When Atur came back to himself, Hrayr was leading him at gunpoint down the long, dirt driveway. His feet shuffled listlessly in the gravel, grateful to have something sturdy to stand on, while the rest of his body drifted along like an empty train car. The gun that Hrayr pointed at him was unnecessary, because Atur would not run. He had nowhere to run to; nothing to run for. Everything he was had been taken. So he walked, with no thought for deliverance or escape. No tortuous reflections ailed his progress, because everything he could have felt had been felt back in Babig’s kitchen. And just as the intensity of a power surge brings darkness to a lightbulb, so did the extremity of these emotions break Atur’s brightening filament.
The headlights of a black Volga Chaser silhouetted their gradual progress down, until a hundred yards of sharp decline was all that remained. The rusted mailbox sat ignorantly at the bottom of the run, waiting for their approach. When they finally arrived in front of this beaten metal box, Hrayr reached in and emptied its contents.
Staring down at the coveted mass of rolled up paper, he couldn’t help but betray the admiration he felt for it. It lasted only a second, but it was enough for Hrayr to feel the need to rectify his mistake.
“I’m sorry, Atur, for doing what was needed to be done. You can understand, right?” His usual grin, grotesque in the bright headlights, cracked like a mask. Atur didn’t even look at him. He just stared vacuously into the night.
“Alright, let’s go.”
They started making their way back to the car but stopped, noticing the two agents looking curiously up the driveway. Standing still, a faint but steady rumbling could be heard, getting louder the longer they listened. Yet no sight accompanied the eerie sound.
“Everybody get in the car,” said Hrayr. “Now!”
Before they could act on his words two blinding lights burned through the darkness ahead, coming right for them. Caught like deer they froze, forgetting any instinctual overrides taught in their training. The moment of panic broken, they pulled themselves into action and fired into the oncoming pickup truck, a massive Soviet relic with a stubborn steel frame. It barreled down the incline of the driveway leaving only seconds until impact. The agents unloaded their rounds into the windshield but nothing was stopping this vehicles trajectory. They dove out of the way seconds before a boisterous crack announced impact and pieces of glass erupted like shrapnel. Dust billowed and blanketed the scene before everyone stood up, firearms raised. One covered the passenger side while the other cautiously approached the drivers side door. Hrayr forgot about Atur for the moment, focusing his pistol on the front windshield. The drivers side agent reached for the handle, then quickly swung the door open. He paused for a moment, waiting for any reaction, then swung his body in front, gun at the ready. The continued silence unsettled the others, but the agent returned their expectancy with more confusion.
“There’s no one in-” a piercing boom cut through the night, severing the man’s jugular. Another shot echoed from nowhere taking the second agent in the shoulder. Hrayr grabbed Atur and held him up as a shield, pistol pointed at his right temple.
“Don’t make this any more difficult than it has to be, Uncle. This is not your fight.”
“This is Armenia, Hrayr. It is always our fight.” Another shot rang out, finishing the agent who took the first shot in the shoulder.
“Show yourself and put down your weapon, or I will kill Atur.”
“You’ve already taken the man’s soul. As long as I get that book, I think he’ll be able to sleep alright.”
Panic started to wrack Hrayr as the truth of his Uncle’s words sank in.
“Do what you do best, Hrayr, and run.”
He knew what would happen if he did, though. “They’ll kill me, Uncle.”
“So will I.”
Hrayr’s manic eyes darted back and forth, like a shrew hiding from the owls hool. He raised his pistol and fired a few shots up the driveway’s obscurity before shoving Atur and taking off on foot, manuscript still in hand.
Another rifle shot rang through the night. It’s deafening din faded across the distance until nothing remained of its hollow vengeance. The truck’s engine hiccuped streams of smoke, while a garbled moan flailed in the shadows. The headlights on these sandwiched vehicles picked up the last of the dustly diaspora, still waiting for its chance to return home, while Atur, picking up many of these wandering refugees, rolled himself over and sat up, registering all that remained. A few crinkling steps from the field’s dry grass announced Babig before he stepped into the light. He walked over and held out his arm, steadying Atur’s haggard confusion with his resilient gaze.
“How?” Atur asked, as he took his hand and let himself be pulled up.
“Some fight with weapons and some fight with words. I only know how to do the first.”
They walked together out of the light towards Hrayr’s motionless form. His pleading eyes caught the cars beams, while his concaved chest told why his voice could not do the pleading for them. Gurgled coughs sputtered from his throat, sending new streaks of blood streaming over his chin. His right hand, empty, stretched in vain towards the pistol lying only inches from his desperate fingers, while his left hand still clutched the pages defiantly towards his chest. Atur stared down at the man before him, devoid of any pity. He reached down and reclaimed his stolen manuscript with slow, deliberate force, then wiped off what blood he could on Hrayr’s tailored pant leg. Babig strolled around and kicked the pistol far from his reach.
“Think the book is worth all this?” asked Babig
Atur looked around. “Probably not.”
Babig smiled. “I never really knew her, but I know she’s proud of you, Atur.”
Atur looked up at him, anguish spilling across his face. Babig came over and wrapped him in a brawny hug, letting Atur find comfort in something other than those bloodied pages he had now sacrificed everything for.
“You need a place to stay tonight?”
“Thank you, Babig, but I think I’m going to go see what I can salvage from the bus.”
“Alright, well doors always open. Don’t you worry about this mess, I’ll take care of it.”
Atur nodded his appreciation, then set off back from where he came.
He couldn’t help the memories from flooding back, but he didn’t mind. It was all he had now. He just took one step, then another, and then another, until finally he found himself in the same bristled fields he had called home these last few years. The warm crescendo of crickets and cicadas welcomed him, while the drowsy owl’s call announced the impending approach of morning. The desiccated grass crunched under his feet, while the thistles and briars grasped appreciatively at his uncovered shins. On the dull, greying horizon he could make out the smoldering remains of his beloved van, the noxious odor of burnt rubber invasive. It was still too hot for him to rummage around, but he knew he wasn’t going to find anything. He just wanted to be back home one last time.
He lays in the grass now, watching the transformation of time take hold of the sky above. A dim pallor grows on the clouded canopy, until brilliant ruby streaks burst from the horizon. Their ephemeral reach brings astonishing detail to the downy ruts rolling across the sky, before their transient glory fades beyond. As Atur lays there, nodding off in the stale morning air, he soon discerns the faintest arrival of rain, sending its first isolated emissaries down to the ground below. These intrepid pioneers are not lonely for long, for the pitter-patter of raindrops quickly picks up. The hard, brittle soil takes time to drink, choking on it’s first few gulps like a turned-around trekker stumbling on a stream bed. But soon it’s able to drink freely. The arid hills and barren fields breath a sigh of relief as the stale, suffocating air skulks off, fearful of the fresh vitality stirring on the breeze. The land will need many more days like this to grow from this drought, but it’s a start. Yes, Atur thinks, it is a start.