I stopped my climb to turn back to the people below. A man was running across the beach, yelling for his 'Annie.' I took a moment to wonder who she was to him and what happened to her. Did the tide take her? Was she lost at sea? Killed by the soldiers? Maybe they're family, the only family they've got left between them. Maybe they're lovers, escaping the violence together.
"Who's he calling for, daddy?" I looked down at the young boy and his father climbing just below me. Like me, they had stopped to stare down at the distressed man who had dropped to his knees and cried into his hands.
The older man on the ladder just under his son shook his head and nudged the boy to continue his ascent. "It doesn't matter now. She's gone."
Gone. Those words circled my head in grim finality as I finished my climb to the top and settled myself amongst the other refugees.
As the rescue truck carried its passengers to a safe house, I listened quietly to the sobs and whispers of those around me. The young boy had finally fallen asleep beside me. He had stayed awake for quite a while after our rescue, talking to me quietly as his father looked on in concern. I didn't understand why he should look so worried; he should be happy to see his child willing to speak at all. It should be a blessing.
A young woman sat on my other side, whispering to herself and rocking back and forth.
"They'll be fine. They'll be just fine. Mother, father, Jamie, they'll all be fine."
Again, the other man's words rang in my head, 'gone.' Was this woman's family gone as well? How many had we lost during our flight out of the country? What was going to happen to everyone now? The future didn't look quite as bright as it had before the war.
"Are we going to be alright?" A young girl asked her mother across from me.
I stared into the eyes of the frightened child, looking for the hope that innocence often brings, but there was nothing but exhaustion and pain. She gazed back at me in confusion, but didn't speak a word to me like the other boy had.
"We're safe now." Her mother reassured her, attempting once again to lull the child to sleep.
Once again, I found myself wishing I had family or friends with me, but it seemed that I was all alone. The more I thought about it, I couldn't remember what any of them looked like. Did I ever have family? Had I made friends back at what used to be my home? I couldn't be sure. Perhaps it was the shock. At the time, all I could do was sit quietly and watch everything around me.
It didn't take long for us to arrive at the safe house. Men, women and children alike rushed about, looking for lost loved ones. Many cried in happiness as they were reunited once again, while others collapsed to their knees like the man on the beach had, hoping against hope that their loved ones would come with the next truck.
Not knowing what else to do, I slowly stepped around the spread of people huddled together against the cold. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but I figured that I would know when I found it. I felt that if I stopped, everything else would stop as well, so I had to keep going.
I didn't find what I was searching for in the throngs of the living, so I hesitantly made my way to the lifeless bodies at the back of the building. Each body was laid out on a single blanket, eyes closed and clothes drenched. Some bodies were alone while others were surrounded by the survivors, cleaning painless wounds and holding ice cold hands one last time.
Suddenly, something in the back corner caught my eye. I carefully made my way to the area and gazed at the scene in front of me. A familiar young woman was leaning over a child's body, crying against his chest. Behind her two young boys and a girl were holding each other, trying to hide their tears and be strong for their mother.
The oldest boy, Michael was his name, rubbed the backs of his younger siblings and frowned in his effort to be the strength that the family needed.
I looked down again at the body, now laid back down on the blanket. It looked...familiar. I stepped closer only to freeze in my tracks. That face...those clothes...I looked down at my own, similar clothes. It's...
I looked down at my little sister in shock. Her eyes met mine and she reached out for me. I leaned toward her to touch her hand and tell her that I was right there, I wasn't dead, I was right there...! But it was as if a barrier kept our fingers from clasping.
My family looked quietly at my youngest sibling as she continued. "He's confused. He doesn't know what's happening."
My mother stifled her sobs once more as my little brother, now the oldest with me gone, closed his eyes and spoke to the air, hoping I could hear him. "It's alright. We'll be alright. You...you didn't make it here, but we did. We're all OK now, and I promise to take good care of everyone...just like you did."
I could feel my eyes burn as if preparing to cry, but the tears never fell. Our youngest brother sniffed back his own sorrow and raised his head, crying to the heavens, "WE LOVE YOU BIG BROTHER!"
"I'm so sorry...I'm...so sorry..." My mother cried.
Finally understanding my position, I lightly lowered my hand toward my mother's shoulder. She must have felt it, for she raised her own hand to touch where my fingers could not. She nodded and pulled herself to her feet. "We'll be OK." She reassured us all. "Thank you, Collin. If you hadn't warned us to get to the boats...we might...we..."
Michael did what I would never be able to do again, and pulled our family into a hug. He would have to be the support now. 'You'll be fine.' I thought, smiling as I watched their reactions at feeling my words cover them like a blanket. 'You'll all be fine.'
Casting one last look at my family, leaving my intuitive little sister with a wink and a smile, I stepped out of the darkness and graciously took my place in the light.