The Price of Dawn

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
I watched my mother being burnt to death in front of my eyes, but she was not meant to die. They created the crime, they acted out the whole play. I'll write them the ending.

Submitted: December 13, 2013

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Submitted: December 13, 2013

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The barren, empty desert felt like home to me.

My parents and I settled in the southwestern part of Gobi Desert after our home in the north was destroyed by a sandstorm. My parents joined a clan, and we lived in a village. There were others like us, others who built their yurts around the rugged land we had occupied. Each family owned a camel; fairly large ones were used for human carriage, the others for goods. Regardless, not every one of us traveled around the desert often. The food supply relied on only one of the male villagers—my father.

My father was considered stronger than any of the other male members of the village: he had the superb ability to hunt and fight, the prodigious skill of crafting swords and arrows; and while most of the other men were either too young or too old, my father was commodiously thirty-one years of age. Once every two days, he would go to the grasslands seven miles away from our village with Enkhtuya, our family’s camel, in hope for a pronghorn or a spotted hyena.

It took time for him to finish his work, and when he came back on Enkhtuya’s back, he would look as if he was going to slip into a coma. No one had thanked him in any way; there was usually just silent exchange of bloody, slumped bodies. No one ever talked to him, or even smiled at him. It seemed as if my father owed them the world! Not only that, but also when the food got distributed by the Elders, the only authority of the village, to the adults of each household, my parents received the tiniest portions, which were about one third of those of the others; the food we got could last for only a day, two days at most, the third we spent starving. When I questioned my mother how unfair this ‘business’ was, she would look at me silently, sorrowfully with those grey eyes of hers and make a grimace, “We cope with it,” she said, “or we get chucked out.” I did not understand why that was. We could leave, and it would do the villagers no good. We had an excellent hunter on our side, we could survive by ourselves. But then I asked my mother again, she said when we first joined the clan, the Elders offered us a place to settle because a crowd could give us protection from the attacks of the Russian troops, they had declared—which, if I remembered correctly, had never showed up anywhere near the coast.

As years went by my hatred grew. I was mad. Mad at the Elders. Mad at the inequity of it all. Mad at myself because I could not do anything, like a soul watching its own body in a coffin. I felt pity for my parents, but exasperation as well. How long could it take for them to finally realize that there was no such thing as ‘Russian troops attacks’?

February came, and with it, sandstorms. Gathering of dust in the air, stillness of wind, the unusual dull skies, forecast a coming sandstorm; then all of us would hurry back into our yurts for shelter. The storms did not last long, after it passed, we came out of our homes again and things would go back to normal, most of the time.

It happened the night after a meeting was called for all men to attend. I had thrown on a white cotton dress when father came back saying the meeting was all about regularities, and then he had put a little jade-crafted scalpel necklace around my neck (for luck); he said he found it in the grasslands. “Goodnight, Sara.”

Mother and I laid ourselves to sleep on a rough lattice mat while my father did the same thing in his wooden chair. I stared at the heathery yarn blanket I crocheted for him placed in his lap—from the corner of my eye, I saw shadows fluttering outside—and slept, and dreamt of huge, living stones crushing in on me—

Then I was awakened by angry brawling behind the wall which separated the bedroom from the living room. I sat up in a daze, noticing my mother was no longer by my side. I glanced around the room, the wooden chair was empty. I stood upright and peered into the gaps of the twiggy wall. My mother had her back to me, her head darting back and forth between the two men standing in front of her: my father and one of the Elders.

“—could you explain why it is?” The elder demanded.

“I still do not understand the reason why I am responsible for this, whatever’s happened out there, it is not my fault.” My father spoke with certainty.

The Elder gave a choked laugh. “Oh, you don’t?” The door then burst open with a loud thump, three armed men poured in with arrows on their backs and shining daggers on their waists. My father was taken aback as he saw them, and he staggered backward, eyes wide.

“What—” he started, but then was immediately caught at the throat by the bearded man on his heels. The bearded man held his silver dagger by my father’s jaw, the expression on his face cold and detached.

“Perhaps you should ask your beloved wife,” the elder spoke in a solemn voice as he slowly turned towards my direction—my mother’s direction, “would you mind speaking up for your husband, my dear?”

The Elder’s gaze was soft, but there was definitely a hard, dangerous edge behind the pleasant veil. It was the look on a predator before it strikes its prey dead.

“Bring her outside,” he said, gesturing with a turn of his head. The other two armed men strode across the room in two strides and hauled the frantic woman by the arms, half-dragging her to the door.

Mother struggled with all her might in the hold of the muscular men, and as they reached the door, the Elder waved a dismissive hand at them. “Benjamin, come, I believe your brother can handle a weak woman alone,” he said, “I’ve got you something else to do.”

I was almost sure the Elder whispered in Benjamin’s ear because he then ascended to the bedroom door, his strong hands ready at his sides, ready to crush my skull. I backed away from the wall in panic and fright.

Hide, I told myself, but when I looked around in a daze, I realized there was nowhere for me to conceal myself. I was against the clock. No closets, no dressers, not even a table. All that was there were the mangled mat I had slept on and the hollow chair where my father had once been.

Oh how I wished I could just vanish out of thin air! My heart raced at a hundred beats per second and my head pounded. Soon I began to swell, the scene before me blurred like mist over a mountain top, my limbs went frail and wobbly.

Then I felt every twinge of hate and loathe boiling up in my heart, the grudge that had bloomed itself out of the contempt of the Elders. Benjamin swung open the door—face-to-face I saw how stout he really was—and gave me the look that said this one’s too small.

The last second he appeared relaxed, the next he had his fingers around my right wrist. He squeezed them hard, I heard my bones snap at last but I barely hear my own cry. I drove my left knee into his leather-protected abdominal hard; hard enough that he grunted in surprise, but not hard enough to be of agony. It turned out it was the wrong decision to make. His face flushed with anger and he sneered, showing pointed canines.

Do that again and I’ll rip off your skin piece by piece.” He hissed through his teeth and dug his nails into my broken wrist, causing an excruciating pain shooting up my arm. He jerked me towards him with so much force that, for an instant I thought my arm was going to break off, but it didn’t. Abruptly he towed me where my parents had gone.

I was blinded by the sudden brightness as quickly as a piece of wood catches fire. When my eyes adjusted, I saw closely packed figures wavering in front of me. Even without looking too closely at their faces, I could still recognize them—the villagers, our spiteful neighbors. They spat outraged words at me, but it was all too noisy to catch what they had said. I saw the resilient fury in their eyes, and they reflected horror in mine. Yet they stared, they always stared.

I was then brought to an area where the crowd had eased out at the edges. The scene before me was horrific: a hill of stacked dead camels with their guts violently knifed out lay on the ground, making around it a pool of scarlet blood. Lying beside the heap was a heavy-looking bloody skewer. Things crawled on them, but I jerked away from the image. I cranked my neck sideways to wipe out what I just saw. Benjamin pulled tight on my hair to drag my head up. “Watch,” he said.

So I tried to locate my eyes somewhere else from the heap. My father was nowhere to be seen. Then when I gazed further ahead: a woman with charcoal hair with wrists tied together behind a thick piece of wood that reminded me of the Christ’s Cross—was my mother.

“Lady Aguzani, I have brought her as you’ve asked. You may begin.” Benjamin said to the tough-looking woman with a scar stretching from her left eye to her lips, standing a few feet away. Aguzani was yet another Elder, considerably more inhumane than the one that had been in my family’s yurt a little while ago—I had seen her sew a blanket out of live butterflies once. I gritted my teeth to keep from screaming.

The wicked woman raised her hand and a bowed figure handed a rusted bucket over to her. Her eyes set sternly on me the whole time. Thereupon she turned away from me to my mother, she smirked.

Briskly she threw the bucket over my mother’s head, and a wave of colorless liquid poured all over her, soaked through her clothes and wetted the ground under her feet. Benjamin’s grip tightened around my shoulder blades, and I realized that I was shaking fiercely. Aguzani broke into a spacious grin and strode carelessly towards the center of the circular clearing.

“I have awoken to this poignant scene this morning,” she spoke over the yelling, complaining crowd, “and we have the suspected murderer in our hands.” She went back beside the cross, and clenched my mother’s hair in her hand like Benjamin did to me to pull her head up. “I suppose none of you know that this wretched woman is a witch?”

The crowd howled in chorus, some of them looked startled. “And how, my Lady, do you know?” asked a dark-skinned woman to my left. She was about forty, at a glance. She had straight mahogany hair that reached to her waist. She did not sound like she was challenging Aguzani, but an ordinary question.

“Her husband is a hunter, remember? All these years they’ve hunted animals for us and we had given some of it to them in return. We are the ones who had promised them shelter, so it is reasonable to reduce the amount in exchange, isn’t it? However,” Aguzani held up an arm as she paused, “her bastard of a husband had accused us of it. Last night in our Meeting, he had...Demanded. More. Food.” She exaggerated each word that way, “and said the measure they get was...improper.”

Mutters passed around the crowd. Then, somewhere, “that doesn’t prove she is a witch” was spoken aloud.

“The story doesn’t end here,” Aguzani said, “think about it, would this,” she pointed to the heap, “be our vengeance? Could it be a warning to our rejection to that bastard’s idea? We have an enemy in our own land!” Aguzani snatched something out of her pocket and held it up—it was a flag with my family’s peace symbol. It was a serpent clung to a sword, reassembling our birth year, the Snake, and to never give in to the foe.

“Does this remind you of something wicked and evil? The serpent is a symbol of the Devil, for example. Don’t you notice she has been using witchcraft to seek revenge on us?” Aguzani almost shouted.

The crowd exchanged glances, and then they all nodded vigorously in agreement—agreeing that Aguzani was reasonable. Several of them cursed at my mother, the insults stabbed at my heart; my mother bore a hurtful look on her face as I did; it was absurdly agonized that I could almost hear her whimpering. They were going to kill her. They were.

“So what do we do with witches?” The same ghostly grin emerged on Aguzani’s face again. “We burn them.”

At that I started into a frantic tantrum, kicked in all directions, jamming my teeth into Benjamin’s steel-hard hands, but they did not budge an inch. The crowd cheered encouragingly, chanting burn her burn her burn her. Tears stung my eyes, my throat sweltering from uncontrollable wails. “My mo—” I started as Benjamin cupped a hand over my mouth.

“Cut the tramp’s tongue, Benjamin.” An old man in the crowd glared at me with eyes like daggers, his lips curled back.

From the corner of my eye I saw something flashed a brilliant silver light—Benjamin’s dagger. Its tip pierced into my throat. “I have to do so if you don’t shut up,” Benjamin said to me, “it’s your choice.”

I bit on my lip hard and tasted blood, my breath still coming out rash like an enraged bull’s. They were not going to get away with this.

Aguzani was now standing a few feet away with her back to me. If only I could rip her lungs out....but between her fingers was a lit match, its flame sparking brightly even in the sunlight. She tossed it to the ground where my mother was tied upon, then all of a sudden a sound like a cry rising from hell echoed the clearing, it took me a second to recognize it was my mother’s.

My head snapped up and saw my mother in flames, her skin burning as some pieces were torn and fell off. The liquid Aguzani poured on her was petrol! Through the flames, I could see big fat drops of blood oozing from her eye sockets and her nostrils. Her pitiful and loathing eyes met mine, and then I stopped screaming.

A thousand words passed between us—a responsibility, a clue, a message—though not a word was said. I had to avenge her. I had to make them pay for what they did. I would think of a way to feed them their own medicine. My mother, though she was still in the torment of flames, smiled as if she knew. Then in my silence and Aguzani’s laughter, she gave in, tipping back her head, letting the fire take her.

The vile sounds left were the crowd’s glee and snickers. Aguzani quieted them down with two raised hands like Jesus did when He blessed His apostles. The cross continued to burn, but the fire had ceased a little. The body tied around it was blackened to ash, unrecognizable. I no longer thought it was my mother, anyway. My mother was now in me.

“How now, my dear fellows! Let us rejoice!” Aguzani said. “The wicked witch is dead! We saved ourselves from death!” She spun around swiftly to meet me in the midst of the crowd’s all hail Aguzani.

She clasped her hands together and glanced my way slightly. I heard Benjamin chuckle.

Receiving a pleased nod from Aguzani, Benjamin told me to walk to the barn myself none too gently, with him trailing behind.

 

I despised the idea of staying in the barn, but it was not that I was particularly afraid of carnivorous animals. The barn was not like any barn you knew: sticky walls, muddy grass-covered dirt. The barn in our village had the stench of dead blood plastered to the fences, animal manure and animal bones, with some rotten flesh still stuck to them; the whole village never cared to dispose of. ‘Nasty’ was not quite enough to describe it.

When we turned a corner in the barn, away from Aguzani’s view, Benjamin threw me into the only empty lot and left without a word. As if I was not feeling queasy already, I realized unfeelingly that next to me was a sleeping caracal. Caracal will eat birds and mammals such as rodents, antelope and gazelle, I read once in the Desert Index’s meat-eaters section. I sighed inwardly.

I needed a weapon, both for protecting myself and for planning my escape route. Plus, it did not seem like the caracal was going to be asleep much longer—as I thought of this, the caracal stirred uneasily and its khaki eyelids fluttered.

My eyes dug into the omnipresent darkness around the barn. Every corner seemed to have hidden a couple of blades which could be farmers’ stirrers or removers, or if I was lucky, they would be real swords and arches. There were the ones in the farthest end of the barn—which I could see but could not reach—gleaming silver at the tips, indicating they were daggers; and the ones right next to my feet, which made a loud clang when I nudged them accidentally. Seven skewers fell right into view, and immediately I was abashed by the amounts of blood covering every inch of the skewers—even my loafers had come away red in the slightest touch.

The camels, I thought, it was them who gutted out the camelstheir own camels. Killed, just to humiliate my mother and burn her at stake. I ought to know the reason. I ought to know, before I twisted their bodies into gory shapes.

There was a sound outside. Like something heavy being thumped again and again on sand. I peered into the barn wall gaps like I did in my bedroom a little while ago, and saw three men, all wearing military coats, on black horses, trotting near the entrance of our village. Aguzani rushed over, bowed, and greeted them, a selfish smile playing on the corner of her lips. We did not welcome visitors; it was the top rule of all people living inside our borders. Who were these men, then? They were not Mongolians, I was certain.

Even then, the three black horses circled the whole village, checking on every yurt, Aguzani followed wherever they went. As they came closer and closer, their voices became clearer. I heard Russian when they at last came to a halt right next to my side of the barn—and I understood everything, thanks to my mother’s teaching of sixteen years.

“Still doing as well as the last time we came?” One of the men was saying. He was taller than the rest, his eyebrows thick and his eyes shadowed and focused, but not giving anything away.

“Yes, my Lord. And what you have told me to do, I’ve happily done so,” Aguzani answered in a voice soft as a kitten’s; it chilled me to the bone. But the thing was not about her tone, it was what she had said: my Lord? I pondered. Was she calling a Russian general her Lord?

“Very well, Aguzani. You have shown much obedience to the Commander,” the plump man next to the tall Commander, Igor, said. He was five inches shorter and probably ten pounds heavier, but his gaze held the same authority.

“How have you discarded the body, Aguzani?” the Commander said.

“She was burnt alive, my Lord.”

The Commander raised his eyebrows, “How clever.”

Aguzani inclined her head slightly. “It’s a pleasure to be of your service,” she said, “and now shall I have the luxury to accept your promised offer?”

The Commander switched gazes with his allies, and gave a disapproving shake of his head. His stare on Aguzani remained firm, “I’m afraid not, Aguzani. There is yet work to be done.”

Something twitched in the woman’s eyes, but it was gone quick as it had come. “But my Lord, wouldn’t that be fairer if—” she stopped short, caught by the silencing look of the Commander.

I believe it would be very fair if you first finished what we want you to before we give you what we have promised,” the Commander said boldly. Aguzani was blanked of expression as he said, “We shall not harm you if you obey. Now, shall I and my partners have some time alone?”

Aguzani looked as if she had been slapped in the face, and scurried out of the scene.

“Foolish lass,” the Commander murmured, and beckoned the others to follow him. They never went of my sight, and ended up behind the barn, where there were benches and abandoned clothing.

“How long do you think it will be until she finds out?” the plump man said, trying to cross his legs on a bench.

“Not long, I suppose,” the third man, speaking for the first time, lit a cigarette and puffed out a cloud of smoke. “We have to act quickly.”

“Couldn’t you see how obedient she was, Ruslan? I don’t think she suspects anything yet,” the Commander said, “we will annex this land, it’s only a matter of time.”

This was it. The Russians wanted to test the Elders’ obedience to them, and after they had let down their guard, the Russians were going to destroy us and take our land. The Elders had seen their power, and they had cowered in fear. The Russians were capable of defeating the Elders.

I am not afraid not a little afraid

I could make peace with them, perhaps. Put my courage to test and surrender, then be the heroic undercover agent. Stand on their side and put them and Elders to war. Both of them played a role in my mother’s death, and they deserved the same ending. If one side lost, I would have a way to take down the other. I had a plan.

Easy mother so easy

I closed my right hand into a fist and bumped it against the barn wallboards, which separated me from the blathering Russians.

One two three

“What’s that?” Ruslan asked, crumpling his cigarette on the bench. Igor swung around to bore his eyes on the wallboards.

The Commander flexed two fingers in front of Ruslan and Igor and pointed at the barn. I sneaked to the far corner of my lot and squeezed my body in to look as innocent as I could.

The Russians stepped through the doorway, the metal loops hung on the barn gate clanging. “Light,” said the Commander, and Ruslan handed a silver torch to him. Torch light rained on me and I flinched, holding my breath as they inches towards me.

“What’s this?” Igor gawked at me, as if I was a talking cockroach. Undoubtedly Aguzani did not tell them she decided to keep the girl whose parents she killed.

“Identity yourself,” the Commander demanded in fluent Mongolian, blinding me with his flash light.

“My parents don’t like daughters,” I lied swiftly in the softest voice manageable, “they gave me away to the Elders when my brother was born and since then I grew up here.”

The Commander whispered something in Ruslan’s ear. “What’s your name?” he asked me.

“Sara.”

“Sara,” Igor said, “did you overhear our conversation?”

Should I answer yes or no?

“Some of it,” I said with a hint of regret, “I promise, I promise I won’t tell anyone!”

The Commander stepped forward. “Was it you who knocked on the walls?”

“Yes.”

“What have you called us for, then? Don’t you know what we can do?”

“Yes I do,” I sat up straight, “and I surrender, I will give you my sincere help in annexing this land you now stand upon.”

The three of them laughed without humor. “What sincere help do you think you can offer us, little girl?” Igor mimicked mockingly.

“I can give you signals when it is the best time to send your troops.”

The Commander smiled and, in Russian, said to Igor, “Children don’t lie, and I don’t think she will either. She probably knew about this place more than we do. Shall we give her a chance?” Igor gave no answer, keeping his eyes still.

“In that case I will ask Aguzani to let you out every evening, keep an eye on things, will you?” the Commander said.

I said yes.

“Welcome to the team.”

Ruslan shifted his weight, his sword swayed backward. He snorted impatiently as the Commander turned to leave triumphantly, the two followed.

 

One evening I was let out, I went to the back of the village where I had never been before. I sat down with my legs crossed, and gazed up to the glistening stars, thinking maybe I could let it go after all.

But Aguzani had glared at me again with those piercing eyes of hers when she came to open the barn gate unwillingly half an hour ago; the villagers looked at me with the same disgust as they did at my mother before she died.

No there was no letting go

I narrowed my eyes to see the distinct glow of Russian cities. A shadow of a watchtower stood out in the light, all I could see were two to three outlined figures inside the tower. I clenched my torch tautly. One long, two shorts, the Commander had said.

As we sank deeper into midnight, noises ceased. Soon it became so silent that I could hear my own breath, coming out in puffs of white smoke. The man in the watchtower held his binoculars to eye level and I waited till he faced my direction. After I checked that everyone was inside their yurts, mostly asleep, I held up the torch.

One

Two three

The man signaled with waves of his hand to the back of the watchtower, and all at once at least fifty soldiers flooded out into visibility. They crouched low, moving quickly and dynamically towards our lair. Yet not a sound was made.

“It’s on,” I whispered.

 

I backed away as far as possible. They had reached the front gate with some kind of metal bar in the leader’s hand.

A blow to the stilted lock and it flew to the ground with a thud. Voices rose in the dark yurts. Someone had noticed. It would not be long now.

The yurts lit up one by one, but it did not slow the Russian soldiers. When they had finally taken up the space between the gate and me, the yurts were completely surrounded. A woman pushed open her cloth-wrapped door, stepped out and was going to hold up her arms, but the next thing I saw was a thin arrow piercing through her chest, a circle of scarlet blood forming on the back of her dress. The soldiers showed no mercy, it was exactly what I wanted.

Another came out of the same yurt only to see the female corpse lying on the ground. Her son, perhaps, screamed in terror, and shouted, “Russians!” before he was shot down like her mother was.

The rest of the village relapsed into view, with gleaming swords and even long rifles in their hands. Then it all came down into unimaginable chaos.

A soldier had a red-haired boy clasped by the neck and when he shrieked for help, a dagger was driven into his throat and a deep gash was opened. The body dropped onto the ground and never stood up again. An adult man hauled a soldier into the air and threw him to the ground like he weighed a feather, at a moment it looked like the Russians were losing, at the another, a whip with tiny sharp knifes embroiled all the way wrapped itself around the big man’s neck and ripped free, leaving an empty space between the man’s collarbones and the dark sky. Blood splattered everywhere on the field, on the ones who were not dead yet, and the ones who were going to win.

The panicked villagers scrambled madly in the middle of the circle of soldiers like a chicken den attacked by a horde of foxes.

There is nowhere to run don’t you see there is no way you can live

At the corner of my eye I recognized the Commander, detached from the chaotic scene before him. He was calmer than I was; his closed eyes told me he had done this all before, he thought it was easy and pleasant.

The field was now spotted with red, the blood sinking into the sand, turning them a rotten, burnt brown. The bodies were mostly ours—no, theirs—the villagers and one Elder.

My mother was burnt alive too

For so long a time that it seemed no one was aware of my presence, then something jerked at my feet. When I looked down to see what it was, a bomb sounded in the distance. It was Aguzani, with her twisted face and bleeding hands, clawing at my foot, wailing. “Help me, please....” she uttered pathetically.

Her forehead was covered in sand and blood, her hair mangled in dirt. Her lips were split and a line of dried blood flowed down her cheek. I hunched over her and said, “I know everything.”

“Please...” was all she said.

Please

Please don’t please me

“I’m sorry for what I’ve done before, I really am sorry,” she continued, “When your mother was killed, the Russians have sent a spy to watch the process to make sure I’ve done what they told me to—to kill the hunter’s wife. It was me who told Benjamin not to let you speak because I know the Russians would kill you if they knew you exist. It was—it was a façade!

“They thought killing your mother might anger your father and that he would stop hunting for us, they thought it was a great risk to us, so the Russians told me to do it to show my obedience. They said if I do what I’m told to, they would not harm us. And then I thought it would be better to let one person die than sacrificing the whole clan.

She gestured to the screaming villagers, choking on her words, “Look what I’ve done! All these years the Elders’ work has been put to shame because of me!”

I went astounded and stared at her blankly. She is lying no she is not yes she is but what if it is the truth and I had been blind? What if I had made a truce with my true enemy?

Racked by guilt, I helped her stand and we rushed towards the gate, when all of a sudden I caught sight of my father, pushing his sword into a soldier’s heart. “Father!” I cried.

The Commander’s fierce eyes snapped open at my voice. My father whipped his head around; his eyes went as wide as they could possibly go. “Run, Sara!”

The Commander looked amusedly between me and my father. “Ah, Lady Aguzani, how wonderful to see you. Why have I not heard you say the hunter has a daughter?” His voice shook. As if hearing a wordless order, three soldiers separated from the fight and human-chained my father, holding him still with his hands behind his back. It was not until I felt my wrists being bounded as well that I realized three others came behind me and did the same thing.

“Kill him,” the Commander told Ruslan. Ruslan drew out a black rifle and aimed at my father. Panic overwhelmed me, I was frozen still.

When Ruslan pulled the trigger, Aguzani sprang out from my side and in front of the gun without further thoughts. Then a gunshot echoed into my bones. Aguzani was shot in the head, her eyes rolled back to whites even when she hit the ground.

Dead silence lasted for a moment. Upon seeing the last Elder failing, all others’ hopes vanished as dust; the villagers who were fighting for their lives had been in vain. Some of them now dropped their weapons; some of them pointed their own spears and guns toward their own selves. Death was here, around us, within us. The Russians felt it; we felt it, the outcome of this battle was excruciating.

I slid to the ground, my brain feeling like one big bruise. I had less than three mere minutes to live. I turned my gaze to the bodies whom would never be mourned: three dead Russian soldiers, and all villagers except me and my father. We had lost the battle. We had lost everything because of me.

The Russian soldiers had stood in an impeccably straight line on the opposite side; the most injured one had a cut on his cheek. Their pride was unbeaten; their will not in the least bit weakened. They leveled their gaze with the Commander, Igor, and Ruslan, showing confidence.

“You will serve us from now on,” the Commander said to my father. “But for your daughter,” he turned to me grimly, “she won’t be of much use to us.”

I knew perfectly well what the Commander breathed to Ruslan, then. I would break the promise I made to my mother, though the Elders had met their makers. I was not ready for this. I wanted this to be only a nightmare so I could start all over again, make the right decisions and live for my mother. Maybe then I would not carry this dead weight of leaving my father alone.

“I’ve made you watch your wife burn, if you haven’t known already,” the Commander snickered at my gravely father, “now I’m going to let your daughter bleed to death before you. I’ll let you know you’re too weak to save her or yourself.”

The steel-hard grips on my wrists tightened as I held my breath and tried to recover happy memories that I had. Would it be too much to ask for to die smiling? I closed my eyes.

My neck felt like being torn open by tiny white-hot needles. I tried not to visualize blood, but I couldn’t. My thoughts relapsed into one arduous monster, eating away at me.

I opened my eyes again, but it only made it worse. My father winced sorrowfully, the Russians smirking and applauding of victory. A pool of brilliant red was growing at my knees, black dots spotted my vision.

A streak of dawn light was brightening the sight, and I could see the lighting sky. A void had found its way into me, and I could not help but think of death. I imagined I was burying myself six foot deep, and my breathing slowed gradually. For the last time of my life, I said, “Father.”

 

 


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