It was indeed dark as we exited the building, It took a couple of moments to get our direction but we half walked, half crouched our way towards the perimeter fence. Prez led the way and Ahlaam was bringing up the rear. We'd made it around halfway to the fence before the lights suddenly came on. it was as if the sun had suddenly come out. Our eyes automatically shut as the harsh glare of the floodlights hit our faces. We ground to a halt unsure of what to do, temporarily blinded by the lights.
'Stay where you are, do not move' I heard a voice shout in the distance. I wasn't sure at first if it was a guard or one of the ski masks.
There was the cackle of an automatic weapon discharging and we all went to ground. I'm not sure whether anyone ever gets used to being shot at. I was scared beyond comprehension. I looked round trying to open my eyes wider to take in the scene. My head was resting on someone's legs, and I could feel someone laid against me. When people tell you to stay still you do don't you. I was literally frozen to the spot.
'Stay there' another voice shouted. Did they think I was actually going anywhere?
Another burst of automatic fire above our heads made me flinch and try to burrow down further into the ground. How did soldiers manage to cope with this everyday? I could just make out Prez starting to move towards the fence, behind her I saw EH clutching Kylie close, rubbing her hair trying to soothe her. As my eyes got accustomed to the light I saw I was lying against Lily with Crissy to one side of her. Nestled against me was Zee. I reached out and held her, frightened to let go.
All sorts of mayhem were breaking around us. I looked up to see a GS goon come running towards us, his gun pointing in our direction. As soon as he was within twenty yards a swathe of bullets flew in his direction from the direction of the fence. It’s easy in films to see to watch someone die. It means nothing, you know that it’s an actor who will just stand up and walk away when the whistle goes. Watching someone cut down in gunfire in real life is something different. Even though this goon was our enemy and intent on killing us, I felt horror when blood started spurting from his body and his body flew backwards as the hail of bullets hit him.
For a moment I thought the battle might be over as the shots subsided. Then they started anew and more ferocious. We were stuck in the middle unable to move for fear of being hit. Prez once again tried to make it to the fence. Bullets puckered the ground in front of her and she withdrew back to us.
Suddenly there was an explosion by the fence. When the smoke and dust had settled I could see that an explosive charge had put a huge gap in the fence. A ski mask appeared in the hole, crouching down in the hole that the explosive had blown out of the ground. He signalled for us to head towards him. It would be easier now. The next moment there was another explosion and we put our heads down as dirt and earth fell on us. There was a thud to the right of us. Looking up I saw a hand. I jumped and then realised that it was attached to the arm and nothing more, the bloody stump like a cut of meat. I heard someone scream before realising it was me.
I think that was the moment we realised that if explosives were flying around we needed to move. If the GS realised who we were then they would be blasting us into the next county.
Looking at each other, we nodded and as if one we started to move slowly but steadily along the floor towards the gap, the hole now bigger. I glanced back and saw a line of GS crouched on the ground firing. We again dropped to the floor. My heart was pounding. This was the end I was so sure. I realised that there were things that I hadn't said, things that I should have said.
I heard a cry go up from the opposite side of the fence and saw four ski masks run towards us. At the same time an explosion in front of the GS goons flattered them like a row of dominos, body parts randomly spraying over the area.
It was now or never, we'd been given a slight reprieve from the horror and slaughter that was happening all around us. Prez was the first to break. crouching low to the ground she sprinted across the gap and disappeared into the hole in the fence. EH and Kylie followed crossing the ground in quick time.
Lily and Crissy went next closely followed by Zee and myself. Crissy stumbled on the rough ground in front of me. I fell over her feet and landed next to her on the ground. Zee stopped.
'Run, run Zee, I'll be fine, but just run away, I'll follow' I saw the look of horror on her face but she turned and followed Lily through to the gap.
'You Ok' I said crouched at the side of Crissy
'Mmm, feeling a bit silly, come on lets go' she said. I grabbed her hand and helped her up from the ground. We ran hand in hand across the ground until I heard a cry from behind. turning around I saw Ahlaam hit the ground behind us. She was clutching her leg screaming, an almost unearthly scream that you couldn’t imagine the depth of pain she was experiencing. I stopped dead in my tracks just short of safety. Crissy's momentum hit me and we tumbled over the ground and into the hole. For someone so slight, she had knocked me for six.
I recovered and stuck my head over the top of the hole. Ahlaam was still there crying for help.
'You b***tards' I heard Prez shout. I noticed another line of GS goons approaching Ahlaam. Prez had obviously found a weapon from somewhere and was using it to good effect as the goons were now kneelt down trying to find cover. Some of Prez's bullets had found their targets and I saw a couple of goons hit the ground, never to get up again. I felt a strange sort of satisfaction in the midst of everything that they were downed. Prez suddenly leapt over the lip of the hole and ran towards Ahlaam, still spraying the goons. Again the bullets found their mark and three more GS bodies fell to the earth. She reached Ahlaam crouching between her and the GS to protect Ahlaams body.
There is a time in your life when you must stand up and be counted. A time where you must do something to help those you are friends with. You can’t leave them to suffer alone, I knew instinctively I must do something to help my friend. The only thought in my mind was to try to help move Ahlaam. I could see she was still alive and in pain. I started up the side when Zee pulled me back.
'I'm sorry Zee, I've got to try and help Ahlaam. I can't leave her there,' I said sounding braver than I felt. I kissed her quickly, 'I'll come back I promise.'
I started over the top and saw that Crissy was beside me.
'You sure,' I asked
She nodded and we both scurried over the top and headed towards Ahlaam. Somewhere I found the courage, courage I never thought I had, but Ahlaam was too important to me to leave exposed like that. Prez looked back momentarily at us and smiled
'Get her out of here, I'll cover you' she said turning back and letting another barrage of lead towards the GS line.
Crissy and I eased Ahlaam to her feet. There was an awful lot of blood on the ground under Ahlaam. She appeared to be falling in and out of conscious and we had to half drag her across the compound. As we did I felt the bullets whizzing past my head. Strangely I wasn’t scared, it was as though somewhere I felt that my life was soon to come to an end. Crissy and I helped Ahlaam through the fence and we all collapsed into the protection of the crater that the explosive had left. Willing hands helped move Ahlaam back under the treeline. I turned and looked over the lip of the crater at Prez slowly retreating. She half turned to see where she was. I saw her smile and I think, wink at me. A couple more yards was all that stood between her and safety.
At that moment her weapon stopped working. I saw Prez look down in surprise and at that moment I saw scarlet blood erupt from the back of her head. Her body hit the floor with a sickening thud, the force of the blast catapulting her body over the crater lip into the hole. She landed at my feet, her head inclined towards mine. For the first time in her life her eyes were devoid of any emotion or life. The sparkle had left. There was a single red mark in the middle of her forehead. She’d obviously died instantly. Her last expression on her face, frozen by the passage of that one solitary lump of lead, was the Prez smile. For maybe the first time in her tragically short life, Prez was at peace with the world. All the anger, all the suffering had melted away. I held her hand feeling the warmth disappearing.
Death was becoming commonplace in our lives but there had always been Prez to brighten our lives, always there to give you a kick up the backside when we needed it. I looked at Crissy and Zee, both had the shock and sadness mixed on their tender faces.
'We can't leave her,' I said.
'No come on let’s take her with us' Crissy replied.
Between the three of us we managed to carry Prez back below the trees where we were greeted by the rest. We gently placed Prez on the floor and stood back. I put my arms around Zee pulling her towards me tightly.
'I thought I'd lost you' she said kissing me, 'don't scare me like that again'
Crissy stood to one side of us trembling slightly, the trauma obviously starting to manifest itself on her body and mind. As if our minds were symbiotically linked we both reached out for each other at the same time, Zee moving to allow Crissy into the group. The three of us held each other tight, trembles running through our bodies as we looked down at Prez's lifeless body.
'We've really got to move now you three' Jacqueline said, 'the resistance will cover us and bring Prez's body. That was really brave of you two and stupid, they could have had you dead as well.'
We followed her towards the vehicles being herded into the back of the van. As soon as the doors shut it took off down the track away from the site. A yellow light on the roof cast a warm hue over the van. Lily and Crissy came together, tears of joy running down Lily's face. EH was sat with Kylie still hung onto her. Ahlaam lay on the floor in the van, blood seeping form wounds on her legs and torso, a ski mask frantically tending to her.
Lily looked over Crissys shoulder
'Prez' she said silently just mouthing the words towards me as she scanned who was in the van.
I shook my head feeling suddenly struck by the loss, her smile engraved on my mind like a mental photograph. I found it hard to speak, my body shaking. Once again I'd lost someone close to me, had part of my heart ripped from my body leaving an emptiness that would be difficult to be filled. I wondered how many more losses I would suffer, how many bits of my heart could I lose before my body became lifeless and life lost it’s meaning.
The joy Lily felt for the return of her sister evaporated in a moment. The tears of joy turned in to full blubbering sobs as Crissy tried her best to comfort her.
There was suddenly a commotion on the floor where Ahlaam lay as her body convulsed. I saw the ski mask shake her head and look in our direction.
'Sorry, I don't think she...' she said
'Don't say that' I said a little too forcefully, I didn’t want to lose another close friend. I moved away from Zee and sat at Ahlaam's side. Ahlaam looked pale, I saw in addition to the wound in her leg there was another wound in her stomach. Thick red globulous blood oozed from it, it didn't take a genius to see that it was taking away her life in it's slow flow. I took her hand to try to steady and comfort her. Crissy crouched at the other side and took her other hand looking anxiously across at me.
The sway and noise of the vehicle didn't help as we huddled over Ahlaam’s body, the others joining us at her side. I saw a flicker in her eyes and saw her lips moving trying to say something. I leant in to try and hear what she had to say. I could hear her shallow breathing as I was near to her mouth. It wasn’t very steady, she mumbled again this time the voice was weaker. I looked up at Zee who was leant against me, tears running down her freckled cheeks.
‘Prez, in a minute …’ came very quietly from Ahlaam’s lips. Then the breathing got shallower until it was almost non-existent. I saw a flicker in her eye and a sudden change took place, the pain that had contorted her face left and a serene expression replaced it. She half turned her head, energy returning to her body. She opened her mouth again and this time the words were clear
‘Insha Allah’ she said. Then her eyes glazed over and the breathing stopped. I felt her arm go limp.
I heard a sob come from Lily. Glancing around I saw the total bewilderment in all of us.
Was it really worth all this pain and sorrow? Was anything worth the lives of these people. The vehicle kept going taking us far away from the killing field. In our hearts and in our heads we carried the memory of those fallen. We would never forget.