Where the road ends | Part 3

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Uncanny screams awoke me.

Inhuman - although they came from the recruit occupying the bunk next to mine.

I opened my eyes to flames rapidly spreading through the top half of his bed - and body.

Earlier that evening, having watched him take from under his bed the candle and lighter he had smuggled into the barracks, I had considered confronting him, alerting him to the danger - but gave up when I understood he just intended to pray.

When he jumped off the bed, the crucifix around his neck flew like a tiny comet. On his face, only a dark gap among glaring flames was distinguishable - his howling mouth. In despair he was slapping himself, trying to put them off. It must have been terribly painful, for he dropped that. He hit his head against the top bunk, maybe lost in the darkness, maybe blinded already, maybe trying to get rid of the flaming pillow that stick to his head.

His howls woke everybody around. Lights went on.

Like me, it might have taken the other recruits some time to realize they were not having a nightmare at the sight of a body in flames spiraling between two bunks. Screaming too, they tried to help him.

I should have been the first, I know. But I couldn't. I couldn't have moved, if I wanted to. Watching fire spread across the mattress just feet away from my face, and the recruit revolving and wailing as everything above his shoulders went up in flames. I could feel the heat. The black smoke brought me the sickening smell of burning plastic, hair and flesh - but I don't remember coughing. I recall lying perfectly still. Terrified, I was paralyzed.

"Shit!" yelled one of the guys, stepping onto the wet floor right next to my bed, when he tried to help the recruit on fire.

I hadn't noticed the jet being so potent, as to not only drench my underwear and the bed, but to hit the floor and form a puddle.

"Shit! Fella here tried to put off the fire with his little hose!" He shouted, for everybody to listen. "Shit, mate!"

And that's how I became Whizz, The Firefighter, for the length of my time at the Army.

*****


-III-


I drop to the floor. Not on my knees, because they still hurt.

I had wondered about the padlock, as the old lady tried to unlock it. Then, I recalled a friend of mine saying that in India the doors had no locks, but padlocks instead. Since Greece sometimes seems to me more the door to Middle East than the cradle of Europe, I judged to be collecting just another travel anecdote. The old lady, too - how could I have figured out she was so dangerously wicked?

She seduced me, and attracted me to their trap, I conclude. What an easy prey I must have been. She had called me darling how many times? Caressed my thigh, stroke my hair, kissed my cheek. But these are not the reasons why I was so stricken by Daniela.

Will she let them kill me? I wonder. Because I know the men are coming to get me. Not until full moon, perhaps. Am I to be sacrificed? Greece could be all leisure and pleasure for a tourist. Beaches, bars, clubs, cheap beer. But I have nonetheless been constantly haunted by an underlying mystery, emanating from centuries of mythological tales. Their characters, historical or not, seem to inhabit the landscape, the monuments and sites, even the sky. The Sea belongs to Poseidon, eagles and oaks remind of Zeus, the sun is Apollo's, the stars tell of Castor and Pollux and Andromeda and Perseus. They are always there, all around, populating everything that there is. Even if, only, as a possibility of the human imagination, in their powerful representations of creation - or destruction.

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