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Shadows

We hated Britain’s control. We wanted freedom. That was what my parents thought. I, for one, didn’t concern myself with the matter, and just nodded whenever they complained about them. It was the best of times. It was the summer of 1976. I was ten years old, carefree and completely oblivious to the fact that a true Revolution was about to begin.
The first signs that I should have noticed began to appear in the beginning of July. A “Declaration of Independence”, my parents mentioned, during dinner. The next day, they left together on a wagon to Philadelphia for a public reading of the Declaration, leaving my nanny to take care of me. Because my parents didn’t explain anything, I asked Eliza what the Declaration was about.
“Just some statements about how our colonies want independence from England, or at least that’s what I’ve heard. A silly and meaningless attempt though, if you ask me.” She replied, while tucking in my hair in a white cap, “Get going now Suzanna, you don’t want to be late to school. Don’t forget your Bible like last time.”

By this time next month, the Declaration was signed, and many British soldiers landed in New York. Many people were panicking, but I was still my usual detached self, figuring that it wouldn’t involve me or my family. I was wrong. My father decided to join the Revolution and fight against the redcoats. I couldn’t believe how he could do something so stupid, so selfish, so insane. In the last few days before he left, I ignored him, making it clear that I disapproved of his decision. And sometime in the middle of August, Eliza disappeared without a trace, and so did some other people. Mother told me that she has suspected that Eliza was secretly a loyalist, and that the British probably evacuated them since they plan to attack soon.

“That’s why,” Mother said, “Your father joined the army, so he can protect this colony and the people living in it.”

For the first time, I prayed in earnest for my father’s safety and our victory, and I continued to do so every day. On the 22nd, the redcoats landed here, on Long Island. Finally, I realized why everyone was so afraid. I stopped going to school each day, choosing instead to stay in the safety of my home.
With nothing to do in the house, I played with myself, exploring each dusty corner of each room. My father’s office, though, is the only place where I had actually found something. Under his glass door bookshelf was a folded note, with an edge peeking out, just enough for me to notice. I tried to pull it out, but it seemed to be stuck. As I was doing so, however, I noticed a small lion’s head at the bottom of the shelf. I touched it gingerly and realized that it was actually a dial. I randomly turned and twisted it, hoping to open some secret compartment of some sort. Instead, the shelf slid over, giving me a fright and causing me to fall on my bottom. I had discovered a set of stairs, leading down to a dark room. One would guess that it stored something extremely valuable or something that can’t be seen by others, but the room’s location was the only interesting thing about it. There was nothing out of the ordinary inside, just a table, a floor light, and some more books. Still, I hid the discovery from Mother and secretly continued going there every day, because it made me feel special and closer to my father, who certainly must have known about it as well.
The room saved me from having to face reality, though not for long. On the 27th, Mother hurried back home and told me that the redcoats have surrounded us. That night, I huddled together with Mother, who was calm and collected, sure that the troops will protect us, and that even if they failed, the redcoats wouldn’t harm civilians. She fell asleep soon, but I was much too nervous.
I got up and went to the room, which calmed me down, and I even fell asleep for a while. Soon though, I heard gun shots outside along. I heard pain. Pain of being hurt. Pain of seeing others hurt. Pain of fighting, fear, failure. That, I learned, was a battle. My cowardice swallowed any braveness and guilty conscience I had, and I stayed hidden in the dark shadows, where I’d be safe. Even though I knew no one else would be. In the face of danger, I decided to hide and save myself. In the face of danger, my inner ugly nature came out. Those were the thoughts that went through my head while I soaked in the shadows in the dark room, tears falling to the beat of death. God, please save them.
Somehow, I managed to fall asleep. In my dreams, I saw my parents.
“I would do anything for my baby girl,” Father had said, smiling. Then his gentle mask was lifted, revealing his rage, “But you abandoned your mother when you could have saved her!”
Mother joined in, a face of disappointment, “We didn’t raise such an ugly child.”
I tried to apologize, but they wouldn’t stop repeating the same words, over and over and over. When I woke up, I could feel the dry tears on my face. I had no idea what time and day it was, how long I’d slept, or what had happened while I was sleeping. My heart thumping like I’d just been reawakened from the dead, I rubbed my eyes, went up the stairs, and called out to Mother. She didn’t answer. I looked in her room, and there was no sign of her, but no blood either. I wasn’t sure if I should be glad or scared. Tentatively, I peeked out the window, and saw traces of last night’s battle, but no one in sight. I guessed it was either a few hours past midnight, or early in the morning. With no idea where the boldness was coming from, I walked down the street, looking for the colonies’ soldiers, a sign of life, a familiar face to reassure me. Instead, I was greeted by redcoats. I reacted too late. The soldier in the front, maybe a general, came towards me.
“A little girl? What are you doing here, alive? Are you a loyalist?” The redcoat demanded.
I opened my mouth to reply, but had no idea what to say. But I knew that if I say I’m not a loyalist, they would probably kill me, even if I was just a kid. So I just nodded, looking as earnest as I knew how to.
The rest of the years were full of emptiness. They offered to send me to England, but I refused, so I just stayed there while the redcoats took over New York. Eight years later, in 1783, the thirteen colonies gained its independence. I was eighteen years old, but I felt like I was still ten. I was so alone. I never once saw my father or mother again. When the redcoats went back to England, I was even more confused, with no idea where to go to or how to survive. I had no reason left to live anymore. I was simply living for the sake of being alive. Then, the colonists returned to Long Island. Because I was one of the few survivors of the battle who didn’t evacuate, they assumed that I’m a loyalist.
That was how I ended up in a courtroom, with my hands and feet tied up. They accused me of being a traitor. Beside me, there was a pair of siblings who looked about fifteen or sixteen, with enough resemblance to be twins. The girl was sobbing loudly, though no one seemed to hear it, or maybe they just didn’t care. Listening to the false accusations, I was fuming.
“I’m just an eighteen-year-old girl!” I shouted desperately, interrupting the judge, “I’ve never been a loyalist or a traitor, nor was my family! How could I have possibly helped the redcoats, when I was only ten?”
Everyone silently turned to look at me, as if I was insane. The judge doesn’t bother to mask his annoyance, but decided to play along and ask for evidence or a witness that can prove my innocence. I told him that my parents are dead and that my nanny is gone. He gave me a look like he knew this all along.
“Say something!” I said through gritted teeth to the boy next to me.
“My house collapsed and my parents were buried alive.” he muttered.
The vote was unanimous. We were to be publicly executed in five days. Some guards came to take us away, leading us into another building a block away, and put the three of us into the one cell. We were the only prisoners in the whole building.
The silence was unbearable, so I asked them for their names.
“I’m Abigail. This is my twin, Nathaniel.”
“I’m Suzanna.”
The silence returned. With nothing better to do, I cleared the floor of dust and spider webs, since we were going to be there for five days. Suddenly, the realization hit me. I was going to die in five days. Tears fell. Abigail put her hand on my shoulder, trying to comfort me. How ironic, I thought. She was younger than me, and just moments ago, she was the one who couldn’t stop crying.
“Look,” she said, and I glanced at her palm. “It’s something my mother gave to me before she died. A golden thread. She said it was thin but strong, just like me.”
She smiled, and I smiled too, and nodded thanks.
“Wait, how are your hands untied?”
“My brother and I untied each other’s ropes just now,” Abigail grinned. “He can do yours. Anyways, I think I know how we can get out of here. It seems like this prison haven’t been used in a couple of years, so the bars may be pretty rusty. If we can move them just a bit, I’ll be able to squeeze out, since I’m already so thin. You’ll help too, right Nathaniel?”
When he didn’t reply, Abigail smacked his arm lightly, and Nathaniel nodded. It wasn’t a brilliant plan, not by far, but it was all we had, and it was better than waiting for death. We got started immediately, pulling the same two bars each time, away from each other. But even if the bars were rusty, we were still too weak. Abigail encouraged us, and we kept it up. When we heard footsteps from the prison guard, who came twice a day, we stopped and resumed after he left. The food he gave us was just a couple of pieces of bread, barely enough for one person, but I was surprised they were feeding us at all. After a day or so, I could no longer summon any strength, but Nathaniel continued. Perhaps he wanted to escape and live more than he was letting on. Despite all the hard work, I couldn’t help but feel that we were wasting our last days on a useless cause.
The time spent in the prison was memorable, in a way. I was glad that I made good friends, but there were more downsides, such as how smelly it was after a few days (the “toilet” was just a big hole to hold waste), how dirty and dusty it was, and how dark and hopeless it felt. After around two days, though I couldn’t be sure, we moved the each bar maybe half an inch, although that may have been just me being too hopeful. We launched the next part of our plan a few hours after the guard came and left. It was not hard to get Abigail’s skeletal-like body through; her head was the toughest part. It was clear that she was hurting, but Abigail just kept on going. Not for the first time, I was awed by how strong she was, unlike me. After she miraculously succeeded, she went down the hall to get the keys to our cell. I watched her until she was out of sight, and I prayed for her success.
After what felt like an hour, there was still no sign of her. Just as I was standing up, getting ready to go after her, Abigail came running back. She fumbled with the keys – there were many more than we would’ve guessed – until she found the right one.
“Hurry!” She told us, clearly out of breath.
We got out of the cell, and ran in the opposite direction. I tried to listen for other footsteps as I was sprinting. However, when I heard nose in front of us and opened my mouth to warn Abigail and Nathaniel, it was already too late – the guard pointed his gun at Abigail, and threatened the pull the trigger if she moved. I froze. My mind was jumbled. I was only sure of one thing: I wasn’t going to stand here and watch her get hurt. So, when Abigail took a step backward, I stepped in front of her. Even as the bullet came at me, I felt relieved that I saved her.
The next time I opened my eyes, I thought that I had somehow survived a close rang head shot. But instead I was like a ghost – no, a shadow. I looked up at Abigail and Nathaniel as they cried for my death, as they ran for their lives, as they too were shot, as they died.
A couple days ago, I would’ve thought that the world is cruel, that God is cruel. When I wanted to die, He let me live. When I finally had something to live for, He let me die. But now I know that there’s nothing to be angry about. For us, everything is over now. My family, my friends, and I gave our lives for the future generations, so that we can watch as history repeats itself – war, pain, suffering, death; everything I went through – until their footsteps die out forever. Rest in peace.



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