Every good story begins with a bang; in this case, a supernova. The star in the sky exploded once again and illuminated the world below.

The brothers awoke at first light. The plateau shimmered, covered in a frost that enveloped the rough soil and stone. Once, the plateau had been home to a large plantation and hanging gardens, but the owners long since departed, beaten by the harsh climate and harsher locals.

Dressed in rough woollen shirts and work trousers, the brothers stood on the veranda of their dilapidated homestead. Their breath amplifying in the close mist that drew up almost to the steps. The older brother was lean and tall, with grey hair falling lightly into a fringe either side of his parting. His grey eyes seemingly tranquil, yet spoke of a otherworldliness, a mirage of the distant. The younger, a stocky, muscular and slightly rotund man; greasy black curls that were as untamed as the local goats hung closely to his head. His black eyes gave way to a broad nose; his thick moustache followed the contours of his wide, down turned mouth.

Grabbing their picks they set forth across the rugged ground, their boots gaining little grip on the frozen soil. They walked slowly, no more than 100 yards from the homestead. With a look they moved apart and began breaking the ground with their tools.

The older swung with silent methodical, measured movements, gracefully wheeling the pick round in a semi circle, only punctuated by the crack of the tool hitting the hard ground and the swish of taking aim. The younger took wild swipes, muttering at the unyielding land. By 7.00am they had removed the top giving way to the dark, rich fertile soil of the plateau. Moving mechanically, the older had yet to break a sweat in creating his hole; the younger, already stripped of the woollen shirt, perspiration developing on his brow causing his hair to stick to his temples.

By 9.00am their ankles could no longer been seen, hidden within their work. Soil was shifted to the sides, neatly and haphazardly around the holes. By 11.00am their knees had disappeared from sight. By 1.00pm the holes were as deep as their waists. Stones and twisted roots lay lower and slowed their work.

Sweating profusely, the younger took aim with his pick and struck the ground with determined fury, sending pebbles and soil scattering. With his hands, he scooped up the earth and threw it upwards and out of the hole. Wearing his shirt wrapped around his head to protect from the cold sun, the mist long since burned away and replaced by the dry heat of the windless plateau.

The older, still graceful in his movements stood muddied and smeared with the rich soil. Streaks of sweat in the muddy face paint gave it a striped appearance. Tribal markings from the earth.

The day moved on and the holes grew deeper. The brothers did not pause for a break and worked constantly against the ground. As 5.00pm approached, the sun had started its downward motion to the horizon and a chill slowly spread its grip over the plateau. By 7.00pm they could no longer been seen, deep within their holes. Their work was close to completion. At 8.00pm, with no more than a grunt, they emerged, filthy and unrecognisable.

They ambled slowly back to the veranda and collapsed heavily on a bench. The older faced the floor in deep contemplation, the younger attempted to clean his face with the sweat sodden shirt. They rested. They waited. The sun sank.

In the darkness they sat silently, until a low growling could be heard, distant but encroaching on the homestead. Light beams wavered up and down as an army truck of olive green could be seen approaching on the old dirt track that led to their farm.

In the front sat three soldiers, an older man, greying hair and leathery face assumed authority as they pulled up alongside the holes. The brothers came closer and were stopped by a young recruit, his face tempered with a sneer of youthful arrogance. The older soldier waved them over and gestured for them to go around the back of the truck. The third soldier, scarred and scowling in the cold waited for them there, removed the backboard and opened the tarpaulin covering.

In the back of the truck were the bodies of men, women and children. Stained with blood, arms draped across the faces of the neighbours. Legs, arms, faces, feet and hands. The number of bodies seemed immeasurable to count at the first glance. The third soldier beckoned them over and the brothers, the young recruit and the scarred man began hauling the bodies over to the holes created that day. The older brother picked up a young mans corpse by the legs. The man was stubbled with an incipient moustache of brown, pock marked by a youthful bout of acne, a look of blind resignation on his face. The younger grasping the arms swayed, and half-dragged the corpse over to the holes. They threw the body in.

One by one, the bodies were moved from the truck and filled the holes until after what felt like an eternity, there were no more bodies to shift. The older soldier in charge ordered them to fill the holes with the remaining dirt and the brothers complied.

Once happy that the graves were not visible, the commander waved his men back into the truck and drove away. The brothers walked back to their homestead without speaking. Leaving their dirty clothes in a pile near the stone stove, they went naked to their beds silently. Sleep fell quickly upon them and the plateau was quiet.

To Chapter One – The Valley of the Sisters

Advertisements