They know how to salute perfectly- Straight as a stick, towards the sky. They know how

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1 Eileen Peng Grade 9 William Fremd High School Palatine, Illinois Teacher: Mr. Jim Weaver His hands know more than he ever will. They know how to salute perfectly- Straight as a stick, towards the sky. They know how to restrain themselves perfectly- don't feel, don't try. They know how to kill perfectly- Cover the eyes, pretend not to see. They know exactly how many times he didn't extend them to help someone. They know the weight of corpses, the growing burden with every salute. And even though his hands had never so much as touched one of them, they know that the corpses are from him. They know not to scratch at the growing itch of doubt because he, like everyone else, knows that doubt is dangerous. And so he s content with his life. He spends everyday working for a small sum of money, and returns home to his daughter each night. Like a proud citizen, he flies the flag outside his window and cries out, Heil Hitler! when he greets the soldiers. But the itch. He cheers hollowly with the crowd on the Führer s birthday, wipes away crocodile tears when he hears news of a camp being stolen away by the Allies, pretending that the feeling of relief doesn t exist. The itch. He tells his daughter that he thinks that the occasional screams outside are that of joy, and covers her ears as he explains that the faraway bellows of war are simply thunderstorms. He sees the doubt in her eyes, and he knows that she s seen the faded blood stains in the road. He knows that she won t be able to pretend the way he does.

2 The itch. The itch. The itch. The itch. Let me, the hands beg. Tell me, her eyes plead. But it s still early on, and there s no reason to act yet. If it were really that bad, other people would step in, his hazy mind reasons. The occasional beating never killed anyone. But his hands already know. His daughter asks him what happened last night, but instead of making a cover up as usual, he can only respond that he wasn t awake. Because how does one describe the twisted symphony of glass? How does one put into words the thick, swallowing fear, choking every scream? The itch grows. The higher-ups though, have too much to say, according to the news reports. They criticize the riots, pointing out all the material loss and repair costs. Yes, it s the Jews fault, they say, but there s no need to react this way. Then, of course, the logical conclusion that followed, would be to get rid of them. It s only for a second, but he s disgusted at himself for actually finding rationality with the statement. But he won t act yet. The announcement was only just made. Surely, people will see the problem arising and take steps to counter it. Many thought the same.

3 A truck stops in his neighborhood. Like a starving beast, it swallows the line of waiting people without slowing down. Satisfied, it roars and drives away, but there are still more people in line. Another truck shows up shortly. And another. Another. Like cattle, they are herded away inside of the truck, eaten alive by the angry belly of a beast. Like corpses, they are as thin and white as bone. Like humans, they are too aware of the stinging cuts of rejection and hate. When the trucks finally stop arriving, the city seems so much larger than it used to be. A type of unsettling emptiness, one that will follow him to his final days. The Jews are gone. He has yet to do a thing. There s buzzing in the air. Two soldiers knock on his door at the crack of dawn as they tell him to come to the town square at noon. He could honestly care less, but nevertheless, he wakes his daughter and they set out. They arrive early, and so he spends his time idly chatting with the neighbors as his daughter runs off to play with the other children. A couple more gossips about a pretentious shop clerk later, the town clock sounds twelve and the crowd hushes. Then it starts. Speakers, in every crevice of the town, screaming the story of a filthy animal that had escaped and somehow hid from the predatory eyes of soldiers. Put it to death, it echoes, put it to

4 death. There s a noose already set up, and the soldiers are leading someone up the steps. He can t find his daughter, quickly, cover her eyes- The girl steps up next to the noose and looks at the crowd. A stranger, yet he sees his daughter in her glassy and starved eyes. She slips her head inside the noose and he panics, whereishisdaughterwhereissheshecan tseethis. But the whole world watches and listens to the chime of the human pendulum, one whose name will be lost forever. Another flame, snuffed out by humanity. The cadaver hangs outside for a week before the town receives complaints of odor and they make the decision to finally discard the carcass. It goes up in flames one evening, a bright beacon for night dwellers. It takes a few days until he can finally get the ashen taste of blood out of his mouth. His daughter watches with clear eyes. The itch is ripped open. He's a coward. Though he's watched people come in contact with death multiple times, the mere thought of it happening to himself makes his blood chill. It's pathetic. But then he remembers. He remembers how much colder he felt as he watched a stranger, having no fault but existing, be burned by a glowing flame. He remembers how much colder he felt during a night of hate, a night driven by nothing more than the crazed desire to destroy, a night defined by fear and chaos.

5 And so he makes a decision. He picks up a pen and writes. He writes about shattered glass and shattered people. He writes about the crimes against man that he had subconsciously agreed to. He spins his memories into words, gives sounds to the chimes of a human pendulum, gives tears to those whose cries have long run dry. There are also things that he can't write. He will never be able to weave the right words to capture the feeling of utter hopelessness, the desperate, acceptance but also denial of death. He can't describe looking into Death s hollow eyes, devoid of life. And yet, he writes. He writes about his guilt, his desire to do more, his horror at his blindness. And after two weeks of writing, he publishes it for everyone to read. And after three weeks, troops are sent out to burn all copies of his essays. After three weeks, he's forced outside and is shot and killed, alongside his daughter. They force him to watch her die first. Before he can react, they grab her and pin her against the wall. Unfeeling, they hold her tightly as she thrashes and cries, and he's just a mixture of apologies and empty comforts, you ll be okay, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Her scream is jagged and pained, and he's sobbing and please no, not her. Another shot, and he is on the floor, a wreck of tears as he feels himself slowly become cold, and the darkness swallows him. A warm feeling spreads in his body before he lets go.

6 A woman reads an essay. The essay isn't particularly eloquent, nor was it written by a scholar, but it's a burning, bloody retelling of horror, raw emotions scrawled into each page. A few days later, soldiers come and snatch the essay away from her, calling it bigoted propaganda. But she too, feels an itch, an itch that was neglected for years. And so when her job as a nurse forces her to enter the grey ghettos at the edge of the city, the man s words clear away any doubt she once had. How is she to refuse their pleading eyes, the eyes that scream of pain and sorrow? She hates herself for being unable to do more, only being able to offer the useless comfort of food and cheap medicine. Then she sees an abandoned boy on the street. Her medicine box is empty. Without thinking, she scoops up the child from the ground, weighing nothing more than a sack of skin, and lowers him into the box. Looking both ways, she runs out of the ghetto, holding the medicine box tightly to her chest. She smuggles him out of the country the very same day. And despite her full awareness of the danger she's facing, she returns to the ghettos everyday, one child, two children. By the end of the war, more than hundreds of children are in her debt. But it's not just her. There's someone else, someone who wrote in his own blood, someone who's name is lost forever. Somewhere far away, a tearful, dying man finally feels happy just as he lets go.

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