They are flocking to me, coming in waves, hundreds of them, like an endless river. It has been so long since I’ve had visitors. I watch each of them as they enter, and I smile, even though all they see is a sagging ceiling. “Welcome,” I want to shout. “You are safe.”
A boom thunders through my corridors as heavy oak shuts behind the last straggler. It echoes over and over, the only sound besides breathing and hurried footsteps as they head to my underground chambers. Door after door shuts behind them, closing them away.
Long seconds tick by, stretching into minutes. Nothing. No laughter, not a hint of a human voice. Solitude presses down despite the human warmth I can feel in my belly. A sigh rushes through the halls scattering plaster dust into the air.
Roaring motors shatter the peace. My focus shifts upwards, my hope rising with it; more are coming. The noise and the plane fade away, the cargo not meant for me.
A pitiful sob rises through the floors, mirroring my own feelings. The solid concrete foundation shakes under me with the terror of my occupants. I turn my gaze inwards, wondering at the sudden displays of emotion.
Every face is pinched tight with fear, children’s eyes wide and tears dripping off the occasional cheek. Years have gone by, centuries, since I’ve seen such expressions and understanding drops down over me. The rumors are true. War is coming. I straighten my spine, large cracks coming from these old bones, with the knowledge that I am their protector.
Tension hangs in the musty air. We wait, them straining to hear anything, and me keeping watch.
A soft sound reaches my ears and I scan the horizon with my many eyes. There it is, coming from the east. The same as earlier.
I crouch down, stretching my body over the cellars. It’s deafening now, the vibrations causing a few loose stones to fall, seemingly silent as they hit the ground. It’s no great loss; I have plenty more.
The plane is so small compared to my girth. It reminds me of a buzzing bee as it circles my head, but innocent appearances don’t fool me. I’ve felt its sting before. Feet planted firmly, I prepare myself.
The machine shots up, flying high, the contents of its guts raining down like little drops of death. The bombs bite into my back, breaking the surface so easily, as if there was nothing there in the first place.
Pain drills through everything, pain that I haven’t felt since my bricks were new and bright and my floors polished, pain that I had forgotten how to feel. A scream wells up, building and building, but I have no way to let it out.
The plane zooms off again, leaving everything quiet once more. My sores burn, the east wing ablaze, wooden innards disappearing into the smoke, but I have no way to put it out. The people inside serve as distractions.
Many of them are praying, and many more of them are crying, hugging family members close. “Be strong,” they whisper to each other. “Be strong.”
Be strong. I tell it to myself. Be strong. The words come back at me from so many places. Be strong.
The cracks in the walls close tight, edges brought together. The ceilings pull themselves into straight lines. Be strong. The floor seems to weave itself back together, its carpet clothing growing thicker and soft. The warped stairs flex like rippling muscles. Be strong.
This time the jagged humming comes from two directions. I grind my teeth, and fortify myself. I can feel the fiery infection spreading through the floors, but I am not afraid. Be strong.
The two companions meet right overhead, greeting each other like dance partners. They twist and turn in a complicated formation; they’re teasing me, knowing I am too grounded to stop them, showing off their freedom.
The first swoops low, its load of poison falling. It is just barely out of the way when the second follows suit. Through the pain, I watch them hover, delaying their cowardly retreat to gloat. Be strong.
A deep breath through my multiple chimneys, drawing enough air to me. Carefully considered aim, and then release.
The column of fire lashes up like a whip, hitting both of the enemy planes. They collide, blind in the smoke, their wings and engines hopping with flames. I imagine the overbearing heat as they fall out of the sky like shot geese. And I smile, not caring that their landing platform is my roof.
Impact is almost painless, my nerves burnt away. The metal splinters cut right to the bone, everything shattering into a million pieces. I can hear myself crumbling, my shingles down on the lawn. The only colors in the world are red and black, mixing everywhere with the smell of smoke. People, mere shadows, are leaping across the grass away from me, away from the ruins.
With one last puff of air as the stairwell caves in, I whisper to them, “Be strong.”