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Only after the tanks had rolled into the capital, and the intractable president had been hanged, did the officers of the occupying force relax enough to enjoy the spring sun shedding its warmth like the beginning of a new, more hopeful era, drawing them out onto streets where rubble was still being cleared, shimmering off colourful umbrellas in the city’s squares where tables had been set out and waiters stood by to attend to them (a sign of the populace’s graceful capitulation!) so, being broad-minded men, the officers ordered local delicacies in the country’s coarse dialect then leaned close to catch the aroma of the dishes set before them, yet as they lifted their forks they paused – a slight acridity prickling their noses, the waiter shifting uneasily a few metres away, and from the shadows of the kitchen the cook peering out, small eyes blinking and hands clutching her apron – and in an instant those officers had lurched to their feet, chairs sent sprawling, dishes smashing to the ground as they shouted that this was why they were here, to civilise this barbaric nation, but when they reached for their guns it was too late because the waiter had slipped away, the cook too, and so in the small hours one hundred innocents were dragged from their beds and trucked to the forest where the air broke apart, over and over, sending a mass of starlings shrieking into the air, motes of darkness against the greater darkness of the night.
About Gerri Brightwell
Gerri Brightwell is a British writer who lives in Alaska with her husband and sons. Her latest novel, Turnback Ridge, will be published in October 2022 by Torrey House Press. She is also the author of the novels Dead of Winter (Salt), The Dark Lantern (Crown), and Cold Country (Duckworth). Her chapbook, Ghostings, was a finalist for the 2021 Black River Chapbook Contest, and her story "Cuckoo" was selected as a Top 50 story for the 2021 BBC National Short Story Award. Her short work has appeared in many venues including The Best American Mystery Stories 2017, Alaska Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, Copper Nickel, Redivider, and BBC Radio 4's Opening Lines. She teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.