In Aeternum

Its rim brimmed with the criminal elite’s corpses — monopolists, intellectuals, artists, priests and other irredeemable deviants blind to the nation’s “New Dawn.” From the mangled, tangled bodies’ blackened, bloated faces, bulging eyes glassily stared back at Tomas as he sidled on his empty stomach over the edge. On his first trip to the pit, he’d rushed forward too fast, slipped into the pit, scrambled out of cadavers and scurried back to camp trying not to vomit and get caught. Undaunted, he’d grown stronger and smarter: surveying new prisoners’ possessions and noting what the state didn’t confiscate. Some nights, there’d be nothing worth scavenging from the pit and he’d sleep; tonight, there’d be something, if it wasn’t buried too deep to retrieve.

He sifted a curtain of black flies from his face. “Yes!” he wheezed through his red handkerchief’s worn, moist cotton. He jockeyed to the left, stretched over the dead and easily captured one of his trophies. It was a serviceable shoe of thin, coarse leather with the remnant of a sole. He put it on. Even if worn with his mismatched socks, the shoe was too big, but he’d grow into it. Leaning back over the pit, he pulled at the second shoe. It was stuck. He drew a deep, moldy breath, clutched the corpse’s slick leg, cursed and tugged and twisted …

The ankle cracked and snapped. Tomas flew backwards. Bone smacked stone, and a tart mix of blood and sweat trickled under his red handkerchief onto his parted lips. He swallowed, yanked off his red handkerchief and pressed it against his sticky, dripping wound at the back of his head. A numb fatigue descended over him like the stars cluttering his eyes. Vainly scouring the pit for the second shoe, he spotted something shiny in the unshod body’s mouth. Despite the lightning pain scraping his tired brain, he pried three damp scraps of paper from the thick purple lips.

Sprawling beneath the tree, he gingerly placed his bloody handkerchief between the stone and his wound, and raised the scraps toward the faint moonlight. A light smirk bathed his face, as he recalled how, when the army detained that sadist Sister Theresa, she whispered to him, “Troublemaker, don’t tell them you can read.”

“Damn it,” he spat, the taste of blood lingering on his tongue. It was a note, but it wasn’t money, just another prisoner letter never delivered. What idiot thought it would do anything but incriminate its recipient?

“The Poet.” Tomas recalled the arrogant bastard who refused to be re-educated before he got shot. The soldiers made an example of this “enemy of the people.” After the soldiers’ boots and rifle butts pummeled this prick to the pit, they bound his hands, shoved bullets up his nose and this note down his throat and then tossed him onto the bodies littering the pit. The criminal’s bloodshot eyes bugged as a deepening violet hue swept his suffocating face; his silenced lips quivered, perhaps begging the troops to put him out of his misery. A merciful man, the captain did. It was the camp’s most memorable execution — except for the girl.

Tomas’ eyelids slunk down over his dilated pupils in his losing battle against the sultry sleepiness entwining him. Was this note for her? The stiffening wind rustled the foliage and cooled his skin’s sheen of sweat and grit. He should be heading back now. The captain rose before dawn. But his body ached as badly as his head. He decided to read the scraps as he rested for just a moment …