Thank you for joining us for this short story of rescue, “Extraction-Eritrea.” After the story, you will find more links to other D.I. Telbat stories. Enjoy!
by D.I. Telbat
In the dwindling light, 20-year-old Kiflu Afutoki crawled on his belly through the red sand until his head brushed against the barbed wire. Lifting his head slowly, Kiflu gazed down the bluff at the prison complex. He hoped he wasn’t too close, but he’d not seen any patrols since sundown.
Kiflu narrowed his eyes at a row of twenty boxcars near the middle of the complex. Uncle Isaias Kamaren was in one of them. There were no other detention centers for Christians on that side of Asmara, Eritrea. His uncle had to be there. On the far side, he could also see a number of parked transport vehicles, seemingly unguarded.
The compound itself was left over from the country’s four decades of war, oftentimes with Ethiopia to the south. Kiflu and his family hadn’t been overly concerned with the ongoing border skirmishes. They’d been more concerned with the chokehold that the military dictatorship of Eritrea had on Christians.
There was no possible way that Kiflu could prowl into the complex to free his uncle and the other several hundred believers detained there. The perimeter wasn’t lit, but each boxcar had a single light bulb hanging at each end, fully illuminating the area. Kiflu wasn’t as afraid of the lights as he was of the several armed soldiers somewhere inside the command post, which wasn’t far from the row of boxcars.
Kiflu tugged a water bottle off his jeans belt and took a swig. His water was almost gone. What a mistake it had been to hike twenty miles into the desert unarmed and without a plan, he now realized. He had acted impulsively, out of fear for his uncle. Now Kiflu was frustrated at his helplessness.
Uncle Isaias was extremely valuable to the Christian underground church in Asmara. Nevertheless, he would die along with the others who’d also been arrested multiple times for “religious solicitation infractions.” Even if Uncle Isaias did survive the conditions and the torture, he would be scarred for life. Perhaps he would even be too scarred to run the printing presses he’d once operated.
Kiflu had heard many stories from the few who had dared to frequent their sparse house churches–the few who had survived the boxcar containers. The heat beat down on the boxcars, making them like ovens during the day. But the metal made them perfect refrigerators during the chilly nights. There was neither running water nor latrines. Then there were the interrogations. Kiflu shuddered at the thought of what gruesome torture occurred during the “rehabilitation” sessions.
A boot crunched in the sand not far behind Kiflu. He dropped flat, his cheek on the sand, his heart beating loudly in his ears. Anyone with eyes accustomed to the twilight was sure to have seen him already. Yet, Kiflu couldn’t bring himself to climb to his trembling legs and flee. Maybe he would be shot in the back, or worse yet, detained in the compound.
He waited, but nothing happened, nor did he hear any more noise. Kiflu licked his parched lips. It might’ve just been a wild dog or a desert bird he’d heard. Turning his head, he gazed toward the expanse that spanned toward Ethiopia. He blinked twice before he was sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him, and then he froze.
Three men, two large, and one smaller, knelt thirty paces behind Kiflu. They spoke with hand signals and hushed tones too low for Kiflu to hear. The distinct silhouettes of rifles were cradled in their arms. These weren’t Eritrean troops. Their uniforms didn’t bare the recognizable green, red, and blue shoulder patches. But if they weren’t an Eritrean patrol, they had to be Ethiopian, and that was just as dangerous. Yet, even Ethiopian uniforms had patches, and Kiflu saw none.
Kiflu looked back at the compound. He didn’t want to stand in the way of an invading Ethiopian force, but he also hated to leave his uncle behind. Praying under his breath, he asked for wisdom and direction.
When Kiflu glanced back at the three soldiers, they were no longer together. Two had split up to circle the compound from each side, and the third approached Kiflu directly, his rifle leveled.
With widened eyes, Kiflu sat up to scramble away from the advancing soldier. But the soldier didn’t attack him. Instead, he knelt at Kiflu’s feet to look at him. Kiflu was clearly not a threat. The man held out his hand—a white hand. Frowning, Kiflu stared at the black face before him. Black, but not African. He was American or European with black paint to camouflage with the night.
Kiflu gulped a swallow and took the man’s hand. He was pulled to his feet and drawn away from the barbed wire. When they were at a safe distance, they stopped.
“Wait here,” the man instructed in a barely distinguishable northern dialect of Arabic.
Studying the stranger closer, Kiflu saw that he was a sturdy, two-hundred-pound, middle-aged man with wild hair. On his right ear was a communication device. There was a thick, white scar running down the man’s cheek and neck, which was evidence that he was familiar with adversity. However, the man’s eyes weren’t wild or violent.
The rifle cradled in his hands was no longer aimed at him. And what a rifle it was! Kiflu had served in Eritrea’s military by compulsion, as did all other young men in his country, but he had never seen a weapon like this. The barrel was extra long and there was a large CO2 canister under the chamber like an air rifle.
Kiflu relaxed a little, then nodded in understanding that he was to wait there, to stay out of the way of whatever was about to happen.
Before he could communicate further, the man was off, jogging silently up to the wire. He cut the strands, then descended the slope to the compound.
Disobeying orders, Kiflu crept near the barbed wire again to watch. If these men caused enough of a distraction, Kiflu wouldn’t hesitate to dart down and open the boxcars to free Uncle Isaias. They would find a way to survive the desert until they reached Asmara, but first things first.
Kiflu stood next to a fence post where he could see the whole complex. He watched with curiosity as two of the strange soldiers approached the prison control post in unison from different angles. The third climbed on top of one of the boxcars to cover his companions. Their every move signaled rehearsal and stealth.
Two Eritrean soldiers exited the control post and stretched. Then they each flinched suddenly, reached for their sidearms, and then collapsed on the ground.
As Kiflu studied the scene before him, he realized that he’d heard no gunfire. He crouched as the rest of the Eritrean soldiers poured out of their post with their very loud carbines ablaze. They fired blindly as their eyes weren’t accustomed to the dim lighting. The three invaders dropped the prison guards one at a time. The last three guards made a stubborn stand from the doorway, but were quickly flushed out by a stun grenade.
Kiflu stood again, dumbfounded. He raised his hands, as if surrendering to the inconceivable, and against orders once again, he ran down the slope into the camp. When he reached the command post, Kiflu paused next to one dead Eritrean soldier, only to find that there was no blood.
“He will be well in one hour,” the stranger who spoke bad Arabic assured Kiflu. “He is only…uh…sleeping.”
“I approve of this, but why did you not kill them?” Kiflu asked.
“It is hard to show love of Jesus if we show no mercy and kill our enemies. Come. Help us. Open containers.”
The three mysterious soldiers opened the first boxcar packed full of political prisoners. Prisoners poured out of the car around them, as did the stench of oppressed humanity. Kiflu struggled with another boxcar latch, then threw the door open. The soldier smiled as he passed and patted Kiflu on the shoulder.
“There are others,” Kiflu informed. “Other Christian prisoners in other camps.”
“Where?” the man asked.
“All over Eritrea! I know of at least twelve more detention centers.”
The soldier nodded and sighed loudly.
“One at a time, Friend. Come, I must find this man.” He held up a photograph. “He is vital to the Bible printing in the city.”
“I know this man!” Kiflu beamed.
“You know him?”
“Yes, I am here for him as well. Come, I will introduce you to my uncle!”
Extraction: Eritrea was first published in Haruah: Breath of Heaven in 2008, but the publication folded thereafter. You’ll recognize themes and characters from D.I. Telbat’s COIL Series. You can find other D.I. Telbat Extraction Stories here, and many of his other short stories here.
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