We are pleased to debut a haunting short story written by Reem Almry, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did
My name is Kira and I can’t hear or see anything.
I am standing completely still, waiting for a harsh wind to lift me off my bare feet and carry me away to a place where happiness exists. Though I know there’s a bigger chance that I grow wings than that ever happening. There is no happiness in this world and if I hadn’t experienced it myself a long time ago, I wouldn’t believe there ever was such a thing as happiness.
I am deaf.
But, then again, there isn’t much to listen to anymore. It’s been 137 days since the last time my ears picked up a sound, and even those sounds I wish to forget.
I am blind by choice.
I refuse to open my eyes. I refuse to see what has become of my hometown, of what used to be a small town in the south of Oklahoma, USA. But even with my eyelids sealed closed I can tell exactly what surrounds me at the moment.
Complete and utter nothing.
It’s been 137 days since everything became nothing. Everything was blasted into oblivion. I think if I’m brave enough to caress the grainy sand, I might be able to find the traces of what used to be my house – my home.
I must admit I have a tendency to torture myself. I can’t help reminding myself of what was. Every day, I repeat the same sentences and conjure the images in my head. I’m afraid I would forget if I don’t remind myself, that I might forget everything I ever knew. Or at least, what I used to know.
I open my eyes. The blinding white orb in the cloudless sky makes me wish I hadn’t. Judging from the light, it’s probably around noon. I haven’t laid eyes on a working clock in a long time. All around me, under my bare feet, in the roots of my hair and on my dry skin is sand. Sand the ugliest color of grey and black. Remnants of building, homes, vehicles and people I knew.
I imagine lying on a steel bed, the icy metal keeping me from ever resting, and picture a heavy weight pressing onto my chest, breaking my ribs. Crushing me.
It’s all of my mind’s creation, of course. It’s a simple yet effective way to let me know that I’m not supposed to be here –alive- when my entire family is dead. Blown to bits and shot.
I stand a little straighter and let the soft breeze lift up the skirt of my tattered dress and play with my locks of dark hair, the color of the sky on a moonless night. I don’t remember the color of my eyes anymore.
Then I repeat the same thing I’ve been doing for the past 137 days. I say the same sentences I’ve already memorized by heart from repeating so many times as the memories easily rise to the surface, “It was a cold December night.” I begin, “I was sixteen years old, hiding with Kaya,”
My young sister is shivering and rubbing her bare, stick-thin arms in an attempt to warm them. Her dark hair, the same shade of our mother’s hair, is blowing wildly from the careless wind like raging black flames. She’s about to say something when I glare harshly at her, telling her with my eyes to keep quiet. Even a whisper can get us killed. I force her to stay down on the cool ground under the large bush to keep our location hidden from the danger that stands just twenty feet away from us. Kaya stifles a scream as her eyes, wide with fear, spot what I’ve been watching from behind a leafy branch.
Soldiers, everywhere. Soldiers in dark, heavy uniforms, armed with deadly weapons. Not even the darkness of the night can shroud their lethal expressions.
They’re here on a mission.
“We were the only ones left of our family.” I say to the wind.
No one is here to witness me speaking, and no one ever will. This place has been abandoned long ago; everyone –everyone that survived– had sought out different lands to live on. Lands that weren’t destroyed and turned into ruble, such as this one. Not a single tree or a live bird is in sight. Sand and broken houses are the only things I can see.
“Everyone else had died when they blew up our house.” I continue, “It was five months into the war and Kaya and I were just coming back from the well when it all happened.” I invision my voice, try to hear the lack of emotion in it, but I am sure, if it isn’t for my being deaf, I’d hear the slight tremor at the end.
A particularly cold breeze passes through my hair and I shiver. I find it strange that I can feel anything at all.
I’m standing in stunned silence, the bucket of water I carried a second ago forgotten on the ground, water spilling out of it. Kaya’s frail hand is gripped tightly in mine as a pale blue house –the same house we had been raised in– goes up in a massive grey cloud. We can barely move. Flames, glass, bricks… Everywhere…. I almost start screaming and crying, but then I remember the risk that entails and keep quiet. Kaya, however, is unable to control herself and releases a soft sob. But even her cries can’t force me to look away from the crime that has been committed against us, against our parents who are now burnt corpses in what remains of our home.
After a frozen moment or two, I realize that it isn’t a good idea to stand out in the open where any stray soldier can see us and shoot us down. I’m sure they won’t think twice of killing us, even if we are mere kids. Hurriedly, I drag a distraught Kaya away, promising myself to do whatever it takes to protect her and keep her alive.
“World War lll was coming to an end, and I knew it.” I carry on saying, “We were losing. Not that there ever is a winner in war.”
Image after image flits through my head, turning into one big swirl of disaster, like a tornado picking up bits and pieces from every corner of my memory.
The Eifel Tower – in pieces. The Pyramids – destroyed. The Empire State – in flames. The Taj Mahal – blasted into rubble. People – suffering. Innocent lives – taken. Homes – obliterated. Cities – taken over and demolished.
Humanity – forgotten.
The news channels showed so many things, all the same in a stomach-turning way – destroyed, ruined and tainted with the worst intentions. People everywhere were dying, but no one even spared them a thought. Misery was the air we breathed for the whole of a long twenty-one months. Even the sky mourned the loss of lives and the warmth of life; it always seemed grey, dark and ominous.
Our country wasn’t the only one losing. All of mankind was.
“The soldiers were breaking into the warehouse Kaya and I used to stay in.” I imagine my voice is barely a whisper, grave and carried away by the wind. “I remember a lot of people –refugees like us– stayed there too.”
The memory is as clear as the sky:
A soldier shoots the lock, breaking it. Dozens of them barge into the warehouse, their weapons raised. It’s not long before the sound of gunshots and screams pierce the night.
I force myself not to get involved. Getting involved would only get Kaya and I killed. I inch forward, appalling curiosity urging me to take a peek at the monstrosity. It’s horrifying, but I can’t look away.
Neither can Kaya.
Inside the large, grey building, lips are parting, letting out cries of disbelief and fright. Bodies are falling to the ground in a pool of their own blood. It’s all vile and heart-wrenching.
Beside me, Kaya makes the mistake of screaming when she sees the lady who once offered us warm blankets and stew sinking to the ground, her clothes stained red, her round face twisted into a horrid expression.
“A soldier heard her,” I say in what I suppose is my most controlled tone, “and came to investigate. He aimed his gun at her.”
My mind clouds with the recollection:
I don’t understand why Kaya jumps out and away from the bush. Maybe she is so horrified, she wants to run. Or, even worse, prehaps she thinks she can help those inside. Whatever her reason is, I barely have the time to grab her and run when I hear the shot loud and clear. My hands are clutching at thin air as she falls to the dirt, her breaths coming out as gasps before they stop all together in exactly five seconds. I’m too flabbergasted to let out even a breath. I can only stare at her face as a puddle of blood forms around her and soaks into the fabric of the large shirt that belongs to a man we knew and met in the building that is being raided at the moment. He’s probably dead in the warehouse right now, as well as his wife and two sons.
My silence saved my life.
“Hundreds of lives lost that night. My sister, one of them…” I murmur, my head down as a familiar ache grips me in its remorseless clutches from inside so tightly I feel as if I can’t breathe. “She was only ten years old.”
I stay behind that bush, hidden from view, weeping silently by the lifeless, crumbled body of my sister. Why is there so much blood, is the only coherent thought I can come up with. Her open eyes are void of anything, staring right through me, making me quiver.
Seeing that there isn’t anyone else outside, the soldier who had shot Kaya goes back into the warehouse, joining in on the slaughter of so many innocent lives. He doesn’t even waste a second, doesn’t even think about the child whose life he had ended just mere moments ago. It disgusts and angers me at the same time. But I know I can’t do anything about it, even if I do have every right to.
I mourn alone, the gunshots endless, the screams bone-chilling. I barely register the voice yelling “Fire in the hole!” over the noise before I’m flying backwards in the air, heat everywhere.
“That explosion and that voice were the last things I heard.” I state, staring ahead.
I lost everything; my parents, my sister, my home, my hearing… and even a part of my soul.
That is why, ever since the war ended just the day after that night, I began to remind myself of everything that happened. Everything I remember hearing or seeing, I retell. Every single day. I don’t leave any detail out.
remind myself of the pleasant quiet evenings and warm dinners my mother used to prepare before the war. I remind myself of the wide grins my father always put on when he came home from work and the way he embraced me affectionately. I remind myself of the afternoons I spent playing with Kaya after school and her brilliant smile that I miss so much. I remind myself of children’s laughter that I no longer have the ability to hear, clear blue skies and the glittering moisture on leaves just after it rains.
I remind myself of everything and anything beautiful I recall seeing or hearing – everything that matters and holds a place in my heart.
I do this because I’m afraid that, on top of everything else I lost, I might also lose myself. I’m terrified, absolutely terrified, that, one day, I could disappear too. I do this in hope that, perhaps someday, I might get to see children running around in mirth –not in fear like they have for the past two years– smiling radiantly like Kaya used to, in hope that I might witness joy and happiness and love on people’s faces like I used to, that I might even experience those feelings myself.
But until that day comes, I’ll continue to remind myself.
Over and over and over again.
Author: Reem Almry