'No!' Ben was almost shouting. 'What the fuck do you think will happen to us if we interfere?'
Jack looked at David, saw his own thoughts and fears wheeling through his friend's eyes, the space between them, the time it would take to cross the road. He sat down. 'Christ!' he ground his feet into the dirt below him, beetles cracking like eggshells under his heels.
David stood for a few seconds staring at the policemen, then shook his head and sat down too. They opened their beers and drank them without saying anything. The policemen eventually stopped and walked off. A woman came and knelt by the bleeding man, crying and shouting at the empty road. They finished their beers and headed upstairs to their rooms.
The next day they drove across dusty dirt roads, bumpy and bone-rattling, the tall weeds bordering them on both sides, trees rising out of the sea of grass like themasts of sinking ships. The land was flat, the mountains always shimmering on the horizon. Their heads raged with pain, last night's beer barrelling through their skulls. Trucks laden with people and clusters of jerry-cans passed them every hour or so, men and women strapped to the roofs like wayward luggage. The passengers waved and they waved weakly back, smiling though the locals weren't. Every now and then an army truck screamed by laden with scowling soldiers, whipping up dust and rocks, heading north. They passed small villages, all identical, a circle of mud huts by a stream and nothing more. They ate peanuts and crackers and cheese squeezed out of a tube like toothpaste. The sun sank somewhere in the west, blazing the mountains red like a caul stretched over the rim of the world.
The landscape began to close its arms around them. They found themselves climbing through high valleys and twisting ravines, the jungle almost imperceptible in its embrace until, all at once, they noticed it was there, right above and to all sides of them and they couldn't remember how the land had changed so quickly or when.
They passed a village of burning huts just before the light finally died, thick black plumes of smoke emerging like serpents from their roofs. An eerie stillness in the air. They drove a little faster and didn't say a word to one another.
Dark came suddenly, not like back home with its languorous twilight, but like a switch being flicked one minute they could see the mountains and fields, the next only the tunnel of white illuminated by the car's headlights as if they were carving out the road from the darkness itself.
They stopped at a place where the road widened and switched on the in-car light, spreading the map out across elbows and knees.
'We won't make it,' Jack said, looking at the multicoloured squiggles, the distance they still had to cover before reaching the park.
David sighed, turning his face away.
'What's up with you?' Jack snapped, the tension of the day making itself felt in his voice.
'I just wish you'd stop being so negative. Just for once.'
Jack stared out into the night. 'You want to try driving another six hours in this? 'He felt bad as soon as he said it and saw the hurt look on David's face.
'What are our options?' Ben asked, diplomatic as ever, though Jack could sense a tremor of unease in his voice. 'We can camp here,' Jack replied, looking around at the dark bush, then back down at the map. He lit a cigarette and traced the small lines like capillaries branching out from the main road. 'Or there's what looks like a short cut.' He pointed to a thin ribbon of red that veered out towards the left. 'We passed the turn-off about fifteen minutes ago.'
Excerpted from A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez. Copyright © 2013 by Stav Sherez. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. 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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