The kid “wondrously” survives the massacre; at night he rises and steals away under the moonlight, even while the Comanches celebrate their victory from higher ground. When day comes, the kid sees some outcroppings of rock about a mile away and he heads toward them.
McCarthy does not explain the kid’s survival of the massacre; we might attribute it either to his special talent for violence, or else luck or fate. The word “wondrously” suggests that the latter interpretation is more fitting.
As he climbs the tumbled boulders of the Bolson de Mapimi (a drainage basin in Mexico), the kid hears a voice call to him. At first he can’t see who is calling, but later learns that it is a man named Sproule, one of eight survivors of the massacre including Captain White. Sproule and the kid rest and discuss their injuries—Sproule has a wounded arm—before resuming their trek over the rocks. Toward evening, they drink from a small spring they find and rest in a shallow cave littered with beads, shells, polished bones, and the charcoal of ancient fires.
There is no rest for the weary: having survived the massacre, albeit wounded, the kid and Sproule are nonetheless confronted again with rocky barren terrain. They are lucky to find water, but the evidence of a past culture that they find in the cave is a reminder of how temporary and fragile human life is.
The next morning, the kid and Sproule take to the plain again. They come upon turf trampled by the Indian war party, mules killed in the massacre the day before, and a bush on the branches of which are impaled seven or eight dead human infants. The two men begin to move on, look back at the bush, and then move on.
The bush of dead babies is one of the novel’s most haunting images for human depravity. Perhaps the kid and Sproule are overwhelmed by it; perhaps they are desensitized. Had the kid and Sproule not seen this, would anyone have known of the atrocity done?
In the afternoon the kid and Sproule reach a village in smoking ruins, all of its inhabitants dead. The men wander the mud streets where livestock lay slain, and in the mud hovels they see murdered people. At the end of the street, in a plaza, vultures huddle and chickens peck at the ground. In the doorway of a church stands a donkey.
The kid and Sproule witness more destruction wrought by the Comanches. The vultures are a reminder that soon the dead will disappear, taken back into nature; the chickens and donkey are reminders that, despite horror, life banally goes on.
The kid and Sproule sit in the plaza and decide what to do next. Sproule tells the kid that he has tuberculosis and came to Mexico for his health. The kid decides to scout the remains of the village for provisions and a place to sleep. Going from house to house, he finds things as various as a loom, figures of saints dressed in doll’s clothes, and pictures cut from a journal pasted to a wall.
Given that he has been fatally wounded in the country, it is ironic that Sproule traveled to Mexico for his health: nowhere, it would seem, ideally accommodates life. While the kid wanders alone, he witnesses the remains of industrious, religious lives now extinguished senselessly.
The kid returns to find Sproule in a church where forty scalped, naked, and partly eaten corpses lay heaped. Flies walk on the eyeballs of the dead. The two go out into the square as the sun sets and see a dead child with two vultures sitting on it. Sproule attempts to shoo them away, but they just hiss at him and stand their ground.
The second ruined church in the novel, like the first, is now a house of death, where the villagers presumably made their last, unsuccessful stand against the Comanches. The persistence of the vultures dramatizes nature’s indifference to human pain.
Come morning, the kid and Sproule leave the ruined village and set out across cruel terrain littered with “slag.” They spend the night sleeping, then continue traveling through the blistering heat of the day. Exhausted, the two rest under a wagon in the afternoon and sleep till night. Then they move on. Sproule says that his wounded arm has begun to stink. The kid offers to look at it, even though he can’t do anything about it. Sproule declines. After hiking all night and the following day, the two see in the distance an immense lake and a white city. The two fall asleep that night like dead men.
The slag over which the kid and Sproule traverse is a waste product of the refinement of the earth’s raw materials into metal. Produced by people who dominated the landscape, its presence foregrounds just how frail and subject to the elements Sproule and the kid are. The kid offers to do a kindness, however futile, by looking at Sproule’s wound: vulnerable in the desert, people only have each other for support.
Come morning, Sproule’s health has taken a turn for the worse. He collapses; his lips are blistered and a foul fluid has seeped from his now swollen arm. The kid sees someone in the distance, and as he and Sproule discuss what to do they come to the realization that the lake they saw the day before was just a mirage. The kid spits and a lizard drinks his saliva. He and Sproule wait all day for the men in the distance to come nearer.
Sproule’s health deteriorates rapidly, intimating his death. That he and the kid took the mirage for a reality indicates their exhaustion and desperation for relief. Only the lizard finds relief, though, by drinking the kid’s saliva, which disappears so quickly it might as well have been a mirage. Animals must be resourceful to survive in this infernal world.
The people the kid saw earlier in the day turn out to be Mexican men on horseback, seven or eight of them. Sproule tells the kid to save himself, but the kid doesn’t respond. As they pass, the Mexicans nod at the American castaways but continue to ride on. The kid calls out to them, Sproule trots after them. The apparent leader of the Mexicans, mounted on Captain White’s horse, asks if the two are looking for the Indians, upon which several of the Mexican men dismount, hug one another, and weep.
Throughout the novel, characters tell the kid to leave them and save himself, but he tends to stick by them, one small sign of his willingness to deviate from a course of strict selfishness, rare in the novel’s world. Given the kid and Sproule’s stoicism, it is surprising and refreshing to witness the Mexicans hug and cry, lamenting the murder of their people.
The kid asks the leader of the Mexicans for water, which is granted. A canteen is produced, and the kid drinks greedily, even after the leader of the Mexicans says that he’s had enough. The leader kicks the canteen from the kid’s hands, at which point Sproule gets ahold of it and drinks. But the kid steps over and takes it from him—only for the leader to draw his sword and once more secure the canteen. The Mexicans hoot at the spectacle. The leader warns the kid that sometimes the lost lamb cries and its mother comes—but sometimes, the wolf (indeed, we learn in the chapter heading that these Mexicans are bandits). The Mexicans trot off.
McCarthy does not present the kid as a rigidly selfless character: here he abuses the Mexican leader’s act of kindness by drinking selfishly from the canteen, going so far as to take it from the dying Sproule. Indeed, the kid tends to be more merciful when one-on-one with another character than when surrounded by many, as here—it’s as though the mere presence of a group of men is enough to bring out his most brutal.
The kid and Sproule descend the mountain and reach the valley floor by dusk. There they march on in the dark, then sleep. In the night, Sproule is attacked by a vampire bat, which bites him on the neck and begins to suck his blood. Sproule wakes and shrieks. The kid rises, grabs a rock, but before he can strike the bat disappears into the darkness. Sproule howls out and looks at the kid accusingly. The kid tells Sproule that what’s wrong with him is wrong all the way through him.
The desert is full of predators like the vampire bat, sucking dry other animals (not unlike the way in which the kid attempted to suck dry the bandit’s canteen). Sproule seems to think that the kid attempted to drink his blood, and the kid tells Sproule that Sproule has something wrong at his core—but what? Perhaps a dysfunctional mistrust of other people, a lack of fellow feeling.
In the morning, the kid and Sproule find a seep of water. The kid absorbs water into his shirt and sucks on it, and he tells Sproule to do likewise. But Sproule’s shirt sticks to his skin; pus runs out, and his arm is swollen to the size of a thigh, with worms working in the wound.
The vultures and worms in this chapter are both animals that live by feeding on what is already dead and dying; they are suggestive of nature’s bleak economy, the way death feeds life, and vice versa.
In the afternoon, Sproule and the kid come to a crossroads. From there, they follow what seems to be the path most traveled. After traveling about two miles, they see to the north a wagon lumbering over the plain. Sproule and the kid intercept it, forcibly board, and ride with the family inside it into a nearby town after drinking a jar of the family’s precious water.
Another act of vampire-like exploitation here, as the kid and Sproule selfishly drink a jar of this family’s water. Their sense of community extends only to one another, perhaps because they served in arms together, perhaps out of mere convenience.
In the morning, the kid wakes to find Sproule dead in the wagon. He exits to urinate, but as he does so Mexican soldiers ride up and arrest him. They lead him through the streets of the town and past a traveling medicine show which features strange reptiles, a leper, and a liquor-filled jar in which is floating the head of Captain White. The kid looks at the head, spits, and says that the Captain was no kin to him.
Presumably for his involvement with the invading Captain White, the kid is arrested, which, as the Mennonite prophesied, is the better fate when compared to what befell most of the other filibusters. The kid denies partisanship with Captain White, perhaps because he no longer has anything to gain by doing otherwise.
The kid is imprisoned in a stone corral with three other refugees from the filibustering mission. He befriends a boy from Georgia, and together they talk about their plight, and Captain White’s. The kid calls the Captain a fool. From the Georgian, the kid learns that the Captain’s body was partially eaten by pigs, and that the Mexicans intend to transport their prisoners to Chihuahua City.
Based on his willingness to join the Glanton gang, it seems that the kid calls White a fool not for waging illegal warfare, but for doing so rather dismally. The pigs join the vultures and worms as another scavenger: White wanted Mexican land; instead he will be turned into manure for the land.
Children from the village try to urinate on, and throw rocks at, the prisoners, but the kid retaliates and with a stone drops a child from the wall. The Georgian warns that the Mexicans will whip the prisoners, but the kid says they wouldn’t “come in here and eat no whips,” and he’s right. Later, a Mexican woman brings food to the prisoners, including sweets and meat she’s smuggled in for them.
The kid is indiscriminate in whom he harms, be his victim bartender or Apache or child. It may be the Judge’s sense of this capacity for broad violence that leads him later to tell the kid that he regarded him as a son. Contrast this with the woman’s indiscriminate kindness in feeding the prisoners.
Three days later, the Mexicans mount up with their prisoners and ride through desert, mountain, and village. At night, the Mexicans talk about witches. When the party reaches Chihuahua City, the prisoners are paraded through a town full of government buildings and churches, vultures, and meat hanging from hooks. Once deposited in a prison there, the kid sees a fellow prisoner walk to a bucket on the floor and urinate—it is Louis Toadvine.
Underlying the Mexicans’ discussion of witches is a belief in some supernatural evil in the world, not unjustified based on the horrors encountered thus far. In the city, McCarthy contrasts the buildings of civic order and salvation with the brute carnal needs they’re founded on, meat and, by extension, death.