King of the Hill
At night, they throw their stripped chicken bones down the hill to us. At the bottom, we fight over who gets to pull the tiny slivers of meat from it with their teeth or gets to suck on the dry skin that barely exists. Rotting potatoes roll down next to provoke more fighting as they watch us from the top, pointing and laughing as if we’re entertainment. In thick, harsh language, they yell to us to climb the hill, that we can easily make it to the top if we only try, that we will have food if we do.
It’s a lie.
They set traps for us. Land mines and pits with sharpened bamboo. Gunshots erupt from the top. We flatten and they skip explosives down as if they’re stones across the water as we struggle upwards. My mate Aron says he can smell the food up top, just waiting for us, and before I can respond, he’s headed up. We call him Thin Aron because he’s always hungry. Always.
A continual fog layer blankets the top of the hill, keeping it from view. The fog, thick and cold, makes the ascent even harder, and it plays to the advantage of those on top, those we haven’t seen in many years. If you make it up to the top of the hill, if you survive the climb and then deal with the ones who live up there. If you survive all that, they accept you into their fold. You become one of the kings, but it doesn’t stop there. No, you must continue to fight for your space on top.
Through the fog, Aron shouts. He has made it to the top before and brought back hard bread and a handful of wild carrots. It was a feast that night. But once you come back down, you still have to fight your way back up.
I aim for the direction of Aron’s voice, keeping low to the ground on my chest. I have rubbed my body and scrap clothing with dirt and grass to blend in. I take my time, slowly advancing up the hill, yet again, the number lost to me over the years.
They say that time up on the hill changes you. That those up on top were once normal, were once our leaders; the time up there, drunk on power, changed them. That it made them more like animals, more brutish, no longer human. That’s the rumor from Aron. We can’t see them from the bottom. At the bottom we fight over their scraps. I am tiring of those scraps.
I’ve tried to reach the top many times but have always failed, my body flung down the hillside by those on top. But again I crawl slowly up, my head in the wet dirt, the smell of green and blood. Aron starts screaming. At first, I think he’s in trouble, but he’s made it to the top! I lift up my head from the ground to cheer him on but then something hard breaks against my skull, sending me to darkness.
My head throbs on one side. I reach up and feel a crusted scab and find a rock with blood. There’s all kinds of screaming and gun shots, but I shake off my fear and start to climb toward where I think Aron last was. A few yards up, in the dark, I bump into something. I find him face down on the hill, the back of his head soft and mushy like spoiled fruit.
Thin Aron won’t be hungry any longer.
I dig my hands into the dirt around him, a poor attempt to dig a hole in the wrong spot. I look at the wet ground, the dirt staining my hands, the small hole a soft wound in the hill. Then I dig out, my nails combing through the dirt like a rake, another loose ball of earth that I throw behind me.
I dig out another handful and then another. This is no longer just about Aron. Those down here with me drift over and see what I’m doing. If they have them, they take out their dull spoons and forks, the few remnants they have, and jam those implements into the soft dirt next to me. If not, we use our fingers to dig. More and more bodies join us as we excavate the dirt, the pile behind us growing higher, soon to be as higher than the hill itself.