TITLE: Piercing Eyes
By Andria Cook
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Jonathan’s eyes winced in pain. He squinted through the darkness trying to gain visual distance, but could see less than a foot and a half in front of him. He raised a defenseless arm in front of his face in an effort to shield himself from the bitter October wind that whipped through the night. Even more quickly than usual, the sun had faded, and the darkness of night crept into his path while he enjoyed his nightly stroll. Tonight he picked up the pace, and ducked into the gusts of wind. By lowering his body and pushing himself forward, he battled the fierce night weather and fought the nagging urge to turn back.
Steady thumps resounded against the sidewalk each time the hard heel of his loafer pounded with each long stride. Bursts of wind caused the tails of his long trench coat to flap in the air. Stinging pain thrashed his legs each time the wind slapped the flaps into contact with his calves. In one last effort to lessen the bitterness of the biting, cold, he tightened the collar of his coat with both hands.
Though his walk was intended to ease the tension he felt about his day, he felt relieved that he was approaching the last house on the street. The run-down white A-frame was tucked away in the cul-de-sac. Bushes protected the privacy of anyone living inside by completely surrounding the wrap-around porch. He made a mental note that after the cul-de-sac, his back would be to the wind.
The hardware store clerk had once told him that a drunk lived there alone with his young daughter, and that the girl’s mother was constantly away on business in New York. He started around the circle of the cul-de-sac, still looking at the house, wondering about the little girl who lived inside. Mental comparisons to his own daughter invaded his mind. Thoughts of his precious young daughter who had died three months ago back in London caused a lump of sorrow to settle uneasily in the pit of his stomach.
Through the howling wind, Jonathan heard the faint sounds of a child whimpering. The house had three empty lots on either side. The nearest neighbor’s house was not close enough for him to hear through the howling wind. His eyes darted around the house’s perimeter, sweeping through the bushes in search of the faint cries. Nothing appeared out of place. Then, the bushes to the far left of the house rustled, exposing the secret hiding place of their refugee. His curiosity forced him to investigate. Slowly, he crept up to the side of the house and peered through the bushes. He halted, unable to believe his eyes.
A small child sat with her knees drawn to her chest. Her naked body shivered in the cold. She had wedged herself between the bushes and the house. With one fluid motion, he knelt down beside the bushes, and he removed his coat. He wasn’t sure how much of her shivering was from the cold night air, or how much was a direct result of the terrified look in her eyes.
Regret flowed through him when he reached out his hand to help her only to have her back away in fear and draw her knees tighter to her chest. She buried her face where he couldn’t see her. “Are you alright, darling?” He asked with a sophisticated English accent. What a stupid question, of course she’s not alright. “Please, let me help you. It’s much too cold for you out here.”
She slowly lifted her head, revealing the swollen eyes and a tear-stained face of a fragile, broken child. Her long hair partially covered her face, and she peered out to him through the strands of hair. Immediately, she captivated him.
“Are you an angel?” She paused and looked to the ground, “I’ve been praying for an angel.”
“Yes, I’m here to protect you, darling. Please come out.”
After a long, thoughtful pause, she extended a shaking hand to him, and he helped her as she crawled out of the bushes. Immediately, he wrapped her in his coat, and pulled her close to him to shield her from the wind.
“What’s your name?”
“D’Ahna, but you can call me Ahna, and your name is angel.” It wasn’t a question, and he didn’t want to correct her.
“How old are you, Princess Ahna?” He questioned with a kind smile.
“Why are you out here all alone?”
Her gaze once again fell to the ground. “Daddy’s real mad tonight. I climbed out the window.” She pointed towards the back of the house. “Please don’t make me go back.” Her voice faded into a whisper.
“D’Ahna I would love to keep you with me, but I can’t. The police would arrest me. I’m sure your father would miss you. I will help you back into your room, and stay by your window until morning.”
She nodded and took his large hand in hers, leading him to the back of the house. They stood together in front of the window when she wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face into his stomach. “Please promise you’ll stay.” He knelt down beside her, embracing her. Her soft voice was so faint he almost didn’t hear her whisper, “I need you.”
Tears filled his eyes, and he swallowed the lump that was that had crept from his stomach to his throat, and lingered uncomfortably. She needs me. Nobody needs me. He felt drawn to her. She kissed his cheek, and climbed back through the window. After she put her pajamas on, she returned his coat and crawled into her bed only a few inches from the window.
“Tell me a story.”
“Very well, but only if you promise to go straight to sleep.” He waited for her nod of approval. “Once upon a time, in a land far away, in a giant castle on top of a huge mountain, lived a beautiful young princess, named Princess Ahna. Princess Ahna was locked away in the dungeon at the top of the castle, awaiting her prince to come rescue her. She spent her days writing stories of far away places, and waiting by the window of the castle for her prince to come. One day, as the princess was writing a letter, she looked out the window, and from afar saw a white horse galloping towards the castle. Riding the horse was a young prince dressed in full armor. He was finally coming to rescue her! So he charged into the castle, demanding that the wicked King release her from the dungeon so he could marry her. The king refused, so the handsome prince drew his sword, attacked the king and all of his men, and locked them in another dungeon. The handsome prince ran into the princess’ room, took off his helmet, and asked her to marry him. They rode off into the sunset, and lived happily ever after.”
“Good night, Angel.”
After an hour of watching her sleep, he sat down and relaxed against the sidewall of the secluded house. His mind raced as to what had happened to D’Ahna tonight.
He heard movements in her room, and rose to his knees to peek through the window. An over-weight man in black clothing was approaching her bed.
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