I had originally written this for Christmas Day. But I suppose this is a much better day to tell this tale. Happy Halloween. x
This Christmas, there were no stars in the skies. There were neither lights nor trees tucked in the corners of lively homes by warm fireplaces. On the blanket of snow where she stood, Mona pulled her mother’s coat over her own. She was glad to have brought it along. One could very well freeze solid in this weather, even after snow had stopped falling.
With its last bit of generosity, the wind gave off a gentle albeit lingering breeze. Then, the air was at rest again. Dark clouds gathered and roared in their moody tantrum, then unleashed a sleuth of heat that fell with grey rain.
Mona let the grey rain touch her fingers as every drop pulverised into a darker shade of ash. She swabbed her finger and left a light smear on her white sweater. It had turned slightly beige, she realised. The sweater was a Christmas present, as was her thin silver necklace. That she had gotten from her mother on the same Christmas Day for her birthday. She still wore it around her neck, even though the locket had fallen off when she ran too quickly once.
Mona danced around some dried firewood, humming a melody. Her tiny voice sung the first few notes in tune. Her wandering mind made up the rest. She barely remembered the words to it or how the song went. She wished she did. She wished she had some memory of her endearing mother, even if it had only been her voice, but what little memory of her she had of her was gradually fading away.
So she kept humming every day, hoping that she will never forget that morsel of recollection that kept her alive. It kept her hope alive.
The more Mona thought, the more lonely she felt. No children danced with her. No carolers sang. Not an animal whispered in the dead of the night. Only the snowman Mona herself had built, watched over her. Her voice grew softer before she laid down on the cold, grey snow. Maybe someone would lie down beside her and join her in chorus, reminding her of what it is like to not be lonely again.
The town was small. It was a vindictive one, fighting dust and bones resting quietly on its ground. It unleashed a few bricks and rubble as she walked by, even if she kept her footsteps light. There was much anger left behind, but there was something else.
Mona felt the suffocating despair of one left in the lurch. She searched for better memories. Instead, she came upon the remnants of an old supermarket where she and her mother frequented. It was where she would stop to beg for candy while her mother would shake her head. She recalled fondly of the uncomplaining and patient woman, who somehow never failed to calm a child’s irrational tears.
Her stomach growled, diverting her wavering attention to food that she had not had in a day. She wondered if she could crawl through the collapsed entrance without the debris crushing her flat, then decided against it. Perhaps she would risk it when she eventually ran out of supplies.
She hurried on home, passing by rusty carts parked on the side walk. The homeless – corpses – rested on her path, preserved in the icy cold. Dead rats lined the sewers. The chill concealed most of the smell, leaving just a slight trace of pungent rot. She sneezed, then walked on.
Bricks were left in place of where the houses used to stand. Road signs that now meant nothing endured in the wake of destruction. She walked past her own home, only just recognising it from a sign. Veins twirled around the words ‘home sweet home’, tucked neatly among rocks. She circled around the scraps twice, before she grew weary. Her little heart never had enough courage to venture beyond the town. So her little stroll led her back into the cathedral that echoed a silent greeting.
Dust had started to collect in the past months for when Mona had been its sole inhabitant. Avoiding the concrete pile in the middle, she edged towards the front pew, the only pew left intact in the blast. She sat, bowed her head and crossed her fingers together, as she had seen people do.
The sound of flapping wings pierced through the silence. Mona looked up, startled by the noise. It brought life she yearned, yet disturbed the tranquility she had grown used to. Even in the dim place, the insect’s red back shimmered as it flew through the window. Mona closed her eyes and listened to its buzz in the air. The beetle hummed and fluttered. The noise grew louder and louder.
She imagined the sound as the familiar drone of big tanks and the flurry of shells putting holes in the walls. She screamed, like the screams she recalled having heard, then stomped her feet on the ground as hard as she could. She could almost feel the impact of the floor caving in from history’s blast.
The little girl opened her eyes. She found the holes exactly where they had been in her recollection. Her eyes followed the beetle, which was still circling around her. Up close, she noticed dull stains of ash grey on its back.
Mona seized it in her hand, feeling the wings frantically flailing with an instinct to survive in her fist. She released it down her throat and her tiny teeth caught it. They ground the poor animal into crumbs in seconds. Bitterness stuck at the back of her tongue, as she tried to wash it down with saliva to no avail.
Her stomach still growled, demanding more food.
She frowned. Craning her neck, she glanced behind her.
Her food sat in solemn quietude on the run-down pews at the rear. Their hands were still put together and their skin, uneven. Most eyes were closed, some held wide open by frozen ice. A few had visible bullets shells sticking out like spines. Shattered wood surrounded their shoes that had worn down to shreds.
Chunks of flesh clung onto the pews, but there was still a decent portion left on the bodies. Every dish had been partly chomped on, leaving bones jutting like the splinters from the sides of the pews.
She stood up and walked over. Her little fingers dug into the ice, then the skin of a little girl not much older than she was. The red flesh peeked out as Mona removed her fingers and licked them clean.
It was awfully bitter. What was left of her food was rotting, even in the cold.
Mona looked down at her analogue watch. She was five years, six hours and 45 minutes old. She wondered how long more she can survive.