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The Slaves Last Breath

She had waited so long for this moment; to be completely free. No ropes, no chains, no shackles. Nothing to bind her to the barn in which there were so many beatings. She ran, she jumped, she climbed trees; no one could tell her what to do. She felt like a bird; free to fly, free to sing, free to live. She had escaped her master and now nothing could stop her. She knew that they would send dogs and trackers after her. But she didn’t care at the moment; all that mattered to her was her freedom.


She had to go north. That’s where the Union soldiers were. In the last few days she had only stopped to get food or to drink from a stream or any vacant well she found. She walked and walked and sometimes she ran. She knew her master had hired someone to find her and she had to get away. The exhilaration of freedom had now been tarnished at the fear of getting caught. Her feet bled on the unoccupied path that she treaded. She walked by moonlight, so no one would see her, and slept during the day. She had no way of finding the underground railroad so she had no one to alleviate the hardships that the road pressed her to endure.

She had just lain down by some bushes when she heard the shouting and the baying of blue-blooded hunting hounds. She rolled through the bushes as silently as she could as soon as the light of a torch came into her view. She crouched on the other side and peered through a gap in the bushes. Several men were making their way down the path she had traveled just minute before. A few of the men held leashes; holding back the biggest hounds she had ever seen. They had her scent, but she wasn’t about to let them catch her. She slowly backed away from the bushes, carefully setting down each foot so that she would not break any twigs. Her arms stretched behind her she backed up until she found a tree. Little by little she edged around the tree, anxious to be concealed. Finally she was hidden completely from the eyes that searched for her. She backed away from the tree cautiously, keeping it between her and her trackers. She knew it wouldn’t be long until the dogs found her previously vacated napping spot. She heard the hounds sniffing around the bushes beyond the tree. She jumped when they suddenly started to howl. They once again were on her trail.

She ran, faster than she had ever run before. Her lungs were about to burst and her legs were going to fall off but she kept running. She didn’t look back, knowing that if she did it might mean being a slave again. Any wasted second could cost her her freedom. She heard muffled sounds through her arduous breathing. She heard muted yapping from the dogs and the yells from her chasers. She kept running. Something hit the tree a few paces ahead of her. Bark flew, but she kept on running. Something hit the dirt to the left of her feet. Dirt hurtled at her, but she kept on running. A loud crack broke through her deafened ears. She knew what was coming. A sharp pain lanced up her back in an excruciating wave of agony. She stopped running. She was falling. She hit the ground.

When they finally found the woman she was dead. One hand was reached in the direction of her freedom. The hand was desperately deformed. Her arms were covered in scars, lash marks that remained burned into her skin years after the beatings. Her face looked like it had so many stitches that it could be a patchwork quilt. There was no doubt that her master had repeatedly hacked at her face as a punishment. Simple mistakes could easily be rewarded with a whipping, but never before had the trackers seen someone that had been cut like this slave had. They had seen the scars of war, returning from the battlefields on which so many were slain. The ones that lived had scars, permanent scars, but none as raggedly disgusting as this slave’s. The scraps of cloth that must have been her clothes were tight enough to show how malnourished she was. Her bones stuck out of her ripped tunic. Blood was her back, leaving a sickly red spot. The blood was too dark to be healthy. Her skin looked a dullish gray in the pale torchlight. Sweat saturated her long scruffy mane of hair. Her face was contorted in an expression of pure torture.


Four of the five men turned to go back down the road to the horses that were hitched to a tree. The dogs followed at their heels, knowing that they had done their job. The fifth man stayed behind, standing dejectedly by the slave he and his co-workers had just killed. He looked down at the gun in his hands then threw it into the brush. He knew he was the one that fired the shot that killed her. He turned in the direction the slave had been running, giving her a final glance; he left to finish the journey she started.

The day that they announced that the war was over was a joyous day for the Union. They had won. But there was the one lonely soldier who had no pleasure in the battles that had occurred in the last few years. That day the solitary warrior stood in the forest looking down at the ground. He still remembered the spot. He dropped to his knees, placing a muscle hardened hand in the dirt. His face portrayed the regret that haunted his heart. He had buried her fragile body a few months after he shot her. A weather worn cross stood at the head of her grave. It defied rain and wind, standing as a monument. It was a symbol to him; a symbol of the freedom that was lost. The freedom that his soul could never find, would never find. He held himself prisoner in the bars of lamented grief. His heart cried to be free, but he had forgotten where he had left the key. He told himself that one day he would be liberated from the pain. But he knew that wasn’t true. He once again read the words engraved on the cross, he already knew them by heart.
Here lies a slave in body, a free person in heart.



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