Oh, how that cold wind blew and howled. Howled right through these old bones and whipped about the last few strands of hair left on my head. It came down across the moor and rattled the fences around the tattered coop that no longer held the clamorous bustle of any hen. I stomped my heavy boots against the porch and pulled my duffel coat up tighter around my nape. Not much life out there on the moor these days. Even the lone fox seen scampering across stopped and looked around at the stark nothingness.
I looked at my old hound who sat hunched and ever loyal at my side. She looked at me with her tired eyes, gray and foggy from the tight clenches of cataracts. She cocked her head to the side as if saying "lets go inside where it's warm." I turned placing my wrinkled hand, battered and worn by life and the trials and tribulations that it still holds, on the back of her wrinkled head. We hobbled into our little shack that we have called home for more years than I could remember. It's sparse furnishings sat crooked and covered with ages of dust.
I poured some hot tea into the mug I had always used, cupping my hands around it's warm weathered shell. I looked out to the cold, watching the wind whip the dead burrs that tapped against the cracked glass of my kitchen window.
Then they came. Memories of days past that always seemed to settle in when all was quiet and still. The panicked shouts were the first to come. "Get the children! Merciful God, save us!" I heard the screams of fear and the rush of feet running here and there. Then she was there. That face that haunted my dreams, my heart, still after all these years. My Marianna.
She was so fare against the noon sun, her black hair falling loosely down her back. Her gray eyes looking into mine with all the love that bloomed in between the stars above. She smiled that beautiful smile that always made my world stand still. But the smile disappeared, the eyes vacant and cold, now smeared with blood and death.
I'll never understand why I was spared that day. Why an angel such as her was taken so mercilessly and I was left to relive this nightmare every day that she wasn't with me. Damn them. Damn them all. They rode in on their muddy steeds, firing their guns and shouting into the air. I didn't even know why they were there. Some gang of brutes, vile with the stench of their thirst for riches and power. No thought or value for human life. Just blood and they made the dirt of the streets run thick with it. It was a slaughter, plain and simple. Men and women, the old and the young. No one was spared.
I tried to be brave. I tried to rush out and claim justice with my small rifle. I could have been a hero, but my ambitions were locked tightly behind my racing heart. Marianna looked at me, still with her love and understanding. Perhaps she understood the man I could never be. She took hold my hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
Suddenly the earth shifted and a thunderous boom shattered the windows in the buildings around us. We instinctively shielded our heads from the explosion with our arms, mine covering hers. The least I could have done for my lover.
We needed to move. We needed to flee from our hiding place as it wouldn't last long against this terror. I scrambled out from behind the town well and reached for her hand. She reached and her fingers were nearly touching mine, almost there...and then everything around me shattered into darkness.
I was lost in the pitch that had engulfed my senses. I was asleep. It was only a dream, a nightmare. I would awake and see my Marianna smiling at me. The sun would be shining and everything would be okay. But the edges of the blackness began to fray, an ashen fog seeping in along with the screams. Oh the screams. In all my wretched years, I've never forgotten the screams. They pushed through the ringing in my ears, jolting me back to the horror.
I couldn't feel her beside me. I turned my head and saw one of the demon brutes violently shaking the arm of a woman on her knees, screaming in sheer terror. He laughed at her mockingly with a great satisfaction in the crook of his rotten grin. I turned my head to the other side and there she was. A few feet away in a pile of rubble with her head facing away from me. Marianna! Does she live?
I willed myself to move, to crawl to her. No one saw me. Or maybe they did but just didn't care, thinking that I would die anyway. I scraped and dug into the charred rocks around me, singing and cutting at my hands. Finally I reached her and I raised myself over her chest. I prayed that she was still alive. I pleaded with any God who was willing to listen to please, let her be alive. I raised my shaky, blistered and bloodied hand to her face and cupped her cheek, pulling it gently up towards me. My eyes were closed, stinging with soot and tears, afraid to see what might be. Then, I opened them...my heart shattered and I could feel my insides crush with the intensity of my sorrow. Her eyes, those once vibrant eyes so full of life and love, stared up at me, vacant and dead. My grief poured out on to the blood smears on her face. I laid my head on her chest, my broken body wracking with sobs.
I could still hear the shouts of the brutes around me. I willed them to me. I welcomed them in my grief and begged them for end. Shouting out a blood curdling "KILL ME! KILL ME YOU BASTARDS!" I choked on a sob. "Please..." I looked at my Marianna, "kill me..." One of them came over to me, I assumed he was their leader, I didn't care. He kicked me onto my back and stepped heavily on my stomach, relishing the pain he saw on my face. His own face turned stony, almost thoughtful as he slowly knelt by my side. I looked at him, prepared for the bullet or the knife to the heart. Waiting for it, longing for it. He leaned in close to my face. So close that I could smell the sweat off his pores and the alcohol from his rotted breath. Grabbing my chin with his gloved hand, in a raspy voice he whispered to me "why kill you? Why give you the freedom of death when I can leave you to live this day for the rest of your miserable life?" His eyes were maniacally still then he laughed callously and spat in my face before walking off.
I had hoped that my wounds would take me, laying there rotting in the heat of the sun. But no hope was meant for me. No prayers were to be heard. Only my grief, my echoing cowardice and my shame.
The memory faded and I came back to my empty reality and the taste of tears sliding down my cheeks. All these years I've lived that nightmare. Every second I've lived, I've hated myself with all the passion of a thousand storms sweeping across the night sky. I couldn't even look at myself. Shards of glass from broken mirrors still lay strewn across the floor. So many times over these empty years I tried to end it. I tried to bring an end to this relentless torture. But, I didn't even have the courage to do that. The years had stretched so far and so long that I had become numb. Living day to day in a blur. Wretched life
The strident caw of a crow sitting on the fence snapped me out of my reverie. The black bird usually an omen of death. A small wisp of hope stirred in me. Maybe there was an end. I looked out over the moor once more. Oh how that cold wind blew and howled.