The moment my foot left the boulder, I knew it was a mistake. The ravine spanned nearly twenty feet and had a depth at least twice that. I wouldn’t have taken the risk on my best day. But this wasn’t my best day; blood streamed from a bullet wound in my side and Troy still hunted me.
I had to jump or die.
My trajectory was wrong, descending too fast. My filled backpack became a hindrance, an anchor. Falling short, I wondered why I‘d even tried.
Faith spilled from me.
All my sacrifices were for naught. The treasure I carried was certainly lost.
The world slowed, softened, blurring with pastels as I reached the apex of my flight. The parched rubble in the dry wash below called to me, seducing, rushing ever nearer. The pain in my side eased and I watched myself plunging as if at a distance.
Death seemed so effortless, freeing.
A breeze descended, circled. “Trust.” Silent whispers. “Trust, trust.”
I closed my eyes.
Shattering thunder nearby, echoing through the crevasse. Rifle fire. An impact between my shoulder blades. Breath left me as my arms flailed in desperation.
Troy was relentless, determined, and an excellent marksman. He wouldn’t rest as long as I held tight to the prize.
But it was mine, I’d found it.
Propelled by the bullet’s velocity, I tumbled out of control, a wounded pheasant. The opposite bank spun closer. I gasped, inhaled. The slug lodged in my cargo.
The treasure saved me.
Impact a foot below the rim; granite gouged my face and chest. Reaching, no grip to hold myself. I kicked against the embankment, clawed the dirt. Splintered nails tracked my descent. Stones broke beneath me, clattering down in tiny landslides.
The weight on my shoulders cost me balance, my instincts screamed to let it go.
But I’d sold all I owned. It was precious.
Something, firm, brown, almost invisible through the grime in my eyes, brushed my palm. A root. Sage brush above. Strong, thick. I grasped, twisting my fingers into every strand. I pulled, contracting muscles already torn, ripping the wound in my side until it felt as if satanic claws shredded my body from the inside out. I swallowed a groan swelling in my throat.
Troy was close. He would hear. His next shot wouldn’t miss.
The buckle across my waist wedged among the rocks. I pressed sideways; the scraping of the metal clasp grated, but remained trapped. The buckle secured the pack; the pack held my fortune, my salvation.
I needed to free myself, but the hope, I couldn’t …
With one hand I released my hold. Bruised fingers fumbled against the binding. I slipped, spun, my grip failing. Steel caught, resisted … then opened.
Loosed, the riches sagged low on my back. Tears stung my cheeks. I swallowed, my clench tightened on the now loose belt.
A caress of wind about my ears, “Trust, trust, trust.”
“Trust what?” My words scratched. “Who?”
Dirt by my head erupted. A roar, deafening, near. Gunshot.
“Drop the pack!” Troy stood where I’d leapt, teeth bared, brow creased. “The next one’s in your skull.”
I pulled the backpack up to me. “Mine …” The root shuddered, tore.
He swore, his voice demonic with rage. “I shoot you or that thing drags you down. Either way, you lose it.” Laughter, staccato and short, burst through thin lips.
The ridge above loomed, cluttered with heavy stone and thick scrub. Out of reach. Below, the belt in my hand … the pack. The strap and buckle dangled beneath. Beyond, nothing … until the rocky wash.
He was right. It was over. I loosened my hold. The belt began to slide from my clutch.
Troy lowered the rifle, his voice a ridiculing scoff. “Good boy. I knew you never believed.”
A murmur in the draft, “Trust, trust, trust.”
The last of the leather slipped into my palm. Spirit driven, I clenched my fist anew. The sudden weight tugged as if alive, dragging me down.
I released the root.
The wind pulled.
I began to fall.
I swung the pack up, up, high above my head. The buckle clattered among the boulders lining the ridge …
… and caught.
Hand over hand I struggled.
Fury roiled across the divide. Troy took aim …
… and fired.
I rolled behind a solid rock … shards of granite peppering my back, the shot errant … my pearl of great price safely in tow.
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