guards and their snakes.
a warm, sunny day, twelve-to- fourteen hours away from the daily
deluge that will bring down temperatures to cool-to-cold for the
following eleven-or-so hours.
a forest, a native girl crouches behind thick foliage in amusement,
as she munches on a fruit and keeps her eyes on a man in a clearing
at the bottom of the hill.
irises shine like polished chrome. Her thick yellow curly hair is
untidily bundled up on top of and around her head. She is naked down
to her shoeless feet. Her complexion is whiter than ordinary. Her
cheeks and lips lightly pink.
tenses. Stops chewing. Listens intently for a few seconds. She slowly
raises herself to stand. Without moving her head, she moves her eyes
cautiously to look in the direct of the man. Another native girl
first yelps in shock as she jumps. The second girl grabs hold of her
to prevent her from falling. They giggle. The first girl nearly
chokes on her mouthful of fruit. The second girl gently thumps her on
the back to help.
second girl could be an identical twin, except she is blacker than
the usually blacker-than-night. As black as her skin, is her thick
long curly hair which when at times it catches light at special
angles, fleetingly reflects a bluish tinge. She wears it in a single
plait. She, too, is naked down to her shoeless feet. Her irises are
silky green like wet new leaves.
second girl peers at the man through the leaves and branches. "Ah.
Another one." "There are others?" "Suddenly, all
over our Market Village. We're keeping close watch on them, from
afar. Like you."
so special about him that I have to keep him in sight? Isn't he just
another new-comer searching for a place to have us help him build a
home?" "That's what the snakes thought at first, about all
eighty of them. None of them is native to our Market Village."
"At least. So far. The snakes detected them first. Ignored the
first few, but got alarmed when news came in about them arriving all
over the Village at about the same time. That's when the snakes told
can't they be just new-comers wanting to stay? Look at him. He's
harmless. I was about go make friends with him."
he been making notes about the location of homes, and numbers of
native people?" "Could be. I don't know. But, you're right.
He does stop at every home and writes in a small book."
he make himself known to the people he is recording in his book?"
"Uh, no." She has finished her fruit, and is staring in the
direction of the man. "Let's just go ask him."
Her voice involuntarily increases in loudness. The yellow-haired
girl's eyes on the man open wider instantly in startlement. She dives
down to a crouch, pulling at the other girl. "He heard us!"
The second girl dives down, too. Both crouch motionless for a few
seconds. As one, they slowly unbend, peering all the while in the
man's direction. The first one whispers.
He's not sure what he heard. He's relaxing. I still say let's go ask
whispers the other. "If they are up to no good, he will lie, and
he will know we are onto them." "No good? Like what no
knows, yet. But there are too many of them behaving in the same
manner, although they are not in communication with one another. It's
like they are working to plan."
did they start?" "The snakes think sometime early yesterday
just after the nightly storms." "That would be about three
in the morning!" "There! See? If they are from the other
side of the ravine, they must have entered Market Village under cover
of the storms." "In all that lightning and cloud-burst
rains?" "Pretty determined, huh?" "Some of them
must have died in those storms. Even the snakes take cover from
twelve to three in the morning."
Those coming from the north moved south about fifteen miles, and then
turned back. The others did the same coming from the south."
"So, all of them are on their way back. Like this one."
"Yes. So far, the only good sign is all of them are unarmed. If
it's mischief they're up to, they can't mean to harm us. Must be some
business lands scam they're planning."
fixes her chrome-coloured irises on the green ones. "Why haven't
the snakes alerted me to all this? Seems as if I'm the last to know."
they are like the rest of us. We know how much you don't like being
serious. The snakes are to you what you are to them, toys. Forever
playing some game in the bushes, up the trees in the rivers and
capable of seriousness, too." "Of course, you are, when you
don't have a choice. Come on. That's okay. We love you especially for
that about you. Things are so naturally dismal in these our Market
Village bad lands, we need more like you. Your kind is rare around
here. This place needs you more than it needs us. You have a choice
right now. Now that you know there is a possibility he is bad, you
can get more fun out of tracking him. I have to go, now." They
hug lightly and briefly.
still say let's take some snakes and frighten the truth out of him."
what if they are working with bigger people on the other side of the
ravine? We will expose these, but those others will still be there to
plan better next time. No. Let this play itself out. Let them think
they have succeeded. If, when they get to the ravine, they try to
cross back over, that's when we will pounce. We pounce on both sides
because if they try to get back, there will be somebody waiting for
them across the ravine."
will I be included in the pounce?" She avoids eye-contact. The
other one looks at her sternly for seconds, and then breaks into a
smile. She hugs her, kissing her lightly on the cheek before breaking
off. "Whatever you want, baby. You might want to know that all
the snakes want in. However long the pounce lasts, there won't be any
snake friends available to you for games."
eyes glint in joyous excitement. "In that case I have no choice.
Count me in."
Now, instead of babysitting him, why don't you head for the rim where
he is headed. Wait for him there." "If I don't follow him,
how will I know at which point on the rim he will arrive?"
"You're right. I forgot that. The snakes think each one is
working about five miles of territory, from the rim to fifteen miles
to the centre." "Seventy square miles." "Uh-huh."
"Wow! Eighty men that fit? Must have been a lot of training for
this." "There you go. They have a plan."
But since I found this one on my own, I will follow him by myself. No
help from snakes." She looks up and around into the trees. "You
hear that? Back off!" The other girl hastily puts her hand over
the yellow-haired one's mouth, whispering urgently, "All right!
We hear you! You're on your own. Just be extra careful. None of us
has ever done this alone."
few hours later the sun sets suddenly. Unusually, there is no
twilight. The stark naked yellow-haired girl is caught off-guard by
the onslaught of total darkness. She loses track of her quarry, and
is plunged into disorientation. She pauses and is motionless. She
slowly peers through foliage in different directions looking for her
man. She raises her head slightly and sniffs the air in different
directions. She stops. She has detected something of special
cautiously reaches up and slowly pulls down a branch. From it hangs a
cluster-bunch of fruit. In her excitement at the find she forgets to
keep her voice at a whisper. "Oo! Guava-grapes!" She plucks
a few and stuffs them into her mouth. She raises herself on her toes
as she tries to break the bunch from its branch. It's harder than she
expects. She lets her exhausted arms fall to her sides.
hugs her violently from the back, pinning her arms to her sides. She
instinctively screams but instead of vocal sound emitting, she
explodes into a paroxysm of choking on her partially swallowed
guava-grapes. Her assailant, the man she has been tracking, instantly
lets go of her, bends her over and thumps her on her back. She coughs
up bits of fruit; and spits. He steps back.
I didn't expect you to choke. Are you just a little girl? Naked?"
"Who are you? You are not a native."
are right. I am not a native. I am the one you've been clumsily
tracking. With skin so white you were not hard to detect after
sunset. Next time rub some dark coloring on yourself if you have to
be naked, or wear dark colored clothing."
he means her no immediate harm, she relaxes a little. She replies
I'll try to remember that. Who are you?" "Uh-uh. Me first
because I caught you. Who are you?" "I live here. You've
been skulking around. I have been following you to discover why."
"So, my instincts were right. I thought I heard something
suspicious back there. That was you, wasn't it?"
Now, who are you? Are you going to hurt me? I'm just a little girl,
as you have noticed."
I doubt that. I first detected you by the reflection of sunlight off
your eyes. At first I dismissed it as just an animal. But then I
remembered being told there are no animals here in these bad lands.
Then, when it got dark, your White skin betrayed you."
right. All right. You're better at this than I am. But I am just a
girl. I don't go around doing this every day. Now, why are you
prowling around here?"
am not a native. I am a foreigner in this Country. I and others are
foreigners who were lured to come with our families to this Country
by false promises." "Who made the false promises?"
Prime Minister. "We came to this country because we were offered
a lot of money to train for this job. They trained us for many days.
Paid us and fed us and our families well. We were trained to map out
the locations of homes over an area of seventy square miles in two
days. At midnight the second day we are to help an army Captain and
his soldiers to cross the ravine. We have to guide them to the
locations we have mapped." He stops. There is silence for
speaks softly. It is not a question. "You are to guide them to
murder the families you found." He nods silently. He realizes,
in the dark she cannot see his nod. He speaks, haltingly.
I'm sorry. None of us is doing this willingly, but they have our
families hostages. Midnight tonight is when they are coming. Go warn
as many as you can. It would be easy if there is someone in charge
here. Is there?" "I'll tell you later. Come with me."
"I must not. I have to meet them tonight, or they will kill my
family. If I'm not there, they will murder my family."
is going to murder you or your family."
just a girl. Go. Warn your family. Warn as many as you can. I have to
go. Oh, by the way, they hate you natives more because they say you
are primitive worshippers of snakes." The girl showed surprise
as she smilingly replied.
do not worship snakes, sir. We are genetic friends, if not of the
same species. We haven't worked out yet whether we are like they, or
they are like us. At the annual Olympic games here between us and
them, the medal count, so far, is always just about equal."
hurries off. She turns to go in the opposite direction. She pauses.
Turns back, leaps up, grabs the branch with the bunch of
guava-grapes, pulls down and bites on the stalk of the bunch. The
bunch falls into her hand. She lets the branch go.
she hurries off, she mumbles to herself, "Snakes! Never around
when you need one." She pops guava-grapes into her mouth.
is a moonless raining night. Eighty army Captains are seated in a
large assembly room in an army barracks. None of the eighty knows
the reason for this assembly.
army Generals are seated at the table. Botha stands and addresses the
you have been in commando training for the last four weeks. The
special project is one conceived by our esteemed Prime Minister
himself long, long ago." He pauses in the spontaneous
eruption of hand-clapping and cheering.
to you, you have been screened and chosen from over seven hundred
candidates. You have been chosen for only one reason. That reason is
your hatred of the native snake-worshippers in this country.
eruption of hand-clapping and cheering.
General walks to stand beside a large map on a wall. On a table is a
wood pointer and other objects. He picks up the pointer.
close attention, gentlemen. You have to memorize everything because
there is and will be no written record of any of this." He moves
the pointer across the map as he speaks. "This area is about
two-hundred miles from East to West, and about thirty from South to
North. Only filthy oily indigenous natives live there. In order to
save the rest of the country from the diseases natives spread, Mother
Nature has insulated the whole six-thousand square miles with a
bottomless ravine continuously on three sides." He traces the
sides on the map.
audible responses of disgust from the Captains.
red lines divide the territory into eighty south-north rectangles,
forty along the south margin, and forty along the north. Each
rectangle is roughly five miles by fifteen. This yellow line
east-west line in the middle, is the fifteen-mile mark. Beginning
midnight today, each of you will lead a group of fifty armed soldiers
through each rectangle, killing every snake-loving native you find."
eruption of hand-clapping and raucous cheering. By morning tomorrow,
all of you and your soldiers will be back here enjoying the most
enjoyable breakfast you have ever had."
hand-clapping and cheering.
will carry nothing to eat. Each one of you and each one of your
soldiers will carry two bottles of water. As you are already aware,
in that cursed territory no modern equipment works because of
radiation out of the ground. So, you won't have firearms, compasses,
phones, vehicles, or flashlights. All of you will be armed with
machetes. Like this."
his hand that is not holding the pointer, he picks up the weapon
from the table of objects, and, with a malicious grin, in slow
motions, demonstrates chopping and slicing.
sniggers of approval from the assembly.
one of you has a choice of three weapons, one or three, as you
prefer." He puts the machete and the pointer back on the table.
He picks up a hand axe, and an army dagger. He holds both up to be
seen. Spontaneous vocal sounds of awed approval from the assembly. He
returns the weapons to the table. He picks up the pointer.
already know this six-thousand square miles has violent electric
storms every night from about midnight for two-to-three hours. Like
clockwork. You will enter the territory under cover of such a storm
at midnight tonight. You will commence your killing those filthy
snakies during the storm."
picks up a small black object from the table of objects. He holds it
up and turns it around slowly for them to see. It appears to be a
tube of toothpaste. "Gentlemen, this is not toothpaste."
Laughter and mock groans of disappointment throughout the assembly.
is skin coloring. Apply it to your face. It will make you look like a
native." Chuckles and, again, mock groans of disgust. "Uh,
please apply it before you put your gloves on." He grins.
Obnoxiously, they grin in return.
you have exterminated the native vermin in those Bad Lands, this
great country will have no native problem that has plagued us
throughout this great country's existence."
outburst of self-congratulatory loud ugly glee from the chosen
for the bad news." Sudden silence greets this announcement. The
General smiles. "Well, only somewhat bad. First, each group of
eighty plus, will have as a guide an Imported Foreigner we have
especially trained to help us." Scattered vocalizations of
just has to be in order to ensure you do the job in as short a time
as possible. Without a guide, it won't be easy for you to locate the
native homes. Especially because most of the time you will be
operating in thunder, lightning, and violently blowing rain.
found eighty I.F.s, Imported Foreigners, prepared to work for us. to
betray their native kind. "Even as I am speaking to you now,
those eighty I.F. men are completing two days of secretly mapping
locations of native homes you and your soldiers will be visiting.
Each one of you and your group of soldiers will be transported at
midnight to the ravine. When you are dropped off on this side of the
ravine, look for a match-light signal waving at you from the other
side of the ravine."
General strikes a match, and slowly waves it above him.
will be your Imported Foreigner guide who will have already rigged a
rope bridge by which you will cross the ravine.
extra nice to the I.F.s because when you reach the fifteen-mile limit
from which you have to turn around and head back to your drop-off
location on the ravine rim, you must kill your I.F."
hand-clapping and throat-eroding cheers.
then. That covers it. Any questions?"
Captain stands. "Sir, from the map, two groups at the
fifteen-mile mark, could move east only ten miles instead of going
all the way back fifteen miles." General Botha nods, and traces
the locations referred to by the Captain. "You're right,
Captain. We noticed that, too. But we discovered the thirty-mile
south-north wall of the ravine on the native side is a sheer wall,
and about three times farther from our side. Impossible to rig a rope
ladder." The Captain sits, satisfied with the answer.
questions?" There is none.
Then, this briefing is over. Thank you."
standing applause is deafening and prolonged. The General checks his
it's 8.44. Trucks outside will transport you to your ravine
locations. I'll see you back here for breakfast in about
ten-to-twelve hours. Have fun!"
as they hurry to the doors. Some pause at the table to shake hands
with the generals standing around.
an hour after the soldiers have boarded army trucks on their way
to eighty locations on four-hundred miles of Market Village's
four-hundred and thirty miles perimeter, the five Generals of the
Armed Forces are back in their homes.
wait to hear the good news that, at last, they will be able to build
their nuclear weapons facility on those Bad Lands emptied of all the
native inhabitants who are the first inhabitants of the country from
many thousands of years ago.
about midnight, at eighty locations along 400 miles of Market
Village's three-sided perimeter of four-hundred and thirty miles,
during an early-morning daily storm, the two East-West sections of
the ravine became the open graves of four-thousand and eighty
is the victim of numerous poisonous snakebites on the face. Their
death screams are virtually silent in the elementary fury of roaring
winds, deafening thunder, and pounding rain. For brief seconds at a
time, bright flashes of lightning light up bloody faces contorted in
terror as they fall into a bottomless black void.
the next few days, eighty families, new to Market Village, are rowed
across Blue-serpent lake to begin a life of peaceful contentment
among snakes and natives.
them from a faraway mountain forest, are two naked native girls
distractedly struggling in giggling competition with snakes, to reach
branches of ripe guava-grapes.
author's name in
of the message we
won't know where to send it.)