The gunfire stopped abruptly. So did the yelling, and the screams of terror coming from the women and children of the village.

Nyota huddled on the floor of the hut, not daring to breathe lest the gangs find her and…

Lark burbled, tied tightly to her mother’s chest. Nyota froze, knowing that at any second the men might hear her.

Then she noticed that the floor beneath her was not dirt, but stone. Polished stone, and perfectly clean.

She sat up abruptly, patting and comforting her child who, surprisingly, seemed quite happy and content.

Hyper-aware, her eyes darted around her surroundings. She was in a small chamber with one small, high window. The light was bright outside, where the day had been dark and overcast. There was an open archway directly behind her.

Her first instinct should have been to hide, to dart out of the way of the open arch. But instead she was struck by the strange play of colored light outside the archway, and the sound of many calm, quiet voices.

She stood, waiting for her heart to slow down and she realized it already had. She was calm, when by all reasoning she should be panic stricken.

Slowly, she walked out of the tiny chamber. She was in a maze of halls and rooms, but there seemed to be some logic behind it and she quickly found her way to a more open space.

It was a church. Christian imagery was everywhere, although why one particular man was almost always portrayed carrying his own head in his hands disturbed her greatly. She had met Christian missionaries once; they had a fancy computer with lots of pictures from their travels.

They had been kind people.

Nyota gazed at the huge rose window that dominated the space. She had never seen anything so beautiful. Any beauty that had ever entered her life had always been abruptly taken away.

She felt someone behind her, and turned. Although many people mingled about the space, no one seemed to take any notice of her. Black, white, undefinable colors of humanity mingled in seemingly random ways. Some were dressed in tee shirts and jeans, others were dressed in more unusual garb.

The woman she’d sensed was far on the other side of the great open expanse. Even though there were many people between them, Nyota knew that the blonde woman was the one whose presence she’d felt. She watched as the woman peered around her, as if looking at surroundings that were somehow familiar and strange at the same time.

The woman suddenly started striding purposefully instead of idly wandering. Curious, Nyota followed, back into another part of the maze that seemed to surround the sanctuary. She lost sight of her several times, but always found her again.

Nyota paused at the top of a short set of steps leading down into a large, fairly empty chamber. The woman was staring up at a monument, probably to some king, by the looks of him. The woman brought her fingers to her lips, then tenderly touched the epitaph, whispering something Nyota couldn’t hear.

The woman turned, any Nyota realized uncomfortably that they were alone. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude, but… where is this place?” Nyota realized after speaking that the woman probably did not speak Swahili, but it was too late to take it back.

The woman cocked her head slightly to one side, but smiled sweetly. “It is the basilica of Saint Denis, in Paris.” the woman answered. She was not speaking Swahili, but somehow Nyota understood. “Then again, it is not.” The woman’s shoulders dropped, as if she was giving up on understanding.

Nyota felt the pull of gravity suddenly affect her in some greater way, as if slightly tilting her towards the steps. She slipped down them much more quickly than she intended. The blonde woman took several steps towards her, mysteriously in time with her own trip down the stairs, as if some magical mirror was between them. Physical opposites, somehow reflecting a sameness in each other that both recognized.

“It is not? I don’t understand.”

The blonde woman took a deep breath and looked about them. “I know this is la Basilique Saint-Denis… but many things are different.” She shrugged. “I can not explain it.”

Lark chose that moment to make an incredibly loud and happy shriek. Nyota twisted, meaning to take the baby out of the sling and readjust her. She was probably hungry.

“May I help?” the woman asked politely. “It has been a long time since I’ve held a baby.”

The woman looked so wistful; Nyota could not disappoint her. She nodded yes. “Can you just reach there…?” Nyota gestured to her back.

“Here? Oh! There’s a hole…”

“What?” Nyota was surprised. She had purposely picked the one cloth she still had in which there were no holes or stains. It was supposed to be a good day, a day of change. A day to finally make everything better for them both. She took the baby out of the carrier while the blonde woman unwound the cloth. When it was off, she handed Lark to the woman and examined the long strip of fabric that had held the baby close to her.

She had seen holes like this before. Small, perfect perforations. There was another hole, right where Lark’s head would have been. She always wrapped the baby so her tiny head was close to her mother’s heart. It calmed her.

But where did the bullet holes come from?

What Would Have Been

What Would Have Been is a short story (or novella… who knows?) that I am publishing one chapter at a time… as I write it. It’s a fun exercise for me, and hopefully a bit of entertaining reading for you!

This story is dedicated to the Janes. The real ones and the fictional, the ones who survived, and the ones who didn’t. For all of you.

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