Excerpt of the third book in the Talon series. TALON, FLIGHT FOR LIFE
What Was That?
Matica jolted out of her trance-like condition she had fallen in again – bathing in the embrace the condors had given her – hearing that horrific howl that boomed and filled the still air around her like an explosion. Her legs trembled so strongly that she had to lean against the boulder they just passed, or she would have crashed to the ground. Here she held her chest with both of her hands, trying to restrain her pounding, throbbing heart, not able to speak, to look around or to ask what that was or where that had come from. White as a ghost, since all colour had left her face, she stared at the ground in front of her. The hairs stood up at her neck, goose pimples crawled over her body like ants. Hearing a whining now, she put all the effort into her tongue and asked but not looking up, ‘What was that?’ Not getting an answer, she asked again, louder this time, ‘Dad, what was that? Did the puma follow us? Is she giving birth here beside us and is howling like that? But … it didn’t sound like a puma’s howl. It
sounded more like a …’
Presently she heard moaning and groaning nearby, wondering who that could be. It couldn’t be her father. It has to be someone else, it just has to be. But who?
Not hearing anything else, she finally looked up and at her father, who was right beside her. She stared at him, not believing what she saw. He stood on his right foot, holding his left foot up. His face was red and looked distorted as if he was in great pain. The basket had slid over his shoulder and hung on his right elbow. Concerned and horrified that it could have been her father after all, she asked, ‘Dad, what’s wrong? Did you yell like that?’
Still not believing that it could have been her father, she looked around to find the cause of the yell and the moaning. But not seeing anyone else, not even a bird in the sky that could have cried that horrific cry, she at last looked back at her father. And there she heard the moaning and the groaning coming out of his mouth, hopping on one leg. ‘No, that can’t be,’ she whispered, stepping to his side and trying to look into his face.
Seeing his distorted face, the realization hit her like a blow to her head. It was him who had yelled that horrific yell and now he’s moaning and groaning in great pain. That much I know now. But why? What happened? Did the spider follow us after all and has bitten Father?
She shuddered and trembled. ‘Dad!’ she yelled, horrified and in tears as she grabbed the basket that was awkwardly dangling on his arm. He let go of it and she dropped it to the ground. ‘It was you who screamed, right?’ He nodded, not able to say more. ‘What happened? What’s wrong? Tell me.’ She refused to believe that the spider or anything else could have bitten him.
Instead of getting an answer, he hopped on one leg to the boulder then crashed against the rock and slid to the ground. His face was flushed red and was awfully twisted from pain and fright. Sweat stains stood out on his forehead and rolled down his cheeks. His eyes were squeezed shut, trying not to yell out again. His right arm pointed at the ground where he had stood before.
She had a brief look, but seeing nothing, she bent over him, scared beyond anything, and shrieked in horror, ‘Dad, please tell me! What’s the matter?! What happened?!’
As she kneeled beside him she saw tears welling out of his closed eyes. His mouth was clenched tightly together in a straight line. ‘Dad, Dad!’ she shouted over and over and shook him in frustration and alarm. She didn’t know what else she could do. ‘What’s wrong? Did you trip and break your ankle?’ With irritation and not knowing what to do, she shook him and yelled again, ‘Speak to me!’
Finally, through clenched teeth, he told her, ‘My-ankle-bittenpain.’ He bit his lower lip until a drop of blood appeared, colouring his teeth red. Then he pressed more words between his lips. ‘Something-the spider-bit-me-pain.’ An overwhelming pain rolled over him as he rocked back and forth, screaming, ‘Aaaarrrgggh!’ again.
‘Pain? You’re in great pain, because something had bitten you in the ankle? You think it was the spider who followed us and bit you?’
‘I-don’t-know-maybe. I’ve-never-had-pain-like-this-before.’ He grabbed her arm and squeezed it hard. ‘Oooouch!’ she cried out in pain now. ‘Dad, let go of my arm. You’re hurting me.’
‘Sorry,’ he managed to say, let go and grabbed his leg instead. ‘Have-a-look.’
Spider bites hurt. Maya in the clinic said that, she thought as she pulled down his sock to look at his ankle. ‘Have you seen the spider?’ She felt so helpless.
He shook his head. ‘Can-you-see-something?’
‘A red and swollen spot as big as a coin.’ She pulled the sock back over it. ‘Can you walk?’ She offered both of her hands to pull him up. ‘We have to go. Anyway, the spider can return and bite you in your back this time, or will bite me.’
He tried to grin but failed terribly. ‘Always-the-cautious-and-the-caring-one,’ he mumbled. ‘Here we go.’
Crayn pushed himself up. Moaning and groaning, he stood on his good leg.
‘Can you put weight on your leg and walk?’ Matica asked apprehensively.
‘I’ll try,’ he said and put his injured leg very slowly onto the ground. First the tip of his sneakers – that was all right – then, onlythen would he put the entire foot down and put some weight on it. ‘Uuuaaahhh!’ As if his foot got an electric strike his leg flew up. He leaned back against the boulder again. His face was a distorted mask.
But not giving up too quickly – he knew they had to go – he hobbled, supported by the boulder, a few steps along it, but then stopped. He said, ‘Can you see the spider somewhere? Have a look around where I was standing before. Not that it will come to here and bite again.’
She had a quick look around. ‘No, I can’t see it anywhere.’ She looked back at her father, considering then asking him, ‘How is it, Dad? Is it okay? Can you go?’
But then, out of the corner of her eye, in a different direction she had looked before and further away, she saw movement. She turned her head toward it and screamed, ‘Aaaarrrgghhh!’ Petrified, she gazed at the spider that was crawling on its long legs over the
grass towards them, ready to strike again.
‘What is it, Mat? Did the spider bite you now?’
‘No, but it’s crawling over there. See it?’ She pointed. ‘We have to kill it; otherwise it might will bite you again, or me this time.’
‘Yes, you have to.’ He looked at her encouragingly and nodded.
‘Me? How?’ She looked, horrified, at her father. ‘You know I hate spiders and never kill them. Anyway, I don’t have anything to kill it with. I can’t crush it with paper as Mum does with small ones. That’s way too big.’ She became nauseous just thinking about it.
‘Please, do something quick. Find a stick and kill it with it.’
‘You mean flipping it away with the stick, or do you mean hitting it with the stick and so killing it?’
‘Yes, hitting it and killing it. Not flipping it away. It will come back then.’
‘I might be able to do that. If the stick I find is big and long enough.’ She looked around, avoiding going where the spider was crawling.
‘Mat, hurry up! The spider wants me!’ she heard her father yelling after her. She looked back. Sure enough the spider was only about a metre away from his outstretched legs where her father sat by the boulder.
She saw a big stick lying on the ground not too far away and hoped it would be long enough too, because she didn’t want to go too close to it when she had to strike it. Running to it and holding it in her hand and swinging it, probing it, she hoped it would work if she could hit it hard enough. Running back she saw that the spider was less than a metre away from her other leg. She wondered if she could really hit it.
Standing a metre away from the spider and thinking about how she should do it, she grabbed the stick with both of her hands and placed the stick in front of the spider. The spider hit it with its front leg. Matica jumped back. ‘Please, Mat, hurry! Hit it! Don’t play with it!’
‘I’m not playing with it. I’m just trying to measure how I can hit it.’ She swung the stick over her head and tried to hit the spider. But she missed it, hitting the ground beside it instead. The spider turned and looked where the stick had struck the ground. She hit it again and again in anger and fury by now but missed it every time, because the spider moved away. And then to her utter dismay, the stick broke and flew away in a wide curve. The spider continued to crawl to her father’s leg when she looked in shock at the little remaining piece in her hands then at her father. But his eyes were closed. He didn’t see her failures. And there she saw a stone, a stone that would be big enough to drop on top of the spider. But in her panic she didn’t realise that she had to be close to the spider to drop it on top of it. She dropped the stick and ran to the stone and picked it up. It was heavy, but that was all right. It must be heavy. And it must work this time. The spider was awfully close to her father, only another twenty centimetres away from her father’s sneakers. It must work.
But then she stood with the stone in her hands near the spider and her father’s sneakers. Nausea plagued her again as she realised that she had to go closer to the spider so she could drop it on top of it. Horror struck her. But she knew she had to do it now or it would be too late. The stone became heavy in her hands as well, holding it so long.
Next she heard her father yelling as he tried to pull his leg away, ‘Mat, what are you doing?! Hit it!’
Horrified but overcoming the greatest fear she had ever endured, she stepped closer, step-by-step, to the spider. Close enough, she held the stone over the spider and aimed then dropped the stone. She missed, yet again. It rolled away and it came to rest just beside the spider. The spider turned and looked at the rolling stone. But by now she became bold, a boldness she never knew she had. But she had to do it. It was the only way. All her fear was gone. She picked up the stone, in spite of it lying beside the spider and she nearly had to touch one of its legs. The spider turned and looked at her hand, ready to strike. She extended her tongue at it.
Being so close, she just laid the stone on top of the spider’s ugly body.
The stone flattened and squashed the ugly spider. Only its legs could be seen around it. Goo splashed out from under the stone and all over the ground.
She looked at her father, thinking that he was splashed with the goo of the spider. But she couldn’t see anything. She wanted to pick up the stone again, to throw it on the spider again, but it was covered with its goo. So she picked up the biggest piece of the stick she had
used before and hit the spider’s legs with it. The legs didn’t move. It was dead. But she couldn’t stop. She hit the legs again and again, now in a real fury. Green coloured goo splashed out of the legs and all around her.
‘Mat, stop it. It’s dead.’
But Matica struck it again, rolling the stone away. A gooey greenish/black mess lay before her. But you could still see the spider’s legs. Next she threw the stick away, fell onto her knees and sobbed. Panic gripped her. ‘Mat, you did well. It’s all over. It’s dead.’
Matica wiped her eyes with the back of her hand then looked up at her father. ‘Yes, the spider is dead, but what about you now?’ She stood up. ‘Can you walk?’
He tried to walk again but shook his head, leaning against the boulder once more.
‘The pain is too great. I can’t put weight on my foot. Hence, it won’t work.’ He pressed the words over his tightly closed lips, his face twisted in agony. ‘The pain is horrendous with every hop. Walking is impossible. I am sorry, but the pain goes up my entire body. Anyway, I can’t hop the next two hours home.’ He shook his head and looked up at the boulder. ‘We should go up there, so nothing else can surprise us and get us, as you said before. It’s safe up there, I would say. Up there, I’ll take painkillers and we will wait until the pain eases off, then we go home. If not, well …’ He looked, uneasy and troubled, at his daughter, ‘Well, then we have to wait for help.’
‘Wait for help?!’ she cried out. ‘No one knows about what happened.’
‘We’ll think of something. I only hope I can make it up there.’
‘Well,’ Matica said, ‘you know it’s easy to climb and that one slopes even up in an angle. Just for you.’ She tried to grin but failed. ‘You just need to crawl up and I push.’
‘You’ll push me up like a sack of dirt, hey?’ He failed to grin as well.
Good. He hasn’t lost his humour yet, Matica thought, then said, ‘I’ll go up first and see if there is another of these spiders on top. You stay here. I’ll be back in a minute.’
‘I’m not going anywhere, Mat,’ he groaned, and leaned against the boulder.
She climbed up halfway then peeked over the rim. Seeing no spider, she climbed up fully. Standing on top now, she inspected it. Finding nothing more than a few bugs, she flipped them down with her fingers. ‘Dad,’ she then said, looking over the rim down to him, ‘that one is clean with no spiders. You can come up now.’ But noticing that he wasn’t moving and had a blood-smeared mouth, she hopped down. ‘Oh no,’ she whispered. Finding his handkerchief and putting a drop of water from the bottle on it, she wiped his mouth. As she put it back into his pocket, she wondered why he hadn’t moved. ‘Dad!’ she called him.
‘Dad, noooo!’ she yelled. ‘Are you, are you … No, it can’t be going that fast.’ She felt panic bubbling up inside her, like the frothing waves of the sea rising over her head to drown her. But shaking herself, she bit her lower lip, not letting the panic overrun her. I have to be calm, she told herself and put her hand in front of his nose. But feeling his warm breath, she inhaled deeply, relieved. Then she shook him and asked, ‘Dad, are you with me?’
His eyelids fluttered then opened a bit. ‘Yeah, I’m still here. You’re not getting rid of me that easily. Just resting. You climb up and I will pass up the basket.’