The day they blew up her home town was meant to have been the happiest day of Annie Hennessy's life. This is how it started.
The impact of the explosion ripped through the hospital like an aural tsunami. Windows shattered inwards, showering staff and patients alike in a withering wave of glass shrapnel. Doctors and nurses were tossed to the ground and patients flung from their beds, bringing monitors crashing down on top of them. The fluorescent lighting on the ward flickered momentarily as if some unseen giant had casually inhaled and sucked the electricity from the building, before returning it to illuminate the chaos below.
For what seemed forever there was nothing before the first scream punctured the silence. It would be the first of many that day but for those who heard it, was a sound they would take to their graves. A throaty guttural groan which gradually rose in pitch and volume, soon to be joined by others, a prophetic choir already mourning what lay in the days and months and years ahead. As if on cue, staff began to clamber to their feet, their training kicking in and overriding any desire to curl into a ball until it was all over. Instructions were barked out and a siren outside announced the first ambulance was on its way.
On its way to the hell that awaited at the seat of the explosion, less than a mile away.
Secreted in a side room off the main ward, Annie gingerly unfurled from the foetal position she had adopted at the initial explosion. She peeked from beneath the bed covers as a young doctor flashed past the open door, his flapping white coat adorned with a bloody drizzle. Thankfully there were no windows in Annie's room, but beyond the door she could see the floor of the ward adorned in a carpet of glistening glass, like fresh dew on a crisp spring morning.
Except this wasn't spring and she wasn't sitting in some idyllic meadow watching as the first rays of morning sunshine warmed the cold, damp earth. No, she was in Monksbridge Area Hospital, heavily pregnant and on the cusp of giving birth. Afraid and alone, nineteen years old and without the first clue how to be a mother to the new life waiting to emerge from within her. Annie watched as more staff flew past in either direction, fully expecting the kindly midwife who had been dealing with her up until now to appear and reassure her everything was just fine.
But everything wasn't fine.
Nothing would ever be fine again.
Annie Hennessy was a forgotten spectator to the bedlam outside. The sirens were incessant now, wailing as emergency services roared towards what was left of the town centre. They would return later in waves, like angry wasps, conveying the dead and dying to a hospital hopelessly ill equipped to deal with the magnitude of such a tragedy.
It would become an epicentre of grief, around which dazed survivors and crazed relatives would gather, desperate for any crumb of comfort they could seize upon, hoping beyond hope their loved ones were alive. Through that dreadful first hour Annie lay on her back, elbows resting on sweat stained sheets, trying to process what was going on outside, while dealing with the incessant urges of her child to be born.
Teeth gritted and damp hair matted to tear stained cheeks she rode each contraction, emerging from the other side weaker but no less determined to embrace the next. For this child would be born, with or without a midwife in attendance. She had carried it inside her, a living, growing testimony to the shame she had brought upon her family. A child born out of wedlock, to a father even Annie wasn't certain as to whose identity.
Monksbridge was a sleepy market town, where nothing ever really happened. The Northern Irish 'Troubles' had largely passed it by, so any nugget of gossip was gleefully seized upon and dissected, before being disseminated to the next straining set of ears. Everyone knew everyone's business. It hadn't taken long, therefore, for the rumours to circulate about the Hennessy girl, the black sheep of an otherwise pure as the driven snow family. Annie's mother screamed and roared when she broke the news to her parents at the kitchen table. Mildred Hennessy hadn't been to church since, a self imposed house arrest, too ashamed to face the sharp tongues and sly eyes of her fellow parishioners.
'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.''
'You're a disgrace Annie. Your father would be so ashamed of you.'
Possibly, had he still been alive. Yet Jack Hennessy possessed a kind heart, and Annie had always been the apple of his eye. He would have been disappointed, hurt, angry even but he would have forgiven Annie eventually, of that she was certain. Unlike her mother, who bore grudges to the grave, eaten up by spite and recrimination, hurling the first stone while others were still rooting around for potential missiles.
Had. For Jack Hennessy was dead. Ravaged by cancer he slipped away from Annie three years previously in the same hospital where she now lay, frantically trying to compose herself and focus as another contraction threatened to rip her apart. The baby was coming, irrespective of what was going on in the outside world. Annie succumbed to the pain, the anguish of the past eight months temporarily forgotten, and unleashed a scream which normally would have brought nurses and doctors hurtling to her bedside. Not today, though.
For her scream was but one of many in an avalanche of human agony descending upon the beleaguered hospital. Ambulances formed a snaking queue outside the A&E department , their blue lights clashing vividly with the grey, overcast skies above. Hospital staff desperately struggled to contend with the seemingly endless line of victims being rushed through the automatic doors by paramedics, bellowing vital stats, their voices cracked and on the verge of collapse.
Even those who were supposed to know what to do, didn't know what to do.
Nobody came. Nobody heard Annie scream. Nobody was there to mop her brow and encourage her, cajole her through the trauma. She remembered what she could from the pre natal classes she had attended, focusing on breathing and trying to ignore the pandemonium on all sides. Breathe, focus, ride the pain. It's a bomb, it must have been a bomb. No, you stupid cow, think of the baby, the baby, she's all that matters.
It was there, in a cramped side room off a deserted ward that Ariana Hennessy entered the world, six pounds eleven ounces of mewling, bloody life. A life which Annie clutched to her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks, screaming for someone, anyone to come to her aid. Eventually they did, to find the newborn child with her mother, exhausted yet alive. Alive to tell the tale. Or, in the case of baby Ariana, to be the tale.
For the town of Monksbridge needed something, anything to cling to. Forty three people died that day, forty two of them innocent souls. Hundreds more injured, bearing seen and unseen scars they would carry for the rest of their days. A town, a nation in mourning for the day the clock stopped for so many. They needed a light, a symbol that all was not lost.
They found it in the baby girl born amidst the horror. They found it in the story of Annie Hennessy and her daughter. The press, who descended on the town like a pack of scavenging hyenas, latched onto the story and squeezed every last ounce of pathos from it. They had their villain, and no shortage of heroes for their screaming front pages. But they needed something more, the missing ingredient.
What they needed was an angel.
What they needed was an Ariana Hennessy.
So they created Bomb Girl.