Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Monster On The Bed

Each night when Agarok’s mum and dad told him to go across to sleep, he’d start begging to be allowed to stay up just a little while longer. It wasn’t that he was actually all that interested in sitting in the back of the closet with the others watching the dustmites play all evening, but he really, really, didn’t want to go under the bed.

“But you must,” his mum would say firmly, and push him out of the closet, and there he would be, forced to crawl under the bed and stay there all night.

It was pointless telling himself that he was a brave monster and that nothing would happen to him. Each night when the door opened and the Boy fell into the bed above his head, he’d retreat to the far corner by the wall, and huddle there squeaking with terror and misery.

The Boy would sometimes ask about the squeaking, and his dad, the Man, would reply in his huge, booming voice that it was only the bed settling. But sometimes the Boy would demand that the Man look under the bed to check, and those were the worst nights of all.

Though Agarok knew well enough that the Man couldn’t see him – the adult Manpeople couldn’t see monsters unless the monsters allowed themselves to be seen – he would cower in abject terror, tentacles wrapped around himself, his eye spots covered up tight. But even then he could imagine it, the huge flat face with the two moist, swivelling orbs that served as eyes glared around under the bed. Then he’d be forced to lie perfectly still while the Boy begged the Man to read some story or other, and the Man would, usually, comply.

Agarok hated these stories most of all. They were always horrifying tales of the Manpeople and their doings, where they would steal and rob each other, or trick other creatures, often poor innocent monsters, perhaps like himself. And always the tale would end with the Manpeople coming out the victors, instead of being punished as they so richly deserved to be.

And then the Boy would usually fall asleep, and the Man, with a sigh of relief, would go away, leaving Agarok to lie shivering with fear in the dark, with perhaps only a dustmite or two for company, the horror stories he’d just heard playing around in his head. Sometimes it would be well past midnight before he could fall asleep.

It was even worse on the nights when the Boy wouldn’t sleep. Agarok would be forced to lie perfectly still, shivering with fear, as the creature above him – the thickness of a little wood and mattress away – turned and tossed and muttered. Sometimes he wished he could cry out with his fear, but he couldn’t even do that, because the Boy might hear – and Agarok’s tentacles shivered with terror at the thought of what would happen then.

Even his parents noticed that something was wrong. “Agarok,” his mum said, “your tentacles are wilting, and your integument is losing its shine. What’s wrong?”

“Please don’t make me sleep under the bed,” Agarok begged. “I can’t take it any longer.”

But each time he said this, his mum would grow stern, and her eye-spots would darken. “Now, Agarok,” she said, “you’re a big monster now, old enough to know better than to be afraid of the dark. You know Boys don’t really exist.”

“But,” Agarok protested once or twice, before he realised it was useless, “they do exist. Every night he’s there, right on top of the bed, and I can hear him.”

“What did I say just now?” his mum replied. “Your dad always says your imagination is going to be the end of you. Now stop dithering and go under bed, and not one word out of you.”

“Your mum and I do deserve some time to ourselves, you know,” his dad would say mildly, glancing up from his monsterpaper. “How was school today anyway? Your grades were terrible last time.”

But Agarok couldn’t care less about school, because that was tomorrow and right now he’d have to go back under the bed, and that was the most frightening thing in the universe. And his grades were the last thing on his mind as he crawled slowly out of the closet and across the bedroom floor.

Not that school was any better either, because none of the other monsters was interested in making friends with Agarok, and because he really wasn’t interested in the subjects the teachers taught anyway. He’d been asking his parents to send him to another school for months and months now, but they never did.

“It’s the best school,” his dad said. “I went to it, and so did my father, and it’s easy enough to make friends anyway, if you only try.”

This was, of course, ridiculous as advice, and utterly useless, so Agarok stayed lonely, and the lonelier he got the less anyone wanted to be his friend, because he was lonely, and because he was such a sorry little monster they didn’t even want to make fun of him.

Maybe if he’d had friends, he thought sometimes, he could tell them about the Boy, and they’d give him some suggestions about how to cope. Or maybe they’d make fun of him, so it was maybe better that he didn’t have friends, after all.

Tonight, at first, things seemed to have gone better than usual. Normally, when Agarok went under bed, there were always noises from outside the room, voices and banging and hooting and other signs of the dreaded Manpeople. Agarok could always hear them clearly, though his parents insisted they didn’t exist, and so had his teacher the one time he’d dared mention them in class.

“We’re here to talk about studies, Agarok,” she’d said, tapping the desk with her tentacle tips to express her irritation, “not to discuss whatever trashy horror novel you’ve been reading in your spare time. So let’s get on with class.” And she’d told him to write an essay on his best friend, and submit it by the weekend.

He didn’t have any friends, and so he hadn’t even started writing the essay, and the weekend was two days away.

Anyway, tonight there was total quiet, with no Mannoises, and Agarok hoped the Boy would stay away and he’d have an undisturbed night’s sleep for once. He’d even found a few dustmites to play with, and after laughing a bit at their antics had actually fallen asleep and dropped into a nice dream.

In the dream he was in a land with orange skies and purple grass, and monsters of all sizes and shapes were gathered around him. They weren’t making fun of him, though, or looking angry; they were cheering him and calling him their saviour, the one they had always been waiting for.

“Saviour from whom?” he asked.

“From the Manpeople, of course,” they said. “You are the One who will defeat the Manpeople.”

Agarok had opened his mouth-gash to protest that he wasn’t the one that they were looking for, that he was actually terrified of the Manpeople, when he suddenly realised that this wasn’t true. He remembered suddenly that he wasn’t afraid of the Manpeople at all, that he could make them disappear with a snap of his tentacles, and he’d just begun to swell himself up with a mighty sense of accomplishment when there was a noise like the sky – or a very large sheet of tarpaulin – being ripped apart, and all the monsters began shrieking in abject terror.

“The Manpeople,” they screamed. “Agarok the Saviour, help us! The Manpeople are coming!”

Then Agarok raised his tentacles and snapped them together, but it didn’t seem to help the monsters. They fell to the ground in terror, and the more he snapped, the more they screamed and cried, and the orange sky began to grow black.

Agarok woke to find himself in darkness – the familiar darkness under the bed. But though the dream had ended, the weeping had not, and he realised it came from above him.

The thickness of a little wood and mattress away, the Boy was sobbing.

This was beyond astonishing to Agarok. That such a fearsome creature as the Boy could even feel sorrow was inconceivable; that he could lie awake crying his heart out was something that the young monster hadn’t even thought about. It was so strange that he decided he was imagining it at first.

Then, in a move so astonishingly bold he afterwards couldn’t believe he’d actually done it, he decided to have a look.

Oh, he wasn’t that rash. He didn’t come right out into the middle of the floor where he would be totally exposed. No, he just crawled to the side of the bed, able to shoot back in if necessary, and raised a few tentacles with uncovered eyespots just above the edge.

Yes, the Boy was sobbing. He was sobbing and he was talking to himself, and what he was saying was something about his parents not caring about him a whit, about the monsters under the bed, and that he was lonely in school and without a friend in the world.

He was lying with his back to Agarok, facing the wall, his bony, angular shoulders – so unlike a monster’s smooth curves – shaking. This was fascinating to the young monster; so fascinating that he decided he needed a closer look.

You know what he did, don’t you? He crawled fully out from under the bed. Then he crawled on to the bed. And then he crawled to the Boy and nudged him gently with his tentacles.

And the Boy was so miserable that he didn’t even scream.


 Agarok’s class teacher gave him a failing grade on the essay on his best friend. “It’s well-written,” she sniffed. “But I wanted an essay on a real best friend, not a figment of your imagination. A Boy, indeed. Whatever will you come up with next?”

And of course you know what the Boy’s own teacher said about his essay, as well. Also, naturally, it’s perfectly predictable what their parents said. We won’t bother talking about that here.

The two of them don’t care, though. They’re planning to run away from home together tomorrow.

If you see them, don’t give them away, will you?

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

[Image Source]

Friday, 1 April 2016

Nanobots: North Korea's Latest Terror Weapon

By Juno Kuttigranchu
With additional reporting by N. Eropeetu.

Rueters, 1 April 2016, Gaziantep, Turkey.

In a startling and deeply worrisome development, the government of Turkey and the pro-western moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) leadership made a joint statement about the North Korean troops now known to be actively aiding the dictatorial regime of Syrian president Bashar al Assad.

The involvement of two North Korean units, Chalma 1 and Chalma 2, in the Syrian civil war has been known for some time, and condemned by the US and its NATO allies. However, until now the thinking in the West has been that the North Korean troops are ancillaries supporting the regime offensive against moderate rebels and other forces working to overthrow Assad’s tyrannical regime, just like his Hizbollah and Iranian allies. The latest revelations by the FSA and the Turkish government, however, put the situation in a whole new light.

“Two weeks ago,” FSA spokesman Colonel Kazzab al Khara said, “the Chalma 2 unit was visited, in top secret and in the middle of the night, by a senior North Korean officer who flew in from Pyongyang via China and Russia. Though we have not yet been able to identify him with certainty, indications are that it was the head of the North Korean nanowarfare division, Colonel General Bang Yoo Bak himself.” 

In this file photograph , General Bang (in glasses) is standing behind Kim Jong Un

A NATO source told Rueters that the nanowarfare division is an ultra-top-secret part of the North Korean security apparatus and reports directly to Kim Jong Un himself, not to the head of the North Korean People’s Army or to the defence minister. “It’s almost a parallel military service,” he said, “and has its own personnel, budget and power structure, separate from the rest of the NKPA.”

“Our spies within Assad’s army,” Colonel al Khara continued, “have informed us that Bang brought with him a package which he personally delivered to the officer in command of Chalma 2, Major Song Gon Rong. This package is strongly suspected to contain the latest North Korean weapon, which Kim is now about to unleash on the world.”

As to what this weapon might be, the Turkish government spokesman, Yalancı Bokoglu, said that NATO sources have been aware for some time that North Korea has been seeking to create nanobots which are a fusion of microscopic robots and bacteria. “Defector statements and satellite evidence agree that Kim’s scientists have been working for years at secret underground laboratories in the hills near Chosin reservoir, and testing their results on labour camp inmates. In fact, so important is this effort that as far as we can tell the entire North Korean nuclear weapons programme is merely a way to divert international attention from it. Apparently, they have achieved enough success that they feel confident enough to use it against the democratic world for the first time.”

“Kim,” the NATO source said, “knows that he can’t use his nuclear weapons without his country being wiped out in retaliation. But he can use these nanobots in sneak attacks, with not just a probability, but almost total certainty, of being able to get away with it. Therefore, he is flexing his muscles.

“While we have not yet been able to discover exactly what these nanobots are like, we do know that they are meant to take over and modify the subjects’ behaviour, to make them act exactly as though they are remote controlled. In effect, the idea is to turn them into biological robots who can be made to commit crimes, acts of sabotage and terrorism, without and even actively against the person’s own natural inclinations.”

A microbiologist at Johns Hopkins, who requested anonymity since she is not authorised to speak to the media, told Rueters how this nanobot would act in the body.

“Almost certainly,” she said, “the nanobots would be inserted into the subject’s body via food or water, whereupon they would burrow through the intestinal wall into the blood, like many parasites. They would then flow through the bloodstream until they reached the brain, whereupon they would settle in the tissues of the cerebral cortex – the grey matter – and begin replicating. Since they are part bacteria, in fact little more than mechanised bacteria, this will not take long. Only one or two nanobots would be enough to completely infest the subject’s brain in only a day or two, and as long as they didn’t send out any signals, the subject would not even know that there was anything wrong.

“Once the bacteria are activated – and they could either be preprogrammed to act in a certain way or more likely by radio signals, which the skull cannot block out - they would begun sending out electrical impulses which would force the host brain to act exactly as the bacteria dictate.

“It sounds like science fiction, but there’s nothing at all impossible about it. Several microorganisms already exist which routinely affect the host’s behaviour patterns, from rabies to Toxoplasma and Trypanosoma.”

Asked about possible countermeasures to the new North Korean bioweapon, the Johns Hopkins microbiologist said it was almost impossible. “Since after reaching the brain, the nanobot bacteria will no longer be travelling around the body, they can’t be detected by a blood test. In fact, there’s no way to detect them without a biopsy of the brain tissue, and mass intra-cranial biopsy of millions of people is obviously impossible.”

Colonel al Khara said that this was an act of biological warfare by Kim Jong Un against what he called the “civilised world”, and could not have been done without the active cooperation of both Assad and his Russian allies.

“The Russian so-called ‘humanitarian aid’ to Syrian civilians,” he said, “is being deliberately infected with these nanobots, and more are being airdropped over sources of water in areas outside regime control. In areas under the control of Assad, the afflicted people will be compelled to demonstrate and even fight in support of the brutal regime. In fact, you can safely assume that all supporters of Assad are controlled by these bacteria. Meanwhile, in areas freed of Assad’s control, the bacteria will infect the civilian population, who will then be at the mercy of Assad and his Russian and North Korean allies.”

Mr Bokoglu said that Assad and Russian president Putin, whose air strikes have, he said, deliberately targeted civilians in order to turn them into “weaponised refugees”, would then compel huge numbers of them, by means of bombardments and air strikes, to migrate into Turkey and seek refuge in Europe. Once they are in Europe, Kim’s nanowarfare division would then, possibly using North Korea’s recently launched satellite, relay radio signals into their brains, causing mass waves of criminal activity, rioting, and terrorism.

“It’s a no-risk act of war by Kim,” Mr Bokoglu said. “It’s almost impossible to bring anything home to him, and in return he would cause a wave of terror across Europe, with huge casualties and a likely rise of anti-refugee sentiment and further weakening and collapse of the European Union, just at the moment at which Turkey is likely to be finally allowed to join.”

Both he and Colonel al Khara emphasised the absolute necessity of overthrowing Assad immediately. “If Assad is gone, there’s no chance of Kim’s weapons finding their way to Turkey and Europe,” they said. “There should be absolutely no hesitation in immediately invading and destroying the regime. Each day we wait is a grave threat to Western civilisation, liberalism and democracy.”

Asked about possible repercussions arising from the large number of likely civilian casualties arising from such an invasion, both spokesmen were unequivocal. “Imagine the terror and suffering of the poor people afflicted with Kim’s nanobots,” they said. “They would be fully aware of what is happening, but unable to control themselves. They would be forced to watch, screaming inside, as they were made to shout slogans in support of their greatest enemy, al Assad, and even vote for him when he holds his next sham election.

“Killing them would be no more than an act of mercy. It would be euthanasia. They would be thanking the bombs and cruise missiles for putting them out of their misery.”

Unfortunately, there seemed to be no great appetite for a regime change invasion among NATO member countries and associates, or from the European Union. “It’s easy to say Assad must be wiped out,” EU spokesman Francois Menteur said in Paris. “But the people he’s infected can keep fighting against us for years or decades afterwards, unless we kill them all. And killing so many people will require a raise in our military budgets which we cannot at this time afford.” Instead, he proposed imposing more sanctions against Syria, Russia and North Korea. “Maybe economic pain will compel them to step back,” he said.

Meanwhile the Johns Hopkins microbiologist had a suggestion. “Improbably enough,” she said, “the radio signals could be blocked out simply by compelling all the refugees to wear tinfoil hats at all times once they are across the Turkish border. Of course, this will have to be rigidly enforced and the refugees supervised at all times to ensure they never take them off, not for a single instant, not even while sleeping or bathing.”

Right wing organisations across Europe have volunteered to supervise the refugees. “Our men,” German Kameradenschaft leader Lügner von Scheisskopf said, “will take full responsibility for ensuring none of them remove the foil hat. If they do, for even one moment, we will...

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Death Of Gérard Duval

My name is Gérard Duval, and I am dead.

I know I am dead, though the enemy who killed me is still trying to help, still trying to staunch the bleeding and, if I can understand his language correctly, telling me that it will be all right. I can tell he doesn’t really believe it, and he’s right; I don’t believe it either.

I can’t see the enemy – I can no longer really see anything – just a silhouette against the night sky, picked out against the background of searchlights and the reflections of exploding shells. Or is it still night? I’m not sure. It could be broad daylight already, and I might be no longer able to tell light from dark.

All I can feel is the struggle to breathe, dragging each gulp of air down into my lungs, and the cold. Even the pain has ebbed, giving way to the cold spreading over my body, from my midsection where the enemy stabbed me.

I still don’t remember exactly how that happened. I can remember the patrol across no man’s land, the sudden shelling, the desperate retreat. I heard a shell coming over, and threw myself down into the nearest shell hole for cover. I saw a shadow, moving, felt a hard blow in my gut, and then I was lying with my face in the mud and a silhouette of a helmeted enemy scrambling away from me on the other side of the hole.

Just this morning, I’d seen the outline of a helmet like that against the dawn sky, the flattened top and the flared skirts to the sides, peeking over the parapet of a trench; and I’d squeezed my trigger and the helmet had disappeared. I wonder if it had been this particular one of the enemy I’d shot at, and, if only I’d killed him, I might not now be dead.

It’s pointless thinking about that. There are thousands upon thousands of the enemy, and if it wasn’t this one, it might have been another. I’ve killed many of them, and one man couldn’t possibly kill them all.

One man shouldn’t even have to try.

I can feel wetness under me. I can’t tell any longer if it’s blood or just water, if it’s hot or cold. Does it matter? I’m dead anyway.

The enemy holds something to my mouth; water seeps over my tongue. He’s saying something again, explaining, apologising. He sounds young. Maybe he’d be the same age as my brother Jean would have been if only he’d lived to grow up. And if Jean had lived to grow up, he’d probably end in a shell hole, gasping his life out, just like me.

The enemy has unbuttoned my uniform and is trying to bandage me. His hands move lightly over my breast, pressing, trying to undo the damage his knife has done. I can understand enough of his language that, if I could talk, I’d tell him that it doesn’t matter, it’s done, over with. I wish I could see his face, just once.

I wish I could see his face.

I have no hard feelings towards this young man, this part of the enemy. He’s as much to blame for killing me as an earthquake would be, or the cancer, or the cholera which wracks the trenches. It wasn’t he who plucked me from my village, put me in my blue uniform, stuck a rifle in my hand and sent me out to kill. It wasn’t I who took him from his school and put him in his grey uniform, stuck a rifle in his hand and sent him out to kill. I don’t even know if there was any person who was responsible for this; wars, it seems to me, are as inevitable as the tide, and as inexorably sweeps away those of us who are unlucky enough to be in its path.

Right now, in the trenches over on my side, Marcel will be looking anxiously across the wire for me. I can imagine his face, the brow furrowed in dismay, the drooping ginger moustache which he sucks when he’s got a good hand at cards, without even knowing he’s doing it.  Marcel is a good man, a good comrade, and he’ll mourn for me, even though he’s seen a hundred others of us go where I’m going now.

It strikes me that Marcel might be dead, that he might have been blown apart by one of the shells during the bombardment. It’s a startling thought; I’d never imagined I’d survive Marcel. He seems to be one of those who endures forever.

Then, suddenly, it feels a bit better. I’m standing on a hillside. It’s night, but I can recognise this hillside, it’s the one above the old village, and down below me I can see the familiar lights, the flickering lamps in the windows. I can even see my own house, up above the butcher’s. Marie will be getting dinner ready by now, and fretting that I’m so late coming back from the printing works. But it couldn’t be helped, there was the rush order, and I’ve spent all day on it and will be spending all of tomorrow too. I hope I can get home in time to talk to Sophie before she goes to sleep. A daughter needs to catch sight of her father once in a while at least. Next week is her birthday, I remember suddenly. I must get something for her.

I work too hard, Marie keeps saying. But then at least my work is good, honest work, I tell her, work a man shouldn’t be ashamed of doing. A typesetter at a printing works has never harmed anybody.

“Don’t go to sleep yet, Sophie,” I say, walking briskly down the path. It’s a cold night, and I feel myself shivering, and then I’m not shivering anymore.

And now it’s springtime and the sun is shining, and I’m sitting with Marie in the park, and Sophie is dancing on the grass before us, and I see a young man walk up from the river. I know him, I know him well, even though I’ve never seen his face. I get up to welcome him, and he runs to me, and we hug, we hug each other tight, as though we’ll never let each other go.

The sun is shining and we’re comrades, and there’s never been a war, there’s never been a knife in a shellhole and death in the muddy water and a young voice beseeching, apologising. That was a bad dream, and it’s over now, or maybe it never was there at all.

I am Gérard Duval, and I am dead.


 Note to reader: A few days ago, I’d written a review of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front, in which I’d expressed my admiration of the book. A day or two ago I suddenly thought of a project on the sidelines of my usual writing – a graphic novel of All Quiet, where each page would comprise a painting showing a scene from the book, with narration boxes above and below the image.

Yes, I said painting. Not cartoons/comic strip drawing. That’s not what I intended at all.

Obviously, this would be a major project, which would be fairly pointless unless I could get a publisher to commit to the idea; and I am far from certain it would work even then. However, I am also convinced that it’s a project thoroughly worth doing.

Accordingly, I’ve decided to paint some of my favourite scenes from the book or the next few weeks, as a demo to show what could be done. In these paintings I’ve set some rules for myself, which I intend to adhere to strictly:

1.The paintings will be acrylic and/or gouache on paper only. No other material will be used.

2. The paintings will be brushwork only. I’m not even going to use pencil outlines. There will absolutely be no use of any kind of image manipulation software under any circumstances.

3. I am not going to look for realism but to show (my interpretation of) the what I might call emotion of the scene. It will probably take me out of my comfort zone, but that’s part of what makes it worthwhile.

Accordingly, here’s my painting of the famous scene (from Chapter Nine of All Quiet if I remember right) of Paul Bäumer and the French printer-turned soldier, Gérard Duval, he killed. It’s one of the most powerful bits of anti-war writing ever, and drenched in anger and sorrow.

A thought – if today’s “warriors” had to fight hand to hand, and see the faces of the men they killed, and stay by their sides during their last hours, (instead of, you know, blowing apart video screen images from air conditioned bunkers on the other side of the planet) would the warmongers of the world have such an easy time with their imperialist invasions?

Even if the plan for the graphic novel doesn’t work out, I can get some stories out of it, like the one above. Those who have been reading me for a while will be aware of my love of chronicling the side actors of history; the story of the anonymous refugee, the clerk, the kamikaze, the guard at the concentration camp, the child in a world turned bitter and hostile. And, of course, painting is one of the few ways of reducing stress and depression that I have available to me.

Wish me luck.

Title: Slayer and Slain

[I have chosen this title because, as anyone who’s read All Quiet will be aware, the French soldier wasn’t the only one who died in the shellhole; arguably, something vital in Paul Bäumer died along with him. In fact one might wonder who it was who actually ended up better off afterwards. And accordingly I tried to give them the same expressions of agony and horror.]

Material: Acrylic on Paper.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Orc Boy

When Jillie saw the orc boy for the first time, he was at the corner outside the old movie theatre which had closed down last year.

Jillie was on her way back from school, and hurrying because it was a freezing, cloudy afternoon and even with her umbrella the wind blew the rain against her face. Also, her shoes were sodden and she hated getting her feet wet. The other kids also hurried, not dawdling to chat with each other and swap stories about the teachers as they usually did.

It was really a rather unpleasant day, and Jillie was looking forward to going home and getting warm and dry.

The orc boy wasn’t going anywhere, though. He was standing next to the bus stop at the corner, not actually under the shelter of the rain awning, but as close to it as he could press himself. The rain had turned his white shirt translucent, and his heavy muscles bulged grey-green through the fabric.

Despite her discomfort and desire to be home, Jillie paused a moment to look at the orc boy. She’d never actually been so close to one of them before, because they weren’t allowed in the part of town Jillie’s parents lived. In fact, there hadn’t been any of them anywhere at all until the last two years when the war over the horizon had sent them streaming over the border, looking for refuge.

The orc boy was only a little taller than Jillie, but was at least twice as broad already, and his arms hung almost all the way down to his knees. He saw Jillie looking and tentatively raised a hand to wave. The hand looked like a block of greenish stone with fingers each as thick as one of Jillie’s wrists.

“Hi,” Jillie said, embarrassed at having been caught looking. Her cheeks and lips were so cold she could hardly feel them. “Aren’t you freezing?”

The orc boy didn’t seem to register the question. “Miss Goblin,” he rumbled, his voice like thunder on the horizon. “Will you buy?”

“Buy?” Then Jillie noticed that there was a little black sack at the orc boy’s feet, its mouth tied with leather strings. “Are you selling something?”

“Yes, buy?” The orc boy crouched down and turned his back to the rain to protect his sack as he untied the leather thongs. As Jillie watched, he brought out something green and black and held it out to her. “Look, Miss Goblin. You buy?”

Jillie took the object from him. It was a doll, exquisitely well-made, carved out of some hard wood and painted; an orc-girl doll with her hair hanging loose around her shoulders and her arms crossed over her chest. Even the expression on her face, the truculent defiance, was perfectly reproduced. “That’s beautiful,” she said. “Where did you get it?”

“I make,” the orc boy said. “You like, Miss Goblin? Want to see others? Maybe you buy?”

“I...” Before Jillie could tell the orc boy she didn’t have any money, he’d already turned back to his sack and was rooting through it. “It’s very nice,” she said, “but...”

“Get out of here, scum,” someone barked, “before I call the police.”

Jillie turned quickly. It was a tall elf in a khaki raincoat. He stalked past her towards the bus stop shelter and stood over the orc boy. “You filth aren’t supposed to be here outside the camp.”

The orc boy had already tied his sack at the first words, and, without looking back, he slipped off into the rain with such speed that he seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye. The elf turned to glare at Jillie.

“If I were you, I wouldn’t be seen anywhere close to these vermin,” he snapped. “Your parents should know better than to let you talk to them.”

“He wasn’t doing anything,” Jillie protested.

“Don’t you talk back to me,” the elf snarled. He took a step towards Jillie. “You goblins think you’re our equals, though you’re just one step above filth like that.”

He looked like he’d say more, but Jillie didn’t wait to find out. Her cheeks, which had only just been freezing, were burning hot with shame and anger. Turning, she ran through the rain towards home, slipping on the wet pavement, hardly aware that she had dropped the umbrella and was even more thoroughly soaked than before.


Jillie,” her mother said, “where did you get that?”

Jillie looked up from her homework. “What?” she began, and then she noticed where her mother was pointing.

“An orc was selling them on the street,” she said. There was no point telling her mother that she’d not paid for the thing.

“An orc?” Jillie’s mum frowned. “I told you before not to talk to them.”

“He was only a boy,” Jillie said defensively. “He was soaking wet in the rain and selling them.”

“That makes no difference.” Jillie’s mum picked up the doll and put it back again. “It’s well made,” she admitted grudgingly. “They’re good with their hands, I’ll give them that.”

“Why doesn’t it make a difference?” Jillie asked.

“You know very well the orcs aren’t allowed to do any business or anything. They’re refugees.” Jillie’s mum glanced over her shoulder quickly, instinctively, as though there might be some eavesdropper right there in Jillie’s room. “Besides, I’ve told you many times that we goblins have to be careful.”

“Why?” Jillie repeated mutinously. “This is our city as much as it’s anyone else’s.”

“Tell that to the elves,” Jillie’s mum said. “We’re only barely tolerated, and the last thing we need to do is draw attention to ourselves.” She ran her hand quickly through Jillie’s hair, something the younger goblin had once loved but now disliked intensely. “Look, I know you don’t like it, but we do have to live in the real world, don’t we?”

Jillie made a noise which could mean either yes or no. Her mother, of course, took it to mean yes.

“There you are,” she said with a broad smile. “So just stay away from them from now on, all right? Would you like some hot chocolate?”

“Yes,” Jillie said, and her mother went off to the kitchen imagining that she’d agreed to both questions.

If she’d known her daughter even a little better, she’d have known that she was wrong.


The next day, straight from school, Jillie went looking for the orc boy. She had his doll wrapped in a clean handkerchief, and squeezed into her bag, and intended to return it if she could find him.

Yesterday’s clouds had rained themselves out, and the city was a fresh-rinsed spread of grey under the washed-out, watery blue of the sky. Normally, Jillie would have spent a little while hanging around with her friend Kulla, but today she began hurrying away as soon as class was over.

“Jille!” Kulla called. “Wait, I want to talk to you about...”

“Can’t today, Kull,” Jillie said. “I’ve got things to do.”

“Well, if your things are more important than me,” Kulla began, “I’m sure there are others who’d like to listen. I mean, what do I want with you, anyway?” Kulla was an elf, and very smart and beautiful, and Jillie had had quite a crush on her once. “Don’t you think you can come crawling back after you’ve finished with your things and I’ll be waiting, you get me?” But Jillie was already halfway out of earshot.

Jillie didn’t think she’d find the orc boy outside the bus stop, not after the elf yesterday, and he wasn’t. But she’d seen the way he’d gone, and she knew that the camp was somewhere along that direction, though she wasn’t quite sure where. She also knew enough not to ask anyone the way to the camp, or even whether they’d seen an orc boy, so she had no real choice but to keep wandering the streets with her eyes open. After some time her feet began to hurt, and she became aware that she was very tired. Then she saw a small park not far away, with trees and grass and a little rock-lined pond with flowers growing around it.

Gratefully, she sank down on to one of the benches, putting the bag down beside her. Something – probably a fish, possibly a water pixie – stuck its head out of the surface of the pond for a moment before sinking back under again. She got up and walked to the water’s edge to see if it came up again. There was a dark shadow, wriggling past under the surface. She leaned over to take a closer look, her foot turned on a stone, and with a gasp she began falling forward –

A huge hand grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her back to safety. “Careful, Miss Goblin,” a half-familiar voice rumbled. “You almost fall in.”

For a moment she couldn’t speak, just stand there looking at the orc boy. He was dressed exactly like the previous afternoon, though there was mud smeared on his shirt and a rip across one knee of his dark brown trousers. He let go of her shoulder and stepped back, suddenly looking – as far as she could make out – confused and uncertain.

“I sorry,” he said. “Maybe I should not touch.”

“No, no,” she managed. “Thanks. Really, thank you very much. I wouldn’t have wanted to fall in.” Then she realised that he must have been in the park, probably back among the trees. “What were you doing here?”

“People chase me,” he said simply. “I sell dolls, but they angry because I sell dolls. So I come here hide. When they go, I think, I try to sell dolls again. Then I see you come, stand next to pond. I think maybe you not too scared if I say hello.” He shrugged his huge shoulders. “You talk to me yesterday.”

Jillie walked slowly back to the bench. “They...chased you?”

“Not first time,” the orc boy said. “We grow used to being chased.” He gestured with one of his gigantic hands. “Chased from our country to here, chased here. Maybe chased somewhere else.”

Jillie opened her bag and took out the doll. “I’m really sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have taken it back with me. But you went away so quickly yesterday that I couldn’t give it back to you.”

“You like it?” the orc boy said, looking at the doll. “You keep her well, she looking good.”

“Yes, I like the doll very much. But, really,” Jillie admitted, “I can’t buy it. I don’t have any money.”

“You keep,” the orc boy said unexpectedly. “Gift for you, Miss Goblin.”

“But I can’t just take it,” Jillie protested, but the orc boy had already pushed the doll back into her bag. “Well, thank you again. Thank you very much.” She sat down and put the bag on the ground to make space on the bench. “Won’t you sit?”

Awkwardly, looking quickly left and right to check if anyone was watching, as though he was about to commit a crime, the orc boy sat down. He hunched forwards to fit, and his hands dangled almost to the ground.

“You very kind, Miss Goblin,” he rumbled. “Nobody want to talk to an orc.”

“Kind? Rubbish,” Jillie said robustly. “It’s the least I could do, after all you’ve done for me.” She glanced at the orc boy. “What’s your name, by the way?”

“Baldar,” the orc boy said. “I Baldar gro Yagak, Miss Goblin.”

“Don’t call me Miss Goblin, Baldar. It sounds ridiculous. My name is Jillie.”

The orc boy’s mouth moved, trying out the sounds of the name. He wasn’t yet old enough for his lower jaw to begin jutting forward, and his tusks were still small enough to only show when he talked. His neck and shoulders, though, were already thick with muscle. “Baldar,” she said.

“Yes, Miss Gob...Jillie?”

“You’re strong enough to fight back if you wanted. Why did you run from the people chasing you?”

Baldar glanced at her quickly from the corner of one eye and away again. “We only just allowed here, Jillie,” he said. “If fight, how long you think till we forced to run again?”

“But you’re...” Jillie tried to organise her thoughts. “Is it very bad in the camp?” she asked at last.

Baldar’s almost lipless mouth twitched in a smile that would have been terrifying under other circumstances. “Why you think I risk coming to sell dolls?” he asked. “If things good in camp, why I come out at all?”

“You know what they say in the papers, I suppose,” Jillie replied. “You orcs are a cancer on society, that’s what my father’s paper said. You should be sent away back where you came from.”

The orc boy’s huge head nodded slowly. “I know what you talk about – they say war nothing to do with why we come. Am right?”

“Yes. Of course I don’t believe that but...”

“You wait one little time, Jillie.” Baldar got off the bench and shuffled away towards the trees. In a few moments he returned, carrying his sack. It, too, was mud smeared. “I show you something.”

Jillie wasn’t sure what to expect when he opened the sack, but what he took out made her take a shuddering breath in wonder. It was a large carving, big enough to cover both of the orc boy’s enormous palms. It showed a green valley, through which a ribbon of crystal-blue water ran, with lush meadows on both sides. A cottage, half-merged into the slope of the hill on one side, seemed so much part of the landscape that it seemed to have grown out of the earth. Beside it, a family of orcs sat, looking across to the other side. There were four of them, mother, father, and a boy and girl orc.

It was wonderfully made, peaceful and so beautiful that Jillie’s throat ached to be there.

“This what home was,” Baldar said. “You think we want to leave this?”

Jillie’s eyes burned suddenly with tears. “I’m so sorry,” she said, appalled at the thought that she might start bawling. “Whatever you went through, I’m so sorry.”

“No need be sorry, not your fault.” Baldar peered down at her. “You good goblin, Jillie. Who else spend time with me?”

“Look, I’ve got to go,” Jillie said. “My mum’s probably already throwing a fit because I’m not back yet.” She hesitated. “Can we meet here sometime again?”

“You want meet again?” Baldar sounded surprised, and then smiled again, a smile much broader than the one that had gone before. “When, you say, and I be here.”

“Tomorrow? After school I’ll come here.”

The orc boy nodded. “Tomorrow, I wait, then.”


The next day went badly in school. Kulla didn’t want to talk to Jillie, the maths class went all to hell, and by the time she reached the park she was hardly surprised to see the orc boy wasn’t there. After all, if he had been present, something would have gone right, and that wasn’t in the cards for today.

Still, she was here, and it was a sunny afternoon, and she might as well try and do some of the homework she’d been given, including all the maths problems she hadn’t been able to solve in class and had no idea how to begin.

She was still agonising over the first one when a shadow fell over the paper.

“You busy, Jillie?” Baldar asked.

Jillie looked up, still frowning, her mind on the geometry problem. “I can’t figure out how to do this. School gets on my nerves sometimes.”

“I sorry late. Got some selling, people buy carvings today, so late.” The orc boy sat down beside her. “You mind I look?”

“Go ahead, but it’s a geometry problem. All lines and angles and I don’t even know where to begin or how to...”

“Is not hard, I show you.” The orc boy took Jillie’s pencil out of her hand, and it flew over the paper. “This isosceles triangle, so these two angles also be equal. So line bisecting this here...”

Jillie looked at him open-mouthed. “You understand this stuff?”

The orc boy glanced at her absently. “Of course. Geometry not hard, just...oh, you think we not go to school? Of course back home we have school. I loved school.”

Humming to himself, he bent over Jillie’s maths homework again.


Not come tomorrow,” Baldar said the next day, after going through Jillie’s science homework and correcting a diagram about refraction, in which Jillie had mixed up the red and violet. “My father say, not safe to come out. Big demon...” he struggled with the word. “Demonstration. Big demonstration against us they say, outside camp. So not safe be out tomorrow.”

“I’ve seen some people with flags,” Jillie said. “You know...” she hesitated, and then said it anyway. “My mother said my father will be marching as well with them. Not because he hates you or wants you gone,” she added hastily. “She says he’s got to do it otherwise he’s going to be under suspicion of harbouring pro-orc sympathies, and he can’t afford that in his work. Of course,” she added unhappily, “my mother also gave me strict orders not to associate with you. She’d have a heart attack if she knew I come to see you every day.”

“Perhaps then,” Baldar rumbled, “better not come? Not want trouble for you with parents.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jillie shrugged. “I’ll be getting into trouble over something or other anyway. I’m always in trouble. Besides, I like being with you.”

Baldar was silent a minute, as though thinking something over. “You come with? To camp?”

“You mean now?”

“Yes,” Baldar said, rising from the bench. “Maybe we to see each other much longer, here. So you come, I show you camp.”

They walked up the street, keeping to the side, as unobtrusively as a big orc boy and a goblin girl could make themselves in a city filled with elves. “How do you get in and out?” Jillie asked. “Isn’t the camp guarded?”

“Yes, but there hidden entrances. Also, guards at gate bribed – sometimes they come for money to camp, say else they will stop going out.” He tapped his sack. “Twice, I pay all money from doll sales to allow to use entrance.”

“They know about your hidden entrances?”

“Of course they know.” Baldar pointed. “There be camp now.”

Startled, Jillie looked up through the branches of a tree. The high grey wall she saw was like a slice of sky; and on top, curling and twisting on metal supports, were rolls of spiky barbed wire. “It looks like a prison,” she said involuntarily.

Baldar grunted. “What else you think it is?”

They walked along the wall to a stretch of grassy land littered with sheets of iron and large pieces of drainpipe. “Main gate on other side,” Baldar said, heaving up a large sheet of iron with little effort. Underneath was an enormous drainpipe that was partly buried in the earth. “We go through there,” he said.

Jillie hesitated only a moment before getting on her hands and knees to crawl through the pipe. The bottom was clean and dry, and someone had put down sacks to make the going easier. The pipe bent in two places, and then ended in a circle of light.

“You go through,” Baldar said from behind her. “I close entrance and come.”

Wondering what she’d find, filled with mingled excitement and apprehension, Jillie crawled through into the camp.


This my sister,” Baldar said. “She called Shelur gra Urzul.”

Jillie had already recognised the girl, though she’d never seen her before. It was the girl from the doll Baldar had gifted her, which was right now sitting safely on a shelf behind books back at home. The face, even the expression, had been reproduced perfectly.

“Who’s this?” she asked. She spoke the language much better than Baldar, with no accent. “Why have you brought her here?”

“She my friend,” Baldar said. He looked around the little room, which was hardly bigger than a large wooden box, with scraps of blankets nailed over the cracks. “Where is mother?”

“She’s gone out,” Shelur said, still eyeing Jillie with hostility. “She said if we’re going to be forced to hide in the camp tomorrow, we’d better get in all the food we can, just in case. Father went out too. They told me to wait here in case you came back early.”

“I carve out back,” Baldar said. “You want to see?”

“What does she care?” Shelur snapped. “To her we’re just like animals in the zoo. Worse. We’re like rats in the cellar.”

There was a bed on one side, little more than a large slab of wood resting on boxes. Baldar dropped the sack on it and sat down. He eyes Shelur unhappily. “Why you rude to my friend?” he asked.

“You call her your friend?” The orc girl glared at Jillie. “They treat us like criminals, they call us names, they threaten us when they see us outside, as though we want to be here. Just yesterday, some elves saw me and...” She broke off suddenly. “It doesn’t matter, you know it all anyway.”

Jillie felt intensely uncomfortable. “I’d better go,” she said.

“No.” Baldar shook his huge head. “You my friend, you my guest. You sit. I see if there something to eat.” He vanished through the narrow inside doorway.

“I really don’t want to harm any of you, you know,” Jillie said to the girl. “I wouldn’t have come here if I did.”

Shelur looked at her, and then down at the floor. “I’m sorry,” she said finally. “You can’t imagine what it’s like to be here.”

“I’ve...” Jillie began, and then nodded. “You’re right,” she said, remembering the carving of the cottage on the slope, and looking around her at the house made of boxes. “I’ve no idea at all.”

Baldar returned with steaming bowls on a tray. “Let’s eat.”

“They say we eat each other, right?” Shelur asked, waiting until Jillie had tasted the first spoonful. It was a thick, though rather bland, stew. “Isn’t that what they say in the town?”

“I haven’t heard that,” Jillie confessed.

“Depend on it,” Shelur said morosely. “If they haven’t said it yet, they will.”


I heard you have an orc boyfriend,” Sharag said. “Is that so?”

“Orc boyfriend?” Jillie blinked up at the elf. It was lunch hour at school and she was sitting by the playground, having just finished eating. “What are you talking about?”

“Come on. Arraf saw you in the park with him herself. Sitting side by side with him on the bench, all romantic, she said.” She laughed, a short ugly bark. “Orcs appeal to you, do they? Too good for your own kind, are you?”

“Orcs and goblins, they’re cousins after all.” Arraf came up on Jillie’s other side. “What’s a little incest among them anyway?”

“Don’t you have anything better to do?” Jillie asked. Her mouth had gone dry. “I’m not harming you, so just leave me alone.”

“Not harming you,” Arraf repeated in an exaggerated accent. “Now you’re sitting in the park kissing and holding hands. And then you marry him so that he can stay back, and next thing you two’ll have a litter of orclets running around and taking our country over. Don’t imagine we don’t know your little game.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Jillie said. “And what I want or don’t want is none of your business in any case.”

“He’s not supposed to be outside the camp anyway, you know the rules.” Sharag pointed at Jillie’s face with a long, very white finger, the nail at the end of which looked as though it had been filed sharp. “So if you’re sitting around with him...doing whatever it is you’re doing...that’s a crime, isn’t it? Perhaps we should report it to the school authorities, let’s see what they say.”

“Shut up and leave her alone.” None of them had noticed Kulla come up behind them. “Don’t think I don’t know what you two get up to in your spare time. You’re in no position to talk or complain to anybody.” She waited until the two other elves, muttering angrily, had stalked away, and slid on to the seat next to Jillie. “Is that so? You’ve an orc friend?”

“Yes, but...” Jillie stole a glance at Kulla, but saw only interest. “He’s only a friend, not my boyfriend like they were saying.”

“Never mind what those two little snits were saying. Tell me about him.”

So Jillie did. Kulla, head tilted to one side, listened attentively until it was over. Then she whistled softly.

“Well,” she said, “you’ve gone and got into hot water this time, haven’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just that, my little goblin, things are going to get very bad for the orcs now. You know my dad’s in the government?”

“Yes, and so?”

“He was talking to my mum this morning while we were having breakfast. He said that the government’s worried about all public, um, dis-en-chant-ment, and that they’re going to, he said, deflect it by taking action against the orcs.”

“What kind of action?” Jillie asked. “What did he mean?”

“Can’t say for myself, but you can guess, can’t you?” Kulla made a face. “You’ve seen the papers, you know there’s this demonstration today. Everyone wants the orcs out, and that’s what the government will do, I bet. Send them back where they came from.”

“But they’ve come here escaping the war, there, and the war’s still on!”

“My dad says that doesn’t matter. They want scapegoats.” She laughed without humour. “To them the orcs are just a pawn. So, you see, your friend and his sister are going to be sent back, whether they like it or not, and you’d better get used to the idea.”

Jillie felt a cold hand take hold of her heart, and squeeze. “They can’t do that, Kull. They just can’t.”

“Of course they can,” Kulla said. “Are you going to stop them?”

Jille stood up so suddenly she momentarily got dizzy. When her vision cleared she was standing with her fists clenched so tight that she felt her nails cut into her palms. “Why not?” she said. The idea that had exploded in her mind chased its own tail round in a whirl of sparkling light. “Why not?”

“Are you all right?” Kulla asked, her face full of concern. “Jillie?”

“I said, why not?” Jille repeated. “If it’s at all possible to stop them, why shouldn’t I try? And even if it isn’t, why shouldn’t I try anyway?”

“You’re only one little goblin girl,” Kulla said. “That’s why you shouldn’t. And that’s why,” she added, putting her hand on Jillie’s shoulder, “whatever you’re going to do, I’m going to help you.”

Jillie turned slowly. “Why? Why would you help?”

Kulla smiled and gestured with both hands. “As you just said, why not? What else is there?”


Day after tomorrow,” Baldar said. “They start deportation then.”

“I heard.” Jillie swallowed. “Have you got it all done?”

“Yes. Shelur and her friends help. I don’t think will do good though.”

“We can only hope.” Jillie looked past the orc boy at the park. There were some elf children by the pond, so Baldar and she were sitting in the undergrowth beneath the trees, where they couldn’t be seen. “Kulla has been busy and so have I, arranging things. We’ll go out tonight and put up posters.”

“Your parents know?”

“Of course. I had to tell them.” Jillie shook her head. “I thought they would be furious, and I was ready to tell them I’d do it anyway. But they weren’t. Mum even had tears in her eyes. They even contributed money for the hall rental.”

“They not able to contribute all.”

“Of course not. But we scraped together enough. Kull’s quite a fundraiser when she puts her mind to it.” Jillie had spent all her money, too, all that she’d saved from the allowance she was occasionally given, but there was no point talking about it now. “The kids at school pitched in, too, when we got to work on them. You know what, even those two, Sharag and Arraf, helped. They weren’t very enthusiastic, but they helped.”

Baldar hesitated. “You say it important to change people minds about us,” he said. “Even if can change, then what? Deportation stopped?”

“Kulla’s dad said that the government just wants to throw you out to show the people that they’re doing something. If the people don’t hate the orcs anymore, the government must understand that throwing you out won’t help. Nobody will be fobbed off by it so they might as well not do it.” She sighed. “Well, we’ll see tomorrow.”

“Why your friend help? She elf.”

“It’s like a game to her, I suppose. It makes her feel good. Besides, it makes her special.” Jillie shook her head. “She’s not doing it for me, if that’s what you’re imagining. But when she does something, she does it whole-heartedly, always has. That’s why I accepted her help at all. That, and,” she added honestly, “the fact that I really couldn’t have done a damn thing without her.”

“We go back to camp now,” Baldar said, heaving himself to his feet.

“Yes,” Jillie said. “And if we can get this won, maybe we can try to make the camp better too.”

Balder laughed. “Oh, Miss Goblin, hope so much, why don’t hope for war over and we go home properly?”

Jillie opened her mouth, and then stopped, appalled at what she’d been about to say. “Because then I wouldn’t have you anymore.” The words had been trembling on her lips without her even thinking about them.

“Because I can’t do magic,” she said, blushing and hoping Baldar wouldn’t notice. “Let’s get to camp and have a look.”


My name is Shelur, and I’m an orc.”

She stood on the row of boxes covered by a cloth which served as a stage, facing the audience. There were a lot of them, more than Jillie had expected. Most were elves, but there was a scattering of goblins, including her own parents, and even a couple of the shy pixies who almost never came out among crowds.

“We’re not vermin,” Shelur said clearly. She looked around the audience, looking each person in the face. “We’re people just like you. Another people, yes, but people all the same.”

Nobody said anything, but Jillie, watching from the side, was relieved that there was, so far at least, no heckling. And the audience at least seemed filled with normal people. She didn’t see any of the sort who’d filled the crowds of foot stamping flag-wavers, screaming for orc blood.

“I may be an orc,” Shelur said, “and, believe me, I’m in no way ashamed of being one – but I’m also not different in any way from your sisters and daughters. I’m a girl, too, and I read books and love listening to music and doing all the same things as them.” She paused and looked around the audience again. “Whatever I look like to your eyes, inside I’m just the same.”

 “She’s good,” Kulla murmured into Jillie’s ear. “It was a bit of genius on your part to think of her giving a speech to start things off.”

Jillie ducked her head modestly. “They think orcs are dumb animals,” she whispered back. “Most of them have never even talked to one. Let them hear for themselves that they are not only not dumb, they can talk, and think, and feel, as well as anyone else.”

“Pretty good crowd, too.” Kulla looked around. “We should have charged admission.”

“And then not one person would have come,” Jillie told her. “We’ve talked about this before.”

“I’m just joking.” Kulla gestured with her fingers. “The display’s ready. Come and have a look.”

Jillie followed her behind the curtain that had been hung behind Shelur. Baldar and some of the other orcs had been busy all morning, with the less useful assistance of those of the elves and goblins whom Kulla had bullied into volunteering. The long room was lined with tables down both sides, and on the tables, arranged in carefully selected order, were the sculptures.

Although Jillie had seen them herself, yesterday at the camp, she couldn’t suppress a gasp of awe. The first carvings were of the sort she’d seen already; hills and valleys, and little orc cottages, a small town of high, intricately carved buildings with sloping roofs, and, among them, orcs, going about their daily business – orc farmers, ploughing and planting; orc pedestrians on the narrow, sloping streets, passing by shops; there was even a school with a playground on which orc boys and girls were running about playing.

Beyond them were the carved orcs themselves, of the sort Baldar had shown her at the beginning, like the Shelur-doll he’d given her. Orc boys and girls, fathers and mothers, orc teachers and priests of the High Religion, with greying skin and wispy, straggling beards. They sat and talked and laughed and ate together, and there was a peace about them it was impossible to miss, even though they were merely painted wood.

And then the carvings changed. The orcs were the same – in fact they were the same individual orcs, their faces and clothes clearly recognisable – but they were no longer going about their lives peacefully. Some of them were looking up at the sky, or off to one side, with terror in their faces. Others cowered, their arms held defensively over their heads, as though trying futilely to ward off a blow. And then, beyond them...

Even yesterday, at the camp, Jillie had had a hard time looking at the next set of carvings – the screaming mouths, the terror-wide eyes, the blood running from the mouths. And the others – the half-buried corpses of orc children, the orc mother with a baby still trying to suckle from a breast ripped half apart; what must Baldar and the others have seen, to have been able to carve something like this? What had they had to endure?

That question was answered by the last set of carvings, spread out on tables set against the far wall. They showed the same valleys as before, the same cottages and the same little town. But now the grass on the slopes was burnt to ash, and the trees glowing, leafless cinders, and the cottages were charred broken shells. The town was a sea of ruins, and the playground on which the children were running about just on the other side of the room was a sea of upturned earth and broken metal.

There were two orcs standing to one side, quietly talking. One of them was Baldar. Jillie had met the other one a few times over the last week, ever since they’d decided on what to do, but for the moment couldn’t remember his name. Baldar saw her and came over “How does it look?” he asked anxiously.

“It looks great,” she assured him. “You worked extremely hard, all of you.”

“When something as important as this...” His pointed ears twitched. “Shelur I think about to finish.”

“It’ll be all right,” Kulla reassured him. “They can’t possibly ignore this.”

But will it really? Jillie thought. She left Kulla talking to the orc boy and moved back towards the curtain. We can try our best, and plan, and hope, but how can we ever know? And even if they don’t ignore this, so what? Will the government listen? Will anyone really listen?

Standing near the curtain, she listened to Shelur.

“If I could,” she was saying, “I’d never have wanted to leave my home; none of us would. Our homeland is in our blood, and it sings to us with every beat of our hearts. But we can’t go home, because of the same reason as we left in the first place. And now, you’re going to see exactly what we’ve been through, what’s happened to those who were ours.

“Life in the camp isn’t easy. It is, in fact, terribly hard, and we have to scrounge and scrimp simply in order to stay alive. We wouldn’t want to remain in the camp a single moment if we could return to what we had before, and lost for no fault of our own. We aren’t any threat to you, we’re just people like you; and we’d like you to imagine, as you walk among what lies on the other side of that curtain, how you would have felt if it had been you in our place.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this exhibition is now open.”

Well, here goes, Jillie thought. Whatever’s going to happen, now we’ll know.

Trying to still the sudden trembling in her hands, she grasped the dangling cords and slowly began to draw the curtain open.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016