The Letter

Mako surveyed the desolate sight that had once been his home.


It was no longer a home, but a ruptured thread that had tied him to the core of Artiget. As he looked around now, Mako didn’t know where he stood. He had walked this path a million times yet it was no longer the same path. It was not the snow, or the debris or, at some distance, the sickly sight of two eagles ripping pieces from the neighbour’s dog, which had probably ventured out in complete oblivion and not made it back before the storm hit.


It wasn’t all that. It was the emptiness. The broken glass of shattered windows littered the ground, ghostly half-broken houses stood crookedly in the mild wind, bits of furniture here and there, broken in half or crumpled under a fallen tree or wall. And not another human in sight. The desertedness of the village destroyed all recognition that Mako had of Artiget and made his heart ache with the pain of not knowing how many close ones he had lost. All of them?


He kicked his foot into a mound of snow. They had looked everywhere – all around the site that had once supported his family’s little wooden home. At one point, Mako had thought he could hear a weak plea for help, but that had just been his wilful imagination. The house had been broken down by the hungry storms; pottery and wooden panels and clothes and blankets had been strewn around amongst the debris belonging to the rest of the village, some bits crushed together, some torn and broken and covered by heavy piles of snow.


Despite Mako and Ari’s loudest calls, Eliza hadn’t answered. The cow was gone, the chicken, the proud rooster that was always up before anyone else every morning, stirring up a fight with one of the neighbours’ roosters before Eliza would come to shush the fiery little male. Only the cellar had remained intact. The walls had cracked and shifted under the pressure, and had trembled as Mako and Ari descended the crooked steps, darting nervous glances at each other's unreadable faces every time a creak sounded louder than it should and wanting to run back and escape the stale confines of the underground, but still...still going. There they found an empty dark room, the smells of jam and cheese and grain and meat all wafting together till Mako had to run back outside to quell the fear and nausea that threatened at the back of his throat.


If his mother wasn’t there, perhaps she had been killed, just like so many other silent villagers that hadn’t answered their calls, hit by a door or a piece of wood as the house collapsed onto itself and blew apart in the raging winds. Was there another possibility? Mako kicked the snow again, fighting back angry tears, and winced as his foot collided against something hard.


The sound rang in his ears and pain throbbed for a few seconds in his big toe, but Mako didn’t notice any of that. Crouching immediately, he dug through the snow to pull out a wet wooden box, not larger than the pot Eliza had been cooking soup in when Ari had turned up at their fence…it seemed like such a long time ago now.






“It’s a box, it doesn’t have ears. Open it!”


Mako sighed as Ari crossed the path from where she had been standing some distance away and pulled the box away from him, wrenching the wet brown lid open.


As it creaked and fell away, the metal joints that had kept the lid stuck firmly to the base cracking from the impact, as if they had been waiting for the moment for someone to come and free them from their binding role, Mako saw Ari’s mouth and eyes open first in confusion and then in horror.


“What is it?” Not wasting any time, he grabbed the box away from Ari’s gloved hands and stared into it, trying to discern the objects within.


There was a letter, and a beautiful hand-knitted woollen shawl that Mako’s father had gifted his mother the day Mako was born. He had seen Eliza wear it every day after his father’s disappearance, and then, one day, she had stopped. Mako hadn’t seen that shawl since all those years ago… And now it was here, before him, as if some sign amongst the hollowness of this silent, broken village.


“Read the letter,” Ari urged him. She had never been taught to read by her parents. They had never gotten around to it, Mako supposed. Or they hadn’t wanted to. Many people that had learnt to read had left Artiget. Perhaps Ari’s parents had feared that...


Eliza had taught Mako to read by reading him passages from the old Bible that always stood in its place on the little dressing table in her room. When he was younger, he would reach up onto his tiptoes, pull the heavily bound book and place it in Eliza’s hands, who would sit by the living room fireplace, flames crackling and reflecting in her beautiful, thoughtful eyes, and read the evening away, showing Mako the different symbols and whole words, until soon it was he who read the stories and teachings, lulling Eliza, and then Eliza and sweet, little Marta, into an undisturbed sleep while the comforting fire crackled away.


Blinking rapidly, Mako found himself staring at the yellowed paper before him, squinting at the cursive writing he now realised must had been his mother’s. He had never seen her write anything of her own, but she had loved to read. Her own mother had taught her that, he knew.


“It says…” Mako tried to discern the individual letters just as Eliza had taught him, and then the words, until finally he could read the sentences. “It says: ‘When you became old enough, I wished to explain to you the real story behind your father’s disappearance. But I am not there to tell you the true, understandable reasons – though the town would never have understood – for Khaero’s disappearance. This shawl…meant a lot to me. I hope it is enough for him to recognise you, to know you for who you are, Mako, when you go to find him. He was a fine man, Mako. I am sure he still is. And the reasons for his departure…well, if you want to know, find him. If you are reading this letter, it is because, sadly, or perhaps not – I do not know – I am not there to answer your questions. And if I am not there, something must have happened to leave you by yourself. Yet I hope you are not alone, that you have someone there with you. But even if not… Mako, seek your father – Khaero. Seek him down the face of this mountain and across the straight of green that I once took you to in the summer to play in the stream by the rocks where we sunbathed later that afternoon. Seek him further out, and I am sure you will find him, and, when you find him, that he will make sure you are not alone.’”


“Mako.” Ari’s voice had lost its demanding tone, replaced now by a quiet empathy as she searched out his gaze. “You will find him, won’t you?”


Mako stared at Ari and then back at the letter, re-reading the passage over and over again, wondering what Eliza had meant by the village not being able to understand, if they had known, the real reason for his father’s disappearance. Had Khaero’s fall into the mountain gorge been a lie? Or had there been more to the story that Mako had been too young to know? Or understand?


“I will find him, Ari.” Determination suddenly fuelled Mako from the inside, and he felt a warm buzz of fire gurgling from the depths of his chest, as if a fever had taken him and was about to devour him from within. Only it was not a fever. It was anger, and will, and the urge to fight for survival, all broiling into one need… to find his father.


“No, Mako,” Ari stood up, breaking Mako out of his still trance as she dragged him up to stand before her. She clutched his hands, which remained firmly wrapped around Eliza’s letter. “We will find him.”

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Ooh the image of the eagles ripping pieces from the dog made me shudder. This sentence becomes passive and works against the active "It wasn’t all that. It was the emptiness." Try re-writing it using specific language that describes the things that capture the emptiness. Yes, try describing the impact that has on Mako by describing his body language.

Describe the trembing staircase as they descend into the cellar. What does that do to their body language and to each other. They'd be communicating. what do they sound like?

That paragraph that reveals Eliza's desire for him to find his father is fabulous. That is the quest now firmly laid out.

The end is excellent. Full of urgency and determination and just three words does the trick. We want to go on that journey with them!

Thank you, Suraya! I'll get on that!!!