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I close my eyes at the sound of his screams. I don't know how much longer I can bear witness to his pain. I slide down the wall and cover my eyes 7, 8, 9, I count the cracks as the whip makes contact with his skin. I want to scream and run to him, to take his place. But I don't. I simply cover my ears until the ground shakes, and I know everyone has left. I slowly remove my earmuff hands and blink light back into my eyes. When the world comes back into focus he is the only one I can see. Without thought, I run to him. Tears stream down my cheeks with every blink. When I make it to his shell of a body I am disgusted and ashamed. It should be me here. It is his love for me that will be the death of him. If only I could obey the rules. If only I was someone I am not, I wouldn't have to pry his broken bleeding body off the dirt road. If only we were free.
I drag his frail body through the once crowded streets and back to our shack of a home. I feel his chest faintly rise and fall on my back and I am relieved. I hear him groan and try to speak. So I shush him.
“Please Peter, don't speak.”
He heeds my warning and remains silent until we are safely behind my door. I lay his body on my bed, careful not to touch his gaping wounds.
“Miah.” He whispers.
“I am here.” I reply. He sighs, relieved, and his hands fumble for my own. His face turns and his eyes stare lovingly into mine. His lips form the words “I love you” but I am unable to hear them. His screams still echo in my ears. His blood curdling screams, all in my defense. I blink again and tears stream down the sides of my face. He squeezes my hands and speaks again.
“Miah, I love you. Do not cry for me.”
My lips betray me and I whisper out an apology.
“Peter, I’m so sorry. Never again, promise me that you will never do that again.” The tears come quickly now, turning to rivers rushing down my cheeks. I try to pull away, perhaps if I didn't have to see his pain, maybe mine would fade.
“I will always take your place Miah. You stood up for what you believed in. How can I not stand up for you?”
“Thank you.” Is all I’m able to say when I stand up to leave.
“Always.” He replies while I close the door between us.
While Peter sleeps I leave the house and walk the dirty streets. They have filled again, and my vision is bombarded with people as dirty as the ground they walk on. While I walk I watch the world spin almost if I didn't exist. But I do, I am a slave, just like the rest of them. Ruled by a bloodthirsty government, the Corporation, the b******s who rule us all. The elite few; who live in the skyscrapers in the center of the city. The shadow of their buildings cast down on the people of the streets, blocking out the sun and what seems to be hope. I dream about what life would be like without the Corporation. We would not be forced to live in the dirt, and slave for them. We would all be free, free to make our own choices; to be who we want to be!
My thoughts are cut short when my ears pick up a familiar sound. It’s crying, the same tears wept from the same soul earlier this morning. I follow the sound down a narrow ally where I’m met with the same child I protected from the Corporation soldiers. I see her small body curled up on a filthy cloth. I walk to her, unsure of what to do. Do I touch her? Ask if she is alright? I open my mouth but she speaks instead, and I am surprised by how calm her voice is.
“I remember you. You saved me from the Corporations solders.”
Again I am speechless.
“Thank you miss.” She says to me.
“I…,” I’m unsure of what to say, am I welcome for standing up to the Corporations soldiers? Am I welcome for causing Peters suffering?
“I did what I thought was right.” I decide this is my best answer.
“Well, thank you. I’m grateful. Please, accept this as thanks for what you did for me.” She says, as she pulls out a small token from under her raggedy cloth.
“It’s not much,” She confesses. “But it’s all that I have.”
I squint down at the small item she produces. At first glance it looks just like a rusted piece of metal, but when I look again, it seems to be an old style key. Like the ones we used to have before the Corporation banned all locks to make it easier for them to search people’s homes.
“Where did you get this? What is it to?” I ask.
The girl smiles and stands quickly, startled; I back away and watch as she removes her cloth from the ground. When she pulls away the cloth I see only more dirt. I look at her in question, but she only smiles, and proceeds to shake her blanket. I cough when the dust flies around in the air cutting off my vision. When she finally stops shaking, I am able to clear my vision. What she has revealed is unexpected, and unfamiliar. It's a cellar door, like the ones where I used to store canned food, only this one looks old, as though its never seen the light of day. I bend down to brush off some of the remaining dirt. When I touch it, its cold. Its cold, and metal, like the Corporation buildings. Then my fingers find something more. Words. There are words engraved into this metal door. The girl bends down beside me and traces the metal words with her finger.
“Out.” She says.
I stand and look from the door to the key in my hand. Could this be what I have been searching for my whole life? Could this be my escape? The girl interrupts my thoughts once more.
“Freedom.” Is all she says.
Before I allow my thoughts to run wild again, I quickly replace the girl’s cloth and grab her hand.
“Come on.” I say
“But where are we going?” she asks.
“To get Peter.” I reply. To freedom, I think.