One amongst a thousand.
They were herded from the trucks into the meadow and made to dig. Some
were given shovels and picks. Others clawed in the hard earth with their
hands. He did that. His fingers bled. The men with guns waited, they
relaxed. They watched the men who did not have guns working. They smoked
cigarettes and joked and swore. All men. Their commander was impatient.
He strode the length of the trench tapping his pistol against his leg.
When the trench was only two or three feet deep he ordered them to stop.
The trench stretched across the field into the early sun. It was about
five and a half feet wide. The gestures of guns brought them out of
the trench to stand along its length facing the men with guns. They
ground out their cigarettes beneath their boots.
He thought of the roadblock, the burning tyres and the piles of rocks.
He thought of the checking of papers he didnt have. He remembered
being ordered to speak and the smile that crossed the face of the man
with the gun when he discerned his accent. He remembered the denunciation,
his fate decided on two syllables. He could still fell the blow of the
rifle butt on his cheek. He knew it left a livid bruise though he had
not seen his face. He had lost two teeth.
They were lined up and the men with guns lined up before them. The lines
were five metres apart. There were perhaps two hundred men with guns.
Their prisoners shuffled and there was a communal lament whispering
on the air. He could smell the tears and hear the mumble of prayers
and messages to families spoken to the unmoved sky. They were a single
line but crowded together. He shuffled in his place. There was a man
barely in front of him, a stranger. They were all strangers. United
only by the pronunciation of words, a greeting. Good day. And that was
that. Condemned by birthplace, by father. By accident. He had never
cared about that, never thought.
He shuffled deeper into the shadow of the stranger, a half a footstep.
The commander spoke. His men raised their guns and selected. The commander
spoke again. He knew what the word would be, they all knew. He had an
idea to fall backwards a micro-instant before the fingers on the triggers
followed the word. But falling backwards was slow, slower than a finger.
The idea was slow. He sensed the shots, the implausible sound of a volley.
The arm of the stranger flew into his face and knocked him backwards.
He fell and the falling took a long time. He could smell the smell of
guns and bullets and of blood. He could see the smoke rising into the
air. Then he could hear the impact as he landed and smell the newly
dug earth and feel the sharpness of stones in his back. The weight of
the stranger. The blood warmer than the sun that soaked into him.
Everything lasted forever. It was silence. And then the moans and then
the shrieks and the pain. He reached into the stranger into his blood.
His hand was red and wet and slippery with the blood of the stranger
who did not move but who was warm on top of his as a blanket. He pressed
his finger hard to his forehead, in the centre, and smeared the blood
on his face. He lay still and looked up at the mid-morning sun.
At the periphery of his vision the men with guns appeared lining the
edge of the trench. They did not speak and he did not move his eyes.
Then he heard the order of their commander, his voice honed to an edge
that was alien. And he knew the difference and knew it was always so.
And some of the men volunteered and slipped down into the trench and
waded among the dead and wounded that they hated. And where there was
life there was none. Single shots and an end to the moans and the entreaties
and the sobbing. He stared into the sun, feeling the blood begin to
dry and tighten on his face, feeling the weight of the man who was a
stranger change and harden.
There were shouts and he knew someone was running. There were shots
and he felt the ripple in the earth as the man fell and subsided and
lay still. The men with guns joked and spat. There was laughter. Laughter.
He thought of the girl he had never kissed and who was gone and of her
laughter. It was not like this. Laughter was not the word for both.
There should be another word, a change of stress: a differentiation.
He thought of his mother and his father and their ruined home in their
ruined town. He thought of his mother and father who had gathered all
they had to send him to safety. He stared at the sun and it was lost
to him. A face filled the sun and there was a halo of light around the
face and around its soldiers helmet. The face was young like his
face and the eyes were looking into his eyes.
And he stared into the halo of light and willed his eyes to be dull.
He had seen the death of slaughtered animals and how the light left
the eyes and they became stone. He willed his eyes that way and stared
past the face that was over his face and the eyes that searched his
eyes. The gun that stared with the eyes. The gun he would not focus
on with its own eye so black and deep and perfectly round. It probed
him too. He held his breath but could not hold it for much longer. He
willed his body not to sweat the sweat he could feel prickling his face.
The eyes and the gun traversed him. The mouth on the face above him
twitched at the corner. The gun stared deeper into him. It lifted and
moved closer. And the stranger who was allied to him by blood convulsed
and was still. Sagging. Loose.
The sun emerged and blinded him and made him blink. Once. The face above
him was a profile, shadowed by the helmet, darkened by the shock of
the sun. Moving on. He felt the young man who was born in another part
of the country that they once shared step over him. His foot trod on
his leg but he didnt move, not even a muscle in his face. His
foot rested on the head of a fallen man. There was no give. He was trodden
on as if he were a rock or a fallen tree and his ankle broke and he
felt it and he did not move nor cry nor give any sign though the pain
lanced and howled. He felt his eyelids quiver and a bead of sweat break
on his top lip. And the young man moved on and shot into the face of
another man who sighed. He felt sick and the spasms of it coursed in
his body and shook his chest. He closed his eyes and was not conscious
but his darkness was filled with laughter and he was cold.
He opened his eyes slowly when he heard the engines. It was dark. His
ankle throbbed but he did not try to move his foot. The man who lay
on top of him covered him like a blanket stiff with frost. This man
who had been a stranger was his brother now, welded to him by blood.
He could smell the sickly smell of blood and of death. He drowned in
the smell. Then the soil came pouring down on them. Wave upon wave of
damp smelling cold and clammy soil. It fell over his face and there
were spotlights to guide the bulldozers in their work. The orders barked
and the curses and the banter. More laughter.
Then it was darker than the night and he breathed the dampness of the
soil and the organic smell. He could feel the particles in his nostril
and he kept his mouth closed and did not move. Because he could breathe.
There was air in the dampness and in the soil and he could breathe.
Shallow and insufficient. He felt the panic rise and it was worse than
everything. He swallowed it, bit it back and tightened himself against
it. They were there with their bulldozers and their guns and he willed
himself into something like a trance, breathing as little as possible,
grateful for the small stream of air he filtered through the soil and
through the damp. Impossibly grateful. It was the only thing there was
in a world that had imploded. There was no room even for memories or
fear. Only air.
It was a long time before he moved. He didnt know how long but
when he first thought of it and tried he could not feel his body. Then
his ankle flared and he gritted his teeth. His nose was full of soil.
He flexed his fingers and the toes of his good foot. He felt the circulation
begin to return and it was more painful than he could have expected
and for the first time he moaned low in his throat. He could feel the
weight of the earth pressing on him and the weight of the dead man.
At first he could not move. He tried to move his arm up and bring it
to his face and of course he could not. But slowly he dug and tunnelled
and slid his hand up his body, over his chest until he could touch his
Then he began to claw upwards with his fingers, burrowing upwards. He
could feel the soil moving against his teeth. Then his fingers were
through and into the air and it was cool and he could breath more deeply.
He withdrew his fingers below the surface of the grave. The men with
guns might still be up there. Silently he spat the soil from his mouth
and it dribbled across his cheek. He took a deep breath and another.
He sobbed in his chest. He listened and there was no sound. He listened
while he tensed and relaxed the muscles in his legs and his trapped
arm. He listened while he grew used to the shafts of pain that speared
him when he moved his ankle. There was silence. And then the eerie call
of a night bird.
He began to burrow. He freed his arm and burrowed upwards making his
shaft wider. He reached out of the shaft and pressed down on the earth
with his palms. His fibres stretched and his ankle seared. He pressed
down with all his strength and the soil began to shift and he could
feel his body compressed but sliding. He got his arms free of the shaft.
He pulled himself up and his head emerged and he looked around and there
was nothing but freshly dug earth and no whisper of men. He gritted
his teeth and pulled himself further up and out of the ground leaving
the man who had been a stranger and whose arm flung up in impact and
in pain had saved him. Leaving them all.
For a time he lay on the earth, recovering his breath and sobbing. Then
he stood up, taking his weight on his good foot. It sank into the earth
because they had pushed it over the grave loosely and not compacted
it: hadnt bothered. He was alive and he looked up at the moon
that was a sliver in the sky like the curved blade of a sword. He was
alive and he only knew one thing. He knew that the laughter and the
voices must never be. They could not inhabit the same earth as he who
had just crawled from it. This was a matter of blood and of history
and of eternity. He had never felt it before but he knew it now. His
children would know it and their children would know it. They would
never hear the laughter or the sound of words pronounced with the twang
of the men with guns without knowing the hatred that was their due.
That was their birthright.
He was reborn to know himself and his people and their enemies. He began
to hobble to edge of the grave, falling to his knees and crawling because
it was possible that way. He crawled out onto the grass of the meadow
where he had lined up with his people. He had not known them then. He
knew them now. He looked to where the enemy had stood with their guns
and their curses and their laughter and there was nothing. But he would
find them. He breathed and smiled into the night and into the pain,
a thin dark smile that was not a smile.
For now he was a thousand amongst one and he had all of their prayers
and their screams and their deaths inside him forever. He touched the
dried blood on his forehead with his finger. Generation upon generation.
© Kelvin Mason 2001
More Dreamscapes Fiction
FROM KELVIN BY MAIL
The Advent of
the Incredulous Stigmata Man and Cold
Snap can be purchased direct at discounted prices. They will
be sent, wrapped in corrugated cardboard in a similar fashion to Amazon
despatches. The cost within Britain then works out to a mere £6.95 inc.
postage and packing - cover price £7.99. If you order both Cold Snap
and Stigmata Man, moreover, they will cost a paltry £13.90 inclusive.
And you can expect to receive your book or books goods within one working
week. All you have to do is send a cheque made out to me Kelvin Mason
- to Steve Pullinger at 56, Dillwyn Road, Sketty, Swansea SA2 9AE. You
also, of course, have to tell Steve what you want and where to send
it. Books purchased as gifts can be mailed directly to the lucky person.
Cold Snap is also still available from amazon.co.uk but, of course,
at the full cover price plus p&p.
En bog koster kun DKK 70 inden i Denmark. Så koster 2 boger DKK 140
(Tilbud!) Jeg kan sende med posten det vil koste ekstra DKK