Her young blue eyes were now redundant, complete darkness had engulfed the room. Her waiflike ears could clearly hear the reports of automatic weapons, now closer than they had ever been. She crouched alone, in the corner of her bedroom, against a red rocking chair, a family heirloom given by her Grandmother. She wondered if she would survive long enough to pass it onto her children, should she have any. Fear was welling up inside her, clouding her thoughts, destroying her logic. She had survived the war so far, so who was to say she would not one day see the peace being called. Then she could marry and have children, to whom she could then pass on the red rocking chair to.
A shell exploded nearby, to the west of her, amongst the shops where she purchased designer clothes, leather hand crafted shoes and handbags. No more did she venture to that part of the city, snipers now hid amongst the burnt and looted shops. Only if she had to would she leave the relative safety of her flat. Then it was just for just food or water, there was nothing else to buy in the pockmarked roads and streets, shops were now nothing more than a man beside a crate, with stale bread, mouldy fruit and cloudy water.
In the total blackness she tried to picture her room as it had been before the war, it would take her mind off the shells and bullets that seemed to be moving towards her. It front of her was a window, the lace curtains had long since gone and the window panes were now boarded up with sheets of thick timber, a protection again stray shrapnel. Under the window had been a regency dressing table, with two drawers either side of the knee hole, each draw had an inlaid pattern of wood, birds, exotic birds of paradise, with colourful plumes of feathers tailored from small slivers of wood and polished to such a gloss that the morning sun would reflect off it and fill the room with a simmering light. Each morning she would brush and comb her long silky brunette hair, which cascaded over her shoulders. Pulling the brush through her hair she looked into the mirror, hoping to see the man she would one day marry. She never did see a face there; maybe she would never marry, maybe there would be no men left in this war torn city to marry. Maybe she would never live long enough to find that man of her dreams. War brought too many uncertainties, threatening to strip you of your dreams.
To the right her bed, a single bed with a patchwork cover her grandmother had made from remnants of many knitted garments. Her Grandmother use to spend hours knitting jumpers, gloves, hats, she could knit just about anything. Louise loved her Grandmother, she watched her with fascination as Grandma knitted at such a furious speed you could almost se the garment appear before your eyes, as she did this as she talked of days gone by, her youth and Grandfather, halcyon days, which Louise could never imagine returning again. Grandma died just before the war came, for that Louise was thankful.
On the right hand wall, next to the door, the freestanding wardrobe, now long gone, which she had painted amethyst to match the rest of the room, her mother hated the colour, yet still permitted the colour scheme of her daughters choosing, her mother had always been tolerant.
Along the side of the room, where Louise now squatted bedside the rocking chair had been bookcases reaching up to the ceiling, filled with books, fiction, fantasy, reference, romance, history, humour, biography, biology, almost every subject imaginable were contained on those shelves. Louise spent countless hours, both escaping the world and learning all it had to offer. She reached out and felt the space where all that knowledge had been once, the war had changed all that. The shelves were burnt to give heat during the freezing winter. Once the wood had been consumed books that had once given so much enjoyment and caused such wonderment in Louise were used to give her life saving warmth. She wondered what she would do during the next winter to keep warm, Life was so uncertain.
As she surveyed the room with her mind she knew nothing was left of her past life, save for the rocking chair and her worn out bed. Everything had been either been consumed for heat or exchanged for food, even the fine clothes and handbags that she once wore with pride had long since gone. In fact her previous life was now nothing more than a dim memory, and memories are all she had now, and they could not be sold or burnt, only a snipers bullet could extinguish them.
A ricochet off her building cut through the darkness, she was now in range. Louise shivered with fear and apprehension as to what her circumstances might be come dawn, she clung closer to the rocking chair and her memories.
When the rebellion came to the mansion where Louise once lived with her mother and father it took barely and hour before her life was destroyed. On the night her parents had died she laid on the patchwork quilt that her Grandmother had knitted and cried.
Louise was now alone, in a country she did not really know and a country that did not want her. She barricaded herself in her small room and waited, for the peace to arrive, she had been waiting over a year now. Once a week she struggled out from her shelter to seek out scraps of food and drops of water to survive. Although she had no real wish to survive, it was just an instinct that she could not overcome.
In the perpetual darkness Louise could hear voices, rising from the floors below her, soldiers had never been this close before. Her young heart pounded against her rib cage, a young heart that had endured so much sorrow, so much fear, once again warned of the approaching danger. She willed her heart to beat slower, without noise, it refused, she felt sure the soldiers would be able to hear her thrashing heart, and then they would find her.
She considered that it might not be so bad to die; she was tired of the war, tired of being hungry and dirty. Worn out by the shelling, and now impervious to the slaughter that happened around her each day. In her blacked out room, she heard the shells falling and exploding. She heard the screams, the sobbing, she heard death each day take its profit from oil.
In the darkness she recognised the sound of the door hinges moving, someone was entering her flat, and now stood in the living room, an empty room, maybe they would think that no one could live without possessions, or debris, a clean empty room is all they would find, she listened willing the intruder to depart.
Private Barrie Cole found he was at war. He thought he was meant to keep the peace. But in keeping the peace he had to kill people, young people, old people innocent people. The enemy had been described to him as rebels, who had tried to take over the legitimate Government. So they needed to be destroyed. It sounded simple. Yet they wore no uniforms. The only way to discern them was as they pointed a gun at you and squeezed the trigger. By which time of course it would be too late to defend yourself, so he had been ordered just to kill if anyone looked a little distrustful. He had not been trained to kill women and children. In the games they had played back in the homeland, the enemy had worn uniforms and had always been men. Here it was different, men killed you, women killed you even children killed you. So if you wanted to see your family ever again, you killed them first. If you got it wrong, it didn’t matter, all that mattered was you got home to see your family.
Standing in an empty corridor, Barrie made full use of his night vision glasses, to see his environment in an eerie green hue. He was a fully kitted, modern military man, with a range of weapons, SA80 assault rife, side arms, a knife, flank jacket helmet, radio contact with his colleagues. The night vision goggles that turned night into day, his equipment was far superior to his enemy. Yet as he pushed opened the door, with its noisy hinges, he was scared. There was no other word for it, he was scared. As a highly trained soldier, he had been taught how to deal with his fears, being afraid was normal; it was how you dealt with it that was important.
He looked around the room; it was empty, no furniture, no debris of living, and a vacant space where once a family had once lived. Via the green glow of the night sight he saw two doors, one closed and one ajar. He walked towards the closed door. Setting aside his fear, he knew that the flat could contain a concealed killer.
Louise heard the footsteps approaching, slow deliberate steps, moving nearer to her, her hearing was all she had. She wondered who the steps belonged to. Was it a solider, a rebel, or just a scavenger moving through the building? No one had ever infiltrated her sanctuary; it had been secure, until now.
Through the darkness she heard a door handle turn. She could see no light coming from under the door, whoever was on the other side was equally in darkness. To beat the fear that she might die she dreamed of life before the war came, of lazy days by the swimming pool, talking to Grandmother.
Louise stopped her dream as she heard the door move. She could still not see anything, yet she sensed the person standing in her doorway. Physically she could just about determine his or her breathing. She felt a gust of cool air as the door opened, and the scent of another human contained on that gentle zephyr. Her body was rigid; she dared to breathe, in constrained gasps. She knew that the slightest movement or resonance in this void that once had been her bedroom could bring untold horrors upon her.
Private Barrie Cole tensed as he pushed open the door, the first thing he saw was the outline of a rocking chair, so much like the one his mother own owned for a split second his homesickness overcame his professionalism of being a solider. He recalled his mother rocking gently backwards and forwards as she read stories to him,
As his mind recaptured his innocent youth, Private Barrie Cole saw the figure crouched beside the chair. The ghostly green image was of a young girl, cowering beside the rocking chair. She was not looking at him. He guessed in the darkness that cloaked her world, she could not see him standing framed in the doorway. She looked pitiful, huddled against the only item of furniture in this sparse room. She was young, maybe a teenager, her clothes ragged and worn. As she faced the boarded window, Barrie could see the drawn cheeks of hunger etched on her face.
He wondered why she was there, where her parents might be, if indeed she had any that were still alive. How she survived in the madness that had taken over this country. War changes people he thought. Changes them forever. Peace Keeper, Terrorist, Innocent bystander all are raped by the war. She at one time could have been the happy daughter of loving parents, planning her future her husband her children. But war changes people, it changes future, it changes morals. She could be a sniper, a suicide bomber, awaiting deployment.
Barrie wanted to see his wife and children again. He raised his weapon and a single shot took the life of Louise. Whatever she had been, she was no longer. Barrie had survived another day in this madness, another day nearer dying or returning home.