A festive tale by nolanparker
Hey, Mr. Churchill comes over here
To say we’re doing splendidly
Alice turned over in bed. She couldn’t get the stupid song out of her head. Bloody Christmas tunes. Bloody Jonah Lewie.
If I get home, live to tell the tale
I’ll run for all presidencies
If I get elected I’ll stop, I will stop the Cavalry
Except you didn’t get elected did you Mr Lewie?, she thought. You didn’t get elected, you didn’t stop the cavalry and because of that, I’m lying on an uncomfortable mattress about to hear a rousing call to get up at 0600 hours.
The lights came on. Around the grey room there were the sounds from the girls she shared the dormitory rubbing their eyes. No one slept much but that didn’t make getting up any easier. For a moment, Alice stared at the bottom of the bunk above hers.
Mary Bradley waits at home
In the nuclear fall-out zone
Wish I could be dancing now
In the arms of the girl I love
He nearly got that bit right. This is my home and since the first attacks a couple of days ago, it’s under the nuclear fall-out zone. Sixty feet underground, encased in concrete.
For a moment her mind drifted back to the scene a week ago; fairy lights in the windows, a tree, last-minute present buying, Patrick.
“Get up private Riley! This isn’t a bloody holiday camp!”
Sergeant Cross stood in the middle of the room. Everyone else was hurriedly pulling on clothes and stumbling towards the canteen. As she touched the floor her stomach lurched. Last nights rations splattered the sergeants feet. She looked up sheepishly.
“What the hell?”, for a moment the officer was speechless, “What’s wrong with you Riley?”
Alice pulled herself upright. She had no answer.
“Are you taking your PI tablets? They are supposed to stop this kind of thing.”
She nodded weakly. At the same time thinking of the unopened packet of pills buried deep in her bag.
“Well get it cleaned up. Then get yourself on duty.” and with this, the sergeant turned on her heels and stomped out of the room.
Alice looked down at the pool of sick. For a moment she thought it was about to get a second helping.
A hand appeared on her shoulder. Rose from two bunks along looked at her with sympathy. Alice took a deep breath and tried to smile.
“Don’t worry. I’ll sort it. Get yourself ready. Let’s face it, we’re none of us exactly ourselves at the moment.”
“Thanks Rose. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“Think of it as a Christmas present.”
Christmas. Alice looked at her watch. December 25th. Not that it was going to be exactly festive. That song was still going around her head.
Dub a dum dum dub a dub
Dub a dub a dum
Wish I was at home for Christmas
Suddenly, her mind filled with Patrick in the stupid festive sweater she had bought for him last year. He had opened the present, laughed and put it straight on. She could almost see the reindeer on the front as he danced around the room making her laugh.
Where was he?
She choked back the fear.
It was no good, they had all been ordered to the shelter. The call had come while he was at work. All she had been able to do was leave a message on the answerphone saying she’d be back in time to sit down with turkey and all the trimmings.
She tried to shut the thoughts out of her head. Everyone was in the same boat. No-one had thought that anyone would be stupid enough to use the bomb. Now as she reported for duty in the operations room there was a map showing the scale of the devastation. As she sat at her desk it was like the whole thing was some sort of game. She had wondered, hoped even, if it was just another exercise – the army liked pulling stunts like this – but everyone knew this was the real thing.
Around the room people were doing their jobs. Everyone operated with calm efficiency. Numbers were crunched. Reports typed. Details filed. It wasn’t that they didn’t care, it was easier to be on autopilot. The army had drilled them and now they fell back on the training. If you thought about what you were doing, what those numbers meant, what was in those reports, you would fall apart. Better then, not to think.
Most of the time it worked. They had only been in the bunker for three days. It had been two days since the sound had reverberated around the concrete walls. Terrible dull roars. They knew what the noise meant, but no-one dared talk about it.
There wasn’t time to talk anyway. Suddenly the wires were full of chatter. Teletype machines burst into life. For a moment it was like going back two decades – even the army hadn’t bothered updating the equipment. They hadn’t expected to need it. It was 1989 after all. The Cold War had reached stalemate. There was no serious expectation of anything flaring up.
Alice vaguely remembered watching the news. She didn’t really bother following events. There had been something In Hungary about people escaping to the West but it seemed to mostly be men in bad jumpers waving McDonalds burgers at cameras. People had been protesting at the Berlin Wall and someone in the East Berlin Government had ordered the army to stop them. Then the Americans protested. It was all a bit hazy after this. She didn’t know who had started shooting. It didn’t matter. The results were on the map.
Carefully pinned on the wall and covered in a shiny wipe-clean coating, the map showed their sector. During the exercises everyone had taken delight in trying to spot where they lived. Some messed around scrawling mushroom clouds on the football grounds of opposing teams. Sergeant Cross had given them a bollocking for that!
Alice hadn’t paid too much attention in the past. Now she stared at the where she thought her house was. Their house. Patrick and hers. The one with the little garden. The garden with bulbs they had planted a few months ago.
Bang goes another bomb on another town
While the Czar and Jim have tea.
If I get home…
The area had been coloured in red.
She stared at the map willing the ink to fade away. Suddenly her eyes began to prickle with tears. She swallowed them. No-one else was crying.
A deep breath. She was a soldier. Trained to deal with this sort of thing. Getting emotional wasn’t going to help anyone.
Another deep breath. Then the world went black.
Coming too, Alice found herself sat in a corridor. Beside her was Sergeant Cross.
“That’s the second time I’ve had to wake you up today Riley.”
“I’m sorry. What happened.”
“I’m sorry. Where am I?”
Alice looked around. Although the bunker wasn’t massive, she hadn’t explored it, you weren’t encouraged to walk around much.
“You’re in the medical section. I want you back on duty so you’re going to see the MO. He’s going to fix you up and get you back into battle.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologising for feeling ill. We expected people to have problems. Provisions were made for it. What we hadn’t expected was you to be so unhappy with your food. Don’t you like it or something? The MOD even put in a new canteen recently.”
“Sorry. Oh, sorry. What do you mean?”
“Look Riley, if you don’t like your lunch then keep it away from my shoes. It’s the second time for that today too.”
The Sergeant tried what she hoped was a smile. Alice stopped shivering and smiled a little in response.
“It’s just that. Well, I looked at the map.”
“You’ve got someone out there.”
“We all have. The best thing is not to think about it. There’s nothing any of use can do.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks. Now, I think the Doc is ready for you.”
Walking in to the Doctors office, she saw the tired face of a man who couldn’t remember the last time he had slept. His dead eyes would once have been kind. Days of handing out bad news and dealing with patients on the brink of breakdowns had nearly broken his spirit. He was about the same age as her.
“Private Riley”. He looked at her notes and sighed. “What seems to be the problem?”
She paused and tried to think what to say.
“I’ve been told to report to you. I fainted. I’m having a bit of nausea too.”
“Humph. Well, we’re all feeling a bit upset. Hardly surprising really.”
“I think Sergeant Cross was just upset I puked on her shoes”
Just the hint of a smile appeared on his face for a moment.
“So the problem isn’t sickness, just your aim?”
She smiled. For a moment they looked at each other.
“Well. I suppose I have to ask. Have you been a good little soldier and taken the potassium iodide tablets like we are all supposed to? They should stop you ruining the good sergeants efforts with the shoe polish.”
She bit her lip and thought.
“No I haven’t.”
“Why not?”, he turned and picked a pack of pills from a pile, “Take these and you’ll soon be fine. Well, as fine as we can be down here.”
Alice shook her head weakly. “I don’t want to.”
She touched her stomach. For a moment he paused, looking at her fingers.
“About 6 weeks. It’s going to be a summer baby.”
“Please don’t tell anyone. It’s all I have. Of…”, her voice tailed off. Patrick’s face filled her thoughts. The moment she had told him.
The doctor smiled. Colour returned to his face. The dead eyes sparkled.
“Well, I think in a little while, everyone is going to work it out for themselves. But I won’t say anything.
“It’s the least I can do. How does the song go? You know, the one they play as soon as the tinsel gets unwrapped.”
“Dunno. I’ve had that Jonah Lewie thing going in my head around since I woke up.”
“Wrong one. You need some Slade.”
She thought for a moment. “You mean…”
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun
He put his hand gently on top of hers.
“Yes. It’s Christmas!”