In the sandy distance loud booms shook the earth all afternoon. Everyone knew the ground war would be starting soon. Down the road on the way to Bobby's house a single tank sat silently, its turret pointing at my head, following me as I walked past, as if I was suspected of enemy sympathies.
As always at Bobby's house the TV was on. Sad clowns cavorted across the screen, popping balloons with sharp tacks and pulling giant condoms over each other's heads. Every few minutes an announcer would break in with a special news bulletin that he would read grimly in a flat voice that barely concealed deep emotion. Then it was back to the clowns—clowns dancing, clowns fighting, clowns running numbers.
Bobby's mother and father seemed tense and irritable. They kept dropping hints that I should go home, that they were about to eat dinner, that it was getting late and it soon would be dark and scary outside. But Bobby and I sat riveted to the cathode ray clowns, laughing and clapping and cheering their scatological high jinks. Finally, Bobby's mother and father picked me up and tossed me out the door where I sprawled on the front walk with a dusty thud. Standing up uncertainly, I dusted myself off and began the long walk home.
It was dusk now and as I walked along the road I could hear the heavy rumble of tanks and artillery on the move. The sound seemed to come from every direction—from the dense green forest on either side of the road, from high above in the purple sky, vibrating under the rutted dirt road.
Then suddenly the sound stopped and it became eerily quiet. No birds sang, no owls hooted, no crickets chirped, no wind blew through the tall oaks. The world seemed to hold its breath.
Just before I got to the tunnel, all hell broke loose. The sky lit up along the horizon in the north like a fireworks display. I could hear the pounding of artillery and rocket fire and feel the vibration deep in my chest. The sky above was alive with the roar and flash of jets and missiles and the whoosh of unseen projectiles. With my heart beating wildly I ran toward the entrance of the tunnel, seeking the safety of its cool darkness.
The tunnel was packed end to end with columns of tanks. Choking diesel smoke hung in the air. It was dark and quiet in the tunnel and strangely, no people to be seen. The big tanks sat there in a neat row like big hulks barely visible in the dim light. As I walked through the tunnel, I wondered if there was anyone in the tanks, or if they were empty, the soldiers celebrating the beginning of hostilities in some local bar pinching women and swilling beer.
About half way through the tunnel, I was startled by a tall soldier suddenly stepping out from behind a tank. His thin face was pale white and his eyes seemed to glow red in the dim light.
"What are you doing here?" he barked.
"I'm on my way home," I said, my voice cracking with fear.
"Then get going," he growled, suddenly clenching his fists and moving toward me with a threatening posture.
Without looking back, I began to run as fast as I could. I could see a small dim light at the tunnel's opening, but it didn't seem to get any larger as I ran toward it. On and on I ran, my lungs choking with smoke and dust and the fear of death.
Finally, I approached the end of the tunnel. As I ran toward the light, the outside world seemed to explode into flames. Backing up to protect myself from the intense heat radiating from the outside, I peered through the smoke and flames to try to catch a glimpse of my apartment building in the valley below. The whole valley seemed to be on fire, the sky above laced with streaking lights.
Then the tall gaunt soldier with the glowing eyes was there again. I jumped in fright at his sudden reappearance.
"What did I tell you—go home," he commanded.
"But...I'm afraid," I stammered.
"You have reason to be afraid in here. This tunnel is a high priority target. Don't you know that?"
"But at least I'm safe in the tunnel," I said.
"Safe?" The soldier laughed hysterically in a high-pitched humorless cackle. "Safe? Don't you know the enemy has cluster bombs that can saturate the interior of this tunnel with thousands of tiny bomblets, each capable of exploding with the force of a firecracker?"
"No sir" I said,
"Then run along, sonny," said the soldier, taking a fatherly tone of voice.
Suddenly I felt very lonely. I did not want to go back to my bleak, lonely apartment. I wanted to be with people, with friends and family, to share our fear and face death together within the comfort of social intercourse. But I didn't have any friends or family, and had no place to go.
Awash in despair, I walked quickly toward the end of the tunnel, walking faster and faster until I was running and the wind whistled in my ears and the heat sucked my breath out of my body and then I was out of the tunnel and the flames surrounded me and the ground shook with the impact of huge bombs and still I ran, faster and faster, my arms and legs pumping furiously, the road shrouded in smoke and flames, my destination unseen and unknown.
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