Round Eight – Meadows of tomorrow

 “It was so unimaginably beautiful,” Kate whispered to us. Late in the evening we were standing on the corridor. She lowered her voice not to wake up kids sleeping in nearby rooms. “One moment I was walking down the stairs to the kitchen, I fell on the floor and next thing I see was this remarkable meadow. I was not traveling through any tunnel, nor light just a blink of an eye…”

“I see you already packed,” Captain Wild entered the room with papers in her hand.

“Yes, can’t wait to go back home,” Mag replied.

“Congratulations, you have finished first stage of the training. We will still need to run the full scan to see how much of the uniqueness we manage to keep and how much we lost due to drugs side effects.” Captain Wild paused for a second, looked at Szymek playing Hot Wheels in his bed and said with slightly lowered the voice, “Now, that you managed to go through the whole 8 runes without any serious issues, I can tell you. There was a high chance of Szymek flying to heaven in the first three months. We hoped that due decreased immunity Szymek would catch an infection, which he would not be able to fight off and automatically made the cut for the fly. Unfortunately, none of that happen and you passed to the next stage. “

“We are also happy that he did not catch anything,” I said with a little sarcasm.

“Regarding the next stage, surgery, please confirm if you would like to have it done in our premises or somewhere else as we need to make sure all formalities are done in time.”

“Ok, we will inform Captain when we come back for the tests,” Mag replied.

Captain Wild left our room and we started to head back home. With a relief in our hearts, finally after such an intensive past few days of not leaving the Center we have a break.

“…meadow was full of flowers, and the grass was so intensively green. I did not see any colors like that on earth. What we have here looks so pale, dull, lifeless while there it was so much richer, so much livelier. It is hard to explain. I laid on the grass and I felt so good. I felt loved, I felt the way, I have never experienced before. And I heard somewhere in the back of my head my parents screaming to me – Kate come back, come back to us – and believe me, I loved them with all my heart, but I could not go back to them, I did not want to leave that place…”

And again, same road back home, same corners, which we knew by heart, same stop light, no surprises. Luckily Szymek was feeling much better and we did not need to stop urgently due to him vomiting on the way. Felt good enough that when we were passing our well-known bakery he asked for his standard order.

“Old roll, small pizza and croissant.”

Not sure, where did he got this old roll thing, but order was placed and we needed to stop to buy what he asked for. Stopped and buy it as this was one of the few chances he will have an appetite to eat it. Once done, we could go back on the road.

“…and the whole meadow was covered with white light, it was not bright, more like a milky light. Rays of God’s love. And there was no time there, I felt like time was irrelevant, like I was there always, like I had finally wakened up from the dream. Dream, which was my previous life, dream that was finally over and now I could start to live again…”

“Who is there?” Well known voice of aunt Monic asked the question from house intercom.

„Simon” Replied eagerly as he could not wait to see his aunt again. She came to visit him, as this was her first cousin, son of older sister, he was also her whole world. “Kiko!” Szymon screamed with joy seeing her opening the front door.

“Look what aunt has brought to you, new box of blocks to play with.” Blocks, Hot Wheels and trains were his top toys. “Let me help you, said Monic and they both sat on the rag and start playing.

We are finally back home. Back to the place where we could again, for at least short while, pretend to be a normal, average family. Family, which eat breakfast together, go to church on Sunday, have some friends over. Remind ourselves how it was before the training. Yet, still with the thought in mind, that there is no sense to plan for the future. We lived like there was not tomorrow.  And we did things that normally you would not do, but the thought the soon we might not have a chance to do it again we took full advantage of them. One of it was three of us sleeping in one bed. It started with a fear that something may happen to Szymek, while he will be in his room sleeping, and ended with us needing to be close to him. Those were moments I would not exchange for anything. I cherished those moment deeply in my heart to remember them always.

“…and when I felt so blissfully, laying there on the soft grass a creature approached me.  It was full of light, I could not see his face, nor body as he was shining too brightly. Only his whole silhouette, with light passing through. Then he said to me…”

“You, need to go back”

“I don’t want to,” I replied “I feel so good here. I don’t want to leave this place”

“You need to go back to your parents,” he insisted.

“I love them so much, but I want to stay here…”

“You will come back here, but not now. Now you need to go back”

“…and this is when I woke up in my house, surrounded by my parents.” Kate paused for a second. ” I was so angry at them, furious that they brought me back to this horrible place. I rush to my room, shut the door and did not talk to them for couple of days.  Time went by and I forgot about this story. What has happened to me when I was a child, but for some reason I felt inside that I need to share it with you. I felt in my heart that you need to hear this story…”

Those few days home ran fast, too fast. Szymon was feeling much better, looking healthier, giving us hope for a better tomorrow. It also gave me a chance to play with him more. Assembling some wooden train tracks for his choo choo train, playing Hot Wheels, where he was saying which car is fast and which not, doing what other fathers do with their sons. The small difference between us and any other father was time, more lack of it. I knew things can not wait, if I wish to do them with my son I need to do them now, otherwise I might never have a chance.

“Wake up, honey we need to pack for the facility,” I tried to wake up Mag.

She looked at me and said with worried voice, “I had a dream.”

„What kind of a dream,” I’ve asked.

„I saw Szymon and Misia, our best friend’s daughter, dancing together and having fun on the meadow…”

 „Well, maybe they will listen to our prays and both will be healthy. Miracle will finally happen,” I replied trying to make her feel better.

“No, those meadows looked strange…they were not on earth,” She replied with tears in her eyes.

End of stage one.

Will your bow tie help you fly

“Table for two?” waiter asked, as soon as he saw them crossing the entrance.

“Yes, please,” Greg replied and followed the angels, which lead them to the place pointed by the waiter.

Lights were slightly dimmed. He was wearing his bow tie, she had a surprise on her face. Two more steps and they stood next to the table, which welcomed them with a candle light. This was not a place you take your loved one for a night out, yet with no other choice he wanted to show her what love means, especially in those tough times. They looked into each other’s eye telling all those words, which they forgot. Words, hiding deep in their hearts, allowing those, which were burning, to speak their way out. Still neither the place, which normally has a different feel, nor the people staring at them, asking “is this real?”, could take this moment away from them.

As the angels were serving them their meal they forgot for a second what each day, for past few weeks they went through, had to deal. How much pain they needed to suffer just by being here. In those few moments love could whisper to their ears making them to forget what color of the eyes has fear.

And not the dishes, not the meal were making the atmosphere but the fact that for a short while they could pretend to be somewhere else, they could disappear.

And he suddenly knew again how to make her smile. Remind himself how to complement her look to make her feel beautiful despite her weary eyes. How to grasp her heart and fill with love. Reminisce the times when life was simple, good and not hitting you with a shove. And all of this and more just to hear her laughter, feel her joy…

 “…and this was so romantic on one end and a slightly bizarre on the other. He came with a white tablecloth, take-away food, lit the candles and we sat there having a dinner, a date, in our canteen.  And those eyes of the other parents looking at us. Mothers with a bit of jealousy. And fathers with slight shame, that they did not thought of that…” Martha was finishing the story.

 “Cherry?” I asked opening plastic box filled with drilled, slightly moist cherries. “Yeah, I saw it and I was also one of those who were thinking, what the hack are they doing in this place?”

“No, thank you” Martha replied slightly surprised from the offer. “Yes, I could feel it but still loved that moment”

“Well, I would take it if I were you.” I have smiled wryly.

“Why?” She replied with slight curiously in her voice.

“These are my special cherries, I took them out from liquor I made home. They were laying there for past three months in pure spirit. As you can imagine, they will make you feel much better. Plus, as you know, cherries are good for your heart.” – I smiled to her shoving the box closer to her nose.

“Well, since you put it that way, I would like to try some. MMM good, one more please,” she replied after taking one.

I first saw his outfit. While many people tried to dress causal, not to stick out from the crowd, he drawn my attention by colorful bow ties. It was on one hand bringing some color into this gray, dull environment, but on the other also drawings people attention. And I was one of those people. Wondering why he dresses this way, is this his style, way to dress to work, or method of fighting all those dark thoughts, which this place brings into people’s minds. Soon after I saw his child and his wife, Martha. It was when Mag was not feeling well and I stayed for few nights with Szymek, sleeping in the CSD. And thanks to that room sharing we started long talks about God, life, suffering and at the same time trying to loosen up this deadly dense atmosphere with some poking jokes.

“One more cherry?” I have asked.

“No thanks, if I ate more I would not wake up at night to feed Lily,” She replied smiling.

I closed the box and went sleeping.

Gratitude has a different name

Turning on the light to chase away darkness from your room. Opening the tap to wash your hands without a need to disinfect them with alcohol each time you wish to touch your baby. Using your toilet and not thinking who sat on it before. Not worrying, that you might bring some infection just by using the bathroom. And even taking a breath of fresh air. Just sitting outside and listening to the birds singing. We really don’t know how much we have until someone takes it from us. Often, this is seen as nothing, normal life, but when you can not do it anymore you realized how important it was to you. CSD teaches you to revalue many things in your life, especially those, which you did not even knew matters so much to you.

Szymek was still lacking strength. His results were slightly improving, but not enough to be released home. Good days were over, when we came for 4-5 days to take chemo and went back home to rest for few days before the next injection. It looks like now, there will not be any break before the last round. Still with his slight rebuild of red, white blood cells and platelets we manage to convince the captain to give us a few hours pass. We still needed to come back to the facility for the night, but it gave us, Mag especially, those few hours, where she could rest at home.  Additionally, each time we came back, Granny, who was helping us much with Szymek, cooked something good for him.  She was the only one, stubborn enough to shadow Szymek with a spoon in her hand and used every chance there was to feed him. And thanks to her, he ate much more than at CSD, much more that we would be able to feed him. We were very grateful to her knowing how vital it was for Szymek to eat and regain strength.

Strength, which miraculously was not departing him. Each time he enters home’s doorsteps he was full of joy and happiness. Running all round the house, trying to play with all the toys, which were waiting for him in his room. In times it looked more like he would fear, that someone will take them away from him and he needs to spend as much time as possible playing with his cars and trains. We could see worry, hiding in his heart, that he will need to come back to CSD shortly, which unfortunately was truth, and will not be able to play with them anymore.  Picture of him having such a good time made us happy and made us cry, knowing that this will not last for long and we need to go back to the place of torment. How much we would give just to stay home, no need to go back to the facility. How much we would give, for a night spent together in our bed and not on the uncomfortable camp-bed, or me alone in the room wondering how my family is doing.  Still we had at least those few hours when we could go home together. Mag could take a shower in her own bathroom and rest a bit in her own bed. This was much appreciated knowing that some families are coming to the Centre from far and they don’t have this luxury.

“We need to go,” I said to Mag, looking at the clock. It was getting close to end of our pass and we need to go back before the night falls.

“Let me just take, a shower at home, as I hate to take it there, and I will be getting ready,” Mag replied and went to the bathroom.

Knowing that there is nothing waiting for us in the Centre – no meds, no liquids, no night injections – and we were coming back for the night just for observation, I wondered maybe there is a chance they will allow us to stay at home and come early in the morning. Maybe my luck is still with me and the captain on the other side of the phone will have mercy on us.

“Hello?” I heard the night duty Captain voice on the other side of the phone line.

“Hi, this is Szymon’s father, I have a question. A little favor to ask. Since there is no meds schedule for Szymek tonight, would there be a chance for us to spend this night at home and come to the Centre early morning before the morning shift arrives?” I tried to be polite and convincing as much as I could.

“Let me check with corporals if this is the case,” the line went silent for a while. “Yes, you can. Just please, as promised, be early in the morning so there will be no issues with the morning meds distribution”. Said Captain.

“Thank you!!” I put the phone down and was back in heaven. The thought of having my family for a night was like a Christmas in the middle of the summer.

“Mag?” I open the doors to bathroom, while she was still taking a shower. “I have surprise for you,” I started with a smirk on my face.

“Really?!” She answers from the shower angry, that I am disturbing her in those few minutes left where she could relax under hot water. “You can not change the diaper yourself and calling me to do it?”

“No, it is not that,” I have replied.

“Tell me,” she said with a little hesitation in her voice.

” You can stay for a night,” I said with great smile on my face.

” Don’t joke about it. It is not something I would like to humor about,” she knew that is was almost impossible to get this kind of pass from the captains.

“Not joking,” I replied with a huge smile.

“What?!? But how?! You called the facility??” She asked, not believing what she is hearing.  “Yes, I said, that since we don’t have any meds schedule for the night, maybe our daily pass can be extended to a night and we could come back tomorrow morning,” I saw how with each word her face gets happier.

“OMG! I don’t believe it! I can sleep in my own bed!” She started to cry from happiness. ”Szymek!!! We are staying home tonight, no need to go back to the facility.”

It took him a while to be fully convince, that we are telling him the truth, and shortly after he was laughing again and we were crying, from happiness. Joy of not needed to do anything else today but just lay in bed, three of us, and fall asleep…safe.

“You may give me an entire world, but it will be nothing if I will not have my loved ones next to me…if I will not feel loved…”

Round Seven – The Fall

 You fall in my arms so weary and weak,

and yet you still have strength

to lay your hand on my heart

and stop the bleeding, bring me back to life…

„I am sorry, but I can not release you home,” Captain Wild said to us entering our room.

“Why?” I have asked with a bit of surprise in my voice.

 “Szymek’s blood results show a significant drop after the seventh round of chemo and this could be our chance to shorten the training, “She continued with showing us the recent test results. “As his leucocytes are very low right now, we have a higher probability of deadly infection. Therefore, if he catches one we will need to react quickly. We need to be sure that all the preparations before the flight are done properly and the risk of going off the course is minimal. “

She was telling us this with a calm voice. Trying not to show too much emotions. Emotions, which could tell us a bit more about her. A bit more why I have this feeling, that she is trying to do all in her power not to make any mistakes. Worried that those mistakes can be used later against her. And you can feel it stresses her out. She tries not to show it be I could sense it. Problem was that it was something more in it. Like she would not want to relive something from the past, but I did not know what. What caused her to be so distant so cautious.

 She seemed to be in her late thirties, from our initial interactions she was very pedantic, which you can also see in the way she dressed under the captain’s uniform. You could sense that she is putting lots of focus into details. This also translated into her work, where she was making sure all tests are done well and on time.

“I have scheduled transfusion of red blood cells and we will try to stimulate cancer cells with neupogen. If we will not succeed and this will just lead us to rebuild of leucocytes, then we will reconsider releasing you home for few days.”

Captain Wild left the room in the same peaceful and quiet manner, that she entered it, leaving us depressed.  I am not sure what was worse. The fact that we need to stay here, and Mag was tired from constant presence in the CSD, small break could do her a miracle. Where she would not need to use common shower, could sleep in her own bed, catch a breath of fresh air. All those small things helping her to recharge the battery for the next chemo injection. Or the fact, that none of this was shown by Szymek, none of those bad results could be seen in his energetic, full of strength behavior. Like our test results were misplaced and by accident taken from somebody else. All of that made us worry, that his uniqueness will not give us any heads up of potential change. And his well-being, can change very rapidly without preparing us for it.

Even though you barely can keep your big blue eyes open,

Half-conscious, heavily breathing to stay alive,

Yet never give up to show us your smile

You never give up

“I will not make it” Mag broke the silence with tears in her eye. She sat on the chair next to Szymon’s bed and started to pat him on his head while he was sleeping.  “I don’t have strengths anymore.” I could see, that those test result cut her wings, as we were hoping to hear something different.

“What else can we do? We need to be for him.” I tried to cheer her up, but I was not really in better mood that she was.

“You are not here all the time, you don’t know how is to be here round the clock,” she replied with slight aggression in her voice.

“How to cope with the place where you don’t have any privacy. Can not go freely to the bathroom as you are scared that while you are out something may happen to your child. Need to wait in the line to wash yourself, and not even be able to go outside breathe fresh air and just have a short break from all of this! And try sleeping on this bed. My back ache so much that you can not image. Plus, I can not get a good night sleep as I am worried that something will go wrong, need to check if he is still breathing, did not wet his bed and sheets needs to be changed, or even pomp will beep and wake up everybody around us.”

 “I would switch with you if I could, but he is so close with you. There is no problem during the day, when he is occupied playing, but as soon as he gets tired he asks for you. And I can not imagine how I could stay a night with him without you not being nearby. “

Honestly, I feared staying there alone with Szymek. And not that I would not know how to take care of him but that he would miss her so much that would cry all night. And we tried to minimize reason for tears as much as you can. It was often that Szymek during the night would waken up and looked for Mag’s hand dragging it on to his belly and asking her to cuddle him.

“I know, but not sure how long I can take it. Staying here without a break,” Mag replied.

You need to be careful in stating out loud your fears, as you never know who listens. We did not need to wait long for our big test. The irony played it strings again and it was not Szymek who got sick, caught an infection, but it was Mag. As she was weary it was not difficult to catch something. We could not risk her infecting Szymek, so there was no other way but to isolate her from him. During the day she was wearing a mask and we decided that the night she will spend in the hotel building attached to CSD. She could have a normal night sleep and if in the middle of the night Szymek will wake up and will not stop crying she will come before he will wake up the whole facility.

“Remember to change his diaper before going to sleep, and if you awaken at night check if he will not need changing to avoid puddle in the morning, “Mag was giving last instructions before leaving to the hotel, “at midnight there is balance of fluid so don’t go to sleep beforehand. Try to keep the bed a bit away from Szymek’s bed so the corporal will have an easy access to his bed during the night. In the morning make milk when he wakes up, you can read to proportions on the box”

“Honey, if I will need something I will call you. Don’t worry I will handle it.” I tried to feel confident but inside I was also scared. Mostly of him waking up at night and starting to cry because he can not see Mag.” Get some sleep. Rest and we will see each other in the morning.”

“I am not sure if I will be able to fall asleep,” Mag replied.

We played a trick of Mag putting Szymek to sleep and once his eyes were closed she left for the hotel.

“Father, if you can hear me, please help me. Help me fight it off, chase it away from his body. I trust, that whatever happens is for our good, but I am not sure if I could stand him leaving. Please change the plans. Make him stay here, and not fly to heaven…”

I looked at him sleeping, so innocent yet fighting with such a strong demon. I could not help to shade a tear, which I needed to hide quickly as corporal surprised me coming to the room and asking for the balance of fluids. As I tried to fall asleep Szymek woke up and started to call for Mag.

 “Mama? Mama?” He sat on the bad, like it was middle of the day.

“Mummy is here, she just needed to leave for a second but she is here” I whispered to him not to wake up other children in the room.

“Mama!? Mama!?” Szymek started to become more nervous.

“Mama will be here shortly,” I pat his head hoping this will help.

“Mama!” He started to cry.

“He woke up, and is looking for you,” I text Mag.

 “Do you want me to come?” She replied.

This is when I saw Szymek claiming down and being sleepy again.

“No, I think he is falling asleep again.” Szymek shut his eyes and laid on the bed.

The rest of the night went peacefully and prize was a big smile on Szymek face when he saw Mag next day.

I stayed few more days to ensure Mag is well again. She finally had a chance to rest properly. I could see that those few days charged her giving again strength to fight.

Please stay,

Stay to chase away darkness

It fears your love

I need your love

Why so serious

No other place can give you such a rollercoaster of emotions. No other place will drag you through terrifying fear, depressing sense of guilt, tears of sorrow to tears of joy and laughter caused by spark of hope. From happiness filling out your heart, as all those positive test results makes you see things more optimistically. To indifference, caused by lack of strength due to constant duties you need to fulfill when being in the facility. And back to sadness, because of this little demonic whisper telling you how unrealistic is to finish this training with Szymon coming back to normal life. Silenced by his smile and joy when playing toys with me.

And on this path of peaks and valleys to sustain sanity you develop, consciously or not, certain type of defense mechanisms. You start to have this strange sense of humor, black, sarcastic humor, which in most cases helps you to fight off the depression.

It was very disturbing for me when for the first time I have faced parents in the common kitchen area laughing, having fun, while I could not feel anything else besides sadness and powerlessness.  It was such a contrast to my emotions, that I have start to wonder. “What the hack is wrong with those people?!? Their child is about to leave, fly to heaven, and instead of sorrow I see joy on their faces?” I could understand Corporals and Captains having fun at work. One liked the job, other needed to cope somehow with stress. But parents?

Soon, I’ve realized, that there is no other way but to let it all go, trust God and just see where he leads you. Time help me also with it. Once we got a bit more familiar with all the procedures. Facility stopped being unknown, horrific place to us. And we heard from Captains, that it is not that quick and certain, that our son will fly to heaven. We start to have more and more those moments when smile returned to our faces. And enjoyed the time we had we Szymek as much as we could.

People who we started to meet in the CSD also helped us forget for a second where we were and what we were going through.

„Oh shit! I wet my bed!” Mark stood up quickly seeing a stain on his bed. “Neah, can’t be” He looked at his dry trousers, making him even more puzzled on what has happened during the night.

“What the hack has happen?” He nervously started to check himself to see why his bed is wet while the clothing does not show any sight of him having a bad night. The mixture of slight embarrassment, discomfort and puzzlement on what could potentially happen.

Mag seeing Mark trying to figure out what has happened at night could not help laughing.

“Oh, just face it. You peed in a bed!” She smirked at him.

This did not help, as Mark started to be even more embarrassed. At this point he was sure, that this was not a case, but could not find a reason for his bed to be wet.

“Shit! Drip leaked.” He shouted and felt a relief in his voice, as it just proved it was not him.

This did not last long, as now he started to worry why this happened and if Bubcia will not need again the meds.

Mark called the corporal to come and fix the issue. In the meantime, Ann, his wife came after a night spent home, to take care of Bubcia.

“Good morning Mrs. Ann. Coming to change your husband?” Corporal welcomed Ann.

“Yes, I leave him for one day and we have an accident.” Ann responded to Corporal, at the same time teasing Mark a bit.

“You have a nice-looking sister.” Corporal continued while fixing Bubcia’s drip.

“Sister?” Ann asked confused as she did not have any sister. At least not to her knowledge.

“Yes, she was here yesterday in the evening, when I was starting my shift. I saw her leaving the room.”

“A, thank you, it was me…with make up!” Ann responded with a smile and slight confusion, as she never would assume that dressing up and putting make up on can change her looks so much.

Ann and Mark were this breath of fresh air much needed in those stuffy rooms. First people, we share the room with, who brought with them, this very needed here, sense of humor. With slight distance to reality and a bit of sarcasm, it helped to loosen up dense atmosphere. They were the ones who helped us cross the bridge to the other side, to join those parents who digested the fact that for next couple of months they will need to be here and started to find some positives in that situation. And this helped a lot, fact that Mag could take her mind of the training, Szymon uniqueness and talk about other, non-related topics, help her not to collapse. From clothes, shoes, wine, travelling and books to just making fun of situations we were struggling with caused that all those demons that were hunting us for past few weeks were not that scary any more.

Sophie – The great warrior

“Keep running!!! Don’t look back!!!”

She was wakened up in the middle of the night by her mother, dressed up quickly, bow placed over her shoulder and put on the horse. Mother knew it’s the only way to save her, give her time to get stronger.  The best thing she could do for her is to put her on that horse and let her go. She told her where to go, where to seek shelter, and just hoped she will make it before he will come and take her.

The horse was steaming on this freezing night giving an impression it was a machine and not an animal. Running through the woods with an enormous speed, omitting all the obstacles on its way. Sophie knew the sanctuary is not more than a day ride, but she felt his heaving breathing on her back and could not afford the comfort of resting, not even for a second.

When next day was heading towards the end, and she could barely hold the horse. Just about the time she started to lose hope, finally in the distance she saw the doors of the orphanage. Few more minutes and with last of her strength she rang the bell. Last thing she saw just before fainting was a monk opening a big wooden door.

“Finally, I feared you will not make it”. Said the monk to himself while carrying her unconcise to the room. He put her to bed, allowing to rest for a while before preparing for next day. As he knew they need to be ready for his arrival.

Early in the morning they heard loud knocking on the door. “In the name of Sir Can, I ask you to open the door!”

“How, can I help?” Asked the monk, opening the door.

“Make way, for the Lord.” Guards pushed him away, opening wide the entrance to the courtyard.

Minute they were inside they started to sniff around like hunting dogs looking for its prey. The courtyard was small, empty square, with nice gallery surrounding it, which lead to the monks’ rooms. Above them ware orphanage’s windows, where you could see little children peeking, and trying to understand what is the rumor about.

“Gather them all here, and make sure no one is hiding!” Order Sir Can to his guards.

Soon after, all the monks and children were standing next to each other on the courtyard, and the only difference telling who is who was their height. As all of them were dressed in the habits with their heads hidden in the hoods.

“Take them off! One with the curly, red hair is the one.” Sir Can order to the guards.

They took off children’s hoods to search for the little, red hair girl but to their surprise each time they took off a hood they did not see any red hair, they did not see any hair. Just bold heads, one after the other.

She was standing in the line, waiting for her turn. For a second she took the hand out of the habit to look at the small lock of her red hair cut day before. Cut by herself to blend in with the rest, to make sure he will not have an easy job spotting her. She looked down on the floor when guard took her hood off and waiting till he passed her. Luckily, he was not spending too much time looking at her before he moved to the next child.

They finished with the last one, fifty children standing next to each other, all of them bold, all hardly recognizable. There was no chance to spot the one they were looking for. Little, beautiful red hair girl. No chance to get his promised one, which drove Sir Can into madness.

“What is this!?!” He yelled and screamed. „Where is the red head one, where are their hairs! I know you’re hiding somewhere in this crowd! Step out or I will kill one of the monks!” He walked back and forth trying to spot little Sophie.

No one moved, all were standing like little stone statues. No one even dared to make any noise. Sir Can came to one of the monks, took out the knife and slip his throat. Monk fall on the floor and the rest just look at him dying, but no one moved, not even blinked to betray the precious one that was amongst them. As they knew that once she will have a chance to get stronger, she is their only hope against him, against his tyranny.

“I will give you last chance!” Sir Can spoke with calmness and firmness in his voice. “I will give you 3 months to grow your hair, and come back to take what is mine. When I’ll be back and see you all bold again, I will kill you all! Knowing that one of you will be her. This is your last chance to spare your lives and give me her instead.”

Sir Can turned on his toes and left the courtyard assisted by his guards. When they left everybody breathe a sigh of relief.

“We don’t have much time, and I know you are young and should be spending time on playing with other kids rather than learning how to fight him off. But you don’t have a choice, so let focus our minds on training you.”

Little, bold girl look at the monk, he was the same who open the door the other day, and with fear in her heart she just nodded, to show that she agrees.

Time was passing by quickly and with each day Sophie was learning how to hold the bow, aim properly, and shoot to hit a bullseye from far distance. From the early morning till late night, with freezing fingers she was practicing and practicing. And there were days where she wanted to give up, just give herself to him, but soon, she saw a picture of her loving family, of dying monk, and this was giving her back the motivation she needed.

Sophie was learning fast, and started to shoot with high precision from longer distances, she even manages to hit the bullseye on the moving target. This gave her confidence that when he will be back, she will stand a chance against him.

“You are very talented, and learning fast.” Said her teacher. “But this is still not enough to beat Sir Can. We will start now our last phase of training.”

The monk opened right hand and showed her piece of cloth that he was holding. He blindfolded her and said. “You will not see him, you will not hear him and you will not feel him. He will come in most unexpected moment, and will attack you with his full power. Now you need to learn how to sense him with your intuition.  Know where he is without any of your senses, as this is the only way to beat him, only way to win with him, so he will leave you once for all.”

Hair grew longer and longer on her head, remaining each time, she looked in the mirror, that she has less and less time to master the skill of blind shooting. The beginning was very difficult, Sophie could not even hit the area outside the target, shooting arrows in all the directions. The monks asked children to avoid courtyard gallery, to ensure that none will get hurt.

“This is the end. I will never master that.” She wept.

It was any time soon, when Sir Can was to arrive again, during one of cold night, when She decided not to go to bed but practice. Her teacher approached her.

“Please take off your blindfold.” Asked her quietly, almost whispering. The gallery was lit by torches placed round main square, giving a magical appearance to this place. When she looked again she saw first flakes of snow coming down from the sky.

“I have asked one of the girls to draw his effigy. Take it and place it on the target. Stand there for a while and try to remember how he looks, what you felt the day you saw him. Try to remind yourself how he walked, talked, what emotions were coming from him. And place all those feelings to this target. Let your heart guide you.”

Sophie came back after a short while. “Now close your eyes. Spin and stop. Don’t shoot! Wait a second. Bring back again that picture in your mind, bring back all those feelings, and don’t aim. Now, clear your mind, shoot before thinking.  Let the arrow find the target.”

When she opened her eyes again, arrow was sticking from the bullseye.

”But how? Did I?” Sophie asked surprised, not fully believing that it was the same arrow that she released a second ago.

“Yes, you. Now, go to sleep as I sense he will come tomorrow.”

Late evening, they heard same knocking, which disturbed their peace over 3 months ago. This time they let them into the main dining room. This was the place where each day children ate before and after hard work. Everybody was already standing in two parallel lines right next to the walls. Room was lightened by torches hanging from the walls. The monks were standing next to each of those torches having the children stand in front of them. There was a dense silence in the room. Everybody waited for what was about to happen. Sir Can entered accompanied by his guards. “Take them off!” He yelled. They were uncovering their head one by one. Each showing short, freshly grown hair. Sir Can walked close to each one of them, making sure he will not miss her. When they were close to the end and still none of the children were showing those beautiful red hair, he turned around, and as he was about to say something, she walked into the room carrying a bow and arrow in her hands. She stopped right in the center of the room, opposite to the Sir Can, uncovered her head to show her beautiful hair and look deeply into his eyes. In this right moment the monks, blew out all the torches making the room completely dark. You could not see even what is at the extend of your own hand. Complete silence was building up the suspense, as Sir Can knew, that even small noise will reveal his position to the girl.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the noise of three arrows bursting through the air and sound of body falling to the floor. Followed by the noise of guards trying to scream, make a sound, but their voices were quickly disappearing. When the torches were lightened again, everybody looked to see all of the guards laying on the floor dead. In the middle of the room, it was him, Sir Can laying on the floor with three arrows piercing his heart. The silence was present till next morning, as nobody dared to say a word. Everyone knew that they need to take this secret to the grave.

Soon after Sophie returned save to her mother, who anxiously awaiting her. Her heart was full of confidence and courage, that whatever evil will come to her, she has strengths and skills to fight it off. Her mother was happy to see her, have her finally back in her arms. Still with all the happiness she saw that her heart changed. Her heart from now on will always fear, that this may happen again and she might lose her for good.