Fear gripped Rachel's heart as she slowly moved towards the window and peered over the window sill to see the destruction that the terrorist group ISIS had caused. She was hiding in a small cottage with limited supplies and her situation would surely worsen in two or three days if the aerial strikes would continue relentlessly. The cottage was not visible clearly to a person unknown to it because the rubble of the surrounding structures had shadowed it and had made a good camouflage. She heard the roar of the engine of a patrol car driving around to search for any left out 'fortunate' survivors and that abrupt sound shook the heavy blanket of unnerving silence all around her. Pure terror clutched her heart. She sat motionless in the shadows and could have been mistaken for a statue if anyone tried to focus on her silhouette in the eerie darkness. She closed her eyes and recalled the horrors which had turned upside down in just two days because of the ruthless terrorists and their unquenchable blood lust.
Rachel was the citizen of Tartus, a city in Syria. She used to live with her parents and her younger brother Mark. Tartus was a hub for most immigrants and her father worked there in the Syrian branch of the American company, Bezos. They had been living there for over twenty five years. Rachel was born and brought up in Syria but as the status of women over there was not great, she enjoyed less freedom compared to what her parents would have liked to give her. She was five years older to Mark and both the siblings were so close that they knew each other more than they understood themselves. Mark was doing higher studies in mechanical engineering while Rachel was doing a part time job in an American bank. They were a closely knit nuclear family who did not have any rifts between them and they also held good relations with all their neighbours.
In the past one year, military tensions had been gradually rising in Syria but Tartus was not highly threatened. It was a beautiful morning on the twenty first of March and the day started in a familiar way with the newspaper bringing news about all the death, terror and misery caused due to military and terrorist conflicts. Today was a day of anxiety and a little nervousness for the residents of Tartus because the government-owned radio station had released a warning about possible terror strikes by ISIS. Another reason of concern for the people was that there were not enough underground bunks to hide in due to the denial and ignorance of the people. Only if the people had been more aware about their safety then they would have had a slim chance of surviving. They did not consider the warning serious and turned a deaf year towards it. They could not have been more wrong.
In the afternoon, the citizens heard the loud whirr of the blades and rotors of the air planes. They looked like a flock of birds flying far away in the sky. Then as they came closer, the hazy black spots transformed into the clear bringers of death for the people of Tartus. Rachel and her family were dreadfully watching the enemy planes approach and as the first explosive was dropped, time seemed to slow down as they watched it pierce the air and effortlessly slice through it. Then in the split second before it touched the ground, all spectators braced for the explosion and in the next moment, a deafening boom resonated across the town. Everything under a three hundred metre radius burst into flames and a strong tremor was felt in the ground. Ten planes ruthlessly massacred over fifty thousand people that day. Rachel and her family had only one tiny hiding space that she knew of and in this desperation, her father sent her in that bunker against her will. She hurried inside with tears streaming down her face. A few moments after she entered the bunker, the ceiling above shook violently and small dust particles fell from above. She heard a muffled but still a powerful blast. After that, Rachel wept, sobbed and wailed in utmost despair. She had not been able to say even a final goodbye..
She felt the survivor's guilt and all her happiness was drained out of her body. She felt empty, trapped inside a hell-hole without anyone to provide her with love and affection. After what seemed an eternity, she opened the trap door and saw what were the remains of her beloved home. It was too painful for her and she realised that she she would not be able to even conduct the last rites of her family's bodies. She dropped down to her knees and wept profusely, she wept for her caring parents, her dear brother, her friends and her colleagues. She had lost her will to live and did not know if she would be able to move on.She started walking and wandered aimlessly in her neighbourhood, tripping frequently due to the ruins around her. Finally,her lifeless eyes noticed a comparatively less damaged small cottage standing between the rubble of other buildings. She decided to stay in there and live whatever short period of life that remained for her, over there.
The dying sound of the engine of the patrol car pulled back Rachel from the memories of her tragic past into an even worse reality. In the overwhelming silence, she heard the doors of the car open and thuds of boots hitting the ground then the doors smoothly clicking back into place. She could smell the stench of fear emanating from herself but she also felt a weird peace because she knew that finally her misery would end and she would leave this painful world forever. There was a sudden gunshot and the door of the cottage broke into a thousand splinters the very next moment. Two terrorists wearing the uniform of ISIS and their faces covered with a black hood walked inside. Vibes of malice and cruelty could be experienced coming from them. As soon as they found Rachel, who had made absolutely no attempt to hide, the first terrorist removed his hood to reveal a scarred face with dirty black teeth that were spread wide open in an evil glee. His eyes displayed the devil that was living inside him, waiting to be unleashed and devour on the fears of innocents.
"Do not be worried lady, I am going to treat you extremely well but only if you behave properly and let me do what pleases me without any objection or resistance." threatened the terrorist and added a hysterical laugh to this subtle threat. His hands slowly reached out to to Rachel who was cowering in fear when suddenly the terrorist's eyes went wide open in surprise and he looked down to see the point of a knife emerge from his stomach and a stream of blood slowly gushing down from the fatal wound. He looked behind and rasped in pain,
"Traitor." Then fell down on the cold stone with his mouth hanging open with disgust.
Rachel thought she was dreaming when the events went down the hill so unexpectedly. In the dark, she could see the eyes of the terrorist who had saved her life and her heart filled with complete joy when she realised that she was staring into the unmistakable eyes of her brother, Mark.
Rachel managed to whisper only one word,
Mark sat down in the pool of blood, removed his hood and took a long time to answer.
"Father had actually built two underground bunks but he had never revealed that information to us for reasons that are forever lost to us. He instructed me to hide in the other one until the strikes ended. I fell asleep after crying and as soon as I woke up, I came to rescue you but you had already left. Extremely tensed, I searched for you but in vain. I was very exhausted due to this search and encountered a small contingent of terrorists who gave me a chance to join them or die. I used that opportunity to look for you as a scout and fortunately I found you at the right time. Anyways, I think that we should depart towards the lake because many survivors have set up a secret camp there as per the information given to me by another victim I found."
Wordlessly, Rachel stumbled along with her brother and sat in the car. Both the brother and sister were lost in their own thoughts as they drove towards their destination. Rachel learnt that there is no avoiding destiny but keeping hope when everything starts falling apart is the difficult but real test for people.
"True darkness isn't the one where there is absolutely no light, its the one where there is absolutely no hope of any light coming back in life."