by W. B. Garvey
Excerpt from Panama Fever:
The snake's headless body thrashed furiously, oblivious to its own belated death. Thomas stood quivering, the branch hanging useless in his hand. He still had not budged when Henri Duvay came racing to the logwood tree, his pistol braced to re-fire.
'Are you bitten?' he shouted anxiously.
It took a moment for the question to seep into Thomas' consciousness. 'Not me, monsieur!' he cried, 'Diego!' He aimed the trembling branch to where his friend had sunk with his back against the fluted tree-trunk. 'I was ahead when I heard him yell. I came as fast I could ' the snake was on his neck! The bloody thing wouldn't let go ' it wouldn't let go!' Thomas slammed the branch at the huge brown snake on the ground, still twitching violently. 'Oh, Jesus ' Diego!' he cried, seeing his friend start to jerk with convulsions. 'What do we do? We need to get him to doctor!'
'I'm afraid there isn't time ''
'What are you saying? We can't just fold our hands ' surely!'
Thomas ran to stoop by his friend as the seizures which had been becoming more rapid and frequent, suddenly ceased. Diego gazed up at him weakly and started to speak but then his lashes sagged heavily and a trickle of blood leaked out from his eyes. 'For God's sake, Henri ' help him!'
With starch-faced calm, Duvay holstered his gun and knelt by the diamond-backed snake which now lay still after twisting the last thrashes of life from its tail. 'Young Valladares was extremely unlucky ' that's a lethal bushmaster.' Duvay got back to his feet without looking at Diego. 'It's too late,' he said with ice-cold frankness. 'Look ' there's no point your staying here to weep,' he said impatiently, hearing Thomas choke back a sob, '' I'll have one of the junior men help you with the measuring. I told you before we left that I only have a few days to complete this survey ' we've barely gotten started ''
Thomas was no longer listening as he bent down and hugged his friend. Diego's light blue shirt was slowly turning scarlet as the gruesome flows increased. Blood began to stream out of his ears and nostrils and as Diego sat up to gag, a bright red geyser came gushing from his mouth. When the bleeding youngster finally drooped as if falling asleep, Duvay nudged his proteg' gently on the shoulder but Thomas pushed him off roughly. 'Move, if you're not going to help!' he cried, grabbing for the knife at his belt. 'Diego showed me what to do! ' I need to cut a cross at the wound and suck out the poison '' he muttered, his hand shaking as he searched the blood-smeared neck in vain for the marks from the viper's fangs.
'I told you ' it's hopeless. The venom has already spread to his nervous system. What blood he has left is turning to water ''
'No, God! No! He can't be dying!'
Duvay grasped Thomas with a fatherly grip and pried the knife from his trembling hand. 'There's nothing to be done. He won't have long to suffer ''
'Damn you ' he's still breathing! We're not that far out ' can't we at least carry him back to Gatun village?'
'To what purpose? I can't waste valuable time. You know the doing it took for me to get this many engineers to help us today.'
When Duvay tried to pull him up from Diego, Thomas pushed him back and charged off. He ran on heedlessly, seeing nothing but blood. He crashed through brush and low-hanging branches then suddenly felt sick. He stopped with his scratched hands braced to his knees and saw that his trousers were splashed with blood. He puked a long thread of saliva then collapsed onto the ground. He sprawled there feeling his head set to crack from its furious pounding. From back in the copse he could hear the junior engineers who'd just arrived to replace Sosa's men shouting out for Duvay.
Minutes passed before Thomas was able to force his fluttering legs to hold him up and stagger back. He was almost there when he heard a chorus of ooh-la-la's erupt from the gathered Frenchmen. He arrived in time to see them staring with cautious excitement as Duvay held up the murderous bushmaster and sliced it down the middle to prove his prediction that the snake was heavy with eggs. Behind him, Diego lay slumped against the tree, covered in blood.
The last thin straw snapped inside of Thomas. He prayed that when Duvay displayed the depth of his callousness Diego's soul was already free of that bloodied, bloodless corpse.
Copyright ' 2009, W.B. Garvey