The forest enshrouded us as we walked further into its grasp. Letting my tears freely fall, I made no effort to try and conceal my emotions from the boy who had saved my life. I didn’t care about what he thought because it didn’t matter; everything which had mattered to me had just been consumed by flames. I couldn’t stop the crushing feeling in my chest so I didn’t try to. I felt hollow and empty but strived forwards; for them and to carry on their names. They were gone now; simply ashes, lost in the wind. They were gone.
“We should stop here for a bit,” the boy said with such certainty, I didn’t dare to protest. Simply nodding as an answer, I loosened my grip on him and slid down the side of a tree, drawing my legs in in an attempt to feel secure.
Gazing despondently into the darkness, my tears eventually ran dry. Burying my head in my knees, I felt the wind gently brush over me. Solely focusing on the cold breeze dancing on my skin, I drew myself back into the realm of reality. It took me a few more minutes to realise that I was shaking. Placing himself down next to me, the boy reached into a bag that I didn’t even know he had been holding and pulled out a steel canister. I assumed that it contained water. Eyes filled with crippling pity, he held it out to me. Gratefully, I accepted his kindness. My voice was hoarse from screaming and my mouth was painfully dry. As the soothing liquid trickled down the back of my throat, a small sense of normality and reassurance returned to my body.
“Thank you,” I muttered, words spilling out almost as a whisper. Not breaking the air of silence which surrounded us, he didn’t respond but yet I knew that he had heard me. The absence of sound was comforting but yet the haunting crackle of flames loomed over me. Slowing my breath into a steady rhythm, I matched my movements with those of the boys. Chest rising and falling in the corner of my vision, his very presence seemed to still my rage and allow the sorrow to come pouring out.
Minutes passed although in my mind, it felt like hours. At some point, my eyes had slipped closed and the dwindling image of a flame plagued my every thought.
“So...” he finally began, “What’s your name?” Although I didn’t want to speak, I knew that I owed it to him to at least tell him my name. We had to start somewhere. I could tell him my name. I could do that; yes, I could manage that.
“Helena,” I muttered, “Helena Coleman…” My words trailed off into nothing. I refused to let fear seep into my tone but yet it was still undeniably there.
“My name is Julian.” He told me, drawing out each word so I could understand. It should have hurt me that he didn’t trust me with his full name but to be fair, I hadn’t given him much of a reason to. I had known him for barely an hour and in that time I had spoken two words. But yet I trusted him completely. Thinking about it, I almost wanted to laugh but I wasn’t that delirious, not yet anyway.
“What happened?” Was there- Was there anyone else in there with you?” he asked, finally asking the question that I knew was on its way. I could only just admit to myself what had happened and I knew that I couldn’t say it out loud. But acknowledgement was the first step in recovery. I couldn’t deny it anymore; I would never see my mother’s smile again or hear my father’s wild tales. But no more. Never again would I see them, touch or listen to the warmth in their voices telling me that I was loved. But that was all gone now. Within the period of a few hours, everything that I was was buried underneath rubble and debris.
“Yes,” I manage to choke out, clenching my fists until they turned solid white. From the way I had reacted, I knew that he knew but still, words needed to be spoken.
“My mother and my father…” I told him, trying to keep all sense of emotion from bleeding into my tone. As soon as the words had escaped from my lips, Julian’s skin considerably paled. Even as he asked another question, we both knew what my response would be. He looked at me and he read it all. He could see my pain and he could see my suffering but yet still needed to hear it from me.
“Are they-” he began but I interrupted, already knowing what he was going to say.
“Gone? Dead? Buried? Yes.” I shouted, my voice wavering under the strain of pretending that I was alright. Because I wasn’t and I would never be again. I was merely twelve years old and yet what I had seen today would stay with me for the rest of my life. Flames entwined with seas of blood and the two people that I cared about the most brutally taken from me before my eyes.
Seeing the deflated look on the boys face, I could almost see the cogs spinning inside of his head. He looked remorseful but yet as if he was distanced from the situation. Wrapping his arm around my shoulders, he pulled me in close and held me as I broke down sobbing once again. It was as if a void had been torn in the centre of my life, leaving nothing but emptiness and sorrow.
“We need to find shelter,” Julian finally concluded a while after I had ceased my tears. I knew that he was right. The distinct chill in the air was only going to get worse. It dawned on me that Julian would have a home and a family waiting for him and although I desperately needed his company, I didn’t want to impose or intrude his life.
“I know a place; they can take you in and will look after you if you want. They can teach you how to defend yourself and will give you somewhere to stay until you find you feet. It’s a military base where my dad works, I’m sure that I can convince him to take you in. Is that okay? ” With no other option, I just nodded and whispered my thanks. Face lighting up, Julian leapt to his feet and helped me up. Feeling physically stronger and mentally weaker, I depended less on his support but in a way, more so. I had nothing and no-one but yet Julian, a boy who I had never met was here, offering his soul to save mine. He risked his life for me and for better or for worse, I trusted him.
Pushing through the trees, together, we made our way through the forest. Bathed in the cold glow of moonlight, tears rolled down my cheeks. I loved them with all of my heart and I would never forget them but now I had to leave, I had to try and accept what had happened and move on. But not yet; 0now was the time for mourning. Whatever the future would bring, I would be ready, because they were gone and I was not. They were dead and I wasn’t. Wiping away a final tear, I stood strong and refused to cry anymore.
Forcing my lips to for a quick smile, I looked up at Julian.
“Onwards?” I asked.
“Onwards.” He replied.
The forest enshrouded us as we walked further into its grasp but this time, I didn’t feel so alone.
Then maybe, just maybe, I could live up to my parents my name.
And maybe, after all of this, I finally stood a chance of happiness. I let that though swim around my mind before dismissing it and letting the darkness take its hold once again.