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Riahs’ breath came in sharp huffs, her feet making only a slight crunching on the frosted autumn leaves. In her mind a film of events seemed to race by sending her reeling with every snapshot of the past. After what seemed an age of walking north she staggered against a tree scanning the ground again. Desperately, searching for a sign that last night had only been imagined… Hoping against all odds that it was all just a nightmare. Above the mountains the dawn was breaking; signifying an entire night of useless searching. Finally the young girl collapsed to the ground with her back against a tree. With the sleepless night fueling her pain, Riahs mind wandered to the events of last night.
Fear pounding in her chest, tears blurring her sight, smoke filling her lungs. The running, the screaming, the leaping flames; so bright against the dark of the night, her mother’s panic stricken face; voice hoarse, screaming for Taja, her younger sister, lost amongst the confusion created by the invaders, torn from her mother just as a scream had pierced her ears. Right behind her, spinning she’d seen the bullet dig into the young woman’s chest, the blood immediately bleed onto her white nightgown. She’d fallen, her copper hair caught in the breeze, crashing onto the ground; but not in the least graceful. The reality of death was nothing like the movies she’d seen. She was brave when she’d been secure in the idea that it was nothing but pretend. Then she’d run. Running for the hills where she was now, bolting through the woods. She shouldn’t have. She should have stayed, stayed and helped search. But she hadn’t because she knew what they all feared was true. Taja had been taken.
Her eyes snapped open, pain cramping her chest. Guilt? Of course it was, she was a coward. Nothing but a child who ran away; who had she been kidding when she thought herself brave? Pushing against the tree Riah forced herself to stand and continue her trek homewards; if there would be anything left but rubble to meet her.
Several hours later Riah stumbled into the rubble filled clearing, her feet bleeding and her stomach caving in on its self. Bullet shells scatted over the ashen ground, as common as the burnt bodies she couldn’t look at. She stood at the edge of the village, looking down the main street, seeing nothing but the pain and death in the scene. Hanging her head, crystal tears streaked down her filthy cheeks. At her feet, discarded upon the leaves, a child’s soft toy, a rabbit. She didn’t know who it belonged to, but she crushed it to her chest in the memory of all it stood for. The last remains of a town she’d left to burn.
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