Clouds blow in and the evening sky turns dark. Within minutes, icy-cold raindrops have drenched them to their skin. Then actual ice begins to fall. Pieces of hail as big as walnuts crack the ground, the trees and Ilijaz's head, momentarily disorienting him as he runs for shelter beneath the trees.
Hail in the middle of the summer? This is the culmination of hell.
In a while the hail stops, but the rain keeps coming. They line up again, dripping.
A strong detonation startles Ilijaz and scatters the line. People run up to him.
"Kemo killed himself, and he wounded ten people around him."
Kemo, the head nurse's husband, had remained strong throughout their days-long exodus from Srebrenica through the enemy-infested woods toward free territory. Ilijaz had last seen him about an hour earlier, giving water to his exhausted brother. Nobody could explain why he'd suddenly snapped, pulling out a hand grenade and activating it as they lined up.
After bandaging the survivors, they set out northwest, wending their way for hours in the rain through pathless, mountainous terrain. Night falls, and clouds diffuse the light of the nearly full moon as it rises. Ilijaz hears explosions ahead, coming from the direction of the minefield they have to cross. He is exhausted, numb, wet and shivering, barely able to keep his legs moving, keep upright, keep from tripping, keep concentrating on the obscured footsteps of his best friend.
He grips the hand of his former girlfriend, walking behind him.
If we survive this together, I will marry her.
He takes one careful step. Then another. Then another. Moans waft through the darkness of the minefield, distracting him.
He hears a woman's voice pleading for help nearby.
"I'm going to at least try to do something for her," Ilijaz says.
Someone tells him it's too dangerous, and he realizes it's true.
For the second time that he can ever remember, Ilijaz is being begged for help and can't even bring himself to try to respond. The calls from the sides of the path continue, one fading, another starting up, over and over again like the howls of ghosts.
When he had pledged the Oath of Hippocrates, becoming a physician, he had sworn himself to the service of others. Now, he does not even think he can save himself.
Pub date: 11/23/04
Price: $16.50/23.50 Canada
5 1/2 x 8 1/4
Carton Quantity: 24
Selling Territory: WxUK,CW