The old man’s ribs were partially crushed, and his left leg was broken.
As his granddaughters removed the debris from around his legs, the younger of the two, Dasia, began to cry while Hana continued in her task. The old man realized the pain he was feeling was also being felt by them. In consolation, he thought, “At least they are safe – safe until the drone returns or the red soldiers come.”
The old man drifted into unconsciousness and, as he drifted, his mind offered slivers of his past …
His farm was situated on the Federalist side of the mountains – a winding line of demarcation that separated them from New Republic territory. It was fertile land that yielded a small crop of corn and abundant fruit – an abundance that enabled him to barter for other necessities at the town market.
The farmhouse was hidden under a stand of trees and his barn was a shallow cave carved into the mountain side. His was a concealed existence, and he prayed it would remain so.
During a pause in the fighting, his only son came home. There were five of them – his son, his daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. The youngest, Dasia, was named for a flower, while Hana was named after his late wife. She reminded him of her – her quiet, serious manner. The farmhouse was filled with happiness; and even in these troubling times, he was content that his family was about him.
Neither he nor his neighbors wanted the war to come, but come it did. No amount of prayer could stop it; God would not intervene, and cries for peace and co-existence were shouted down. Each side claimed righteousness, and the fragile truce would only provide a brief respite. The terror would begin again.
Three months later, his son was dead, and his widow and children came to him for succor and protection. He took them in, and they continued their lives in mournful solitude until they were finally discovered.
His daughter-in-law was picking fruit for market when the drone spotted her. The foliage was too sparse to make her invisible to detection; and once detected, she was easy prey for the predator and its armament.
Too far away to help, he saw her death from the porch of the house. He was in anguish, but knew he had to push the grief aside and save his grandchildren.
He looked to the nearby cave where Hana was taking care of her younger sister and attending to her chores. But, when drawn out into the open by the loud noise, they were immediately spotted by the drone. It turned towards them awaiting its controller’s command.
He cried out, “No! Come to me … run!” They obeyed, and he quickly rushed them into the house and down the cellar steps. He paused only long enough to grab a canteen of water and was descending the stairs when the missile struck …
Now, the old man was conscious again; his granddaughters were attending to him. They had cleared the debris, and Hana was binding his broken leg with her scarf. There was purpose in Hana’s face but panic and fear in Dasia’s. He had to save them, but how?
The stairs were impassible, and the ceiling was mostly collapsed with only its far corner partially intact. What little light there was came from the cellar window just above ground level. The window was small – intended only for minimal light and ventilation; but now, it was also their only exit.
The girls helped him crawl over the rubble towards the window. He knew he could not fit through the opening; he doubted that he could fit Hana through. He only knew that Dasia could not survive without her older sister, and he had to try.
When the night finally came, he told Dasia, as she was the smaller, that she needed to go first. And, once outside, she had to help pull her sister through the window while he pushed from the other side. She nodded fearful acceptance and slowly squeezed herself through the opening.
Kneeling on the outside, Dasia reached back down and took Hana’s hands. She tugged with all her might and, gradually, her sister emerged. Once through, they hovered near the window on their hands and knees and stared down into their grandfather’s face; he looked so tired.
His breathing was now labored and he spoke in short gasps, “Go to our neighbors …. Do not cross the clearing …. Stay under the trees …. Take the long way …. You must reach … reach them … before the sun comes up.”
Hana paused for a moment and looked into the eyes of her grandfather; she knew it was for the last time. He knew it as well and reached through the window to touch them.
He whispered a simple farewell, “Go with God.”
They stared at each other for another moment; and then, Hana took her sister’s hand, and they disappeared into the night.
As the old man lay dying, he prayed for his grandchildren’s safety; he had little concern for himself. He only wished it wouldn’t be long before he would be in paradise with his loved ones who had prepared a place for him.
But, his wish went unfulfilled, and he suffered many hours until the dawn came. And, with the dawn, he heard the approach of soldiers – the soldiers with the red armbands. They had come to secure the area and kill any of the enemy they could find; they were efficient in their task.
They spotted the open cellar window and stopped only long enough to toss a grenade through the opening where possible survivors might hide. All the old man could do was watch as it rolled down the slope of rubble towards him. He was spent, and the red dawn had come for him.
The old man’s body was never recovered; the cellar became his tomb.
Many years later, Hana returned to the recaptured land and the farmhouse. Dasia would not come; she did not want death’s reminders to haunt her dreams.
With a child in her arms, Hana walked over the debris that was once her home. She stopped and said a prayer for her grandfather. She spoke to him, knowing he could hear her. She thanked him for her life and the life of her son – his namesake. She visited with him for a long time, until her child became restless.
And, as she turned to go, she saw the gathering red sky and it made her wonder – wonder how long it would take for man to find wisdom in his heart and forsake the red dawns that were yet to come.