© Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014
Most days, a burbling wakes me, washing down the dark, pitted walls where I sometimes press my back. Some other scratching sounds behind stones catch my attention. It could be rats or bats. So I stretch my whole body out, board-stiff. Imagine I’m Superman. Except I’m lying down on a spit of concrete or gritty dirt, depending on the tunnel.
And then I realize it’s time to start walking again.
Many times I’ve gathered and built a little mound of stones to get the moments to go. If you take your time, smooth and jagged can fit together. It just takes trying and re-trying. A bit of dingy paper, wet at one end, and a snubbed matchstick make a decent flag.
Part of me has given up on finding a way out. ’Course I’ll never see Alix or Red or Faye again. The bombs had burned them from the beach that day. I was stuck inside. In trouble. But at the window, wishing. It was all so sudden. Alix had a plastic bag and some string tied around the handles. Red and Faye were watching him run with it. I saw them laughing. I don’t want to say it now, but I hated them all right then.
Then a high-pitched whistle. A spray of sand. A body at an odd angle. And running. Screaming. Blinking and closing my eyes was the only way to blank out the emotions. I would focus on light, even if I never saw its fullness again in my living life. Still, sunsets and rainbows lifted my feet for me in the here and now, and probably would in the after, too.
I couldn’t forget how my 2½-year-old sister Tanya would grab chubby hands at the sun as it seemed to float on the water. “Iss sinking,” she’d cry and run toward the waves. But mom would catch her by the arm and hoist her up into a hug. Rainbows showed up much less often. Like spies, they were lurking around. You could never be sure if they were around the corner or not. Sunsets . . . they were steady, as long as clouds didn’t crowd them out.
And so, sunset is still my favorite color. Rainbow is second. Though I may not see either again, maybe I might find some other kid lost down here, where the sirens sit as cold centers in spiderwebs.
Speaking of sounds, I hope it’s okay with you that I’m talking this out. I like to hear something besides trickling, dripping, distant rumbling. Storms or trains, I guess. I think the shelling has stopped. How long, I have no idea. I hope Tanya grows up without them. Learns to stop running, jumping out of our hides like we did, when the jets went over. Or maybe she’s already grown. And the jets are gone. Seems like a fairy tale thought.
I don’t realize I’m running until I feel the water flaying around my pants cuffs. You couldn’t see the dried stains bloom on them anymore. And it feels good to make something move, have something respond to you. It isn’t cutting through the waves and sandy jelly in your toes, but it’s what I have now.
When I think I hear human voices and not animal noises, I move to them. But it’s been awhile. Maybe they were just echoes of echoes. My mind built them to give me games, I guess.
But games got old quickly. When they did, I let sleep roll me up in its blanket. I put a fleshly pillow over my head, fencing out any edge of gloom or glow splintering through. Until the next time I needed to move or ’til night and light didn’t mean anything and I didn’t know if I did either.
This flash fiction piece was inspired by a recent “Light & Shade” challenge, for which I couldn’t pare it down or get it submitted in a timely fashion. If you haven’t tried them, L&S features a quote and/or photograph from which you can craft a short story of 500 words or fewer. The challenge I wrote this for featured this quote:
Some more information on human rights: