The world was on fire.
Obscenities spilt from Erik's tongue as he pushed Cale in front of him.
"God dammit, Cale! Move! We-"
A tiny, round, no-longer-airborne tube of explosive landed on the house next to theirs, destroying it in a tongue of flame that quickly annihilated most of the neighbor's house and began to make its way towards theirs.
"I forgot teddy!"
"Cale, we don't have-"
Cale turned and went back through the door.
The blond, stout-legged eight year old was far too old for a teddy bear, but would not listen to Erik's shouts or punches to man up and leave it. In all honesty, Erik thought Cale a spoiled brat.
"Dammit, kid!" Erik shouted as he tried to maneuver into a hairpin turn, which was nearly impossible in a wheelchair. Cale was already back inside the house by the time he managed.
Erik had lost the ability to use his legs in '29, when he was only three, in an accident in the London Underground that killed five other people, including his father. His mother never quite recovered. The tram had slipped off the tracks. It hadn't been anyone's fault; it had just happened.
Erik could still remember bits and pieces of the incident. The shattering of glass, screams, the dull creaking of wheels disconnecting from their rails and crashes of their connecting with the tunnel walls.
It was a lot like it sounded now.
Erik wheeled into the building again, and was nearly crushed by a falling beam from one of the roof girders. The fire was spreading. Fast.
"Cale!" he barked at the rear hall.
It took nearly a full minute before Erik found his brother. Cale was curled in a ball with his bear, as if he didn't want to leave.
"We're goin'! Now!"
Cale uncurled and shouted that he wanted to stay. Erik didn't verbally responsd, instead picking him up by the wrist and depositing him on his lap like a sack of potatos. He then made another turn out of Cale's room and rolled down the hall.
The entire kitchen was aflame. Erik's mind flickered back to better days, days before the war, where he had spent many a sunny morning listening to the radio. They was gone now. War annihilated everything.
Another girder came crashing down, blocking the way out. Erik cursed, shoved Cale from his lap, and tried to push it away. It was slow work that was made agonizing when the fire began to crawl towards them from the hall, which had caught as well.
"Cale, help me push!"
Cale had curled into a ball again, and ignored his brother.
Erik understood why Cale didn't want to leave, but really wasn't in the mood for the immaturity now. If they didn't leave, they would be buried in wood and stone and burned and crushed and-
The girder moved.
He picked Cale up again none too gently, and took off as best he could. A manic creaking of wood spurned him into moving even faster.
"Shit shit shit bollocks shit!" he barked as he shot from the front yard of the house. Even that caught fire. For a moment, he looked over his shoulder at the bonfire that had once been his home. And then he was forward again, his arms turning the wheels rapidly.
The sky outside was on fire, and stained with a satanic dark-red color that briefly forced his mind to question if this was the end of the world. The air was saturated with the bitter taste of smoke and fire.
Despite a distrust that had developed for the Underground, Erik realized that it probably would provide the most protection from the storm at hand, a storm that would later be known as the Blitz.
As he wheeled away from his house, he made no effort to comfort Cale, who was sobbing on his lap. Harsh as it was, Erik was making a good effort to keep from backhanding the boy across the face. Mom hadn't been in the house when it had burnt down, and a house was a house. No big deal. They would find her later.
Despite his attempts at calming himself, Erik was lying when he thought this. He was just as shaken as Cale, albeit a lot less likely to show it. That was simply his style.
A Stuka buzzed overhead, and Erik stopped dead in his tracks, fearful of drawing attention with any movement. But the German bomber had no interest in a small, lame teen and his even-smaller brother. The bomber disappeared after a short while, and a distant explosion told him that the bomber had a target elsewhere.
It was only about half a mile to the Underground station, but Erik's arms were already tired. He knew he was safer, but more exposed, in the middle of the street rather than under one of the building awnings on his right and left, one of which had smoke billowing up from behind it. He hadn't survived this long just to be buried in stone.
The drone of another plane came from overhead about thirty yards after the other. This one was a Luftwaffe, but it was closely pursuing an English plane that Erik couldn't identify quite as well. The English plane was trailing smoke, and as he watched, one of the wings was clipped by gunfire, sending the plane into a tailspin and disappearing.
Erik cursed and began to roll himself along faster. What he hated most about being in a wheelchair- what he had always hated- wasn't the much lowered maneuverability, nor the fact that he could no longer easily go up stairs. He hated that he had become slow. In fact, most boys his age would have been able to make the distance he needed to go in under two minutes, especially with the adrenaline caused by the bombs. He would take closer to four, which didn't seem like much even though an extra two minutes could kill him.
What Erik didn't realize was that those two extra minutes could also save his life.
Eventually, he spied the West Harrow Station, and made a dash towards it. But as he rolled towards it, a Stuka materialized above the Station, like a shark suddenly appearing out of stormy seas.
"Shit!" Erik yelled, trying to stop his rapidly-turning wheels, and eventually succeeding.
Unfortunately, he now had to wheel backwards, away from the station, and quickly. The Stuka had released a small, blue projectile that was falling loftily towards Erik's only hope of safety.
It seemed to happen in slow motion. The bomb fell slowly, connected with the top of the station, and billowed outward in an orange sphere of light and death. Erik closed his eyes, waiting for the end.
After six seconds, Erik realized he wasn't dead and opened his eyes.
West Harrow's entrance was gone, replaced by a wreck of stone and fire that would be impossible to move. Erik had been launched out of his wheelchair and onto the street, too, and Cale was nowhere to be found.
Rolling over, Erik did spot his brother, who was splayed out on the concrete next to him, teddy bear in hand. With a note of panic, Erik rolled over to him and felt his pulse. He was alive. But, it seemed that he was unconscious- no, not unconscious, asleep. Cale had slept through a bombing run that had nearly killed both of them. Erik slapped him awake.
"Help me back into my chair."
Cale didn't answer and went back to sleep.
Erik cursed him loudly, but hadn't really expected him to help. That was just how Cale was.
Erik crawled back to his chair, which had somehow remained standing despite the bomb detonation. Over the years, he had grown adept at getting back into his wheelchair from the ground, due to various incidents over the years.
After he did so and retrieved Cale, a new question appeared quietly over his shoulder.
"Where to go, where to go…" he mused to himself.
Harrow-on-the-hill was too dangerous to go to because, as its name implied, it was on a hill, and a massive target. Eventually, Erik decided to roll on towards Eastcote station. The only problem with that decision was the distance. It wasn't particularly far, but at the moment, Erik wanted to get under cover as quickly as he possibly could.
The trip towards Eastcote was almost uneventful.
About halfway through, Erik picked up another droning sound, and cursed. No cover was nearby. They would see him!
But "they" were far too concerned with their own problems at the moment. Another German Stuka twirled through the air like a wounded, drunken bird. Slowly, it fell to earth, and landed in a twisted, broken heap a few yards away from Erik, who began to roll away from it. There was a possibility that the bomber might have failed to drop a still-explosive payload, or that the plane itself had a ruptured fuel tank.
His action was rewarded. Moments after he was out of range, the plane exploded in red and yellow clouds, singing his nose hairs and waking Cale up.
"Are we dead?" he muttered.
"Not quite yet, kid. Go back to sleep," said Erik, realizing there was no hope in getting Cale out of his funk until they were safe.
After about two minutes, they were at Eastcote Station, in all its undestroyed glory. Before the war, Erik had thought the station to be somewhat dirty and overly large. Now, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
The door was slightly ajar, and Erik pushed it open.
Almost immediately, he wanted to go outside again.
There were too many moaning, bleeding bodies in too small a space. There was more death than oxygen in the air around him.
Erik's mother was nowhere to be found, crushing his interior hopefulness that she might have somehow stumbled into action and found her way here. She was either wandering the streets, somehow still alive, or buried in West Harrow Station.
He wheeled into the corner, avoiding all notice. Only when he was finished, finally finished with his desperate bid for survival, did he allow himself to break into muted sobs. His country was gone. His family was gone, all except a young individual who didn't want to be alive.
After a time, he fell asleep. There was a new day tomorrow, that would inevitably be filled with a thousand more deaths and lost families and dead friends. And he needed to be ready.