I smile as I watch my mother play with my little brother Tommy on the hearth-rug. My father sits in his chair, still but alert. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I detect a movement in the yard. I turn to look. Soldiers, four of them! By the way they are dressed, I know them instantly as ‘the enemy’. My father has followed my gaze as I gasp in fright and immediately he’s on his feet, sweeping up Tommy in the same movement and shoving him in my direction.
“You know what to do Annie,” he says quietly. He nods urgently at me and I grab Tommy’s hand and propel him through the kitchen. I look through the window, checking our route to the barn. It’s clear, so I open the door and we slide through and dash into the slatted wooden building. Behind us, I hear the soldiers hammering on the front door, shouting.
Although Tommy’s only little he knows what to do. Just as we’ve practiced so many times in recent months, I help him up the ladder to the hayloft. He doesn’t make a sound as we creep across the creaky boards and hide ourselves in the straw behind the loosely baled hay. We lie there, waiting. We haven’t practised what happens next. Then I hear a scream; I know it’s my mother, although the sound is like none I’ve ever heard her make. Her pain and terror flood my head. I grip Tommy tightly; he’s trembling and sobbing silently. The minutes tick by; I wonder what’s happening in the house. My father is shouting, but I can’t make out what he’s saying. The shouting stops abruptly and I hear the back door slam against the outside wall of the kitchen.
Heavy boots march towards the barn; I bite down hard on my knuckles. A cold fist contorts my stomach as I suddenly realise I forgot to drag the ladder up behind us.
I hear the soldier’s heavy breathing down below. He’s pulling things over, searching. He approaches the ladder and in my mind’s eye I see him grab the ladder and place his boot on the first rung. Sweat runs down my back. Tommy is rigid in my arms.
There is a loud call from the house: “Move on!” I hear the sound of the ladder clattering to the floor. It settles and there is no sound apart from the blood pumping in my ears. Slowly I get up, my legs are shaking. I grab the rail at the edge of the loft and feel for the rope which we use as a swing when it’s too wet to play outside. Telling Tommy to stay where his is, I let myself down and run quickly towards the back door which is gaping off its hinges.
Inside the house furniture has been overturned and one curtain has been ripped from the window. My mother cowers in a corner. Her blouse is torn and there is blood on her skirt. Father’s face is bruised and bloody. He reaches for her, but she turns her face to the wall.
©2018 Chris Hall