"What - what now? What?"
"Run, man, run!"
"Where - to?"
A deafening blast thundered in the night, followed by the ghastly screams of the startled and the injured. In the midst of the smoke and dust, two figures, silhouetted against the blazing fires, sprinted wildly with such speed only the desperate know. Another explosion sounded, and before the heavy rumble that followed it had subsided, the two shadows had finally emerged from amidst the chaos.
"Art! Art!" the taller of the two men grappled about him frantically, managing to call out with a choking voice. "Art!"
"I'm here," Art grabbed his companion's arm and dragged him aside. The two of them managed to find a small, crooked alley in which to squeeze themselves in, and immediately began sputtering and coughing the smog out of their lungs. After a few minutes alternating between choking and gasping for air, Art began again: "What's that smell? Vincente, you smell it?"
For a moment, Vincente made no reply. Then, with a sudden realisation, he laughed - a violent, barking laugh that stunned Art more than anything. "Don't you know?" he turned to look at his friend, and at that moment Art could see the fire in his eyes, a fire even more alarming than the real flames raging all around them in the city. "It's burning flesh - burning corpses - burnt!"
Art stared, his eyes as wide open as the painful smoke would let him open them, and it transpired to him that Vincente was right, that it was the malodorous smell distinctive of burnt flesh that had drifted off to them. Then, with a cry, he jumped forward and latched onto Vincente's arm with a vicelike grip. "We must move. It's not safe here."
Vincente shrugged exaggeratedly. "Where is?" and again he made that short chortle. But, as suddenly as it began, his wave of shock passed, and the man's eyes sobered up to their usual sharpness. With a noticeably calmer voice, he said: "Keep calm and carry on, Art. Keep calm. Now, do you know where we are?"
"The City, I'd wager," Art muttered. "We passed St Paul's - good Lord, St Paul's!"
And with that outcry, Art dashed out of the alley and into the main road, Vincente following behind him. Soon, the two men found themselves standing in the middle of the street, squinting and trying their best to see what had become of the cathedral. After a few minutes, Art made a start and pointed at the distance.
"Is that St Paul's? Vincente, tell me, is that St Paul's?"
And indeed it was. For away in the distance, rising triumphantly above the black smog and raging inferno, were the cross and dome of St Paul's Catherdal, emerging like the phoenix from the ashes. With an outcry of wonder and awe, the two men were frozen in place, and for a moment, all was still. No longer did the sounds of the bombs dropping reach their ears; no longer were the pain of the smoke in their eyes felt to them. There was only St Paul's Cathedral, indomitable, standing atop the pile of ruin like a victorious gladiator overlooking the damage about him.
Slowly, Vincente removed the hat from his head.
An omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles.
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