I decided to write this short story to show people how amazing dogs can be and how much assistance they provide to humans.
Cat latched the gate behind her, Finn tugging incessantly on the leash, and glanced back at the scruffy yard, littered with a higgledy-piggledy assortment of obstacles and hard-packed dirt and grass, scuffed and scratched by thousands of paws.
She strode across the parking lot, gravel crunching under her boots, unlocking the car as she walked. Finn bounded into the passenger seat, his large paws scrabbling on the dashboard, his eyes bright. He couldn’t wait to get home.
She slammed shut the boot, started up the engine, and put the car into gear. Then she reversed slowly out of her space and sped away down the lane, the pine trees lining the road on her either side swaying in the wind, the sky above streaked with rivulets of molten gold, blotches of blood-red light dancing on the glass of the windscreen.
As she turned into the familiar street, the small houses gazing fondly down at her, their tiled roofs sporting cosy chimneys puffing wreaths of smoke, she suppressed a sigh. Tom’s car was parked in the driveway.
He was standing there alone, in the middle of the pavement, which was glimmering softly from a late summer shower. The fragrant blossoms in the trees overhead rustled gently as she walked towards him under the glowing golden light of the streetlamps. “Tom-” she began, but he stopped her, his eyes glistening with tears. “Don’t do this. Please don’t do this.” He burst out, his lips moving as though he was chewing back the words.
“I have to. You know I do.” She said kindly, taking his hand. “Finn’s been training for months. He’s ready. I’m ready. We’re going. We have to.”
“No you don’t! You’re going to die!” He yelled, wrenching his hand from hers and glaring at her as if she were mad. She flinched as though he’d hit her, but he pretended not to notice. Her eyes hardened, cold as pebbles. “What do you care?” she said coldly.
“I love you, Cat. I’ve always loved you.” He said, his eyes softening. “How could you ever think I don’t care?”
“But if I do this you won’t? Love me, I mean?” she responded scathingly. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
“Just as I thought. That’s not true love, Tom. True love is when you support my decisions, no matter what they may be. You’re being selfish.” She replied hotly, turning away. She drew her jumper tighter around her and pulled up the hood. “I’m done with you. Take your car and leave.”
Then she walked away and didn’t look back.
Stumbling into the house, she locked the door, feeling restrained by her heavy clothing. She tore off the jumper, gasping like a fish out of water, hyperventilating. She watched Tom’s distorted shadow vanish as the shining scarlet lights of his Toyota pulled away and revved down the deserted lane, winking like a pair of crimson eyes. Then she finally allowed herself to break down. She crumpled onto the stairs, sobbing, her heart feeling as though it had been shattered into a million pieces.
Then she felt something soft and warm under her fingertips and found that Finn had forced his head between her trembling knees. He flicked out a rough pink tongue and began lapping at her cheeks. She drew in a shaky breath, and buried her face in his long fur, grabbing at his shoulders for support. And there she stayed, for what felt like hours, crying a river of tears.
Morning dawned bright and early, and Cat staggered to her feet, trying vainly to gather her thoughts. The hallway of her house swam into view, and outside, she could hear the rush of the wind and the twittering of a joyous robin. She blinked several times and saw that Finn was sprawled at her feet, snoozing, his paws jerking and his eyelids flickering as he dreamed about chasing invading squirrels and rogue cats. Her vision cleared and she glimpsed the face of her chiming quartz clock. It was 8 o’clock! The plane! She had to catch the plane!
She began to dash, her weak legs trying desperately to catch up with her racing mind as she snagged a piece of burnt toast straight out of the toaster, swigged down a scalding cup of coffee, and scrambled her hair into a dishevelled ponytail. Finn pranced excitedly beside her like a racehorse, ready for the day ahead, as she pulled his neon harness over his head, pausing for a moment to adjust the tag on his collar.
She hopped to and fro on the front porch, doing up her boots, then unlocked the car as she sprinted to the garage, nearly tripping over her unravelling laces in the process.
“Finn! Let’s go!”
He stopped his circling of a sturdy oak tree and raced over, hopping into the passenger seat as she leant over his quivering body to slam the car door shut. Then she pressed her foot onto the accelerator and the car lurched forward. A couple of minutes later and they were racing down the road, the countryside a green-brown streak, the hills and fields dotted with cows a mere blur. Rain pattered against the windscreen as she rounded a corner dangerously fast and nearly smashed into the car in front. She stamped down on the brakes and cursed under her breath. They were trapped in a long, winding line of traffic with no end in sight.
She stuck her head out of the window and yelled to the car in front, but by now the rain was lashing so ferociously it was impossible to see or hear anything.
She got out of the car, shielding herself, as thunder rolled around the surrounding hills and the rain pelted down like thousands of tiny stones. She could see the airfield, a blurry grey dot on the horizon, surrounded by an expansive stretch of grass and barbed wire. They would have to walk, otherwise, they wouldn’t make it.
She snapped on Finn’s leash, her hair plastered to her forehead, drenched to the skin. Finn was yipping excitedly as she led him out of the car, ignoring the honks of the outraged drivers. She opened the boot, grabbing her rucksack and slinging it over her shoulder. Then, Finn’s leash in one hand and the other over her face, she began to run.
They barely made it in time. The towering gate swung open to accept them as they scrambled towards the roaring plane, sprinting over the slippery, soaked tarmac under the rumbling sky bursting with water.
The conductor waved her forward, and she and Finn flopped down inside, the door closing with a mechanical hiss on their heels as the engines throbbed. There was a burst of static from the pilot’s cockpit, and the plane glided faster and faster. She pressed Finn’s wriggling bum to the floor as it screeched along the runway and blasted into the heavens, snarling like a wild animal. England unfolded beneath them like a grey-and-green map, the shadow of the plane billowing over the ground until they burst upwards through the barrier of cloud and into the clear blue sky. They were officially on their way.
The sky outside gradually darkened as they cruised far above the clouds, away from the growling storm. Finn was lying down at her feet, apparently asleep, but then his eyes glittered in the shifting light of the plane, and she bent down and pressed her hand against his furry chest, listening to the steady doof-doof-doof of his heart. She wondered how he felt. All their training, over six whole months of it, had prepared them for this moment. She felt the knot of nervousness and anticipation in her stomach loosen as she stroked him. Whatever lay ahead, she knew she could count on her loyal companion to always be by her side.
A ghost of a smile spread across her face in the darkness, and she lay back against the shuddering sides of the plane and closed her eyes. It was going to be a long flight.
She was woken by a bone-jarring jolt, and she went flying into the shelves, smacking her head on the corner. Finn was immediately on his feet, growling. The ground below was now a sea of desert, and she could see the toy-like figures of camels trekking through the sand. The shadow of the plane swept over the dunes below like a huge circling bird of prey, and the military base was a bleak square amongst the hungry sands. The nose of the plane began to dip, and Cat slid down the slippery bench and back again as its wheels made contact with the dusty concrete and the plane rumbled along before squealing to a halt.
As she stumbled down the steps, Finn’s cheek brushing her hip, she was blasted with a faceful of dry, hot air and gritty sand. It was like emerging into another world. The icy, damp weather of England was no more than a distant memory. The sun blazed down, harsh and intense, making her squint and sweat trickle down the back of her neck.
She was greeted by the barren sight of two rows of orderly bunkers beside the runway. Everything was grey-the uniforms, the vehicles, the sky. There wasn’t a splash of colour in sight.
She placed a gentle hand on Finn’s head when they reached their bunker, unlocking the heavy-duty door into a claustrophobic, musty room. Finn eagerly sniffed every nook and cranny, before settling beside the bed with an exaggerated sigh. He crossed his paws and blinked up at her reassuringly as she folded her clothes and stuffed them into the drawer. She placed a photograph of her mother on her bedside table and flicked off the light, staring at the picture until it blurred in the darkness, and then she sank back into the pillow, the hard planks of the bed frame digging into her shoulder blades. She twisted onto her side and smiled sadly at Finn’s motionless form. Then she felt her eyelids droop, and the room slipped into black.
She was woken by the insistent, jarring blare of a speaker. “Unit Twelve! Unit Twelve! Report to the helicopter pad immediately!”
That’s me! She gasped and hurried out of bed, beginning to pull on her uniform, which was heavy and rough on her skin. She winced as she tightened the buttons and yanked the zipper taut. Finn was waiting by the door, eager for his first task, his tail swishing rapidly, windmilling against her legs. Thump thump thump it went, and she had to suppress a grin of excitement and anticipation as she clipped on his leash and stepped out into the open, remembering just in time to bolt the door behind her. She stashed the keys in her pocket and strode onto the sand-dusted tarmac. The sky was a bright, cornflower blue, and the sun was like a fiery orb, bearing down on the thirsty land. Finn ploughed ahead like an ox, his nose twitching nonstop, his tail in a tight curl over his tawny back. She stumbled after him, yanking him into position next to her hip as they rounded a corner.
The steady whir of the helicopter met her ears, and she narrowed her eyes against the whirlwind of dust and dried leaves. It hovered, waiting, about half a meter off the ground, its blades slicing through the air like a knife through butter above her. She tugged Finn impatiently after her and ducked through the helicopter’s open door into the cockpit. The pilot gave her a friendly nod and flicked a switch; the helicopter rumbled and lurched upwards into the blue. They would be flying just below the clouds, and the parched air whistled through the tilting windows as they climbed higher and higher into the sun’s relentless glare.
Finn whined softly and pressed against Cat’s legs as the helicopter gave a jolt and they wheeled around in the sky until they were facing west, just several hundred kilometres from the rushing sea. The static in her ear crackled, and she could hear the pilot’s disembodied voice issuing instructions. “You will be checking out a bombed village just a few kilometres north of our current position. Take extreme caution, as there still may be people there. Bad people.” Cat bit her lip and tightened her grip on Finn’s collar. She dipped her head, grimly, and steeled herself as the helicopter lowered until its violet shadow rippled over a particularly towering dune. “Jump! Now!”
She barely had time to contemplate the height at which they were until she was sailing through the air, limbs flailing, and landed with an oof on the ground. Finn sprang neatly down beside her, with a cheeky swish of his tail. She gathered herself and looked up. Other helicopters were arriving and dropping off other dog handlers like her. Finn pricked his ears at the other dogs, barely able to contain his glee.
She unsnapped his leash and took out her rifle, tucking it under her arm as they slid down the side of the dune towards the ghostly village. The first thing she noticed was that the place was silent. Deathly silent. There was not one sign of life.
The red sand hissed, snakelike, forking between the buildings and the discarded rubble. The wind whistled through the decrepit homes as she trudged through the dust, Finn at her side, hyperalert. She rounded a corner and paused, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling with unease.
A small, woollen doll lay abandoned in the sand, her chalky face with its blank, stitched-on, unravelling smile grinning up at the vast sky, oblivious to the world, unknowing and uncaring of what had happened to its little mistress. She shuddered and moved on, careful to avoid it. This place gave her the creeps.
She reached one house that was still intact, and placed a hand on the warm, rough-hewn, weathered door, pushing it open. Sand spilled in through the windows, all-consuming, ravenous, washing away all signs of human habitation like a tsunami wave. It was then that she noticed a putrid smell wafting from a nearby cupboard. It was like rotting flesh, a disgusting and decaying stench. Finn approached the cupboard then backed away again, sneezing. He whined and pawed at her leg. Keeping one hand on her gun, she tiptoed forward and hesitantly turned the handle.
She jumped back with a shriek of horror, a terrified wail rising like bile in her throat. Two bodies, one of a man and one of a woman, toppled out, their eyes glazed and their chests caked with dried blood. Disturbed flies buzzed in a thick black cloud up near the house’s mudbrick ceiling. Finn began to bark, the noise reverberating around the room and ringing in her ears like an alarm.
She fumbled for her communicator, but before she could reach for it a damp, cold hand clamped over her mouth, muffling her screams. Finn snarled and sprang, but his growl turned to a whimper as a muzzle was forced over his snout and he was pinned to the ground. She tried to fight, but then a foul-smelling cloth smothered her mouth and she slumped to the floor, the world going black.
She woke with a start, sitting upright on the damp concrete, a sliver of sunlight filtering through a small, barred window in the cell wall. She staggered to her feet, wiping her mud-streaked, sweaty brow. She licked her dry lips, and swallowed, looking around. The cell was cramped and bare. A grimy bowl of water, a chamber pot and a filthy grey blanket were the only objects within her reach. Moss and algae were growing on the walls, and the floor squelched beneath her boots. She felt for her rifle and realized that it was gone, as was her communicator. She began feeling for any weakness in the walls, hopelessness threatening to engulf her as she realized it was in vain. She walked over to the window and peered through the bars. She seemed quite high up, in a spiralling tower of some sort. The desert rippled outwards in a sea of dunes, as far as the eye could see. She angled herself to the right and squinted. A thin line of cerulean on the horizon told her that the sea was there. A salty breeze wafting through the window confirmed her suspicions. She was staring at the sky and trying to work out the time of day when there was a ringing bark from deep in the belly of the tower. Finn! Finn was alive!
She scrambled to the rusting door and tried to see down the dingy corridor. There was a thumping of boots and a man approached, a turban wrapped around his head, his eyebrows like two bristly black caterpillars on his face. But most welcoming of this sight was the steaming bowl of porridge in one hand and the hunk of stale bread in the other. She accepted them thankfully and wolfed them down, barely stopping to taste the porridge as it disappeared down her throat, burning her insides in the process. At least it filled her up.
By the time the sky began to darken outside, an indigo blanket descending on the desert like a curtain closing on a stage, a plan had begun to form in her head.
When a young, weedy boy with a mop of scruffy brown hair and lanky arms returned at roughly nine o’clock to serve her dinner, she decided to execute her escape. Taking a moment to compose herself, she lay back against the wall and began to cough, great hacking gasps that wheezed and gurgled in her chest like crackling tissue paper.
The boy looked positively terrified. “Please.” She whispered, stretching out her arms to him. He began backing away, shaking his head. “I have information your boss wants!” she begged, crawling towards him on all fours. He hesitated, weighing his options. “Okay…” he replied. He took out a bunch of keys from his pocket and unlocked the door, pointing towards the far wall. “Don’t try anything.” He said, trembling. He turned his head to call for help, the sinews in his neck bulging, and she bellowed, charging at him like a bull. His head snapped back against the ground, and he crumpled, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
She felt worriedly for a pulse and found one, strong and beating. He was just unconscious. “Sorry.” She murmured as she stepped over his body. Then she began to run.
She tore down the sheer staircases, her heart pounding, her feet thudding until she reached another door. Rummaging for the keys, she removed them from around her belt and unlocked the door. Finn bounded out, shaken but unhurt, his tongue flinging wads of spit everywhere as he slobbered over her. She giggled and kissed his forehead. “Oh boy, how I’ve missed you.” She smiled through ecstatic tears and grabbed a gun from a hook on the wall. Cocking it, she checked that it was loaded. It was. “It’s time to go.”
They burst into the twilight, stars glittering overhead like grains of salt spilt onto a shiny black table, Finn’s paws churning up sand as they raced towards a saddled and waiting donkey tied up beside a run-down shack. She felt bullets pinging off the ground around her and spun round to see a man sprinting full speed, waving a gun madly in the air. She lined up her rifle. Pointed and aimed. She could see him clearly now, the rest of the world vanishing as she focused on his face, twisted with malice. Pull the trigger, a voice in her head muttered. She gulped, her chest contracting as though invisible hands were squeezing her lungs tight. BANG! The man fell like a toy soldier.
Then she was dashing to the donkey, swinging onto its back and untying the knot with shaking hands. She dug her heels in and they flew across the desert sand, Finn loping beside her, dodging the donkey’s thundering hooves. As they galloped, she saw the faint outline of a deserted mosque against the inky black. That’s where we’ll go, she thought, tugging on the reins. The donkey changed course, heading for the mosque.
They came to a dusty halt in the murky courtyard. Tripping over snaking roots and scraping her legs on vicious thorns that clutched at her skin like a tiger’s hooked claws, she groped her way into the mosque and up a crumbling flight of stairs.
Then she bolted the door, and sank to the floor, her legs shaking beneath her like Jell-O. She had made it. Against all odds, she had actually made it.
As the crescent moon made its slow silver arc across the inky, star-studded sky, she rested her head against the rough sandstone wall and pulled the delicate fabric of her scarf over her eyes. The cold butt of her rifle nudged against her elbow. Through the beige material, she could just make out Finn’s pricked ears and tapering head, silent and watchful by the mosque window. The balmy breeze wafted in through the open window and kissed her raw skin. Stretching out her boots so that they were resting against Finn’s broad back, she closed her eyes and drifted into a dreamless sleep.
The sun blazed through the window, streaking the opposite wall with pink. It pried open her eyelids and she yawned and raised a tired hand to rub her dusty face. Finn’s cold, wet nose snuffled in her ear, and she blinked and shoved him away half-heartedly. “Finn.” She mumbled and staggered to her feet. He was pacing back and forth in their tiny, cramped room, his blunt paws scuffing the carpet. She cautiously placed her hand on the knocker and swung the door open with a creak. With her other hand clamped over Finn’s muzzle to keep him quiet, she peered down the empty corridor, lit up by the dawn’s red-gold rays and lined with long shadows, and back the other way. Nothing. She pushed the door open wider and stepped out into the open, her heart in her mouth. Finn slunk out beside her, wedged between her thigh and the door, his ears flattened against his skull.
Poised to flee, she crouched down and tiptoed nervously along the empty corridor, until she reached an arched gate that led into the rippling chestnut dunes.
Their mount was waiting in the pitiful front garden. Amongst the shrivelling vines and vicious thorny bushes, the skeletal grey donkey stood, tethered to a post. He brayed a welcome as she and Finn approached, and Cat popped a carrot into his waiting mouth. Whilst he crunched unconcernedly, she tightened the girth, adjusted the saddle, and swung herself onto his back. He harrumphed at the sudden weight, then lurched forwards. She grabbed a handful of his bristly mane, thick with sand, as he trotted nimbly across the gravel, picking his way through the bushes until they were at the foot of a large sloping dune, its gently undulating sides towering above them, casting a dark shadow over the earth. Here she dismounted, and, wrapping the donkey’s lead rope firmly round her left hand, she ploughed upwards through the sand.
As she crawled, panting, over the rise, Finn flopped down in a panting, oil-black heap beside her, drooling profusely. The tired donkey tottered the last few feet and then his legs folded, fawnlike, beneath him and he knelt in the sand.
The sun bore down on the vast plain, dotted with the occasional shrub and shadowed by the enormous dunes. If she shaded her eyes, she could make out, in the distance, the silhouette of a small town, nestled in the foothills of a mountain, and dominated by a largish mosque. Specks of white on the surrounding crumbly slopes, like little cotton balls, told her that there were flocks of sheep and goats nearby, no doubt owned by the villagers. They would head there, and hopefully, make it by nightfall. It wasn’t safe to be out in the desert when evening approached.
She sat on the top of the dune and took a long sip from her flask. The water was cool and refreshing and moistened her parched throat and dry, cracked lips. She drizzled a small stream of it into the side of Finn’s mouth, then sealed it tightly and shoved it into the donkey’s saddlebag. She rolled up the sleeves of her dusty khaki pants, rolled down her thick, woollen socks, and made sure her boots were laced up. Then, with a heavy sigh, she got to her feet and shuffled down the other side of the dune, the sand trickling down beside her, the donkey staggering after her, and Finn loping at her heels. When they reached flat ground, she mounted the donkey yet again, and they set off at a brisk pace across the thirsty ground. The sun beat down on her head and sweat trickled in steady rivulets down the back of her neck. A lone harrier wheeled in the cloudless blue sky, its speckled, pale underbelly and jagged, kite-like form a milky-white blotch in the nothingness.
As the afternoon went on and the sun dipped lower, they reached the shade of a wizened tree, standing like a single sentinel in the lonely landscape. She crumpled in its pathetic shade, resting her head against its gnarled trunk. An ant crawled up her arm and she flicked it away. She glanced over to Finn’s trembling form at her feet. His mouth was caked with dirt and flies buzzed around his dark almond-shaped eyes. The donkey was in no better shape. His thin legs were shaking under his own body weight, and she could count every one of his prominent ribs, stark beneath his sagging grey skin.
She opened her precious flask of water and gulped down a long mouthful. It slid down her throat in one guzzle. She then shook the last few drops onto Finn’s nose and the donkey’s velveteen muzzle. They both licked up their rations and nudged at her hungrily for more. “Sorry guys.” She rasped, her voice croaky from the lack of use. “I’m all out.” She shook the flask upside down to demonstrate.
They were nearing the sleepy little town now, and just as well, because the sky was blushing magenta, and the first stars were peeking out from behind wispy clouds.
As they reached the watchtower, she wound the scarf tighter around her traitorous pale face and pulled Finn closer to her. She waved in what she hoped was a nonthreatening manner to the guards and freed her hands to demonstrate that she had no weapons. The rifle clunked against her leg under her clothing, and she guiltily tucked it deeper out of sight.
After a moment of discussion, they swung open the gates to reveal a bustling village square, complete with a small marketplace thronging with shoppers, the sickly-sweet scent of freshly picked dates hanging in the air. She wandered through the crowd, keeping a firm hold on the donkey’s rope and a watchful eye on Finn. Thankfully he made no aggressive moves towards the townsfolk.
The night was closing in fast, an indigo veil that cloaked the town in darkness, and as people lit their flickering torches and closed their front doors, Cat began to look for a place to stay. She found herself strolling through a narrow alleyway, gazing up at the full moon, which glared down suspiciously at her like an unwinking eye.
She froze, and Finn bumped into her legs. A lone figure swathed in a black abaya was beckoning to her from a doorway. She paused, deliberating, her heart pounding nervously. She looked down at Finn and noticed that he seemed calm. He was wagging leisurely and attempting to greet the old woman. She decided to trust his instincts. Tying the donkey up, to a wooden stake driven into the ground, she stepped over the threshold into the musty house. The woman gestured towards a small, straw-stuffed bed in the corner, and then turned towards the kitchen, where she began pouring a steaming cup of Arabic coffee. She sat down, the mattress sagging slightly beneath her weight, bits of straw digging into her sides through the flimsy canvas. Finn settled at the foot of the bed, crossed his paws, and, with an imperious air, oversaw the proceedings. After she had been served, she sipped the cup whilst the woman stared at her with sharp, fox-brown eyes that crinkled kindly at the edges. She finished and she handed the cup back with a polite nod of her head and a small smile of thanks. The woman bustled about the cramped room, drawing the curtains, and then, with one breath, blew out the single flickering candle. Immediately the puddle of welcoming golden light was extinguished.
The smoke spiralled towards the ceiling in ghostly ribbons as the woman shuffled over to a wicker rocking chair and, with a heavy grunt, sat down. Cat closed her eyes. God knows she needed some rest.
But her peace didn’t last very long. She was woken by the insistent murmur of voices from the front door and the impatient shuffling of feet. A bright ray of moonlight fell across the woman standing, hunched in the doorway. The long, ominous shadow of a man was silhouetted there. A deep rumbling reverberated at the foot of the bed. Finn was growling, his eyes narrowed to slits. His ears were low, his body tense. His lip curled to reveal his sharp white teeth.
Her gaze shifted back towards the woman. She heard the woman pleading softly, begging in a low, lilting Arabic tongue. Then there was a flash of silver. The man had drawn a knife. Cat lay motionless under the sheets, her heart thumping like a bass drum, as the woman began to back away, nearly tripping over the threadbare carpet, her hands clasped at her chest as if in prayer. A blur of argent light, a swift, sharp motion, and the woman gave a soft cry as the knife slashed across her neck. Blood sprayed in an arc across the floor, splattering the open door, as she keeled over backwards, her arm flopping uselessly across her waist.
Cat bit back a scream, and ducked down low, crawling on her hands and knees over to the window as the man proceeded towards the kitchen, methodically checking every cupboard and every nook and cranny. Finn padded after her, his toenails clicking on the wooden boards. Cat stretched a tentative hand toward the shutter and slowly pushed it open. It flapped in the breeze, and she froze, her breath coming in ragged gasps. The man tensed and spun round, and Cat snatched Finn out of view and retreated deeper into the shadows. The man sighed and turned back around, the knife glinting. He was looking for her. She was sure of it.
BOOM! There was a deafening crash that shook the very foundations of the house and made the door frame tremble. Her stomach plummeted and she felt a swooping sensation as though she was falling from a great height. There was a blazing orange light that danced in and around the house now, casting ominous silhouettes on the walls, and Cat was so terrified she could barely spur herself into moving.
She sprinted for the door as the man twisted round, his mouth in a perfect ‘o’ of surprise. They sprinted down the alleyway, Finn streaking ahead as they rounded the corner.
Cat shrieked and stumbled backwards a few paces, biting her tongue to stop herself from crying out loud. The square was a smoking wreck, the rubble indistinguishable from what had earlier been intact houses. She could hear the moans and wails of dying people, breathing and feeling human beings just like her, trapped underneath the wood and stone. The world spun and the town blurred as her head swam, knees buckling, as she fought to stay upright. She felt Finn press himself against her legs and forced herself to take a few deep, gulping breaths.
Bending down, she buried her head in Finn’s soft fur, slowly regaining control of her own thoughts.
The sky was billowing with smoke and ash coated the ground in a thick carpet. She picked her way through the debris and out of the town, not stopping until she was safely clear of the perimeters. Then, and only then, did she allow herself to sink to the ground and look back and the crumbling village. She rubbed Finn’s head, guilt boiling inside her.
Then she turned, ready to leave, but the throb of a helicopter stopped her in her tracks. She crouched in the sand, anticipating an attack, but then a loud yell made her look up and gasp in relief.
A large helicopter was hovering overhead, the Union Jack emblazoned on its side, its bright reds and blues stark against the sky. It dropped down a swaying ladder, and, tucking Finn under her arm, she climbed up and collapsed into the chopper, exhausted.
They flew over the scene of devastation, breaking through the barrage of smoke and flames, and into the sunrise. The cool wind brushed her skin, and she gazed into the sun’s golden rays, Finn by her side. They were going home.