#32 – began to crawl

The barn was a hastily thrown-together structure built of corrugated tin, off the main
street at the edge of town. At ten o’clock Jamie arrived there. It was dark, and he felt his
way carefully. He could see no one around. He stepped inside. “Hello …”
There was no reply. Jamie went slowly forward. He could make out the dim shapes of
horses moving restlessly in their stalls. Then he heard a sound behind him, and as he
started to turn, an iron bar crashed across his shoulder blades, knocking him to the
ground. A club thudded against his head, and a giant hand picked him up and held him
while fists and boots smashed into his body. The beating seemed to last forever. When the
pain became too much to bear and he lost consciousness, cold water was thrown in his
face. His eyes fluttered open. He thought he caught a glimpse of Van der Merwe’s servant,
Banda, and the beating began anew. Jamie could feel his ribs breaking. Something
smashed into his leg, and he heard the crunch of bone.
That was when he lost consciousness again.
His body was on fire. Someone was scraping his face with sandpaper, and he vainly
tried to lift a hand to protest. He made an effort to open his eyes, but they were swollen
shut. Jamie lay there, every fiber of his being screaming with pain, as he tried to remember
where he was. He shifted, and the scraping began again. He put out his hand blindly and
felt sand. His raw face was lying in hot sand. Slowly, every move an agony, he managed
to draw himself up on his knees. He tried to see through his swollen eyes, but he
could make out only hazy images. He was somewhere in the middle of the trackless
Karroo, naked. It was early morning, but he could feel the sun starting to burn through his
body. He felt around blindly for food or a billy can of water. There was nothing. They had
left him there for dead. Salomon van der Merwe. And, of course, Smit, the bartender.
Jamie had threatened Van der Merwe, and Van der Merwe had punished him as easily as
one punished a small child. But he’ll find out I’m no child, Jamie promised himself. Not
anymore. I’m an avenger. They’ll pay. They will pay. The hatred that coursed through
Jamie gave him the strength to sit up. It was a torture for him to breathe. How many ribs
had they broken? I must be careful so they don’t puncture my lungs. Jamie tried to stand
up, but fell down with a scream. His right leg was broken and lay at an unnatural angle. He
was unable to walk. But he could crawl.
Jamie McGregor had no idea where he was. They would have taken him to some place
off the beaten track, where his body would not be found except by the desert scavengers,
the hyenas and secretary birds and vultures. The desert was a vast charnel house. He had
seen the bones of men’s bodies that had been scavenged, and there had not been a scrap
of meat left on the skeleton. Even as Jamie was thinking about it, he heard the rustle of
wings above him and the shrill hiss of the vultures. He felt a flood of terror. He was blind.
He could not see them. But he could smell them.
He began to crawl.
He made himself concentrate on the pain. His body was aflame with it, and each small
movement brought exquisite rivers of agony. If he moved in a certain way, his broken leg
would send out stabbing pains. If he shifted his position slightly to favor his leg, he could
feel his ribs grinding against each other. He could not stand the torture of lying still; he
could not stand the agony of moving.
He kept crawling.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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