In the village of my birth were eleven families. Each family lived together; grandparents, parents and children. We celebrated birthdays, mourned funerals, fought and loved each other. We all knew one another. It was nice, you know? I liked it there.

—————

The old Officer waited patiently at the parade grounds at the barracks. The men fast asleep in their barrack rooms, the mess quiet and unlit. The base could be so peaceful for somewhere made out of the need for violence. It was a dark, cool evening; few stars in the sky and no sight of the moon.

His visitor should be here soon; pulling up his collar against the cold he contemplated what good this will do. It was better than doing nothing; sitting on your hands was for another man not him. Still, chances were this would just get him into more trouble.

—————

There were eleven houses, more huts really. Everywhere was muddy with pigs lounging in the congealed mess. The smells were a mix of manure, charcoal and nature; all the nature that surrounded the village. Trees, grasses taller than him at the age of ten even; fruit trees, berries, wild garlic, lavender and a multitude of scents.

The donkeys were kept in a field together, a living arrangement they were not fond of. I remember once as a small boy, perhaps no older than six, trying to ride one of the donkeys. My father and his friends gathered round and laughed; soon they were making bets on how long I could stay on. My father won by betting I’d never fall off and his friends lost their good moods along with their money.

The clothes line with the fresh linen strung up high, so as not to be dragged in the mud. Colourful T-shirts, jeans, shorts, underwear and bedclothes all drying in the low breeze. It was warm there normally, sometimes going through rainy seasons when I couldn’t leave the house to play with the animals or my friends. My father used to play a game with me; he would start a story and I would continue. In turns we’d take it until one of us said something outrageous and we would burst into fits of laughter. Until my mother told us off for making too much noise. Rainy days were not necessarily glum days.

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His visitor arrived; cloaked in darkness he stole up to the Officer and breathed a quick hello. They walked together away from the central grounds over to where the barracks opened up to field. Here, not far from where he had waited was the Shed. He crept up quietly and peered through the barred windows. Beckoning, he gestured for the visitor to follow. Come and see for yourself.

The low murmur and high wails of agony seeped out through gaps in the walls. The visitor came closer; on looking through the window he choked and fell to the floor, his back against the wall. The old Officer put his hand over his mouth; quiet he mouthed. The visitor was pale and shaken, but got back to his feet and looked again.

The horror of chains and blood; of broken men, guns and death. The visitor was about to pull out a camera when he saw the face of one of the guards on duty inside. He withdrew his hand from his pocket and pointed to leave. The Officer looked confused, had he seen enough already? Does he not need some evidence?

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My ancestors first came to this place many centuries ago; my family and our village have achieved little of note in any history books. Well, apart from my relative’s unfortunate limb losing trip to the Plateau. We lived quietly.

All the families relied on each other, we passed knowledge around freely. Like the father of the daughter with the big head; he taught me how to use dock leaves when I stung myself with nettles, falling from a tree into a bush whilst spying on his daughter getting changed. He then gave me a hiding and told me to get lost.

The men I command are from villages like mine, simple places with simple desires. They know me and I know them. We have our ways and they don’t change much. If at all.

—————

The journalist had said he’d seen enough. The old Officer asked him if he needed pictures and proof. The journalist looked away, back towards the shed. He said he couldn’t follow this story up; it would not get printed. The Officer went red, clenching his fists he asked, voice coarse and full of anger. Why? Why could it not be printed? The journalist said his editor but trailed off seeing the clenched fists.

They would kill me, he said. Me, my family, I cannot do this. The man I saw, the guard in the shed; he is a known drug runner, a very well connected man. I cannot follow this story. I am sorry my friend but I have family to think about.

The journalist walked away leaving the Officer alone in the dark. Still no moon or stars, no light to wish him well. Head bent downwards he made his way to his office.

To Chapter Thirty-Eight – The Twelves Labours of Pero

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