This story kind of withered on the vine and never devloped into anything more. Some good descriptions of things but no idea where I was going with it…
The guns had stopped.
For the first time in days there was something approaching silence in the ruined city. The bombardment had been remorseless and ruthlessly efficient. Not a single tall building remained intact across the whole skyline. In their place were desolate, tumbledown shells gutted by fire. The dome of the city’s once proud cathedral had been caved in, smashed open like an eggshell. Whole districts had been pulverised into rubble. For almost a week, the fighting had raged through the bomb blackened streets as both sides had fought for control of the capital. The dead lay everywhere. They littered the streets in twisted piles, their bodies distorted into grotesque shapes by the violence of their final moments. They hung out of shattered cars; they lay slumped in doorways and against half-demolished walls, in the nearby park they floated in the lake and hung from the trees. Friend and foe, soldier and civilian, they were all united in death. One unfortunate soul hung from a fire-scorched lamppost, his face black and swollen. The rope made a slow creaking sound as he swung in the breeze. Around his neck was a sign that simply said: “Looter.” The living for their part did what they had done for many days now; they cowered in basements and other such boltholes waiting for fate to declare a winner.
The sun glowered through the dark palls of smoke hanging in the air. It sparkled on the little chips of broken glass lying scattered on the ground. Here and there, one could still make out the crackle of flame, the clatter of falling brickwork, and the moans of the sick and the dying. Water mains hissed and spat their vital fluid into the dirty streets. Ruptured gas pipes burned uselessly in gouts of yellow flame, adding their heat to the already seared air.
New sounds came to disturb the stillness. The low rumble of a powerful diesel engine came from not too far away. It was a tank. Its tracks clanked and squealed as they chewed up the rubble-strewn city streets. Its long cannon seemed to sniff the air as it moved. This particular tank had speakers mounted on either side of its squat, insect-like turret. Stirring martial music was blaring from them. It sounded incongruous among the charnel house surroundings. Over the music, a harsh, metallic voice issued a barrage of instructions.
“Citizens, the People’s Army have liberated you,” it said. “As of eight o’clock, this morning all hostilities have ceased. The Provisional Authorities have signed an armistice agreement and all governing bodies are now under the command of the People’s Army until further notice. Representatives of the new government will be arriving shortly to process all non-combatants. Please have your identity papers with you when you arrive. Rejoice in your freedom.” There was a sharp whine of feedback as the voice clicked off leaving the music to blare once more.
With a roar of its engine the tank began to move again, leaving a cloud of blue smoke in its wake. It wheeled left, smashing through the shattered remains of a house and carried on its way. As the noise diminished the people began to appear at last. They stumbled and crawled from a dozen different hiding places, pushing their way through fallen timbers and shattered masonry. Their eyes were red and rheumy from many nights missed sleep, stubble decorated chins, clothes were disheveled and coated in dirt and dust. They clambered over piles of bricks as they emerged from their hiding places and stood blinking in the daylight. Some immediately headed off in different directions. Presumably they went to look for other relatives and friends. Some wandered around still looking dazed and unsure what to do next.
“So that’s it then,” said one man as he arched and stretched his back to unknot the kinks in his spine caused by days in hiding. “It’s all over.” He was tall, serious looking. He had piercing intelligent gray eyes and wore what had probably been quite a smart suit before it had been creased and battered by days of sheltering in the ruins.
“Do you really think so?” asked a middle-aged woman. Her thick grey hair was wrapped in a dusty headscarf.
“You heard the announcement,” he told her. “The fighting is over.”
“Great,” said a gangly teenager in a faded college sweater. His face was liberally studded with acne that stood out in mini yellow-capped volcanoes of pus. “Guess we can all go home and get back to normal now then, eh?” He gestured at the detritus lying all around them.
“There’s no need for sarcasm,” said the woman.
The boy flushed noticeably behind his spots and cast his eyes downward for a moment in shame. “Sorry. It’s just… well…look!” he gestured again at the devastation.
“We are alive,” said the man. “For that at least we can be thankful. Many others are not.” He paused for a moment. “Your family…?” he halted leaving the rest of the question unspoken.
The boy shrugged. “I don’t know. I was on my way home from school when the bombardment started.” He looked over towards the outskirts of the city. “My home is, was I mean, on the other side of the city. What about you?”
The man shook his head. “My wife is a nurse over at the Central Hospital…”
“Wasn’t it hit on the very first day?” asked the woman. “Surely, some people must have escaped.”
The man shrugged. “It’s possible, I suppose. I tried to call her on her cellular phone but there are no networks available. The landlines are out too. I have no idea if she is alive or dead.” He sighed. “I thought I might try and make my way over there now the fighting has stopped but…well, you know…” he tailed off as if the act of speaking his fears aloud might make them a reality. “What about you?”
“Nobody. My husband died six years ago in a road accident. We were childless and the rest of my family live on the other side of the country. Not that we keep in touch, of course, “she said. “They didn’t approve of my husband you see. They said I was marrying beneath myself.” She followed this last statement with a harrumph of disgust. “What would they know?”