Halfway around the hill, he was walking at an angle when the earth suddenly gave way beneath his feet. A loud crack echoed through the night. Moments later, he felt the pain, understanding then that the cracking sound had been his right leg snapping. He clamped his tongue between his teeth to suppress his cry. Blood began to flow in his mouth. A wave of shock swept through his body.
After a blackout moment of nausea and panic, he used his arms to pull his lower body out of the old shaft and began moving again on only three limbs, dragging his now useless leg behind. He had gone only a few feet before summoning the courage to look down. Jutting from a tear in his jeans below the knee was a white protrusion where no protrusion should be. Worse than that, he was bleeding, and he knew he couldn’t afford to bleed.
After what seemed an eternity of clawing and dragging, he made it to the other side moving as fast as one leg and two arms could take him. The sound of motorized vehicles and the voices of increasingly angry men became more distant. About a mile from the hill, the pain in his damaged leg and the weakness from blood loss finally got the best of him and he began to crawl on his belly. Red desert sand overwhelmed his nose and mouth while his precious lifeblood continued to spill. His vision faded in and out not long before he fainted from exhaustion.
Even weaker when he came to, unaware how much time had passed, he looked down to see his pantleg now soaked red. Reaching down his filthy hand, he squeezed the denim to salvage what liquid he could and then brought his hand to his mouth to lick the coppery fluid from his palm and fingers. Still, he felt himself grow weaker. Rolling onto his back, he saw the sky was now a dangerous shade of pink. His vision again grew fuzzy.
At that same moment, the earth beneath him began to tremble with the sound of machines.
Looking up, he saw the sky was brighter still and knew he was done for. He didn’t exactly know what would happen when he was exposed to the sunlight. But even a fish out of water knew it was over. He used his arms to raise his body from the ground.
Off in the distance, a large machine bore down on him, heading straight for him. As the sky grew brighter and the machine larger, he found himself curious just which of the two would win: the hateful men who hunted him or the blasted sun. His own ineptitude was almost laughable. Eight hours without human assistance and it was all over. Some vampire, he thought. Real scary.
He might have laughed, but at that moment a sharp pain shot up his leg. He looked up and saw the machine was now closer. Grimacing, he turned onto his belly and the movement reopened his wound. Once again he felt his lifeblood drip from him. The sky was brighter now. Dawn was seconds away. He had to struggle to stop from passing out. His vision began to haze over anyway.
The roar of the giant machine drew closer, the sound exploding in his sensitive ears. Then, it was on top of him, whipping his hair in the breeze as it moved past. He looked up and saw it was no more than ten feet away. It took his foggy mind another moment to realize it was a train, moving about three-quarter speed along invisible tracks.
Gathering his remaining strength, scowling in pain, the boy stood on his good leg and watched the train pass by. He hopped toward it, dragging the useless leg behind. Stumbling alongside the train, waiting and hoping for some sort of handhold or open door, he was in its shadow when the first rays of the morning sun appeared. He felt himself burn.
Howling in anguish, he closed his eyes and thrust out his hand to grab hold of anything at all, when he felt a hand take his own in a firm grip. He was all but unconscious now, but the strong hand held on. He felt himself dragged for a moment, then felt a second strong hand grab hold and lift him off his feet.
Moments later, he was in the cool shade of a railcar, where two sets of hands half dragged, half carried him to the corner and lay him facedown upon a bed of straw. While turning him over to get a better look, they bent his damaged leg. A howl of pain escaped his throat. Convulsively, he bared his teeth. He heard hushed gasps and whispers. Opening his eyes, he saw they were all monsters.
A bulbous headed man giggled in a corner. Above him, an ancient little girl stood beside a hunchbacked creature from another world. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness entirely was the monster bending over to peer into his mouth. The beast then said words in a language the boy didn’t understand.
“Ees git tha coise . . . guh ma a banket.”
The last thing he heard before sleep overtook him for the day was the frail little girl with the face of an old woman ask excitedly, “Can we keep him?”