By dusk, Billy Boy was forced to admit they were lost. He'd hoped it would simply be a matter of backtracking to HQ and reporting the massacre. But the longer they walked the more it became clear they’d headed the wrong way. The trail back to the barracks would bear the tracks of the passage of a large body of men and mules, and this one didn’t.
Night fell around them and they were stranded in an ocean of alien darkness. The air bristled with cries and shrieks as animals, the likes of which they could only guess at, called to each other across the nightmare. They decided against lighting a fire for fear of attracting the attention of whoever had attacked them. Instead they huddled miserably between the swollen bole roots of a massively distorted tree.
Morning brought little by way of relief to their misery. McGruder awoke with a black beetle the size of his hand perched on his chest and managed to panic swat it away before it bit him.
“Fuckin’ place.” he griped, dismissing the entire continent as a waste of his time.
Billy Boy was more concerned with their lives being wasted. They were cramped, exhausted, hungry, thirsty and lost. Other than that they were doing just fine.
“Let’s take stock,” Billy Boy said, “We have no food, no water, one pistol, ten rounds of ammo —”
“One compass,” McGruder interjected.
“One- What? What did you say?”
“Aye. A fookin’ compass bonnie lad. Ma great grandaddy’s grandaddy gave it to us. Handed it doon like. A right fookin’ heirloom this is.”
McGruder dug in his pocket tugged out and brandished at arm’s length a small brass-bound case. The cover was ornately engraved with the four directions and a seraphim’s head blowing a gust of wind westward. McGruder caught Billy Boy’s expression and for once in his life he made a good decision.
“Here,” he said taking Billy Boy’s hand and placing the compass in it, ”you can have it. Personally I dinnae even ken how to read the fookin’ thing. D’ye think it’ll help at all?”
The stupid expression on McGruder’s face was as wide as the Savannah.
Billy Boy flipped opened the compass lid and the steel blue needle quivered slightly, like an old friend, nodding gentle greeting, passing on the right road home.
“Look,” McGruder said,“aboot back there.”
He licked his lips and glanced around nervously as if afraid of being overheard.
“Ah’m willing tae admit I may have lost mah heed for a while. But I was afeared for mah life mon.”
Billy Boy stared at him, waiting.
“Like I said you can keep yon compass. It’s worth a pretty penny I can tell you. You just have tae promise me you’ll no tell anyone about what happened back yonder.”
Billy Boy nodded assent and flipping the lid of the compass shut he stowed it in his tunic pocket.
“Alright mate, don’t take on so. I mean, we was all in the same boat back there. Look, we better get a bleedin’ move on. See if we can’t find our way to Fort Beaumont, eh.”
Causes Luke James Supports
Doctors Without Borders