Sunday, December 10, 2006

Flash Fiction: Grave Mistake

This is a postscript to Tin Soldier and takes place in my fictional dystopian future of scarce energy resources. This is also a Three Word Wednesday offering, so be sure to check out Three Word Wednesday's site for more fun. If you're a writer and you haven't been participating in the weekly prompts, why not?

Alvi bent over the crude wooden marker. His reeling thoughts grasped at the hope that it might be a mistake, but of course there was no error. Everyone in this valley knew Carina.

"Angel, I had no idea. I would've never betrayed him if I thought he would betray you." His fingers traced the crude lettering as gently as he would've caressed her face had she been alive and as in love with him as he had been with her. "I would've rather you loved a hundred other men than end up here. If God could grant me just a single wish-" he heard footsteps behind him and turned around.

"God won't grant you anything." The young priest gazed down at him with fierce black eyes. Behind him, the cemetery caretaker brandished a shovel, ready to beat Alvi to a pulp if given the chance. "But maybe if you're lucky," the priest went on, "the Devil will let you choose your circle of Hell."

Alvi got slowly to his feet, searching his memory. Joaquin was said to be frivolous, uninterested in being a priest, but eager to avoid the draft. His wealthy parents managed to pull some strings, and some said they even committed murder to make sure their son got a church of his own where he would be safe from conscription for the Resource Wars. Now as Alvi searched the young man's face, he saw no sign of the carelessness and lack of attention to duty that had characterized him up to this point. The cemetery full of fresh graves had changed him. Alvi removed his hat. "If it's the only way I can atone for my sins, I'll go to Hell gladly."

"You can start your journey by leaving this valley, before Sebastian and I personally send you where you belong."

Alvi looked at the grave again, and the small mound beside it where one of the orphans Carina had been caring for was buried. But where was the rest of the family? There had been four in the household and there were only two new graves in the plot. He turned back to Joaquin. "Amalia and the boy...they survived?"

"No thanks to you."

"The house was empty when I passed. Can you tell me where they went?"

"You're the last person Amalia wants to see right now," Joaquin sneered. "She's even more likely to kill you than I am, so if you know what's good for you, you'll leave. Now."

Although threats of death didn't worry him even under happier circumstances, Alvi knew it was best that he go. "I'd like to leave something for her - just a small offering-"


Alvi gazed from one impassive face to the other. Would he be forbidden from so much as leaving a token of his love? Well, Carina had rejected such things from him in life, so perhaps it was best this way.

He headed toward the cemetery gate, acutely conscious of the fresh mounds all around him. How many had the Guards killed, and what would become of the survivors? More important, where had Carina's sister Amalia gone? He longed to explain, beg her forgiveness, and put all his worldly goods at her disposal. It wouldn't make up for the loss of a sister, a home, livestock and hoarded goods, but it would at least be something.

Alvi didn't know where she was, though. And when he was honest with himself, he knew she would spit in his face before she would accept so much as a Federal nickel from him.

He climbed onto the seat of his peddler's wagon, slapped the reins against the donkeys' backs and guided them to the main road. As the cart creaked across the valley floor, Alvi looked around. Familiar homes had been burned and ranchos stood quiet, empty of livestock. The tracks of transport trucks still marked the roads and fields where soldiers, in their over-zealous enforcement of the anti-hoarding laws, had taken everything they could.

This had been a peaceful valley of hard-working, honest people. What would it become now? And what would Alvi's life be like without Carina? She had been one of his first friends when he decided to become a peddler. She had cured his first burro and had been a good customer, always offering a hot meal and veterinary care when he came through. He had never told her of his real vocation as a Federal spy. Would it have made a difference if he had?

Alvi felt suddenly sick and jerked on the reins. It was impossible that he should go on selling small luxuries to war widows and collecting information for the government that had destroyed this valley, but what were his other options? He had a little money and could perhaps set himself up as a shopkeeper. Would the Feds let him quit his job as an informant, though? Not likely. Besides, he liked the nomadic life. If Carina had returned his love, maybe he could've settled down, but now his only choices were to end it all forever or keep moving in the hope he could outrun the terrible mistake he had made.

He climbed down from the seat and went inside the caravan. He fumbled in a wicker basket and withdrew a bottle of whiskey - a special make that he reserved for his best customers. He was his own best customer today. He got back on the seat, released the brake and urged the donkeys forward. As they plodded down the valley road, he took a long pull at the bottle, then another. He needed to forget, if only for a little while, the scorched and empty houses, trampled earth, and cemetery full of freshly mounded earth. He needed to forget one very special grave.

He took another long drink from the bottle, thankful that Caudillo and Patron could find their own way.
Want more? Tin Soldier is free and online.


jaerose said...

You write such complete stories which could effortlessly stand alone..this future world you create seems uncomfortably close..little details like the 'peddlars wagon' seem so if by going forward in time we lose new things..I am not sure which war I would prefer..that of the battle-field or the priesthood..they are both perhaps the front-line of something..Jae

Old Altonian said...

Absolutely beautifully written. As Jaerose says, the story could stand alone, but as it doesn't I must now check into Tin Soldiers.

oldegg said...

Hello Bunnygirl,

Yes, I have been before but my comments have disappeared. As usual your work is so well written I am in admiration, so much so I forgot what I said last time!

K said...

Ann. As always your writing displays the kind of subtlety that envy. This story contains such throat tightening emotiion and longing... I feel for him whatever misdeeds he may have done. I wish him solace.

Alice Audrey said...

You've pricked my curiosity. Not that I'm committing to anything. But, yeah, I can see how it might be all right to read a book if I already know the ending.

Fear Not the Darkness but What lies Within said...

Great story

Henry Clemmons said...

This is why I like to read. Love finding treasures.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Someone else said it, I think. You've got this world and these characters down cold.

Nice bit of exposition at the end, too. That's rare for you, these long paragraphs. I like!