Chapter 1: The Big Bang
“You may not go.”
Her mother blocked her exit from the kitchen and Lena stared her down defiantly.
“I cannot listen to this anymore. You are being completely unfair, I am finished here.” Lena tried to push past her mother but the older woman stubbornly refused to budge from blocking her daughter’s escape from the confrontation.
The younger of the two Mackenzie sisters had come down the back stairs into the kitchen with her jacket in her hand and waited at the bottom to see where the showdown was going between Lena and their mother.
Rose saw the switch in her mother’s hand and knew that if her sister did not bite her tongue she was going to feel the sharp end of it very quickly. She thought to herself, ‘If only Lena would just stop being so bold then perhaps Mother would be easier on her.’
Neither of the other two women really noticed her presence there as they continued their glaring match and she wondered if she would be able to sneak past them, she very much wanted to see the fire on the ship before it was put out. Her friend was waiting outside on the street and the two of them were planning to walk down to the pier together to see it up close. Lena had wanted to go as well.
“You may not go. You must learn that when you are told no, the answer is no. There is no discussion. You must be obedient when you marry Mr. Thompson. He is a man who expects submission from a wife and he will not tolerate your crude attempts at humour and your impudent manner. If you think I beat you often enough wait until he has to put up with you.”
“No husband is allowed to beat their wife.” Lena would not back down. “I will not marry that man. I shall run away.”
“And where would you go? You have nothing without this family.”
Lena’s mother lifted her arm with the switch and went towards her with intention of whipping the brazen look off of her daughter’s face.
Lena backed up past the big window and the last thing she remembered seeing as she closed her eyes to brace herself for the sharp blow of the all-too-familiar switch was the angry look in her mother’s eye and her sister watching them both from the other side of the kitchen.
The bright light was visible even with her eyes closed and only a few seconds later she felt the air pressure change as a whoosh of hot air blew through their home. She heard the windows shatter and she felt herself flying through the air, twisting and flipping like she weighed nothing at all until she hit something solid and fell to the ground so hard it knocked the wind out of her. Something large landed on top of her pinning her to the ground. As her thoughts focused she was scared and confused both at once, she had no idea what had just happened. The world was all at once dark and strangely silent as well. The intense boom of the explosion had not registered in her brain but the damage was done to her ears nevertheless.
After a few minutes she caught her breath and had time to assess her predicament. She noticed that her ears were starting to ring and sounds were coming and going. Perhaps she heard screaming at one point but could not be completely sure.
Everything was so dark and she tried to lift herself up but whatever was on top of her held her tightly to the ground. Every so often she could hear traces of what sounded like heavy rain falling onto a tin roof. Strange that either she was on the roof, or the roof was on top of her, either scenario was odd. She was able to move her hands which were near her face and tried to wipe some of the dirt out of her eyes but it was no use, everything was so dark now even though the sun had been shining brightly only a few minutes earlier. She and her sister had commented on what a lovely day it seemed as they had watched the ship burning from the window of Lena’s bedroom overlooking the harbour.
She lay there trying to process the situation now. She again tried to lift herself up but it was no use so she just stayed put as she tried to push the fear out of her mind that was creeping in. Whatever had just happened was serious.
She had no idea how much time had passed and she kept as still as she could wondering if anyone was coming to find her soon. Her hearing continued to come and go and then she was sure she heard screaming and crying. She tried to place the voices but they all sounded strangely muted to her. Nothing sounded familiar. She tried to call out to anyone who might hear her but she could not tell if her voice carried any further than her tomb. Her own voice sounded so strange in her blast-damaged ears.
She continued to stay as she was, having no choice in the matter anyway. It was the story of her life; having no choice in what was going to happen to her next. As she lay there she felt as trapped as she had an hour earlier except now she was literally trapped where in her life it had been figurative. Her parents were choosing her future for her and she was expected to just sit and take it like a good girl. She wanted rescue from her current entrapment and her cheerless excuse of an existence.
Both wishes were about to come true but not in any way she had ever dreamed of.
More time passed and she was starting to find it hard to breath. She smelled smoke and soon a definite heat started to pierce her senses. Her legs were becoming too warm for comfort and she tried to shift them but she could not move them at all. It was becoming unbearable quickly, her legs felt as though they were on fire. From the thick smoke that was penetrating her breathing area she knew they very well might be. She took a deep breath, tried not to cough and prepared herself to believe the last thing she would ever see was the nothing of the darkness around her.
Her hearing waned back as she was ready to close her eyes in defeat and she heard a man’s voice near her yelling something and then the unmistakeable sound of wood being thrown to the cold ground. The pain in her legs was close to causing her to pass out but she fought it now knowing someone was so close to her. She called out again and was sure her voice was working this time because the voices stopped and so she called out one more time, she had not the breath for another chance. A disturbance near her lower half lessened the pressure of the weight holding her down and the pain in her legs suddenly stopped increasing.
A man’s voice was near her head and told her to hang on just a second. They would pull her out. Just hold tight.
It was a strong voice. A smooth authoritative voice with just a hint of a brogue accent.
The air suddenly became fresh to breath when the mass that was covering her head was removed. Her face was still covered in soot and grit and tears started to flush her eyes out. She blinked repeatedly and saw a human form start to materialize in front of her. The bright spots in her eyes made it hard to focus sharply on the man who was attached to the voice but she could tell he was very tall from his silhouette against the strange grey and black sky.
The pain in her legs caused her to black out briefly as a pair of strong hands pulled her completely out from her entrapment. Her final thoughts before everything went dark on her were at least she was no longer actively burning to death and for that she could be eternally grateful.
She came to when a handful of cold water was splashed on her face. Her face was wiped by a cloth and she opened her eyes to look directly into the face of a soldier crouching beside her. He had the most expressive light blue eyes she had ever seen and she could not immediately look away from them. They smiled at her and despite everything, she found herself smiling back.
She sat up and looked around, still blinking the soot and the periodic bright flashes out of her eyes and was shocked to see the devastation around her. There was not a building left standing on the block that she had called her home since childhood and there were a number of fires burning around her. She started to panic but the soldier held her down.
“Stay down you poor little mite. I’ve got you now.” He stood up quickly when a few of the other soldiers came to him for instruction and he told them to work on putting the fire out that was nearest to them. The very fire that had been trying to end Lena’s life and had come entirely too close.
She noticed the soldier had the tell-tale white armband with a red cross on it and knew he must be a medic of some sort. How lucky she was that he happened to find her just in the nick of time. He gave her a quick examination to make sure nothing was broken and to see if she could breath well enough. She passed his initial assessment and he wondered how she could have possibly escaped so seemingly unharmed.
He bent down to pick her up as he realized his men would not be able to contain the fire that was burning the flattened houses around them. He needed to get her further away from the immediate danger.
She felt safe in the man’s arms, she could not remember feeling so safe in a very long time. Her mind focused on that feeling as she held tight to his neck and watched the destroyed neighbourhood around her as they passed carefully through it.
One house was still standing though it looked severely tilted and the walls of the main floor were all pushed outward. The windows were all blown out and the siding was gone as well, it looked like the skeletal remains of the house that used to stand there. From the second floor window there was a person dangling out of it and she caught her breath as her brain registered that the body had been decapitated. A bloody trail ran down the walls to the ground below it. Whomever it had been no longer breathed the air that was filled with the horrible smoke and dust or smelled the metallic acridness all around them.
The man carrying her heard her gasp and looked from her face to where she was looking.
“Keep your eyes closed little mite. There are things out here now that a young lady shouldn’t see. Keep them shut tight and we’ll get you to safety.” As he spoke he stepped over a severed arm and a piece of meat that he could not immediately identify and wondered where the rest of that poor soul could be. His voice was deep and soothing and she did briefly shut her eyes against the horror.
She opened them again when the medic stopped to speak to some other soldiers they had caught up with.
“We need to get everyone back to Wellington Barracks. They’ll be safe there.” The man whose arms she was in spoke to the others with an authority he must possess over them.
She looked over his shoulder to see that some of the soldiers had loaded up a milk cart with wounded people and were pulling it themselves up the street over the debris. She wondered what had happened to the horse that normally pulled the cart.
“Wellington is gone. It’s not an option.” One of the other men spoke and Lena looked to him. His face looked shocked as everyone else at what was happening around them.
“Well, then, take the injured up to Citadel hill, does anyone know if Camp Hill hospital is still standing?” The soldier holding her asked the others.
Someone said they thought so and it was decided that was where they were going to be heading. A group of people had formed all around them and Lena looked at a few of the faces. A lot of them were bleeding from visible cuts and most of them were covered in a black tarry substance that made them unrecognizable. The crowd was growing as they stood there trying to decide what to do.
They all started walking up the hill and the man holding Lena had to stop and shift her in his arms. He tried to set her down but she promptly fell to the ground, her legs were unable to support her. He looked to the cart slightly ahead of them and realized that it was already loaded to the point that the men were struggling to pull it over all the debris on the road. He would have to carry her.
While they were stopped for him to catch his breath they both turned toward some shouting that was happening near them. A woman was screaming that her children were all trapped in the burning house on the end of the block.
The soldier carrying Lena put her down on the cold ground and told her to stay where she was, he would be right back. He ran to the woman and followed where the mother was pointing to the second floor window of the damaged wooden house.
Lena could see the small faces looking out the broken window and hear them crying for their mother. Her heart broke along with everyone else as the flames on the main floor became too much and the top floor collapsed into the fire. The screaming from the house stopped abruptly and everyone stood in shock and disbelief at what they had just witnessed. The mother collapsed in a heap of grief and Lena’s rescuer went back to where he had set her down.
His face looked distraught at his inability to have done anything to help. She watched him take a deep breath and wipe his eyes. He crouched down beside her and she dared to touch his arm in an effort to comfort him. All he could do was shake his head and gently place his hand on hers as a sign of thanks.
He picked her back up and started walking with everyone back up the hill again. They hadn’t gone far when a group of soldiers came running down the hill towards them. One of them yelled as he rushed past,
“Get these people out of here! The magazine at Wellington is on fire. It’s going to blow!” The soldiers continued to run towards the flattened barracks in a potentially futile effort to stop the fire there.
Everyone started to panic and rush away, the group was scattered into chaos.
Both Lena and the man carrying her turned back down the hill to see a plume of smoke coming from where the barracks used to stand. It was true.
There was going to be another explosion.