#63 – terrified imagination

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.
He could hear them circling above, waiting for him with an ancient, timeless patience. His mind started to
wander. He was in the cool kirk at Aberdeen, neatly dressed in his Sunday suit, seated between his two
brothers. His sister, Mary, and Annie Cord were wearing beautiful white summer dresses, and Annie Cord
was looking at him and smiling. Jamie started to get up and go to her, and his brothers held him back and
began to pinch him. The pinches became excruciating shafts of pain, and he was crawling through the
desert again, naked, his body broken. The cries of the vultures were louder now, impatient.
Jamie tried to force his eyes open, to see how close they were. He could see nothing except vague,
shimmering objects that his terrified imagination turned into feral hyenas and jackals. The wind became their
hot, fetid breath caressing his face.


Copyright © 1982 by Sheldon Literary Trust

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