Hell’s Sanctuary

Sad to say that this was written months ago to go into No Cure for Shell Shock. At the time there’d just been an attack on an Italian (if memory serves) asylum center but increasingly it seems that it’s a story that’s repeatedly replicated in the news. Was just a few days ago that two buildings were attacked in Germany and in a lot of parts of Europe there’s a loud minority picking up on the mentality behind those crimes.

Anyway, No Cure for Shell Shock – a short collection – is complete now and I’ll be announcing a release date as soon as the final edit and cover designs are done. Until then I’ll still be sharing the odd piece from it to give you an idea of what it is. So here you go.


They were drunk and they were angry and they were outside.

A short, well built man was scurrying around inside asking ‘Why?’ as if anyone was supposed to know, care or have time to answer. They were all busy though, hiding mostly, dragging mattresses over themselves, protecting children, protecting themselves. What did it matter ‘why’? They were outside and they were drunk and they were angry and they were throwing things, that mattered, not their motivations. Bricks and bottles and lumps of wood, already the windows were gone, already a few people had bloodied faces from shattered glass or unlucky shots. The short man was annoying people by asking questions, he was distracting them from the simple requirement to not get hurt with his insistent haranguing. It was his way of dealing with it, perhaps, and if they had time they may have sympathised. They may even have asked questions themselves but they didn’t have time, they didn’t have space, they didn’t have the silence to think in. They had the screamed abuse and hurled violence from outside.

A group of men had congregated by the door as fists and boots crashed into it on the other side. They were trying to barricade it with chairs and beds hauled in from the dorms. Some even had anger in their eyes, muscles tightened and violent rage unsubtly burning in them but the nature of the place denied them permission to act. It was a refuge, a sanctuary, a safe house for those who’d fled the war, even under attack the unspoken plea to respect that rang out louder than any momentary burst of aggression could. Most understood that, with tears in their eyes, no time for ‘whys’ but a felt certainty that what was happening wasn’t right. The attack was an insult, a corruption, a degradation of the carefully held peace of the place which was all those inhabiting it had sought. They knew violence, they’d seen it, walked among it and they knew where it belonged. It wasn’t here.

Fire now. A petrol bomb sent crashing through a broken window, spreading burning fuel across bunk beds and blossoming in a burning haze. The short man was still asking why even as he ran to haul pots of water to douse the flames. Petty violence, small, mean crimes of brutality made bigger than they were by the contrast of the place. A woman had been shot three times and survived. A child had seen her family executed. A teen-aged boy had walked through piles of death and created some himself. All in another place though, a place where bombs and bullets and blades had taken over, made themselves the architecture of desolate cities. Here the fear was no less consuming, as the fire grew out of control and the barricades at the door were desperately torn down to create an escape. It was smaller though, cruel in it’s senselessness. This was supposed to be safety, supposed to be peace and yet those outside were so eager to destroy it, to defile it as if only force had value and safety had none.

The first ones to be pushed outside, away from the now heavy smoke and stifling heat, were children, mothers, the injured and the old. An act of kindness, an attempt at decency. They were the first to be beaten. The mob outside bayed for targets to strike at, bored already of destroying the sanctuary, only human victims would do. When the rest came out it was too late. Too late to fight, to late to run back, too late to save any part of the safety they’d found. With fists and bats and bottles and knives it was gone.

The short man was still asking ‘Why?’ even as he fell in a shower of blows. There was still no answer.

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