Silence in the Wake of War

Submitted into Contest #26 in response to: Write a story about a musician struggling to find work during wartime.... view prompt

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Historical Fiction


Sometimes it seemed that the dead were louder than the living. 

The wind howled through the alleys and over the buildings like an angry spirit in search of vengeance. The trees shivered in its wake, their branches almost entirely bare of leaves in the wake of the winter's chill.

Nobody would leave their shelters to face the weather or the sad reality of what had become of their homes. Nobody spoke. 

Only one soul roamed the streets that day.

Her figure was almost indiscernible in the dark of the day. The clouds had obscured the sun, and everything in sight seemed gray and devoid of life. Had anyone seen the girl shuffling down the street, they would’ve thought her a phantom, or perhaps a reanimated corpse. 

She was mostly covered by a thin cloak that barely kept out the cold, but there were still flashes of skin exposed to the chilled air, and anyone could’ve seen those scars a mile away. Her face floated in the shadow of the hood, pale and hollow, a haunting apparition, battered and beaten. Named after a crater on Earth's Moon, her face seemingly resembled its topography. Tragically poetic was she. 

Her eyes, blue and clouded, stared unseeing at the gloomy landscape. There wasn’t much to see anyway. 

Her skin, once smooth and fair, was now forever scarred with the memory of everything she’d lost. She couldn’t remember how long it had been, but she knew that time would never be enough to heal her wounds. And no matter how many bombs they dropped, no matter how many fires they set, nothing could ever hurt her again. Not like then. 

Her hands peeked out from the long sleeves she wore under her cloak. They were cracked and discolored, much like the skin of her face. Pure white scars rose above her flesh and stretched across her hands and arms like thick spiderwebs, wrapping her forever in an inescapable chrysalis. 

Her breath came in ragged, heaving sighs as she limped through the ruins of her town. The walls that remained standing were splashed with graffiti, the living youths’ attempt at prayer and connection in a world where all that thrived was death. 

“God didn’t Die—He was Murdered,” claimed one of the painted messages. 

“Not with a bang but a whimper,” said another.

Much of the writing was poetry and sad goodbyes, angry cries for salvation, and art that would probably not survive the next five years.

But of course, the girl walked by all of this without stopping, for she could not see it. 

In her hands, I have neglected to mention, she clutched a beaten acoustic guitar that had miraculously survived everything with her. It was all she had left. 

She was once an artist and a poet, but the war had taken all that she was. Perhaps that’s what today had been about for her. Getting herself back. 

She continued her perilous journey slowly but surely, haunted by the ghosts of the past, unable to put them out of her mind even for a second. They resided in her head and in her heart, restless, chaotic, screaming—loud. She just wanted to listen to the living again. 

She finally came to rest on the dock of a bay where seagulls used to cry and children used to laugh. Now all that was left was the screaming of the wind and the slap of the water against the dock. It was so terribly lonely she could hardly bear it. 

Her worn shoes made quiet thumps as she followed the dock out as far as it would go. Perhaps one day it would be gone and she would just walk out to sea and drown, and finally be at peace. 

For now, she simply sat at the edge of the dock and let her feet dip into the freezing water with her shoes still on. 

Her fingers caressed the guitar in her lap, tracing the lines of the engraving she knew so well:

Rheita, 

Bring the world to its knees with your songs.

Love, 

Mom & Lily

The guitar seemed to hum sympathetically as she brushed its strings to fill the silence. She shivered in the cold, but didn’t move. The absence of the seagulls crying disturbed her deeply. It was too quiet in the outside world. 

Her fingers trembled with cold and with fear as she positioned the guitar in her arms the way she’d done so many times before. She hadn’t sung in so long. 

She cleared her throat, as if that would help, and squeezed her eyes shut, as if that would help.

She knew her voice would come out raspy and ugly. She had once upon a time been a beautiful singer. But after the fire, in the midst of a war, starving and dying, with smoke clouding her lungs, she was certain she would never sing that way again. 

She could remember fondly the days when she performed at small shows, mostly just to please her mother. But to have an audience again… To have someone hear you… She had taken that for granted. 

And now she could never have that piece of herself back. All she could do now was scream into the void with her broken voice in the hopes that it would bring her and her family peace. 

But Lily would have wanted this, her mother would have wanted this. So she took a deep breath, positioned her fingers on the strings, and began to sing. 

“The water is cold at my feet… 

But at least I feel.”

It came from her throat in a croak, and she winced but kept going. 

“The darkness is closing in on me—

But I’m still here.”

Her lungs were closing up, the words scratched her throat and burned her chest, but nevertheless—

“Can anybody hear me?

My whispers scream so loud. 

Is there anything left for me—

Or to this future am I bound?”

She paused, reflecting.

“When the fires start again tomorrow,

And when they drop the bombs,

Will I stay to see the rainbow, 

Or will I die by my own song?”

Her hand fell from the guitar into her lap. She waited. 

But the world was silent; the seagulls did not reply to her song. 

She suddenly felt something warm on her cheek, and when she reached up in surprise, she found that she was crying. 

She rubbed her fingers together, wetting them, feeling the tears spill down her skin. 

“I’m crying,” she said to the sky, as if this was a revelation. It did not answer. 

No one would answer. 

“I’m crying,” she said again, and suddenly, her heart constricted and her chest heaved, and sobs began to rack her body. 

She held her hands out to catch the teardrops, marveling at their weight, choking out sobs through her damaged throat. Her lungs burned as if the fire still raged on inside her body. 

She could feel herself being torn apart from the inside, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She was waging her own internal war, one she did not understand but knew she had to end. All she wanted was to find peace within the chaos. 

I can’t tell you for how long she sat on that dock, crying into her old guitar, nor can I tell you what happened to her the next day, or the day after that. There is one thing I can give you, however. Hope. 

For when she stood to make the journey back to her shelter, shivering and sniffling, a sound made her stop. She spun around, holding her breath, praying that it wasn’t just her imagination. And then she heard it again, and she let out a sigh along with the rest of the world, and the tears came once again.

It was the cry of a seagull. 

January 31, 2020 09:52

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2 comments

Claire Tucker
06:50 Feb 06, 2020

Hi Jade, this is a beautiful, albeit sad, story. Your opening sentence made me sit up and take notice, and I love your use of sound imagery throughout. Well done.

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Jade Stoll
06:38 Feb 08, 2020

Thank you so much for your comment! You made my day :)

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