Gloria Wyborny, resident of Jold, 1997-2003
What happened to the gypsies who were living at Mahrplahr Street?
There was a great deportation on December 20. It was divided into several destinations. Many families were going to Eldene. Others were being sent to the river or Mountainthroat. At the beginning of the year before, they had started pushing the Staths out of the country with more aggression. You would see more and more Khellians and Horths in the city. They were brought into Khell to replace the Staths working in the essential city services. On December 20 you could tell it was all over for the Staths, the Khellians went right into the factories and brought them all out, arrested all of them that they could find. It was very bad. Even the last members of their association were being deported, and if those Staths were put on the trains, it meant no one was safe anymore. Not even the heads of the Stath association could negotiate to stay.
The gypsies at Mahrplahr had been found out, and when the Khellian police came for them, I thought naturally that they would be part of the deportation.
Where were the gypsies from?
They were Suxolts, who were considered mongrels everywhere. A people so low, they said, that they had given up their own country without resistance three hundred years before.
What time did the Khellians come?
Early, about six a.m. The gypsies would not open the door, and so the police broke it down.
How many soldiers?
Just two, not soldiers, real policemen. They went in, and they came out with six people. They got everyone except for one of the men, who was a bit younger, maybe thirty-two or three. They didn't get him, he must have escaped out the window or not been there that day.
You followed them out?
No no, no. When the police took them down the stairs, I crossed our apartment and I and my husband watched from another window. They were taking them around the corner toward the woods. I say woods, but they were really just sparse trees with a stream running through them.
The Khellians took them there instead of toward the center of the city.
Did they resist?
Maybe they resisted at first, because they took such a long time coming out of the apartment. The miracle was that they had been living there for so long and weren't found out. But when they did come out, there was no resistance, no.
There were how many altogether?
Six on that day, and the one man who wasn't there. There was the very old man, a woman I took to be his wife or his sister, their daughter, who was about twenty, her husband, and two of the old man's brothers.
Why did you watch?
I would not have if they had turned to the right outside the front door. If they had gone to the right, it would have been to take them down the street to where the lists were being made. From there they would have been driven on buses to the trucks. They went around the corner though, around the side of the building, so I thought, "Yes, they are going to be killed." I think they knew it, too, even before they went down the steps to the street.
How could you tell?
The two brothers were holding each other, their heads together, in not even a way that the man and wife held each other. Only their hands were joined. The brothers were locked together, walking very slowly, completely quiet, as if they knew they were either going to be separated or killed, and this was their last moment. If it had been summer, the leaves would have screened it all out. We told our children to go into the other room and we watched through the window.
And what happened?
The Khellians held guns on them, and the gypsies walked ahead into the woods. The two brothers never let go of each other. They weren't crying, I was certain of that. They were dignified. But they had chosen to hold each other. When they got into the woods, near the stream, the Khellians said something, we couldn't hear. Then the gypsies all got on their knees. The man and the wife held hands, stared straight ahead.
They knelt in the snow and were shot.
You watched the shootings?
Had you ever seen someone shot before?
No. The sound of the gunshots was very low, distant, like a series of slaps. Both of the policemen did it. First the old woman, pop, through the back of the head. She fell over. The old man didn't even look at her. He was next, pop, he fell on his side. Then the man, then the wife. The wife was shot before he was, and when her head fell over, with the blood pouring down the front of her dress, the man collapsed into the snow from his knees. No one had even touched him. He was then finished off. There was blood everywhere, it ran in streams.
You could see that even from the building?
Easily. The brothers were last, one quickly after the other, they fell in separate directions. They were all murdered quickly. It was over fast, like an errand. Six dead bodies lying in the snow, six people. I wept afterwards, I wept for an hour.
Were they buried then?
No. The Khellians just walked away, leaving the whole family there. I could not believe I had seen a man and wife shot together. I will never forget that.
Were they ever buried?
Yes. I looked through the window again the next day. They were gone. They had been buried. No more gypsies.
Jorg Jan Anft, resident of Missiontame, 1943-2004
Do you remember the trucks that passed through on December 20, 2003?
It is all written down in my diary. You see it here, these were the trucks that led to such confusion. It was the only time I had ever seen that happen with the Khellians.
You stood and watched those trucks pull into Southern Missiontame?
They pulled into here from either Jold or somewhere higher up the Izezu. That would be a trip of at least three hundred and twenty miles. I recall those trucks specifically, something must have gone wrong with the mapping, or somebody's orders.
I had a method. Whenever I would hear some trucks coming down the old road, and sometimes this was quite late at night or very early in the morning, I would go out to watch it. I would write down how many cars there were, what they looked like.
Why did you do this?
I kept a diary for many, many years. So little happened out there in the countryside, I wrote down everything. During the war, when the trucks went by they were quite a sight. They had to go into the diary. Hands and faces sometimes sticking out, people who were obviously calculating their odds of getting free. It was common knowledge, what was happening to them.
Why was there confusion on that day?
There was a narrow stone road across the Awski Gorge. It had been bombed the night before, and much of the stone had been blown away. The road was not passable unless it was explored on foot and some of the debris cleared away first. I myself walked it some hours after the trucks were gone. The land sloped steeply away on either side of the road, so a detour wasn’t possible.
Along came the trucks, then, and the drivers saw this?
Three trucks, the drivers got out at the edge of the gorge. I would say there were one hundred people, one hundred Staths, in the open beds of the trucks, crammed together. These particular trucks were like most, rather quiet. I stood at the edge of the road, which was very close to my property, within a few hundred feet of it, and I watched. Normally I wouldn't get so close.
You could never tell if any of the people really saw you, they were a bit too far away. I never dared get too close because the soldiers had every right to beat you if you tried to interfere, or even make any sort of contact. The rebel Horths, especially, were short-tempered.
Describe your view of the road.
My house was closer then than it is now. I rebuilt after the rains destroyed it, back then I was not farther away than one hundred yards. No one paid any attention to me. I could see the drivers speaking and then informing the soldiers in the rear truck that the road was impassable. That was somewhat unusual, to see the soldiers conferring with the drivers and ignoring the Staths.
The soldiers seemed to have not much patience with the drivers’ opinion of the road. They seemed confused by the very presence of it, which made me think there had been a wrong turn, or someone had been informed that a detour was necessary but the information had not been passed on. I don't think the trucks were supposed to be there at all.
Oh, the shouting! Men were very angry. The driver in the lead talked for a long time, putting forth his position, apparently, while one of the Khellians would shake his head violently, holding a hand out to shut him up. They looked like men arguing over the price of a used automobile. That's as close as I can sum it up.
Meanwhile, the people in the trucks, who were on their way to the camps, waited in the freezing cold on the Gorge. I heard almost no one speak. And then, I had never seen this before at all, an old woman crammed into one of the flatbeds, she began to shout at one of the Khellian soldiers, really shout, pointing her finger furiously. The soldier shouted back, told her to be quiet. But she would not. She had to say what she wanted. The Staths beside her did not stop her, either. They were most likely afraid to speak for fear they would be singled out.
Once again: you said the trucks were on the gorge; didn‘t you say they had stopped short?
The line of trucks stopped about one quarter of the way across the gorge, so they were sitting there and on either side, a steep fall, understand?
Something terrible was going to happen, it was bound to. The soldier was advised by someone standing next to him to stop, but he would not. The old woman maybe said some things that offended him too much. And the next thing I knew, he had lifted his revolver and shot her through the heart.
What did the Staths do?
This I won’t ever forget. The Staths in the back of the truck, there must have been fifty of them, at the sound of the gunshot there was a wave of people in motion. Everyone scrambled away from the old woman, but there was nowhere to go, not an inch. There was a horrible amount of screaming and instantly to avoid being pinned down the people on the edges of the truck went over the side. They hit the slope and went into the gorge. That is a slope of about two hundred feet to the ground below.
How many went over the side?
Ten, fifteen. Half off one side, half off the other. The ones I saw hit the dirt, and there was no chance to hold on and stop tumbling down, down.
And the people still in the truck?
I think they were all right, but so quickly the drivers were ordered into the trucks before the other Staths tried to escape, and so quickly they started again and pulled away, I was gone by then, I had stopped looking. The trucks roared on, and obviously they made it over the road and the gorge, it was not as dangerous as they had believed. Or maybe it was and they were good drivers. Maybe they lost other Staths over the sides because the rattling was too great, who knows. In one minute, everyone was gone. The soldiers, too, in the rear truck. All at once, a mad rush and disappearing in seconds.
Except for the ones who went into the gorge. Did you try to help them?
No, when I heard no screams from them I assumed the worst. There was nothing for them to hold onto there as they went down. The stream was dry, no water at the bottom. Here, you see, I’ve planted many trees, but back then, nothing. So by the silence I knew they were all dead.
Could you tell for sure, though? Wasn’t it possible to get to the bottom of the gorge at some point and see?
Not then. I would have had to go down on foot, believe me. It was far more difficult than it looks now.
Elena Musau, resident of Jold, 1967-2003, survivor of the Hill of Aries resettlement camp
We were in the trucks for nine hours. I was lucky, very lucky, because while I had seen everyone else being crammed into the trucks I was put into the last one with just fifteen or so other people. The trucks were filthy. There were things scrawled on the inner sides by people who had been in them before, things you tried not to read. The cold was almost unbearable, but at least we had space to crouch down in the back. We would catch glimpses of the others in the trucks ahead and we saw they were in agony, mashed together.
I knew most of the people in the truck. Warner Schonborn was one of them. He sat with his face pressed against the wooden slats holding us in, resting his head there, though the bumps were so jarring he was getting scraped very badly. Just before we got to the camp, the truck began to slow down. No one in the back of the truck was talking. There had been a lot of talk, panicky talk, because we knew we were being sent to a camp. And some had mentioned something very bad, that one of the trucks in the caravan had detoured and hadn’t been seen again, which meant to some that those people were going to be killed in the hills. The Khellians called that the Parable, when that was done. They would murder enough Staths to get the word out, to make us behave, but almost never would they do that in sight of us.
It became quite silent. The truck was traveling at maybe walking speed when a small wooden sign went by, which had the name of the camp on it in very small letters, you almost couldn't read it. The sign was not for our benefit. You were not being welcomed by the sign.
Warner saw the sign, and it went by, and I suppose Warner must have registered what it meant, because he then began to scream. He had been trembling, and then all at once he opened his mouth and screamed, long and loud, pounding his hands against the side of the truck. He turned to the rest of us, screaming, his throat going hoarse. He appeared insane. The others in the transport understood, but we could not help him.
He rolled over on his side. The people beside him shrunk away from his horrible screaming, screaming without end. He no longer cared that he was a man in a car full mostly of women. He had snapped. Seeing the sign had shocked him badly.
It went on for almost a minute, and then he tried to rise but collapsed, sliding down onto his back, until he was just a mass on the wooden planks. The truck slowed down even more. Still Warner screamed and raged incoherently. He had no words left. And a fairly young girl, who was about twenty, who I did not know, went to him, got down on the planks with him, and held him, not trying to quiet him at all, just letting him cry out. They did not know each other, that much was obvious. She had long black hair, she was short. She had no friends here. She wrapped her arms around Warner, who seemed not to notice. He did begin to quiet soon, though. He stuffed one hand in his mouth, and against his sleeve. The girl dug her head into his chest, trying to comfort him without words.
At some point, though, it seemed to me that their positions changed. That is, the girl seemed to be trying to hide herself within Warner, no longer maternal, but dependent on the warmth of his body for her own comfort. She pressed her face into his shoulder, held her head down, like she was holding onto him for dear life. They said nothing to each other. Warner lay there, insensible, and by the time the truck stopped I think the girl was desperate for his presence even more than he was for hers.
What happened that night to Warner Schonborn, the first night at the Hill of Aries?
We were lined up for some reason, lined up in the yard in rows of one hundred. That made five rows altogether. I was in front. And it was raining. It had been raining for about four hours, since fifteen or twenty minutes after we had all gotten off the truck. It started hard and just got harder. So we stood outside in the rain in virtually no clothing. I don't know how many got sick that night, but I think it must have been about one hundred. One hundred or so just could not get up the next day. It was the violent change in the climate of Khell, the weak and the old suffered much.
Do you remember the fence that encircled the camp? Do you recall if it was just wire, or something more?
The wires were thick and barbed, and branches and leaves were strewn among them, and they had piled loose bricks against it, so looking out was impossible unless you went to the fence and parted the foliage, but if you did that you would be shot.
Was it explained to you why you were lined up?
I cannot imagine why, except that it was to show us how it would be done later. It was unimaginably cruel. And then what they did to Warner, and two others.
What did they do?
The roll call officer gave us a long speech, telling us we were there to re-evaluate our place in Khellian society, which we had been bespoiling for more than a century. We were to consider ourselves in a prison. He went on and on, I remember almost nothing of it. My first image is that of the three men called from the line to go and stand forward. Warner, who was also in the front line, was the third man picked. He and the man beside him had bruises on the exact same spot on their face. He looked dazed.
And then they went through the line, and they picked out about ten women. The women were forced forward, and they knelt down in front of the men. One of the women was the black-haired girl from the truck. I could see her clearly. She was forced to kneel down in front of Warner along with another woman.
This was the most difficult part, why, and I don't know. I remember the rain was so heavy and so loud that a lot of what the Khellians were yelling at us was completely incomprehensible. You could not hear a thing, the guards had to drag the women out of the line because their orders couldn't be heard. When the men and the women were arranged there in the center of the yard, the roll call officer spoke again, and I swear I heard nothing of what he said. No one could understand. We only knew that this was to be some sort of demonstration, and that the three men and perhaps a couple of the women had not behaved properly that first day. What they could have done, I don't know. This was to be an example.
Did anyone resist?
No. It was too cold, too rainy, no one felt anything. We just thought, "It will be over soon and we can go into our barracks." The bright lights over the fences blinded us, the rain made us sick. No one had any power to do anything.
A guard stepped forward and handed each of the men a pistol. He had to force them into their hands because the men were so stunned, they didn't know how to react.
It seems hard to believe that they would arm someone.
It is hard to believe. But the guards were so confident that we would do nothing. And they were right, we would not. We only wanted to know where we were, and why, and how long we would have to stay.
What did the guards make Warner Schonborn do?
The roll call officer spoke, stepped over to Warner, yelled at him. I heard nothing of what he said, but it was obviously a command of some sort, to kill the girls in front of him. There was a plump woman of about forty there on her knees, and then the girl from the truck, who kept looking down at the ground while the other looked at the sky, not at Warner but at the sky. The roll call officer stepped away and no one said anything more. Warner had the pistol in his hand and he pointed it at the first woman.
No, not immediately. He waited so long I was sure the guards were going to beat him. In fact one of them began to step forward when Warner raised the gun. The woman began to cry helplessly, looking at the sky, not at Warner. She did not die peacefully. She was pleading for her life all the while. The rain was splashing into her mouth, her face was titled upward. Warner pulled the trigger and shot her in the face. I doubt he knew what he was doing.
Could you see Warner's face at all?
No. His back was to me, so I never saw.
What did the other girl do at that point?
Nothing. She didn't even look at the woman who had been shot. Some in the lines gasped openly, but not too many, you didn't want to call attention to yourself.
Were there any instructions called out by the guards after Warner shot the first woman?
No. We just had to wait. Warner turned the gun on the girl from the truck whom he had embraced, and I thought it would be very quick. But Warner hesitated. Something was happening to the girl. She had fallen sideways into the mud, and I saw that her eyes were open, staring. She had already died.
Are you sure?
I think so, yes. I think that before Warner could shoot her, she willed herself to die. Her eyes stayed open. I had never seen anything like that. I think, and there are others who might agree, that she knew she was going to die the moment she was pulled from the line, and she began to will it upon herself right then.
Doesn't that also seem impossible?
I saw it happen. She might have put herself into a trance to avoid the pain, but she looked utterly lifeless. She might also have had a heart attack. But I think she brought it to be. And so when Warner pulled the trigger, there was nothing in front of him but a body. She had already become a corpse.
He shot her in the head.
The Khellian roll call officer began to speak. He was about to issue his next instructions to the man standing beside Warner, you could tell. He was talking even as Warner was turning toward him. Warner was holding the gun outward. He pointed it at the officer.
How quickly did this happen?
Oh, very slowly. I couldn't believe it. Warner was turning, obviously meaning to shoot the officer, who was standing about twenty feet away. And the roll call officer didn't see until the last moment. Warner turned like a machine, slowly. And the man just continued talking, like he knew he was not in any danger. Then, Warner pointed the gun at one of the guards instead, who was farther away. He had no idea. He was lost.
The guard was laughing. It was like a draw. The guard took his gun from his holster. Warner must have pulled the trigger; I saw his hand making a movement around the gun. The guard stood there, knowing he couldn't be harmed. He shot at Warner through the rain.
And it looked like he had killed him, but Warner was still standing, though he had been shot. The guard's bullet had gone through Warner's ear. Blood ran onto his shoulder. He dropped his arm, the gun fell into the mud. Then Warner fell also. The guard's gun was still smoking. He put it away.
Was Warner insane when they took him away from the yard, do you think?
I was not there. From what I have heard from others, yes, he was insane, maybe even from the time they put him on the transport. He will not speak of that time. That is not so unusual and means nothing in itself, but Warner doesn't speak of it because he does not trust his memories of that time, because he was obviously on the border of madness.
I woke up in the infirmary. I believe that there was a clock on the wall, and I believe it was a little after three in the morning. It was very dark in the infirmary, there were no lights of any kind. If you wanted to get up, you had to see by the arc lights shining in through the running window along the far wall. Everyone was asleep, though. There was only one guard inside the infirmary, and he was trying to doze. I saw no doctors, no nurses. The room was mostly empty. There was me, there were perhaps six other people in the beds. I learned after the war that some died of pneumonia from that very night, but no one in the infirmary was there because of it.
There was a little pain on the right side of my head, below the ear. It was swathed in a bandage. I had no idea, no conception, of how I had been injured. I remembered nothing beyond the truck. It was only when I saw Clemens Arpa that it came flooding back, in bits and pieces, and I realized what I had done and seen, and my mind ached. Then it seemed to go smooth. I was aware of being inside of my body but not in control of it. Everything that happened to me was happening without my concern. I was not sane. Waking up in the infirmary made it clear. I was like some child trapped in a dark box.
Someone was holding my hand, and I looked up, and there was Clemens, holding it, sitting on the edge of my bed, looking down at me.
I did not believe my eyes, and I thought it was a trick, or that he was an illusion. I spoke his name a couple of times, and he nodded, and said "Yes." He looked very thin, very pale. He had been at the Hill of Aries for five weeks already. He never let go of my hand. I didn't care if he was an illusion then, there he was, on the edge of my bed.
I asked him what he was doing here. He tried to smile. He spoke very softly, so as not to attract the attention of the guard. He told me that they had made him an orderly here in the infirmary. He had been brought here five weeks before and every day he worked here, tending the sick, he said. Now, he said, I was sick and I shouldn't speak so much, that I needed to rest above all things. He said that without rest it could be very dangerous here, and that I needed to be well. He still knew my name.
He looked over his shoulder, and motioned with his head for me to look at the next bed. There was a burly man lying in the bed, sleeping, lying perfectly still, with a bandage around his forehead. Clemens told me that the man was a guard who had been attacked by one of the prisoners here that morning. On the way to taking a prisoner to the hog farm, the man had grabbed a pitchfork and tried to blind the guard, tried to put out his eyes. The guard had been wounded lightly in the forehead. Clemens pointed him out to me because he said that the way the guard was resting was how I should rest, perfectly still. He said the guard would be getting up in the morning and that I could be like him, getting up tomorrow, and this would show the guard that I was strong as well. Clemens said it was important to be strong. He kept holding my hand. I saw that his pretty necklace was gone. It surprised me. I did not realize that of course they would have taken it from him.
I was a blank wall, you see. I could not organize a single thought. There was not a shred of logic left in my mind. I felt as if I were reaching up to Clemens through a place underwater. Sometimes when I spoke I spoke too loudly and he would try to calm me. It was because I didn't think he could hear me, I felt so far away.
And then I saw a date on the wall, a calendar over the guard near the door. I could read the date and I began to breathe rapidly, deeply. Clemens tightened his grip on my hand, and leaned forward, wondering what was wrong, and thinking of the date, I tried to sit up. Clemens pushed me gently back down and I tried to rise again. I was breathing very hard, trying to form words. I told Clemens that it was the first day of winter, and that it was today, the gypsies were going to end the world today, and that someone must stop them, Clemens must stop them. I was incoherent, he had no idea who I was speaking about. My only thought in the world was to stop the gypsies from ending the universe, it had to be done. I begged Clemens, I implored him to let me up, and I began to cry. They had to be stopped, I said. I believed it all then, every bit of it, in my ruined mind.
Clemens Arpa wrapped his arms around me, soothing me. He pushed me back so that my head lay on the pillow again, and he dabbed the sweat from my forehead. After a while I began to breathe normally again.
"They're going to destroy us," I said. I was in blackest despair because I was so certain. And Clemens was shaking his head. He thought I was speaking of the Khellians, the camp.
He told me I must be strong. He began to tell me what his father had told him when he was very young. He told me this so I wouldn't be so afraid.
Clemens said that before our greatest pain on the earth begins, the greatest physical pain, our souls are taken from our bodies by God. Only our bodies are left behind, to absorb all the pain while our souls go onward. In this way, others on the earth would still fear death, seeing their loved ones in so much agony, but they could not know that the souls of their beloved were already gone and safe.
So Clemens said that I should not be afraid, that if it began to get too bad, my soul would go on and I would feel nothing. He smiled then, and he let go of my hand. He said he thought I was well enough to be left alone, that there were others who needed his aid more than I. He said this to calm me and to give me strength. Yet I had none. To me it was the end of everything, the gypsies were going to unleash their power. I pleaded with Clemens not to go, for he would be the last person I ever saw, and I wanted him to be with me at the end. But he was soon gone. I reached out for his hand, it wasn't there. He had left me, certain that I would be well.
Something like an hour passed. I was not able to fall asleep. I lay awake, staring at the ceiling above me. It had started to rain again outside the infirmary. Through the window, a long ways away, I could see a guard patrolling the fence and smoking. I was sweating profusely, out of fear.
I heard a creaking sound and I turned to my left. A man was getting out of his bunk on the other side of the room. The only guard was gone now, it was just the patients inside the room. The man who had risen from his bunk was walking towards me down the aisle between the beds. No one else stirred.
He was a young, deeply tanned man, quite young. He walked in my direction, and when he got near me, he sat down on the bed beside me. I said nothing. It took me many seconds to realize that I had seen this person before.
I was afraid of him before he even spoke. I turned my head and looked around, hoping that Clemens would still be there somewhere, but he was not. I was alone with the man, everyone else was asleep.
The Suxolt leaned toward me, close to my face, and smiled a sick smile. He said, "It's far too late now, Stath." He leaned further forward and it seemed as if he were going to wipe my brow, so that the sweat would not run down into my eyes. I shrunk away from him, quivering. He reached behind his back for something.
He brought a rag out to show me. He was still smiling, missing some of his teeth. I had seen him five months before in their dark apartment, and even then I had noticed that some of his teeth had been knocked out, or had rotted out. His mouth had gotten worse, he had not had enough to eat.
Something was wrapped up inside the rag, the piece of cloth. The gypsy unwrapped the cloth so I could see. Inside were two human eyes, bloody and misshapen. He had been carrying them around. He said to me, "Do you understand?"
I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out. I arched my back, trying to let my voice loose, to call for someone to help me. But I could make no sound. The gypsy smiled and stood up again. He took his cloth and the eyes with him, and he looked at me one more time, full of hatred for me, I don't understand why. He walked away, I closed my eyes, heard his footsteps on the floor, going back to his bunk. He got back into it, and I put my hands against my face, clawed my fingers into it. I kept seeing the eyes. There was no escape, no escape from thinking about them.
Somewhere in there, I fell asleep. I did not dream. It was less sleep, of course, than a kind of fainting, a spell. When I awoke, it was still dark. No more than an hour could have passed. The rain continued, pounding on the roof of the infirmary.
There was nothing of me left then. My thoughts crowded each other, but they were all the thoughts of a deranged person, or a mongoloid idiot. My hands would not stop shaking.
I did not believe I would be able to move, to get out of the bunk. Something was wrong with my bones. I could feel them inside my body, I could feel each one individually. And they felt very strange, like spun glass. If I were to rise and try to walk, it felt as though the glass in my knees might shatter. I could even hear the odd creaking of the glass inside my legs. Maybe that was why I was in the infirmary, I thought, because my bones had been transformed into glass.
But I could get out of the bunk, I was able to. The pain on the side of my head had become a deep stinging. I heard a strange buzzing sound from a space inside my head and to the back. The thoughts of the glass inside my body vanished.
I got up and out of my bunk, and I looked down at my feet. My toenails were long and sharp, they clicked quietly on the floor, but this seemed quite loud to me. I wondered what I could do to silence them. I walked out into the aisle. I thought I could hear the shifting of my bones whenever I made the slightest movement. So I moved very delicately, fearing everything.
I got halfway to the gypsy's bunk and stopped. I looked down again, saw that I was next to a woman's bunk. She was asleep under the covers and only the very top of her head was sticking out. There was an unpleasant smell coming from the bunk. I saw that there was a small cup sitting on the floor, and inside the cup was a knife, a spoon, and a fork. I knelt down. The knife was made of wood, the fork and spoon were metal. I took the fork from the cup. I stood up straight again, hearing my toenails click, and I had the fork in my hand, and I went to the gypsy's bunk. He was sleeping on his side.
I remembered none of their faces, the gypsies. His was the only one I truly knew. I think I looked under the bunk for the cloth he had held. It was absolutely vital that I have the cloth, and take it from him so he could not begin the destruction. It would be dawn soon, and I had to have the cloth.
But I didn't find it. There was nothing under the bed. I moved closer to the gypsy, and I put one knee on the bed beside him. He didn't stir. I lifted the fork, and I brought it down. I brought it down with all my might, into his neck.
The fork went into his neck and his eyes came open, and his mouth came open. One of his hands flew up into my face, and I shoved the base of my free hand down onto his chin so he would be still. I lifted the fork again and I drove it into his chest, and because it would not go in far enough, I lifted it again and again, stabbing him as hard as I possibly could, nearly falling over on top of him every time I brought the fork down. I began to see blood in the dark and tried to drive the fork entirely into him to bring the blood out of him. He made no sound, only kicked and bucked underneath me, trying to ward me off, but there was nothing he could do, he was already halfway dead when I took the fork from his throat. There was blood everywhere there, but I kept on stabbing him, because it was the only way I could stop them from destroying the universe. The bed shook back and forth. The gypsy died there in the bed, yet I did not stop stabbing him for a long time, as long as my strength kept me going, feeling better with every blow to his body, stronger, stronger, until at the very end, when I slipped out of what was real and into the world my mind had made, I was
strafing the sea with unthinkable gales, deafening winds that knife under the surface of the water like gulls diving for food, lifting sheets of waves a mile high, carrying them toward the land and spraying them there, so that every continent is submerged and all the world becomes an ocean. Flashes of lightning crack in the sky at all astrological points, felt from every conceivable hiding place on the planet as a repeating electrical shock. If the survivor were still out there somewhere clinging to his rowboat (and he is now nowhere to be seen or sensed), the sounds would have split his skull into thirty thousand pieces, the sights would have melted his eyes. And still the hand of God has not reached out to Time; Time waits, the last moments marching on, recording the storm for certain erasure.
The ocean goes smooth as glass under the weight of the winds. It then disappears entirely, leaving behind a dark marble in space. The marble cracks down the center. When this happens there is something beyond Noise, a Sound so immense it can only be expressed as Light. The last visual traces of the world vanish, leaving a white so pure and burning it can only be expressed as a sort of music.
Even the hand of God is incapable of spinning back Time, for might this act itself not consume seconds, minutes, leaving in its wake another memory of something that has occurred, something woven into history? The Erasure of Time. And so instead the convulsing universe is instead stripped of every atom of matter that might hold intelligent memory. The Hand seeks out every blinking life force it ever created and crushes it into nothingness. In the end there is no mind or heart or soul to remember the concepts of good or evil, pain or joy, kindness, bitterness, mercy. These distinctions mean nothing if there is not one being left to point to a patch of ground and say: It happened here.
Nothing has ever happened here. After the storm, after the cooling and the sleep, a million years slip by like mist off a morning lake. Only then does life reappear. Only then does God, still in mourning for the death of the universe after this sleepy eon, hiding eternally behind his dark, unreachable Curtain, find the strength to try again through a hailstorm of tears.
The end of the earth.
He wakes up in the infirmary, where he fell asleep just a couple of hours before, but now cold daylight is shafting through the windows on the far wall, cloudy light, harsh. He feels as if he has not slept, but the transition from darkness to day has been made; it is morning.
Everyone in the infirmary is dead. He looks to either side, at the rows of cots marching away from him. There is not a sound from within the room, or from without. His is the only breath, the only mind.
The bed on his immediate right is empty. The bed on his left supports a man no fatter than a walking stick, his eyes closed peacefully. Perhaps they came under the cover of darkness, and injected him with gasoline.
He rises from his cot stiffly, and for a moment he does not understand how he can move at all. He remembers only that his bones had abandoned him the night before, and that he could not move, even to look around him. Now, however, he feels as if he could walk for miles.
He begins to walk down the aisle leading to the way out. The only sound is his breathing. His feet make vague impressions on the cold cement beneath them.
Past the bodies, some lying under their covers, most having no covers at all. And very close to the door leading out of the room, there is a man who died in a very horrible way indeed.
He stops and looks at the man, not really knowing why. The man's chest bears several bloody stab wounds. His neck was penetrated repeatedly by a small sharp object. The corpse’s eyes are open.
He moves on.
Silence. He feels a rising chill. He steps through the infirmary's open door, into the freezing cold day beyond. The cold hurts his feet but he walks on, and on.
He knows where the Green House is, and heads there. The other Staths who are not dead inside their tents are spread out in bunches, faces to the sky. Not one bird sings. In front of the Green House, where the chimney he has never even noticed before releases insignificant tufts of black smoke, he steps past one dead crimson-clad guard leaning against the foundation, his mouth agape. He shot himself in the head. The cement behind him is stained with a butterfly fan of dried blood.
Through the creaky screen door, and only one more left to open. He skates his fingers across the knob. Beside his left foot a worm crawls along the surface of the dirt. For more than a minute he hesitates, listening for an interruption, a human voice, a scream. Nothing comes.
He pushes the door inward.
The corpses tumble out, tumble out, burying him, their arms, legs, heads pressed together, the beaten bodies stiff as wood. He screams and screams as the corpses reach out and trample him with their vapid, yearning embraces. A dead woman’s bony fingers jam into his mouth, silencing his stupid pleas, and he loses consciousness.
All goes dark and merciful.
One morning in May of 2005, I was outside hanging laundry on the back lawn, which stretched east for about a hundred yards, and which then became a field that my family had owned along with the house. And there was a man standing in the field, watching me. He was not much more than forty years old, I don't think, rather thin, with dark hair. He was looking at me in a strange way, and he came closer very hesitantly. I asked him if he was looking for someone, although it seemed unlikely to me then. My family's house was the only one within almost a mile. He tried to smile and he asked me if my name was Cybele Lourgay. I said that it was.
He introduced himself, almost apologetically it seemed to me, as an American, but he spoke French quite fluently. He said that it was I whom he was looking for. He asked if he could speak with me for a while, and of course I said that would be fine. We walked to a stone bench my father had built which bordered the field, and we spoke. And now that I think of it, although the stranger knew my name he had not said his yet, and I honestly hadn't thought to ask. It was because he did not tell me his name that our conversation went on as long as it did.
He told me that he knew I had been at the Hill of Aries, imprisoned there as a Stath during the Fissure. He said that he had been there simultaneously with me, although he seemed ashamed to admit he had never known my name. That would have been almost impossible, of course, there were so many of us at the Hill of Aries. He had come from Paris to speak to me. He had asked many people, survivors who had come out the Hill, for the names of those who might help him, following every lead. He had tracked me down, so to speak, and finally had found me after a few months of searching.
We spoke about how we had come to be in Jold when the Fissure struck. He seemed very interested in hearing about my story, and I was equally interested in his. I had spoken to very few people who had made it out of the camp. He asked me all sorts of questions about my family. I think he did this to be polite, as he really had only one question to ask me and he did not wish to seem rude. I could tell it stressed him to talk about such things. So I told him my story first.
I told him that both of my parents had died at the Hill in 2004. My father had worked with my mother in a shop that sold pens and stationery and he had tried desperately to find work in the Khellian plastics industry, but after some assignments here and there, he had finally run out of luck. Our family was split up in January of 2004. The bombing destroyed my parents’ house four days after Christmas. When I saw that had happened, I ran back to their shop and I hid there, in the basement. I could hear tanks rolling by in the streets. I was there for seventy hours. I thought I heard someone being shot above me. When I crawled out of my hiding space, there he was, a dead man. He had been shot and his throat cut, both, and for a long time I wondered why someone would do that. I had never seen anyone dead before, and thought the confused look in that man’s eyes would belong to everyone who had passed.
When I came up, everyone was gone. Everyone. All I could think of was finding my parents. And it’s funny. The moment I saw the soldiers coming, I saw my parents coming too, down the street, on the opposite side. They had hidden as well. But the Khellians got everyone, and divided them up. We were always on the move before we finally got to the Hill. It was luck, that I got to go with my parents. My mother died of pneumonia, and my father of a heart condition shortly afterwards. They let me bury them, I’ll never know why.
Often they sent us outside the camp on various work duties and there were some that escaped. One time I was asked by a Stath, who I believe was from Izezu, to begin to shout with some others that there was a man running away from the work detail. The Stath planned to run in the other direction if the Khellians began to chase someone who didn't even exist. I myself was too afraid to cooperate, and this thing was carried out by three or four other Staths. But the guards weren't fooled, and these people were beaten very badly. The Stath was beaten so badly that I believe he died.
I was transported to Vell Novum on my twenty-eighth birthday with about seventy other women because they needed farm labor desperately there. And from Vell Novum, which to some was even worse than the Hill of Aries, we were eventually freed. I came home to my grandmother's house, which her Stath friends had kept from being claimed.
The American asked me many questions, kept me speaking for almost an hour about myself, because I think he was afraid to speak about his own experiences. But eventually he did.
He had been at the Hill of Aries, he said, for two-thirds of a year. But his memories of that time had ended after the very first night, with only scattered images between to fill up the long blank time in his memory. It didn't seem possible to me for someone to forget so much, but he said that it was true. After he left the Hill, he began to become aware again of his surroundings. He was placed by the Red Cross in a French hospital, more of an asylum really, he said, and many doctors came to speak to him. After a while, he told me, he was considered quite a special case. There were others, he said, whose memories of their time inside the camp had been obliterated, but the doctors were amazed to find out that he had replaced that missing time with other memories, sights and sounds from a period and place in his life that had never even existed. After his first night at the Hill, he said, he had gone quite literally insane, and his mind had lived in another world for a very, very long time. I asked him what he thought made this happen. He told me that the doctors did not know, although they thought perhaps that the things he had done on that first night and for the months before had led to his mind's collapse. He must have seen some truly terrible things. For instance, when I mentioned that a friend of mine had died in Lillitasque, he said in a very absent way, "Yes, I was there once," and he never spoke of it again. I could only imagine what the circumstances had been. And he said that somewhere in there, he had stood in a great rainstorm, and watched a young woman whose arms had once held him literally will herself to die.
He had been released from the camp on a fluke eight months after he was brought there. The Khellian administration was concerned about an international inspection force coming through Ettisberk, so the Khell Main Security Mayor had forty men discharged from the camp to show the force how they could rehabilitate criminals in the camp atmosphere. The inspection force was never actually allowed to enter Ettisberk or Jold, but by that time the men were freed.
He told me these things as if I were his sister, as if we had known each other for many years. It occurred to me then and it still does that he had never told these things another person beside the doctors in the hospital in Giverny. He struck me as the kind of man who was afraid to tell his secrets to the people closest to him, and felt more comfortable speaking to a stranger.
He told me, for instance, of a poem he had seen written very carefully on a wall in the hospital in Giverny. The poem had obviously been written by a patient and the doctors had not yet come across it and rubbed it out. He had memorized the poem. He recited it for me. It went like this:
Please God give me life with an absence of grief,
Cut my illnesses short, their arguments brief,
Let misfortune meant for me fall harmless to the ground,
Let my footsteps run from danger and not make a sound,
Make my pains mortal and my body strong,
Make my suspicions right and my accusers wrong,
Strike the murderer blind should he steal to my door,
Save my sleep from the spiders, and hatred, and war,
Spill blood if you must but please keep me whole:
Let rats eat the crippled, the poor, and the old.
As for my death, I beg you, make it a slow one;
And oh dear God, let me care for no one.
I thought he might break down there on the stone bench, because I asked perhaps too many questions about the nature of his illness. He revealed to me, staring off into my family's field, that the doctors had told him that one day, the real memories would come back, and that he would probably remember everything that had ever happened to him at the Hill. Not every moment, perhaps, but enough so that it would be real to him for the first time. He told me that his dream world, the world he’d lived in inside his mind, had been a horrible place, but that he feared the memories of the camp even more. He felt helpless, and he feared every day, and especially the nights when he would go to sleep, waiting to dream about that lost time. He never cried, though. He was trying to be strong.
We had spoken for almost two hours and the morning had become afternoon, and the sun had come out from behind the clouds, and it was warmer. We sat for a while, taking it in, and then he told me that he had to ask me something very important. He asked me if I knew what had become of a man named Clemens Arpa.
He had traveled to meet me because he needed to know. And from talking to other people, he had found out that I had known Clemens in the camp, had been acquainted with him for a few months.
I had known Clemens; there were many at the Hill who had. He was a mixed Stath and he had no friends when he was brought to the Hill, but he had made some, and yes, I said, many remembered him. But this man had not been able to find out what had become of him.
He told me that Clemens had been the most important person in his entire life, and that in the very brief time he had known him, his life was altered in a very great way. It was because of Clemens, he believed, that he had not killed himself on that first night in the camp, or even when he had first realized that he was going to be put on one of the transports. And it was the remembrance of Clemens's kindness to him that had kept him from committing suicide during his time in Giverny hospital, and afterwards.
I asked him how he had come to meet Clemens, and he told me, and he told me that he had spent perhaps a total of a half hour with the man in all that time. He had trouble describing how much of an effect Clemens had had on him, so I let him talk as long as he could about it, so I might understand better.
Finally, he could only say that his love for Clemens was so powerful because Clemens was different than the rest of us, somehow different. There had been something in him, he said, that they could not defeat, no matter how awful things became for him. Inside his heart was something impenetrable, a soul incapable of being destroyed.
They could not conquer him, the American said, and he said it a few times, in awe. He had lived the past year and a half trying to understand what it was inside Clemens that had kept him so strong, so without anger, but he realized he could not, that it was simply a thing that he had to believe in. And now he needed to know what happened to Clemens Arpa, how he had managed in the camp, if he had been set free. He wanted to be told these things, and then he could go try to live, to rebuild his life out of the ashes of his tragedy.
So I told the American that I knew what had happened to Clemens. I took his hand, and we walked together in the field.
One million years, and then, a time of renewal. The survivor, aware only that one hellish night has passed on a stormy sea, wakes alone where that sea threw him: marooned on a wide patch of solid stone that serves as the newborn ground. His urge to explore is great, though the landscape possesses a bleak sameness that would make any sort of journey seem futile. He steps across the occasional deep crevice in the rock, observing the illusion of plant life sprouting from between the cracks, but that is all there is to discover.
A million years. The survivor spends his days thinking of his youth, and the faces of people who came to him in the days before he even knew the concept of names. There is nothing else to think of in this new place. He senses that he is only there to tend it for a while, and that his lifetime is coming to a close. He feels sure that in these final hours there is a purpose he will discover, but what it might be is not only beyond his grasp, but beyond his caring. He feels peaceful now. He is a witness to the beginning of something both immense and pure.
The days are warm, the nights are brief and dreamless.
One morning he sees that grass is growing over the rocks, and that the empty horizon has been replaced with a briskly flowing, cool blue river.
Up to him, then. The walk between the growing grass and the river is of an hour's duration; an hour and back each time, carrying the water he collects in an oddly shaped stone that serves as a simple bowl. The walk is long and arduous, but at the other end there is always a drink from the river--and when he gets back to his settling place, he finds that every drop of water makes the grass rise overnight in patches so thick it would be impossible to guess there was ever rock beneath.
The survivor needs nothing more than this. In a very short time, the wasteland has become a field that stretches all the way to the sandy, fertile banks of the river.
The survivor knows that he has done enough when the first trees grow to full height, leaning toward the intermittent sunlight and offering shade during his small journeys. Sometimes the survivor sees a new tree and is overcome by a yearning to know just what sort of tree it is. He goes to the trees, lies under them for hours, and returns with leaves as proof that they exist.
He is making his way toward a faraway elm one day when the wind rises up unexpectedly. He turns away from it, chilled, and sees something new on the horizon. It is just a vague dot, yet he feels an urge to walk toward it. When he turns back to the elm to re-establish his position on the plain, the tree is nowhere to be seen.
The survivor walks across the field he helped to grow. The vague dot becomes a tangible structure, a structure made from stone and steel and enclosed within a perimeter fence. A pair of decaying gates, partly open, beckon him in. Iron letters woven into the gate read:
FUTURE SITE OF THE FIVE STAR HOTEL CLAIR
A PROJECT OF WING CONNECT ENTERPRISES
He goes through the gates, not understanding, having no notion of what this place is. Inside the gates there is a tall, incomplete steel grid, taller that anything he has seen here, six stories high, its rusting face battered by bombs and gunfire. Yellow construction tape waves in the breeze. Black tarp covers cement mixers and bulldozers left to rot within the surrounding mounds of concrete rubble. The tarp makes an oceanic sound when the wind catches it passing by.
Something shifts within a huge pile of debris and ash beside his right foot. He turns his head slightly. The detritus beside him has been burned somewhere and spat out here, before the steel grid.
He steps back, puzzled. Bemused. Mixed within the fine ash are the remnants of small objects which would not burn, had only blackened. The wind swirls around the pile and exhales tiny flecks of ruin which are lost in the air.
The survivor coughs, puts a hand to his mouth so as not to suck any of the specks in.
And from that meaningless pile of ash, soot, and debris, he pulls a small, charred knapsack, which has filled up with the offensive dust. The survivor turns it upside down to empty it. Out falls a book written for children, its cover bearing a title in the Stath alphabet, which he cannot read, and a pen and ink drawing of a smiling half-moon. He holds this up close to his chest, looking into the distance he came from. He can see no trees now, no grass; it's all too far away. He shudders at the feel of the wind, which has become more icy. Holding that tiny knapsack and its contents, his heart falls as it never has, his thoughts become dulled, and he no longer feels the hope that brought him here. The knapsack is dry and nearly petrified, the straps are torn, there are holes. The boy to whom it once belonged, a million years ago, is gone. The survivor himself has just one more hour to exist, to be. He will spend it standing here, inside the gates, a shadow of what was just human and noble moments before, one brief moment before he took the knapsack into his trembling hands.
One more reach into the ash. The survivor's finger catches on something, draws it out, disturbing the pile, making it shift again. Now, he removes a blackened necklace. Its single ornament once described the shape of a running deer.
I told the American that the last time I saw Clemens, he was walking through the barracks I lived in, cleaning it with about twelve other men. That was late May, 2004. And then, the next day, I began to hear the details of what had become of him.
It took almost a month to get Clemens's full story. I got bits and pieces from several people. Sometimes the pieces conflicted, but by the time I went to Vell Novum everyone knew what was right, and what was a lie.
Apparently there was a guard at the Hill of Aries, his name was something like Manzell, or Manzil, and he had developed a special hatred for Clemens. Many of the other prisoners had become fond of Clemens in a very short time, and Manzil detested this. One day in late May, Clemens had offended Manzil for the last time. It must have been something he did that upset the guard, for Clemens had learned quickly never to talk back, or seem at all proud in his speech or demeanor. No one was quite sure what had happened, but it was known that Manzil had told Clemens that he would die tomorrow, that this was his last day. Manzil sentenced Clemens to death, and let him know it.
There was a certain building at the Hill of Aries, called The Green House. It was where many people were taken and shot to death, sometimes individually, sometimes in larger groups. You would enter at one end through a screen door, be murdered, and at the other end of the house they had constructed a corridor leading to a long trench which was constantly being emptied. Then there was a special room, a kind of shed attached very clumsily, which I believe was supposed to be a storage room of some kind. But the guards at the Hill of Aries had made it into a bigger killing room after they had forced some Stath prisoner with engineering knowledge to show them how to soundproof it. The Green House had served little other purpose by the end of the Fissure. The furniture had been removed and junked in a pile. The guards wouldn’t even sleep or eat or play cards there anymore.
Manzil took Clemens from the barracks the morning after the insult, or affront that had condemned him, and went into the shed attached to the Green House. People said that the guards had mounted hooks on the wall to tie up prisoners with. It was said that Clemens was tied to a hook, and that Manzil set his dog upon him, an underfed, mangy doberman pinscher. This was not uncommon. One heard about it every few weeks. It was the worst thing imaginable. In any case, I talked with a few people, people I trusted, who told me that they had heard Clemens being torn apart by that dog, which seems unlikely because you couldn’t hear much sound from there. Others said they knew that Clemens's remains had been dumped into the trench.
There seemed little point denying the story, and by the time I left the camp, no one was even thinking about it anymore.
I told the American these things. He nodded, thought about it, seemed very sad, but he had accepted that Clemens's death was not only a possibility, but almost a certainty. He had adjusted.
But even stranger, there were occasional stories that suggested Clemens had somehow gotten away from Manzil and escaped, or even that Manzil’s death sentence had been a ruse, that Clemens had paid the man to allow him to escape, that they’d had some connection in the outside world. Clemens had been a teacher at one time and I knew a man who claimed that the Khellian guard had been a student of his long ago, in another life, and that an arrangement had been made. I
always thought that such tales were only the inventions of people who longed too much for hope.
There in the field, I told the American one more thing, which I almost did not. You must remember again that at this time he still had not told me his name, and I had never asked. It did not seem so important.
On the night before his death, Clemens had written four letters, which were intended to be given to some people around the Hill of Aries whom he had known and was close to. He had entrusted these letters to a Jehovah's Witness named Elis Glen, and had told him to give the letters to the proper prisoners as soon as he could. I know this happened because I myself knew Elis very well. And I do not know why, but Elis never distributed the letters, which were sealed in envelopes someone had stolen from the records office on the west side of the camp. There was an entire ream of paper somewhere in the camp, under the control of one or two of the prisoners.
Elis was transferred by train to a subcamp one day during the summer. Two months later I was at Vell Novum. A woman named Raisa gave me the letters, saying that she was entrusting them to me, because everyone to whom they were to be given had been sent to other camps.
So for some reason, Elis had never given them out. There were only three left then, because one had been intended for him. I don't know how Raisa got them into Vell Novum, we were supposed to have nothing when we came. But she had. I kept them always. After the Fissure I tried in a half-hearted way to locate the addresses of the people whose names were written on the envelopes; I found no one. I believed they were all dead, all killed in the camps or sent out of the country, never to return to Khell.
The American man said to me, "What are the names?" So I told him. One was intended for someone named Daga Frawn, one for a woman, Louisa Sussmach, and one for another man, Warner Schonborn.
A very different look came over the man's face then. He was going to tears about the eyes, but they weren't tears of sadness; they were of joy. It was indescribable.
He said: "That's me. That's me."
How did the Hill of Aries finally pass into history?
The Khellians abandoned it when they saw the end was near, when the sanctions got too terrible, and even the Americans were forced to act. Everyone found
themselves free. But then the truly extremist Staths took the hill for themselves, and they had prisoners, too, in the last days, taking whatever Khellians they could, because it wasn’t clear if anyone would ever come to help us. So both sides used it. It belonged to anyone who was ruthless enough at the time. It’s still there, I suppose. Waiting for the next Fissure.
I stayed when those Staths took the camp. I was afraid to go anywhere else, even though the commander was a madman. The Khellians had killed his wife and child.
One final question: you were aware of the Suxolt gypsies in the camp, the "crazy ones"?
Yes, I knew of the Suxolts, especially of the one who was stabbed to death in his bunk. No one knew who did it. He and his family, who had already been killed, were from Szegee. He had said they were going to end the world on the first day of winter. I heard that no one would tolerate his presence, and eventually he was beaten up by the guards and sent to the infirmary. Everyone said that he would have been killed anyway. He wore a white band around his arm with the word Vakh, which meant he was of feeble mind. The guards had manufactured it.
What was so strange was the way that the gypsy was not alone. Before he was murdered he had gotten some other Suxolts to believe in him, got them to believe that the world was coming to an end. The poor idiots, they stayed at the camp even when the Khellians abandoned it and they had a chance to be free, so homeless were they, and they simply chose to be prisoners of the Staths instead. Some time later they must have been at their last extremity, for they buried some poor dead man's body behind the Green House, to summon the end of the world. It was someone the Khellians had shot for slowing down too much while working at the Guktlo Armament factory. And a week after they did this, when they realized that their witchcraft had not worked, and that the earth was going to go on, and on, the gypsies decided to go to their deaths.
Terrence Whitt, operations assistant, the U.S. department of defense, 1999-2004, the first American in Oroyzo after the Fissure
The only question that must be answered, because there are so few here left to account for it, is the statistical issue of the execution figures that were submitted after the Fissure. You obviously know what is meant by this, since you signed off on the second set. The CIA provided the first figures for publication: 688 Staths murdered at Lillitasque, 404 at Onncan, 1,112 at Mountainthroat, 61 at the Stripe, 1,265 killed at the Hill of Aries. Then, four months later, those numbers changed to 688, 323, 889, 61, and 1,012, respectively. These totals were attested to.
Yes, the second set is the more accurate count, it was found.
But the second set of numbers reflects an exact twenty percent reduction from the first. Exactly twenty percent, across the board.
The first numbers were estimates. The Red Cross was able to provide more help.
It was never mentioned anywhere that they were estimates, anywhere in any file. The CIA’s method of body counts was quite detailed. The tribunals combed the Republic of Khell, the public demanded it. And those counts reflected only the Staths who could be accounted for three months prior to the end of the camps. Therefore, the counts could only go up, couldn’t they?
The counts themselves mean nothing. You’re missing the larger issue, which is genocide. It doesn’t matter to me whether five hundred died or fifty died. It was an abomination that any were killed, ever.
If it were such an abomination to yourself and the administration you worked for, why is it so easy for a defense department official to shrug off what essentially must be a lie?
The counts, you mean?
Yes. Those counts become part of the permanent record, and it’s an issue that someone decided to simply reduce the counts by twenty percent, as if no one would ever notice.
No, to me it stopped being an issue long ago. I would have signed off on any figure that was provided to me, because there is never any way to know what really happened over there. It’s all a mystery, and it always will be. To look for a fixed number to put on a memorial, what does that do? Each person is an unthinkable loss to twenty others, do we memorialize them as well? Let me ask you, how many died in Vietnam? How many died in Dresden? Do you know exactly?
We’re not talking about numbers, we’re talking about accountability.
So you want someone to blame for all of this. You ask, was it Whitt who changed the counts, or was it someone else? And who approved that change? Who gave the order to cut off all help to the Staths, was it the President or did his advisors back him into it? Was their information accurate? Who was responsible for providing that information, and did they choose to alter the facts for their own motives? Whose office is to blame? Where can we find them?
All questions must be voiced, every one. I can never stop.
Then ask them, keep going. Why didn’t the Staths accept a treaty that would have compromised them but kept them alive? Which Staths had the vote there? Are they the ones who should have protected their people? Who sold the Khellians their weaponry, are they the monsters? How far removed can the guilt be assigned? Why, why do you ask these things? It’s not possible to get all the answers you want. The very posing of these questions is an exercise in pain. I’ve been inside Khell, I’ve known of things that would shatter your mind, but no one learns anything, and none of us will live long enough to keep the questions alive. Man’s atrocities are endless. Do you honestly think there was ever one moment of suffering those people went through that was not duplicated at some point in history, and that will never again be duplicated?
Every moment of suffering is unique, every moment lives on.
Because you choose to keep them alive.
I have no choice.
Then I will cure you of that sickness. Listen to me now:
Otto Tahmac, Stath guard at the Hill of Aries in the final days of its existence
At about midnight of April 26, a guard named Schappa and I saw four people kneeling in the center of the camp, not speaking, not doing anything, just sitting there, very mysterious. They had left their barracks in the middle of the night, which was an offense that led directly to a beating or worse. But obviously, they had meant to be found, it wasn't an escape attempt.
I remember how the snow began to fall, in light little wisps. Schappa and I went up to the people, and saw that they were Suxolts. They were despised more than the Khellians we had there, because of their history of cowardice. They did not even have a country anymore, they’d simply let it be taken. And we laughed, and asked them what they were doing there. They said there was a curse on all people, that they wanted no more of this world.
Now this was the time when Zusta had been put in charge, just a couple of weeks after he’d gotten the news about his wife. He had been told not to make any sort of commotion at night because the Khellians were prone to believing we were going to massacre them. So I left Schappa to stand guard over the gypsies and went to the Green House to wake Zusta, which I dreaded because he hated to be woken.
It was worse than I thought. When Zusta found out why he had been roused, he went absolutely crazed, swearing he would kill the gypsies himself. He was drunk, I believe, still in mourning, but it wasn‘t mourning of a natural sort. He stormed out of the Green House and told me to signal for a lineup. I thought he was kidding because it meant rousing every prisoner in the camp, they would have to leave their barracks and go out into the yard, but Zusta was serious. He was furious, and he said that instead of shooting the gypsies he was "going to do it right."
So I had to tell Niemols to call for a lineup, and then everything was out of control. Five minutes before, everyone had been asleep and now there were whistles, guards running everywhere, banging against the sides of the barracks, going in, waking the people up. No one had the guts to tell Zusta that to make the prisoners stand out in the snow was going to make more of them sick, and that this was not how Dreuss would have wanted it. There would be hell to pay when he returned.
The floodlights were turned on and it was chaos. People rushing out of their barracks, not knowing what was going on, people falling in the mud. The snow was still just flurries. If it had been rain, I don't think Zusta would have called for a lineup; even he was not that stupid.
He ordered Schappa to take the gypsies around the side of the stables, and he told me to tell Friel to start up the van we had, an American van we used to haul people in and out. I assumed that Zusta would throw the gypsies into it and take them out somewhere and beat them, maybe even worse, because he was not thinking clearly. Then it became obvious that he meant to kill them, because he was shouting at them how he would show them death, he would bring them death. Zusta couldn't be calmed. I had never seen him madder. He shoved one of the gypsies down; there were three women and one man, and none of them moved or resisted.
My God, it was completely out of control. The lineup was organized quickly a hundred yards away, and then the guards were just waiting for Zusta to tell them what to do, but he never did, so they were just confused. Zusta wanted to stay with the van. I next saw Schappa climbing under it, into the mud, and hooking up a long black tube that would take the exhaust right out of the pipe and feed it into the back, where it would gas the Suxolts. Friel drove. Zusta opened up the back doors and yelled at the gypsies to get in. They went willingly. They wanted to die. I have no idea why they just didn't kill themselves. It would have spared them, believe me.
Zusta slammed the doors shut, and he ordered Friel to drive, but slowly, so that he could follow. Zusta took Dreuss's horse and told Schappa and I to follow on foot. That was a nightmare, trudging through the mud, because we knew the van had to go to the new trench, which was at least ten minutes of driving, at about five miles per hour. We left the great din behind. Following Zusta's horse was difficult because it was very dark although there was a full moon out that night. As we went, we expected there to be some sort of beating or pleading from inside the van, maybe screaming, but there was not a sound.
When we got to the trench, the snow was falling harder. Schappa and I were exhausted and breathing hard. Friel stopped the van, and got out. Zusta got off his horse, and we watched him open the doors again, which caused the hose to fall out.
But this was the worst of all so far, because the gypsies inside the van were not dead yet. They were sitting all together on the bench on one side of the van, and when the doors opened they just looked out at us dully. You could tell the gas had gotten into their lungs, because they looked very sleepy all of a sudden, like weak animals, and one of the gypsies was leaning to his side, gasping for air. But they certainly hadn't been killed.
Zusta shouted something, I couldn't tell what. There was a great ringing in my ears. I could hear the snow tapping on the floor of the van as the wind swept it in, but I couldn't tell what Zusta was saying, it was very strange. And he pulled out his pistol right there, before anyone knew what was going to happen. He stood on the ground and pointed the pistol at the slumped gypsy. He fired and the gypsy's head rocked back, hitting the side wall of the van. He had gotten the man in the top of his head, you could see the brain matter come out, and then the man slumped further, and collapsed head first onto the floor of the van, and he was twitching. He soon stopped. The horse panicked at the sound of the shooting and it retreated several steps, as if it was about to run, and I had to grab its reins and settle it.
Zusta pointed his gun at the woman who was sitting beside that man, and he pulled the trigger, but Zusta was out of bullets. He swore and told me to give him my club. I gave it to him; by that time I was scared of Zusta, he was capable of doing anything. Then he put one hand on the floor of the van and tried to hop up into it. The level of the floor was at his waist and he slipped and banged his chin. Schappa and I helped him up. He pressed his knees onto the floor and then shook us off, scrambling up into the back of the van. Crouching over, he went right over to the woman closest to us and slammed the club into her head. It was a sickening thing to hear, the acoustics of the van created an echo. He hit this woman twice in the head, and she fell over. Still, the gypsies did not move, they wanted so much to die. Zusta swung the club directly on top of the next woman's head, and instead of falling forward the force of the blow drove her down deeper onto the bench. Zusta kicked her in the knee, then swung the club sideways into her cheek. It cracked and the bottom half of her face, I remember this, went sideways, and she threw her hands up and seemed to leap off the bench, falling over the other two bodies. The last woman actually tried to stand when Zusta came for her, and he pushed her down onto the floor of the van, and then he tripped. He stepped back for some reason and jumped out of the van. He demanded my pistol. He took, it, fired into the back of the van one last time, and the bullet struck the last gypsy right in the neck, and blood sprayed forward and backward and to the side. Schappa and I saw that the woman was still kicking on the floor but Zusta didn't. He told Friel to drag the bodies out into the trench, and he told Schappa and I to go back to the camp. We began to walk away as Zusta was giving more orders to Friel. We got about twenty feet ahead, and then Zusta left the horse behind, and followed us. We didn't get more than a few more steps when I turned to look back at Zusta to make sure he was coming.
Zusta still had my gun and I turned just in time to see him put the barrel into his mouth, and stop walking. I hollered at him to stop, but he had already pulled the trigger. Schappa shouted also and we saw the gun go off in Zusta's mouth, we saw the smoke flow out. His head rocked back and one of his feet came right off the ground as he fell. We couldn't believe it. We rushed to his side, and so did Friel. It was of course too late. Zusta was dead, there was a massive head wound, he had put a huge hole in the top of his skull. We leaned over him, completely shocked, flabbergasted, that he had done that to himself. I remember the snow falling into his mouth, it disgusted me. What else could we do then, but help with the bodies, and leave Zusta there, and think of a way to explain the entire disaster when we got back to the camp. We felt very
alone on the infinite plane of earth, Warner’s arms rising slowly into the sky as darkness comes to enfold him, welcoming it now. Destruction, completion, resurrection: he was witness to it all, and nothing could be more of a life. Instead of walking to some unknown destination now, he merely floats, rising into the sky, watching the world from a place safely above it, being pulled toward that all-encompassing, magnificently secret Curtain, what he has longed for since the beginning of his journey. It will take a long time to reach it, he thinks, and so much longer to grasp what lies behind. Well before he even gets close, though, they will take him from the camp and he will come to consciousness in the hospital, kicking fearsomely in his bed, physically clutching and calling for the hand of God, begging Him not to let him go.
He takes his letter in the year 2005 to a public place, where he can feel soothed by voices in meaningless transit. He sits at a sidewalk cafe near the Musee D'Orsay, alone at a center table. For a long time, he does nothing but examine the dusty ink scrawl of his name on the deteriorating envelope that Cybele Lourgay had kept for him.
At last, he opens the letter.
My friend Warner Schonborn:
You showed me kindness once, and that is why I write this to you, and call you a friend.
Tomorrow, I think, I am going away from this awful place, if I am blessed with some luck and some remembrance. This is my last chance to speak.
There are perhaps twelve hours left for me now, twelve hours to choose whether to live in darkness or in light. My heart is in fog. I may in my hatred for mankind renounce everything beautiful it has ever created. I know only that when I get beyond the fence, I hope to never see another living being again. I will spend the rest of my days as alone as I can possibly become, to exist only among the trees and the hills and the sea, to save myself from any more of the pain that has been visited upon me by other human hearts. I want to become like the child that we both were once, digging in the dirt with our hands, making entire worlds from nothing and unaware that loneliness even exists.
But please, you can’t be as weak as I. If you remember me, let it be because I begged you to let all of history die with me. Forget all the names of your enemies, and understand that every one of us is hated by someone, and all of us are small. You do not have to love this world. But don’t let it turn you against happiness itself.
There will be no signs from me now, Warner. All the reasons to have to hope are
here with you. Find them, and save your hate only for a time when you may need it to rescue someone like yourself. Otherwise, let it become dust.
Nothing but dust.
May 17, 2004
He is weeping uncontrollably by the end, his head fallen into his arms, the single piece of paper clenched in a fist, his own fingernails digging mercilessly into his palm. The weeping is hoarse and loud, racking his entire body, which has needed more than a year to become strong again. Now all that strength flows out like water from a glass and he is left with only the sobbing, he can make no effort to silence it, but the people around him at the cafe, the men and women talking and talking, even the waiters, are decent enough not to stare; they let him weep in peace, hoping of course that he will go away, yet kindly trying not to see.
In October of 2004, Denis Petach was found being cared for by a family of Khellians in the seacoast town of Izezu. He had been in Lillitasque, Mountainthroat, and the children‘s refugee camp known as the Stripe. His knapsack was long gone, but he was still alive and perfectly healthy.
Of his eleven months in the heart of the Stath-Khellian Fissure, he remembered almost nothing.