by Del Gibson
TW: Scenes of war.
The bombs dropped as we ran for our lives. The sky, blood red, rain pouring buckets, making the ground slippery beneath my feet. Each time another one landed, the ground shook – as we sped along the street, joining others in the mad dash into the forest surrounding our village. I turn to my brother Nate; his skin is ashen, he is shivering – pure terror on his face. We run and run until we are nearly out of breath. We run through the forest and take cover under the lip of an enormous rockface. Ahead the trees are on fire.
We were at home, everything was normal…
“Nathan, take your cap off at the table,” Dad whips it from his head. “Did you finish your project son?” he asks my twin brother.
“Dad, I already told you, I have finished, I’m just proofreading it now to make sure it is perfect,” ever the perfectionist.
“Yeah like that would ever happen, stupid,” I say belligerently, poking my tongue at him.
Mum is dishing out mashed potatoes and plonking the fluffy white delight onto our plates, with salad – she’s the best cook. She should have been a chef, not a Journalist, though admittedly she is small town famous where we live. She recently wrote a series of articles about the war overseas, there is growing fear it will turn nuclear. So far, millions of people have been displaced, ripped from their homes, had them bombed to pieces, and many have died. Mum says she doesn’t want us to read her articles, says it is too frightening to read. She says we need to just be kids and that reading stuff like that is not for the eyes of youngsters, she still thinks we are twelve-years-old! But my curious 15-year-old self knows how to buy a newspaper and where to hide them so Mum doesn’t find out. It’s hypocritical of her, really, considering my twin is writing an essay about the realities of war – he’s writing about the Holocaust.
I am munching on fried chicken and mashed potatoes, while I think about those families who can’t eat together anymore. I have a vivid imagination I am told, and always have – according to Dad. Although I can imagine the devastation, the consequences of war, I can’t fully grasp the concept of what it would feel like to no longer have a house to go home to after school. Or not having a school at all! Wishful thinking. What would it be like to walk for days and days to escape to a place of safety? What would happen to Anya my BFF? Or my crush Hayden Smith?
“…earth to Tessa, anyone home?” I clear my eyes and look at my family, why are they staring at me like that?
“What?” I ask, puzzled.
“Where did you go sweetie? Dad asked you a question,” Mum’s beautiful voice softly pulls me back to the present.
“Just day dreaming. Sorry. I was just…I was thinking about my assignment,” change of subject.
After dinner and dishes I head up to my bedroom to finish my History study on the life of Albert Einstein. He was a fascinating man indeed. His theory of relativity changed the face of the world as we know it. I look at the clock, it tells me it is already 9:30 p.m. Shit I’ve been at it for two hours and I still have a ways to go…a yawn makes my eyes water.
Suddenly, there is a rumble above the house, it sounds like thunder, but it’s not because it doesn’t stop. Then a loud explosion in the distance has me jumping from my study desk in fright – sending the chair flying backwards. I go out into the hallway to see if anyone else had heard it; Nate’s door is shut, but I can hear him playing Warcraft. I make my way to our folks bedroom; Mum is asleep with her laptop on the bed and her side light on. At the top of the stairs, I hear the TV going, so Dad must be watching the late-night news. I head down to query him, as I can still hear the noise that sounds like thunder rumbling, but now it feels like a vibration coming through the floor. I enter the living room.
“Dad, what’s that noise?” I ask, bringing him out of his doze.
He turns down the volume with the remote.
“What was that Tess? What noise?”
I probably imagined it: I console myself.
“Never mind,” I say.
I leave him there glued to the carnage on the TV, Dad shaking his head as missiles explode over a small township, people running, the place is lit up with fire…Entering the kitchen, I go for the fridge, I love milk before I go to sleep, but sometimes it gives me nightmares. As I’m gulping back my drink, the power suddenly goes out, plunging me into total darkness. What the hell? I navigate my way into the living room, and call out to Dad. He is no longer in his Lazy-Boy chair.
“Dad, where are you?”
No reply. He must have gone into the basement to check the circuit board. I look out the window, all the power is off in the neighbouring houses and the street lights are out too. That strange noise is getting louder, the vibration pulsing through me. I go to the basement door, but it is locked up tight, so Dad isn’t in there sorting out the power, where is he? I have a sudden sense of dread, not knowing where this feeling is coming from, I shake it off and head upstairs. When I make it to the top, I yell out to my family.
“Dad, Mum, Nate, where are you all?”
Fear grips me hard…it makes me run. I run into my folks bedroom, expecting them to both be in bed. My phone! It’s in my pocket, I must have grabbed it when I left my bedroom. I switch on the torch function and scan the room. No parents. I check the bed, empty. I check the en-suite, empty too. So I run straight to my brother’s room and barge in without knocking.
“What the hell Tess, you gave me a fright!”
“You hear that too don’t you?” I ask him.
“Yeah, what is it? And what the fuck happened to the power?” he asks, getting off the bed, coming towards me, that’s when we both hear it…
BANG! There is an explosion in the street, it rocks the house beneath me. We run to the window, and the street is on fire! Hard rain hits the window. The rumbling has stopped and now it’s an electronic pulse, it spreads through my body, momentarily stunning me. Through the window we see people running out of their homes and along the street, some carrying their screaming children.
“Nate, we need to get out of here,” I scream in his face – he grips my arm, he is shaking.
“Yip, let’s go. But we need to find Mum and Dad,” he runs from the room, leaving me shocked at the scene outside.
“Come on!” he screams from the hallway.
We search and yell for them, but they are nowhere. The next blast sends items falling all around us – it’s so close; my ears are ringing. I’m so scared my teeth are chattering. Where are our parents? Suddenly I am overcome with fear, so we bolt it out the front door and join the others running along the street. I spot Mr. and Mrs. Harris, I baby sit for them sometimes, I run towards them, dragging my brother by the arm.
“Mr. Harris, what is going on?” I ask as we jog beside them.
“Oh, Tessa and Nate. We are being attacked,” he says gripping little Billie in his arms.
“But why? Who?” I ask breathless.
“They are bombing us; I don’t know who!” he stops to take a breather at the very edge of the forest.
“Who is they?” I slow my breathing – I am nearly out of breath.
Another explosion, this time I look back and all of our houses are on fire. This breaks me as I tremble in fear. Our beautiful home is in flames. I can’t believe what I am seeing. It’s like a nightmare, but I am awake. Nate is pulling at my arm to flee, but I need more answers.
“Tell me, who is doing this!” he moves little Billie into his other arm.
“To be honest, they don’t know who, or which country is doing this to us. I was watching the news when the White House was blown to pieces, right there on TV. The power went out so I don’t know anything more,” his face is full of terror.
Mrs Harris is lugging their cat Coco in a cage. Running with their child and pet, this saddens me to the core.
“Have you seen our parents?”
“No love, sorry. Come on Angela, we have to get out of here. Bye kids, get somewhere safe,” and they leave us there, alone.
We run into the forest. The trees are on fire. We hide under the lip of a rockface to catch our breaths.
“Nate, we need to come up with a plan,” my throat is on fire, my eyes sting.
"Do you think they dropped chemical bombs? I’ve been reading up on chemical weapons, these could be those, they eat your brain! They call them biochemical warfare,” he’s drenched and shivering.
“I don’t want to know about bombs, we have to plan. I think we should head to the river, it’s probably our best bet,” a cold shiver passes through me.
I can’t catch my breath. I feel dizzy and lightheaded. And another bomb lights up the scene. The forest is on fire and in the flash from the bomb, there are dead bodies on the ground. I scream and scream until Nate covers my mouth.
“Shut up! Can you hear it?”
I do: it sounds like gun fire. I am puzzled, who would be shooting? Then I see them in the distance, the light from the shot blasts, I realise they are not guns but some sort of lasers. It pulverizes the environment, there are people blown to bits, blood and gore splatter the trees. Children screaming for their parents, parents screaming for their children. What the hell is going on? The chaos is beyond belief. Everything is happening so fast I can’t keep up with it all. So we run towards the river, it’s not far to go.
On our way we have to take cover again, this time in the hollow of a tree. We used to play here when we were kids, so we know this place well. There is a rustling of trees, branches snapping. We are both frozen to the spot as we see something hideous coming towards us. It isn’t human. It is all black, shimmering and seems to blend in with the environment. There are two of them, heading right for us. As they get nearer, I can see them more clearly. They are semi-metallic; I can tell this by the light from the fires reflecting off their bodies. They have huge red eyes, and four arms. They are at least seven feet tall. Their heads are large and oval. Scared that they can see us, I scrunch into a ball. Nate is trembling beside me, hugging his legs and rocking back and forth. The creatures are talking to each other, but not in a language I have ever heard; it sounds like beeping and clicking. Huddled there we listen as they walk past us, into the trees. Slowly, we come out of the tree. The rumbling has returned and it is drawing closer, getting louder.
“Come on, we have to run!” I scream.
He is getting slow, his breath laboured as we skirt around the trees, jump over what is most probably dead bodies, but I don’t want to look. Finally, the river appears in front of us. Others have made it here too. They are gathered on the banks, and some are hiding in the bushes. We sit on the grass in an opening. My eyes scan the area for our parents, but I can’t really see that well, my eyes are burning. The sounds war makes is horrifying. People are crying, some are screaming. They are calling out for their loved ones.
More explosions in the distance, scares me, they seem to be getting closer. What will happen if they find us all here? Where are our parents? Why did they leave us to fend for ourselves? It doesn’t make any sense, none of this does! They wouldn’t have just left us, they wouldn’t! Suddenly I feel overcome with grief, we are alone now, just the two of us. We are too young to live without our parents. I should have been nicer to my brother, but all we do is fight. It pisses our parents off, causes fights between Mum and Dad. I know I have been ungrateful, not fully appreciating the things our parents have done for us over the years. I should have listened when they gave me advise, all they were trying to do was protect us from the big bad world.
I thought I knew everything, didn’t need their advice or their snooping into my life. Grumbling through dinner because I hate peas, or yelling at my Mum because she cleaned my bedroom! Now it’s too late and I can’t have that time back. I should have said yes, when Dad asked if I needed help with Math's. I said no, because I didn’t want to spend time with him. It was so different when we were little. I was a Daddies girl; I loved my Dad. Riding on his shoulders, him swinging me around, me giggling in pure delight. Mum brushing my hair, telling me how beautiful and clever I am. All of the memories finally turn into giant sobs that practically engulf me, trying to pull me under. I hug my brother and together we cry into each other, like we used to do when we were kids and one of us got told off. Now I will never get the chance to tell them I love them. It’s been years since I uttered those words. If they were here I would make it up to them, love them more, appreciate the life I had.
“Tessa, what are we going to do? Where are we going to live?” Nate asks, in between sobs.
“I don’t know. I guess we have to wait until morning. Are you tired?”
“Yes, shattered. I am sad too. I want our parents,” he cries even harder.
I think about the hideous creatures we saw in the forest. Are they Aliens come to destroy the human race? Does it have anything to do with the war overseas? I am trying to rationalise this, when all of a sudden we turn towards a loud sound coming from the border between the river and the forest. Something huge is crashing through the trees, it is flattening them in its wake. What the hell?
“Nate, we need to leave this place, it is too open. Should we get into the cave?”
He looks lost and abandoned. He is about to answer, when suddenly beams of light appear above us. People are screaming as they are being lifted off the ground and taken into something I cannot see. Is it camouflaged? Their screams prompt me into action. We get up and run as red lasers crisscross the area, destroying people where they stand.
“Get to the cave Tess, it’s our only hope.”
We run for our lives as the horrendous sounds of screams and wails permeate the air. When we make it to the cave, we hide behind a rock. We wait for what feels like forever, hoping for the breaking dawn to come. Then there is a noise at the entrance to the cave. It could be people taking cover, we aren’t the only ones who know about this place. It’s a small cave, so we can see the entrance clearly. I sneak a look, and in utter bewilderment, I watch as in slow motion, the creatures come towards us with their lasers aimed into the cave. We are going to die here. We have lost everything; our parents, our home, and now probably our lives. They see us, come in our direction, and I scream and scream and scream…
I wake up. I am in my bedroom sitting at my desk. I am confused. Dad is talking to me; I must be dead.
“Honey, go to bed, it’s past midnight,” his voice seems to come from a faraway land.
“Tessa, seriously, get to bed.”
It’s my Dad, he is real and I am so shocked, I run to him and throw my arms around him and hold on as tight as I can.
“Whoa, what’s got into you?” he asks, hugging me back so tight I could die here and be happy.
“Dad, I had the worst nightmare ever,” I tell him as he tucks me into bed and kisses my forehead.
“Get some sleep, tell me about it in the morning, okay?”
“Okay Dad,” I say as he walks towards the door. “Dad, I love you!” he turns to me.
“Sweetheart, I love you too! To the moon and back.”
I’m too shattered to think about the nightmare. I drift off with love pulsing through me, and a new found appreciation for everything I have in my life. Sleep comes and all is well in my world. I am safe in my bed; it was just a nightmare that is someone else’s reality.
Copyright © Gibson, Del 2022