AND THEN THERE WAS ONE

By Lauri Kubuitsile


"This way! I see a house ahead!" Didion shouted back to the rest of the group. The ice cold rain just started to fall and the wind whipped across the open field as the group climbed the hill up to the farmhouse.

"Will they find us here?" Renee asked. The youngest in the group, they found her only a few days before, the only person alive in the small village of Avion. She had hid in a cellar and, by luck or divine intervention, the government soldiers had not opened the door. For two days she huddled inside listening to the terrorized screams of her friends and her family, as the soldiers killed them one by one with a casual slice of a machete or the calculated aim of a rifle. When all was quiet, she waited another day inside the cellar fearing the silence meant that they laid in wait for her. But it hadn’t. They had left; they had much work to do.

Didion put a strong arm around her shoulder. "They've moved on. We'll be safe here for awhile. We'll rest and eat and then set off again in a few days." Renee smiled up at him. She felt safe as long as he led their group. "We'll have to bury them though." He pointed toward the family that had occupied the house. They lay dead against the barn wall, shot firing squad style, a man, his wife and their four children, dead at least a week. The four men of the group, Victor, Rafael, Jean and Claude, headed to the barn in search of shovels.

"Come Renee, you, Sharon and I will see what food is left in the house," Sophia said taking her hand and leading her away from the carnage.

The cupboards in the house were well stocked with food. Most families had taken President Emmanuel's advice and bought all they needed before the curfew was instituted. People waited patiently in their houses, waiting for everything to be sorted out, as Emmanuel, their savior, had said. In the end, the only thing that they had waited for was their own killers.

Sharon slammed the cupboard door. "What a waste! What is it all for?" She leaned on the countertop of the spotless kitchen and wept. Sophia rubbed her back in comfort but kept quiet. They'd all seen enough to know the emptiness of hollow words.

Sharon had been part of the initial group. She, Rafael and Claude had escaped from a group of soldiers who had collected them from the factory where they worked. In the forest, the three had met Didion. He assured them that he knew the way to the border, their only escape. Since then, day by day, they picked up the few survivors the government troops let slip through their deadly net. They were now eight. Eight survivors in a province which had a population of 500,000.

The women began cooking. After some time, the men came in from their gruesome job. "Is the water working?" Jean asked.

"Yes, " Sophia said. "I saw a shower down the hall." Jean headed down the hall for a much needed wash.

"A bath and some food will certainly help," Didion smiled. “I think the border will be about another two days walk. If we stay here a night or two we ought to be okay for the last stretch, then we'll be safe."

"Safe? You're a fool to think the government will not have the border well guarded." Rafael spat. "We'll be sitting ducks!"

Didion waited, his fingers crossed at his chin. "Perhaps. But they only have so many soldiers. They haven't finished their work in the north of the province. We will find an opening, have no fear about that. Haven’t I led you well so far?" he asked, barely keeping the annoyance from his voice.

"Led us? We let you join us -do you forget so easily? And no one has agreed that you are our leader. Besides, who knows where you're intending to lead us to," Rafael said. He stood to his over six-foot height, much taller than Didion and stronger too. His display was not lost on the group.

Sophia quickly changed the subject. "Food is almost ready. Perhaps there is a bath upstairs. Most of these farmhouses have two." Rafael went down the hall to see if Jean was finished and Claude, Victor and Didion went upstairs.

"This won't last long you know," Sharon whispered.

"We must try to keep them calm. Didion said it's only two days. Two days and we will all be safe," Sophia said.

"Do you think they'll fight?" Renee asked.

"It's not if, it is only when. For our sake we should hope we make the border first," Sharon said.

***


After days of sleeping like cats on the floor of the forest, the group was sound asleep in the comfort of beds that night and heard nothing when the soldiers climbed up the hill to the farmhouse. It was only the clumsiness of one of them tripping over a shovel that woke Rafael. He peered out the window and saw the group coming up the path to the house.

He crept to where the women slept. "Sharon," he whispered. "They're here. Hurry." He woke Renee and Sophia and they crept quietly down the stairs.

"What about Didion and the others?" Sharon asked.

"How did the soldiers find us? I'm telling you Didion's involved. We can't get the others without waking him. We must go or they'll kill us, too."

Reluctantly, the women followed. They snuck out the back door and ran down the hill to the woods. They huddled together waiting. It wasn’t long until they heard shouting and later the shots of guns.

"Oh God save us!" Renee cried. Sharon took her in her arms and rocked her. Sophia sat dry eyed, as if in shock.

"You wait here for me. It sounds like the soldiers have left. I want to see what they've done. I want to confirm that Didion is one of them," Rafael said.

"Why? What does it matter? Let’s go! We need to go!" Sharon begged.

"No, wait here!" Rafael ordered. “I want to know. I need to know the truth.”

At the farmhouse Rafael found that the soldiers had left. At the front door lay the bodies of Victor and Claude. He raced through the house and found Jean shot dead in a closet where he hid. Didion was nowhere, as Rafael had expected.

He picked up a few supplies and headed back towards the forest. Quickening his pace down the path from the farm, something caught his eye in the tall grass, it looked like a body.

As he stepped closer to get a better look, a voice spoke from behind him. "There's no need to check who it is. Who could it be except Didion?"

Rafael turned. Sophia stood with an army rifle pointed at him.

"And then there was one," she said smiling, and the sound of the shot echoed against the farm buildings. She slung the gun on to her shoulder and headed to her comrades waiting for her down the road.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauri Kubuitsile's writing has appeared in New Contrast (South Africa), Mselxia (United Kingdom) and Spinetingler among others. She has one published novel, The Fatal Payout (Macmillan 2005). She lives in Botswana. (www.laurikubuitsile.net)


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