*Short story originally written for The Iron Writer Challenge.
Bobby and I are sitting in our small room reading his favorite book by candlelight when I hear the gunfire. He turns his little face up to me, eyes wide and waiting. We listen a moment longer in silence until I determine that we should move.
“Bobby, why don’t we keep telling stories in our secret room? Would that be OK?”
He nods obediently and grabs his goggles off the table, quickly slipping them over his eyes. I think most children grow up with safety blankets or favorite toys, but Bobby clings to his goggles like they are a super hero cape, putting them on whenever he needs to be brave. I used to giggle and tell him that he looks like a fish, but these days there is not much to laugh about. Instead I feel grateful that he has found a method to cope.
I walk over to the corner of the room and slide a bookcase half a meter to the left, revealing a tunnel just large enough for children to crawl through.
“Do you have your bag?”
He nods as he pulls his backpack out of his cubby, already packed with two bottles of water, packaged snacks, and some matches. Then he drops to his knees and wiggles into the tunnel ahead of me. I take a quick look around the room wondering if I should grab anything else. I remember the family photo in the back of Bobby’s book. I snatch it out and tuck it into my shirt before shimming into the tunnel feet first so that I can move the bookcase back into position.
Creeping backward through the tunnel I can hear the gunshots, growing louder and more threatening. I can also hear and feel the mice scurrying around me. Our parents had built this hidden passageway into the field knowing that there would be a time when we would need to hide from the soldiers. They hoped we would be safe, even if they weren’t around to protect us.
When I feel my foot reach a drop-off I know that I can step down onto a ladder and lower myself into the room.
Settled next to Bobby on the dirt floor I whisper to him “You want to tell me a story Bobby?” He remains quiet, clutching my sleeve. “How about the one with the fire tornado that rips through the enemy camp? You love that story.” I prompt.
He reaches up, adjusting his goggles and I know he is too afraid to talk. I understand this and I know it’s better to be quiet so I simply put my arm around him and we sit together in the small dark space, waiting… waiting for the gunshots to stop; waiting to feel safe; waiting for the war to be over.