The Freedom of Death

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

The back of the eyelids brightened, which awakened the whole body. The eyes traced the aged, wooden ceiling as the heart quickened. With sight came a suffocating odor he refused to breathe. Realizing that the image associated to the depths of his conscience was about to be resubmitted, he rolled back towards the chipped wall. He couldn’t see it. None of them could.

He clutched his shirt and breathed slowly. Why couldn’t he face it? Why couldn’t he turn and see the lifelessness? He shut his eyes tight and said a prayer in his heart. If anyone could revive it, it’d be its God.

The porch’s wooden staircase creaked beneath familiar thuds. As much as he wanted to go back to sleep, he still hadn’t figured out how to do so. One minute he was wide awake; the next minute his eyes were finally opening from he could only guess to be sleep. He stilled his breath. He could feel the ominous presence against the doorway, despite laying at the back of the room. He had the frame that made his shadow stretch beneath the crack in the door.

What would they bring this time? Sticks, belts, whips? Maybe this time they’d pull out their knives and dissect another. Perhaps, they’d draw their guns for roulette again. Maybe, this time, they’d end their nightmare.

The very thought still made him curl up. The torture had already begun. Why would he still be afraid to lose a life that was already lost? It’s not like they didn’t have proof their lives were over. It, once he, laid in the middle of the floor.

The boards creaked once more. Whoever he was, he left. Judging from the weight of the sound, he was the brute – the oversized mammal that used them to practice his jujitsu and better his torturing. The simple grasping of the forearm made your knees go weak. They had been there so long, they couldn’t tell if it was really his strength or their weakness. Either way, whenever he got bored, you might hear flesh rip or bones crack.

Free from the possibility for a moment, a whisper came from behind. It couldn’t be it. It was dead. Who was speaking? How many were left? He covered his ears, trying to silence the connection to life. He had died. It was time to accept that.

“Hey!” he whispered from the corner.

“Shh!” another warned.

“We have to move it,” he complained.

What was his name? Remembering it would’ve forced life to continue. Who wanted to continue? Why couldn’t the hunger pangs stop his heart? Yet, the calls kept coming. He needed to face reality once more. They had to move it. They had to move it. They had to move it!

“Shut up!” he shouted to the wall.

The air hushed. A deep breath left the mouths in the room. It gave him just enough time to relax… Unfortunately, with the blood rushing, he was awake. He had to face reality. He was still a prisoner slave.

Involuntarily, he stretched. It was too late to try to go back to sleep, but neither was it a day to labor. It was a quarantine day – the third one, to be accurate. They were contaminations stuffed into the room because of it. First, there were coughs filled with phlegm. Then, there was wheezing instead of breathing. Then, there was uncontrollable bowels shooting in both directions. Now it was dead, and whatever disease overcame that gentle soul was ventilating into their room – their grave.

“I’m just saying, we can’t leave him there like that,” he said.

“Man, if you don’t shut up,” another bickered.

“Why are you all acting like I’m the weird one!?” he defended.

“He died with a sickness. You touch that body, you might be next.”

“So what, we just leave him there and endure this odor?”

“What part of ‘you’ll catch a deadly disease’ didn’t you get?”

“Quiet down. If there’s too much bickering, they’ll come in here.”

“They’re not coming in here. All you have to do is fake a good cough and they’ll run for the hills. They’re waiting for us to die in here so they can clean it out and bring the next group.”

“Rations have come less and less these days.”

“We’re as good as dead.”

“Don’t say that.”

“You don’t say that.”

“But it’s true.”

‘Thump’, sounded the wall. It wasn’t until he looked at his outstretched fist that he realized he was the culprit. The frustration had seeped out of him again. The room quieted. He knew why. The thump resembled the stomp of the boot, the snap of the branch, and the memory of its body collapsing in the middle of the room, starting the beginning of its death. An open wound which festered into an infection.

They wanted to help it. They gave it extra food and water. They came together to keep it alive, and still it collapsed. Still, it died. Now it was decaying, and the smell couldn’t be ventilated. It could only be endured.

The smell. He remembered. He breathed it in. His nose had adjusted. He wondered if his conscience could do the same. He rolled over. All eyes focused on him as he stared emptily into the body which once contained a beautiful soul. He stared for many breaths, taking it all in.

Slowly, he rose on all fours, never taking his eye off of it. He stretched again, and then crept slowly over to it. The hair was soaked in wine red. It seemed nearly black in the floorboards. The face seemed dusty, like ash, even though it hadn’t been twenty-four hours. The skin was charred and flaky. The chest caved under the pressure of gravity. The feet looked like a rodent chewed at them. The image made a tear drop from his eye.

As another tear tumbled down through his beard, the eyes of the others began to water. The shame, the weakness, the guilt, and the relief, which turned into more guilt, grasped their throats. They hated what happened to it, but couldn’t help being glad that it wasn’t them. However, surviving only led them to further question the purpose, seeing as how their deaths were not denied but rather delayed.

He stood over it and then leaned down. He nearly touched its pocket when his brain alerted him to the lack of heat. Then, he waited to recognize the lack of breath. Finally, he recognized the lack of muscles. What bothered him the most was the smile he could see on its face. Until the end, it put others before itself. It truly was a son of God.

“Cover it up,” the irritable one asked.

“Shhh! Man, have some respect.”

“It’s spreading the virus through this room!”

“You say one more thing, and I’m going to punch you in the mouth,” the man threatened, standing tall and clinching his fist.

Peter always had the size. He talked a big game, but his heart feared more than his mouth. He hated showing that side of himself. They all knew this, including Luke, who was just about to challenge Peter, when a crash sounded just outside the door… Everyone froze…

The silence was deafening. The fear strangled the hearts of the men until it gave way to the sound of cicadas. There wasn’t a decimeter of movement as they listened for footsteps. Usually, when they were too loud, they received threats of violence in the sound of a gunshot or banging on the door. If they caught their captors in a bad mood, they would be subjected to impersonating a punching bag as their hands were tied and hung above their heads while their ribs and abdomen took steady blows from healthy fists. That pain stiffed their backs and restricted their legs.

The chirping of birds eased the tension in the room and they soon found the strength to move again. One went for the door, making sure to miss every creaking board along the way. The tension rose again as he pressed an ear against the wood. They waited in the orchestra of life. The wind, cicadas, birds, and other creeping things of the earth played their music. However, the sound they thought they’d hear, never came.

He leaned away from the door and shrugged. They became puzzled. Surely someone would curse them, threaten them, shame them, or drag them out to the fields to harvest drugs. It was none of the above. This presented a new terror. Their captors were acting out of character. It gave them anxiety.

There were signals thrown around the room. Some shrugged, others looked away, and some thought to investigate. None of them said this aloud. All communication was done with gestures and the flailing of arms. They didn’t agree, until they all looked at him – he who was hunched over it.

He waved his hands in rebuttal but their hands pleaded furthermore. He responded with panic, and their pleas grew even more so. He had no choice. He pondered for a moment, but in his heart he knew he was just as curious as they were… He sighed…

He rose from above it, and made an imaginary telescope with the motions of his hands. The two hands signaling two o’s expanding and contracting against one another caused movement in them. One went beside the door and began fiddling with the wood. Peter went and placed his body in front of the door. They gazed at the handiwork of the Matthew, whose small hands made twisting wood from wood easier. He twisted the wood slowly to the left and the right while he pulled gently. Every twist slid the wood from its compartment. He did this continually, until the cylindrical piece was removed, and the sun shined through the crevice.

Matthew quickly stepped to the side and looked at him for confirmation. He looked at the rest and then to the hole they created into the log of the wall. Bartholomew nudged the chosen scout forward. He breathed gently, and then knelt down. He looked through the hole into the encampment.

Just outside the wall, on the porch of the outhouse, laid the brute. His massive body was sprawled out from the top of the stairwell to a few feet from the door. He was lifeless. He stared. Bartholomew nudged him again, but he signaled for them to wait. He couldn’t believe eyes.

Just outside the door laid the brute – that in itself was confounding. What sent shockwaves of hope through his body were the keys to their prison lying just off the tip of his outstretched hands. Their freedom laid an inch from the body of a brute whose sole purpose of existence in this place was to torment.

He looked beyond the stairwell just beneath the heavy boots of the brute. It wasn’t just the brute. There were bodies lying all around the encampment. Their faces were far, but the evidence clear. The only visible face was disfigured from the scattershot of a shotgun.

It was ironic looking at the scrambled face, the splattered blood, and the holes in the tree. The tree, massive in size, was the stage for mass slave hangings. It was strange seeing the trunk covered in the blood of a slave master rather than the bodies of slaves. He had blown his face off sometime in the night. It was the only way to explain how they didn’t hear the shot when it happened. It also could’ve meant that they were so accustomed to torment, that the sound of a gunshot merely fizzled in with nature’s orchestra like cymbals.

He leaned back from the hole and just stared. He had no idea what to do. Despite the various questions, he didn’t have an answer. He didn’t know why the brute laid there dead. He didn’t know why the other committed suicide. He didn’t know why the grounds were littered with the dead bodies of their captors. What he witnessed was what he witnessed, and that was it.

They asked him to be the first to go outside and see what had taken place. He vehemently refused, but they fervently begged. They had come to believe its words. It promised silly things like it would be with them always, and that they’d share a greater place together when the time came. Those words seemed like lies in the presence of the decaying body. Yet, some believed.

“You were his beloved. Surely his goodness and mercy will pursue you even in this!”

He stood there, listening to all of their excuses, wondering when he became the leader when the leader was the greatest servant, and that was obviously Paul. Still, the task was handed to him, and they refused to let him deny them. Therefore, when Peter stood with Andrew, waiting to boost him up into the attic, he reluctantly agreed.

The smell worsened by the ceiling. It was as if the initial stench seeped into the still air of the attic and festered. They lifted him into attic through a hole they cut over the past weeks. He covered his nose and he remained prone on the wooden planks keeping the ceiling stabilized. He crawled a few feet to the edge of the attic and fiddled around with the wood. He pressed here and there, until a part of the ceiling bent. He pushed more aggressively and the square piece slid out of its former place. He froze.

He waited for a moment to see if anyone would come and check on the broken ceiling. His heart beat intensely as he waited to hear an expected noise. It made the others afraid as well, seeing as how they were unable to keep their mouths closed nor stand still so that no other sound was made. This carried on for two minutes until Matthew popped his head into the attic.

“We’ve been looking. There’s no one out there,” he whispered. “Try to get the key. The brute hasn’t moved either. It should be easy.”

Easy wasn’t close to what his body was communicating. All his mind kept telling him to do was lay still and breathe sparingly. His instinct was much closer to fright than flight. Yet, he willed himself forward, or rather the incessant whispers of, “Go!” moved him.

He pulled the wood into the attic and forced his head out into the open. It was as if he stuck his head into the pool from the pool’s edge. He hardly breathed while looking about. He felt the sweat streaming from his neck, through his beard, to the top of his forehead. The droplets swelled so much that he felt each drop. His grip loosened the longer he looked.

He noticed there were no trucks chasing workers out to the fields. There was no one walking the paths, nor were there any faint noises of whips and shouting in the distance. Nature was the only soundtrack. It was calming, yet paralyzing. Again, he willed himself forward.

He brought his feet to the opening and dropped them through. His body plopped onto the porch and shook the ground. He ducked down immediately and looked towards the brute… His body did not move. He remained sprawled out with the keys near his fingertips.

He crept forward towards the brute. He was afraid to step forward but equally afraid to stand still. Had anyone caught him out of the quarters, he’d surely be beaten half to death. With each step, he grabbed the railing, shaking the pickets to see if any would come loose and become a weapon. He stopped one leap before the brute. He looked around again. No one was visible. There were only the bodies scattered throughout the camp.

As he leaned down towards the brute, he heard, “Get it, John!”

The whisper might as well have been a shout. He froze with his hand just above the keys. He looked towards the hole and,” Shhh!” was heard from many mouths. He stared as they quieted. Without noticing, his arm had lowered, and beads of sweat raced to the lowest point, which was the bottom of the palm of his hand just below the thumb.

He felt it. The cooling sensation briefly felt after the warm sweat drips from the skin. He froze as he watched the bead land on the palm of the brute’s hand. He leaned away, prepared to run, as the hand absorbed the water. He had to have felt it! His mind must have been waking him to alert him to the disturbance in his palm!

Without evidence of pain, his stomach tightened. A thumping pain resonated where fists used to be. He felt each knuckle digging into each muscle of his abdomen. The memory of the pain felt so real, he began to lose his breath. He clinched his bowels and his teeth as reality snapped him back. The brute did not move.

Hanging on a leaf of hope, he leaned back in. He picked up the keys slowly. The jiggling metal made his heart jump once more, but he couldn’t stop moving. He held the keys in his hands. Freedom was theirs!

Before he rushed in excitement, he looked around. He leaned over the brute’s body and reached for his mouth. His hand shook the closer he came to the brute’s face. His legs were trembling under the weight of the stretching. The shaking hand about the lips confirmed his suspicion. There was no air entering or exiting his body. The brute truly had passed.

It was not the absence of life that horrified him, but the state of his dead body. Having only passed but a few minutes prior, he found it odd to see the eyeballs scaly and blackened. It was troubling to see the lips crisped as if by fire. It was mortifying to see his moldy tongue hanging from his mouth. It was as if he was gasping for air just before death overcame him.

He had no idea what poison killed this man, but he knew he didn’t want to catch it. He hurried to the door and placed a key inside. The others inside became excited, moving about as if preparing to leave. With each key, he fidgeted more frequently. He often looked behind him to see if his fears had come true. Finally, the door clicked, whereupon Peter flung the door open and stared at John.

This was it, the moment they had dreamed of. The fresh air flooded the cabin, and not a hint of the fragrance gave any relief. Peter rushed out to the brute and searched him. He dug for all of a second before he tumbled back in fright.

“Wh- wh- wha- what!?”

“Shhh, you oof,” Luke warned.

Peter covered his mouth with his hands and pointed. Luke walked over to the brute and almost let out a gasp in his own fright. Instead, he hurriedly turned his face and breathed slowly. Then, he looked back down, knelt next to the brute, and searched him. He was very delicate with his hand placement as he did so. It brought them all relief when he pulled out a dagger.

The others began pouring out of the room. With the porch becoming crowded, they spread out into the dirt pathway which surrounded the great tree centered perfectly in the slave camp. The further they went, the less confident they became.

Peter rushed over to the body of the man who blew his skull open and took the shotgun. He searched the pockets, covering his nose to avoid smelling a different kind of deceased. To their benefit, they found a few rounds worth using. Peter loaded the gun and gravitated to the front of the escape.

The others followed his lead, and began looting the dead around the camp. They first checked the bodies around the tree. Only a few knives and a pistol were found. There was not enough ammunition to dare challenge their oppressors, and they were far from freedom.

As they searched, John observed. There were no living captors. It made him think of the day they quarantined them. Paul told them slavers wished death on them so that they could replace them with others since it had gotten sick.

He looked up to the sun. His smiled faintly, wondering if the “light of the world” became or returned to the brightest light the world knew. He gazed to the right and saw the fields. As expected, there were no people. They were either empty, or the dead were laid out amongst the seeds. To his left, the fleet of trucks were unoccupied. The entrance beyond the tree was still too far to see any specific movements. The mountains behind still presented the same level of impossibility they had when the group first plotted their escape.

It was the mountains that reminded him they were not alone. They did not venture into the camp of their enemies by themselves, there were women that were captured along with them. Only by the grace of God, would they be alive and not tainted. He didn’t think too much on the subject after considering who their captors were. He only set his mind on freeing them.

He hurried back to the cabin door and took the keys. Then, when he returned to the scattered bodies under the great tree with the others. The others pieced together his intentions and hurried to another cabin, beyond the tree towards the entrance, which housed the women. They walked fast enough to not make a sound and reach the cabin before any slavers could notice them. Peter and Bartholomew rotated their guns’ trajectories as often as their eyes noticed gliding leaves or the fleeing insects.

They looked to the porch and saw a man leaned back in a chair against the wall with his hat tilted down over his face. He was close enough to have seen them rummaging through his dead companions, but he had failed to move. What they didn’t know was whether the lack of movement was due to slumber or death.

Slowly, Peter crept towards the cabin; the others surrounded the porch on instinct. He tip-toed to the edge of the stairwell leading to the porch. He looked up. The man had not moved. His arms were folded but hanging low, onto his lap. Peter looked back to the rest to confirm this was their plan of action. They waved him forward, but he did not move.

That’s when John came to the front. He took the shotgun from Peter, and took his first step on the stairwell. Peter, all bark and no bite, surprisingly followed close behind him. He refused to be demeaned by him. Each step caused a creak in the stairwell. It didn’t matter how gently they stepped. The wood was so light underneath their feet that it bent at the slightest change in weight. John made sure to keep the gun aimed at the fellow. After another step upward, cries were heard from the cabin.

“Hello!? Hello, please! We haven’t had food. Can we have some food?”

“We’ll be good. We promise!”

“We’ll let you do what you want. Just please, some food.”

It took a moment to notice himself listening to the women. It was so strange to hear their voices after dealing with men for quite some time. If not for the gentle nudge in his back, he might’ve stayed there listening for some time. Yet, the body leaning forward forced the feet to follow.

“Sir, please. Sir!”

“We will die of hunger!”

“We’ll do whatever you desire!”

He approached the door whilst aiming the gun. He reached the keys back towards Peter, who snatched them and began fiddling with the door. He stepped away from Peter, towards the napper. Each step raised the tension within himself. He began to feel the metal sliding in his hands. He wiped his hands on his pants just before realizing… the napper was not breathing.

He sighed in relief. He took the gun and lifted the napper’s hat with it. It was the same condition as the brute. The eyes were sunken and like ash. The lips were dried and rotted. The tongue looked like tobacco dip. The stench then made its presence known, causing him to cover his nose and shut his mouth.

The door flung open and a woman shrieked in terror, causing Peter to jump back, which shook the ground just enough to cause the napper to fall over while John gripped the gun tightly, reacting to the sudden movement and letting off an explosive sound, splattering the body as it plummeted to the floor. In an instant, the men were all ducking, the women cowering back into the cabin, and John was paralyzed once again as pieces of organs and blood dripped from his arms. He refused to move while covered in someone else. He barely breathed.

“What did you do!?” Matthew whispered loudly.

He stood there, not wanting to smell what he was already smelling. He didn’t want to know that the scent was burying itself into his clothes. He didn’t want to realize that he desecrated a body with a shotgun. He started to whimper. Then a hand touched his shoulder, sending his mind back to its final moments.

He was knelt over its body, as it breathed its last breaths. The men surrounded him, helplessly shedding tears as their friend’s breaths spread apart. He remembered that hand, gently rising from its hip to his shoulder. This helped him stop whimpering. Then, it moved from his shoulder to his face.

“Fear not,” it said. “They know not what they do… They send me on to the Father in Heaven… but I… I will do far worse to them… than they could ever do to me…” It smiled so peacefully. “It is finished…I will tear them… from their vices… and make them see us… They will… see us…”

“See” lingered in his mind. What could the dead make the living see? What did he mean by that? It was a question needing an answer, when Mary revealed, “We saw him!”

“Saw who?” Peter asked.

“Him! The man! The one who was sick! He was not as he was, but healthy and alive, and he looked as God Himself.”

“It’s true,” Martha joined.

“Impossible!”

“We don’t have time for this,” Luke warned. “That shot is going to lead others here. We need to get into some trucks and go. Are there any injured with you?”

“We’ll make it,” Martha replied.

“Did you not hear them, Luke? The women say they saw him,” Peter said.

“I would think his body still lies in that cabin.”

“A man cannot die and then be raised to life, Mary,” Thomas added. “That is not how it works. We saw his body and we just escaped but a moment ago.”

“Check,” she demanded. “Check and see.”

“We do not need to check. We need to escape before more men come,” Luke argued. “Come, let us look for the keys to the trucks.”

Half the men moved; the other half lingered in curiosity. John watched as the women, who were few, poured out of the cabin. Some were reunited with brothers and others with sons. It reminded him of how they were all targeted and captured by their enemies whilst they were out exploring the world. He didn’t realize that he had forgotten where he had come from, which made him question just how long he had been enslaved here.

After the last woman left the cabin, he lingered. He had almost set it in his mind that the slavers were all dead. This virus killed them all. They all looked as it did. It was as if it became the very thing meant to destroy them. If this was tearing them from their vices, their vice was life, and he became death…

He wondered if what Mary said was true. He gazed at the cabin, pondering, as the multitude marched towards the cabins closer to the entrance. He ran back to the slave men’s cabin, opposite of where they stood, on the other side of the tree. There was no evidence that such a statement could be true. It had to have been a dream. This is what he thought until he stepped into the opening of the cabin.

The body was gone. The clothes remained, but the body no longer resided where they left it. His first thought was that a creature of the wild came and snatched him. Upon further inspection, the clothes were not ripped. This terrified him. Perhaps, the enslavers were playing a trick on them. He hurried back to the others to find Stephen, a young man, with his hands raised between a gunman on his knees, and the multitude.

“It’s okay. We’re not here to harm you. We just want the truck,” Stephen explained.

The enslaver grunted out a few words, but most of them could not understand him. He was bleeding from the eyes and mouth. He had a cough that was vulgar and filled with death. He was trying to drive to a hospital when they startled him. He stumbled out the truck after he saw the slaves approaching him. All he had was a pistol, so after falling from the seat onto the dirt, he raised that pistol in defense.

There were only a few near him, but in his state, they had the advantage. He tried to blurt out a few words, but his eyes, albeit bloody, spoke all he needed to say: he was terrified. On all fours, he still managed to hold them back. No one dared to approach him.

He coughed some more, and blood spewed out of his mouth like a faucet clogged. His whole body shook as he cursed whatever ancestor he believed in. He looked up and pointed the gun at them again. All but Stephen were moved by the aiming. Stephen instead squatted with the man, and reached out.

“Come on. Don’t fight,” he pleaded.

The man spewed more vulgarity. He took the keys to the truck and coated them in his blood. Then, he took the keys and threw them as far as he could into a patch of bushes nearby. He returned his gaze to them and began speaking again.

“We don’t understand you,” Stephen said.

“He is asking why only the- slaves, are healthy, while all of them are sick,” Paul explained. “He blames his ancestors for not providing the strength he needed. He is very angry. He has called us several names and is, in all aspects, jealous of us.”

“How do you understand?”

“You cannot be all things to all peoples if you do not speak their language.”

“Ah.”

“We cannot just wait for him to die,” Mary said.

Those words became a curse unto Stephen, whose kind heart moved him closer to comfort the man, and found a bullet piercing his intentions. They all screamed as Stephen collapsed. The men pursued the gunman, but the gunman turned the gun on himself. Thus, Stephen, young in age, passed before his time, trying to comfort one on the brink of death.

He watched this from the porch of the cabin, and felt just enough energy pass from him to cause him to collapse. He fell to one knee, but clasped the rail. He exhaled slowly. They had to be free of this deadly place, no matter the cost.

“John!” a faint voice called in the distance.

He looked up and saw men waving from a large cabin halfway to the entrance. He went over to them, and found them feasting amongst a slew of their fallen enemies. There were half a dozen dead men. All of them were recognizable. The one at the head of the table in the rear being the most recognizable. He was the leader.

You would see him from time to time, but you never spoke to him. His own men barely said a word. They only listened. He came and ate from what he wanted, slept with whomever he wanted, and dared anyone to stop him. It was not uncommon to see him kill one of his own because they were too challenging or too incompetent.

He sat there, slouched to the side in his throne-like chair, which was twice his size. His body was much like the other bodies. In fact, all the dead bodies were recurring images of what had already been seen. Their eyes were blood-soaked ash, their tongues damp dirt, and their lips lit charcoal. Being in the room made him uncomfortable, yet Peter was devouring their meal.

Andrew called to him. “Peter, how can you eat this stuff? This meal could’ve been the reason these men died, and it can’t be very warm.”

“Rise. Kill. And eat!” Peter spared between gulps. “Food is food!”

The table was not big, and there was not much food. It was just more food than they had seen in a long time, and much of it still had a bit of a temperature with it. John thought to reach for a bowl, but instead found himself simply watching. It looked much better than the plain rice they were given in rations just large enough to keep them working.

Between the unlit torches hanging on the walls, and the carvings in the wooded poles used as target practice, there wasn’t much to this place. Even the tables were pieces of cut wood tied together by muddy ropes. It resembled closer to a tavern than a king’s house. The only obnoxious piece was the chair handmade for the dead king. These people were also poor. For all the product they had them harvest, it was not reflected where they slept.

Some of the men were encouraged by Peter’s rashness and began consuming what was left. Magdalene, however, was hesitant for far darker reasons. She stood, staring at the carcass of a small man. He had thin cuts on his arms and legs, from what looked like the aftermaths of several encounters with wild animals. If not for the depth of the scratches, one might not be able to notice the difference between a mammal, and a woman. There was no doubt, however, after Magdalene rushed the dead pervert, grabbed his knife from his pants, and carved into him.

He didn’t realize how antagonizing the constant ripping of flesh was to his ears. Yet, he didn’t stop her. None of them did, for fear of being the target of the next stab. She desecrated the body so much that anyone who discovered it later would think it to be a eunuch. If he wasn’t a eunuch, he was mauled to dead by a vicious beast of the jungle, which is exactly how she looked after she dropped the knife. She screamed at him with such hatred, it made the men fear. She was not even bothered by the blood she had covered herself in.

Only the gentleness of her fellow maidens soothed her aching soul. They, not caring about the blood either, huddled around her and wept. He watched as they whispered sweet things and caressed her. All he could think to do was burn everything.

It was reassuring to know he wasn’t the only one who felt this way, as Peter took a torch from the wall and walked outside. The other men raided the building, and found all the keys to the trucks. They returned in sync with Peter, who had obviously created, or found, fire. Those with empty hands found other torches, and so the fire squad was formed.

The women then willed each other from the room as the men left with them to search out other places to burn. There was only Peter and John who remained. He knew what Peter wanted to do, and he had no qualms with it. He just needed a moment to etch into his mind the image of the feast that was consumed amongst his dead enemies.

Part of him wondered if they saw them. He wondered if they witnessed their deaths and the raiding of their home. He wondered if the little man could feel the pierces in his body. He wondered if he could feel his body being massacred. He silently hoped he did, but he knew that death came long before the blade.

Peter stepped forward and reached down to the hip of one of the fallen. He unclipped a set of keys from the man’s belt, and held them up. He observed each key, finding some to be unfamiliar to him. They were keys that didn’t belong to a truck, nor a door. He held them up so that John could see them.

“What do you think these were to?” Peter asked.

Unbothered, he responded, “Do we even care at this point?”

Peter nodded, and threw the keys onto the man’s lap. “All the storehouses in the world couldn’t protect you from death.”

He took the torch, and held it to the chest of the dead man. His body took to the flame as well as they imagined one so wicked would. It was like watching a demon being escorted into the Lake of Fire. He skin melted within seconds, and the flames started to spread to the chair, and then the floor.

“And we can’t forget about you, you glutton,” Peter said while walking over to a man as wide as the brute was tall. “May this be the tamest flame you experience in all eternity.”

It shocked him to see how much Peter enjoyed setting the body aflame, but then he remembered how the glutton would stuff his face as they were being starved and beaten. He wondered if he ever once thought about sharing the food he ate. It was obvious he didn’t miss too many meals. He wondered if he, too, was guilty of overlooking someone’s suffering in favor of a meal. He wondered how much of mankind was responsible for such selfishness.

The hand of Peter upon his shoulder opened his eyes to the situation. The entire room was ablaze. If they were not quick, they’d be trapped inside to die. The wood licked up the flame while the flame devoured it. They exited swiftly.

The smoke began to rise from the roof as the temperature swelled in the area. All lodging and storage were set ablaze. The entire encampment looked like the fires of hell. Yet, in him, there was peace. For his enemies, it was their end. For him, it was the beginning of his journey home.

This thought was met with trucks passing them on the road. Even the entrance gates ahead were on fire, yet the trucks rushed along. The final truck stopped. Peter tossed the torch into the cabin, tapped him on the shoulder, and hopped aboard. John lingered, looking back at the cabin where they first escaped.

It seemed so far away from him now. It was covered in flame, with smoke rushing from the only entrance. It was so foreign to him now. Slavery was so foreign to him. With no oppressors, the mountains looked closer, the fields looked more peaceful, and the sky gave him a faint smile. He nodded his head, and boarded with the others.

They signaled the driver, and the truck sped off. John sat near the rear and watched his old life pass away. All the whips, guns, disease, and labor faded in the smoke and flame. He had almost slipped into his new reality when a light in the burning cabin caught his eye.

He looked closely and saw him. He saw him alive and healthy, and waving. He stared, wondering if his eyes had received too much hope. There was no mistake about it. It was him. He could see him smiling as he flipped a bag of seeds over his shoulder.

“You see him, don’t you?” Mary asked with a smirk. He nodded, with tears in his eyes. “I told you he lived.”

John nodded again, wiping his face. Peter’s eyes followed him, and he gasped. His gasp drew the eyes of others like Luke and Thomas. They all lost their breath as they watched him, waving peacefully with a bag of seeds over his shoulder.

“It’s-… he’s…” Thomas searched his heart. “He’s alive.”

“Should we stop and get him?” Luke asked.

Peter sighed. “Somehow… I don’t think that’s what he wants.”

Without saying a word, they all agreed. None of them spoke further. They knew in their spirit that the vision gifted to them was all they needed. They continued their long journey home as the place of their past burned into ashes behind them, giving way to something they knew would become beautiful before the end. After all, there was one harvest yet to come…

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