I WROTE THIS SHORT STORY years ago…

Johnny and Sheba

The darkness frightened him. Bombs dropping all over the streets behind his house always made him think that the next whistler was going to land on his chimney and tumble all the bricks on top of his head. Johnny was brave but he was still a kid.

Only last week he had saw the dead body of Mr. Wilson next door.

The old man who used to shout at him for no reason lay broken and twisted, his limbs wrapped bizarrely around a stripy ironing board.

It was odd to see his bald head opened and weeping dark thick blood beside the pale cotton-covered household goods.

The whole wall had fallen away and revealed the inside of the old man’s house, pictures of children hanging on his flowery wallpaper; it all looked so intimate, like he should not be looking at it, like seeing some strange woman standing in her pants.

He looked away from the wall and stared at the bloodied head.

The Germans had battered his home town twice in three weeks.

The Blitz they are calling it.

Being eleven was not too good during these hard times: he was old enough to know that death comes quickly and violently, yet too young to worry too much about the whole situation.

His main worry was for the animals in the zoo near his home.

They had not been moved in time and he could often hear them moan and growl in fear at the terrifying noises from the skies.

The tigers and lions already had a hard time trying to understand whey they no longer lived in the open African plains or the heat of India, never mind trying to make sense of flames and bombs.

The tiger was his favourite.

He loved that tiger, ever day for three years he had sat beside the cage talking quietly to Sinbad. Only yesterday he sat at the wire fence looking at the precious beast eyeing him lazily.

“Hello Sinbad, I hope you aren’t scared of the noise, I bet it’s not this noisy in India, I know they are at war over there as well, because my Uncle Sammy is going over on a boat.

Well he is not really my uncle, just someone my mum used to make dinner for and sometimes dance with.

I wish she wouldn’t bring men home from the pub, Tommy the postman says she is cheap, but I don’t know what cheap means, she tells me I am not cheap, I cost her an arm and a leg, which is odd because she still has arms and legs, yet Mr. Wilson has none now, he was killed and squashed by a German bomb and his arms and legs came off”

The tiger yawned and revealed a full set of vicious sharp teeth; they looked dull and old, yet sharp enough to tear flesh.

Johnny moved off the grass verge and headed for home, it was getting dark and he was scared he would be stuck in the zoo this late.

The tiger scratched its ear as he walked away; Johnny was convinced it waved at him.

He liked to think it knew him and liked the visits.

Johnny climbed the zoo wall as always, ran the two streets that took him past the glue factory, the school and into his own back lane into the safety of his own back garden as the howling noises from the sky screeched through his head hurting it like the noise the dentist made when drilling his teeth; shouts were going up all over the streets, screams as people stumbled over yet another dead neighbour.

Johnny heard a bomb drop directly behind his house, he knew that was the zoo being battered, the animals screamed like alien noises…noises he hoped he would never hear again.

He stopped beside the bins, put his hands over his ears, tried not to cry and watched the skies being lit up in the distance and flames shoot from the zoo beyond the wall at the bottom of his lane.

He knew he was supposed to go upstairs and get his gas mask and meet his mum at the shelter near the pub.

He wasn’t supposed to be here, he was supposed to be evacuated but these things take time and the Germans really didn’t know that did they?

He stopped holding his ears, he had to think clearly.

Daylight broke over the crushed broken community. Ambulances rushed around frantically as they tried to save yet another victim of German bombs.

Johnny could hear the Military police man banging on his door; his mum had been out all night at the shelter, maybe this time she was dead?

Who knew? She usually stayed out late at the bar and often never came home, but the bar had been flattened last time he looked from the top of the zoo wall.

He hated the thought of her being alone or lost. He did love his mum, but she was hardly home since dad had died.

“You in there Johnny?” He could hear the man shout through the letter box.

“Yeah I am OK. Mum is still out” he answered back “Can you bring round some food?”

There was no answer. He knew he would have to open the door and talk to the MP man.

“Hello, Johnny,” the man smiled down at him. He knew the man. It was William’s dad from down the street. “What do you want to eat, me son?” the kindly man smiled.

“Sausages and stew please,” Johnny answered quickly.

“Sandwiches are all we have son, you have to get out the street isn’t safe, go get some things, I’ll go fetch your mum, I saw her up at the top of the road, she is looking for you.”

The tall man walked off back down the path.

Johnny went upstairs and gingerly opened his bedroom door; he popped his head around and quickly stepped in, shutting the door behind him.

“Johnny, get down here!” he heard his mum’s voice from the downstairs hallway.

He ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time and jumped into her arms.

She stood there smiling and hugged him “I thought you were dead, Mum. The bar is gone” he whispered as he buried his face in her hair.

She hugged him tight and he could smell the whisky on her breath as she kissed his face.

“I was over at Aunty Celia’s and was bloody drunk but worried sick about you; we need to move as the houses are all unsafe, they told me.”

Johnny looked worried: “No, mum, I want to stay here. It’s OK here, mum.”

She ignored him and started to open drawers to take out some documents and she threw them into her big brown hand bag. Johnny stood watching her.

Her blonde bobbing curls always made him smile; they had a life of their own. She was so pretty, her floral dress was wrapped tightly round her skinny frame, he wished she smiled more, but she always said “The lights went out of my life when your dad died in France”

He tried hard to remember what his dad looked like, his mum had told him often enough “You are just him walking the ground again, and you are so like him”

Johnny wondered if his dad would like tigers.

His mum interrupted his thoughts as he tried hard to recall his dads face, nothing came anyway.

“The zoo has been damaged and they can’t find the animals, that bloody tiger has escaped but they got the lions and the monkeys out safe. God knows where it’s roaming, I am terrified of the bloody tiger not the bombs Johnny, so be careful out there till they find him eh?”

She ran her fingers through his sticky-up hair.

“Here, darling, I brought you some cake from Aunty Celia’s.” She held out her hand and passed him a white sponge cake with pink icing wrapped in a white napkin.

Johnny grabbed it and ran from the room.

He bolted upstairs and slowly opened his bedroom door. He was hoping that his new friend liked cake to share.

He breathed quietly as he unwrapped the cake and watched as the beast drew itself up to its full height; it stretched its two front paws out and eyed Johnny carefully.

Johnny could hear his mum pulling open drawers and packing up stuff down stairs, he watched as the animal reacted to every single noise that shuddered through the small house.

“Johnny please hurry, bring your school books and good jumper, and get moving, this bleeding house will fall about us and kill us, come on sweetheart!” his mum yelled from the front door.

Johnny grabbed some stuff and started throwing it into the small canvas duffel bag, he stepped gingerly round the big trembling animal as he reached across for his pencils on the bedside table.

The animal let out a deep throaty growl and turned round on itself, making its big tail sweep everything from the desktop, the lamp went crashing down and it snarled at Johnny.

“What the hell was that noise Johnny? What are you doing up there? Come on boy” His mother shouted. “Nothing mum, just knocked some things over I am coming” Johnny shouted back.

His knees trembled, he was stuck in the corner of the room clutching a duffel bag as a huge tiger gracefully leapt onto his small bed and dropped its head and curled its tail around its body, the animals ears flattened and Johnny knew this was a sign of fear, he could feel sweat trickle down his back “Please don’t hurt me Sinbad, I wont hurt you, I promise I will get you food, be still please” he pleaded with the frightened animal.

Johnny edged his way to the door and turned his back on the beast, he kept his eyes closed and prayed quietly that it would not pounce.

He reached for the door handle, the tiger had not moved, he opened the door and turned to see it stare at him lazily, its eyes drooped and shut gently. “I will be back soon I promise”.

The door was shut and he took the stairs three at a time and leapt onto the door mat and helped his mum out of the door with her bags.

As they walked out of the garden path, Johnny looked up at his bedroom window; he could see the tip of the tigers head and its ears peep over the window ledge as it lay on his bed.

This was going to be a difficult project he thought to himself as his mum pulled him along by the hand…..