The Legend of Spyri and Gympi
Gympi sank thankfully down onto the grass with a stifled groan. This travelling was a lot tougher, slower and a heck more painful than he’d originally expected. It wasn’t likely that anyone would be out looking for him, but he couldn’t take the chance. Somehow, he had a feeling that he hadn’t travelled very far in the last week.
Emptying his bag, he sighed. Out of food. He shook his bottle. Out of water too. Wonderful. Never mind, he was a resourceful lad or so he told himself. His legs ached like they were on fire and sharp pains shot up his hips and up his spine. They should ease a little after a rest. He’d have just a little rest. The hedge hid him from the road, and the clusters of wild bush sheltered him from the cold wind. If only the ground were not so damp.
The faint tinkling of water woke him. Sitting up, Gympi looked around the bushes, trying to pinpoint the sound. There. There might even be something edible near the water. No point standing up and using his crutches. It would take too much effort. Putting his bag back onto his back, Gympi dragged himself along on the ground with his arms to where he could hear the water. Why hadn’t he been able to hear it before he’d fallen asleep? He must’ve been too tired.
A little brook burbled quietly, the tinkling noise was made by the water running off a mini waterfall formed by a branch. Water from a tiny dam ran off the branch tip onto a smooth pebble stone. By the ditch in which the brook ran, Gympi was pleased to find an apricot tree with fruit just beginning to ripen. After filling his drink bottle, Gympi contemplated how he would get to the apricots. He’d have to go back to fetch his crutches first.
Crawling was so much easier than walking, but if he crawled all the way back to Thistlowood, his clothes would completely wear away. They were already pretty worn as they were, and he had no desire to be found upon the road near naked. That would be just too embarrassing.
He poked at the nearest fruit with his crutch, and after some time, decided that this was going to take a while. He shrugged. So long he was able to fill his bag, he didn’t mind if it took days. He was in no rush.
Sweet and juicy,
There I drop,
Filling bag with
Round rocked ‘cots.”
‘Neath the shade.
With leaf dancers,
‘Pon smooth pebbles,
So busy singing and trying to get the apricots, Gympi didn’t hear the motor of the approaching truck until it was too late to hide. Nevertheless, he ducked down beneath a bush and hoped that they would just continue on their way, but they didn’t. The truck stopped and Gympi was frightened to see the boots, enemy issue, jump over the hedge and tramp his way.
He had no idea where the front was now, but he also had no wish to get entangled with either army again. It had already cost him a lot of pain and the use of both legs. All he wanted was to go home and all he knew was that home was in this general direction.
“Hey boy! Come outta there!”
Knowing a command when he heard one, Gympi slowly crawled out from under the bush. To the soldier, it looked more like he was only using his arms to drag his whole body and almost useless plaster coated legs after him.
“What are you doing here?”
The soldier squatted down, as the boy before him, slowly and painfully pulled himself into a sitting position. The face stared back calmly.
“There’s a war going on in these parts and you’re out picking apricots? Don’t you know it’s dangerous?”
A dirty, sticky hand stuck out firmly.
“Hi, I’m Gympi.”
“Gympi? What sort of a name is that?”
“It’s what everyone calls me.”
Shaking his head, the soldier shook the hand and repeated his question.
“Don’t you know there’s a war going on in these parts and it’s dangerous?”
The boy looked back queerly, almost sadly – a near smile, but not; such that it almost made the soldier want to cry. He was suddenly reminded of his own younger brother back home, eagerly waiting for him.
“I know it’s dangerous.”
“Then why are you out in the middle of no where? Our men are retreating, but it doesn’t make it any safer for you.”
“I’m going home. I had to stop and get some food.”
“I don’t know. Somewhere near the old border.”
“You’re trying to get that far, in – in – with you like – like this?”
“Yes. Why not?”
Gympi split open an apricot and offered the soldier half.
The soldier was amazed at the boy’s boldness and determination, as he took the apricot half. It was obvious that every movement he made was painful and that he could barely walk, and despite that, he was prepared to travel the hundred kilometres or so back toward the border.
A yell from the truck made him look up. His partner gestured angrily and urgently.
“We can give you a lift. We’re heading toward Thistlowood and should get there sometime late tonight if all goes well.”
God knew that this boy would never make it that distance in his current condition.
“We can’t take you into the town itself or we’ll get ourselves into trouble, but we can drop you off just outside the town. What do you think?”
Cocking his head to one side, Gympi shrugged.
“Here, let me help you.”
Wordlessly, Gympi handed the soldier his heavy bag of apricots, ignoring any attempts to help him and pulled himself upright, using his crutches and the bush.
Understanding, the soldier restrained himself from putting his hand out to steady Gympi as he wobbled dangerously before jamming the crutches beneath his arms.
“Hurry up, Hansol. They’ll catch up with us any moment now!”
“Hang on, help me get this boy into the truck. He’s headed for Thistlowood too.”
“You can go without me if you want.”
“No, no, Gympi. We’ll take you with us. Here, get in.”
“Hansol, of all the stupid little-”
“Shut up, Toby. This boy would have tried to get there on his own anyway, whether we stopped to help him or not, and I’m not willing to leave him for those jumped up, nervous bastards of his own country to shoot and find out what they’d done after. Especially the way he moves on the ground. They might mistake him for a commando.”
“Don’t talk so loud, he might hear you.”
Both men turned around to look at Gympi, to find him curled up in the back, in an exhausted slumber.
The truck stopped suddenly, bucking and shaking with the impact. Gympi found himself being thrown around in the back of the truck. Pain and whirling colours obscured his vision before he came to a rest with a squish, on top of his bag of apricots. It was dark.
Carefully pulling himself upright, and wincing, Gympi knew that the two soldiers in the front seat were dead. It was obvious by the angle at which their bodies were resting in. There was a screech of tyres and voices shouting orders. His country men must have caught up. Trying to drag himself toward the door made him gasp with pain. He wondered whether he’d broken more bones.
The back of the truck doors were flung wide open and cold air rushed in.
“There’s a boy in the back!”
“God knows what they were going to do with him.”
“He’s injured. Quick, get him out!”
“Good thing we stopped them in time!”
“My God, look at his legs! What have they done to this child?”
“Hurry, the truck could explode any moment now!”
Gympi felt hands lift him and he groped around for his crutches.
“It’s all right kid, we’ve got you. It’s all right.”
“What are you looking for?”
“No worries, kid. I’ve got them.”
He heard a whimper that didn’t sound like his own voice.
“Shh, it’s all right kid. We’ve just gotta get clear of that truck before she blows.”
A massive explosion ripped through the night and in that flash, Gympi saw the truck’s cabin almost literally wrapped around a tree trunk, erupt in a blast of fire. The soldier carrying him stumbled and fell. Gympi cried out and gritted his teeth, struggling to get out from under the weight of the soldier.
The soldier rolled off him and apologised.
“Sorry, sorry. It’s ok, it’s ok.”
Gympi lay on the ground, panting. Willing the pain back into its box. Lifting his head, he struggled to sit upright, but froze the moment he heard the whine of a bullet thud into the ground beside him.
“Head for those trees, kid! We’ll hold them off. Head for the trees!”
The soldier helped Gympi stumble toward the trees and then whipped around and threw himself into the cover of the nearest bush as soon as he was out of harm’s way.
Too tired and sore to move from behind the tree, Gympi lay there, listening to the whine of bullets and return fire, the curses and shouts of the soldiers and the occasional scream as they were hit. Battle was not a nice place to be.
He woke up to silence. Looking around the tree, the soldiers were gone. They’d forgotten him and taken the bodies of their comrades with them. He spotted his crutches lying near where the burnt truck was still wrapped around the trunk of a tree and dragged himself toward them.
No water, no drink bottle, no bag, and all his precious apricots wasted. At least he still had his crutches. At least he was still alive and closer to home than he had been.
Heaving himself up onto the crutches, he buckled under the unexpected sharp pain. It took 3 hours and many attempts before he was able to stand and another hour or so before he could swing himself further into the safety of the trees.
After a long, careful look at his surroundings, Gympi knew exactly where he was. He wasn’t far from Thistlowood, but still far away enough to know that it would still take him a long time… and he had no food or water. Licking his dry lips, Gympi wondered what happened after death. Would it be just a dark oblivion? Or was there a heaven like the Bible said? He liked the idea of heaven better than oblivion.