The hot, even surface of the dry river sand had been broken by the wind as small undulations appeared like the tiny ripples that swim across an autumn lake. It was only the tracks of a scorpion that interfered with the perfect tapestry of shifting sand as it swiftly scampered toward the nearest burrow to hide from an unforgiving sun. To its observer, it represented the last fleeting moment of a traumatic life, the latter years spent in confusion and turmoil. For Karif the cause was just and he did not recognize his captors nor regard his executioners as legitimate.
On his knees for hours, with his body weakening by the second, he could feel excruciating pain as the skin on his bare back began to blister and split wide open where the sun’s heat had ferociously bore down on him. He followed the scorpion’s sandy trail wishing that he could follow, but he was going nowhere. The shackles securely fastened around his legs and arms served as a timely reminder that he no longer controlled his destiny. Yet his thoughts were only of his beloved Alhena. Death could never separate them.
He began to mentally put his life in order; nothing was out of place, nor did he wish to change a simple aspect which had represented his reason for living. The Regime had finally caught up with him and taken him and his associates out of the equation. Choices were no longer an option and it was time to account for his actions. He could not accept defeat—never. Even though he was forced to kneel with his hands tethered behind him, he had still been given the chance to redeem himself. He would rather die than acquiesce.
His keeper would often tease him, ‘kissing’ the back of his neck with the sword’s sharp blade, each touch becoming heavier until a small wound began to appear. It didn’t take long for Karif to realize that there was a routine to this psychological torture and that this would become his opportunity to try and break free. He studied the pattern of activity for a few minutes; his tormentor would always retreat to the cool shelter of his tent and recover his drinking flask, wait a few minutes, and then return to repeat the same barbaric procedure.
Struggling against his bonds, testing for weaknesses, he eventually found an easiness around his wrists as the strands of thin leather would stretch against the pressure of his wriggling hands. And so he began to struggle to try and free himself. There could be no room for error. He saw his jailer move away again to drink, and before he could return and amuse himself once more, Karif realized that he must act quickly.
He struggled desperately at his bonds; he would never give in. Then, without warning and for no reason, the moment seemed to freeze and he saw his returning would-be executioner and everything around him suspended in time as though the shutter in the lens of life had remained open. All animation suddenly appeared motionless, like stars that hang from the roof of a moonless sky. He simultaneously felt the familiar cold steel teasing the back of his neck and knew that it was time to make his move or die.
After again feeling the sharp sting of the sword at the back of his neck, which lasted only a second, Karif realized that this was his only chance. Frantically, he managed to free himself and then he pushed with his legs as hard as they would go, darting upwards and toward the nearby river. He knew that every step would bring him closer to his beloved Alhena, but he had not yet reached the water before he heard the scrambling of many bodies behind him. Shots were fired and he increased his pace and raced to the wooden jetty; bullets were flying past him and ricocheting too near for comfort. With a final push, he threw himself off the end of the small wooden platform.
As he hit the water he heard the mumble of his pursuers above, still firing toward where he had jumped. As he submerged, he pushed hard with his upturned hands to reach a point of safety deep in the water, before he could move to the other side of the river. Whizzing bullets were reduced to white torpedoes as their momentum slowed in the watery density, narrowly missing him as he managed to dodge each lethal shot. His lungs were bursting and his heart had almost stopped beating, when he at last surfaced toward the opposite riverbank. Gulping huge amounts of air, he glanced back whilst scrambling up the muddy slope, knowing the initiative had been gained. Could he escape them? Hope overcame his fears as gunshots forced him onwards, and he ran as fast as his legs would carry him toward the shelter of the sugar plantations.
There was little cover in which to hide, so Karif had to keep on running. Each glance back indicated he was beginning to gain on them and make the break. Eventually he could hardly hear them as the sound of their voices and gunshots seemed to vanish in the distance. At last he could relax. It felt like a dream to realize that he had broken free, but there was no time to revel in victory. He could hear Alhena beckoning so it was important that he must keep going. The village was near and this would be his security and his sanctity.
His thoughts had never left Alhena. She was his driving force as he felt himself still gasping for more air. Exiting the plantation, he saw the road to the village. Doubting his unbelievable luck, he darted for the tree-lined track which would lead him to his beloved. His vision started to become blurred as his lungs fought for oxygen, but eventually he saw the silhouette of a woman. She was moving quickly toward him shouting “Karif my love, Karif! Run my darling, run.”
Tears fell as he acknowledged her cries and waved frantically to acknowledge her. His desperation to embrace her once more in his arms was intense, knowing it was only seconds that now separated them. It seemed like an age before they finally reached each other; their arms outstretched both in defiance of the fate that surely had condemned them. He felt compelled to glance back and make sure that his efforts had not been in vain. The road was clear and he was so very happy.
They stopped abruptly within feet of each other. He had arrived and couldn’t believe his luck. He tentatively reached out his hand to Alhena as he saw her smiling, tear-ridden face when, suddenly, he experienced that same sharp, hot pain in the back of his neck and Alhena began to pull away from his vision, involuntarily. She desperately shouted his name but, eventually, her cries faded as did his vision of her until she had vanished completely. His heart was breaking when his soul at last conceded defeat and he gazed once more at the sandy trail left by the scorpion which was beginning to turn blood red and was rising quickly toward him.
Alhena would have to wait.
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