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Withering Clouds

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The sky was gray -- like an old book curling over at the tips. The clouds obscuring the sun were black and withering, like the petals of a burning rose. I remember that sky as clearly as if I was one of the ebony crows that soared through it that day, as if I had been free.

I wasn't.

My name, ah, my name. We'll wait and see if my story means anything to you before you get to know who I am.

What happened that night could arguably be who I am and what I will always be.

***

I was skipping along the sidewalk, my mom's hand clenching mine tightly. Too tightly. If I wasn't as young as I had been then, I might have known there was something wrong.

Of course, when I saw the buildings blowing up on the T.V. screen, I didn't think it was real. The airplanes stealing the lives away from people were just a nightmare -- a movie that only grown-ups were aloud to watch. Dad used to watch those in the basement all the time, back at home.

What my young, seven-year-old-mind did not know was that 9/11 really did happen, and Mom and I were only five miles away from the explosion.

I remember how Mom screamed. I recall the way her voice curled and twisted over itself in a mad dance of fear, and I recall the way I was scared by her scream alone, not by the giant television screens grimly featuring the horrible scene of the plane crash. I looked at the burning machines with wide, hazel eyes and let out a yelp as a black cloud arose from atop the skyline to my right.

"Mommy, what's that?" I whined, pulling on her hand in mine.

My mother's face was distraught, but she looked at me and smiled with eyes identical to mine. "Nothing, sweetie," she replied, a slight waver mocking me in her voice. "Just some bad grown-ups."

"They're not going to come here, are they?" I whimpered.

"Of course not, dear," she assured me.

She was wrong.

"Come on, let's get to the car," Mom suggested too quickly. Her voice was no longer frantic, but disbelieving. She was listening to the television reporter say something about a lot of deaths -- my small mind couldn't understand what else he said.

"But what about Daddy?" I inquired in surprise. Just this morning Mom had been laughing about how she could finally see Dad again -- he had been working overseas for months and was coming home by plane today.

"His plane's been... delayed." I didn't miss the way her voice cracked and the way her eyes flashed with the glitter of tears.

I decided to ignore that, though. Moms kept many secrets, after all. We walked a little faster than normal toward the car and away from the big black cloud, my tiny legs propelling my skinny body forward. I was skipping over the cracks in the sidewalk when the men dressed in white sprinted up to us, their chocolate skin gleaming with sweat.

Mom yelled out when one of them pulled out a long metal stick. I didn't understand why he was pointing it at her.

The stick clicked, then it exploded.

Mom crumpled to the sidewalk, red stuff pooling out of her stomach.

"Mom?!" I screeched, dropping to my knees. I looked up at the chocolate-men, disbelief filling my saucer-like eyes.

"What'd you do to her?" I asked them.

Not understanding, one of the men, the one with the metal stick that I later learned was called a 'gun,' ran over to me and scooped me in his arms. It wasn't gentle, like how Dad used to hug me when he came home from one of his work trips. Instead the chocolate-man's arms were hard and forced, like the chocolate-man didn't really want to hold me. That didn't make sense at the time -- everyone had always wanted me!

That's what I thought until no one ever came to get me. When the chocolate-men locked me up in a dark room and Mom never came, I got angry. We were late to pick up Dad! Where was she?

I pulled a toothpick out of the pocket in my overalls and picked the lock. Dad made sure to teach me how to pick locks, and though Mom said it was unladylike -- Dad always told me to be prepared for anything.

Too bad I wasn't prepared for what was out there waiting for me.

I was in the ocean, on a big, metal ship.

We were headed for Asia.

My name is Jaylynn, and I'm still waiting for my mother to come find me.

I am seventeen.





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