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(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

Sometimes strange things happen.

It was afternoon, and the shadows already beginning to lengthen, when they came down into the valley. They scrambled down the steep slope between the trees, cautiously, feeling for footholds on the treacherous wet earth. The noise of the rushing water was so loud that Lin was afraid it would drown out the sounds of pursuit, though by rights they should, he knew, have thrown off any pursuers long ago. The fear was natural. This was not their country; the land was not familiar. In their way of life, the unfamiliar was always dangerous.

It was not so much a valley they were in as a cleft cut into the earth by the torrent roaring by below them, swollen high by a season of rain. The trees on the opposite slope looked close enough to touch.

There were only three of them, and they had been running since the previous night. There had been two others, but somewhere in the darkness they had become separated and might be anywhere by now. They might be on their way back already, under guard of the soldiers, or they might be lying dead like all the others in the camp. Lin's mind flashed an image of the camp leader, as Lin had last seen him, his face half torn away by a bullet. Involuntarily, he shuddered.

Up ahead, Bobby raised a hand, signalling a stop. He was the group leader. Lin shivered as a little stream of moisture trickled down his neck. Rainwater still dripped from trees though the sky was clear and it had not rained for several hours.

Bobby turned to face them. His dark face was shiny with the same mixture of sweat and water that stained their uniforms a green so dark it was almost black. The fanatical look that Lin always mistrusted had not left his eyes. He hefted the M16, the only weapon they had between them, on his shoulder.

"Weíll rest down there a bit," he said, pointing down to the river. "Then weíll go on."

It was not easy to reach the water. The river had gouged deep into the earth, and the high banks were choked with dense undergrowth. Finally they found a place where the water had eroded a shallow semicircular bite out of the bank on their side. Here it eddied, almost calmly, and there was even a little pebbled beach. Here they washed briefly, and then thoughts turned to food. None of them had eaten since the previous evening. Nor had they anything on them that was edible. Lin was so hungry that even the screaming of his exhausted leg muscles had ceased making an impression.

"Maybe we could catch some fish," the third of the group, Mon, suggested. "There ought to be some here." He took off his boots and waded into the water with the red cotton towel he had been wearing around his neck like a scarf. Bobby joined him and they scooped the towel out of the water between them, and something wriggling and silvery was suddenly on the beach next to Linís hand. He stared at it with fascination.

"Kill it," said Mon urgently. "Donít let it get into the water."

Linís hand moved involuntarily and he picked up a small rock and swung clumsily at the unfortunate fish. It took several blows before the creature stopped moving. By then another was already writhing on the shore.

This way they got several fish. They then moved under the cover of the trees and with great difficulty managed to construct a small fire. The fish they roasted inefficiently and insufficiently on the embers, but while waiting Linís stomach was already clenching with hunger. For the first time in hours, he said something to take his mind off his hunger pangs.

"Where are we going?"

"Youíll know when I tell you," said Bobby. He looked at Lin with undisguised contempt. "Why, are you thinking of staying here?"

"The fish are as done as theyíre going to get," said Mon quickly. He was short and wiry, with a thin sharp nose and a perpetually worried expression. "Letís eat and then get going."

They started off again immediately after the meal, lingering just long enough to stamp out the remains of the reluctant fire. Bobby set as fast a pace as possible, given the terrain and their exhaustion. They worked their way up slope and further down the valley. As they went, the valley broadened and flattened out a little, but the forest was as thick as ever and at first there was no sign of habitation.

[ Continue to page 2 ]


Genre:Living Dead
Type:Short story
Rating:5.84 / 10
Rated By:148 users
Comments: 5 users
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