Valley of the Shadow of Death

Valley of the Shadow of Death

The primordial morning sunrays fought their way through the dense, gray smog that had swallowed the whole town.

A stray cat hobbled out of its hiding spot, whimpering, and used its singed tail to support its lopsided charred body. Its horror-stricken eyes looked around wildly, trying to juxtapose any semblance of its last memories of the place with the now-decimated street.

***

“Tubby, where are you? We have your favourite today,” someone was calling out her name while clucking their tongue.

She wished to admonish them for giving her the ‘hen’ treatment but clearly, her infuriated ‘meows’ were falling on deaf ears.

She knew her irascible temperament wasn’t towards the helpful children but at the current situation that their hometown was being shoved into. Humans called it ‘politics’; to her, it appeared to be some sort of irremediable illness.

Once a healthy, prosperous town, had now been reduced to its crutches and stray animals had to rely on the leftover humanity in the residents to survive.

“Found her. Tubby, come out. We have food for you.”

The appetizing aroma of dried tuna got her to quickly dismiss her resentment towards them from a second ago.

“Oy, eat slowly.”

“Poor Tubby, she must be so hungry.”

“What to do, we hardly have enough to feed ourselves, let alone leftovers.”

“Dad received a telegram today. They are still not allowing rations and essentials to reach us.”

“Our last night’s raid in that garrison was successful but let’s take a break tonight. We need to keep it secret from our parents.”

“Yes. Arrgh, I’m tired of eating the same meal day in, day out.”

“Be grateful, you are getting to eat something. My parents haven’t eaten in two days so that children of our house can.”

Their banter subdued at the last comment. With the toll of deaths rising with each passing day from hunger and malnourishment, the young’uns had been forced to take charge of their lives prematurely.

Tubby gulped the last morsel and purred in satisfaction, which set the kids giggling.

“At least one of us is content.”

Tubby desperately hoped for humans on the other side of the border to uphold the very reason that got them named thus.

However, a mere cat’s wish had no place in the grander scheme when the wishes of the mightier species were being overlooked ruthlessly.

***

Next morning, the streets which ought to have witnessed urchins running around in shorts and skirts lay godforsaken with long ominous penumbrae cast in broad daylight by the smoke that still carried the soupçon of gunpowder in it.

The cheerful houses which had whispered sweet nothings among themselves with their inhabitants providing the background score through their natter and daily chores stood haggard and defeated.

Tubby had no clue what had led to this sudden turn in fates over a single night. Her tattered soul did not know of the series of shellings that had ransacked her hometown of its last vestiges of glory and happiness.

***
Author’s Note –
This is a purely fictional account from my imagination but inspired by a famous war photograph (taken during Crimean War) that I had come across few years ago. It also inspired the title of this story.

Here is the link for more information –
 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_of_the_Shadow_of_Death_(Roger_Fenton)
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