The ground pulsed and shook as hurried footsteps searched nearby. Zamba increased his pace. A small hole was his only compensation for his painful excavation. It wasn’t enough, but it had to be.
As voices and footsteps grew louder, Zamba knelt in front of the hole and inserted his blood and dirt stained fingers deep into his mouth, triggering the loss of his stomach contents. The bile burned as it rose up and spewed out his nose and mouth. He forced more to produce until at last, three small coins lay in the shallow hole.
He closed his eyes and whispered a silent plea; then hastily covered the coins in their temporary grave. Zamba reached into the tree as high as the ropes would allow, and tied a leather band from his sandals to a branch that was out of immediate view. He then broke off another branch and drug in the dirt as he re-traced his path to the tree. With his footsteps erased, he ran toward the angry voices, dragging the tree branch behind him.
A booming voice filled the air.
“Find him! Or it will be your heads on display!” The man roared.
At the sound of Matwanda’s voice, Zamba froze. The bravery that was present moments before had evaporated like all of the water in this forsaken village. He searched frantically for a place to hide, but there was nothing left here. Everything had been turned to ash.
Zamba ran toward the remains of what was once the shaman’s hut and climbed into the blackened, smoking heap. Sections of the dirt walls stood unsteady around him, but the grass roof and wooden supports were lying in heaps of black.
Broken carafes and flasks littered the ground and the smell of potent herbs mixed repulsively with the stench of the burned structure. Zamba crouched down amongst the destruction and searched for something to remove the rope binding his wrists.
Zamba noticed the tip of a knife on the floor and moved toward it. As he reached down, a hand, charred and raw, reached out from the rubble. Zamba quickly used the knife to free himself then lifted the section of the collapsed hut to free the man. The unrecognizable man struggled to speak.
“Drink,” the living corpse whispered, as he opened his scorched hand producing a small bottle containing an odd colored liquid. Zamba pulled the cork and helped it to the man’s mouth.
“You. You must drink. It will save you,” the man wheezed. He dropped his hand and was gone.
Outside, Zamba heard men running and Matwanda’s commanding voice.
“Idiots! Check the hut! There are fresh foot prints!”
Zamba hesitated, but as Matwanda’s voice boomed outside his hiding spot, he swallowed the potion and waited. His eyes grew heavy and his body sunk to the floor.
He awoke to a woman wiping his forehead with a damp cloth. She smiled sympathetically and offered Zamba some water.
“My name is Zuri. You were brought here several days ago. What is your name boy?”
Zamba looked at the woman and rubbed his head in confusion. “I...I don’t know…”
Check back tomorrow to see what happened!