Ilja went higher. Her boot insoles remained haven to a single speck of rock face rebirth, which she had totally no-sold since leaving camp. Total discomfort didn’t begin to describe her cloudy disposition regarding the hundreds of thousands of Afghan migrants that had washed ashore all summer.
“Are you coming or what?”
She and Hero had made this afternoon climb dozens of times already. Shielding her eyes from the inverse sun rising over the Aegean Sea, she ignored Hero’s careful descent as he longed to extinguish a small brush fire with his collapsing underpants.
There was a voice in the distance, one Ilja quickly determined belonged to another woman.
“Do you hear that? Babe?”
In clear denial of her unfolding polygamous plight, Ilja escaped into green pastures in search of a younger woman predisposed with Western theology’s true elder. A small child.
Ilja called out to Hero several times but heard nothing in return. The girl was either pretending not to hear her cries or was actively being pursued by an unchained gorilla in slip-on cross training shoes. Mindlessly turning back to the stone rising behind her, Ilja half-expected Hero to be right behind her. They had been inseparable since Iceland, so she didn’t want him to sell her Dolph Lundgren stand-up special short. Ol’ Drago only had an inch on Ilja’s Danish meat mutt of choice, but how many split squats had she performed off the side of an actual bed before their first tent-tilting retreat on top of Galdhøpiggen?
She was his first Bulgarian, and mystery girl had gone completely silent. When Ilja finally rediscovered her, she lay contorted at the bottom of a small ridge. The child was quite pale in comparison to the girl’s sandy complexion. Her roots were the color of molasses, her coarse arm hair apple cinnamon. She wore no jewelry. Was she a local runaway?
Ilja reminded herself that despite the human rights crisis plaguing the surrounding nations everyone was trying to escape something. She rattled off what she could in traditional Greek. A few friendly phrases in Arabic too, just in case she was dealing with a migrant from the east. The girl had become so calm, her eyes a flicker-free flame in pressing winds. In fact, they never seemed to leave the ensuing sky.
Ilja’s upturned chin only quivered once, as she followed the girl’s extended forefinger. There was a lone bird passing slightly to the north. A quail most likely.
Ilja felt pressure on her left arm. The girl had closed her palm around the Red Cross emblem affixed there, and then her bent frame went slack.
Collapsing over the mute child, Ilja stole a quick wink at Thanatos’ lair. Three had instantly become two, but Ilja wouldn’t rest easy anywhere in Lesbos, Greece until she found out why.
Ilja hadn’t panicked. She searched the surrounding area for poison hemlock. Hero had agreed to return to camp for supplies, including something to protect the girl’s remains from wandering predators. He also volunteered to look after their new child in her absence. There was something very wrong on this island. Ilja was familiar with the average diet of quail but had never heard of conium maculatum in its natural form affecting a local human population this early in the year.
Hero had a thing with knives and was able to fast-track Aestria’s low-flying sister, Leto, off of a nearby dinner table before nightfall. Forgoing a lengthy windup, he kept a keen eye on his approaching target and both hands on the exposed blade. As his modest curls continued to disobey the insisting call of his statuesque shoulder blades, Zeus’s eternal bed sheet blessing in black and gold letters morphed into a feigned apology on a nearby branch.
“I can’t watch.”
Ilja’s longstanding contrition against Hera’s reimagined strength quickly overtook her curious brows. She turned away before the killing throw. Together, she and Hero procured a handful of hemlock for stateside testing before handing the child over to a local church parish and crying bloody murder from Cephalonia to kingdom come.
The test results would prove most damaging. The toxicology of the hemlock alkaloid had been altered to ensure permanent human respiratory failure. The locals would find themselves immune to this new, malfeasant brand of wildflower myopathy, which in turn spelled “collusion” in every Western newspaper headline equating the strengthening Euro with Turkey’s recent anti-immigrant economic recession.
A little bird had told Ilja that the six billion dollars the European Union still owed the country in border patrol fees had given incentive to the same terrorist act Chronos himself couldn’t have reverse-bioengineered on a stricter time-table. No sooner than she had left home for university, Ilja had become headless slaughter to the soaring entrails of unpocketable misfortune, and she was glad.
To the sea, Hero. Next week, the sky. Our children haven’t yet learned how to cry, so we must seek them out. The rain will always follow.