Categories > Original > Horror0 Reviews
Looking back, I see that I have few memories of a childhood untainted by the influences of war.
The bombs had destroyed so much of the world, when nuclear was was initiated back in 2013 or 2014, when there was still electricity, and clean, untouched patches of nature. When there was still food for many, and the world was overpopulated. Back when the lands were split into countries with exotic names like Dubai and Siberia and Java, and you needed special little booklets known as passports to enter from one into another.
Then, things changed drastically. It probably changed for the worse. It was in 2013 or so, and I was barely 7 years old. I was in 2nd grade, and just starting to learn my multiplication and division, and words like 'forlorn' and 'periwinkle'. Back then, a country called North Korea, and the one I lived in, called the United States of America, went to war.
I remember it went on for a long time, until they started something called a draft. I wasn't sure what it was, only that it made my father, and all my uncles, even my favorite one who helped me with math and brought me cupcakes from the little bakery a few blocks away. One night, I remember hearing my aunt tell my mother that they were only doing this because the war was really bad, and there wasn't enough soldiers.
I remember there being food shortages at times, because the soldiers needed food to keep fighting, and we weren't able to produce enough with everyone caught up in the war. When I outgrew my sneakers, my mother had to get a pair from a thrift shop. I remember that they weren't really a pair, and were mismatched, but they were the same size, so that was the only thing that mattered to her.
Soon enough, everywhere you went, you heard the words "nuclear warfare", "radiation", and so forth. In school, they began to teach us how to duck below the desks if the air raid sirens went off. That was another thing. They put in these loud air raid sirens. If a plan flew too close, it went off, squealing a warning to us all, and we were supposed to duck and cover til they quieted down again.
Thing went on like that for the next year or so, until one day, I walked into class, and my teacher sat the whole class down, to tell us that Africa was gone. I remember someone asking if it was gone, like really gone from the map gone, and the teacher could only nod sadly, saying that most of Africa was blown to smithereens. I was in 4th grade at the time. At that age, I felt more sorrow for the elephants and the lions and the zebras and giraffes than the people there.
Several months after I had heard that Africa was gone from the face of the earth, we got the news that China was gone, too, and so was parts of Siberia and Russia. Most of Europe and South America was soon to follow in being bombed. More people were seen on the street corners, with signs saying that the end of the world was coming. As time went on, there were so many that you could barely walk down the street for bumping into them.
School was finally canceled, and most places lost electricity by the time I was 11 or so.
Then one day, the air sirens went off. All too used to this, we ducked and covered as the enemy planes passed overhead. But it was all in vain, as they dropped a bomb. A single bomb, not very large, and not very close to us. Then, it exploded, in a bright light.
I could see even through my closed eyelids. The ground rumbled, shaking, car alarms from the rare few cars that still worked going off, only to quickly be silenced. Things fell to the ground, and glass broke. Then, it was dead silent.
After a few moments, I scrambled to the window, careful to avoid the broken glass, just in time to see a massive mushroom shaped cloud blooming above the city. My house was just outside of the furthest edge of it, the rest of the city directly below the stem of the giant mushroom that bloomed deadly and sinisterly in the sky above. My first thought was my mother. She'd been in the city, collecting our weekly rations.
I left the house, noticing how quiet it was outside. Not even the birds were singing, and there weren't any dogs barking either. It was like being in a ghost town.
I'd barely started down the street, when a voice broke the silence. IT was the old lady from next door. I turned to look at her, just as she called out to me again. When I replied to her, she told me to come in quickly, waving me over to the open door of her house. I entered, unsure of myself.
She told me to close the door, before we both got radiation sickness. She mentioned that she'd survived it before, as a child, though her sister had died of it, and she didn't want to go through that suffering again, as she bustled around the house as quickly as she could with her cane.
I shut the door, which was now hanging at an insane angle off the hinges, as requested, and in my naive 12 year old bliss, I asked her what radiation sickness was.
She looked at me, pursing her lips and sizing me up, before she sighed, saying it was a sickness that was caused by the bomb, and while some people got better, many people died. She told many other things to me as well, like how we had to wait til the nuclear fallout stopped, before hightailing it out of there. I couldn't help but wonder where we were going to go, because from everything that I had heard most of the world was destroyed, and little better than the place we stood in now. She said that we would try to make our way to the Midwest, where last she had heard, there was quite a bit less damage.
Several days later, we left her house, carrying whatever supplies we could manage. When I asked her if she would help me look for my mother, she merely smiled at me sadly, and told me that she wouldn't have made it if she was standing in line to get food in the city. The war had made me an orphan, and homeless, in a destroyed world, all before I was 13.
Me and the old lady left the city, headed west. I can never tell you the full extent of the horrors that we saw on the way there. The bodies of those who died of the radiation sickness. Those bodies with severe radiation burns. The ones that no longer looked human, missing hair and teeth and limbs and patches of skin, dead and rotting.
But maybe more terrifying to me, as such a young child, were the evidences of those who had been vaporized by the bombs. At best, there would be nothing, or just an outline on a wall. At worst, there would be something left of them, a finger with a ring still on it, a foot still in the shoe that held it during life. These were the images that haunted my mind, not even allowing me to sleep in peace.
Over the next few months, if it was really that long, or that short, or a time frame, which felt like forever, me and the old lady traveled, never staying in one place for very long. We couldn't, not if we wanted to avoid the traveling bands of thieves, or have a steady supply of food. We encountered few survivors In that time, and the further into the heartland we got, the more damage and devastation we were exposed to.
There was no end to it.
We stopped caring about the radiation sickness. In the beginning, we were careful about what we ate and drank, where we walked, where we stayed, but now, we no longer cared. It we found it, and it wasn't spoiled, it was our next meal. If it took us where we needed to go, it was the path we took. It it offered shelter, we stayed.
Even when we were finally out of civilization for the most part, there seemed to be no end to the ravages of war. Most of the vegetation was dead and rotting, or dying it it hadn't already been burnt clean off the face of the earth. The animals were no better, dead for the most part, or like the people we encountered, sickened and dying, missing patching of fur and skin and teeth, skin burned gruesomely where it was left by radioactive fallout. The stench of death was everywhere, and inescapable.
We grew used to it.
During the nights, when we set up camp somewhere, usually in an abandoned building not too damaged, sleeping on bedrolls, the old lady would tell me stories. Around the tiny fire, cooking whatever canned food we'd found, the tales of her youth came to life. I found out about her childhood in Japan, a happy existence with her parents, 2 sisters, brother, and many friends. I found out her father too was drafted, and how her grandfather had said nothing good would come out of it.
She told me about the constant bombings, the fear, the Nazis. Then the day that the bombs, the nuclear ones, were dropped. How the entire downtown of Hiroshima was reduced to dust and rubble. The terror, the panic, the grief after, since there were still people left alive to fear and panic and grieve, for the ones who died, and themselves. She told me how the air was filled with a cacophony of screams of pain and wails of despair. About all the people who died instantly, vaporized from the heat of the bomb, and the ones who died within a few days from the injuries they received, from falling debris, or burns.
Her life was just like mine.
She told me too, about the ones who seemed fine for days or weeks after, before becoming deathly ill. She told me about her eldest sister, who was nearer to the blast zone, and caught radiation sickness, and how when she had visited her in the hospital, she saw many like that, and about the people who'd had bits of clothing melted to their bodies from the heat. How she, too, came down with radiation sickness, right before her sister died. She told me how she and many others developed cancer of all forms, even years after being exposed to the radiation, and how she never expected to live for so long, and was never able to have children because of the bombs.
She told me how she became a nurse to help those who were ill when she was older, and moved here to the US many years ago, when she got married, and how her husband died of cancer caused by the bomb. How she'd been shocked to hear of the nuclear war happening all over again.
Those nights, I found out so much about history, and people I'd never met at all, but it all felt so recent to me, even though I know she was talking about events that happened over 70 years ago. Somehow, those stories gave me a sense of comfort during the days we traveled, but to this day, I ask myself why does hearing all that suffering make me feel better?
I realize it's because by hearing it, I knew I wasn't alone.
I became aware of the fact that we weren't doing well. That we were covering less and less ground each day. That we were losing weight and we were developing burned skin from all the radiation still in the air. That our hair and teeth were falling out at an alarming rate, and we threw up frequently. We had radiation sickness, but there were no hospitals to help us. Our injuries began to stay open for weeks on end, often growing infected, and we constantly felt weak.
That was when we knew that we were dying.
One day, the old lady sat down, saying she couldn't go on, that it was her time to move on. I was around 14 or so at the time, and it'd been over a year since the world as we knew it had ended. Then, I realized I had lived most of my life under war conditions, and had few memories of a life free of the influences of conflict.
By that night, the old woman was dead, and I had buried her the best that I could. It was then I truly cried, for everyone and everything that I'd lost, realizing that now, I was truly alone, that there was really no one left to take care of me, and that I'd have to fend for myself now.
Over the next year or two, I traveled far, and realized something. I wasn't the last person left alive. There were survivors, but few and far between. They were reduced to the basest levels of functioning. They were hairless and toothless, open sores and wounds littering their bodies, and physically weak. Many were disabled, missing limbs or blind or deaf, if not both, and most could no longer speak. Motor function was also in decline, leaving them to stumble wildly, and barely able to grasp objects that in the past they would have manipulated with no qualms.
I was just like them.
So many were suffering, dying, but I knew I couldn't help them, because I was ill, too. By now, all my hair was gone, leaving me bald as a stone, and I'd stopped growing, forced to use a cane, stooped over, and barely able to do much, due to the deep pains that seemed to resonate from my very bones. I had very few teeth left, most already wiggling in my gums. I looked like a wizened old man, and I was still in my teens. Yet I knew that it wasn't the worst thing that could happen to me.
I'd seen others suffering a fate worse than death, a fate I hope to never have to go through. Some had grown mutated, with warts and tumors, in the worst cases, extra or missing or misshapen limbs, some not even looking human anymore.
Who would've thought anything like this could ever happened?
I found out that Africa wasn't as destroyed as they said it was. Small parts were still there, but it was now a land of nightmares. The elephants now charged everything they saw, the once-proud lions now gumming their food with no teeth, their long manes near non-existent, the giraffes with exposed bits of bones and muscles, the zebras eating flesh as if they'd always done so since the beginning of time, the fish now sporting fangs and toes.
It was in Africa where I had hidden from a raging zebra in an old outpost hut, miraculously still standing when it had begun to rain. They'd ran away, which was when I noticed that the rain was clear, and smelled fresh. This time, it didn't send up acidic hisses and clouds of steam from everything it touched. The clouds were gray, not the sickly yellow green that I'd gotten used to it being. I stepped into the rain, a hand held out in front of me, uncertain. Instead of being scorched and burnt, it was instead cleansed of the dirt that encrusted it.
The rest of me followed the hand in to the rain, marveling at the clean, unpolluted water, which I could barely remember. I'm not sure how long I stood there, face tilted up into the sky, being washed clean from all the problems of the past along with the dirt and grime. In too short a period of time for my liking, the sky lightened, and the rain abated. When I finally opened my eyes, I could see a rainbow off in the distance. It was the first I had seen in years. It was proof that the world was finally healing after the damage that was inflicted upon it.
But most of all, it was hope.