Today’s post comes from the writing prompt found at Fiction University: “This week’s prompt is a photo prompt. Write whatever comes to mind, be it a description, a story, or even a poem.”
It had been years since the last bomb assaulted the landscape with its destructive force. I remember my grandmother’s stories of their relentless punches against the rebels who refused to comply with the new regime’s assessments of proper etiquette for communal living.
“They met in a variety of locations throughout the countryside,” she told me of her parents and their comrades, “after-hours at grocery stores, in our schools’ boiler rooms, in our neighbors’ basements. They set decoys to draw the regime in different directions, deflecting the attention as far as possible from themselves and us kids. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.”
This time, the decoys failed.
The home’s shell rose above me as I picked my way through the overgrown weeds and pushed aside the branches that worked to keep trespassers from stumbling upon the secrets harbored within their bowels.
I challenged the woods and their quest for anonymity.
I trudged along, determined to get a closer look at the abandoned home.
The ground leveled out as I approached the house. Defeated by my persistence, the woods gave way to a small clearing a few feet away from the building. I walked toward the home’s entrance and ascended the crumbling, disused front steps. I tested each step with my foot before trusting it to bear my full weight. Several bricks rocked and lurched when I pressed on them, a few tumbled down to the ground, causing chunks of mortar to follow behind in their wake.
When I reached the top step, I turned the knob on the front door. It opened to reveal a sight I wasn’t prepared to see.
Debris lay everywhere. Shards of glass from the broken-out windows blanketed the floors. Areas that were clear of glass were instead covered with exploded drywall from the ceiling and walls. I saw a large chandelier flayed out on the floor and stepped around it, taking care to avoid the mangled metal arms that once gracefully welcomed visitors into the home with the now shattered light bulbs that formed an outline around the fixture’s perimeter on the foyer floor.
I walked past the dining room and library, with its books strewn about the dusty floor, and came upon the living room. Here the sunlight shone through the open windows, casting its rays upon an orange velvet couch. From the distance I noticed something lying on the sofa. As I drew closer, I recognized the bulky figure of a stuffed bear lying sideways on the couch. I crept forward, taking care to avoid the broken pieces of glass that littered the floor. The bear’s fur had been matted and discolored from Nature’s elements that freely roamed the once forbidden interior of the massive structure.
I had seen that bear before. But where? “Think,” I said to the empty room. Afraid to disturb it from its decades-long slumber, I inched my way from one side of the bear to the other, my mind racing backwards into its deep recesses in an effort to recall where I had seen the toy before. Snippets of black and white memories played through my head like scenes from an old, forgotten movie. Faster and faster the images invaded my thoughts and I sifted through them, searching for clues. Unsmiling faces dutifully posing for family snapshots. Children dressed in layers and layers of clothing, their faces fighting the photographer’s commands for stillness. The occasional shot of crowds of people lined along sidewalks bordering streets filled with marching armies. Some spectators held flags while a few stared back at me with fear – or hatred – in their eyes.
And, all at once, I saw it. The little girl, about four or five years old. The ruffles on her full dress stiff and unyielding. She refused to look at the camera and instead focused her attention on her beloved stuffed bear that she held tight in her arms.
It was my grandmother.