A short story by Deano Parsons.
The country had been experiencing a heat wave and a drought. It had been a stunning summer. Today had been another truly beautiful day. Frank had an expression of incredulity on his face. He frowned as he looked up from his desk to see the sudden downpour of rain lash against the library window, amid the squall of a howling wind. This had been one of the hottest and driest summers on record and yet, unbelievably, it was now a scene reminiscent of a stormy autumnal afternoon.
“Where the heck did that come from?” Frank wondered. His black rimmed spectacles had slipped slightly down his nose and, as he rose from his chair, he pushed them back up. He ran his hand up into his black hair. Frank always rubbed his head when he was unsettled. He found it comforting. His mother had done that for him, as a boy, on days when he would return home from school in a state of misery after having hated his day. His mother always knew what to say to make him feel better and she would rub his head to reassure him.
Right now, Frank had a very strong feeling that things were not going to be alright. Without warning, a sudden and grotesque deep boom occurred from somewhere overhead. The entire building seemed to rumble and vibrate as the sound grew somehow closer. Frank looked around in wonder and moved quickly across the library to the nearest window; a vista that would usually make Frank smile from his desk in Brackfield village library. He loosened his bite on the end of his pen and removed it from his mouth. Many of the villagers had also broken away from their activities to rush to the same side of the room and look out through the windows, which made Frank feel a sense of concern and responsibility.
The most elderly and disabled people in the room remained seated. As he turned to look directly at them, Frank could see the expressions of shock on their gentle visages. He noticed that they had all focused their attention to a particular point, outside. Frank moved himself to better see what it was they were looking at. He saw it. He felt his breathing stop as he held his breath in complete and utter shock, dropping his pen to the floor.
As villagers started to gasp, and exclaim their terror, Frank felt a chill along his spine. He heard himself gasp, too, yet he felt somehow detached from what was taking place.
“Everyone, get back from the window. Quickly. Take cover behind the bookshelves. Now.” he yelled. With a flurry of movement, the people swiftly hid behind nearby bookshelves. Those unable to move themselves quickly were dragged, by those running past them, to what felt like the safer cover of the bookshelves. The younger villagers could be heard sobbing. These were two or three young mothers who had taken their toddlers to the library to encourage their children to become familiar with books. Their infants were now all crying while their desperate mothers tried to quieten them.
Others in the room were elderly members of the community who liked to spend time at the library using the computers, working together on jigsaws, reading and simply sharing time with other people. It was all too easy to become isolated in old age and so the library was a treasured hub for bringing people together. Now, it was a sanctuary and a place to try to survive the terrible events, outside.
Frank had an ordinary life. In his late forties, a divorced father of two who now lived alone. He was comforted by the routine of his work as a librarian and by being part of the small, friendly community in Brackfield. Frank was well liked, trusted and respected by his fellow villagers. He had grown up in the village. To most people, he was just as much a part of the landscape as any of the beautiful medieval buildings that remained. He rented a little cottage near the centre of the pretty village and he had his life in good order. He had worked hard to stabilise his life, after his ex-wife had run off with a former naval officer who lived in the neighbouring village of Whimby. He had just about learnt to cope with the pain of seeing his son, Danny, and his little daughter, Milly, growing up away from him. They had a new live-in father now. Frank did get to have the children stay with him every weekend. Having to drop them to school on a Monday morning always left him feeling sick and sad, as he longed for the next weekend when he would get to see their happy little faces.
No sooner than Frank and the other villagers had hidden behind the sturdy bookshelves, many of which smelt of the delightfully musky scent of long treasured books, there was a shrill, high-pitched sound and the windows imploded. Shattered glass was sent across the beloved library at such speed, that many shards were embedded into walls, into villager’s artworks, shelves, books and even into some of the villager’s arms and legs. Not everyone had hidden themselves well and it was largely the elderly and disabled in the room who sustained injury from the torrent of glass projectiles. Despite screams and sobs, everyone remained where they were, for fear of being seen; unaware that their screams could reveal their positions. Rational thinking was no longer in play.
“Stay still.” Frank commanded. “Remain silent.” he added, mindful that they were all now facing the most perilous danger. Frank’s mind was working on overdrive. Visual thoughts. Images of his beautiful children filled his mind, along with imagined scenes of carnage in the village. Interspersed with these images were observations. He looked around, risk assessing every potential move that he might make. Frank felt the burden of responsibility not just for his children, whatever might be happening to them at school right now, but also for these lovely people. These villagers were the faces and voices that filled his life with comfort and meaning. Now, they were hurting, bleeding and in danger.
“Did you see it?”, whispered Marion Burton from behind Frank. He felt her hand touch his shoulder. “Frank, did you see it? Frank, you’re bleeding.” she went on. Frank had been unaware that he was bleeding. He looked at Marion. He noticed her beautiful green eyes, as he always did.
“What? Bleeding? Where?” he asked quietly.
“It’s your shoulder.” Marion slid her hand to the right of Frank’s shoulder blade. “You have a piece of glass here. I should pull it out, Frank.” she whispered with firmness. Frank felt his heart palpitate and his stomach lurch as he realised that he had been injured. Awareness of the glass protruding from his shoulder had brought him out of his thoughts about his children and back to conscious thought. With that, came the onslaught of stabbing pain. He groaned. The idea of the sharp glass being pulled made him feel sick, but he knew it had to be done.
“Go ahead.” he replied. “Just pull it out.” he instructed.
Within seconds Marion had pulled the glass from Frank’s shoulder and was tending to his wound with a strip of material she had ripped from her bright summer dress. Marion cared about Frank. More than he knew. She could see the pain in Frank’s eyes; more than just the physical pain. She touched his face with the palm of her hand, softly and then moved her hand up to Frank’s hair. She attempted to tidy it but simply rubbed his head to comfort him. Frank looked at Marion. The meeting of their eyes expressed so much. No words were needed. They simply knew they felt connected to each other.
Frank noticed that the high-pitched noise had ceased. All that he could hear was the crying, sobbing and groaning of people in the library. The whole situation felt surreal to him. He asked everyone to be silent for a moment and, with a brief pause from the noise of suffering, he heard only silence outside.
“I think it has stopped.” Frank informed Marion.
“Stopped? You’re right. Who is doing this?” she replied.
“I’m going to try to get to the window. Can you check on everyone’s wounds? I’m going to try to find out what the hell’s going on.” asserted Frank.
Frank pulled a book from the bookshelf and he threw it up into the air in the direction he planned to crawl. Nothing. There was no sign of anything that might cause him any harm. Frank was still bleeding into the makeshift bandage that Marion had tied around his shoulder and chest. He could feel himself weaken but he knew that he must, at all costs, find out what was happening outside. He began crawling from behind the bookshelf. Others in the room gasped as they realised what he was trying to do. Frank indicated to them that he was okay. He pulled himself across the floor, keeping as close to bookshelves or chairs as possible. Then he stopped. He felt fear course through his body as he started to feel a burning sensation on his face.
He was no longer in the shadow of a bookshelf and, with the window open to the elements, the intense heat of the sun was burning directly onto his face. He managed a small smile as he felt relief. Indeed, the sky was the most beautiful blue once more and, if he closed his eyes, he could be forgiven for thinking that he was still sat at his desk and that this had all been some bizarre daydream. He opened his eyes and evidence of the reality was scattered all around him.
There was glass everywhere and even his glasses, which were again slipping down his nose, were cracked. He pulled his glasses from his face and left them on the floor beside him. He crawled on, pulling himself forward with the weight on one side, to avoid his injury. He had reached the wall. Taking a deep breath, he manoeuvred himself into a crouching position. He was ready to get up and look out of the window. His heart pounded. He took a deep breath.
For a moment, he was gripped with fear. What if he was seen?
“Frank, be careful.” whispered Marion. He felt his eyes well up, but he refused to breathe, for to do so would be to let emotion in. He nodded to Marion, maintained his held breath and he rose up. He looked out of the window and his eyes were met with the whitest light. He breathed out a mighty gasp, as he felt his eyes sting from the brightness of the light. He had been discovered.
The beautiful village of Brackfield was one of the places to be invaded, that very first day of their arrival. The sonic bombs were sophisticated way beyond our capacity to counter them. Following the initial, deep boom, they burst into shrill, high-pitched sound as they descended over villages, towns and then cities. They destroyed glass and most fragile objects and structures. They stopped electricity working; communications failed and within seconds the main constructs of modern society were rendered useless. Those who did not die immediately were rendered prisoners.
In Brackfield, as happened everywhere, the villagers were in some way mesmerised by the bright, white light. It changed them. It suppressed their memories, their thoughts and even their will. The people were now simply empty vessels for incoming instructions to serve their new masters. They were rounded up into vehicles, to be shipped off to where they would be put to use. The elderly, the disabled and the infirm were executed. Anyone not fit enough to serve was of no use.
A shuttle craft took off, filled with people. Inside, looking blankly across from each other, sat a man and a woman. The woman saw the man had a makeshift bandage around his shoulder and chest. She felt nothing and thought nothing. She was simply aware that he was there. He looked back at the woman sat in the row opposite him. He had no thoughts or feelings, as he looked into her emotionless green eyes.
(c) DeanoParsons. 2018.