You followed The Passage . You faced The Twelve . Read more...
- Publisher: Books on Tape
- Date: May 2016
From the cover
There is another world but it is this one.
August 98 a.v.
Eight months after the liberation of the Homeland
The ground yielded easily under her blade, unlocking a black smell of earth. The air was hot and moist; birds were singing in the trees. On her hands and knees, she stabbed the dirt, chopping it loose. One handful at a time, she scooped it away. Some of the weakness had abated but not all. Her body felt loose, disorganized, drained. There was pain, and the memory of pain. Three days had passed, or was it four? Perspiration beaded on her face; she licked her lips to taste the salt. She dug and dug. The sweat ran in rivulets, falling into the earth. That's where everything goes, Alicia thought, in the end. Everything goes into the earth.
The pile beside her swelled. How deep was enough? Three feet down, the soil began to change. It became colder, with the odor of clay. It seemed like a sign. She rocked back on her boots and took a long drink from her canteen. Her hands were raw; the flesh at the base of her thumb had peeled back in a sheet. She placed the web of her hand to her mouth and used her teeth to sever the flap of skin and spat it into the dirt.
Soldier was waiting for her at the edge of the clearing, his jaws loudly working on a stand of waist—high grass. The grace of his haunches, his rich mane and blue roan coat, the magnificence of his hooves and teeth and the great black marbles of his eyes: an aura of splendor surrounded him. He possessed, when he chose, an absolute calm, then, in the next moment, could perform remarkable deeds. His wise face lifted at the sound of her approach. I see. We're ready. He turned in a slow arc, his neck bent low, and followed her into the trees to the place where she had pitched her tarp. On the ground beside Alicia's bloody bedroll lay the small bundle, swaddled in a stained blanket. Her daughter had lived less than an hour, yet in that hour Alicia had become a mother.
Soldier watched as she emerged. The baby's face was covered; Alicia drew back the cloth. Soldier bent his face to the child's, his nostrils flaring, breathing in her scent. Tiny nose and eyes and rosebud mouth, startling in their humanness; her head was covered in a cap of soft red hair. But there was no life, no breath. Alicia had wondered if she would be capable of loving her—-this child conceived in terror and pain, fathered by a monster. A man who had beaten her, raped her, cursed her. How foolish she'd been.
She returned to the clearing. The sun was directly overhead; insects buzzed in the grass, a rhythmic pulsing. Soldier stood beside her as she laid her daughter in the grave. When her labor had started, Alicia had begun to pray. Let her be all right. As the hours of agony dissolved into one another, she had felt death's cold presence inside her. The pain pounded through her, a wind of steel; it echoed in her cells like thunder. Something was wrong. Please, God, protect her, protect us. But her prayers had fallen into the void.
The first handful of soil was the hardest. How did one do it? Alicia had buried many men. Some she'd known, and some she hadn't; only one she'd loved. The boy, Hightop. So funny, so alive, then gone. She let the dirt sift through her fingers. It struck the cloth with a pattering sound, like the first spits of rain upon leaves. Bit by bit her daughter disappeared. Goodbye,...