"they were listening for the beating hearts of children in a concrete tomb"

12 hours

only the darkness so thick, swelling like a tongue in her mouth, acrid taste, a weight on her chest, like fighting with brother, fighting, knees pressed into shoulders to hold her firm against a hard floor, she clutches her doll, he wrenches her fingers, forcing them open one by one but...where are fingers now, where are arms, beside her, or bent like set squares somewhere behind her head, tries fingers one by one, count to ten… one… two… pain shrieks, sends acid through bones and brother is not here in this haunted cupboard, calls his name, an echo, a howl, like the howl when the dark came violently, a monstrous lion, its black cave mouth gulping her down, ripping with jagged teeth and its roar too much noise and pain in every cavity in her head and the shaking, the shaking, the shaking…concentrate, try to count fingers again or toes, toes are… what are toes…are there toes in a black hole

24 hours

so dark, like winter, maybe it’s bedtime, say the rhymes, sing mummy’s songs, soft words, warm words, mummy has wrapped her in dark blankets, thicker, heavier now, tucked far too tight across her chest, tight like the fear of reading, wishing words would stay still on the page, that children wouldn’t laugh, wishing the lesson would end but… concentrate, concentrate, make each word speak itself, starting as a low rumble but no meaning, walls explode, ignite, laughter shattered into screams, hail storm of black, sharp-edged letters, tumbling, hitting, beating, beating, a gag of words and dust stuffing her mouth, her nose, choking, and children tossed into blackness… the pitch of silence, no laughing no nothing, just mummy singing notes cut in two…don’t scream, don’t scream…an avalanche of black

36 hours

listen, listen…the dark is breathing, the dark sleeps and wakes and moans and can only count to ten, knows one hundred but nothing in between and the dark has some fingers but no toes and hears mummy’s voice…or a beast laughing

48 hours

short breaths sucked in, pushed out by pain, flashes in the darkness, strobes of gold and red and heat, inside and outside her body, waves of heat, sometimes a full tide and throbbing so loud in her head…try to sleep again, how long…is this sleep now, a nightmare, try to wake, stay awake and count, count numbers, how many does she know, surely more than twenty, didn’t she learn more, to one hundred, one hundred… black silence has stolen the numbers from her head and there are no days, only endlessness and a tongue so large it won’t let the screams out, won’t let her call mummy, mummy…fill the time until there’s nothing more in this night…think of the day, which day, any day, think it slowly, waking up, think every breath and thought and movement, and word, think of sun and light and not the black skin cloak, that clings so tightly, squeezes, suffocates every inch…every nerve

60 hours

falling again, and again, walls tumbling into dust, choking, breathing lumps like grain, so coarse and the grinding, the groaning, angry beasts coming closer, smell her blood, her stench, they are digging for her, claws scratching, ripping their way…already rotting, before they come, screams echo through the black cocoon, toes and legs and arms are fused, eyelids stuck together but pinprick light is piercing them, boring into her skull and the beast, crushing her chest…is it brother pinning her down, stealing her breath…then he lifts her, there’s lightness, lifting and floating and numbness, hands lifting, pulling, delivering her into a world of light, an ocean sky, the smell of dust and…pain…sliced with broken shells…then shouting, weeping, and many hands passing her, blurred faces, face after face, ashen, grey, not brother, and all around, cracked rock, broken concrete, bent buildings, and being passed along, men and women, wearing dust, digging, scraping, moving mounds of rubble and someone, without a doctor’s coat, crouching, listening, listening to the shattered earth, listening with a shining stethoscope.