War and Peace
Hello everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good weekend and that this finds you well. As promised on my Friday post, which you can find HERE, I am posting one of my short stories based on prompts from my Storymatic set. The prompts were:
- Memory of a kiss
- Family member reincarnated as a parrot
After initially wondering what I could come up with for the fourth prompt, the writing flowed readily, and I had great fun. In the end, I used both meanings of ‘Vet’ and included both a war veteran and an animal veterinarian. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below … especially for that darned parrot!
War and Peace
The explosion lifted the Humvee three feet into the air. The smouldering rubber tyres disintegrated upon re-impact with the ground. The vehicle hit a rock on its now-bare wheel rims and rolled. The final bounce ruptured the fuel line, and diesel poured onto the dust-and-dirt road. Flames and smoke billowed. Sounds of despair and mortal pain abounded—moans, cries, and incoherent screams.
Becca had stood in the gun turret, on watch. She’d missed the IED. Had not seen the artfully arranged shrubbery and disturbed dirt. The nature of the crash saved her life. As the Humvee rose into the air on the initial updraft of the blast, the concussive lurch threw her from the vehicle and deposited her some six feet away, lying on rough dwarf shrubs. While prickly and uncomfortable, the sparse vegetation did cushion her landing somewhat. Had she not gotten thrown, the insurgents now approaching the burning wreck would have gunned her down—point-blank execution. Her squad-mates never stood a chance.
Quietly, Becca wriggled inch by inch until her body rolled off the back of the bush, leaving her on its far side, out of sight—for now. Excruciating pain ripped through her whole torso. Stunned and afraid, she wondered what kind of luck shone on her right then … good or bad? Would she survive and make it home intact? Would they capture and torture her before beheading her during a live internet feed? Would she die of her injuries? Would they find her and shoot her dead, as they had with her buddies?
The automatic-weapons fire ceased. Silence descended, eerie in its abruptness. Nature, it seemed, refused to lend any credence to such a horrific scene by adorning it with sounds or any other overt signs of life. And then a babble of excited, exultant shouts erupted, splintering the brief limbo. Becca understood neither Pashto nor Dari but could comprehend the men’s celebration and congratulations. No different to any other man on the planet giving himself a pat on the back.
Tearless, voiceless, Becca cried for her lost comrades, waiting for discovery. Her back hurt, and her legs didn’t seem to want to move properly. While the dwarf shrub had cushioned her landing, it had also overextended her spine. Pulled? Broken? Torn? With her teeth gritted against the expected agony, she inched over the dirt until she lay half-under the bush. The vegetation didn’t have enough girth to offer full coverage. She craned her neck and scanned her immediate surroundings. Hungry flames devoured the skeletal remains of the Humvee. With any luck, the blaze would mask the fact of a missing crew member. The bastards knew precisely how many personnel manned which vehicles on these sorties. For the first time since early childhood, she closed her eyes and prayed, biting her bottom lip.
Nighttime came. The insurgents didn’t. After an hour or so, they had grown bored and slouched away in ones and twos until Becca lay beneath the bush, quite alone. The pain in her spine no longer bothered her. Nothing did. Consciousness greyed to black and back until, finally, she closed her eyes and didn’t re-open them. In the distance, a whump-whump-whump noise grew as it neared the ambush site.
Little Ellie stared into the open coffin, not understanding. Aunty Vanessa had told her what dead meant, but still, she stood there waiting for her nanna to open her eyes. Everybody knew that you couldn’t really sleep forever and ever and ever. That was just in fairy tales. And even then, a handsome prince came and kissed you and woke you up again. But Nanna hadn’t woken up yet. And she kept ignoring Ellie, no matter how much she cried and pleaded. In unconscious mimicry of her mother—currently a world away—she bit her bottom lip. In the end, though, youth showed, and she swapped to sucking her thumb. If Nanna never woke up, like they all said, then who would look after her now? Aunty Vanessa seemed nice enough, if a bit grumpy, but Ellie had never met her until today.
The sunny warmth of the morning gave way to rain and chill. And all the grown-ups kept telling her off: ‘Be quiet, child.’ … ‘You’re in the way.’ … ‘Nanna’s dead. You know that. Now, stop being so silly.’ … And, at last, awfully, finally, Aunty Vanessa looked down at her, all stern-faced and rigid angles, and not giving way at all. ‘Haven’t you packed your bag yet? Come on. It’s time to go. And I won’t take any tantrums from you.’
Uncle Willie seemed like a nice man, though, and he snuck Ellie a sweetie when she promised to be a good girl and do as ‘Aunty V’ asked. What she wanted most in all the world, though, was a cuddle. Nanna used to snuggle in and feel all squidgy and nice. Later on, when Aunty Vanessa hugged her goodnight, Ellie felt bones poking out in the wrong places, and it didn’t feel nice one little bit. If Nanna had to have such a long rest, then why couldn’t Mummy come home and look after her?
That night, Ellie cried herself to sleep. The next night, even as her tears dried on her pillow, she wet the bed. Aunty V was not pleased. While the bony woman had washed Ellie in a shallow bath, scolding her the whole time, Uncle Willie had grouched from the landing, ‘Don’t tell her off so. She didn’t wet the bed on purpose, you know.’ Later, dried and in a fresh nightie, she had lain in bed sobbing her little heart out, and Uncle Willie had come in and cuddled her to sleep, telling her she was a good girl and not to pay Aunty V any notice.
As the days drifted into weeks, and the summer nights shortened and cooled, Ellie grew wan and pale and thin. The once-vibrant girl grew listless and lethargic. Then the summer holidays drew to a close, and the prospect of starting at a new school loomed. Ellie wanted to go to her old school. In her first year, she had made lots and lots of friends. It wasn’t fair. But mean old Aunty V said it was too far to drive to her old school, and so she had to go to this new one. Ellie didn’t believe her when she said that Ellie would make lots of new friends at Whitebridge as well. And when Ellie sulked and wouldn’t eat her dinner, Aunty V told her, impatiently, ‘You’re a big girl now, and you have to act like it. What would all the girls think if they knew how a six-year-old was behaving. You’d be the laughing stock.’
From beneath lowered lids, Ellie snuck a glance at Uncle Willie, who shook his head and sighed but held his peace. No help there. That happened a lot now. Ellie hung her head, bottom lip stuck out in a pout, and pushed away her plate. Aunty V lost her temper. ‘You spoilt little brat. Eat that up right now, or you’ll go to bed hungry.’
Ellie screamed, ‘I hate you!’, shoved her plate over the edge of the table—where it clattered to the carpet and spilled spaghetti Bolognese all over—and stormed from the dining room, stamping her feet all the way up the stairs. At her bedroom, she slammed the door closed behind her and threw herself onto the bed. ‘I wish I was dead,’ she sobbed into her Frozen Disney pillow.
Four days later, school started. Ellie ignored Aunty V all the way there. And when her Aunty bent for a kiss goodbye, Ellie turned her back on her and stomped away. All day, she felt miserable, and when one of the bigger girls pulled her ponytail, and Ellie got in trouble for smacking her on the chin, she locked herself in a toilet cubicle and refused to come out. In the end, the headmistress had to get the caretaker to come and ‘jimmy’ the lock. Ellie didn’t know what Jimmy from her class had to do with anything. But, anyway, she got in a lot of trouble after they ‘jimmied’ the lock and dragged her out.
Aunty V shouted at her all the way home, and when they got back, she made Ellie sit on the naughty step. When Uncle Willie got in from his work at the veterinary surgery a couple of hours later, he gave Ellie a look of sadness and went in to talk with the mean old cow. Ellie tried to listen in on the muffled conversation but couldn’t make out much, except things like, ‘It’ll do her a world of good.’ And then, in a raised voice, Aunty V yelling, ‘I’ll not have that filthy beast in my house!’
A little while after that, Uncle Willie came out into the hallway. He gave Ellie a wink and went out to the car. Intrigued, Ellie sat up straight and wiped the tears from her cheeks and chin, sniffling up the snot dangling from her nose. Not satisfied with that, she swiped the rest off with the back of her hand. Uncle Willie came back in, holding something big in both hands, and a pink knitted blanket covered it. From within, a soft squawk sounded. With a screech, Ellie jumped to her feet. ‘You bought me a puppy!’
Uncle Willie shook his head but said, ‘Nearly right. Take a look.’
Nervous, hardly daring to peek, she pulled back the blanket. Confused, but her heart swelling with love for the fluffy baby-thing inside, she looked up at her Uncle. ‘What is it?’
He beamed down at her, and pride puffed out his chest. ‘It’s a parrot. It’s only a baby just now, but she’ll grow big real quick. We can train her, together—you and me—if you’d like.’
Too full to speak, with her heart in her throat, she nodded up and down frantically, until Uncle Willie laughed and caught hold of her chin. ‘Careful, or you’ll nod your head right off your shoulders.’
Ellie giggled. Happy for the first time in forever. ‘Can I keep her?’
‘Yes, sweetheart. She’s all yours.’
Flushed with pleasure, she reached a finger through the bars. The baby parrot craned its neck forward, and Ellie stroked its beak and head. ‘What about her Mummy?’
Uncle Willie frowned. ‘She’s all alone. One of our customers found her abandoned and brought her to us.’
Ellie sucked on her thumb, deep in thought. ‘What’s she called?’
Uncle Willie knelt by her side, so that his head reached her level, ‘Well, what would you like to call her?’
‘I can choose?’
Uncle Willie nodded, and his eyes glistened wetly. While she thought about it, he cleared his throat and then blew his nose into his hankie. Her Uncle could be so gross sometimes, but she loved him all the same. At last, she declared, ‘I’ll call her Olaf, like the snowman!’
Uncle Willie chuckled and nodded. From the kitchen doorway behind them, Aunty V scoffed, ‘That’s a boy’s name.’
Uncle Willie surprised them all then when he said, ‘Hush now, V. It doesn’t do any harm. I think it’s a good name.’ Then, to Ellie, he said, ‘Olaf it is, then. Now, we need to find a place for her in your room, and I can teach you how to look after her—how to keep her clean and feed her.’
‘And love her,’ Ellie whispered, hugging the birdcage.
Uncle Willie cleared his throat some more. ‘Somehow, I don’t think I need to tell you how to do that.’
Olaf the lady parrot didn’t like Aunty V and bit her every chance she got. Before long, she perched on Ellie’s shoulder anytime she was home. She liked it up there. And if Aunty V got too close, Olaf would flap her wings and squawk loudly. Over the next few months, Olaf learned to talk. At first only one word, ‘Hello,’ over and over again, which drove Aunty V mad, so the parrot did it more and more. Then she learned to say, ‘Go away!’, and that became her knew refrain.
Once Ellie heard Olaf speak, the girl talked to her all the time and shared her secrets. They became best friends. One day, after a particularly acrimonious row with Aunty V, Ellie yelled, ‘It’s not my fault you never wanted children!’
Shocked, Aunty V put her hand to her mouth. ‘Wherever did you hear that, child?’
Ellie mumbled, ‘Olaf told me.’
Aunty V shook her head. ‘Nonsense. Overheard it from somewhere, more like.’
Aunty V walked away. Later, when Ellie told Uncle Willie, he just smiled at her and said, ‘Is that so?’
As time went on, Ellie mentioning things she shouldn’t know about became the norm, and for the most part, the adults ignored it. Until the day Ellie announced, ‘Mummy’s coming home!’
Becca took the prognosis in stride—well, not quite, not from her wheelchair, but the main thing was she could go home. At long, long last, she could see her little girl. How much she had missed her. And then had come the awful news of her mum’s sudden death. She hadn’t found that out until about three months afterward because she had still been in a coma. Becca had only awoken a few weeks ago, and they had fed her the bad news in dribs and drabs so as to avoid overwhelming her. And then her bloody sister had decided that it would upset Ellie too much to speak to her mummy on the phone when they wouldn’t see one another for months yet. Accurate enough, for Becca had a lot of rehab and further treatment to endure, but she still hated her sister for doing that to her and Ellie. Her appeal to the doctors and her next in command fell on deaf ears. ‘Best not rock the boat,’ they all said, in their infinite male wisdom. And though Becca raged inwardly, she could do little about it.
And so, she endured the rehab. Endured the pain. Endured the failures—far more numerous than the successes, it seemed. And bided her time. One abiding memory kept her going throughout her ordeals—kissing Ellie goodnight and snuggling in for a bedtime story. As well as memories of the smell of her freshly washed hair and soft, creamy skin. Of course, Ellie would have grown so much bigger by now. And they would have to get to know one another all over again. Before the IED attack, she’d been on tour for a year with her next leave just around the corner. And then she’d died, twice, and ended up in a coma. Would Ellie ever forgive Becca for her absence? For abandoning her after Nanna died? Would she ever understand?
The big day arrived. The sun shone down as if in celebration too. And even Anty V smiled on occasion. Uncle Willie picked up Ellie and swung her around and around until she squealed and begged him to stop. Then, laughing and dizzy, she threw her arms around him and gave him the biggest, bestest hug. ‘I love you!’ she told him, face upturned toward him.
Uncle Willie knelt and pulled her in for a cuddle. ‘I love you too, pumpkin.’
Just then, a minibus pulled up to the kerb. Ellie went very still. All of a sudden, she didn’t know what to do. When Olaf had told her that Mummy would come home soon, she had felt so excited and deliriously happy, but now she felt scared. And when the woman appeared from the back of the bus in a wheelchair, Ellie didn’t recognise her. Uncle Willie rested a hand on her shoulder and said, ‘It’s okay. Just come and say hello. I’ll hold your hand.’
Perched on her shoulder, Olaf squawked out, ‘Becca, Becca, Becca!’ and made Ellie jump.
Stiff and clumsy—not knowing what to do with her legs—she stumbled over to her mother, clutching Uncle Willie’s big hand. He would know what to do. For a long moment, Becca and Ellie gazed at one another. The love and longing shone from the woman’s eyes, and Ellie felt compelled to lean in and hug her. Olaf flew up into the air and then settled on Uncle Willie’s car, watching it all unfold. Once enveloped in Becca’s arms, Ellie recognised how Mummy felt and smelt and sounded. All at once, she let go of Uncle Willie altogether and threw herself at Mummy. Then she burst into tears.
‘Shush now, baby girl. Mummy’s home. It’s going to be okay. I’m so sorry, sweetie. I’ve been away too long. I missed you.’
Through her sniffles, Ellie said, ‘I missed you too.’
‘I love you so much,’ Mummy said.
Ellie hugged her tighter, ‘I love you too.’ And she meant it, even though she did feel angry and hurt at the same time. She would talk to Olaf about it later on—the parrot always knew what to say and how to help. She reminded Ellie of her nanna.
Then Ellie pulled back from Mummy. ‘Don’t go away again.’
Mummy looked sad. ‘I won’t.’
Ellie grew stern. ‘Promise?’
Mummy smiled and held out her little finger, ‘Pinky promise.’
Ellie looped her finger with Mummy’s, and they shook on it.
And though a long and arduous road lay ahead, for the moment, happiness buoyed them, lifting their hearts high.
©Harmony Kent 2018
I hope you enjoyed this bit of fun fiction. Thanks for stopping by!