Excerpt from CALEB

He was enjoying the day, singing "Go down, Moses, ‘Way down in Egypt land, Tell old Pharaoh, To let my people go," making up verses as he went, when he heard a loud snap then a high pitched whistle. An ear-shattering scream followed from down the line where Avery and Kelly were working that made Caleb’s heart skip more than one beat.

He dropped everything and ran, skidding to an abrupt halt when he reached the two men. Avery was screaming, caught up in the top strand of new barb that had snapped, coiled and wrapped around his entire body. Barbs sliced his exposed skin like a knife cut fat on a roast, leaving mean, red gashes and blood oozing from each one.

Kelly was trying to help Avery, but every time he pulled one strand away, another took its place, digging and slicing, causing Avery to scream again and again.

"Get me out of here!" It was an order and a plea.

"Don’t move. The more you struggle the faster them barbs is gonna eat you up. Jest be still."

"What should we do?" Kelly asked Caleb. "I tried, but I can’t git him out."

"Both of us is gonna have to git him out. An’ we gots to do it quick, befo’ he bleeds to death," Caleb said under his breath. Caleb had seen men bleed to death in minutes after being shredded by a wild animal and the more Avery struggled, the more likely he was to do just that.

"I seen a man attacked by a bobcat once, his skin torn like Avery here, who didn’t last an hour."

Kelly’s face blanched. "I didn’t mean for it to happen…"

Caleb grabbed Kelly, who seemed more useless than useful right now, by the front of his coat. "Git holt of yourself! We gots to git this wire off himnow!"

Kelly took a step backwards and rubbed his face. "Okay, okay. Tell me what to do. I ain’t been doin’ this fencing stuff for long. Only a few months. I didn’t know it was too tight."

"That don’t matter now. Go check the wagon box for a pair o’ wire cutters. If they’s none there, we’s gonna have to roll this wire off him. Go on, git!" Caleb shouted when Kelly stood gaping.

Avery was screaming again, oblivious to Caleb and Kelly’s conversation. Every time he moved the wire sliced. "Get me out of here!" he screamed over and over.

Caleb sidled up next to Avery, his eyes wild and his breathing labored.
"Can you help me?"

"I’s gonna do my best. Thing is, you gots to stop movin’ like I tole you. Kelly’s looking for wire cutters. We’ll git you out in no time if we gots wire cutters."

"And if we don’t?"
Caleb heard the fear in Avery’s voice, but acted as though he hadn’t heard the question and surveyed the situation instead. The wire had recoiled from six posts up. It was wrapped at least four or five times around Avery’s body. The man’s heavy coat had buffeted a good part of the barbs around his torso, but his legs, neck and head were being cut to ribbons. Blood was oozing through his pants from gashes on his thighs, knees and calves above his boots. His hands were covered with blood and Caleb couldn’t tell if he’d sliced the big veins in his wrists or not, and he’d only missed having his jugular cut by a fraction. His ears, cheeks, nose, forehead and neck were bleeding heavily, too.

Kelly skidded to a stop beside Caleb. "Can’t find no wire cutters."

Caleb hung his head and shook it. It was going to get ugly. He sucked in a deep breath and turned to Kelly. "It’s up to us then."

Kelly nodded his head. "Tell me what to do."

Caleb found the broken end of the wire and began to unwind it. Painstakingly slow, he peeled the wire away. With each length of wire pulled back, he handed it to Kelly to roll and keep from coiling back on Avery. Avery screamed each time a barb was pulled out, or another sliced a new spot, but there was no help for it. The man soon just laid there, numb to the pain, allowing Caleb to roll him back and forth in order to unravel the wire.

Nearly a half hour later, Caleb rolled the last of the fence off him. Trying to grab some place on the man that wasn’t cut and bloodied, he and Kelly put Avery in the bed of the wagon.

"Find me some rags, anythin’ to stop the bleedin’ an’ wrap him up wid," Caleb told Kelly, who took off to do as told.

Avery gazed at Caleb through slitted eyes. "I…" He coughed, grimacing in pain.

"Don’t say nothin’ Avery. Jest be still an’ let me git these cuts cleaned up as best as I kin."

Caleb ran his fingers over Avery’s face and neck to see how badly he was cut. His face was a bloody mess. Overall, there were lots of small cuts and one long one in his cheek. Nothing on his face was critical and the blood was already starting to dry, but he’d be left with lots of reminders of what had happened. It was his legs and wrists that worried Caleb most.

"Can’t find no rags, Caleb. Not a thing," Kelly said, breathless, when he returned.

Avery was barely conscious. His eyes were rolling in his head, opening and closing and his breathing was shallow.

"We gots to git the blood stopped or he’s gonna die!" Caleb looked around and remembered his scarf. He jerked it from his neck. "Give me yours." He held his hand toward Kelly. "An’ your knife, too."

Using Kelly’s knife he cut the scarves into strips. He needed water. There were puddles of melted snow and ice all around them. With the water being so cold it might help stop the bleeding, he thoughtafter he got the blood wiped away and could see the kind of injuries he was dealing with.

"Go find a puddle wid clean water in it an’ wet these strips." He handed Kelly half of the rags. "Wring em’ out an’ bring em’ back. Quick!"

Again Kelly did as he was told, and without hesitation.

When Kelly brought back the wet rags, Caleb used one to wipe the blood from Avery’s wrists to see if the veins had been cut. One had been nicked and was bleeding heavily. He wrapped it tight with a dry rag and tied it off. Finding the other cuts on his wrists were superficial, he moved on.

He cut Avery’s pants up to his crotch to reveal several long, mean-looking slices on his thighs and knees. "Hold these." He placed Kelly’s hands on the wet rags he’d put on Avery’s thighs and pushed his hands down. "These are bleeding pretty bad. We has to get the blood to stop flowin’ befo’ we kin wrap ‘em, so keep pressure on ‘em till I tells you to let go."

Kelly nodded and held tight. Avery had slipped into unconsciousness. The only way they knew he was still alive was by his slight breathing.

Caleb moved to Avery’s knees and upper calves. There hadn’t been as much damage there. He wiped them off and staunched the blood. The bleeding of his head wounds, with the exception of the gash on his cheek, had slowed. Caleb wiped Avery’s cheek again and held the rag to it a few minutes before the bleeding slowed then stopped. Blood was crusted and oozing on the rest of his face by now, so after he cleaned Avery’s face and neck as well as he could, he used one long piece of cloth to wrap his cheek and face then another for his neck.

Kelly pulled back the rags from Avery’s legs. "They’ve stopped bleeding."

"Good. Wipe ‘em off an’ I’ll wrap ‘em up."

Another ten minutes and they had Avery bandaged and ready to go.

"He’s shivering," Kelly told Caleb as the wagon started forward.

Caleb remembered the horse blanket on the seat they used for a cushion. He pulled it out from under him. "Here, put this on him. Tuck it in tight. He needs to stay warm."

Kelly grabbed the blanket, stretched it over Avery and tucked it in tight around him.

"We done all we kin. Gots to worry now about infectionif he survives." Caleb looked into the sky. "It’s in His hands now."