Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Part Two, Chapter Forty

Amalia examined her sister with trembling hands. Carina was breathing lightly and rapidly, but at least she was alive. Her pulse was irregular, but maybe that was to be expected. She pressed down gently on the bump that was already swelling on her temple and suppressed an urge to retch into the weeds. It was a soft lump, swelling fast. Almost certainly a fracture. Even under the best of circumstances, with all their arsenal of medicines and equipment, there would've been little she could've done but hope. In this first moment of shock, she couldn't grasp what was happening except in the most academic terms. Amalia knew the pain would come later, but for the moment, she could still turn a dry and defiant face toward Strecker. "Aren't you finished here yet?"

"Not quite. I have a special entertainment for you." He motioned to an aide. "Have they found a place yet?"

"The trees are awfully small, sir."

"All we need is one good one, you fool. Did they find it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Lead us there."

A soldier tried to jerk Amalia to her feet, but she fought him. "I'm not leaving my sister."

Strecker gave her a disbelieving look, but motioned to a couple of his men.

"Don't move her!"

"Shut up," Strecker said. "I'm starting to get tired of you."

With the aide leading the way, they headed toward the apple grove, the two soldiers and Donovan bringing up the rear. Amalia's heart sank as they drew near the largest tree — a lone cottonwood that towered over the scrawny fruit trees. Hanging from a limb was a noose, swinging in the breeze. In spite of herself, she shuddered, but in this moment, bereft of everything and everyone she loved, and too stunned to think in any terms but those of the moment, death didn't seem like such a terrible thing. Her only worry was that the drop didn't look as if it would be enough to break her neck and end her life quickly.

The soldier dragged her in front of the noose while the men carrying Carina dropped her unceremoniously onto the ground. Amalia cringed. Surely this would complete the work the rifle blow had begun. She gathered her courage, looked up at the noose, noted the step ladder below it and turned to Strecker, a cold question in her eyes.

"No." Strecker turned to Donovan. "It's time."

Donovan's eyes widened in shock. "But you promised!"

The captain smirked, a glint of giddy satisfaction in his eyes. "Yes I did, didn't I? Tell us where you've been, tell us what they have, if your story checks out, we'll let you live. That was the deal, wasn't it?"

Strecker turned to Amalia. "You see how shallow human nature is? This is why people can't be allowed to hoard things and run their own affairs. They can't be trusted."

Amalia's voice was low and bitter with contempt. "There’s nothing you or anyone else could've done to me that would've made me betray the ones I love."

"Perhaps not. All the more reason I wish you were on our side."

"Fuck you." Amalia threw herself onto the ground beside Carina but didn't bother to check her vitals again, since it was a needless exercise in futility.

Donovan's captors prodded him up the stepladder and wrapped the rope around his neck, then both stood back to await Strecker's signal. Instead, Strecker came forward to do the job himself. "You see, Private Sloan, we've got no use for a man who betrays his country." With a sweep of his arm, he indicated Amalia and Carina, the house, barn and fields. "And a man who betrays his friends doesn't deserve to live."

Amalia turned her face away as Strecker pulled the ladder out from under Donovan's feet.

* * *

A winter wind blew down off the mesas. Amalia knew she must be cold but her brain refused to process that information with any degree of urgency. As she sat watching the transport trucks leave in clouds of fumes and dust, nothing seemed very urgent at all. She kept waiting for the grief to tear into her, but for now she was blessedly calm, each thought passing through slowly, as if under water.

She looked at Carina, her face marred by the lewd purple lump on her temple, her body scratched and bloody. Her hands were still bound together in front of her, and Amalia bent over the knot, tearing her nails down to the quick. She unwound the rope, threw it aside and rubbed Carina's chafed wrists. That was better.

Thoughts began trickling in, as slowly as the plumes of smoke rising over the Petersons' place. She should've killed Donovan on sight. First instincts were always best. But then, was it such a terrible thing they had done, taking in a stranger and caring for him?

She suppressed the urge to look at the body still hanging from the tree. He could stay there and rot for all she cared. She wondered absently what it had taken to break him. Alma Red Wing had once said he was weak of spirit. What had she seen that they hadn't? Once again— her mind kept returning to this point as if it were the center on which the entire wheel revolved— where had they erred? Something had gone wrong with the world, and it went deeper than the catastrophes of war, oil and economy.

Amalia brushed a lock of hair out of Carina's face, then got to her feet and looked out across her land. They hadn't burned the house, at least, and even if they had contaminated the well, there was the creek for water. But what would she eat with her stores and animals gone and nothing left with which to buy more? She couldn't work the land by herself. Was there any point in living at all?

Her gaze drifted toward the distant mountains and mesas, and a memory stirred. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. But no help would come from these hills. That was where death arrived in the last of the oil age's diesel trucks. She closed her eyes and held her breath. With all her options taken, all she was left with was the choice to live or die, and there had been enough death. That left life, and she would have to be strong enough for it.

Amalia looked out across the land again, this time seeing it in her mind as it used to be, before she was born, before her family had chosen it as a quiet haven where perhaps they could wait out the turmoil undisturbed. Before the depredations of the wars, it had been dotted with peaceful farms and ranches, with people who felt safe traveling country roads to towns where they could always be sure of fair treatment.

That was how things must be again. Once the convulsions of this time of change passed, there would be peace again. Of this one thing in all the confused and hateful world, she felt sure. To her surprise, she found herself hoping that she would live long enough to see it.



  1. oh this is an incredibly bleak turn of events. Donovan dead and Carina dying so sad. I only hope that someone can save Amalia and not one of those horrible soldiers.

  2. Thank you very much for making this a lot gentler than I'd feared. Pardon me for cheering for the way the hanging went. Carina's death was a lot more peaceful than I'd expected, for which I'm grateful. I'm a little surprised you didn't bring the kids back into it, but still, a nice closure.

  3. War in any form is bestial. (Sorry that is a bit unfair on the beasts!) We learn little from it as we persist year in year out. We know the story continues as life does in its mysterious way. How beautifully emotional you have made this series for all of us as we were taken there to witness all the events both good and bad.

  4. I think that fuck you was brilliantly timed and placed...she will not stop fighting...all things must pass..I have hope in her..and therefore hope that the future in this universe will change too...what a brilliant end to such and engaging story. I am almost sad to leave them