This story is for Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. It’s inspired by the photo, but not set in the same period.
They said they would be back. I didn’t believe them at the time. They had taken my father and older brother, and all the able-bodied men. The rest were dead. Why would they bother with the women? What use were we to anyone?
So we settled into a routine of back-breaking work—the ploughing and the building that the men used to do before, as well as the sowing, reaping, milling, cooking, weaving…Well, you know what a woman’s work is like. There isn’t much time left for anything else, but we had to find time, or die.
Of the kine, we kept only the sheep—the cattle ate too much of our meagre harvest during the winter months. The sheep foraged for themselves most of the time and we made do with their milk. The pigs were easy enough, since they looked out for themselves and ate our leavings.
But they had said they would be back, and when I saw them on the ridge, their silhouettes black against the brilliance of the night sky, I knew this was the end. We ran, but there was nowhere to hide in the winter landscape of bare branches. They took what they wanted, killing what they couldn’t carry away, and leaving only what they missed in the darkness.
I can see thin ribbons of smoke rising from the smouldering ruins of some of the houses. Only the headman’s house is still intact. Silent and sad, a tragic figure in an old play, it stands, head bowed in sorrow. Silent too are the owls that swoop from the stars to perch on the roof ridge. They have come back too, for the rest of the dead souls. The next time they come, it will be for me.