The oak tree

‘BOOM!' They dropped the first bomb. As quickly as a flash, the sky was red, then orange, then black. The smoke, though still far away, was clearly visible and the sound, deafening! So Izumy ran. He rushed to the woods near the mountains where, long ago, his mother had shown him a secret hiding spot - a hole inside this big, round hollowed out oak tree that had been for decades standing tall and proud. ‘Almost there, almost there' was all that crossed his mind at that moment, between breaths of fear and despair. Indeed, he was getting close to the hideout, he knew the drill by heart, but would that be enough? Izumy's mom had always protected him. No matter what the situation was or how much she had to fight and even lose for him, she would do it. Thus, all his understandable and constant scared thoughts mid-war used to disappear quite quickly for he knew she was there. Barely had he become a teenager, though, he faced the most sorrowful of his days: looking her in the eyes for the last time. That was when the Americans first attempted to invade their county, and a group of murderous-looking soldiers caught them running away. The sound of the leaves all over the place being trodden into the muddy path turned them in. ‘Take me, leave the boy! He's just a child! Leave the boy!' she screamed over and over until they actually released Izumy, who heard his mother's next words already fading way, ‘Promise me you'll be safe, go to the tree', and found himself left alone in the dark. Now, with the bomb there and no parent – or friend, or anyone – the brave little boy, as his mama used to call him, would have to prove once more to be worthy of that name. He had a promise to keep, but he was scared. Every inch of his tense body felt the adrenaline coursing through, so much that it seemed like his legs alone weighed a thousand pounds. The cold rain that had just started to pour down made it even harder to distinguish the right way. ‘Ouch!' he couldn't help but shout when he stepped on a false clump of grass that got his foot stuck in a deep narrow snake hole. Immediately covering his mouth with both hands as to stop himself from saying anything else, he struggles to get out of there. It hurts, but he has to move – and promptly! Two airplanes were flying over the surroundings nearby just waiting for the storm clouds to disperse. Finally, after a few scratches, Izumy was free to continue to flee, not as fast as before but hopefully the rain would keep him undercover until he found the tree. A few more miles he goes, his eyes fixed on the weird-shaped rock after the woods where he should turn left, when suddenly he hears this very familiar sound: it was them – again! The soldiers had either found him already or were about to, for that terrifying lethal noise of heavy war boots was too close-by. With strength born of pure panic, Izumy sprinted to the rock and then to where the tree was. He would've made it, he would have – had the tree been there. That was the place, he was sure! But for some reason it was gone. ‘Stop right there, whoever you are!', he is threatened by the also unknown American man. The brave boy does stop, his heart beating frenetically, his mind analyzing every possible escape route. ‘Should I surrender? Run? Fight?' Deep down, he just wanted to cry and desperately wished mom were there – ‘She would know exactly what to do'. At that instant, the troop leader raises his gun high up and all soldiers freeze, even the rain seems to obey him, gradually ceasing as he approaches Izumy. That heavy weapon pointing to the ground, but very well positioned so as to be pulled out at any second, was the same one that had escorted his mother away at a time that felt like years ago. The man stared at Izumy for a minute, serious yet thoughtful. ‘You are that boy, aren't you?', he mumbles. Silence. ‘Are you not? The boy whose mother we recklessly… I mean… who died here'. Izumy almost unnoticeably nods, not even looking up to the invaders, but able to see a hand moving towards him. He quickly darts back and hides his poor terrified face, ‘Please, no!'. The soldier, though, only gently touches his shoulder and whispers ‘I am sorry, kid. We needn't have done that', and retreats into the forest with his fellows. Izumy, still petrified, hardly believes what had just happened. Slowly breathing at a normal pace again, he gazes around and finds no one but himself once more on that path. Tears of grief and relief running down his cheek - ‘Thank you, mommy', he says out loud. The brave boy understood, then, for sure that the tree would always keep him safe, just like his mother. Even though he couldn't see it nor her, they were his guardians and, for the first time since the war started, he knew that, one way or another, he would be fine.

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