By Rick Hartford
“Tie me Kangaroo Down, Sport,
Tie me Kangaroo Down”
The man with the floppy canvas fedora bounced along on a jackass leading the prisoners across the desert.
The sun reached its zenith as 100 scorched men lock-stepped barefoot over the broiling sand.
Their left legs were connected with collars and chains as were their throats in the same fashion, the gleaming stainless steel stretching their necks and rattling their brains as they trudged on bloody feet that cooked like steaks on a grill.
“Seven hours now I count ‘em. Seven blooming hours of that same song, over and over. I swear to you, mate, I am going to strangle him and gouge his eyes out.”
That was Calvin talking. I was attached to that man, literally, which made him my friend, as was the man behind me, Roy. The three of us kept each other alive by staying on our feet.
We were fairly close to the beginning of the line of prisoners which spread out in single file like a colony of ants through the valley of the shadow of death, the baddest man in the valley singing on the donkey in front of us.
Then I saw it happen.
I wasn’t quite sure what it was at first. Then I realized that the man with the floppy hat —his name was Ranger (we called him DeRanger) had thrown something into the sky.
When it crossed the sun and became a circular shadow I realized that DeRanger had thrown his canteen behind him high into the air, which started a stampede of prisoners to get their hands on that precious water.
We, my link-mate and I weren’t close enough to be in contention but we were all hauled forward by the chain reaction, lurching, choking, sand in our eyes, falling painfully on our hands and knees. This process was repeated again and again as everyone was pulled forward by the desperation of those closest to the canteen.
Why had he thrown the canteen? Was he, in fact, deranged?
There was a moment of silence save the rasping by my link-mate as we all lay sprawled out on the burning sand. And then we heard it:
“It’s piss! He pissed into the canteen!”
“Watch me wallabies feed, mate,
Watch me wallabies feed.
They’re a dangerous breed, mate”
The man on the jackass turned and looked back and laughed. We all had blood in our eyes, all of us wanting to plunge our fingers into his eye sockets.
Yet it took all of our resources to get back on our feet and continue limping into the never ending desert.
We were all without hope.
“How did this horrible thing happen,” asked the beautiful woman that hovered on a magic carpet above me. She had sparklin green eyes and was humming softly as she handed down a glass of water which I just couldn’t reach.
““Tell me what happened,” she said.
“ We were all recruited as adventurers in ads in the papers and and in pubs and in houses of ill repute, all drawn by the promise of treasure and adventure.
Now all that any of us want is a precious glass of water and the key to remove our bracelets,” I said, still straining to reach the offered glass.
DeRanger was singing again.
“Let me abos go loose Lou,
Let me abos go loose
They’re of no further use, Lou…”
I can take no more!” my link-mate Calvin growled. I tried to calm him but he was out of his head, frothing at the mouth. He had found a rock in the sand and had scooped it up and he yelled out:
“Look at me, you fucker!”
The man with the floppy hat twisted on his ass to see the source of his irritation as my link-mate hurled a rock the size of a baseball.
The rock grazed the top of DeRanger’s head. His hat floated slowly to the ground. One hundred men went berserk, howling like beasts.
DeRanger dismounted and retrieved his hat, shaking the sand off and wincing as he gingerly put it back on his bleeding noggin. Then he was back up on the ass again, holding the reins loosely as he turned to face us.
“You wanted adventure, and glory, didn’t you, mates? You wanted to bring back stories they would remember. How you slayed the cyclops. Kidnapped the daughter of the king. Discovered the buried treasure. They would look at you when you came back and they would say, “you know, he did what I always wanted to do, but didn’t have the guts. So you put yourselves out there and this became your destiny. It was more than you bargained for.”
DeRanger then pulled a key from his pocket and tossed it far away into the sand.
Everybody forgot him and ran sluggishly for it.
“I leave you to your destiny!” DeRanger yelled and, spurring his donkey, trotted off into the west where he became a black shadow and disappeared.
Within an hour everyone was free. They followed the trail of the donkey, a trail which would soon disappear in the blowing sand drifts.
The buzzards followed them.
Calvin helped me to my feet. “Well, we’re off, lad. We will walk through the cool of the night.”
“I’m staying here.” I said.
My link-mate stared at me for a moment. “Are you daft?”
“I”m waiting for a ride. A woman on a magic carpet is coming to pick me up,” I said. “I”m tired of walking.”
Calvin sadly shook his head.
“Suit yourself,” he said gruffly, a tear running down his face. He turned to follow the tracks of the others.
I sat in the sand until the long black night came down like a funeral shroud.
I was alone. Engulfed in the desert’s parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.