09 November, 2017

Once a week

The aim is to post at least once a week, but I don't know whether that will actually happen. It's hard to find things to write about sometimes.

Ok. I have found a story.


There was an old gentleman in a nursing home who had dementia. Although he's sweet most of the time and wanders around relatively harmlessly, this one day, he was in a cheeky mood. He sought out every staff member he could find and asked them if they knew a certain person, citing (his) full name and date of birth. Depending upon the staff member's response, he would grin or just move onto the next person to try his joke on them.

Some of the staff were rather unimaginative and didn't realise he was joking around. They thought he was being a little more strange and confused than usual. A few played along and pretended we didn't know who he was and weren't sure who or what he was talking about. He enjoyed that, but tended to cut it short, getting really excited about it, because the person both sides were rattling facts off about were him (surprise!). Which would make both people involved in the joke laugh.


So it's not written so well, but I think it was cute.

I guess you'll know if I don't have any ideas of what to write about. You'll be bored and wonder why you even come here to read anything.

In any case, please forgive this (what I call a rubbish post, because it's not worth reading), and perhaps I'll find something better for next time.

Maybe something to do with how I ate a 500gm packet of fizzoes lollies in one week when I normally dislike eating sweets (because they're usually too sweet for me).



...
Once a week he wrote a list and once a week he shopped. Once a week he did his laundry and once a week he gardened. Once a week, he dropped a coin, in the same spot of the street, and then would hide around the corner to watch a little boy in yellow boots run to pick it up and bring it home to his mother who once a week went to the store, but had not enough to pay for all the groceries she needed. Once a week, he smiled at the very end of the week, when all the things to do on the list had been crossed out and he had his once a week day of rest.

Once a week he did odd jobs for the people in his street, who needed their driveway swept, their leaves rake or linen draped out on the lines to dry. Once a week he made tea for a little old granny on her way to her weekly bingo game, because she'd stop to rest at the seat he put out and then give him advice on his roses. Once a week he baked a loaf of raisin bread for supper, but once a week instead of eating it, left it wrapped on the doorstep of the little boy in yellow boots. Once a week a neighbour would leave a jug of cream, sitting beside his wrapped loaf, and then they'd both walk away unnoticed.

Once a week he'd leave his boots outside on the porch and once a week he'd find them cleaned and polished in the morning. Once a week he'd open his door, for the little boy in yellow boots to sit on the step under shelter, while he waited for his mother to finish work. Once a week he'd give the boy a plate of cookies to eat with milk and once a week he'd have the best time of the week, spending time talking or playing games with that little boy.

Once a week there'd be a pie that he couldn't possibly eat all himself and once a week he'd invite the little boy in yellow boots over with his mother to help him finish it. Once a week, after pie, he'd go to the kitchen to find it cleaned. Once a week, he'd pretend he hadn't noticed, but grin to himself, after they'd left unseen.

Once a week he'd lie in his garden and look up in the sky. Once a week while laying there, he'd chat with the neighbour through the fence and sigh at the times long since gone by.



02 November, 2017

Eggs attack

Never underestimate your food. Most of the time, you think you are safe and that the domesticated food item will never attack, but sometimes you are wrong. Sometimes, there is the rebel food item that decides to lead a revolution, which in turn incites the other food items to follow its lead.

I was following the culture and lead of my forebears in the boiling, shelling and eating of eggs. Those who have gone before have passed down the saying not to play with one's food, although they never said what to do if your food is attacking you. Due to the attack, I put into practice the battle cry of: No mercy. No quarter.

I did nothing new or different in the way I had cooked or shelled the chicken eggs. Everything was perfectly normal.

Except one egg took exception to being shelled - that is it didn't just stay still to take the shelling calmly. I wish I could say it was a rotten egg, but it was far from the smelly kind of rotten. It was a rebel kind of rotten.

The shell burst apart the moment I cracked it and delivered a scathing attack up close and personal with my fingers, which questioned the integrity of my skin and belied the age old belief that the humble, fragile egg was harmless to the non-egg allergic human being.

Keeping calm, seeing as the egg finally surrendered to being undressed, I started shelling the next egg, which did the same. Only this egg's assault left splinters in my even-more-fragile-than-egg-shells skin. With a little more fuss, this egg too had to surrender to my superiority.

Having seen or felt (or whatever it is that eggs do) the aggressive, penetrating lead of the initial two eggs, the subsequent eggs continued the attack until my fingers were quite red, sore and displeased by the repeated attempts at surprise ambushes by egg shell. Happily, by the time my fingers were getting ready to rebel themselves at the potential cost in blood, the eggs were done. Beautifully and nakedly exposed in all their glowing white softness.

And as I am not one to remain prejudiced or in any way discriminatory against my food, I ate those lovely boiled eggs with drops of light soy sauce, in order to experience the fullness of their flavour.

Sweet savoury revenge.


This is a true story. It happened today.

28 October, 2017

Welcome to Bakusan


Welcome to Bakusan

Bakusan is a coastal mountain city located in Marusa Provice on the south facing side of Sulileng Island of the Taprisang Archipelago (or Taprisang Islands). The city population comprises of roughly 333,575 people and is known as a relatively relaxed tourist destination for those wanting to combine both beaches and mountains in their holidays. Bakusan offers cruise ships and island tours, as well as mountain hiking or climbing at affordable prices. For those that prefer more city dwelling, the city gradually climbs up the Bakusan mountain where a mix of various international cultures reside and fusion cultures have emerged. Near the top of the city, at least a third of the way up the mountain, in the Gentun district, huge entertainment complexes have been built; filled with restaurants, shops and game halls.

Known also as the City of Flying Chairs, Bakusan has a series of public chair lifts that stop at various platforms all the way up the mountain. For those who find it hard to climb the many stairs and slopes, the chair lifts are the ideal way to see the sights and reach intended destinations with little effort. Most locals continue to use what they call pin travel (ie their own legs), but are happy to point visitors to any of the many flying foxes or chair lifts. Common public transport vehicles are known as rattle cars, the local equivalent to a combination of a tram and bus, since the vehicle can drive on or off the tram tracks. The local market and Bakusan's local produce are easily accessible in the Market Square and associated arcades just east of the City Square, where one can try any of the local teas, sweets and savoury snacks.

At varying locations across the city, traditional housing is open for guests, starting at affordable prices. Homestays are common, but it is just as easy to rent a local traditional house, or even a foreign traditional apartment. Have a look in the Foreigner's District for an architectural mix of buildings from all ages of history, from all sorts of locations around the world and cheap accomodation.

Bakusan is popular for its floor entertainment within the Gentun district, where a reed or rush matted room may be hired for private parties or gatherings. Shoes are not allowed inside and serviced foot washing stations are usually located outside the rooms. Guests usually sit on the floor or on floor cushions. Rooms are catered by any one or a combination of the restaurants located within the same building. Within the building, hostesses, performers and musicians can all be hired for the event if requested at the counter or over the internal phone. If lucky, the famous Gentun entertainer, Marisol, might visit in one of her exciting new costumes.

Marisol is something of a living legend within Bakusan, being the only known 5 times winner of the Bakusan Entertainment Award, but her background is completely mysterious. Nobody knows exactly who she truly is behind the make up, nor whether she is actually a male or female as she has been known to cross dress with abandon and be a master of disguise, such that the city is sure that there have been incidents where she was not even recognised. Nevertheless, she has previously informed the media that she prefers to be referred to in the feminine. She appears and disappears with ease, which is quite a feat for a vibrantly dressed and painted person, even within the entertainment district. Marisol is famous for her conversation, fashion sense, dance and singing. She has been known to combine the local traditional dances with modern songs, revitalising the traditional songs and dance forms. She fraternises with both high and low social elements alike, often visiting if there is a particularly talented musician playing. Many charity events have been taken over by this lovely entertainer, although her appearances have reduced of late. Should violence break out, Marisol has famously de-escalated situations with a witty remark or gotten hands-on herself where she gave both sides a lesson in etiquette. During another famous incident, Marisol entered the private party pf a mobster and entertained entirely in sign language or mime, refusing to utter a single word. Whether she is dress as guy or gal, this unpredictable entertainer is sure to stun and delight wherever she turns up - if she turns up.

Unlike most of the other local entertainers, Marisol cannot be booked for an event, as nobody has her contact details or knows where she lives. Word can be left at any one of the entertainment buildings, but no guarantee can be given. Marisol imitators or lookalikes are warned that they may be mobbed by the locals or visiting Marisol fans for disrespect. Sudden and impromptu Marisol shows are available on occasion and with little notice, where tickets are sold on a first come first serve basis.

For those who enjoy mountain hiking and/or climbing, there are mountain ascending choices for every taste. The Bed and Breakfast Trail is the most popular, where one can stroll up the mountain at one's own pace, stopping by any of the numerous roadside stalls or bed and breakfast inns. Halfway up the trail is Tent Town, a large market filled with souvenirs of all kinds or rest stations where one might fall asleep in a tent after a cup of tea. For those unafraid of heights, the Treetop Canopy Walk is a fun way to sway oneself above the sea of trees to Tent Town. Besides the Bed and Breakfast Trail, the Climbing Trail and Mixed Trails are also quite popular with tours to the very top conducted daily for sunrise or sunset viewing for free. Arrive early at the meeting locations or miss out.

Beach goers will enjoy any of the stunning beaches of either the coarser yellow sands of Bakusan Beach or the finer white sands in the protected Kipply Bay. To the east, rock pools and rocky platforms may be explored or fished. To the west, Western Port, Bakusan's deep sea water port is located where fishing boats or day trips may be chartered to visit any of the local small islands. Trips to the local island resorts out in the coral reefs may also be booked here. Cruise ships drop by every other day, and so going for a few days trip or week's cruise is easy to arrange. Otherwise visitors may feel free to explore any of the port's many taverns and bars, exploring the fish market or even book themselves for deep sea diving lessons.

Bakusan is also a centre of learning for those interested in music, languages and other cultures. Walking the streets, one may hear any one conversation using a mix of words from various languages around the world. A shopkeeper may speak in one language to a local and the local may reply in another language, but both understand each other equally well. Alternatively a conversation may be peppered with words from various languages. To enrol in language or music lessons, visitors may visit the Language Centre of Learning on Hoofpad in the city's centre.

In the words of some of Bakusan's outstanding youth:

Come to Bakusan any time of the year,
The seasonal changes hold little to fear.
Come to Bakusan to stand on the heights,
And at night behold its many bright lights.
Come to Bakusan to explore its shores,
Enjoy the modern and the things of yore.
Come to Bakusan to fish on the sea,
Where waves are tame here on the lee.
Come to Bakusan, welcome one and all,
And if you meet Marisol, there'll sure be a ball.

(Bakusan High School Poem Contest winner. Jared Perly, aged 15)



Written by the Bakusan Tourist Centre, 2017.




(Please note that this is a complete work of fiction. Any similarities to real life people or places are all incidental.)










24 October, 2017

It's something like this


Throughout the busy market, full of shouting, roaring people, the little children of the street slip in between the gaps between people's legs, swimming through the throng. The ho-ak, they are called, belonging to none and all. They cover both face and body, so nobody knows exactly who they are, recognisable only by their style of dress or head covering. Some are fumblers, pick pockets, thieves. Some are muggers, gangsters, hirees. Some are desperate. Some are hoarders. All have their secrets.

Little Ho-ak Timmy, slips between the moving forest of legs like an eel. He's had a lot of practice in his lifetime. Four years makes him an independent young man, he thinks. His eyes flit and dart every where, hoping that nobody saw that he had slipped out of a trash can, where he had hidden the body of his little sister. She was starting to smell and he wouldn't be visiting her again. He had heard from the other ho-ak that it was easy to catch disease from the dead. It wasn't his fault she was dead. She'd gotten sick.

A nobleman with his horse flicks his whip at the small form when he darts under the horse to snatch a fallen bread crust from the gutter, before disappearing back into the crowd.

A bag whacks Little Ho-ak Timmy in the head, knocking his head wrap askew, so that he can't see properly. Hiding under a stall keeper's table while the man is not looking, Timmy fixed his head wrap up, hoping nobody noticed or saw him. His heart beats as quickly as the rabbits in the cage he is looking at under the table. Their black eyes plead, but he ignores them. Stuffing the bread crust into his mouth, his eyes search for what else might be edible. The stall keeper reaches down and grasps the boy by his shirt, throwing him back out into the roar and crush with a box to the ear that makes Timmy's ear ring. The giant butcher's cleaver threatens him and Timmy takes the hint, escaping into the anonymity of the market crowd.

Timmy hides between sacks of potatoes, wishing they were cooked so that he could eat them. If only he knew how to make a fire, he might be able to cook them, but potatoes are heavy to steal and taste awful raw. Raw potatoes, he knows by experience, can make him sick. Especially the green ones. Between the moving legs, he can see the edge of the market where the foreigners known as the Barbaro have barged into the crowd, chasing down and snatching ho-akak willy nilly, thrusting them into the big cage on wheels. The crowd offers up what ho-akak they can get their hands on to the foreigners in order for themselves and their children to be spared. Those taken by the Barbaro never return and word on the street is that they are sold into slavery in a land that spits fire and where the language twists the tongue into knots. With the Barbaro's presence, the market crowd thins a little and Timmy spots a bright orange thing hidden under a haphazard stack of boxes.

The moment the Barbaro disappear, the market regains its usual liveliness and Timmy throws himself through the legs toward his find. It is a partially rotting orange, but Timmy doesn't hesitate to bite into the good part of the orange, spitting out the rotten bits. He even eats the bitter peel. From his hiding place under a cabbage cart, he watches the on-the-spot employment of another stall keeper hiring a street girl who had been looking for work. The girl immediately changes her hair and headress style to inform passers by that she's now employed and untouchable to all but the worst vagrants and ho-akak.

Looking up to tops of the looming apartments above, he can see the fringes of a marriage ceremony occurring on the sun baked roof tops. The man and woman exchange head scarves and weave the more ornate and colourful cloths into the serious triangles of contract holders that have been cut and bound together. It's a beautiful sight, but the cabbage cart owner has found him now, and to avoid being kicked or whacked with the cabbage man's staff, he scurries back out into the people current, avoiding the people with fancy clothes and veiled faces. They tend to kick really hard.

If only it were easy to find enough good food to fill his stomach. After searching the entire day, Timmy's tummy is still growling like it was this morning. The sun is going down and with the growing shadows comes the cold, evening breeze. There's still the night market that he could contend with, but Timmy is a daytime ho-ak. He's usually too tired by sunset to go out into the more dangerous market place where the gangs like to roam. The ho-ak gangs are merciless and scary anyway. The food he ate today has made him feel sick, throw up and made his bowels run. Then again, it could have been the water he drank from the market fountain. If he were a dog, he might have eaten his own vomit. It was a good thing that a bakery woman had given him a mouldy bun. Once he had picked off the mouldy bits, it had tasted as good as fresh. Just hard to bite.

Joining up with his fellow sleep mates, they run through the alleys, climbing houses and jumping over walls, each taking a different route until they meet up at the giant hollow statue that they have been using as their base, hoping no one else was able to follow them to their hide-out. There, they squeeze in with the other ho-ak boys and girls, so that they can stay warm for the night.

Last night, Timmy had been kicked out, because there was not enough space. That's why he had spent the night by his sister's body. She had been annoying while she was alive, but now... he missed her company. Tonight, he managed to find a nice warm place right inside the statue body and another ho-ak had to go find a trash can or uninhabited crack in a wall to huddle for the night.

Tonight, Timmy prays he will dream of a home where he has parents and a family who love him. He prays for a house, a bed and a full belly.





08 April, 2016

Rest

Rest, they say, will do you good;
But rest, I say, is hard.
To sit and lie,
Do nothing;
Fie,
Become a log of wood?

Rest, they say, will heal you fast;
But rest, I say, is hard.
No hands, no arms,
Do what, play yarns
'Til planking amuses last?

Today, tonight,
Tomorrow, we fight,
And build up all we have
To build, to bind
Leave nothing behind
And bring it to the gaff.

Unfinished.

04 March, 2015

Helpless

It was her posture that caught my eye. At first glance, she appeared an old woman in rags, shuffling about the camp and serving the soldiers. At second glance, I realised that she was in fact a young woman dressed in dirty soldier cast offs that were several sizes too large for her. When next she came near to pour more tea for the men sitting beside me, I examined her grimy face and unkempt hair. Her ankles were bound with clanking chains, hence the reason for the shuffling.

To see so many scars is not unusual in the war, but somehow, whenever I see young children and women marked in such a way, an unfathomable sadness wells up within me. Often, they are given these lifelong reminders of the war and its horrors through no fault of their own. When I asked my fellows about her, it took them some time to realise whom I was referring to.

“She arrived the night after saboteurs planted a bomb that took out Marsden’s company. Word was that she was one of the saboteurs, but was given a reprieve for some reason,” Sharon, one of the body building blokes rumbled. With muscles his size, nobody would ever dare question him about his name. “Some of us were set on killing her when we had the chance, but after she’d been here a while, we started questioning whether she really was a spy.”
“She’s more like a deranged refugee,” Tim scratched at a crooked tooth and made a whirly loopy sign to the side of his head. “There’s something not quite right up there.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“She’s kind of dumb,” Jan snorted and spat, his phlegm barely missing the Sharon’s foot.
“Not that it stopped any of you boys from taking revenge on her or using her,” Sharon elbowed Jan in disgust, completely knocking the man off his crate.
“So? A bitch is a bitch,” Jan shrugged, carefully resuming his seat in case Sharon decided to knock him down again. “And if she could talk, who she gonna complain to?”
“A dumb bitch like that,” Tim rolled his eyes at their antics, “would never have snuck into our camp, planted a bomb, snuck out again, and then set the bomb off. She would have blown herself up before she even got into the camp or been caught by the guards. They reckon the guy who set the bomb blew himself up with it.”
“Stupid girl was sitting in the middle of a thorn bush when we found her,” Sharon shakes his head in disbelief. “When we pulled her out, she didn’t even resist. That’s not to say she didn’t try to escape. Although after the Captain talked to her, she did go kinda crazy. I wonder what he said.”

At my questioning look, Tim clarified.
“He means Captain Peters with the impossible first name starting with a ‘P’. Bloke was killed last month, so you wouldn’t have met him. Great guy. Fun to hang with. Hey, you guys remember the time he had a drinking competition and out drank even Hein Steinz?”
Sharon shook with laughter at that.
“Captain drank us so under the table that when the Major came round the next morning, we were still drunk, but the Captain was still as perky as ever. Covered up for us by saying we’d had food poisoning because of some bad meat and then offered the Major some leftovers.”
“What about the time he got us together with a bunch of – ”
Sharon knocked Jan off his crate before he could finish his sentence, glaring a warning at the scrawnier man and then looked grinning round at us all.
“Anyway, Danno, you missed having the best captain a soldier could have. Captain Anders is all right, but man, you would have loved Captain Peters.”

I watched the young-old woman, hunched and shuffling like she was decades older, wondering what indignities she must have suffered at the hands of men like Jan, who only thought for their own comfort and amusement.

All three men drank a toast to their fallen Captain’s memory, eyes swimming with tears; except for Jan who was now watching the woman as I was, albeit with a nasty expression on his already ugly face. For a moment, I was glad I was not the woman. Immediately, I was ashamed that my first thought hadn’t been for her safety and excused myself from the group of friends who had fallen sullen and silent, staring at the fire.

Later that night, I was returning from using the cleaner officer’s toilets under the cover of darkness, when I heard a noise. Walking as silently as my boots would allow me on the sandy gravel of the road, I saw Jan approach the old-young woman who appeared to have just been leaving the kitchens. In the cast off light of a lit window, I saw suds still gleaming on her arms. The moment she saw Jan, she crumpled to the ground without a sound, forcing him to drag her out of the patch of light and back into the shadows.

For a moment, I was assailed with two thoughts. One that every soldier did it and that I shouldn’t interfere, forgetting for a moment that I was a soldier now too; and two that I should save her, at least to ease the guilt that would otherwise lie upon my conscience. It was clear that the other soldiers no longer saw her as another human being and my need to blend in warred with my sense of decency.

In the end I followed the sounds of a body being dragged and Jan’s grunts. What I was going to actually do, I wasn’t sure.

We ended up in the parking lot and Jan dropped the woman on the ground between two trucks.

“Thought you could avoid me?” I heard Jan sneer amidst the sound of something striking meat. “It may have been a while, but it doesn’t mean that I’d forgotten about you. You think everyone’s taken in by your stupid act? You and I know better, don’t we? Why else would Captain Peters tell me to kill you in the case we lost the war or the camp was overrun? You know something – some secrets and I mean to force them out of you eventually. You’re an enemy spy. I know you are. He was a stupid man, the Captain was. Always thinking he was better than anybody else, just because he could hide his dirty side better than the rest of us. We saw the real side to him that time he got a bunch of us guys together to teach you a proper lesson. I could organise an orgy like that again, if you’d like. You should’ve been executed like the rest of the spies.”
“Kill me then.”

The words were slurred, but distinct.

I thought Jan had said she couldn’t speak. I think he’d believed that himself, because there was silence for almost a full minute. And then he began to laugh. I wanted to block my ears from the ugly sound.

“So you can talk,” Jan said in between chuckles. I crept closer to see. “All this time and I was right and they were wrong.” There was a sharp schick of a knife being pulled out from its sheath. “You wanna die? I can help you with that, but tell me first why the Captain didn’t kill you himself.”
“Just kill me,” I saw the woman’s body jerk upright and her arms latch onto Jan’s, making him yell in surprise, trying to force the knife down toward her body. “Kill me. Just kill me!”

There was a struggle for a moment, but eventually Jan fought her off and threw her to one side, holding his knife clear of her.

“You’re crazy, you know that?” he said calmly, putting the knife away. “I get it now. You’re desperate to die, but too scared to kill yourself. It all makes sense to me now. You wanted to die, so the Captain let you live. You’re no spy and if you were one once, you’re not now.”

He kicked her and laughed.

“Cos you’re nothing,” he leaned in and said in her ear, holding her hands clear of his belt. He forced her back down onto the ground and when she let loose a sob, he laughed again, moving with greater urgency to get any clothes out of his way.

I picked up a stone and threw it some distance away, making him pause for a moment.

Unexpectedly, footsteps crunched toward where I’d thrown the stone and I crouched down.

“Oi, Jan, where you gone?” Tim’s voice called. “What’s taking so long to take a piss and what are you doing out here? You gonna get us in trouble tomorrow with your gear the mess it is. Sharon’s about ready to wring your neck.”

Cursing under his breath, I heard Jan zip his pants back up and walk out to Tim.

“You just wrecked a perfectly romantic moment, you idiot.”
“Your dick ain’t going anywhere,” Tim snorted, disgust evident in his voice. “Don’t see what interest you have in a ragdoll like that anyway. There’s no fun in beating someone who’s already down. It’s just sick and you’re a dickhead thinking she’s a spy.”
“She ain’t a spy. Not anymore,” Jan crowed.
“What’d you do?” Tim’s footsteps paused.
“Don’t worry. I just finally managed to make her talk.”
“I thought she was a mute. What did she say?” their footsteps resumed.
“She’s crazy. Just wanted me to kill her.”
“I’d want someone to kill me too if a bloke as ugly as you came after me – ow. What was that for?”

After their voices and footsteps had faded away, I slipped around the truck to where the young-old woman was still lying, my stomach feeling heavy at the fact that I hadn't really tried to save her - that I hadn't the guts to face up to a man like Jan. Although nothing much would have happened if I had been found aside from some dirty jokes, I still felt my heart racing and relief coursing through my veins.

“Hey. Hey, come on. They’re gone now. I’ll help you back to your lean to.”

She didn’t answer me. In the dim light, her eyes glimmered, staring up at the starry sky. In her right hand, Jan’s knife glinted.


02 March, 2015

Hopeless

It started out with a feeling, which then grew into a hope. Perhaps he had succeeded after all. Perhaps he had survived and was on his way back. Then again, perhaps he had survived, but been captured. I wasn't sure what to think after the explosion last night. We hadn't expected there to be any explosion at all and certainly nothing as attention catching as it had turned out.

Something had gone wrong, but Prparim hadn't been able to contact me. Something had been jamming our radio frequency.

Wars are funny things. What would normally be considered illegal and dangerous, becomes allowed when you've been given something vaguely like orders. Orders can be funny things too, particularly when they've purposely been worded vaguely. Still, sabotage is sabotage, no matter the dressing.

Even if Prparim has been captured, he won't be able to tell them anything, because he and I don't know anything. We don't work under any of the normal operations. In all the paperwork, we're just civilians. Displaced civilians - which is the truth. We have no one left and no where to go. We have been disavowed and any guerilla operations that fail will fall heavily upon our shoulders. We are the scapegoats. We have gotten used to being out in the open, but it doesn't mean that we like it.

Wait, that's not quite right. Correction. I don't know anything, but Prparim does. He is always near the centre of operations. I tend to group us together because we've been partners for so long, but I forget that we're not on the same level.

Whether I want to worry or not, it's like a spot I can't itch.

Hiding here in the bushes, not daring to leave although time was up an hour ago. What to do?

It's dark, it's rainy and cold - and even if I wanted to get out of here, I can't. Not with all those soldiers tramping the grass into the mud.

Are they looking for me?

I feel like a mouse in a hole, a pigeon in the scrub, a rabbit in the grass, just waiting for the hunters to pounce. Any moment now, I'll feel their claws digging into my skin, their jaws around my neck, while they beat me to death against the ground.

Hope is an amazing thing. With hope, you feel less cold, you can be hunted and still expect something good to happen. So long Prparim is alive, I don't mind what happens to me. So long he survives and escapes, it doesn't matter whether I'm dead or alive.

A bright light glares through the leaves, blinding me for a moment. A heavy hand latches around the back of my neck, grasps hold of my hair and drags me out of hiding. My captor yells and his fellows gather around. Mud flies. My scalp burns, twigs catch my clothes and the grounds scrapes me. Heavy weights smash into me from all angles, sparking fires wherever they mark me. I taste blood. I see the mud shining in the torchlight and feel its moist stickiness against my body.

All around me, anger explodes in fits and bursts; and I am tossed, kicked and dragged along the ground in turns. I don't even try to understand what they're shouting. They're mad because some of their mates have died in the explosion. I don't care, because there's no way Prparim could have survived it either and if he's dead, I might as well be too. Without him, my whole plan has failed. Everything I did had been for him. It is better to die quickly, than to be tortured and raped, forced into confessions that are barely true. They'd never admit to it, of course. They never do. They never have. Even Command never recognised any of the other ladies' complaints when we were in training.

Complaints. It makes such abuse sound so trivial.

I'm not doing this because I'm a patriot. I'm not here because I love my job. I'm here for Prparim because he asked me and of all the people left in the world, he's the only one I trust. I'm here because Command had killed my sister and tonight was to be my revenge. I'm here because I aim not to return. I just hadn't counted on Prparim insisting on taking my place. I hadn't counted on him blowing himself up, instead of escaping and hiding out somewhere until the war had ended. He knew. Surely he knew what I had done. I had practically shown him, daring me to stop me.

Perhaps he was as sick of the war as I was.

There's a pause in the strikes and through my rapidly swelling eyes, I see a gap, a chance, and I take it.

Cold wind stings my face and my knees don't seem able to bear my weight, but I force myself to stumble on. Faster and faster, but the wind passes me no quicker and there's mud oozing its way into the grazes on my knees. Heavy limbs weighed down by pain. Only my imagination races away. Blinding white flashes through my eyesight, starting from my right side and then everywhere else. I hear several cracks and a scream through the roaring in my ears.

The white fades and is replaced with a pair of boots. Familiar boots, familiar pants, familiar face, but an unfamiliar expression.

And I realise it was all a ruse.

Why would he fight for a country that never loved or cared for him? Why would he fight against the very country he was born in?
How had we ever believed him in the first place?

The explosion had taken me by surprise. It would take Command by surprise too and they would assume something had gone wrong and that we were dead.

I laugh at my stupidity - or well, I gurgle and cough and then cry silently while gasping, because broken ribs don't allow you to do anything more than shallow breathing. How had I never noticed all the problems we had encountered in our previous missions had taken place during a last minute change of plan - changed by Prparim?

I had trusted him and he had used me. Not unexpected, I suppose. To trust someone is to want them to use you for their own gain.

Here I was. The double-crossing scapegoat's scapegoat and I was about to die for something I didn't believe in.

I had been looking to die this mission, just not like this, but death is death and with it comes release from this dark life. In the end, I guess it's all the same.

  "Hi Gracie," his eyes gleam icy blue, even in this torchlight. "That bomb wasn't in the plan. You've killed a lot of men."

I can barely talk for the pain. I can hardly seem to catch my breath, but I can smile. Smile and laugh to myself.
Me? He's accusing me?
It won't be long now. I wonder if he ever cared about me. Will he miss me?

  "You almost killed me," he continues, squatting down and cupping my chin in his hand, forcing my head up. "I almost didn't get out in time."

The bomb was your plant. I only sped the timer up on a mechanism that was meant to make noise for a distraction that would trigger the signal early, so that the enemy would see me leaving and shoot me. You knew that. You saw it. You took my place, you traitor.

But the bomb killing so many of the enemy soldiers doesn't quite make sense. Why had they gone so far in order to deceive my people or are they deceiving their own people - or the outside world? Is Prparim keeping up appearances for my fighting countrymen? I don't understand.

  "I knew you were tiring of the war, but I never thought you'd try to kill me. It's a good thing I still care for you. I hurried here before they could beat you to death. There'll be a trial and you'll probably be sentenced, but don't worry, they've already agreed not to execute you on grounds that you are a simpleton and not quite sound in the head."

My eyes widen at the news and his smile grows whilst mine fades. Don't tell me. Don't tell me this is going somewhere I don't want to go. I would still rather die. The whole point was to get myself killed. If I don't die, what's the point? Everyone else I love is dead. I have nothing left to live for.

On the other hand, who is he calling a simpleton? How dare he?

  "I've already told them everything about our operations, so all you have to do is corroborate my version of events. Your Command will think you're dead, so to tell the truth, we don't even need to try you, but we have to keep up the show for the historians." He smiles, but it's not the gentle smile I remember. A corner of his lips twists it into a cruel smile. "Not that you're worth including in history. With my input, they already know that there are some things you fear worse than death. I hope you're ready for it. Oh, you're really hated in this camp for all those booby traps you laid and the nuisance you made of yourself. You were forever getting in the way of my plans too. It'll be good to finally see you get what you deserve."

I wince at that. It shouldn't hurt, but it does. I had never meant to be a burden to him. Not to him. Now though, I might have other ideas. My heart aches with the knowledge that the secrets I had spilled to him during the quiet of our missions have now become arrows to pierce me.

I'm never going to trust anyone ever again.

My wrists are pulled roughly behind my back and arms as thick as tree trunks lift me up from either side. I fight them. Futilely.

I refuse to go quietly to a fate far worse than death. I had escaped by joining the war effort and there was no way I was going back to that old life willingly.

Prparim is alive, but now, I wish he were dead.

I should have gone for a gun or weapon earlier, then they would have been forced to shoot me in order to acknowledge the threat. Never mind the fact that I don't know how to use a gun.

So much for my convictions.

I wish I'd had the guts to have killed myself earlier. It would have saved me from all this trouble.