One in a Million
by Ben Naughton
by Ben Naughton
It had all just been too difficult. She had never thought something like this could happen to her or someone she knew. No one ever did, did they? You see and hear about things like this happening to others, you think for a day or two about them, pay your respects, and carry on. Life goes on.
But not now, not for her. She had a responsibility, all of a sudden, to look after her siblings. Especially now their mother had quietly descended into a spiral of grief and despair, often spending entire days out on the porch, not speaking, not eating. Only drank when drops of water fell between her lips.
This was too hard. She couldn't carry on like this. It was wearing her down, relentless, exhausting her. It had only been a week since... since it happened. The news had arrived.
She had seen the black car slowly making its way up their gravel driveway from the small village half a mile away, two uniformed men inside. They knocked on the door of their small farmhouse. The sound of that knock had never left her head. She knew what it meant when she first heard it, and she could not stop hearing it now.
Her mother had collapsed. Her siblings... it was heartbreaking. She'd spent the rest of that day in the dilapidated barn in the farm's grounds, taken over by nature, forgotten by the world. She had lost track of time, sitting there; thoughts of the world, the war, the ways people had grown used to their new lives, so remarkably quickly... it was either that or break apart, she guessed. Her family. Her friends. How had it all changed so much?
Eventually, she had reluctantly picked herself up off the moss-covered ground and made her way to the house, overgrown, neglected land owned by nature gradually giving way to the ploughed fields of their farm.
They'd been growing wheat at the time. Trying, desperately, to prevent a nationwide food shortage. It had been just another change in their lives, growing food rather than feeding it. She had missed seeing the rolling fields of cows and sheep, hated how they were forced to plough, hated her new life. Hated the war. Hated the government. Hated the men who had taken her horse away.
She wondered where he was now. Somewhere in France. Alive, hopefully. She wanted him back. He was a chestnut brown, with black ears that always turned and perked up a little higher whenever he saw her coming. He'd won a few competitions, back when life was good. She'd trained him herself. They'd always had a close bond. The men had had to restrain her when they took him away, guiding him onto a cart while two of them struggled to hold her back. She did all she could to stop them, made all kinds of promises and claims she knew they wouldn't buy but she tried anyway. Just in case.
At the time, that had been the worst day of her life. But it was nothing compared to the day that... that news arrived at her door. Nothing could compare. She had never imagined such a horrible fate would meet her or anyone she knew. And now it was happening to thousands, no, millions of people across the country, across Europe. Because of a single battle. The Somme.
It was endless. No light at the end of the tunnel this time. Even when the war was finished and done, there would be no light for a long time. The world had already suffered countless atrocities and there could only be more to come.
On her way back to the farmhouse, the sky grew dark and considerably large raindrops began turning her light brown hair a few shades darker, and she began to run in a vain attempt to keep herself dry. And it had soon dawned on her, later that day, she had to help look after her family now. She was the oldest of her siblings and her mother couldn't look after them all while dealing with her own grief and sorrow.
It was the happy, pleasant experiences she tried to remember most. Before the First World War. After the second. A few inbetween. And it was these she tried to remember now, as the trumpets sounded across the square, and the wreaths of poppies were gently and respectfully placed at the base of the memorial on which her father's name was engraved.
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