Silent tears spilled over from horrified eyes. Standing as she was, she saw an angry world, destroying the very thing it had helped to create. Balancing on the precipice, entrusting her body to the sure stone, she knelt, paying homage to that which had once been. Her knees pressed against the gravel, she raised her head, the merciless wind stinging the cool tracks her tears had left. Her dark hair whipped around her face, billowing in the gust of cold air, teasing into snarls and tangles. No longer weeping, the wind had stolen her tears; she stared at the devastation in front of her, willing the image into her heart. Her hands clenched around the gravel, forcing several of the stones to pierce her skin, her blood mixing, crimson with the pale yellow. From below she was the image of an outraged spirit, returned from beyond to find only death where there had once been life; but from above she was only a speck of dust, easily swept aside in favour of larger things.
Her broken heart shattered further, grating like cut glass in her chest, as she surveyed the ravaged landscape. Before her buildings that had once stood tall and proud now lay in pieces, broken and battered on the harsh earth. Tiny worlds of their own, which had once thrived, were now empty of people, of hope, of life in its totality. Fractured beyond repair, even the wind had abandoned the lifeless town. Silence and stillness encompassed wholly all that remained.
As she watched, spirals of smoke twisted through the air, yearning for heights they would never quite reach. Desolation filled her eyes so she turned her face away; away from the smouldering embers of a town, a life she once knew – now just another image on a bleak canvas.
Between one heartbeat and the next she rose to her feet, new purpose lending her the will to move from the rocks, away from the precipice and onto the sand. It pooled between bare toes, hot and fine, as the scent of sun-soaked grains filled her nose, inciting a quiet wish for a cool breeze and the clean scents that accompanied it.
Barefoot as she was, she padded across the sand, leaving no imprint behind her as she entered the tortured carcass of a town. Vultures had already swept through. Rhythmic in her movements she trailed her fingertips across the remains of a mud-brick wall. Walking past, her fingertips absent-mindedly scraped across the bricks, rough and uneven, it made her skin tingle. While the sensation lingered in an empty corner of her mind, it was an anguished rage that built in the forefront. Standing tall in the centre of a forgotten world, she peered around, her eyes sweeping over the broken walls, scattered wood and building sand, and felt a burning fury boil in her belly and race like fire through her veins.
The touch of the sun on her skin and the sand on her toes became inconsequential. All she could feel was the heat inside her, a rage to match that of the sun. Burning bright and hot in her head and her heart, it writhed and wrangled inside her mind, consuming everything with its burning wrath. Spinning on her heel, she faced the way she had come, a long, lonely walk, and began to run. Her feet on the sand mirrored her frenzied heartbeat; consciously she knew not where she travelled; only that she knew she must go.
She paid no heed to the darkening sky as she crossed the cooling sand. The night sky brought with it darkness and a cold wind that blistered heated skin. Wind whipped around her body, ethereal fingers tugging at dark hair and worn fabric but still she ignored the warning. Once, near midnight, the black backdrop was broken by a gleam of white. The moon broke through the heavy clouds; an innocent in the company of shadows. But she was offered only a glimpse before the shy goddess hid once again behind her dark veil. Surrounded by the darkness once more, she ran faster, the pounding of her feet was the only sound that broke the hazy quiet. After numerous hours, the surface of the ground was recognised in her mind, hard, uneven and unrelenting; she was nearing…
Desperation pulsed through her veins as her strength was steadily depleted. Each beat of her blood was another one closer. She focused on that fact, narrowing her vision until that sound was her world. She revelled in it, she ran with no song in her heart but with her blood drumming in her ears. The steady beat stirred her anger back into tempestuous life. With new rage to fuel her body, she surged forward, ignoring all complaints from her tired limbs. She could only promise rest within hours. It was an empty promise. She had nowhere to go, nowhere to stay and nowhere to run back to but to a broken world filled only with tears and tragedy.
Prejudice and idle threats had become common in past months, hissed from harsh mouths with cracked lips and sharp tongues between them. Such blatant tyranny was enough to draw a tear but on the heels of idle threats follows tragedy which draws not tears, but blood. Her home had been destroyed; ransacked and burnt by angry men. A call to war had been issued and had been answered by many. The opening act in her small town had been the destruction of her home, her family and her own naïve innocence. Such innocence had protested that such evil could not be present in the hearts of men. How absolutely she had been proved wrong. There was no forgiveness in her heart and no absolution in her soul for the men who had taken everything from her. She held fervent hope that the fires of Hell were burning at their feet and that they writhed in their beds every night, wracked with the guilt for the sins they had committed. Unfortunately, justice in this form was unlikely to have occurred in these backward times. Justice was no longer true in this war; it was a cover for the pride and anger that cursed the hearts of men who pretended to exact it. There was no justice in this world, she knew, or else she would have felt some small satisfaction knowing those men were suffering for their sins.
The dim glow of lights interrupted her thoughts, the slight haze, a Will-o’-wisp luring her closer with whispered lies. Light promised civilisation but there was no civility to be found in the place she approached. Frozen with one foot in the firing line, she couldn’t move, unsure of where to turn to. Unable to resist she felt her body turn towards the outskirts of the town. Traipsing through the parched soil and sand her mind tried to dig in its heels at the thought of returning but her feet wouldn’t listen – one foot in front of the other while she fought a losing battle with her body. Her strained muscles faltered as they caught sight of home. Her heart ached for home, there was a void inside of her-an innocent inner child begging for the love it had spent a long time starved of. Her trembling knees buckled and she collapsed in the dirt a few metres from the ruins of her childhood home. Drawing in a choking breath, her broken sob echoed in the encroaching dark…
Memories of scorching heat assaulted her, leaving her blind to the outside world. She collapsed sideways, her body refusing to co-operate, exhausted as it was. So she lay seizing on the ground, her muscles rippled and shuddered constantly as her mind tried to reject the pictures. Images of flames and smoke crashed into her; arching her body and ripping a scream from her throat. For one awful moment, she was back in her room in the house. She had woken from a dreamless sleep. She was the only one in the entire house still half-awake. Her heavy eyes were on the verge of closing again when a slight scent teased her nose; desperate to be acknowledged. Wisps of smoke mocked her like malevolent spirits, allowing a quick glimpse of her fate. Lifting her light blanket from her clammy limbs she twisted on the cotton sheet, the threads scratching her skin. Her feet sank into plush rug that carpeted her floor but she hardly noticed. The smell of smoke filled her nose, forcing her brain into overload when she saw the ghostly fingers of grey smoke creeping in from under the door. Time slowed and the sound of her breath was the only one that broke the silence as smoke began to steal into her lungs.
It was as if time was elastic, where it had been stretched, now it sprang back. Noise: screams and flames and jeers flooded her. She ran to the door, grabbing the door handle, twisting only to find it was locked. Her eyes searched frantically for the key, shifting wildly as fear rose like bile in her throat. Panting with panic her fingers scrabbled at the lock, tearing skin and nail as she scratched frantically at the wood and metal. Her chest tight and eyes leaking, she slid to her knees in the smoke, coughing, fighting for breath.
Kneeling on her hands and knees, her head down, she fell further onto her belly as smoke leaked into her blood, poison spreading in her veins. She fell back, screaming inside her head, fingers scraping at the ground, fighting even though there was no escape. She thrashed on the ground, her vision dimming, darkening. Her body relaxed, giving up the fight as the inevitable became clear. Her eyes slid closed, all panic and fear disappearing and replaced by resignation…
Consciousness pricked her eyes, salty tears burning them from beneath her eye-lids. One by one they leaked from her, cool and wet; and trickled down her skin until they caressed her lips, stinging as they slid through the cracks. She opened her eyes as the light grew too bright to bear. Her eyes were open but she couldn’t see: the world was bleached by the orange-tinged light. She raised her hand and shielded her eyes, the shadows created granting her some brief relief.
Suddenly, the light retreated, allowing her a look at the creature clutching the light. Recognition swept through her; her heart clenching at the sight of one of the soldiers, one who had jeered as he watched the inferno consume her home. The urge to scream was overwhelming, to lash out and draw blood from the man. She stared into his empty eyes as the demon on her shoulder urged her on, whispering thick poison into her ear. She threw her head to one side, fighting the need for revenge. She pressed her face into the cool, dry soil, gritting her teeth so no wicked words could fight their way out. Clenching her jaw she twisted to stare daggers into the man, unadulterated hate and anger to shining from her eyes. She rose to her feet, never releasing his gaze, as she used her hands to lever herself upright. Neither body moved, by raising her fingers she could have touched him.
They stood for many seconds, stretched long and tight. She drew in a breath and watched as his chest moved in unison with hers. Slowly, gradually she raised her eyes again until their gazes met once more. She stared into his eyes and prayed that the eyes are not a window to the soul for if it was; this man was cold and empty inside. As she gazed into the abyss she balked at the pure nothingness. Blinking as tears streamed down her face, she retreated back inside her head, to a place where she could ask the question her heart begged her to. “Why?”
“This is war.”