The wind sang like a flute as it whistled and danced through the waving branches of the ancient oaks trees. There were footsteps, gentle yet bouncing, and the sound of them bounced off the trunks and crunched the fallen leaves, hued orange, red, and yellow, upon the lush green forest floor. Upon the sound, the birds rustled and ran away from their nests.
A young boy came bounding through, arms outstretched as he twirled. His royal blue collar was forced against the pale white shirt, wrinkled slightly because of the adventures it had travelled through on that day alone. The boy fell to the ground in a fit of laughter, and the leaves crinkled under his weight, in his hands, at his feet, as he existed in his youthful bliss.
“Alexei! Please, slow down!” a distant voice boomed, carried by the wind and rustling leaves.
“Never! Never ever! I am a free boy!” he retorted, smiling and closing his icy eyes. He listened contently and intently to the blowing of the wind, the chirping of the birds flying south, the peace of nature that surrounded his senses.
The song of wind echoed through the forest. The birds, like a choir, sang in time as they preened their feathers, tidying what had been ruffled by the autumn breeze. The young boy’s auburn hair matched some of the leaves. The September air was cool against his soft, pale face, as white as the Russian snow that would approach in only one month. He could not wait to run through some driven snow with his family, but he treasured the autumn whilst he could. It only came once a year, after all!
A bird, small enough to fit into the palm of the boy’s hand, bearing a proud red breast, flew down to greet the boy. Its long, browned wings were regal against the patchy blue and white sky. The bird hopped through the decaying leaves and towards the boy’s gloved fingers before peck peck pecking the ground in front of him. The boy smiled brightly; the bird was so pleasant, Russia was so pleasant, autumn was so pleasant! He watched the leaves, which were picked up by the wind and danced to the birdsong. He waited for his family, whose footsteps could be heard, but whose faces could not be seen.
The rays of sunlight reflected against an unrecognisable figure in the distance. The boy sat up, dusting off his collar. Though his hands were covered by gloves, he knew the material was soft. It smelled like lavender, just like his mother’s perfume. Sweet and gentle, like the world in which he resided. He was grateful for it all: his family, his country, every element of his life.
“Alexei! We found you!” a young girl called, almost attacking the boy and pushing him back to the ground. Her dark curls brushed against his face, forcing his eyes shut. Between plump fingers the girl pinched his cheeks, which turned red under the touch and forced a smile onto his face.
The smell of roast potato filled the air, replacing the scent of falling leaves and peeling tree bark.
“I can smell something nice for lunch,” the boy whispered, licking his pink lips. He could not wait to sink his teeth into the picnic food, to sing its praises. He could safely say that he was one of the happiest boys upon the face of the globe. The joy bubbled inside him like a stirred glass of lemonade. As the bubbles spilled over the rim of his cup, it spilled into the cups of his family, for when he smiled they could smile too. He knew then that they were at peace too.
The happiness filled the air as the choral birds sang their songs and flew around the forest, circling in the sky, almost dancing like performers on a stage. All were different colours, each spread their wings and swirled around. The boy’s favourite was the one with the red breast, which was distinguishably peaceful amidst the excitement. The slightly clouded sky was the limit, which had no limit at all; they could dance forever. They performed their finale and waved the family farewell. The boy stood up and tried to chase them as they flew away.
“Goodbye, birds! See you soon!” he called, grinning as his hand waved through the wind.
That was so long ago now. Those were the days when the boy could run, smile, love, delight. The world around him no longer gave him peace. His suffering had peaked the next autumn. He longs now for those times again, but knows it is too late. He cannot move as he watches the blood slowly trickle from his chest. It is as bright as the armbands of the soldiers who stand before him, brandishing snipers and blades. His family is gone, their lifeless bodies lie around him. He lets out a sorrowful whimper, his body is racked with the greatest pain. Even if he does survive, he will not have a family to go back to. He will be lost, so there is little point in survival. Even the birdsong could not tempt him. A soldier turns around, his beady eyes blazing with rage. He points towards the boy, who wants to be taken back to better days. His eyes, as blue as the sky that day, are opened in fear as the tall soldier approaches.
The final sight he sees is the surrounding room with the bloodied wallpaper. The final sound he hears is a gunshot.