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“Was it ever?”

Vin shut his eyes and averted his head, quickly using his shoulder to shield the child as a shower of gritty sand and cement dust trickled down between the rubble. Under one hand he kept the kitten subdued, stroking it but keeping his fingers securely around its ribs. For some reason it had become very important to him that he not let go the scrap of fur that clung to him as tenaciously as the girl.

It had been a long time. Discomfort had turned to real pain as angular and unyielding bricks pressed into the soft flesh of his back and thighs and as he endured the increasing agony of a distended bladder he began to wish he had not drunk quite so much beer earlier. The weight of the child on his left arm had sent it numb but he did not have the heart to disturb her and every now and then worked his fingers in and out of a fist to restore some circulation.

“I’m thirsty.” “I know, sweetheart. Just hold on. Someone’s coming real soon.” How many times had he already told her that? Noises, scrapings and scratchings, had been drifting through the debris for so long that he was beginning to think that he was imagining them, reading something into the natural shifting and settling of bricks and timber that was not really there. He wondered again about Ezra, and about Chris. Had they been far enough away to escape the collapse. He knew Chris had shouted to him, but the warning had come too late and it was only by good fortune that he had tumbled down the same hole, and into the same cellar that the girl had fallen into, before the tons of bricks fell in on top of them.

He gave silent thanks that he was unaffected by claustrophobia although the density of the darkness and the sensation of being entombed was suffocating in its intensity, and he wondered how many days it was possible to stay alive under such conditions. He had heard stories of people being rescued after days of being trapped under bombed buildings but the creeping horror of what it must be like to die like this settled over him like a shroud. What happened when hope died, when after long hours of lying helpless in the dark the realisation dawned that no one was ever going to come? Did they cry, scream, shout, try to claw their way free until, fingers bloody and torn, they had no more strength left? He squeezed the child in a hug, his voice dropping to a whisper.

“Real soon.”


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