Tip Of The Spear - 5


The thunder awakes him before the shouting. There are lights in the village. Electrical lights, fierce and white. The sounds of a struggle—the screaming of many men.

Or the loud voice of one, emanating from a singular source. The teacher bolts to his feet. Outside, by the well: the engineer, his shadow unmistakeable. Next to him is one of the Hazara boys, holding up the light. Between the two lies a body, dark and slick and wet.

It takes the teacher too long to realise it’s just water. The engineer fills the bucket from the pump, unloads it over the fallen figure, who screams at the water’s touch. The teacher can’t tell who it is: his voice is not his own. A choir from elsewhere—like a hundred humming threads.

A trick of the dark, maybe, but in the light of the torch the water is rising off him like steam.

“Stay off him—he’s burning up,” the engineer says. He throws the bucket back down and begins priming the pump again. “Watch his eyes, Samir. Watch his eyes. Stay back.”

That last one is to the crowd. The curious of the village are watching, forming a wary circle. The teacher stands in front of them. “There is nothing to see,” he finds himself saying, “nothing to see, stand back.”

As if noticing him for the first time, the engineer turns to him, eyes wide. “You felt that. I can tell.”

“Will he be well?” Samir’s voice is trembling. So is the light—like he’s struggling to hold up its weight. “Ismael, it’s me—Ismael!”

But the boy on the ground only screams. His shirt is unbuttoned, and his body has been wrapped in one of the olive-green tarpaulins from the camp, immobilising his arms and legs. Now and then his body jerks, straining against the canvas, only slackening after an immense effort and another inhuman groan.

“You have to bring him in,” says the teacher. “The exposure will kill him before anything else.”

The engineer continues splashing water. “The mind’s a stronger thing than the body. Contamination like this, the best thing to do is to keep them down. Think of it as chasing the bad energy out.”

“He’s been possessed?”

More thrashing, weaker now. The engineer leans over, pulls the boy’s lids open. “Samir, light.”

The torch is drawn further down. Something’s not right with Ismael’s eyes, the way they’re shaded in the light. Grey like fog. But it appears satisfactory with the engineer, who begins rummaging in his satchel for a hard case of some kind, with the emblem of a three-pointed crown on the front: he draws out a glinting needle from within, and stabs it into the boy’s neck.

Samir, meanwhile, has turned to face the teacher. Sheer terror stretches his face, masklike in the torchlight’s glare. He reaches for the teacher with his free hand, as if attempting to stable himself. The teacher takes a step back involuntarily.

The engineer barks: “Samir, the light!”

The boy, heedless, puts his hand forth, pressing it into the teacher’s palm. In it is clutched a scrap of cloth. Dark, with some sort of card on it: an epaulette, from a uniform, the glint of a tin button. Damp and torn, like it was dragged across sharp rocks, by a body that could no longer support it.

“It came up across the ridge,” he stammers, “it was dark, we couldn’t see, and it had a face like a dog’s…”

The body convulses.

The engineer yelps, falls to the boy’s chest, mutters something low and fast in a language the teacher can’t understand. When Ismael screams again, it is in a softer, singular voice, a pained voice from his own throat and lungs.

The engineer, standing on his feet, scanning the assembled crowd. “What are you looking for?” he shouts—though the edge has left his voice. “Go home.”

“Bring him in,” says the teacher again. “You do not know the cold. Get him covered in my house, and then we will talk.”

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