The scream of the sirens awakened him from a deep sleep. It took him a few moments to return from a pleasant and riveting dreamscape and realize where he was. Then, with haste, he stumbled from his warm bed into a dark, cold room and fetched the clothes he had arranged earlier that night on a chair near the bed. “Time to go to work!” he mumbled, hurrying to dress. As he scurried out the door, he donned his long coat, placed the cord of his identification badge around his neck, and grabbed his hard hat.
* * *
Although he ran the entire two blocks, by the time he reached the door of the air raid shelter, people were already crowding to get in. Most had managed to throw on street clothes, but some still wore their nightclothes beneath their heavy coats. With an air of comforting authority, he ushered these fleeing souls through the door and down the long stairs to the muster station far below the street. Fear filled the room as the sirens continued their ominous warble. Soon the nearly deafening explosions began. One after another shook the very ground in which they huddled. The unadorned light fixtures swayed and dust filtered down.
He milled about as best he could, comforting those who trembled or wept, for the assembly room was quite crowded on this night. The lights flickered, at times going out for several seconds before coming back on. Each brief blackout elicited loud gasps and more than one scream. Then the babies cried and toddlers whimpered as mothers uttered empty assurances that everything was all right.
Like a medic on a battlefield performing triage, the warden moved without hesitation from person to person as need seemed to indicate. With a pat on the back, an arm around a shoulder, or a firm squeeze of a hand, he fairly exuded an elixir of calm and comfort. Loud crying reduced to whimpers and whimpers to near silence as he ministered to both the young and the old. Even the reflex shrieks that followed the stentorian rumblings overhead and the interruptions of light were reduced both in number and intensity. All by himself in this bizarre gathering of folks, he was the master of the situation, the assuring guardian of hope.
After what seemed an eternity, the all-clear siren sounded. Tears were dried, smiles reappeared, talking resumed, and folks began to stir. The warden led the procession up the long stairs and opened the heavy door onto a breaking day. Shocked by the sight of the rubble, yet feeling a primitive joy of being alive, the people dispersed. Their shock gave way to sadness and their joy faded as they wondered the fate of loved ones who had been assigned to other shelters.
* * *
As he sauntered home, he smiled as he felt the added weight in his coat pockets. His deft fingers had once again taken full advantage of the distraction that fear creates and the opportunity that a darkened and crowded room affords. Ahh, he sighed, the profits of war!
Answering multiple muses, Edward W. L. Smith has published nine non-fiction books, essays, magazine articles, short stories, and poetry. His work has appeared in Energy and Character, The Haunted Traveler, Parabola, Pilgrimage, Poetry Haiku, The Stray Branch, Vagabonds, and Voices. Latest book – The Psychology of Artists and the Arts.
Copyright © 2016 Edward W. L. Smith. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.