Guzu was awoken at dawn again. All cloud and no sign of any sun or stars. A glum day, he thought. The guards took them straight to the hoses, where they sprayed down and washed in the cold water; the hose snaking back to an outdoor tap. When washed they shivered, it usually meant that there would be no breakfast if they washed first. Guzu hoped his stomach wouldn’t start complaining again, it gurgled all the way to his ears. Maybe he could grab something where they were being taken; but usually when they arrived, he had long lost his appetite.

The day started to warm up, a low cloud meant they air was sticky and close. His clothes couldn’t dry, they started to but the damp was replaced by sweat. They shuffled onto the waiting trucks outside the main building. He hadn’t even heard them arrive this time, he had been exhausted and just wanted to sleep. But every time he closed his eyes, the images of people and blood kept him awake. A cinema screen on the inside of his eyelids of every experience in the last few weeks. He could hardly remember home, all the memories being pushed out by the new nightmares. He worried that he might forget his mother; that there was only so much space for memories and the new ones might make him forget the old. Closing his eyes tightly until he heard a buzzing sound in his temple, he would focus and recall his mother’s face; her hands and the sound of her voice calling him home. The memories were still safe for now; but every night whilst the cries of the early sleepers invaded their dreams, he would remember his mother, his aunt and his school. Eyes snapped closed, drowning out the world until all he was left was a picture show of his home. Each memory a photograph of himself, with bent edges and folds from being taken out and looked at so often. The clarity always remained, he would not forget.

The engines started; to him they sound like a roar of a hundred lions and tigers in harmony. They pulled away from the remote camp and onto the dirt track once more. They had not been told where they were going but the boys were resigned to their fate. It would be another nightmare place filled with monsters and noise. They drove down the track and through the endless fields of poppy; bright red against the horizon, each facing the sun being pushed by a gentle breeze, no more than a whisper. He saw colourful butterflies, weaving their way between the flowers, wings beating faster than he could blink. Some of the colours he had never seen before; scarlet and burnt oranges, shocking yellow and soothing blues. Onward and around the vast plateau. It dominated one side of the track, vast walls of dirt and weeds leading up to the smooth plain. Guzu thought he spotted a red fox; sniffing and prowling around the boulders half way up the hillside. The haze of the sun burning through the clouds temporarily blinded him. By the time he could see clearly again, they were long past and the fox just a speck in the distance. He rubbed his eyes and exhaled.

Turning onto a concreted road, the convoy headed past woods and small houses. Here was the cafe that he had been to with the soldier. He hadn’t seen him since the second village. Guzu thought of the centipede crawling around the table leg. Each leg moving in turn, like a ripple. It got caught and managed to work out how to free itself. It was reddish, scaled with tiny red legs. So many legs Guzu lost count no more than a third of the way down its body. He hadn’t paid any attention to the ritual going on; someone, a aging waitress with wrinkles and grey on the sides of her hair put a plate down in front of him. Not taking care, she spilled the egg onto the table; wiping her hands clean she picked it up and placed it back on the plate. She smiled sardonically at Guzu, he smiled back.

The road got wider allowing for two lanes of traffic in either direction. They were headed toward the city it seemed, one of the boys remarked. Guzu listened intently and looked around for familiar landmarks. They past nondescript villages and farms. The buildings became more numerous and broken. He saw his school. There was a day he was there before what happened. They started in assembly, they sat cross legged on the floor while the Headmaster told them a story about a man who helped someone else because it was the right thing to do. He told them to help others whenever they can, be a friend and smile because the world needed smiles. When they went back to their classrooms, Guzu’s teacher had decided it was far too nice a day to stay cooped up. She took them outside into the yard and told them to find creatures, plants and flowers. They were to make a story about them later, when the sun was less bright.

Guzu wandered off alone; he walked to the woods nearby and lay on the floor. He was surrounded by nature and anything he missed would come to him. He saw an ant nest, busy and industrious. What were they making and why the hurry? Perhaps they worried a big animal like him might come along and squish them, kick down all their hard work. He smiled at the ants; he would not do them any harm. From the side of the truck he could just about see the woods. He was less than a mile from home, the slums started soon and the smell would come first. Then the buildings, old ladies and home. The truck came to an abrupt halt, sending each boy falling into his neighbour. The engines were killed and footsteps outside approached the army truck. The backboard was removed by the two soldiers who gave out guns and they were ordered to get off. Other trucks were here, some with boys and some with men. Serious looking men and a lot dressed in army green. Among them Guzu saw the scarred soldier, he tried to wave but his arm was grabbed and thrown down. “Shut it, little killer.” He passed him a pistol, a different one it looked older and not so well looked after.

A shout came and they lined up for inspection. Pero walked on foot between the massed ranks of adults and children. He nodded at his associates and stood in front of them.

“Today is the beginning; the beginning of the end. This is where it starts, a new world to be made by your hands. Be proud, be fierce make the world what you want it to be. Make me proud.”

Pero paused and marched in front of them slowly, hands clasped behind his back.

“I am Pero and I am your guide. Listen to what I say and the world will be right again; it will be our home. We are close now to victory; nothing can stop us. The city begs our help and Pero will not disappoint.”

Guzu stopped listening at the word home. He thought again of his mother, closing his eyes and drowning out the noise. Pero didn’t notice; too busy talking before the assembled media, crowds of adoring fans and men who would do anything for him.

“We will not stop. Say it. We. Will. Not. Stop. We cannot be stopped, we are relentless. Clean the slum, make it good again. Charge them! Charge them and leave no stone unturned! GET THEM! GET THEM! GET THEM!”

The soldiers and boys followed Pero’s pointed hand, directed at the slums behind. His associates shot a warning in the air and the men ran, haphazardly with no strategy or discipline into the slums. Guzu was pushed along in the crowd. He was too small to escape. He could hardly breathe in the crush. A hand reached out and roughly pulled him aside. It was the scarred soldier. “Come with me lad.” He ran off with a group of seven or eight professional soldiers into a side street. Guzu shouted to him he knew the way. They were not that far from his home. They could go to his house and stay with his mother until this ended. He tied his boot laces quickly, the men were running off already and he wanted to keep up. He forgot his pistol on the floor and chased after them.

They were running through a slum. Shanty houses with crude electrical cables, pipes that poured water off corrugated iron roofs into the pathways; it gave the urban jungle a wild feel.

To Chapter Forty-Nine – Pharsalus

Cover photo courtesy of the Daily Mail. Please visit warchild.org.uk
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