Beauty From Ashes

Entry by: Alex Fleet

14th October 2016
Time Passes

He had only wanted to look at the moon. It was huge and heavy, scarcely able to lift its ponderous weight from the grasp of the trees beyond Top Field. As Simon stood there enraptured, Rollo had pushed past him, nudging him to one side with his bulk and running triumphantly out into the back garden, tail wagging cheerfully.

“Come back, Rollo, come back!” Simon whispered as loud as he could, but Rollo was already on a scent. Before he knew it, Simon was running after him in his slippered feet, the dampness of the grass splashing his ankles. Rollo had now squirmed through the garden gate and was heading out into the field, following an erratic course, head down, tail high, wagging.

Simon was calculating the severity of the slippering he would get for being outside in the dark and balancing it with letting Rollo out. There wasn’t much to choose – a slippering from his Grandpa was a slippering, whichever. Perhaps he could even get Rollo back in the house before they were missed.

Simon carried on. They were heading for the trees that the moon was still tangled up in. It hung there like a huge balloon, staring at him. The trees were dark and thick but as he pressed through he could hear Rollo crashing through the undergrowth ahead.

His torch felt heavy in his pocket. It had been his birthday a few days before and he was carrying the torch wherever he went, though he was strictly banned from using it outside, or even inside unless the blackout curtains were up. If he used the torch and it was seen from outside, a plane would see it, line up on it and follow the beam down to him and shoot him where he stood, apparently. He quite believed it too.

Simon paused and listened. Apart from Rollo’s crashing and snuffling there was not a sound to be heard. The air was still and cold, not a breath of wind. He heard the chime of the village church bell from two miles away. He’d be able to hear if there were planes around.

He flicked the light on, covered the beam with his hand to reduce the chances of it being seen from the house, and from the sky. Now he could see where he was going and made better speed. After a couple of minutes, Rollo had lost the scent, lost interest and ambled back to Simon and allowed himself to be grabbed hold of. Simon didn’t fancy Rollo getting loose again, so he undid his snake clasp belt and tied it around Rollo’s neck, putting the torch down on the ground while he did so.

Satisfied with his work he stood up again and pondered. There seemed to be a strange buzz in the air, like a very heavy bee. A bit like some heavy farm equipment, like the neighbouring farmer’s tractor.

Ready to turn and leave, Simon scanned the torch around and realised they were at the far end of the wood looking out at the fields beyond. He was very pleased with how powerful the torch was. He could shine it on the trees far down at the hedge a good couple of hundred yards away. Strangely, as he shone it at one particular tree, there seemed to be movement within it. Not the moon, that was now flying a little way above the horizon. No, this was dark, something moving within the tree. Now it was moving to the left of the tree. Now it was clear of the tree. Simon couldn’t figure out what it could be and shone the torch full on it.
Suddenly this particular mili-second burst into action. At the same time that he heard the distant voice of his Grandpa shouting “Put That Bloody Light Out!” Simon realised that the shape maneuvering round the tree, now coming straight towards him, was straight out of his aircraft recognition book. He had wondered why they showed pictures of aircraft head on; after all he only ever saw them from beneath, unless it was fighters dogfighting in the summer skies above him. Now he knew why and recognised it immediately.

Too late he flicked the torch off. As he did so, the foreign pilot had shouted to the foreign bomb-aimer who had pressed a switch in the dark belly of the foreign plane which had flown here from unknown miles away, intent on destruction.

Catches released, doors beneath the place swung open. As the plane careered overhead, its heavy engines making Simon’s very chest vibrate with the noise, Simon was aware of a dark objects separating themselves from the undercarriage of the plane, falling down towards him. Behind him was the wood, and beyond that the farmhouse where his Mum and Grandpa and he had their home. The bombs were lined up with the farmhouse.

To the unknown men in the bomber, they had found somewhere to jettison the bombs they had not been able to use in their aborted mission over the capital. They had got rid of a problem. Simon, beneath them staring up with wide eyes and wide mouth saw the heavy, dark missiles fly overhead, crashing through the branches of the trees above him as the plane skirted their very tops.
That was the last thing he remembered, apart from the earth lifting beneath his feet.

Now, seventy-odd years later, Simon, my Dad, has died. He survived the blast, thrown clear, but did not hear his own screams when he awoke two days later. His eardrums eventually improved, though he was never able to hear very well, and for years nobody ever went in the woods again.

The bombs had been incendiaries and set the whole of the wood alight. All that was left were burnt stumps and ashes. The foxes, the badgers, owls, dormice, squirrels, worms; all Simon’s friends in the woods had been killed. It was lucky that the bombs had dropped in the wood, leaving a neat row of savage craters; the farmhouse was indeed perfectly aligned with their trajectory but had been spared, except for the windows and the roof of the barn lying a little nearer to the woods.

Rollo had died instantly, so Simon was told. In fact he was terribly injured and his Grandpa had shot him, so Simon figured out years later. What else can you tell a little boy who has made a small mistake which has had such terrible consequences?

My Dad, Simon, is now in the woods for ever. We have just scattered his ashes there.

The wood, left untouched for decades, has grown again from the shattered stumps of the old trees burnt down those years ago. In the spring, bluebells form a carpet and later come the daffodils.

Time passes, and the craters my wife and I have now made into a feature. We have cleared the trees neighbouring them to give more light and planted the plant pots, as we call the craters, with a variety of plants and flowers which are always a riot of colour and scent whichever time of year it is.

Right now, it is summer and we have taken a few minutes to sit with Dad at the garden seat, sited on the very spot where he shone the torch at the dark shape coming to kill him and where Dad’s ashes mingle with those from years ago. The danger is gone; it is warm here in the sun, and the sound of bees is exactly that, as they busy themselves amongst the flowers surrounding us.