Chapter 1: Thursday, Day 1
It was as if he had been brought to a camel market. All of his life since he had gained the first clouded images of memory, he had stood and watched such markets. And now they were thirteen hundred kilometers behind him, separated from him by the wilderness of the Kingdoms deserts and by the knife-edged crests of the Asir mountains. There, between the mountains and the shining sea, was the village that was his home.
The beasts of burden camels, hobbled at the ankle, and mules lined up, standing listlessly, tethered to a rope running between two posts were well respected by the traveling Bedouin and the itinerant merchants who came to buy. In the extremities of the deserts temperatures, brutal heat by day and chill air at night, or on the passes through the mountains that led to the Yemen border, a tribesman or trader would suffer death by dehydration or exposure if he had bought unwisely at the market. It was the skill of those men that their experience guided them towards paying only for animals in which they could place total trust. The new wealth of the Kingdom, in the cities beyond the mountains where there were wide highways and the oil wells with their networks of pipes, had not penetrated the Asir mountains. He came from the part of the Kingdom that had not shared the affluence of the petroleum deposits, and where old ways still continued. Where he had lived, there remained a use for animals that could be trained to fulfil a given purpose, and such animals were chosen and haggled over in the markets.
A good beast was prized and the arguments over its value could last from early morning sunrise to dusk when the market closed. The best beast would see the bidding for its ownership disputed.
Thirteen hundred kilometers distant, Ibrahim Husseins home was an hours walk from the town of Jizan by camel or astride a mule, and a five-minute drive in his fathers Mercedes saloon. The house was beyond the view of the Corniche and the Old Souk. But from an upper window, from the bedroom that his sisters shared, the highest turrets of the Ottoman Fort could be seen. It was inside the compound of the Interior Police barracks, but he did not believe there was a tagged file about him on their computers. Behind the fort, nestling on low ground alongside the compounds walls, was the market where camels and mules were brought for sale. He was near to completing the twenty-first year of his life, and if his ambition was fulfilled he would not reach his next birthday.
There were a dozen of them. They sat where they could find shade, against the rear wall of a single-storey building constructed of concrete blocks and roofed with corrugated-iron sheeting. Ibrahim had his back against the concrete, and the others made a small, tight circle facing him. With his youth and inexperience, he had never traveled outside the Kingdom; he could not have said where the rest had started their journey, but some were darker than him, some had sharper features and some had a more sallow, pale skin. They had all been told that they were not to talk among each other, most certainly not to ask for names, but Ibrahim assumed that most came from Yemen and Egypt, Syria and Pakistan. He was not stupid and had good powers of deduction. Two sat awkwardly, shifting continually to be more comfortable. He thought them from Europe, unused to squatting where there was no cushion. The instruction not to talk had been given with curt authority, and they all sat with their heads bowed. Common to them all, the bright light of their Faith burned in their eyes.
In front of Ibrahim, but distanced from the group by a few paces, four men stood in a huddle the potential buyers. At first, as if the market had opened in the relative cool of the early morning, the four had minutely examined each in the group, remarking on them. But that was long past. Now, they talked quietly, but their attention was on the sandscape on the far side of the building. Behind them, two pickups were painted with light and dark yellow camouflage markings. The front cab roof had been cut out of both, and a machine-gun was mounted above the windscreen.
Excerpted from The Walking Dead by Gerald Seymour Copyright © 2008 by Gerald Seymour. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group (USA). All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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