In a matter of seconds my entire world changed, and it was then that I stopped living and simply began the struggle to exist.
There was blood on my knees, my elbows and hands, but for now, thankfully, I felt little pain. It must have failed to register in my brain, even as I saw the torn clothes, the wounds.
First, I tried to head back down to help those who were trapped. The cave was lit—just for a second—by a burst, as a few boxes of ammunition rattled nearby. I saw that the explosion had taken the roadway with it and caused the rest of the pit to collapse.
That was when I knew that I had to fight for my own survival. Half-crawling, half-clawing my way up, I was nearly choked by smoke. At last I reached the opening, where boxes of incendiary bombs, which had been jolted by the blast, were blazing.
Once there, a soldier gave me a hand, pulled me up to my feet.
“You look as if you were thrown against a wall,” he said. “Wait here, a rescue team is just around the corner, they’ll put you on a stretcher.”
“No, no,” I said, sensing that to him I must sound incoherent. I coughed, which cleared my throat, and went on to say, “Let’s go down together, people are dying there, in the mine—”
“No! Others will, but we can’t,” he said. “I’m told we should go inside only with rubber boots.”
“These boots aren’t rubber,” I pointed at mine, “but they’re real sturdy, with these metal studs in their soles. They’ll do just fine—”
“No,” he said, sternly now. “A single spark from them could cause the whole site to go up in flames all over again.”
I obeyed him and stumbled, somehow, into walking away, no—not walking—running, that’s what it was, running, despite the growing soreness of my limbs. With every step, the swirl of dust and particles around me was lifting, ever so gradually. Then, just as the meadow came hazily into view I heard a tremendous roar down there, behind me.
A mushroom cloud rose over the village of Hanbury high into the sky. And with a guttural sound, mounds of earth were lifted up, then hurled back down into the ground.
Meanwhile, from the meadow came the sound of bleating, followed by gunshots. A bullet grazed my ear.
“Hey,” I screamed, into the mist. “Stop it! What on earth are you doing? You nearly killed me!”
“Didn’t mean to,” said an RAF regiment, now coming into sight, gun in hand. “I was aiming at the sheep, they’re running wild with terror!”
He climbed over some mound—a dead cow—and came nearer to see if I was alright. Then he gave me a pat on the back, which started me coughing again.
“What happened in the mine,” I asked. “It was so sudden! Was it a German attack?”
“Who knows,” he said. “Either that, or something else.”
“Such as what?”
“Such as someone careless or improperly trained.”
I raised an eyebrow—not that it could be noticed, with all the soot on my face—and he went on to say, “Yes, someone who tried, perhaps, to remove an exploder pocket without the right tool. It can be something as simple as that, you know, causing a spark to set off a reaction.”
With that he went off, pointing his gun into the dust.
Then—just over the plaintive bleating of the sheep and the chaotic blasts rocking the mine—came a different sound. I listened to it in disbelief. It was the most wonderful sound in the entire world: a hum, the low, familiar hum of my Harley.
There it was, a silhouette of the beast, with Natasha astride on top of it, hair unfurling in the wind.
I wanted to tell her how I admired her courage, the risk she took, riding it all by herself, without my guidance, to get here. I wanted to tell her she should have stayed away. But by now I knew that for me, she would dare take any chance, come what may.
“Oh Lenny,” she said. “You look... I have no words for it.”
Overcome with sudden joy I staggered towards her.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go.”
In confusion I asked, “Where to?”
And Natasha said, “Anywhere, my love. Anywhere but here.”
Lenny in Dancing with Air
In this passage, Lenny describes a real event--the horrific explosion in RAF Fauld, an underground munition depot in WWII England. Having escaped death by the narrowest of margins, this is the point where he gains a new appreciation of Natasha. To him, she now becomes more than simply a love interest. From this point own, he owes his life to her.
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