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  • Ken Hay

Short Story - OLD TOM

Updated: Mar 12, 2020

By Ken Hay ©2019

Two ‘roos, a buck and his doe, made it across the dirt track. The third, a joey, was in full flight when the ‘roo bar of the flat-top land Rover ute struck it and deflected it down under the right front wheel. The joey died instantly. The ute leapt into the air, swung off the track and skidded to a halt in the low scrub. Craig, the junior crew member was sitting on the back with Old Tom who was thrown off. He landed awkwardly and lay still. Craig sprang from the ute and ran back through the dust, Wally and Bob joined him from the cabin. Old Tom’s heart was still beating under Craig’s feeling hand and his chest moved quietly.. “Doesn’t look too bloody good.” muttered Wally. Craig looked up, shocked, at Wally and Bob. “I saw him land. I reckon he’s broken his back.” “Christ! What are we going to do?” Bob asked. Wally thought for a short while. “Look. The ute still seems roadworthy. Bob, you grab it and whip down to the camp, we’re only about a mile short. Bring back the stretcher. Craig and I will do what we can here!” Bob spun the wheels of the ute and took off, raising a huge cloud of dust. “Stupid bastard will do it again if he’s not careful,” growled Wally, coughing on the dust and lighting a smoke. “How’s Tom doing? Have you checked his eyes?”“What do you mean?” “Pull his eyelids up and watch his pupils. See if they are the same size and if they close up against the light.” Craig did so. “Yair. They’re both the same size and they both shrunk together. Where did you learn that one and what does it mean?” “Did a first aid course once. Think it means he hasn’t knocked his brain about.” “Thank gawd for that!” They squatted alongside Old Tom as dusk settled and the heat went out of the day. Silence pervaded bush, declaring their isolation. Neither spoke for a while. Then Wally, grinding his cigarette butt into the dust, muttered, “Don’t fancy explaining this little lot to the boss when he gets back from Perth tomorrow night. He’s a nasty bastard at the best of times but he’ll tear us up for arse paper over this, that’s for bloody sure! “Ah well, we’ll face that lot when it fronts. That sounds like Bob coming now. We’ll move Old Tom back to camp and make him as comfortable as we can while we decide what to do. I could go a cold tinny.” Gently they lifted Old Tom onto the stretcher and placed it on the back of the ute. Wally and Craig sat either size of the old-timer to steady the ride. Wally warned Bob he’d jump through the window and throttle him where he sat if he changed out of first gear.. Bob took heed of the advice.The drilling crew’s camp, deep in the Kimberly’s King Leopold Ranges, was crude – a cluster of dilapidated caravans and an old transportable unit that served as a mess hall and social centre. A small diesel generator provided electricity. They lay Old Tom, wrapped in a blanket, on the mess hall floor. They took it in turns to shower with one always with Old Tom. Later, Bob grilled T-bone steaks which they ate with bread and tomatoes washed down with cold beer. They were on their fourth can when Old Tom suddenly convulsed and vomited. Wally sprang from his chair to rake the sick from Old Tom’s mouth when the jaws clamped shut on his fingers. When the convulsion ceased Wally got his bleeding fingers out and they realised that Old Tom had emptied his bladder and bowels. Bob cleaned up the mess while Craig cleaned and dressed Wally’s fingers. “Wally, what the bloody hell are we going to do now?” Bob demanded. “There’s bugger all we can do!” snapped Wally. “We can’t move him out of here. It’s 80ks to the nearest station over that dirt track. Even if he survived the trip there’s nothing they could do for him. We haven’t got a radio to call for advice – and I’ll be talking to the boss about that when he gets back I can tell you!” Craig checked Old Tom’s pupils again. “Ay! Wally! His left pupil’s smaller than the right one and it doesn’t move any more.” Wally repeated the examination and looked up. “You’re right. That’s it then. He’s knackered ! We’ll have to shoot him.” “Shoot him?” Bob and Craig exclaimed incredulously. “You gotta be bloody joking. He’s been with the boss for 14 years. The boss would bloody well shoot us when he gets back!” cried Bob.“I’ll handle that sod. Look, his back is broken and it looks like his brain is stuffed. We might as well put him out of his misery right now.” “You can’t do it Wally,” pleaded Craig. “Bullshit! It’s the only human thing we can do. Now, no mucking about. You two get the stretcher outside. I’ll get my rifle. Move!” Craig and Bob averted their eyes as Wally pulled the trigger. Craig vomited when he smelled the gun powder. They dug a grave and buried Old Tom 100 metres into the bush then went back to the mess and got stuck into the tinnies. They worked next day but their hearts weren’t in it. Wally called an early knock-off and drove the crew back to camp. They sat around the table with their tinnies saying precious little. The boss arrived just after dark, tired and irritable. “What sort of progress you making, Wally?” he asked as he walked into the mess. “And where’s Old Tom?” “We shot him,” said Wally, keen to get it over and done with. ”You what?” “You heard! We shot him.” “You shot Old Tom? You shot my bloody dog.......”

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