A Moment in the Sun
“Jun! Jun, come back! We’re going to be in so much trouble!”
The six-year-old boy ran, heedless of the panicked words from his elder brother. Juniper ran while soaking up all the sensations he could—the crisp grass beneath his bare feet, the breeze filtering through his hair, and the warm sun upon his deprived skin. His brother, Cypress, ran after him, desperate to get Juniper back in the house.
The boys’ parents had left with their younger brother to get him fitted for his first collar. They’d given Cypress the responsibility of looking after Jun while away at the overseers building. He had to follow the most important rule. The rule meant to keep them alive. At the age of nine, perhaps Cypress didn’t fully understand why it was so dire, but his parents were stern and relentless in their warnings. The rule that loomed darkly over the family—keep Juniper hidden.
Juniper was different from the rest of the family. He was different from all the other slaves. His eyes could not see.
Mother and Father had explained that because he was born this way, the masters would want him killed. His parents loved him so much, even with his disability, that they hid him away. The boys had been told that if Jun were ever discovered, they could all be executed. The masters did not take disobedience lightly.
Those thoughts weighed heavily on the older boy, but the younger was much too caught up in this rare outside moment to care.
Jun kept running. Despite his inability to see the vast Kansas countryside, joy shone on his face. It was a warm day in late spring. The wheat fields swayed in the breeze, creating golden ripples over the prairie. Jun didn’t mind that he couldn’t see his home. He still felt it. His other senses made up for the lack of sight.
Oh, how exhilarating it felt to be outside! He was free of his chilly room in the dark cellar. Though blind, his eyes still distinguished light and shadows, and he hated the darkness of that cellar the most.
The young boy knew he was breaking the rules. He knew this bound him for a punishment. He simply could not help it. His legs carried him onward. The child was determined to squeeze out every sensation of this moment to last him until his next excursion, which he knew would not be for a very, very long time.
Then the inevitable happened. Jun’s feet caught on an uneven patch of earth, and his body tumbled down, rolling on the lush spring grass. The older boy finally caught up to him.
“Jun, are you alright?” Cypress breathlessly asked with a worried tone. He was understandably overprotective of his younger brother, who had always been frail and small.
Jun’s unbridled laughter reached the older boy, and he sighed in relief. With a smile, Cypress plopped down on the grass beside him. The joy was infectious. He couldn’t help lightening up when he saw how happy his little brother was at this moment. Life wasn’t fair to the child. He wished he could see this expression on Jun’s face more often.
The laughter settled as both boys relaxed on their backs. Cypress knew they needed to get back in the house, but what could it hurt to allow Juniper a little more time in the sun?
Jun removed the protective cloth sash, revealing his pale, ice-blue eyes. Though the rest of the family also had blue eyes, his were the lightest. Mother would often say they were the most beautiful eyes in the world. Beautiful but useless, he always thought.
Right now, Juniper wanted to see the daylight. In his world of dark, light, and shadows, the daylight was his favorite. It was glowy and warm. A contented smile etched upon his delicate face. The moment wouldn’t last, but the boy had learned to savor these times and pocket them in his mind to use when the cold darkness took him back.
After a few moments of silence, Jun’s face turned sullen. He usually had a cheerful disposition and was not one to indulge in self-pity, but with the adrenaline of his outing, Jun suddenly felt the weight of his life’s circumstances. It was a lot for a six-year-old child to handle.
“Why am I different?”
Cypress started at the sudden question. Jun’s voice had taken on a desperate edge. He wasn’t sure how to respond as the young boy continued.
“I can’t go outside… My room is in the dark cellar… I don’t have a collar… I’m not allowed to go to school… or help in the fields…” Jun’s voice faded as giant tears pooled in his eyes, making them appear an even more stunning blue.
The older boy’s heart ached for his sweet little brother. This was unusual behavior for Jun. He always wore a smile, helped their mother around the house, and sang cheerful tunes. The little boy held a warmth inside him that comforted and calmed his family. Jun never complained about anything. There was never a soul as kind and giving as his.
Cypress leaned over and tenderly wrapped his arms around Juniper. No, it wasn’t fair. Jun didn’t deserve this kind of life. He didn’t know how to comfort his little brother, but the younger boy melted into the hug. For now, this simple gesture seemed to be enough. For Jun, who couldn’t see, touch meant so much. He could sense his big brother’s love and protectiveness emanating through that tender hug.
Jun had a way of sensing the intangible: emotions, feelings, and even intent. His mother had said it was a gift to make up for his lack of sight, and Jun always felt the abundant love from his family members. He also felt the sadness and pity, but he wouldn’t tell them that. They worked so hard to hide it.
They let go of each other, and Cypress was about to suggest heading back to the house.
“What are the vampires like?” Jun asked.
He’d never been around the supernatural beings that were their masters. It was imperative that Jun stayed hidden away whenever the overseers made their periodic inspections, so he was left curious about the powerful monsters.
What else could the older boy say? Vampires were significantly stronger than humans. Their very presence emanated power and dominance. There was a reason why they and the other supernaturals had so easily enslaved the humans.
The vampire overseers in charge of the farms were not unnecessarily cruel, but they were strict and showed little emotion. They would ruthlessly administer punishment to keep their slaves obedient. Cypress had no doubt that the gentle, blind boy would never spark pity, or softness of any kind, in the vampires. Their masters would coldly execute the child should they discover him. He hoped that his little brother would never meet a vampire.
Both boys froze when they heard the frantic voice of their father. They stood up, and Jun hurriedly tied his sash back over his eyes as their father quickly approached them. He was a well-built man, displaying his years of physical farm labor. Jun couldn’t see his father’s expression, but he could feel the panic and worry mixed with anger.
“What are you doing out here? Anyone could see Juniper! You both know how dangerous this is!” He grabbed the boys’ arms in a tight grip and led them back to the house.
The walk was long enough for the brothers to dwell on their impending punishments. Cypress particularly felt he had messed up. His parents had trusted him to keep Juniper safe, and he failed. He put them all at risk.
They entered the large farmhouse through the back entrance, which led into the kitchen. Father shut the door, and dread filled the hearts of the young boys.
Their mother stood by the kitchen table. She was pregnant with her fourth child, and angry tears lined her face. In one of the chairs sat their younger brother, Ash. He was fidgeting with the new collar around his neck.
“What were you two thinking?” their mother began while rushing toward her two oldest children. She inspected their dirt-covered faces, as a mother would, with worry and care. “Do you have any idea how scared we were?”
She was almost hysterical at this point. Her family would likely have been killed if anyone had seen the boys.
Juniper began to understand the severity of his impulsive actions. He sensed the frantic emotions from his mother and father. He had never felt such intense anxiety and fear before. He never wanted to put his family through such feelings again. The punishment would be severe, but it would be nothing compared to the pain he had just put his parents through. Both boys felt such shame.
Father’s stern and serious words came from behind them. The boys obediently made their way out of the kitchen, through the hall, and up the wooden stairs. The slight creaking of each step sounded the way to a lesson they would never forget.
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