firelight and lamplight. They had no electricity here. Oh... he'd thought about it. But he and Millie had lived all their lives without it... he didn't need it. And Lula seemed just fine without it. The county worker had sniffed a bit as she'd inspected the cabin. But Millie kept a clean house and a proper one. Everything was neat as a pin... electricity or not. They had no running water... a cistern and a pump did for them... always had. Nor did they have a telephone. It was the lack of a phone that had worried the county worker most. "What if something happens to her? To you? How would you contact anyone?"
"Got a truck." Caleb had said and spat. That seemed to have pretty much settled things. Lula would have to go to the county school... but as long as she attended regularly... she could live with them. "Hell," Caleb had thought at that. "She's our daughter. You'd think we had no clue as to how to raise a child." But he'd said nothing. The world was much different than it had been when he and Millie had been young. He'd learned a long time ago to agree to the rules and then to quietly do, as he needed to. No fuss... no big brouhaha... just a quiet life.
"See there Missus... that's my place... mine and Millie's. We got us a little girl, too... Lula Belle. My great grandpappy settled on this land two hundred years ago. We Dawes' never saw no reason to go elsewhere. Wait'll daylight... you'll understand."
Diana Hamilton, instead of becoming weaker and wearier during the journey had actually seemed to gain strength... as if she were not so badly hurt after all. It was still a miracle to Caleb that the young woman was alive at all. He gently guided her toward his cabin.
Once within the mountain home... Diana seemed very much out of place. She was tall he could see... even taller than his own five foot eight... but then... he wasn't all that tall. Millie was tinier still... five foot two perhaps, heavyset, her long, graying hair twisted up on her head, a plain flour sack apron over her faded red calico dress. She wiped her reddened hands on her apron and smiled with a quizzical look.
"You bring us some company, Pap?"
"This here is Missus Hamilton," Caleb began...
"Diana... please..." the woman looked around and smiled.
"She had herself an accident. Thought I'd bring her home and fix her up. Thought I could take her into Hickory tomorrow to the sheriff's office or to the hospital." Caleb carefully removed the shells from his shotgun and placed it near the door. The shells he put in his pouch and hung that on a nail above the shotgun. He hefted the poke. "I better go clean these. Think you can manage."
"Go on you old fool... this is women's business!" Millie shooed him from the cabin. "And wash up, Pap, dinner'll be soon."
As he left the warm light of his cabin... Caleb could see Millie bring a bowl of clear water and a clean rag to wash Diana Hamilton's injuries. Across the table... Lula was working on her sums for school... but the child was all eyes at the newcomer. And her face was filled with the questions Caleb knew the girl wanted to ask.
After a meal of possum stew and cornbread... Millie had changed the Hamilton woman into one of her own flannel nightgowns and laid her to rest in their featherbed. "You... you old fool can have the barn or the floor or climb the loft to Buddy's old room. I'll keep an eye on her... but for the life of me I can't figure out how she has no bruises... no cuts... no injuries a'tall."
Caleb had nodded. "Yep... I thought she shoulda died like her man." He'd go out to the barn in a bit. The truck was up on blocks and he'd need it tomorrow to take the woman into Hickory. He seldom kept the tires on the old truck or the battery in it. They just seemed to last longer if he didn't. If he worked on the truck tonight and slept in the cab... they could head out right after breakfast. 'Twas a Saturday... so Millie'd stay here with Lula... but he'd be gone all day. It was about three hours into Hickory from here in that old truck of his... and an hour or two with the sheriff to settle things likely... then the trip home. It'd be an all-day affair. No sense in takin' Millie away from her cannin' and winterizin'. Nor in keepin' Lula pent-up in the truck all day. Kids need to have time to run and roam. So it had always been.
Dawn found him curled up in the truck cab. Caleb stretched, fed the dogs and horses and pigs... milked the two cows, gathered the eggs from the chickens, and then headed into the cabin to the smell of bacon and flapjacks. On Saturdays... Millie always made flapjacks for Lula. The child was always all grin as she poured molasses onto hers and dipped the bacon into the gooey sweet nectar. Today was no different.
Caleb poured himself a cup of strong, hot coffee and settled into his seat... nodding warmly at Diana Hamilton.
The woman was dressed once more in her own clothes. Millie must have soaked her sweatshirt some over night and then dried it by the fire. Most of the bloodstains were gone. Diana looked fine this morning. She had no bruises or other injuries... and seemed relatively fine... except for the sadness about her. "Well," Caleb thought, "She's lost her man." He made conversation during the meal... learning she was a marketing consultant... whatever that was... and she and Richard had been on vacation.
"We thought we'd see the turning of the leaves... all the fall colors," she said with a sad little smile. "We never thought that this might be the end for us."
Millie'd held her hand and patted it sympathetically. Caleb had concentrated on his breakfast. Best to take care of creature comfort first... then he'd be ready to face that long drive into Hickory.
Less than half an hour later Caleb and Diana Hamilton were in the truck, and slowly on their way into town. Behind him, Caleb could just make out Millie standing with her hand shading her eyes while Lula ran and danced about the yard. The dogs followed along to the gatepost and then as trained barked him on his way and returned to stand guard over his family.
When they passed the site of the wreck... they'd stopped and checked the car. The note was still there so Caleb pulled it out and wrote another one saying he was taking a survivor into Hickory. Diana climbed down and peered into the burned-out Toyota. He heard her sobs as she saw the burned body Caleb knew had to be there. He let her have a good cry. She likely needed to do that. Then he called out to her that they needed to go.
Diana wiped her tears with the back of her hand, squared her shoulders, and climbed up beside him. "What if I just wait here?"
"Not a good idea Missus. You might still have a head injury... I wouldn't feel right just leavin' you here."
Diana nodded with a sigh. She glanced once more back at her car and then climbed once more into Caleb's old truck. Likely she'd realized there was nothing here for her anymore. She needed to report the accident... get a hearse out here... collect Richard's body for burial... and move on with her life.
Caleb knew what it was to lose people you loved... how hard that was... how necessary it was to move on with life. Buddy... his only son... had gone to war in Vietnam and died there. Jennie had died in childbirth... she had been little more than a child herself. And Cassie had left to live in the capital... and died there of some street violence. Caleb had gone to claim her body and brought it home. With all their children dead... they'd settled in quietly for their old age... at peace with an ending of Dawes's living in Pritchard's Holler. Then Lula had been born... a gentle reminder of the joy of living and the grace of the Lord Almighty that no man ever fades completely away from the face of the earth without someone to remember him.
But this woman had no children... only her memories of the man she'd loved. As she spoke of her life... of being an orphan... of foster families and no blood kin... Caleb was saddened for her. He had no words that would ease her longing for family and for kin.
It took longer to get down the mountain road than Caleb had planned. There'd been a tree across the road at one point. It happened up here. Caleb was prepared with chain saw and axe. But it took time. So... when he'd reached the main road he figured they'd stop at McGinty's. Diana Hamilton looked as if she could use a sip of somethin' cold and maybe a bite of somethin' to eat. She hadn't eaten too much breakfast earlier. Like as not... the accident had taken her appetite for a while... but a good glass of Jack McGinty's sweetened iced tea might hit the spot.
Caleb pulled into the gravel lot next to the truck stop restaurant and parked the old truck. As Diana got out she halted a moment and held her head.
"You okay Missus?"
Diana blinked her eyes several times and swallowed. "Fine I just had this funny feeling... like a buzz-saw going off in my head." She shook her head carefully a few times and then collapsed back onto the truck seat. Caleb hovered... once more concerned that she had some head injury despite her seeming not to be injured. Diana lowered her head into her hands as though dizzy.
A step on the gravel behind him made Caleb turn swiftly. There stood a blonde-haired man, well dressed, an expensive long mohair coat over his shoulders. "Is the young woman all right?" he asked.
Caleb spat at the gravel and nodded. "You a doctor."
"No... not a doctor... but perhaps I could assist the young woman." There was something about the way that he said those words that made the hairs on the back of Caleb's neck rise and prickle. "Thanks anyway... but she's with me." Caleb leaned down and helped Diana to her feet. She shrank from the stranger with a gasp. " 'Scuse us Mister, I got to get her inside." Caleb brushed past the man and helped Diana into the restaurant. After he got her seated he glanced out at the man still staring at them. Finally the man returned to a black car, got in and drove slowly off. Caleb felt relieved... and as the man left... the strange dizziness Diana Hamilton was experiencing seemed to fade.
She smiled weakly at Caleb. "Sorry about that... I'm not certain what that was. But I feel better. How about that tea you said was so good?"
Caleb nodded and grinned toothlessly. "It's okay, Missus, you've had a rough couple of days. Don't give it another thought. Now we could call the sheriff from here if you want... but I still think I need to get you into town to the hospital."
"Call me Diana, Caleb... You've seen me at my worst... and any man who's seen me that way can call me Diana," she chuckled. "Let's just drink the tea and drive on into town... It's what... about thirty more minutes?" When Caleb nodded she settled back into the red leatherette booth. "You may be right about the hospital... I certainly need to get checked out. I feel fine now... and that scares me. I shouldn't feel fine... I should hurt... I should have bruises... I should have healing cuts and scrapes... but it's as if I was never in an accident." She sipped gratefully at the tea.
"It's mighty strange Miss... Diana," Caleb grinned. "But sometimes these things happen. My grandpappy once told me of seein' a man shot dead by a Cherokee arrow. Two days later he walked back into Hickory as if it had never happened. Grandpappy kept his mouth shut about that feller bein' dead. But a coupla years later... that feller was shot in a poker game. That time when he got up... people thought he was a demon and rode him outta town. Grandpappy swore to me that tale was a true one. So I tend to keep an open mind about miracles. And you survivin' is a miracle. The Lord has a plan for you..." Caleb reddened a bit... he did not know what Diana's religious beliefs were... only his own... "And until the plan is complete... he'll be watchin' over you... no doubt about that!"
Diana had laughed then... the first real laugh she had expressed since the accident. Perhaps she was beginning to accept what had happened. They finished the tea and returned to the truck.
They'd only been on the road five minutes when the truck slowly sputtered to a stop. Looking under the hood, Caleb noticed some loose wires... wires that had not been loose last night. He was re-attaching them when he heard a car pull up behind him. Diana gasped once more as she held her head.
Caleb turned and saw the blonde-haired man exiting his black sedan. Confidently, the man approached. The closer he got... the more Diana seemed to react. Finally she climbed out of the truck and began to run into the trees. The man smiled and started after her.
Caleb leaned into his truck and pulled his shotgun. "Mister... you better leave her alone. I got friends around here... if I shoot you... there will be no inquest."
The man turned and spread his arms. "Shoot me then you old fool!" The smirk on his face seemed to dare Caleb to try. Caleb pumped the shotgun. As the man turned to follow Diana, Caleb fired twice. The man staggered and then fell to the ground... a red bloom covering his chest. Caleb spat. He knelt by the man and made certain he was dead. Feeling no pulse, he stood and called out to Diana. Hearing nothing... he started after her.
He found her near a boggy pond amidst the trees. In the heat of the late fall afternoon, he could hear the hum of insects over the occasional sobs of the young woman. "Did you know him?"
"No... but being near him made me feel... I don't know, sick. He would have hurt me... Is he dead?" she suddenly met his gaze.
Caleb shrugged. "In these parts... a stranger who messes with a local usually ends up dead. It's the way of it here. I had a feelin' if I didn't kill him... he wouldn't have stopped comin' for you."
Diana suddenly gasped again... once more holding her head. Caleb looked over at the edge of the clearing and there stood the stranger... bloody shirt and all. He fumbled for more shells. But he had none.
"She is mine!" the stranger yelled. "You... you have no business in this!" he pointed at Caleb.
Caleb turned his shotgun around like a club... and stood before Diana. "I beg to differ! It is you who have no business here. I don't know how it is you still live... but bother her again and you will die."
The man laughed as if Caleb's words meant nothing. He spread his arms and rushed at them. "Then kill me old fool." Caleb swung the shotgun and felt it connect with a satisfying clunk. Then the man turned... grabbing it from Caleb's stunned hands. He tossed it away while drawing a sword from beneath his coat. "So be it!" he said and slashed Caleb across the chest.
The world seemed to swirl and turn about him as Caleb collapsed onto the ground. He heard Diana scream as her arms went about him.
What happened next... Caleb was at first uncertain as to whether it was dream or miracle or little bit of both. He heard another male voice call out to the man... a voice that sounded strong and determined.
"Kelso... you will leave them be."
"Duncan MacLeod," the first man hissed.
Caleb heard then the clang of swords. Diana, moaning slightly, was attempting to stem the bleeding from his chest wound. Caleb kept watching the dark-haired and the blonde-haired man fight with their swords as if they were angels of light and darkness dueling for the sake of one immortal soul. Back and forth and round about the clearing they fought. The clash of steel on steel became a constant staccato accompaniment to the throb of Caleb's beating heart.
The men fought into the edge of the bog. Black water splashed about them as they continued their fight.
The dark-haired man finally seemed to get the upper hand and slashed at his opponent who dropped his sword and fell to his knees. "There can be only one!" the victor said quietly and then slashed strongly across the neck of his opponent. Even as the blonde-haired man's head fell from his shoulders... an eerie light filled the clearing. As he lost consciousness... Caleb Dawes thought he saw the lightning of the Lord reach out and lift the victor into the air.
When Caleb returned to consciousness... his chest hurt like hell. He still felt a bit dizzy and he most definitely did not want to move or cough. He was not even certain he could take a breath.
"He's awake," Diana knelt beside him. "Caleb... Mr. MacLeod has called for an ambulance. They'll be here soon. You're going to be all right... You have to be. But he needs you to say nothing of what you saw."
Caleb met the brown eyes of the man called MacLeod. "You're like that feller my grandpappy once told me of... a feller that can't die."
"That's right Caleb... but you must never tell anyone."
"Who'd believe me... But what about that feller's body?"
" I'll take care of it. Just don't mention anything about what happened to him. We're going to say he ran off when I happened on the scene."
Caleb managed a nod, "Diana?"
"Mr. MacLeod is going to help me now Caleb. He's been explaining to me what has happened to me. I don't know yet if I quite believe it... but I think I can trust him. Just as I knew I could trust you."
On the road Caleb could hear the sound of the ambulance.
MacLeod rose, "I'll direct them in here."
Caleb let out a ragged breath. "Need to let my Millie know what's happened. She'll be worried."
"I'll see to it that when we go up to the accident site... we let Millie know. Caleb... don't worry about anything. I'll pay all the bills. You just concentrate on getting better." She looked up as the EMT's entered with a stretcher.
Caleb lay back. He was content. He'd seen a miracle of the Lord the way his grandpappy had. He'd told him once, "Keep true to your faith and always do right by people young Caleb... and if you're worthy... the Lord may grant you just a glimpse of his infinite power." Caleb could almost hear his grandpappy cackling. He'd seen one of the battles of heaven... and he'd live to tell Lula's children about it one day. He was certain of it.