As the wind blows over the distant wheat fields, it creates tawny waves. After a long day of sweating in the corn field, my body relaxed as I take in the calming view. There is something soothing about endless fields of golden grass. They remind me of my childhood home.
“You love nature,” a musical voice sounds above the soft breeze.
“Don’t we all?” I ask, refusing to look at her.
She laughs lightly. “We don’t have a choice, do we? Nature is our home now for better or worse.”
I roll my eyes. “What do you want?”
“Forgive me if I’m imposing on your space. I know all too well the magic of solitude.”
She walks up to stand next to me. Lavender, wood, and the essence of something else wafts into my nostrils. Her aroma is pleasant, but that doesn’t make me hate her any less. I cross my arms and give her a sidelong glance.
“For someone who says she enjoys silence so much, you sure do talk a lot.”
“It doesn’t come so naturally to me, Barak,” she says with a small laugh.
I can feel her looking at me as I gaze at the bright blue horizon. Her presence tickles a part of my mind that I don’t want to think about. I can’t stay here with her.
“I’ll leave you in isolation then,” I say, backing away.
Her green-brown eyes darken a shade as she watches me retreat. I don’t understand her sudden fixation on me. In fact, I don’t remember her looking my way once until yesterday. I turn around and break into a run for the river. No one will bother me there. Not even her. All the women fear rattle snakes and water moccasins. They’re fools, but I’m glad they won’t venture into my territory. I miss having a man close to my age to explore and hunt with. The few men who survived the battle are all family men now – fathers and grandfathers. They don’t take much notice of me and they’ve forced themselves to forget about the war entirely. I am the sad survivor they want to forget about because I can’t stop remembering. I am old enough to marry now, but the desire to do so couldn’t be further from my mind. As I climb down the gully and follow the sound of the singing rapids, I can’t help but wonder what it might be to live somewhere else. I do the same things and go to the same places every day. The world is a big place and there’s no point in staying where I’m not wanted. The truth is that I’ve felt restless for a long time. I’m not meant to stay here forever. This place was my parent’s dream.
I sit down on a boulder and watch the river rush along as it always does. A red fish jumps out of the water every so often. Ducks and geese fly by, but they never stop close to where I sit. While I despise most things about the camp, I love the river here.
“I’ll never forget the beauty of this place no matter how far I go.”
“Oh, where does the river stop?” calls an agonizingly beautiful voice.
I look over my shoulder in disbelief. Almaz is hiking down the gully with an agility that surprises me. Her long, gazelle-like legs stabilize her as she makes her way down to the riverbank. The slits of her dress are cut conveniently high so she has no trouble moving stealthily over rocks and fallen branches. She’s clearly done some hiking in her time. This realization deepens my dislike for her. Is there anything this woman can’t do? Oh, that’s right. Fight. She could never be a warrior like me.
“Why won’t you leave me alone?” I call.
“This isn’t your river,” she says defensively, but then looks ahead at the running waters. “Beware of where the blue river flows into the great lake.”
“What lake?” I ask, bemused.
“You may see it for yourself one day,” she says thoughtfully, walking closer to me, but not daring to venture too close. “I sense restlessness in you.”
I shrug in agitation. “Aren’t all young men pining for adventure?”
“Some women do, too,” she says quickly. “I was very much like you. Well, I still long to travel again one day, but I love the people here too much to leave.”
“You like their adoration.”
She crossed her arms and tilts her head. “Have I done something to offend you?”
“You have no idea,” I say under my breath, looking away.
I throw my head back and stare up at the fluffy white clouds in exasperation. “Lady, when will you leave me alone?”
I stand up on the big rock and glare down at her, feeling tall and powerful. She stares up at me and clasps her hands together. “I don’t want to bother you. I just wanted to let you know that we all worry about you. They tell me that you haven’t been the same since the battle.”
“You know nothing about that war, bitch,” I snarl.
I leap down from the rock, walking quickly away from her before I do something I’ll regret.
“Barak!” she calls.
My heart beats wildly in my chest. Does she have a wish to be pummelled?
I break into a run up the gully, knowing she’ll never be able to catch up with me. As I race through a field of wild grass, the world around me vanishes. I fall into a haze of memories from the day of the great fight between my camp and the band of hooligans who wanted to take over our land. I am charging toward a line of men covered in red war paint. Me and my comrades are dipped in black mud from head to toe. We scream with our swords drawn. Our resolve is greater than our enemy’s. We rip into the first line of men and cut through them like a sharpened knife through butter. Black and red melt together. We easily make our way through the second and third lines. We think we are victorious as we stand over our dead foes lying in pools of their own blood until a black cloud blots out the sun for a few seconds. Except it isn’t a cloud. It’s arrows. They whistle with a sickening intensity as they rain down on us. With no shields or cover, fate is our only protector. Most of the men are hit. Agonized cries fill the air. I run to my best friend. Two arrow blades jut out the front of his torso. Blood is everywhere. He begs me to slit his throat, to give him mercy, but I can’t move. I can only stare, because this can’t be real. It has to be a cruel dream. Real life can’t be this sick. He can’t be dying this way. In front of me.
It is dark when I stop close to the edge of a cliff. The silvery grass I stand on ends a few feet away and drops off into a black abyss. I have no idea what is below. Muscles twitching everywhere in my body, I rest my hands on my knees. Panting and dripping with sweat, I close my eyes as the night air cools my skin. I look up at the dark sky. Clouds cover the stars and the moon like a thick blanket, blotting out the light. With an exhausted sigh, I make my way back.
(Fun fact: I wrote this book during the pandemic and the eerie mood combined with the social isolation created an amazing story. I listened to a lot of Apashe during this era. “Distance” is one of those songs. Thank you so much for reading this piece with me today.)
Would you like to read the rest of the story? You can check it out here!