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Little streams of light rose up into the starry sky. Sparrows and robins began reciting their morning song, and wildflowers opened their blooms to the world. The woods were still, the orchard far behind, concealed by the thick forest trees. The workers would be up soon, ready to face another horrid day.
Young Adelina awoke shivering in the chilly morning air. She stretched out her bare arms, aching all over. Everything from her shoulders down was stiff and sore, but I'm sure after nine months of forced labor and running all night you would too, right? Despite the tranquil setting, she sat up instantly on her guard. They could be out there'
Wait, where was Miguel? Could they have gotten him? She looked around, but saw no sign of him or a struggle. Maybe they poisoned him and took him while she slept, but why would they leave her? Chills went up her spine, what if they were hiding in the trees, watching, planning some sick surprise attack? Her little heart beat twice the rate it should.
A twig snapped and Adelina gasped. Hurried footsteps were coming her way. Her body tensed, they were here! She huddled against a tree, wishing with all her heart she could become a part of its roots and disappear from all eyes. Closer, closer, faster, her heart rate traveled faster than their footsteps as images of past beatings and punishments haunted her mind.
Closer, was it'
It was Miguel, her brother.
Adelina let out a cry," I thought they caught you. I thought'" She started sobbing and ran to the only family she had and wrapped her little arms around his waist " We shouldn't have run, they'll find us. We shouldn't have run".
Miguel embraced her tightly, " It's okay Adelina, I'm here." He spoke with a warm, gentle voice despite his own fear. He understood her tears, for he too, feared those who had held them captive, but he couldn't show it. Not in front of her, he needed to be strong. " It's okay Adelina, I'm here. I'm sorry I left. Hush, it's okay, be strong." He lifted her chin and wiped away her tears " We're gonna make it, Jesus is with us".
Adelina looked into his eyes and saw hope, her own spirits lifting. If only she didn't feel so broken and scared.
" Here". He dug around in his pockets to produce a bright red apple.
She gasped, " Where did you get that?" Her mouth was beginning to water.
Miguel split the apple in half " Eat quickly, we need to leave fast"
Adelina took it and ate it greedily; never had anything tasted so good! She hadn't had an apple in'
While eating, they continued toward to their destination. Miguel told her of his morning adventure. " I thought maybe we should keep going, but you were so tired I decided to let you sleep while I walked. I had to know he was really there". Tears glistened in his eyes as he spoke. " He was there Adelina, he was there waiting."
The only hope they'd had in nine long months was from a man who arrived at the orchard on a hot June day. Everyone was under the impression he was a buyer, but he was constantly watching the workers carefully and making notes. Miguel and Adelina captured his eye, for they were the youngest of the twenty-three there. He was a witness to one of Miguel's beatings and later approached him secretly questioning the young boy about his life in the camp. Miguel, feeling the man was trustworthy and more than what he seemed, told him everything, beginning in the Honduras when Senor Abaddon offered him a better job to support his starving mother and little siblings. The thirteen-year old was lured by the promise of a good education for he and his nine year-old sister upon their arrival in America. Two weeks later, they traveled from their life long home to South Florida. When they arrived, they were told they were no longer free. They were bought and paid for as slaves. Slaves! The year was 2008.
For nine months they worked in his orchards, picking oranges in the hot sun with little water and food. From 6am to 9pm they carried crates that weighed more than them, pruning trees for no pay or mercy. Several months ago, Miguel broke his arm falling off a ladder, but he was still forced to work. One girl got pneumonia, but they made her pick fruit anyway, giving her no comfort or rest. Four days later, she died in her sleep. Miguel and Adelina were the youngest, but most others were at least 15 to 30. Often they were beaten if a crate was dropped, they were too slow, or did anything that displeased the overseers. If they tried to run away, many were beaten to death.
The stranger told them he was from an organization that dealt with issues like this. The children were surprised to learn there were millions of people in the world going through this too, most living in conditions much worse than this.
"How can people be so heartless and cruel?" Miguel asked, appalled.
The man shook his head sadly," I don't know son, but I can help you."
He offered them the chance to be free, but they had to meet him at the end of the two-mile perimeter line on the road that led off the farm; the road no one, except the overseers, ever traveled on.
"Just travel through the woods beside the road so you'll stay hidden', he told them. "I'll be there."
"Are you sure about this, Miguel? What if it's a trap?" Adelina hated to ask, but she was just too skeptical. The one thing she'd learned in these past months was not to trust anyone, no matter how nice they seemed. " What if he's really a policeman?" Her entire body trembled at the thought of meeting a bloodthirsty, murderous policeman.
" Adelina, those are just stories." Miguel said over his shoulder, walking just ahead.
" True stories! You heard Senior Abaddon talk about'" She stopped herself from saying more. Everything that ever came out of Senior Abaddon's mouth was usually a lie.
Adelina watched Miguel as he marched on bravely through the trees. His arms and legs bore the marks of many beatings and punishments, the little finger on his left hand was even cut off after he attacked a guard for smacking her rear. She cringed at the sight.
The boys and girls always slept in the same bungalow with at least two guards. Sometimes at night, the guards would rape the girls. Miguel did everything in his power to keep them away from his sister. Every mark he carried was from protecting her.
Miguel turned back to his little sister looking her straight in the eye," I promise I'll protect you Adelina. I'll die first before you go back there."
She stared long and hard into his fearless eyes, knowing he was serious. He was always ready to face anything, and she in comparison ran at the slightest hint of trouble. " I wish I was as strong as you," she whispered," I am such a coward."
A gunshot ran through the forest interrupting their conversation, whizzing past Miguel's head. Dogs could be heard, and men charging through the underbrush, cursing as they stumbled. Their hearts stopped. The overseers!
They took off into the trees, Miguel's long legs effortlessly outrunning Adelina. She took in deep breaths of air as she tried to keep up with her brother, her heart moving faster than her feet on the ground. "Oh if only she had wings! Oh, why did they have to stop? If only she had not rested by that tree they would've made it! This was her fault!"
The dogs were getting closer, barking menacingly, the men shooting at anything that moved. Two bullets came close to her head, one whizzed past her leg. Miguel wasn't even visible now. It seemed the trees around him had engulfed his body and swallowed him whole.
" Miguel!" Adelina yelled. Another bullet pierced the dense foliage, this time striking her foot. She felt its searing heat and pain instantly shot through her leg.
She fell to the ground in surrender. "This is it!" she thought, "This is the end' I'm going to die!"
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Miguel was at her side. " Over here"! Quickly, he helped her to stand half dragged her to a thick clump of palmetto bushes. " Crawl in there", he ordered. She did so, and though quite uncomfortable, was concealed by its sharp branches.
"No matter what happens, don't move." Miguel whispered.
Adelina stuck her head out, what was he saying?
"Wait till they're gone, then run as fast as you can to meet him at the road. Do you hear me?"
She nodded, her entire body numb. He wasn't going to leave her, was he? She looked into his eyes hoping to find the faith and strength that was always there to help her to keep going. But when little Adelina stared, her heart was unprepared for what it saw. For the first time in her life she saw only fear dwelling there.
A tear fell down his cheek. " I love you Adelina. Remember, when they're gone, run!" With that, he turned and was gone.
Only seconds later, two huge hounds came bounding through the bushes. Adelina stiffened with fright, but the dogs passed her by, lured by the moving target. Without stopping to sniff the bush, they continued on, closing in on their prey. Moments later, four men jogged past carrying guns. Just looking at them sent chills down her spine and she scarcely breathed.
She waited for a few minutes after they left. "Run Adelina, run!"
She ran, faster than she ever had in all her life, dodging branches and ruts, not letting anything stop her, going on pure adrenaline. "Run Adelina, run!" His last words echoed in her mind, "Run Adelina!"
Wait, what was she doing? Adelina stopped and looked back, how could she leave him for dead? He would have never left her behind. She had to go back, there must be something she could do. Turning, she started jogging back, but something wasn't right. Something was nagging her. Could it be, he got away?
One lone gunshot rung out throughout the woods, echoing, stopping all of time. She knew.
Her scream penetrated the silence. She melted to the ground sobbing, not caring if they heard her. "No, no, no, this wasn't happening!!! He couldn't be'how could they? They took away her only family, her strength, the only one who knew what to do. He was the biggest part of her and they'" She buried her face in the sandy earth, muffling the sounds of her anguish.
The sound of a familiar voice caused to emerge from despair. She looked up to the treetops, tears and dirt staining her face. What should she do? Should she turn herself over? They'd only kill her, but right now she didn't care what they did. Miguel was dead. She was so confused. No one cared, no one loved her, why should she live? To die now would be a great comfort, ending the misery of her life.
Again she heard the still, small voice, "Adelina, the road!"
"Who was that? Quickly she stood up, who was there? Had the overseers heard her and come to finish her off too? Would they make her an example of what happens when you mess with Senor Abaddon's authority?"
This voice was so sweet compared to their cold words and harsh slaps. This was warming, like the morning sun, and as soothing as being wrapped in a cloud. She felt nostalgic for the mountains of the Honduras. She knew this voice'
"Go meet him Adelina. "
She had to be dreaming. The lack of sleep and food, delirium, something, this wasn't real. There had to be a logical explanation for hearing this voice from the grave, but oh, how she wanted to believe it was real.
"I'm with you."
Could it really be?
Whether she was hallucinating, or if it really was his voice, she didn't know, but those few words gave the hope and strength she needed to carry on. As the last few rays of light touched the morning sky, she wiped away her tears and carried on to freedom.