The War Alone

We were never meant for this. Bleeding, dying. There’s no art or grace in being smashed apart. We’re too fragile. Each strike breaks a bone. Each blow splits the skin. Blood puddles and splashes. Are we alive or dead? There’s more meat here than man. The roars went on forever and the world collapsed around us in screams and fire. Finally the afternoon faded away, and smoke was replaced by a bitter mist that ran down the walls and mixed our blood into the sodden carpet.
Evening brought quiet and stillness for a time, we could breathe again. I say we. Fourteen of us had sought shelter together in the hollow ruin of the end terrace house. Old number 54. When we ran in through the garden – a series of craters and blown mud – there was no trace of the elderly couple who used to live there. We stumbled into the back of their house, through the hole that joined windows and door into a wide grin. We heaped their furniture up to the wall and crawled between the gaps.
We held hands, closed our eyes and waited for the end. Fingers clenched tighter with the heavy blows, as our barricade shifted, as the screams drew nearer, as the explosions rattled our teeth. And then my friends’ grip weakened. The world became nothing but a constant sound that filled my body and all of my thoughts.
My mind came back to me, filled with pain. Everything was calm again, except for the constant drip and drip of the rain. I let go of Alice’s hand, and Ryan’s. Their fingers fell away from mine like twigs from a tree. The others were just a bloody pulp, ground down under wood and brick. I had more of them in my hair and clothes than they did on themselves. It was just me now, but I couldn’t yet say so. I pretended to myself that they were still alive. We talked about autumn, and nonsense and inconsequential things: our favourite books, possible uses for the tiny pocket on the right calf of my trouser leg, lasagna… I realised I didn’t know anything about Ryan, so we didn’t have much to talk about. Soon I had to stop talking because my chest hurt where something heavy had fallen on me. It was getting dark, and it wasn’t so reassuring to pretend my friends were still alive when they were just dripping shadows in the night.
When I was quiet, apart from the catch in my breath I realised I wasn’t completely alone. Improbable as it seemed, Buttons the kitten who Alice had found in a shed yesterday, was still with me. She mewled softly in the metal box Alice had stuffed her into. Bent and warped, and now smelling of upset cat, Alice had protected it. I pulled the box out of her shredded limbs. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to bend the lid enough to pull her out, the poor shaking thing. She was wet with blood and her own fear.
I stroked her ears and cuddled her tightly. I felt a wash of pity and sympathy for the tiny creature. She had even less idea what was happening than I did. It was ridiculous; surrounded by death she gave me hope where I ought to have had none. There was nowhere to wash her, except in our friends blood so I unzippped my jacket and gently pushed her inside. Cat memories are so short. In a few minutes she stopped shaking and started to purr. I fell asleep too.

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