Awoken by a slap to the face, Sam winced at the fierce sunlight with his body buried up to his chin in dirt. ‘What the—’ Sam’s heart pounded, unable to move. Lungs, mouth, nose and eyes were filling with choking red dust.
‘Bout time you woke up,’ said Ren, squatting down in front of Sam.
‘Ren, let me out!’
‘Why? When it took me hours just to getch’ya in there.’
‘You’ve had your fun. Now, take your photos and drag me out of ‘ere.’ Spying Ren’s ute with a small fuel container close by, realising they were in Ren’s backyard. Which was anywhere to nowhere. ‘You’re hurting me.’ Sam struggled to get free, but the earth just gripped tighter.
‘Bulldust!’ Ren leaned in closer to the buried male. ‘You’re in no pain. I know you’re not.’
‘I can’t breathe.’ Sam heaved in the hot air, tasting the outback’s dust.
‘You’ve been peacefully nappin’ these past coupla hours in that hole.’
‘Why are you doing this? You swore to our mother on her death bed last week that you wouldn’t hurt me.’
‘That I did. An’ I honour me promises. Unlike you, bro.’ Ren messed up Sam’s hair. ‘Ya know, as a kid, you had that look of them cherubs, with ‘em puffy cheeks an’ blonde curls. Now, you look like a sunburnt melon. But this is me, keeping my end of the bargain.’ Raising himself upright, Ren reached for the fuel canister.
‘Get me out of here Ren,’ Sam pleaded, struggling to free himself.
Ren poured fuel onto the red dirt that evaporated into fumes from the burning sun. Coming full circle, he keenly surveyed the endless flat Australian desert. Satisfied they were alone, he pulled out a box of matches from his shirt pocket and a plastic spoon he tossed to land in front of Sam’s face. ‘You can dig yourself out if you want? But you’ll wanna be quick about it.’
Striking a match, Ren threw the small flame onto the fuel-soaked ground. Flames burst upwards surrounding Sam’s head with hundreds of trapped ants that scrambled towards him.
‘Ren, don’t do this!’
‘It’s already done ‘n dusted.’ Ren watched the circle of flames burn towards the talking head trapped in the desert. ‘As promised, I’m not gonna hurt ya. But the wildlife might?’
The intense heat from crackling flames closed in, panicked ants crawled onto Sam’s neck and face, clambering into his nose, his ears and hair. Their bites stinging, making their way down his body. ‘Please Ren, I’m begging.’
Ren watched the ants move like a suffocating black blanket to swarm all over Sam. ‘‘I’ve kept my promise to our mum to not harm a hair on ya’ head. But I also promised Dad on his deathbed that when mum died—you’d die for bein’ the freeloader who was never his son.’
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