Disclaimer: I own nothing. Purely for entertainment.

The Silence

It should have been apparent that something was wrong the
minute they had reached their destination. However, Judson shrugged
off the feeling as mere imagination. Mac glanced cautiously around,
but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Gabe felt the oppressive air
and knew that this was not the place for them to be.

"Judson, are you sure this is the place?" Gabe questioned
the leader of Adventures Inc.

"Gabe, I checked the coordinates. According to the curator at
the museum, this is the spot noted in Cortez's diary as where
Estevanico was taken," stated Mac as she turned toward the young

Judson left the two looking over the map again as he wandered in the
canyon. The group had come to the canyons of Texas to find the
"supposedly" treasure of Estevanico, an African slave who was part of
Cortez's expedition. According to the legend, Estevanico was
given a gold ceremonial bowl for healing the son of a local chief.
He had hidden the treasure from the Spanish conqueror. He had
witnessed what had happened to other tribes who exhibited signs of
gold. Estevanico did not want this to happen to this tribe. He had
then placed an African curse on the dwelling place of the object as
further protection from the Spanish.

"See I told you we were in the right place." Mac shot a smug
expression at her companion.

"Okay, but this just feels wrong," Gabe muttered. Mac cuffed
him on the shoulder. "Leave the brooding to the master." Shestated nodding her head in Judson's direction.

Gabe went to the back of the jeep and began to unload the equipment
and gear. Mac watched Judson for a minute, then turned to help
Gabe. They unloaded their camping gear first. Mac began to set up
camp, while Gabe set up the delicate equipment that would help in
their search.

Judson shouted down to the pair, "Hey, I am going to check on the
other side of this slide. I'll be back in about 30 minutes."

Mac waved her hand in acknowledgment and returned back to her self-
appointed task.

Every so often, Gabe or Mac would stop and wipe the sweat from their
faces and take sips of water. The temperature in the canyon was just
98 degrees, but the dry air sucked all moisture from the area. The
constant, warm wind provided no relief from the oppressive heat.

"Okay, we have been here about 3 hours and I am already tired of
the wind. Does it ever stop?" Mac complained as she leaned up
against the jeep.

"According to what I have read about this place, nope," Gabe
replied with a quick grin at the disheveled woman. It wasn't
often he saw Mac looking like a wrung out rag, and the sight was
amusing. But he knew better than to let her see his amusement. Mac,
when she was hot, was not to be trifled with.

"Hey, how long has Judson been gone?" Mac suddenly

Gabe's muffled voice came inside the tent, "Probably about 20
minutes or so. What time is it?" He crawled out with a
connecting wire in his teeth.
"I have 4:00. What time did he leave?"

Gabe stood up, concerned. "I thought it was about 3:00. He was
only supposed to be gone 30 minutes. You don't think he got in
trouble do you?"

Mac smirked at Gabe. "More likely, he lost track of time and has
been mooning over some pottery shard." Inside, though, Mac was
worried. Judson knew better than to wander off.

Mac grabbed her back pack and threw Gabe his. "Let's go find
him. I'm getting hungry, and he's in charge of supper

The pair began to climb the formation known as "Devil's
Slide". The loose shale caused Gabe to slip a couple of times.
Once, he slipped on a particularly large piece and would have slide
down the entire side if not for Mac's quick reflexes in catching
his flailing hand.

"Be careful. We are about 3 hours from any type of civilization,
so any injures will be handled by me," Mac warned the young
computer genius.

Gabe shuddered violently. "Mackenzie Previn, RN. That is enough
to scare anyone into being safe. No offense, Mac, but your bedside
manner is more Terminator than Nightingale."

Mac grunted as she continued her climb up the rocks. Gabe grew
concerned as he realized that Mac had been hiding her concern for
their missing leader.

Finally the pair reached the top of the slide. Mac shielded her eyes
against the sun. Gabe reached into his backpack and took out a pairof binoculars.

Mac scanned the desolate terrain. All she could see was scrub brush
and rocks. Nothing moved on the floor of the canyon.

"Gabe, do you see him?" Mac's hand reached out to grip
his arm.

He continued to look around, trying to see Judson's bright red
shirt. "Nothing. Damn. Mac, what now?"

"We go down," Mac stated as she began the perilous trip down
the loose shale.

Chapter 2

Judson watched Mac wave in response, then turned and headed to the
other side of the slide. He contemplated the best way to reach the
bottom, but every way looked dangerous.

Instead, he focused his attention up. "Maybe if I go
higher," he thought, "I might get a better lay of the
land." Judson began to pick his way higher up the canyon. After a
few minutes, he pulled himself up to a small tableau. There was just
enough room for him.

Judson looked down and picked out Mac's pink tank and Gabe's
purple shirt. They weren't that far away, but the terrain made
it seem they were. Everywhere Judson looked it was desolate. The
only green came from the numerous cacti or occasional mesquite tree.
A large bird circled lazily in the sky. It was the only sign of life
Judson had seen since he had entered the canyon.

"Okay. The diary stated that Estevanico was taken toward theKneeling Woman Mountain. Let's see if we can find it."
Judson reached for the binoculars attached to his belt.

He searched the horizon. A formation about 4 miles west looked
promising, as did a formation 5 miles south. Judson checked his
watch. "Damn, I'm late. Mac will have my head if she has to
come looking for me."

Judson replaced his binoculars and turned to make his way back down
the slope. However, his hand knocked a stone away from the side. He
felt a searing pain in his right forearm. He jerked his arm back and
his hand dislodged a baseball-sized stone that hit him directly on
the side of his head.

Judson felt pain explode in his head. He stumbled near the edge of
the tableau. He could feel himself falling backwards, but at the
last minute he flung himself forward, smashing directly into the
rock face.

The pain in his head increased. His arm burned. Mercifully, the
darkness closed around him, blocking out the pain as he slumped to
the ground.

Judson lay on the tableau, hidden from sight of those who searched
below. He never heard the nearby voices call his name. He lay alone
with his head bleeding and the poison of the rattlesnake coursing
through his body.

Chapter 3:

Mac and Gabe made it to the bottom of the canyon in record time. Mac
was starting to get scared. She turned a worried face to Gabe, who
wore an equally worried expression.
"Something is wrong. Judson would not be gone this long without
somehow contacting us," Gabe declared. He took a swig of water
from his canteen.

Mac yelled out again for Judson. "Damn it, where the hell is
he?" Mac's fear was evident as she angrily stalked about.

Gabe reached over and grabbed her arms. "Mac, he is not here.
He could not have gotten this far. We need to backtrack." Gabe
attempted to soothe his distraught friend.

"I know he is not here, Gabriel Patterson! I need to know where
he is!" Mac jerked her arms from his grasp. She began to retrace
her steps.

Mac's mind began whirling, "Oh God, what if he is….No,
don't say that. I refuse to let that be a possibility. But, he
has never left me for this long without some type of sign." Mac
leaned her head back and rapidly blinked her eyes. "Keep it
together Previn. Gabe does not need you to fall apart. You've
got to
be strong for him. God, look at him. He is not cut out for this.
You should send him back to camp in case Judson has returned."

Mac turned to Gabe and started to speak, however she was interrupted
by him. "Don't even say it. I am staying here. He is my
friend too. He would be looking for me. Don't worry, I
won't slow you down."

Mac swallowed the words and mutely turned back to her climbing. They
finally reached the top of the slide. Gabe stood next to Mac,
desperately looking for some sign of Judson. The sun was slowly
setting in the west. They had about thirty or forty minutes of light
left. After that, it would be too dark to see anything. Their
search would have to wait until the morning.
"Gabe, you go down and see if he has returned. I am going to
climb a bit higher and see if I see him," Mac ordered.

Gabe stared at her intently before slowly nodding. He pulled out a
pair of two-way radios from his back pack. "Call me if you see
him. "We don't have much time left." With that, Gabe turned
and made his way down the slide and back to camp.

Mac looked up and started climbing the side of the mountain. This
was dangerous. It was really becoming too dark to see properly, but
if she was fast enough, she could at least make it to the next shelf
before the dying light forced her to turn around.

Her feet and hands nimbly felt the terrain for holds that could bear
her weight. At last she felt the edge of the shelf. Her hands
grasped the edge and she prepared to pull herself up the rest of the

Instantly, she felt a tearing sensation in her right hand. She
grasped the offending object and flung it behind her down the
mountain. Pain lanced through her entire body. Gingerly, she
finished pulling herself up and lay panting for breath.

Mac turned her head and froze. Not a foot away lay Judson's
still form. She crawled over to him. She carefully turned his face
to the dying light. The purple bruising and red blood smeared across
his face told the story. She then noticed his arm. The twin dots
and red swelling made clear the urgency of the situation.

Mac scrambled for the radio. "Gabe! Gabe! Gabe!" she screamed
in panic. Her heart was racing with fear. Mac could face many
things, but not the sure knowledge that if she didn't do
something, Judson Cross would die.

Gabe's heart skipped a beat as he heard Mac's desperate voice
come through. He quickly grabbed the mic and spoke. "Mac what is

"I found him, Gabe. He is hurt bad. He has two huge lumps on
his head, and it looks like he got bit by a rattlesnake."
Mac's teeth chattered.

"Okay. I am coming up again. Together, we should be able to get
him down. Hang on."

"Gabe, wait. You can't do that. You need to get a doctor
here, "Mac told him.

"Mac, the cell phones won't work down here. I'd have to
drive to the top of the Caprock just to get a signal. That's
wasted time Judson doesn't have. When I get to the top of the
slide, shine your light down the side. That will help light my
way," Gabe replied as he mentally reviewed the contents of their
med kit.

Mac glanced down at Judson's pale face, and then to the twin
holes that marred her own hand. Gabe was their only hope, but only
if he got help. There was no way he could get them both down.

She grabbed the transmitter, "I got bit too. I am going to try
and take care of myself, but realistically I don't know how much
help I am going to be. Plus, with the sun going down, the climb is
treacherous at best."

Gabe swore violently. Judson hurt . . . dying. Mac injured . . .
possibly dying. What was he supposed to do? Gabe hit the side of
the jeep in frustration.

Gabe collected his thoughts and spoke into the mic, "Mac, takecare of your arm first. Do you know what to do?"

Mac's voice sounded very far away as she confirmed that she did.

She grabbed her knife and made two cross-cuts across the bite. The
only indication of her pain was a swiftly inhaled breath. She then
began to try to suck the poison from the wound, but realistically Mac
knew that enough poison had already entered her bloodstream to be

"Okay, Gabe. I've done what I can for myself. You need to
get going. We are counting on you." Mac's voice sounded

"In a minute. Tie something around Judson's arm, but not too
tight." Gabe waited for confirmation. "Mac, answer me . . .
have you done it?"

Finally, Mac's voice returned. "Yeah, but Gabe, I don't
know how much longer I can function."

Gabe whispered a silent prayer that this plan would work. "Mac,
I need you to lay down next to Judson and cover up with your
blanket. You have to keep him and yourself warm. I am going for
help. Do you still have that flare gun in your back pack?"

Silence greeted his question. Panic gnawed at him. "Mac . . .
answer me."

"Yeah, I found it."

"Good. Now, stay awake. You need to stay awake for Judson. I
will be back very soon, okay?"

"Okay." Mac whispered. "But, Gabe, hurry. I don'tknow how much longer I can last."

Mac's words terrified Gabe. Never before had he heard the tough
woman sound so young and scared. Normally she was the invincible one
getting him out of trouble. Now both Judson and Mac were relying on
him. Gabe could not afford to make any mistakes.

"I will, Mac," he finally replied.

Gabe jumped into the jeep, and with a flick of his wrist, started
it. Mac watched with glazed eyes as the two red tail lights faded in
the distance.

Chapter 4:

Judson' body was on fire. He moved restlessly in an attempt to
get cooler. He flailed his arms trying to get loose from the
confining bonds around him. Hazy images seemed to dance in front of
his eyes. He could see Gabe, smiling one minute, then the light dying
in his eyes as a red blossom appeared on his chest. He could feel
Gabe's body fall heavily into his arms as Stefan laughed
manically. Judson cried out as he tried to stop the blood pouring
from the wound.Gabe looked up at Judson accusingly.

"If only you hadn't asked me to come, I would still be alive.
This is all your fault. How could you let him kill me? I believed
that you would take care of me. The Great Judson Cross, a failure
because he couldn't stop a madman."

Judson stared, horrified, as Gabe's face and body melted away to
nothing in his arms. "Gabe! Gabe!" he hoarsely cried.

Mac tried to hold Judson down before his actions knocked them both
over the side of the shelf. Her strength was waning and waves ofsleep washed over her. Valiantly, she fought back. Judson's life
depended on her. She had to stay awake. The temperature had dropped
noticeably, so she wrapped the blanket closer around them.

Judson's anguished cries caused her heart to clench. She could
only imagine what he was dreaming. She began to whisper soothing
words to the distraught man.

Judson looked up from the space where Gabe's body had been to
stare at Stefan. He tried to lunge at the figure, but felt his arms
and legs bound. He lay helpless on the floor at the mercy of Stefan.

Stefan circled him while sharpening a knife. Suddenly, Mac appeared
in the doorway. Judson called out to her. "Mac! He killed Gabe!
You need to get the knife from him!" He was confident that Mac
would save him and seek revenge for the murder of Gabe.

Mac nodded once before confidently walking into striking distance of
Stefan. She grinned at Stefan before launching herself at him.
Judson waited with bated breath for Mac to beat the hell out Stefan
and save him.

His eyes filled with confusion as Mac grabbed Gabe's killer and
proceeded to kiss him. One of Stefan's hands roughly grabbed her
hair as their mouths violently mated. Coming up for air, Mac turned
to Judson and laid her head on Stefan's shoulder.

Her voice mocked the pain and confusion in Judson's eyes.
"Oh. Did you think I was here to save you?" She said
condescendingly. "Now why would I want to save a pathetic soul
like you? Did you really think I would want to stay with someone who
can't protect his friends? Did you think that I might actually
love you?" Mac's voice ended in laughter.

She kneeled closer to Judson. "You had potential, but you blewthat when you failed to keep Gabe safe. Why would I trust you with my

She stood and crossed back to Stefan's arms. "Stefan protects
those whom he claims. I hope you burn in hell, Judson Cross, for
betraying your friends." Mac swiftly kicked Judson in the
stomach. Judson grabbed his middle with one hand and stretched the
other out to Mac in entreaty. However, she and Stefan dissolved before
Judson's eyes.

Judson was suddenly alone in the room. Tears trickled from his face
as he came to terms with his failures. How many times had Gabe or Mac
been put into danger because of his foolishness? He wasn't worthy
to have them as friends. And now they had left him. Proof that he was

He closed his eyes and gave into the pain in his body and heart.
What good was living if those who you lived for were gone?

Mac felt the change in Judson's body and in his breathing. She
sighed with relief that the fever-induced dreams had apparently
stopped, but the tears on his face bothered her. Her Judson
didn't show his vulnerable side often. What was going on in that
brain of his?

Mac wrapped her arms around his writhing body. He was burning up.
Sweat poured off his body. She had tried to pour water in his mouth
earlier, but her movements were uncoordinated and feeble. The poison
dancing through her veins was making coordination difficult. She
pulled Judson closer to her and drew the blanket tighter around them.

Chapter 5:

The tires on the jeep spun in the loose dirt as Gabe hurled thevehicle up the treacherous path. Time was of the essence. There was
no telling how long Judson had been up on that ledge.

He mentally reviewed all his limited medical knowledge. He didn't
remember the specifics, but he did know that without treatment Judson
and Mac would die. He was scared to death. He had never had to be the
strong one before. Yeah, he was there to watch Judson and Mac on a
dive and such, but he knew in his heart that if he wasn't there,
they would be alright.

Gabe could hear his father's voice reminding him how he was a
screw-up and not reliable. His father had predicted failure when Gabe
had decided to join Judson's crew. Now, if Gabe failed, not only
would he prove his father right, but Judson and Mac would be dead.

He slid to a halt at the top of the caprock. Grabbing his cell phone,
he leapt from the jeep. He dialed 911 and waited. Nothing. He looked
at the phone. No signal.

"Dammit to hell." He threw the phone to the ground in a fit
of anger. His mind was whirling. How could he save Mac and Judson if
he couldn't even call for help?

It would take hours to drive to the nearest town. Even then, there
was no telling how close a medical-rescue helicopter was.

"Think. Come on Gabe. You can do this. Just calm down and
think," Gabe told himself.

Suddenly, he grabbed the cell phone from the ground and quickly
opened up the back of the jeep. He grabbed various electronic
equipment. If he could just boost the signal enough to catch an
orbiting satellite, he could call for help.

Gabe knew that he was making a decision that would decide Judson andMac's fate. If he failed, there would not be enough time to go
for help, and they would die. But, he trusted his instincts and
proceeded to tweak the cell phone's signal capabilities.

After about twenty minutes of work, he dialed in the state emergency
number and waited for it to ring. He was greeted by silence. It was
not working. He had failed. He had failed Judson and Mac. He
crumpled to the ground, a single tear etching its way down his face.

Gabe could picture their bodies still and lifeless. The guilt crushed
down on him. Why didn't he just go for help when he had the
chance? How dare he think he could save Judson and Mac.

Then, in his mind, Gabe heard Judson's voice reminding him that
he was a valuable and important member of the team. He had many times
used his technical wizardry to help them out of a tough spot.

Gabe wiped the tear from his face. He stood up and started working on
the equipment again. He pulled wires loose and reconnected others,
all the while sending prayer upon prayer that Judson and Mac were

Finally, he was confident that this would work. He dialed the number
again and waited. After a pregnant pause, he heard a voice pick up on
the other line. Gabe breathed a sigh of relief before giving the
operator their location and situation.

Mac turned and looked at her watch. Gabe had been gone for over 4
hours. Something had to have gone wrong. He could have wrecked the
jeep or maybe he was injured. Maybe dead. Morbid thoughts filled her

How fitting that all three would die at the same time, she thought to
herself. It was time to give up the fight and just let go. Judson wasgoing to die. There was nothing she could do to save him. This was
one instance that her skills were useless.

In a way, Mac was glad that she would not be there to mourn
Judson's and Gabe's passing. She had been the sole survivor
before, but when she joined Judson and Gabe that was supposed to be a
thing of the past.

Mac looked down on Judson's still face. His breath barely stirred
her hair. She could feel the life draining out of him. One hand
reached out and caressed his face. It was funny how he had given her
peace. Hers had been a violent and stressful life before Judson. He
showed her how to temper the violence within her and find the joy in

Mac's mind recalled Judson grinning up at her, his hair slicked
back with water. Images of shared laughter, promising glances, and
unspoken words flashed before her. Her heart broke as the
possibilities withered with their potential deaths.

Gabe's face intruded on her images of Judson. A small smile
touched Mac's mouth. Gabe had been the brother she never had. She
felt protective of him, but she also enjoyed their camaraderie. Many
times they had conspired to torment Judson. She was going to miss his
infectious smile and quick wit.

Mac's eyes grew heavy. She could feel herself losing
consciousness. She welcomed the darkness. The fight was over.

Suddenly, a bright light filled her vision. Was this death? She had
heard tales of a bright light at the moment of death. But this light
was not peaceful. It hurt.

She felt herself being pulled and twisted. Mac tried to strike out
at the unknown. It was taking her away from the peaceful blackness.A voice echoed through her brain.

"Mac? Mac? It's Gabe. We're here. Let go of Judson.
It's okay. You did it."

The voice was familiar, but Gabe was dead, right? The voice commanded
that she let go, so Mac released her tight hold on Judson. Then she
felt herself being gently lifted and placed next to him.

She felt weightless as they were lifted up from the shelf and into
the waiting helicopter.

Gabe watched anxiously as the rescue workers loaded his injured
friends on the helicopter. He grabbed Mac's hand as they strapped
her down and brushed the hair from her face.

The technicians had to work around him, since Gabe had no intention
of letting Judson or Mac go anywhere without him. He continued to rub
Mac's hand and was finally rewarded with her eyes opening

Mac's vision cleared enough so that Gabe's face appeared. She
weakly nodded her head at him so he would lean down. As his face got
closer, she whispered, "You did good kid. You did good." Then
she succumbed to the blackness.

Gabe looked over at the technicians. "Well, how are they?"

The lead tech looked up with a very serious expression. "They are
alive, but only time will tell if they make it. But, I will tell you
this, if you had tried to drive for help, they would'a died before we
got here. It is a good thing you got a call through. You know,
you're a hero." He then turned back to his patients. Gabe
smiled slightly and once again resumed his vigil of watching over his

As the helicopter sped away, a dark figure watched from the northern
face of Kneeling Woman Mountain. When the distant lights of the
chopper had faded, the figure melted back into the shadows. The
explorers would be back, and it would be waiting.

The End (?)