If they saw him, he was dead.
Anger and fear twisting in his gut, the boy shrank into the prickly, inadequate cover of shrubs lining the path. He held his breath, fearing they might hear it.
The officer came first, marching with the precise cadence learned in the military academy. The two prisoners followed him, their steps shuffling and uneven, as if their feet hurt. Behind them came two soldiers, prodding them on with an occasional, cruelly directed rifle butt.
The boy's breath rasped in his throat, and he bit back a gasp of rage as the smaller prisoner tripped and fell, collapsing like a bundle of rags.
Fitful moonlight bathed the scene as the other prisoner stooped over the woman and tugged at her. She moaned, struggling to rise. Pushing the man aside, one of the soldiers kicked the woman and forced her to her feet. The boy clenched his fist against his mouth to stop his own scream as the woman cried out in pain.
The prisoners stumbled up the hill, driven by guttural curses. Keeping his head low, the boy followed.
At the crest of the hill, buffeted by a light wind, he paused. Below him, the city sprawled in a spangle of lights. The cone of Lykavettos, crowned by a white church etched in moonlight, rose against a faintly orange sky. A necklace of candles formed a looping garland as the Easter worshippers left the church and made their way home.
Here, on the mountain, no one celebrated the resurrection. They only celebrated terror and death.
The boy turned away, forcing his reluctant feet down the path in the wake of the prisoners and their captors. He hurried to catch up, his eyes fixed on the beam of the flashlight held by the officer. The astringent odor of pine trees stung his nostrils, and he knew he wouldn't be seen in the dense shadows they laid on the path.
The group ahead had stopped in a clearing overlooking a heavily wooded ravine. Taking cover in a thicket of shrubs, the boy crept as close as he dared, oblivious to the thorns ripping at his hands and arms. The elusive scent of early poppies crushed beneath the soldiers' boots rose from the ground, sickening in its sweetness.
He crouched again, a peculiar fatalism gripping his emotions and mercifully rendering them numb. It was too late, too late. His parents were about to die, and there was nothing he or anyone else could do. He touched the packet hidden inside his shirt, reassured by the crackle of the airline ticket that rested there. After it was over, he would carry out his father's last wish.
Tomorrow he would be gone, away from the madness that held the country in a relentless vise. But tonight, tonight he had to witness the final, agonizing farewell.
The ominous click of cocked pistols pulled his attention back to the group at the edge of the ravine. His numbness receded. A searing anguish flooded his body, clawing at his heart. Two shots rang out, flat, harsh reports that didn't carry beyond the clearing, an execution carried out in secret with deadly efficiency.
The boy's body jerked spasmodically at the sound. "No!" he wanted to scream, but an instinct for self-preservation he couldn't override closed his throat.
His own death would only prove that the oppressors had won. He had to live. He bit down on the inside of his cheek, welcoming the metallic taste of his own blood as tears scalded his face.
"A slide," the officer ordered. "Make sure they won't be found."
It was over. The boy's low-pitched moan was inaudible as a rumble more terrible than an earthquake he dimly remembered shook the night.
"Done." The officer's voice was cold, emotionless, as if he'd disposed of a minor inconvenience that hindered the smooth running of the military system.
He turned and struck a match, holding it to his cigarette. In the brief flare the boy saw his hand. The smallest finger was peculiarly bent.
He frowned. Strange. Then its significance hit him. The man had an extra finger on his left hand. Impotent sorrow gave way to a grim elation. A distinctive mark. He would be able to identify the man when he met him again.
The soldiers left, one of them making some remark that caused the others to laugh, a macabre sound that lacerated the boy's raw emotions.
When the tramp of their boots had been swallowed by the night, the boy rose to his feet, creeping over to the rock slide. All traces of the night's murder had been obliterated.
He stood for an instant, his lips moving in a prayer for their souls. Silently, grimly, he made the sign of the cross, his first two fingers and his thumb joined to touch his forehead, his chest, his right shoulder, his left, repeated three times.
Laying his palm over his heart, he lifted his tear-wet face to the sky. He clenched the other hand into a fist and raised it over his head. It didn't matter that he was only sixteen. He was the only one left in his family, suddenly projected into manhood by an act of barbarism too awful to contemplate.
Shaking his fist at the sky, he shouted, "I'll find him. I, Dion Parris, will find him. And I will make him pay."