The shelling continued deep into the nights, and by morning, all that was left of the quaint old village was dust, silence and a few wilted plants in their shattered coffins.
As the villagers returned in the morning, first a few young scouts, then a few others, and finally the whole bewildered crowd, they looked like people who’d had their hearts taken out while they were still alive.
One girl knelt beside the debris that had once been the cause of much argument because it would not suffice for a growing family. The remains of the room where her sister had died in childbirth. The roses that peeked out from among the ruins – petals shredded so badly that they would have been soundlessly howling had they been human. The rattle which all of the nine children had shaken and giggled at with wide-open eyes. Then, she turned, with an imperceptible reluctance, to the center of what had once been a marketplace.
Nearby, an old man stood beside a walnut tree. He had given up trying to understand the unfathomable that had occurred – it was enough work trying to hold back a torrent of tears which even the Ever-Merciful would not be able to stop. He stared blankly at a portrait of her – a portrait which he always said he liked less than the 76-year-old love of his life. Alas, where was she? Where had she been when he ran out?
He bent , and it was not his hunched back that pained him, but the loss of the only star he had ever needed to hop, skip and jump on his own seas. He picked something up from among the rubble. It was a simple silver ring, stained with the red of blood and the sorrow of tears. He turned, for the last time, toward the marketplace.
Slowly, the whole village was dragging its feet to the square.. Some wise man once said that an army marches on its stomach. They wouldn’t have known – but it was probably not hunger that brought them to the center of the marketplace.It was not food they wanted for – they had never had had much of that anyway. It was hope, or rather the absence of hope. It was the fact that all the light that had ever lit their simple lives had gone out in an excruciating instant – extinguished by the cold steely hand of dispassionate War, coming down on a little hamlet that was hardly a formidable adversary for his man-made apocalypses, and ending anything that had ever meant anything to them.
And as a wail went up from the rubble – a wail that only a mother robbed of her child can wail – they strode, as one, over the brink. The wail stopped, and the shadow of a human being that remained walked right into the crowd and joined the blank stares that looked skyward, at the shell that hurtled down towards them in its eagerness to release them from all that remained.