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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes:

Sound of Death
Heather Parker

Helen covered her ears, desperately trying to block out the incessant, thudding sound of Death. How did it choose its victims? What quirk of fate decided who would be alive when the planes finally returned to Israel, their bellies empty?

At this moment Helen wanted to hate those pilots. How the hell could they drop their bloody bombs on innocent civilians and go back home to their own families? But she couldn't. She was in love with one of them.
She screamed as an ear-splitting crash rocked the house and shattered windows. Plaster dust covered her hair. Was David a part of this raid tonight? He knew she was in Lebanon but he had no idea where. Aid workers moved around so much and he hadn't been able to contact her for almost a week. She realised there was a faint possibility she might even die at his hands. What kind of a world was this?
Dogs started barking outside. They always did that.

Would they survive this conflict? David was from Israel and she was English. He was Jewish and she was Christian. And he believed with all his heart he was doing this to protect his homeland. She was in Lebanon trying to help his victims, seeing first hand the pitiful results of the campaign. Could any relationship survive this?

Another thud shook the house but it was further away this time. She began to hope the planes were leaving. She knew it was only a temporary reprieve but you soon learnt one thing in this country. Never look beyond tomorrow.
'Are you coping okay, Helen? It was a hell of a night.'
Sam watched her face. She wasn't as experienced as the others and it couldn't be easy.
Helen shook her head. 'How do people survive wars that go on for years? It's only been ten days and I'm a wreck. I can't sleep, I jump every time anyone bangs a door!'
Sam nodded. 'You're not on your own there, love. If you're not scared, you're an idiot. And if you're not upset by what you see, you shouldn't be working for us.'
Helen raised her eyebrows. 'No worries on that score then. I must be the perfect employee.'
Sam smiled. 'Go and grab a quick mug of coffee. The rest of us are sorting out the consignment of food that came in yesterday. After last night's raid, it might have to last a while. God knows when the next truck will get through. The roads are smashed to hell.'
'David must be well satisfied,' murmured the girl bitterly.
Her co-worker glanced up at her in surprise and sighed. 'I thought you told me you understood. That it's okay because he believes he's doing the right thing.'
Helen's eyes watered suddenly. 'Do you think he is?'
Sam put his arms round her and held her for a moment.
'I can't answer that, love.'

All that day the relief workers tried to help the beleaguered villagers. Ten people had died in the raid; five from one family. The mood was one of hopelessness – the situation beyond their control. They couldn't fight back. They had no weapons. Yet they knew within hours another wave of planes would surge back across the black skies, destroying more lives at random. More mothers, fathers, children.

But Helen knew this was one side of the story. She was forced to admit families in Israel had the same fears. They were at the mercy of anonymous rockets; fewer in number but just as deadly for those they destroyed. Like David's brother, killed on a harmless night out with his student friends. He was an innocent too.
'It's the ones who start the wars I hate - not the people caught up in them,' said Sam that evening. 'Freedom fighters, politicians, sometimes there's not much to choose between them.'
'I know. David wasn't a killer before that night,' sighed Helen. 'In fact he was one of the gentlest people I've ever known. I remember spending a whole night sitting up with a sick cat he found on campus.'
'You two met at university?'
She nodded. 'And then afterwards we worked on the kibbutz for a few months. Before I started with your lot.'
'And that was when his brother was killed?'
'Yes,' said Helen, tears threatening again. It was this bloody war. She felt like crying all the time.
'Well, the UN are still talking – I suppose that's something. Maybe they'll finally get their act together this week.'
'I hope so,' whispered Helen. 'I don't know how much more these poor people can stand. They've lost so much. Their jobs, their homes…'
'Their families,' finished Sam sadly. 'And while the great and the good argue in New York, Rome burns…'
'The good?' queried Helen cynically.

Another night of bombing. Twelve more villagers dead. The anger threatened to spill over into bloodshed and the aid workers were jumpy although they understood the hostility. These were proud men, forced to beg the UN charity for supplies for their families. Why the hell weren't the world leaders doing something to stop this carnage? Not just doling out inadequate food and water to the victims.

Helen understood all of this. But this morning she couldn't bring herself to care. An Israeli plane had been shot down, the pilots missing and presumed dead. No names had been given and Helen had no means of knowing if David was safe. Of course there were hundreds of pilots and the odds were stacked in his favour. But still, she didn't know and she was frightened and exhausted.
'Try not to think about it,' counselled Sam, knowing he was wasting his time.
'He's probably absolutely fine - apart from being worried sick about you.'
'I wondered about trying to get a message to him,' said Helen. 'A couple of the CNN crew flew in by helicopter this morning. Do you think they would help?'
Sam frowned. 'I don't know but I suppose it's worth a try. But should you be telling David where you are? What if he's supposed to be flying over here tonight? You have to consider whether it's fair to him.'
'What's bloody fair about any of this!' cried the girl angrily. 'Maybe it'll make him drop his bombs over the desert instead. Perhaps save a few lives.'
Sam sighed. 'And put him in an impossible position. But it's up to you. If you feel you have to…'
Helen didn't let him finish. She was out of the aid station and running across the shattered street to search for the American newsmen.

David put the phone down and stared out into the terraced garden. His hands were shaking as he picked up a pen and a sheet of paper and sat down at the bureau. What did he say to her? How could he tell her he was one of the pilots who dropped the bombs on that village last night? Or that he'd been ordered to return to the same target tonight to finish the job.

Target. Was calling it that supposed to make it easier? Helen obviously thought these villagers were innocent. Just civilians caught up in the battle. His superiors told him they were terrorists, responsible for the attacks on Israel, including the one that killed Isaac. Who was right? He didn't know anymore. At first he believed in what he was doing. But as the days went past… He saw the effects of the raids on television and it sickened him. Was it worth it?

He knew a lot of his fellow pilots believed it was and so did the majority of his countrymen. But this war was killing David as surely as if he were one of the victims in Lebanon. How the hell did it come to this? And worst of all – he now knew Helen was in that village. What was he supposed to do when he went on duty that night?

BBC News 24 was one of the first to break the news of the ceasefire on television. Soon it echoed round the world, even reaching the isolated Lebanese village where Sam and Helen were working. They could hardly believe it was really true.
''It's over, love,' said Sam, hugging her tightly. 'At least until some idiot on one side or the other does something to wreck the ceasefire.'
'If they do, I'm out of here,' said Helen softly. 'I'm sorry, Sam, it's not the work. It's not even the danger.'
'I know,' cut in Sam quickly. 'It's David.'
'Do you know where I can find Helen Summers?' asked an American voice and she jumped.
'I'm through in the office. Why?'
The cameraman looked uncomfortable. 'I promised to deliver a message to you. It's from your fiancé's parents in Israel.'
Helen gasped, a wave of sickness overcoming her.
'What is it? What's happened?'
Sam put his arm round her shoulders, supporting her shaking body.
'Is he dead?' she whispered. 'Was he one of the pilots?'
The CNN man spoke quickly, cursing his stupidity. 'No, sweetheart, he's fine. Well, I mean he's going to be all right but he is in hospital.'
'Was he shot down? Is he badly hurt?'
'No, it wasn't anything like that.'
'What happened?' asked Sam. 'Was he in an accident?'
The newsman swallowed. He was obviously uncomfortable.
'His father found him unconscious in his flat yesterday. He'd taken an overdose.'

Helen stared at him in horror, realisation dawning. She knew this was her fault.
Her lips were dry and she found it hard to speak. 'Do you know if your colleague managed to get my message to David yesterday?'
He nodded. 'Yeah and I know that it was about, but you can't blame yourself, honey. Maybe he'd just had enough of all this. It gets to some people more than others.'
But Helen knew the truth. 'Sam, can you spare me? I have to talk to David. I've got to go back to Israel.'
Sam nodded. 'Can you give her a lift out of here?'
The other man shrugged. 'I can probably swing something.'

Sam turned to Helen. 'Go on, love. Go to David and stay with him for a few days, however long it takes.'
Helen caught his hands, tears pouring down her face.
'And make sure he understands the war's over. I'm not talking about Israel and Lebanon now. I'm talking about you two.'
She ran across to the base to get her things together and the cameraman glanced across at Sam doubtfully.
'After everything that's happened here, the things she's seen – do they have any chance of making it work? David was one of the pilots, you know.'
Sam sighed. 'I guessed as much. And how the hell could he live with himself if anything happened to her? I hope they'll be okay. This place needs people like them on both sides. People who just want to make it stop.'
Helen ran up behind them and stopped to give Sam a final hug.
He held her away from him for a moment. 'You going to be all right? Take as long as you need – you've worked damned hard and you deserve a break as much as anyone here.'
Helen nodded. 'I'm not sure how long I'll be or what's going to happen to us. I still love David and I'm going to do everything I can to make it work. I know it's not going to be easy. But what is it they say in this part of the world?'
Sam smiled sadly and repeated the words for the benefit of the other man.
'Never look beyond tomorrow…'

© Heather Parker September 2008
heather.parker at

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