He didn’t know how long he lay unconscious on the stretcher but when he came to, it was a scene straight from hell. Through the ringing in his ears, he heard cries of pain and anguish from all directions. He looked around for familiar faces, neighbors, co-workers, locals at the pub, but found none. With wracking pains shooting through his body, he managed to stand up amid the chaos to get a better look around. The large tent he found himself in was little more than barely-controlled panic. People lay dead or dying everywhere. Some were so disfigured, they could scarcely be called human beings. He staggered through the tent-flap entrance and found a bench just outside and collapsed into it. Someone in a blood stained hospital gown propped him up and tried to speak to him but his ears were ringing so loudly all he heard was a monotone mumbling. They looked him over quickly, gave him a nod then darted into the tent. The war had finally come to his town. The military has warned that air raids where possible but no one wanted to believe it. Well, they would believe it now.
Images of his wife and son’s faces flashed in his mind. What happened to them? Were they alive or dead? As he looked around, he recognized the area as the town’s Eastern Square, only a few blocks from where he lived. He inhaled sharply as he got to his feet, leaning heavily on the backrest of the bench. Pain came in waves when he moved but dissipated after a few seconds of immobility. He slowly walked across the ground toward the statue commemorating the town’s founding over 450 years ago. When he reached the base, he leaned against it heavily and paused to look around. The immediate area he was in was relatively untouched. Debris was strewn about but all the buildings were intact. Several tents filled with the screaming and dying had been erected on the grounds surrounding the statue. People wearing uniforms where scrambling in every direction. A thick layer of smoke lay over everything carrying with it the smell of devastation and death.
After a minute, he started walking in the direction of his house. As his muscles flexed and relaxed with each step, the pain diminished from sharp stabs to dull throbs. After the first block, his muscles took on a fuzzy numb feeling and the ringing in his ears faded enough that he could hear his own footsteps. He tried to remember what happened. He was standing on the back porch lighting his pipe, about to go pick some tomatoes and peppers from the garden for the Sunday noon meal when he heard a large explosion off to his right. He saw a large cloud of smoke slowly rising from the other side of town, probably from the rail yard. As he turned to go back into the house to get his wife and sons, that’s when his memory failed. His house was probably hit by a bomb and he must have been blown off the porch and knocked unconscious.
With that realization, he broke into a jog, testing his legs. When the pain didn’t materialize, he started running. He turned down an alley that would bring him to his street, just 3 houses down from his own. As he rounded the corner onto his street, he skidded to a halt. Where his front porch used to be was a large crater. His house was little more than a smoldering pile of rubble, no wall was more than 3 foot high. The blast took half of each of his neighbors houses, too.
Panic gripped him as he ran screaming the few remaining yards to what was left of his life. He couldn’t even recognize a single piece of furniture, the destruction was so complete. He started looking through the debris for any sign of his wife and sons. He struggled to move large pieces of wall and support beams but with the extra exertion and his already weakened condition, he soon could barely lift his arms. As time wore on, he slowly started to realize that they didn’t make it out. He tried to refuse believing it, but there was simply no denying the truth.
He slowly crawled through the rubble and collapsed in the back yard. Laying there, he cried until his tears dried up. He mind was blank and he was drained of emotion as he stared up at nothing in particular. The late afternoon sun was beginning to throw orange and gold rays of light across the sky. After what felt like an eternity, he heard the faint crying of a baby. He sat up and looked around, trying to discover the source of the crying. Off to his left, further away from the blast area, he saw what looked like a body in the high grass of his neighbor’s unkempt yard. Still drained of energy, he crawled over to it.
As he got closer, the crying got louder but he could see no baby. When he finally reached the body, he slowly rolled it onto its back. It was a woman still clutching a baby. He looked at her face but didn’t recognize her. Her lifeless eyes told him all he needed to know. The baby’s cries were getting louder as it shivered, the warmth of its mother’s body leaving. Picking up the baby, he looked it over for any injuries but found none. Tears welled up anew in his eyes as he cradled the baby boy in his arms. The baby’s cries faded as warmth enveloped it. He slowly stood up, turned and started carrying the baby back to the Eastern Square.
“I shall name you Nicoli Ramus Walinus. Nicoli was my oldest. He was strong of body and heart. Ramus was my youngest. He was strong of mind and spirit. I shall raise you to embody the best of them both. You shall be my new son.”