Short Story

In the Temple They Were Singing

I like the name-calling the most.

The sounds here are different, always have been. It is different in the slave-world. Sounds are not as rich here. They do not resonate as much. And the colours are not as deep, either.

I find myself envying them.

The colours in the slave-world are exquisite. Especially red. Anubis loves it the singular colour more than most. We often joke (though behind his back, he has a temper) that Anubis is to the emerald red of blood as flies are to honey … or as the Slaves are to honey: I can honestly see no difference between the two analogies. Of course, in the slave-world, no jokes are made of Anubis. Or of any of us, for that matter; there is only worship: sustained and agelong.

On my last visit to the slave-world, I noticed something, and I have wondered at it ever since the paltry, undemanding trek: I had only just arrived, and unlike the rest of my varied and sizably-numbered pantheon of a family, I do not prefer to descend upon the slave-world in animal form. No, when I pay visit to the Slaves and their world I simply appear as one of them. It allows for greater access: animals are not welcome everywhere, naturally: man and beast are often at odds, warring incessantly, despite their starkly obvious similarities, and their long shared lineage. However accepting of the strange and peculiar you are, the site of a crocodile at your doorstep is bound to trouble you. The slave-world is a funny place.

No, I do not transform into their animals, although I do transform into many a different-looking Slave; the variety excites me, and men, unlike animals, allow for greater inspection of the slave-world and its people: men speak to their own, they unravel like ropes in the presence of their kind, and bear all secrets as if the secrets they hold in their chests pain them, and they ache to palliate the agony of holding it within them.

Many of my kind, however, undertake the practice of appearing as animals. Many do, but I do not. Do not misunderstand my intentions, though, I do not resent the practice (in fact, I think the head of a scarab beetle compliments Khephri’s form and gives him an aura of likable dread), it is just a difference of opinion. Nothing more.

Speaking of thinking things more than they are, I feel the following must be asserted: when We descend to the slave-world, we do not transform into animals. That is a misconception. One of the Slaves’ many flaws is a tendency to exaggerate, to embellish, and, often to amusingly catastrophic results, distort truth in favour of a myriad of motives: be it deliberate dishonesty, scheming to attain power, scheming to absolve their own sins, or, simply, distorting it because they do not know any better. They lie, because they have something to lie about. We don’t, for precisely the absence of the same.

The truth is: no transformation is involved in slipping into the skin and hide of animals. We simply appear to be who, or what, we wish to appear to be. We simply are, and so, we simply become.

I am noticing that I have come to think like the Slaves. The others would not make this mistake – they understand the presence of an unassailable line between godliness and servitude, and do not dare cross it. Perhaps the Slaves have had more of an effect on me than I want, or care to admit. I am becoming more like them.

But I must hasten to return to my story, and I regret my severe digressions. Perhaps those are something else that I take after them now – these sudden changes in line of thought. Certainly, Isis would not flounder with her words, and lose track of her original objective in speaking, neither would Hathor or Nun dream of doing the same.

Back to the story, then. I had landed upon the slave-world, and, for no reason other than pure whim, I had decided to appear as an old man: exhausted, commanding a wooded cane and white-bearded. I decided against visiting the Valley of Kings (again, something my brethren would not do) and opted instead for a walk along the RIver.

I admire the River. The mere sight of it excites and enthralls me. It bisects the Country in its entirety, coast to sandy coast. There is an almost humbling joy in seeing the blue beast. Almost, but not quite.

Unthreatening and in human form, I walked along the Great Blue. Commanding the feet of men is a refreshing change – they are delightfully slow. Men travel at snail-crawl speed, and that I enjoy. One often enjoys the different and unusual, after having been bored by the tediousness of the everyday. Yes, change is thrilling sometimes.

It had been nighttime. I found him, eyes thrust above, looking at the stars. The boy, lying flat on the banks of the River, lay unmoving, eyeing the heavens. His brown skin was illuminated, but only just, by the moonlight; I saw him only in the way that things are visible at night: bathed in darkness, with edges and ends indiscernible. It was after a moment of observing the enthralling sight (you must allow my enthusiasm, the imperfection of the ordinary is wholly absent in my world) that the boy was disturbed.

He tried to swat the disturbance away, but it would again return moments later. It was the utter contempt with which the boy hit at the fly that intrigued me most. Such hatred. Such utter disdain. Such scornful unconcern. Even for my majestic sensibilities, the act seemed unwarranted.

No action is without reason, and nothing is just anything: one cannot exist as an unaffected entity in this universe any more than you can force a mountain through a keyhole. (I realize, yes, that I certainly can, but the analogy seems fitting, considering the Slaves’ abilities – or lack thereof.)

The Slaves think themselves above flies, I certainly can see no difference, of course, but this isn’t strictly an examination of me. Perhaps it is a primal need to feel superior; at least superior to something, if not to many things. Perhaps the Slaves take that after us, or it is the other way round – it is difficult to tell. Perhaps they want to be just as powerful. Perhaps they envy us for our power. I am not sure.

Yes, gods have their doubts, too. Though far less often, owing to a greatly clearer view of things, and, also, our uncertainty bears higher consequences for anyone involved. Their uncertainty culminates with confusion, anger, and many a useless debate, while our uncertainty manifests in year-long floods and great wars that last even longer. Although, over the years, men have also manifested their confusion and debilitating uncertainty in waging war, to great, long, bloody effect (Anubis was thrilled at a short Frenchman’s endeavours, and a spindly German with the most peculiar choice of facial hair put Anubis over the moon with his dedicated, passionate attempts). And in that respect, we are not much different.

I have shared their world with them for long, listened to their conversation, become the object of their admiration and worship, and it has made me closer to them. They are being assimilated into me. It does not escape me, too, that we are more like the Slaves than is coincidental. We, the gods, are simply … more endowed.

Having observed enough of the boy and the roaring River at his feet, I drifted towards one of the temples. I could hardly help it, you must understand. After all, in the grand, towering temples, it was my name that was sang, chanted, called.

In the temple they were singing.

I stood between them, as one of them, and my anonymity amazed me. I am not used to my presence being so blatantly disregarded, still less am I used to being touched by them, having them jeer and speak and innocuously brush past me with their frail skin and weak limbs and unassuming faces. I stayed long enough to pay witness to one more round of the jubilant prayer-song (and on one occasion, I even participated). Their voices filled the air, reached high to the clouds, as if spreading to all of Kemet.

Then, just as unnoticed as when I arrived, I left the slave-world.

I was on my way back to my home, and that of the Gods of Kemet. My home, where the colours are but one: that of the near-absence of all colour, and where the sounds are but one: that of maddening vacancy and emptiness, of the near-absence of all sound. My home. Where the gods tread.

 

Nehes, nehes, nehes,

Nehes em hotep,

Nehes em neferu

Nebet hotepet

Anekh brak

Anekh brak

Tu a atu. Tu a atu. Nebet Aset …

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Letters from the Land of Fire

I am the voice.

This one is different. The stack of envelopes I’m given seldom consists of anything other than the standard-issue white paper pockets. Sealed and stamped and packaged from the factories of wherever, produced by the hardworking hands of people who will never know what their hands put into creation, and torn open and the contents of, read and digested by people who will never know who worked to get it to them. Scarcely does anyone ever know the inner workings of the clock.

I pull the envelope that doesn’t belong from the stack. The tattered exterior. This one is recycled. Perhaps thrown to the floor without a thought by someone, having fulfilled its purpose, and decided by someone else to be worth another round. Zero wastage policy. You need every penny to win a war. Every saved penny is another bullet. Every bullet is another thunder of a shattering noise, bouncing spitefully in the walls of an ear in a battlefield there, in the valley of the blind and deaf and afraid.

Why did I have to raise my hand?

Whatever it was that did, got me here, at this desk, with a soon to be burning tongue and aching arms. At least I wasn’t asked to shine the toilets. Or worse yet, do it with a toothbrush.

The sergeant walked in and asked who was fond of music. He eyed us all, assembled into that cabin from everywhere: torn from villages and the city, from families and lives that now seem as distant as the stars in the sky, heaved into military uniforms, and told to answer to no one but the higher-ranking commanding officer. Order. Obey. Order. Obey.

Order.

Obey.

I shouldn’t have answered. When he asked who liked music, I should have clamped my lips shut and bolted them with steel. Answering ambiguous questions of the sergeant’s never ends well. I should have known.

I raised my hand.

“Yes, sir.”

“I do, sir.”

He smiled at me.

“Come along, son.”

He took me to his office.

To his credit, true to the matter he originally spoke of, he slid the record in place, and the music played. The woman singing sounded like one I’d heard singing back home. She sang of home.

“The love of the Mother and the flutter of birds, intertwine and are one in the love of Her.”

Her. My country being referred to as a woman. Who is loved. For whom lives and souls are paid as tribute. In exaltation. With red coins of vengeful anger. With blood.

When the song drowned to a stop, he lifted the pin off the phonograph. You could tell that the new phonograph was a prized possession by the gentleness with which he handled it.

I’d been treated to the tune. I’d volunteered when he asked. Then, I’d agreed to his terms. I brought it unto myself. I was assigned duty at the Paper Mill. The finality of an order from the sergeant’s roaring lips. I should have known.

The Paper Mill is not one. It is not a place where trees are squeezed dry and flattened into thin sheets. It does, however, involve paper, and is a production … of sorts.

I was shown to my desk at the Paper Mill. Given the stack of envelopes. Told to not leave until Tuesday afternoon, when another fool would be tricked into agreeing as I did, doing what I will.

Back to the brown envelope.

It stands out in the pile of made-for-army-purposes envelopes. A knock on the door. A user of the Papermill. Step inside, please. Use me.

“Joseph?” the voice asks politely.

I nod.

“Yes,” I return. “Come in.”

The voice walks inside in its brown nighty. The clothes you don’t see in the war posters. In times other than actual deployment in the field, soldiers wear a comfortable brown overall gown. The gown walks toward me, finds me at my desk. “If I won’t be too much trouble …” the gown says, sliding over a folded sheet of paper.

What unwarranted politeness. He needn’t ask for my services, but he did none the less.

“Of course,” I say. I nod at as the gown smiles and leaves, just as quickly as it arrived. I’ve seen his face before. Somewhere in the unending litter of faces. The entire time it was in the room, the gown smiled warmly at me.

Now for the job. I’ll make sure to treat his letter well. I unfurl the folds and read a line or two from the middle. If I’m to do this, I might as well make it interesting.

“And the itch is gone, too. The field doctor is a nice man, always smiling. I think he’s seen death too many times. He probably has. He must have. I’m leaving tomorrow morning, mama.”

Hmm.

I wonder where the itch was.

But I shouldn’t read on. A line or two is all I can permit myself. The line must be drawn somewhere. I do have some decency.

So he’s leaving in the morning. I’m spared the tip out, to the warzone, on account of my duty. In the morning, he will dress out of his gown, into the green, and be shown out of camp with a thousand others like him.

Helmet on head.

Gun in hand.

Fear in chest.

Hope … well, everywhere.

Because who wants to die?

I fold the letter back as it was. The tightly pressed creases fall back to their previous position. I slip it inside the lone brown envelope. The least I can do to reward his unexpected gesture is not stuff it in a hideous army-issue envelope. I lick the flap, tasting the rough rub of paper. I press the envelope shut.

One done.

So is the job of the fool of the Paper Mill. Place letters in envelopes, lick them shut. The light reading, however, is purely this fool’s humble addition to the routine. As I said, I am their voice. Without the fool of the Paper Mill, the letters of the war would not be delivered. Someone has to do it. The licking is the worst part. My tongue will burn blue. I should have known.

Another now. I slide it open.

“Has Jesse sold the goat? Tell that stupid Saukerl not to do it just yet. Who knows when the war will end. And tell him to water the field, not drown it. God, I miss his face.”

I stuff them in quick order now, the pile will only get larger by the minute. More gowns will drop through the door. With more letters. Until the shift ends. Until Tuesday. I lick the envelope shut. I read another.

“I need you to go to Markus’s house. Spend the day with his mother. She will need the company. Comfort her. Don’t mention any of what I said to her. Especially the …”

I’m interrupted.

My mind loses the words in a fright.

I push the intruded-upon letter away in panic.

I shouldn’t be reading this. The cause of the interruption stands before me.Another gown pushes the door ajar. It drifts inside, wordlessly thrusts the folded piece onto the desk. The gown leaves.

What insolence.

Unspecial white envelope for you.

I read on.

“Especially the wounds. Don’t mention the wounds, Dana.”

I slide it in its pouch. Glue it with a lick. I slosh a drink of water against the inner walls of my mouth to moisten things. That should help. Another.

“Perhaps someone like Leon could phrase this better. Remember Leon? From my last letter? He is good with words. If he were here, I would have asked his help in writing this. But he has been stationed seventy miles away. I don’t know how better to say this. I love you. I ache to hold you in my arms. I ache to brush your lush hair and have it curl along my fingers. I love you. There is …”

Enough of that.

Restraint.

I’ve already read too much.

Another gown enters the Paper Mill. Even on Tuesday afternoon, the stack of letters will not get any smaller. The sounds of bombs not any fainter. The fear not any milder. The crusting of blood along the battlefield floor will not dry. Not completely. Just before it dries, just before it solidifies under sun smashing down on it, the wind of shouts and winter cold, it will be replenished with a fresh coat of red.

I have a feeling the smiling gown, the first one, won’t return to camp.

It is the smilers who die first. Always. They are not made for the trials and tests of the land of fire. They fall short.

We will soon know.

Another letter now.

The Chair on the Left

On either end of the large room are identical oak chairs. He must have had a designer place them there. I debate within myself which to seat myself at.

It wasn’t a gradual change. Something as striking as that doesn’t happen unnoticed. I still wonder at it as I did the moment it happened. They flew back as if hidden my masks. But there are no masks. I thread the line through the handle, fix the lock to the steel shutter of the lock. It should revolve unobstructed now. I take the end of the line to the chair on the left.

I try to recall my proof. I try to recall the smile. Pulling the image back into view has become near impossible. It breaks into pieces that are blown away, piece by piece. I try to recall what the dining table looked like. The soft silk napkins. The melody of clangs of knives and forks and spoons bouncing off plates. The waitress. My confusion. How I couldn’t read the menu. “You choose,” I said. “I don’t know. What do you think?” I try to recall her smile then. I had dined alone. I loved what she had ordered on my behalf.

Outside the window is a black canvas. It’s too late for anything else to show. The towers are burnt-out fires. The hardwood floor clicks under the soles of my shoes. I wait for him. It won’t be long before he steps through the door at my side. I will be out of his view at first he enters. I will make it easy.

I walked streets searching for them. I had woke from sleep and I could find none. Where had they gone? Could it all have been a dream? Was I going to wake soon, terrified but grateful it was nothing more than my dreams at work? I didn’t know. So I searched for them, finding none in anyone. Not even my own. They do not look at me. They do not shoot me terrified or disgusted looks. I have no reflection.

It will be soon.

The faces had disappeared. In their places voids. I saw no eyes that glisten. No lips that speak words of kindness. I saw no faces. Not in anyone. Soon all the faces I knew started falling out of my memory. One remains, a phantom in my head. That of the waitress who smiled. It was as though all the faces had been erased. All but one. The only proof I have that there were ever faces where there are none now is a slowly fading memory of someone who smiled at my indecisiveness.

The ding of the elevator sounds. I follow his footfall along the long hallway. He slides the keys into the lock, and pushes inside. I’m concealed in the dark of the room. His footsteps fall heavy, he has spent another day hard at work. The light flickers open. He makes his way to the center of the room. A small sign on the main wall comes into view, hung where he would see it every day.

Happiness is taking note of the little things that make our lives. They happen only once. In that time, life is yours.

He stands before me now. From my seat, I pull the line in my hand and the structure I attached to it clicks in place. The crashing sound is that of the slide of the lock shattering. No one will open this door. No one will interrupt this. I dart toward him.

I imagine he is startled now. I imagine he is surprised at my being in his home. I do not see. I do not know. There is a thud as I strike his head. Another as he falls to the floor. The blade cuts cleanly through. The stream of blood slides smoothly across the hardwood floor. Like a river. The tip of the knife now rests where it will cause the most painless death. His body will slip into shock, his head will flood over with absence of feeling, and he will feel nothing. He will leave having hurt little. His fingers smear a streak across the floor before relaxing and stopping in place. Then I see it. I see what I came for.

For a moment, I see his tranquil face.

Once a Sky Blue

      Along the sky like bands never ceasing.

The blood-red earth shines as I step through. The dead things litter the ground. I steal around them. Avoiding them is all we can do. You have little power of choice when you’re running for your life. Nothing penetrates the silence. We see them, but not hear them. Its sound is approaching. It will be soon.

The world burns red. It has been years since our world was stripped of life. We made this. The sky glows a bright crimson, and so does all else. The floor I step on, the remains of water in the ground, the dead trees, the raw wind in the air. Red as the roses of old. I run on, the shattered road beneath my feet crackles as I step on shards of its fabric. It will be soon when the rivers will arrive. The rivers will take most of us.

This is our doing. Once, this sky glimmered a beautiful blue. We cared little then. We let our world break, bathed it in the never-ending war, soaked its soil in the blood of the innocent, filled its air with the sounds of pain. Death, not life, was the constant of our lives. We brought this onto ourselves. The world we defiled for so long would then take its revenge upon us; it has, but it is not done yet. Not until we are all wiped away.

It had had enough. It had grown sick of our ignorance. When it first appeared, the red sheet spread over the land of war. That is how we knew it was fueled by the deaths. Up above, through the fabric of the sky, over the darting gunshots and blasts of missiles, it slowly spread. Threw over us the blanket of red. We didn’t know where it came from, but it had encased our planet. It sucked out sound, and life followed. The rivers came, and the wars were stopped. Its revenge had started. Our presence had only caused it agony of late, and it has been cleansing itself of us.

The red covered the whole of the world. All we see is the blood of the earth that coats all things. Then the rivers cut through the air. The rivers are white streams of light that snake through the air like the wind. They kill all along their path. No one is spared. Coming into contact with one erases your bodies from existence. Gone, like it had never been. The rivers grow bigger as they collect more souls. My body aches, but I must run from the rivers. In the distance, I see more like me. Delaying the inevitable.

On instinct, we run. Most of us would walk into the path of one of the rivers, relieve ourselves of this torture of a world, if not for the river’s burn. The thought of it shakes our cores. In the thin shard of a second before touching the rivers and being thrust into nonexistence, you see its pain. The Earth forces its age-long pain before your eyes. There is no time to scream, to articulate the horror that it has been through, that we put it through. The dead speak once more. None is allowed but to glance at the justification of the burning sky, the rivers of white that erase us. Not many of us remain. It will not be long before I am made to see what they have seen. The Earth is killing us. The end is near.

The rocks under my feet tremble as the river comes into being. Great as a mountain. It reaps the lives of a few in the distance. A blink of a moment later, they are pulled into nowhere. I run in the opposite direction, I could have a chance of evading it still. The river travels faster than most can run, but it is not flowing toward me. I continue on, as fast my twitching legs will allow. The red air melts my insides as I force it inside in wide gulps. The river strikes into the ground a shock of a wave as it turns in my direction. Its flow makes no sound, its travel leaves no trace. It illuminates the red, diluting it into shadows of the vivid colour. My eye meets another just as the river brushes past me. I stare into the terrified amber iris.

Brown, like an earth once alive. Like a home once loved.

The Field of Weeping Roses.

      Story and legend tell of a story. A story of our ancestors. Like many of its kind, this one begins long ago, in a time different from this.

 

The Fire of White

      A long time ago, there were two kings. Their kingdoms lay side by side. For a long there time, there had been peace and trade between the two kingdoms. Then, the two kingdoms found themselves at the brink of war. Some say it was greed that sparked the animosity: one of the kings wanted the other’s kingdom. Others say it was anger: one of the kings had ordered the other’s traders be cheated, not given their due payment. Others hold a dispute of passion and love to be the cause. Its spark was created, and the fire of war ignited. A long war was fought, with both kingdoms sending their men to fight, and die in the heat of battle. Eventually, the war ended, with neither side claiming victory. The two armies were of near identical ability and strength. The blood of the dead, it is said, crept out of the lifeless bodies, seeped into the land and soil of the battlefield. The families of the deceased mourned, with both of the kings’ subjects killing them for having lost them their family members, waged war. The war was ended.

     Those of the soldiers who fled, managed to leave the battlefield with their souls in toe, were chased out by a fire. One larger than any of them had ever seen, the flames of which were hotter than any that had ever burned. The fire burned white. White flawless and pure as the clouds. Its large beams snaked up toward the heavens. So tall, they were seen from within the gates of the two kingdoms. It burned throughout the battlefield, leaving no part of it unaffected. The fire burned for many days. The night sky was set alight by the wildfire.Amazed, the elderly and children alike watched the blaze that ate away at the land. They sang.

 

 

The fire of white

Burning in the night.

 

Fueled by burning souls

Of those sent to fight

Those hearts strong and fierce,

Those smiles bright.

 

The fire of white

Burning in the night

Where the dark once was

Great phantoms of might.

Oh how beautiful is the sight

Of the fire of white.

 

 

One day, a bright spring morning, a call was heard from outside both kingdoms. The call was so inviting that everyone who could followed its sweet pull. The call was emanating from what was the battlefield where the war was fought. They followed the call to its source. What they found was not the barren battlefield of the great war they knew to be there, but a bed of flowers.

 

The Song of the Flowers

      They found an expanse of white roses, each round and the size of a clenched fist. They looked for who was calling for them, and found no one. The call came from the roses. They approached the flowers, finding that each of them was called to different flower. Just as they neared the rose that pulled them, the flowers started to sing. The song they sang brought them to them to their knees. The flowers sang of the dead. The flowers sang, each lamenting the death of a husband, a father, a brother, a son. They sang their names, moments they were happy and sad and heartbroken, memories they had held, dreams they had had. The flowers only sang to the ears of those who had known the man of whom the flower sings. No one else could hear the words of the roses. When they had finished singing, the flower slowly turned a bright red, gradually, drop by drop of luminous colour, as if being stained by blood. Once red, they say, the people could hear the flowers weep. The cries of the flowers shook their souls. That is the story of field of weeping flowers.

 

      The flowers still cry now. No one hears their song.

 

The Girl in Purple.

I am the frog.

I can hear buzzing under the plastic insulation I placed on the wire. The metal of the container box shows all its rust now: it isn’t glistening in the pool of light encasing it. Ten minutes.

“Doing what is right,” they call it. It is what you read on their badges, what their news agencies claim, what their politicians dole out with all sincerity. It is the reason behind every action, and the motivation behind every crime. It is what, either by being tricked by others or tricking themselves, they believe. It is their ultimate rule. It is what I break. It is what they resent me for. It is, despite its masked ugliness, beautiful. They have taught me that.

I am not like them. They cannot see.

I was seven. Televisions were not as extravagant back then, but it did not matter. Through the fifteen inches of a multicolor screen, I first noticed it. The wall. When an explosion blows out a hospital, sending the charred, flaming remains of what used to be someone’s wife or brother into flight, or when images of the aftereffects of a missile attack are dealt out to the public, with a man in a jacket that spells PRESS guiding viewers through the mayhem that results, you can see it, if you look close enough. The wall in all its deceiving glory. On television, I saw the bombed-to-shreds buildings, and was told by a smiling man in brown glasses that these wastelands before me were the images of war. The unmistakable footprints of death leave waste in their wake, and it leaves a mark. A mark I saw in the terrified eyes, and screams, the girl in a simple purple dress stained in dirt and dust holding another tighter and tighter still trying to muffle her wails of pain, the calls for help. Tighter and tighter, as if her loosening her grip would kill the other girl. Couldn’t the foreign men with cameras help, I wondered. Clearly, they couldn’t. It was small at first, a tiny detail that got bigger and grew to become all I can see.

“Why?” I asked. No one replied other than to tell me that it was the right thing to do. There is honour in military action, and that was no exception. In the larger scheme of things, it matters little if you kill ten others in pursuing a target. Or a hundred. Or half a country. Right is right and must be pursued at all costs. I could have been that girl whose head had half of it incinerated. It wouldn’t have mattered to them. It wouldn’t have mattered to the people like me: the ones on their sofas, huddled around a living room, around a television. People like me; at least, at the time.

The wall was slightly in view then, a mirage that hid once I neared, the thread of an artifact in the corner of your eye that jumps out of view once you look in its direction. Why is this happening is the first question you ask. It is only natural to look for a reason to calm your outrage. I was offered plenty. Honour, love of country, hatred of the others. They were wrong and we were right.

Terrorist. That’s what the men in green helmets, machine guns in hand, are out to capture. One out to insight terror, one whose heart so overflows with dark, inky evil that they would make their life mission to kill innocents and rob them of their piece of mind and life. Terror. Fear. A terrorist is a maker of misery. Seven minutes.

I was ten. My mother cried. When your son dies in battle, I cannot imagine doing any less than she did. Her cries pierced the air around me, as if slicing through it in neat bands. But she was consoled. “He died serving his country,” she was told. “He was doing the right thing.” He had died of a bullet wound to the neck. By the time his accompanying teammates were able to reach him, deep into enemy territory, where he’d been shot, he had bled to death. It takes a few seconds for that kind of wound to drain you of all life. His friend from the military told me this, on account of the dead soldier being my only brother. He wore formal military garment. As he recalled the events, tears streamed down his face and he wailed as though the liquid were paining him as it exited his eyes. He told me I deserved to know how my brother died. That he died upholding what everyone virtuous and true holds to be right. After he’d left, I remember hating those responsible for my brother’s death.

They say a frog placed in boiling water will jump out, but one that is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, will not understand, will not perceive the danger. It will be cooked to death.

Five minutes.

I was thirteen. The man in the square is looking at me. He’s looking at everyone there. His eyes scan the crowd, finding every face and feeding it looks of earnestness and truthfulness. I was watching the president give a speech. Talking, he detailed why the country was entering war again. A terrorist organisation must be brought to its knees. Freedom must be granted to a besieged people. We were to sacrifice for the common good. I believed him. There was no reason not to. I was afraid. A week later, the tanks left. The fighter jets darted away. The men with guns were loaded onto massive ships and shipped to where they either kill or be killed. And if death was to be their fate, they would die with honour. Other times, I see the man laughing.

Instead, the country invaded was torn to pieces. The dead, all civilians, were too many to count. Some things engrave themselves into your memory. It was then that the wall was clear. Over every action, over everyone who believes in the deceit, is a thin, dark film that shows the true nature of things. The wall is over everything. The wall is what shows the politician to be a power-hungry chaser of wealth, whose interests are far from what he advertises. It shows wars fought in the name of freedom, dignity and liberty to be no less criminal than what they supposedly are enacted to fight. It showed me, and everyone like me, everyone who took their words to be true, everyone who feared and cried and chanted and loved and hated when they said to, to be blind.

I see it.

There is no right. There is only a surprisingly simple machine wherein I was given no choice but delusion. I was played with and told what to think. I refused to be a part in their games of greed and blood. The blind around me do not see, but they must. Three minutes.

The domino effect requires only a little push to be set in motion. One small force sets the machine in perfect chaos. It is that which I intend to do. It will only take my small act to make them realize. They must see what I see. They must drink of my blood. They must drown in misery, just as I have. Then they will know. Two minutes.

The low purr still escapes the metal box. At midnight, when I press the small button in its middle, I will die. The charge will light the fuse in the ignition chamber, and set aflame the explosives packaged inside. Instant death. So little of me will remain that they will carry my remains in their palms. This is my purpose. I am the frog who was transformed without knowing. And, like the frog deceived, I will die. My time has come. I realized my purpose. When I die, they will realize theirs. The ignition will set ablaze the letters I wrote. They will see my final message, written in ink of red flame. One minute.

I close my eyes. The last thing I ever see must not be this world. It must not be this beast. I think of her. I think how she looked as though holding back tears as she embraced the other child, caging her in her own being. She had to appear strong, unaffected, for the other girl. That might have been her sister. Her friend. I think how she changed me. I think how I was blind. How she made me see.

The button clicks softly as I push it through.

****

They lie.

Your sons and daughter are dying at war as you read this.

I was one of you.

I cannot do any more.

If you are reading this,

if you have witnessed what I have done,

if you watch death every day and cannot feel its searing pain any longer

then stand together.

Fight the war machine.

Fight death.

 

I love the girl in purple.

When She Cried

When she cried, it tortured him more than it did her. With every tear that slid down her soft, frightened face, a sliver of his soul detached and fell to the floor. Left his body that embraced hers. Like a cage. Tighter. Tighter. Broken shards of himself, falling to the cold floor. When the tears stopped, she looked down at him who had encased her in walls of his own being. His lifeless face. She cried again. For him. But there was none of him left to fall.

 

It kills me when you cry.