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Clash By Night
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

"And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."
- Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

The first shells of the evening barrage were hurtling by overhead as I finished packing the bag and slung it over my shoulder. Tonight the shells were landing in the middle distance, around the stadium. Theyíd been shelling it a lot recently. Maybe their drones had noticed something worth targeting, or maybe it was just for fun.

A lot of things these days were so inexplicable that someone might as well be doing them just for fun.

I came out of the flat and walked towards the stairs at the end of the corridor. †There was, of course, no power, but it didnít matter; enough of the dusk still filtered through the broken window at the far end to show me where I was going. The stairs would be darker, black as midnight, but I was used to them, too; I knew where each step was, the broken places and the part where there was a hole at the landing one flight down. I didnít think I would have to use the torch in my pocket.

"Are you going away?" a voice said behind me.

I turned. It was the girl from the next flat, the teenage daughter of the couple who owned it. Iíd occasionally talked to her when weíd met in the passage or out in the street, but I wasnít even sure of her name. Mara, Maya, or Mala, something like that. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, her eyes dark holes in her pale triangular face. She looked terrified.

"Youíre going away, arenít you?" she repeated. She came out of her flat, leaving the door open, and clutched my sleeve. "I heard there was a convoy coming tonight. Youíll go away with it?"

"Iím just sending official documents." I held up the strap of the bag. "If the convoy gets through, Iíll give this to a driver to take with him when they leave. Thatís all."

"Youíre just saying that." A shell burst, closer than the rest, close enough to feel the explosion through the floor. The girl shuddered as though the shell had shaken her, too. "Take me with you. Take me away from here."

"Your parents..." I began.

"My parents wonít do anything. They donít care. They think God will protect us and make everything all right for everybody." She began to cry, the tears on her cheeks catching the flashes of the shells exploding over the stadium. "Look..." She pulled up her T shirt with both hands, exposing flat bare breasts surmounted by little nipples like dried flower buds. "Iíll do anything if you take me with you. Iíll sleep with you, give you my virginity. Iíll marry you if you want me to, do whatever you want. Just take me along!"

"Iím not going anywhere," I replied. "Please, calm down. Iíll be back before morning, and Iíll see you tomorrow."

"Oh, no, you wonít," she sobbed. "Even if youíre back, you wonít see me. Iíll be killed tonight, I know it. Iíll die long before you get back."

I took my leave of her with some difficulty. From the head of the stairs I saw her, still watching me miserably. Her hands were twisting her T shirt, as though wringing out time from it, drops measuring out the seconds and minutes of life she still had.

The thing was, she wasnít even wrong. If the convoy got through, I was going to give the documents to a driver to take back with him, but if I could find a way to get out, of course Iíd go. Iíd be crazy to do otherwise.

And yet, hadnít there been a moment when Iíd almost been tempted? Hadnít there been an instant when Iíd thought to myself, why not take what she was offering? After all, we didnít even know whether we would be alive this time tomorrow. It was a nasty thought, and I turned my mind away from it.

If we got through the night, I thought, it would be different. If we got through the night, weíd see.

The street was bouncing slightly from the impact of the shells, but hadnít been hit, and probably wouldnít be tonight. By now weíd all got to know where a particular barrage was likely to hit, and which places would be spared. Sometimes, of course, we were wrong, and then kids scrambling for a bucket or two of water or women waiting in line for bread someone had managed to find flour enough to bake would be blown to pieces. But it was a chance everyone had to take; weíd never survive otherwise anyway, with the shelling that was like a routine, with barrages every morning, noon and night.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:General Horror
Type:Short story
Rating:6.6 / 10
Rated By:7 users
Comments: 1 user
Total Hits:10058

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