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Dancing in the Rain
My entire body tenses painfully, my fists clenching until the veins stand out from my arms like cords. But no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to block out the terrible, piercing cries that shatter the air. And I know that nothing in this world, even in heaven or hell, could possibly block out these heart-wrenching screams. For these sounds are something wholly different altogether, cries of boundless agony that penetrate through my heart, all the way to my soul.
I can’t stand the screams any longer. Can’t ignore them anymore. So I run, my boots pounding upon the gray stone below me, the same bleak gray stones that make up this horrible prison that should have never been built. But I don’t run away from the voices that are pleading for help. I run toward the source.
The dim, torch-lit corridor leads to a large, spacious room; but the cells that line the walls make the room’s considerable size seem much, much smaller. As I skid to a halt, the cries finally stop, giving way to a heavy silence. I feel the weight of at least twenty pairs of eyes resting on me, each pain-filled, despairing gaze beginning to shine with hope.
“Come on. You’re all getting out of here,” I say quietly, reaching for a ring of keys hanging from a nearby peg.
I’m met by more silence.
Undeterred, I move to the nearest cell, inserting the key and turning it until the lock pops free with a loud click. But I’m too late for the prisoner here. What I had believed to be a sleeping boy is, indeed, a boy lost in slumber—but it’s a slumber that he will never awaken from. My heart weighted down with grief and guilt, I move on to the next cell.
When I swing the door open, a thin girl steps towards me, her blue eyes far too large in such a gaunt face. She looks at me, merely looks at me, yet I feel as if she is peering right into my soul. Her voice is a quiet whisper, hoarse from shrieking for somebody, anybody, to free her and her fellow prisoners. But to me, it’s the most musical sound that my ears have ever heard. “Thank you.”
I force something that resembles a smile onto my face, though I’m sure she knows that it’s fake—I think I’ve forgotten how to smile. Giving her a brief nod, I move away from her, on to the next cell, until the rest of the hostages are all free.
They stand before me now, a ragged group of boys and girls who are far too thin, far too pale. Tears stain some of their faces, and I can see the half-healed scars that some of them bear. Despite this, despite their predicament, they stand tall and proud, their faces hard and defiant. And their eyes are fierce, burning steadily like stars, for they still have hope. Imprisonment did not defeat them; torture did not break them, pain did not daunt them. For these children are strong and unbreakable, their fires inextinguishable.
And that is why they were locked away in this dark dungeon. The king could not bend them to his will. So he imprisoned every one of them for the crime of having the heart to defy him. Yet they still would not obey his requests. Even when he turned to torture in his desperation, they still rebelled. Unable to use them for his own greedy ends, he threw them all into prison, leaving them there to slowly starve to death and painfully wither away like dead leaves. Then he set fire to the stones, with twenty-some children inside.
“Go,” I urge them, my voice ringing out with gentle authority. “Get out of here.”
One by one, they turn to the beginning of the corridor, the hallway that will lead them to their freedom. “What about you?” asks one of them softly.
“I’ll be there soon. Just get yourselves out of here first.”
They don’t need any more convincing. Some of them glance back at me, concerned for their rescuer, before reluctantly running to their freedom.
Though I know it won’t be long before the stones burn and collapse, I can’t leave. Not yet. I go to the boy that I was too late to save. “I’m sorry,” I murmur, standing there staring at his poor, lifeless body, a body that was once burning with vitality. Kneeling down beside him, I take my dagger from my belt, gently closing his fingers around it. Then I raise my hand in a salute, giving him the greatest honor one can possibly give to the dead—for he died a hero. “Fly high and run free,” I whisper. “Burn brighter than the stars.”
There is nothing more I can do for him. I rise to my feet and look at the fallen hero one final time. Then I turn and run, the hard gray stone below me gradually giving way to soft green grass.
The rebels that I had just liberated stand atop a grassy hill a safe distance away from the burning prison. I realize with astonishment that they are waiting for me, to make sure that I am safe, even when they are the ones who almost died.
After a few more moments, I arrive at the crest of the hill. Silently, I turn back around to watch the beautiful yet deadly autumn-colored flames dancing against a backdrop of shadows. But the building will not give way to the conflagration.
Without warning, a single raindrop falls down from the night sky. Then another. Then another, until the rain is falling in soft, soothing sheets that extinguish the hungry fire. All around me, I hear the delighted laughter as the freed children dance in the rain, reveling in something that they have been deprived of for so long.
That’s when I realize the stones are just like the boys and girls standing behind me—despite everything, despite having been imprisoned, tortured, and starved—they refused to give up hope. They stood strong and proud and unbreakable, in spite of the hardships that they had suffered.
There’s movement behind me. I glance over my shoulder and see the girl with the unforgettable blue eyes—bright eyes that shine like stars in the darkness of the night. She gives me a small but definite smile, a smile that lights up her beautiful face like the sun illuminating the dawn. “Thank you,” she says in her melodic, lilting voice. “For giving us back our hopes and freedom.”
And for an infinite moment, her eyes lock with mine, those azure pools glistening with boundless gratitude.
At last, I understand how they can still possibly have the heart to laugh and smile. To dance under the falling rain.
No matter what, their sun will always be shining. Even on the darkest of nights.
Because I have given them back their hopes and freedom.
And for them, those two simple gifts are all that matter.