by Cathryn Marinelli
Zahira stared at the ruins of her city, corpses buried and burned. She thought about the war between her country—Kernesia—and its neighboring country, Narthalm. The destruction the war was leaving behind was devastating. Zahira thought about the previous raid.
The screams pierced the air flowing around her. Men on horseback rode swiftly through the town, torches in their hands. Zahira already knew what was happening; her village was under attack. The men laid their torches on the hay roofs of the cottages, the fire spreading rapidly. Flames leaped into the air, dancing in their smoke. That’s when she heard the first stones falling.
Zahira heard her mother scream, grabbing her baby sister.
“Zahira!” Her mother called, running from the destruction. Zahira ran to her mother, cradled in her arms.
“This is for Narthalm!” One of the horsemen said. Zahira’s family ran, while she turned her head. She saw her house collapsing after being hit by a flaming projectile. She located the source to be a catapult, not far away. Zahira saw they were lining the village, one by one. Tears stung the back of her eyes, from losing her house and the smoke. More homes fell, more people losing everything they owned and loved.
“Zahira!” She heard her name being called again. She stopped running as fear froze her. Zahira’s little sister—Karenna—had called her. Eyes wide and bloodshot, she saw her mother and sister running. Kareena was holding her mother’s hand.
“Come to me Kareena!” Zahira called.
“Go.” Her mother whispered. Kareena nodded, running to Zahira. She scooped her baby sister into her arms, propping her on her hip.
“You too Mama!” Zahira pleaded. Zahira looked towards the sky, her sister looking too, oblivious. Their mother shook her head. “But Mama!”
“I’ll be with your father.” Her mother breathed. Zahira pictured the letter they’d gotten, saying he’d perished in battle. Tears fell from her eyes. “I love you.” Her mother said while making a heart with her hands. She placed her hands over her dirty blouse. Zahira placed her two fingers against her lips, extending her arm outward. Her two fingers had blood from her cracked lips on them, but her mother accepted the kiss anyway, putting her own two fingers to her lips. Zahira covered Kareena’s eyes, a flaming boulder heading for their mother. Tears blurring her vision, she saw the boulder hit the house behind her mother. Rocks, fire, and blood mixed in a blur. Zahira muffled a scream for Kareena’s sake and ran, her mother’s presence flowing through her.
Zahira ran with her sister on her hip before she became too heavy. Running hand in hand, the girls felt the heat getting to them, as well as being orphaned. Kareena still hadn’t accepted that she was now without a mother and father.
“What now Zarry?” Kareena panted.
“We stay alive.” Her voice was like ice.
“Yes, Kar.” Zahira urged her sister forward.
Friends and neighbors continuously scrambled through the streets and it was then when Zahira realized she’d lost all sense of time.
“I know you’re tired Reena, but we must keep moving.”
“But my head, it hurts so much Zarry.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“My throat and stomach hurt too… Am I sick?”
“I hope not; this would be a bad time to get sick.” Kareena nodded in agreement, choking on more smoke. The men from Narthalm had made sure they set fire to anything they could, not to mention that they were also throwing flaming boulders at houses. Zahira listened to Kareena’s breathing; slow, shallow, and ragged.
“I’m tired Zahira.” Kareena sighed, slowing down.
“Don’t stop!” Zahira grabbed her sister’s arm.
“No!” Kareena screeched, coughing loudly. Zahira became fearful; she’d heard of this. She believed it was called excess smoke inhalation. It damages your lungs, makes you confused, tired, and sick. Zahira knew Kareena had been breathing too much smoke, and she realized her sister was out of time.
Zahira grabbed Kareena, laying her on a haystack that wasn’t on fire. Other people ran by her as if she didn’t exist.
“Kareena, I’m going to keep you safe while you take a nap, okay?” Zahira instructed.
“Really? You sure?” Kareena stuttered.
Kareena closed her eyes, slowing her breathing so she’d fall asleep; Zahira knew, though, that she would never wake up. A few minutes passed and Kareena sucked in a sharp breath before cocking her head to the side.
“Give Mama a hug. Papa too.”
Zahira left her sister, all alone in the world now. People were running over each other, trying to flee the horsemen. They trapped the remaining villagers in a circle, picking out certain women and girls; it disgusted Zahira.
“Now the rest of you,” A horsemen said in a burly voice. “Will die.”
People gasped, as if they didn’t see that coming. The men took weapons out and started attacking; some villagers just fell from weakness and too much smoke. Zahira, feeling weak herself, felt her legs come out from under her. She fell to the ground, a tall man standing above her.
“I’d spare you, if you weren’t so weak and were prettier,” He whispered, raising his weapon. “But you just aren’t good enough.” Slamming his weapon against her head, Zahira blacked out.
Zahira sat on the rocks, what was left of her seaside village. Clouds appeared to be floating on the water. A crow sat, watching her, from a tree branch. Zahira traced the indent on her head where the man bashed her head. The dress she’d worn for ages sat dusty upon her, but she loved the dress her mother made her. Tears started falling as she thought of her family, her village that had been in ruins for too long. But there was no one left to help her rebuild her little seaside village in Kernesia.
She was the sole survivor.
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'We the Season'