The darkness pressed in, crushing Ezekielís chest with its oppressive weight. Even with his eyes open, he could not see the boards, mere inches from his nose. The confined space held no physical comfort, only the protection of darkness for himself and his sister. It was a coffin of freedom.
Lying flat on his back, Ezekiel could feel every bounce of the wagon. The rumble of the wheels roared in his ears. Miriamís hand gripped his with a fierceness that belayed her size. Her body trembled next to his. Ezekiel longed to pull her close and whisper assurances in her ear, but instead rubbed his thumb across her knuckles. He didnít dare make a sound to comfort her.
Time held no measure as Ezekiel and Miriam huddled in their dark world.
Ezekiel would do anything to protect his sister, the only member of his family that hadnít been taken from him, ripped away by a cruel master. The Master had treated them worse than animals, to be used and discarded. But he would have been furious when he discovered Ezekiel and Miriam missing. Master had taken a special interest in Miriam. Barely a woman, she already grew with child.
At some point, Ezekiel must have fallen asleep, because a sudden lurch of the wagon woke him with a gasp. Miriam squeezed his hand hard, reminding him of their predicament. The wagon slowed and then stopped. Have we reached the next station? The harsh voices outside of the wagon told him this stop was not planned.
The hairs on the nape of Ezekielís neck stood on end, as the wagon shifted from extra weight. Heavy boots clomped above them. Ezekielís heartbeat quickened as he heard the bales of hay being pushed around. The fine dust drifted through the cracks and settled on them. It stuck to the moisture on his forehead and lip. Ezekiel wiggled his nose, trying to dislodge an especially irritating piece. The piece refused to move, and Ezekiel dared not shift his position for fear of being heard by the angry men above him.
Moments moved by in agonizing slowness, as Ezekielís nose twitched. A sneeze was building. Ezekiel tried to concentrate on something else, but the hay dust would not be ignored.
Beside him, Miriamís body was ridged. Her fingers, digging into his hand, were clammy. With every step on the boards above, she flinched. Ezekiel could not let these men hurt his precious sister. Only absolute quiet and stillness would protect them. Ezekiel prayed the slavers had not brought their dogs.
He squeezed his eyes shut, and wiggled his mouth. Drops of moisture leaked from his eyes. Pinpricks of pain spread across his forehead, and down his body. The sneeze continued to grow. Ezekiel wouldnít be able to hold it in for long. Desperately he prayed for Godís strength. If he could only last a few more minutes.
The wagon bounced as the man jumped down, but Ezekiel could still hear them talking beside the wagon bed. He curled his toes and dug his fingernails into the palm of his hand. He would rather die in this coffin-like space than go back to the Master. He would not sneeze.
But the sneeze continued to grow, filling the whole of Ezekielís consciousness.
When the wagon started moving again, Ezekiel continued to hold the sneeze. Finally, he heard the sound he was waiting for. Three quick raps on the wagon bed. The danger had passed.
ďACHOO.Ē Ezekiel turned his head and wiped his nose on his shoulder. A sneeze had never felt so good.
ďBless you,Ē Miriam giggled quietly beside him. Ezekiel stroked her thumb.
Yes, Lord, bless us as we travel this road to freedom, He prayed knowing they would not be out of danger until they crossed into Canada. Please keep us safe.
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