To Have Faith | A Short Story by Emily McKinnon
This story was submitted for the 2015 Winter Quarter Short Story Contest. While it wasn’t a finalist entry, the judges enjoyed it, and felt it merited being shared with the community. Congratulations, Emily!
I lay down my weary head upon the feathered pillow. A long hard day deserves a long rest. My muscles ache horribly. From every bone I feel as though I have been broken and beaten through my skin.
How much longer will I be able to endure such rough work completely alone? I feel as though the end is already near; nearer and nearer every day.
With a sigh and a close of my eyes I fall into a deep sleep, knowing that in a matter of hours I will be awakened to do only more work.
At precisely four thirty in the morning I am shaken awake. My eyes are red and watery. Inside my mind I know that the day’s work will be too much to endure.
Since the day I was sold, I have been slaving away at this terrible house. For ten years, I have been chopping, feeding, building, killing, skinning, and breaking all my bones in the process.
No longer do I feel I will survive another day. No longer am I that boy looking ahead to a future I so long for. I hide my tortured face in my sore hands and try hard not to cry. No tears come out, for my eyes are in too much pain to do anything. My eyesight is blurry and hazy. My muscles are sore and in much need of proper care and treatment.
I sigh softly. I know that if I spend another moment lying in my bed, I will only have to do more work. I stand slowly. The pain runs down from head to toe. My head swirls in pain and hunger. Last I have eaten was the hay in the barn. I do become desperate at times.
Hardly ever am I fed, or even given notice to. I rarely have a meal a day. Instead, I am eating the hay from the horses, the food for the pigs, and the raw fish at the river.
Days became years long in my mindset. Years became eons. I am now sixteen and still being treated like an animal. I risk my very life nearly every day. I am sore from the bone out.
Skinny, yet muscular from all the work I have endured; barefoot, and nearly always shirtless, for I am hardly given clothing. When I am clothed it is only the rare times in which winter brings a deadly storm.
My life is hard and dreary. I am convinced that every day will bring another aspect of my death.
Every night I pray to God to just let me be done with it. That He may spare me the pain and end my dreary life. If death is not to be given, I spend other nights in prayers of help. For someone to be sent to help me with the work I endure alone. My prayers, however, are never answered.
I grow in both strength and age. I am now eighteen and still slaving away for my life.
I lay my head upon the uncomfortable feathered pillow and close my eyelids. The black seems so usual. I am already convinced that my eyesight will soon leave me.
At times, I pray for this. For, if I were a blind man I would not be forced to do such hard labor. Then at other times I realize that even if I were blind, my cruel owners would still force me to do all the work. I am bruised, beaten, and sore.
From my head to my toes, I feel numb. I never even noticed that I am crying until the soft touch of cool wetness runs down my cheeks.
My life has become hard and miserable.
I have no real family. No family to love, and to be loved by. I need help so desperately.
If I am forced to always do the work, I will soon die. Starvation and dehydration overcome me. It becomes normal for me to have fainting spells, and moments of hunger pains. I am, of course, taken care of. I am given a splash of water on my face, a few slaps on my cheeks, a bite of bread, and then sent back to work.
It isn’t an unwanted life. Then again, it isn’t worth the pain, either. I feel that I need to see the light. I need to know why I am being put through this torture. I need answers. And I need them soon.
Will my entire life revolve around being a slave? Am I never meant to have a true calling? What I am being put through and why makes not the tiniest bit of sense in my mind. All I know is that I will never know true happiness. That is, at least in my mind I am convinced I will never find happiness.
I suppose it is God’s own way of trying my patience that He never sends me the aid I so desire.
Along the narrow, long and painful road, I begin to see my life fading before my very eyes. I seem to be nearly blind now, and the fact that I will possibly never be able to see scares me eternally. How can God not see how deeply I yearn for help?
How can He hear my daily prayers and never answer them? Every night I will pray for the aid I need and the happiness I so long for.
Will my prayers never be answered? Will I always be homeless and lonely? Will I always have a fear to live?
The only treasure I have in this world is a small ripped book; a magical book from my childhood. Before I was torn away from my family, I was given this small treasure I now love. I vaguely remember being given a small package tied up in burlap.
I remember now how I tore apart the paper to see a small and glorious book, filled with happiness, faith, and magic. It was the story of Peter Pan, and so dearly did I treasure the story! I would lay down to rest, and pull from under the hay a small book, fading and nearly ripped on every page. Still, I care not for the appearance of the book. What I do care for are the memories I have tucked away deeply in the pages.
But, out of all of those pages, one kept the most glorious memory. I recall it now as I was being taken away from my family. My mother had reminded me that day of a page. A page in my book which held the most important advice one could ever be given. In large black print, fading and yet still beautiful, said the words which will always cling to my heart: “To have faith, is to have wings…”
Ah, what truth and beauty I could see in those seven words!
If I keep my faith, I am sure to be given the wings of freedom; freedom from slavery and all the worlds’ evil. That book which I treasure so dearly is sure to be the only thing that keeps me alive. Through all of the pain I have gone through, and all the trials I have been given, I somehow managed to live. I do not in the least enjoy the hardships of my life, yet still I feel that so long as I keep my faith, I will keep my life.
I finger through the soft ripped pages and stop instantly at the memorable page. “To have faith…” I muse over the words over and over until I find the true meaning of them. “Please, God,” I lift my head and hands in prayer. “Send me aid! I need help, Lord. If I am left to this work all by myself, I fear I will die! Please, hear my prayer, Father! Send me help!” Tears roll down my cheeks.
The coolness of the wet feels so refreshing, that I am soon forcing the tears out only for the pleasure of the cold. Surely, God must notice how hard it is for one person to do all the work.
Surely, He must know how desperate I am for food, warmth, and aid. So desperately I need these things. At times such as these, I wonder whether God is listening or not. Sometimes, I doubt He ever listens to a prayer I pray.
The faith I once had is gradually becoming smaller and smaller. This, I do not choose, nor do I want. I wanted to keep that faith which keeps me alive. I wanted to take my faith to heights! With that small bit of faith, I was sure I could fly.
Away from all this horror which surrounds me, I wish to be free. I wish, hope, and pray. More than anything, I want freedom. Much to my regret, however, I am never given the beauty of the prayer I pray.
My prayers for aid seem impossible at this time. I am so surely convinced that God wishes to show me just how difficult it can be to endure all the work.
So convinced am I that God wishes for me to die an early death. I will not argue if this is His plan. I find it a perfect death. I would much rather die, however, knowing that I was freed from slavery beforehand. Death often enters my mind. At times, I am even close to committing suicide.
These rare occasions come only when I am starving or near death already. It seems so ridiculous for such things to be entering a nineteen-year-old boy’s mind. I try to keep these things from my mind; however, they constantly find their way in no matter what.
Days pass by slowly. I become stronger in appearance, and mind. I am soon convinced that God will hear my prayer in time. I have a strange feeling that He believes I have endured enough, and it is time for aid to be sent. Of course, I am not positive that I will be sent help. I only hope.
As days become longer, the hope I once had becomes weaker. I lose nearly all hope in being sent help. That night of the most horrible day, I lay deeply in the pile of hay and twigs. My eyes are watery and waiting to cry tears of depression.
However, I can not find strength enough to cry. I am alone and miserable; just as every night. I miss that wonderful thing called home. So dearly I miss the word: family. I need company. Company which I will not be afraid I will be mistreated by. Now I do not only pray for a helping hand; now I pray for a helping hand which will know the meaning of friendship, loyalty, and love.
The next day is wet and rainy. Through all of this weather, one would think any slave owners would not force a young boy into doing every job. However, my owners care not about my health, or my feelings. In their eyes, so long as I am alive, I am able to work.
Not long into the day, I am near dehydration and starvation. I let go the handle of the axe, and drop to my knees. My face falls to the muddy ground. My breathing becomes heavy and difficult. Not far from me, I can hear footsteps. They approach me quickly. I am so used to being whipped raw that I am not afraid of having it done to me again. I know that it is only my owner coming to beat me through to the bone. I care not.
Unexpectedly, a hand grips my arm and pulls me from the ground. I look to an unfamiliar face. It is soft and pure, nearly angelic. Surely, God would not send me an angel. The face is at first blurry, and hard to make out.
However, not long after, I am able to see clearly the young face of a child. A faint smile is spread across her lips. She is small and fragile. I am now completely convinced that God has sent me an angel. The soft warm touch of her hand is so relaxing and comforting. She now smiles completely and her bright blue eyes twinkle in delight.
She stands, and pulls me with her. I am too stunned to say a word. I only stand and watch as the small child takes into her hands the axe I had dropped. She holds it tightly and brings it forward to the wood I was chopping. Without hesitation, the wood cuts into two slices.
My amazement and curiosity is immediately aroused. She looks to me and smiles at my expression. She gestures to the pile of wood which was cut. I immediately pull the pile into my arms and bring it to the shed full of more wood stored for the winter.
I am convinced this is my helper I so longed for. No matter how young, old, or fragile, I am grateful for the help. I do not care whether or not she can lift a stick, or can chop down a tree; I only care that I am now not alone.
The strange girl seems to be unusually happy for a slave. Yet, there seems to also be a sort of glow about her. Perhaps, she is angelic. Perhaps, God did send me an angel. I stand in thought and concentration staring down at the small girl. She looks at me in return and smiles softly.
The night is upon us earlier than usual. Work is done before my expectation. With my small helper, the work is finished before night comes. I lay my head upon the sack which I call a pillow. I watch as the girl makes ready for night.
She pulls a small potato sack to the side of the narrow room and curls up beside it. Her fragile head finds itself a comfortable position and her eyes close in satisfaction. I notice that she has no blanket or any object to keep her warm. The night is cold, near freezing.
Yet, her body never shivers or shows any hint that she is cold. I look down to my body, shivering and near freezing. After all that the small girl has done for me today, I think it only kind if I help her in return. I stand and pull my second blanket from my body and walk to the girl’s side. Careful as not to wake the child, I place the blanket over her thin body.
I notice the expression of the child change. She now has a soft and happy smile on her face. The picture stains my mind, and now whenever I think of the small girl I will see her happy smiling face.
I chuckle softly, which is extremely unusual. It has been years since I have even attempted to smile. It stays for a short while until I am reminded that I have a long and hard day’s work ahead of me; the smile vanishes quickly. I return to my bed and drop my body onto it. I am not comfortable at all, but I am used to the uncomfortable feeling. I stare at the strange child and begin my prayer of thanksgiving.
It seems only minutes before I am shaken awake and ordered to the chopping grounds. When I arrive there, however, I notice that the small girl has already begun. Now I wonder how long she has been awake. I approach hesitantly. Surely, she does not have the muscles or any strength to beat me. Considering this no longer, I manage to speak to her. Speak. It has been such a long time since I last spoke.
“What is your name?” I ask. The words are so flat sounding. Seeing as how I have not spoken in so long, I do not take it to heart. I only pray that she does not.
“My name is Angelina.” Her voice is so soft and gentle that it is soothing. She brings that unfamiliar smile to my face again. “What is yours, strong one?” She asks this question rather unexpectedly. I have never even told my owners of my name. I have not even paid any attention at all to what my name is. I believe I may have forgotten.
The thought scares me intensely.
I stand in thought and painful attempted remembrance. My name? What is my name? Surely, I have not forgotten my own name? Or have I? I am, after all, completely and utterly terrible at remembering nearly anything. I close my eyes, and force away the tears.
Please God, tell me my name so I may tell it to my new friend which You have sent me, I pray softly deep in my mind and soul. I am close to telling small Angelina I have forgotten, when I am blessed with a memory.
“Andrew.” I answer in a soft cracking voice. “My name is Andrew.” I repeat the name millions of times in my mind, telling myself to never forget it again. A joyful smile tugs at the corners of little Angelina’s lips.
Soon, she is smiling fully and happily. How much I have longed for a smiling face such as hers to greet me. For so long a time have I awaited her arrival.
“Andrew.” She muses over the name a short while. It is so dearly lovely to hear my name being used again. “The strong minded one,” she says with a soft chuckle. Her laugh is so dear to me; I cherish the moment quickly and laugh in return. My laugh, I am sure, sounds so cracked and unpleasant; however, I care not how I sound. I only care that I am no longer left to die alone.
Month after month, Angelina and I take care of the unwanted owners and their land. No longer do I do all the work alone. Now I have with me the small cherished child. Her words of kindness fill my heart and soul, changing my thoughts of life. No longer do I believe God does not answer prayers. No longer do I believe that we shall never be freed.
In fact, now that I am blessed with my small companion, I believe that one day God will free all souls who are being mistreated and misjudged. This small angelic child has changed my whole impression of the world. I believe that in time, if we look for it hard enough and yearn for it, we will see that there is still some good left in this world.
And, we may help bring back the good. We may be the good in this world. So long as there is faith, and happiness, good will always turn out. That is what I have learned from the small angel sent to me from Heaven’s gates. I am now a changed person in both heart and appearance. I no longer hate my owners as I once did. I now thank them for giving me the chance of seeing just how strong a person needs to be to carry the weight of the world’s evils. Still, I do not blame all the evils on my owners.
Instead, I blame it on our leaders who have attempted to change the world, much not for the better.
I know now that every little thing I have ever been blessed with was only hidden. Behind all the anger, I found the joy. Behind all the tears, I found the smiles. Behind all the hate, I found the love.
Behind every enemy, I found a friend. This is what I have learned from my small one. My small angel. She has taught me the importance in life. And, most importantly, the happiness and joy in this lowly world. I owe too much to my small helping hand. I never shall thank her enough for all the good she has brought into the world.
Years pass by quickly. Soon, I am nearing the end. Soon, my small one is grown. I know that soon I will be forced to leave my little Angelina. My poor darling savior will be forced to live a life of loneliness as I was before her coming.
Only then I will not be able to gift her with a helping hand. I feel so strongly for my poor dear helper. I do not wish for her to be forced to a life such as that. I know all too well how hard and disappointing it is to know that those who loved you are gone forever and that you shall never again find them. I do not wish for my gentle angel to be left alone in this terrible world. Perhaps, if I truly wish it, God will grant me that her life will end at the same time as my own, if not sooner.
I cannot believe how quickly time has passed. Already, it is nearing the winter. I fear this may be my last. I can see in my sudden weakness that I will not be able to endure much more of this life. But, if this is God’s Will, I do not argue with it.
Winter is upon us and my small helping hand has grown too weak. I, too, have become extremely sickly and weak. I fear the end is now completely upon us. I have prayed every night for freedom before death. However, I am not too certain that the so longed for freedom will arrive. I have given up on hope and am on the brink of losing faith. If it were not for my gentle Angelina, I fear I would be gone by now.
I lay my head upon the roughness of the sack, and close my eyes, fearing I will never see light again. Off to my right, I hear my small savior sigh softly and gently. She knows, all too well, that the end is nearer than expectation. Will we awake the next morning? I do not know. I only hope and pray that we will be given the wings of freedom to fly to heights unimaginable beforehand. I pray so deeply that God will grant us the wings of faith and the sound of freedom.
My eyes will not open. They resist such pain. I can feel the light of the morning dwelling deep in the cell. I wonder whether or not my darling savior is at eternal rest. I attempt to make a calling to her, but all that comes from my mouth is a groan of unmistakable pain. I wonder now if I am mute.
If I am, I am sure this will bring me my death. I hear from the right a groan answering mine. My small Angelina has survived after all! Perhaps, we shall be leaving this world together. Perhaps, God has decided against splitting up our perfect friendship.
Heavy footsteps are approaching us. No doubt it is one of the many owners to tell us to get on with the work. Only, I will not be able to lift a stick in my condition. I cannot even breathe without feeling the hungering pain which stabs my chest. The sound is not familiar. No, I have never heard these footsteps before. There is a stranger amongst us.
I inhale sharply, increasing the pain even more. I then hear the deep voice of a strange man. He sounds old, perhaps nearing his fifties. I shove the thought of his age away and force myself to listen to his words.
“You are free to go, children. No longer need you hide in this hole. You no longer bow to your owners. You no longer are owned.” A gentle hand is pressed against my chest. “Sleep in peace, little ones. You are free of the slavery which causes your death. Know that before your death, you were given the wings of freedom.” The words sting my heart. I’m free.
My faith and joy did keep me alive. I know that I am dying now, this very moment; however, I gather enough strength to bend over and pull the small treasured book from under the pile of hay. The very page which kept me alive is neatly marked. I press the open book to my chest and hold out a hand to where I know my little one is.
Perhaps, she still has her eyesight. I nearly lose hope, until I feel the small fragile child being laid beside me. No doubt, the kind-hearted stranger saw my intention, and helped her to me. I hold my small angel tightly and whisper in her ear.
“To have faith, is to have wings…” A sigh of happiness and relief before all turns black and my soul departs from the pains of the earth.
About Emily McKinnon
My name is Emily McKinnon, I'm an average Catholic homeschooling girl who has traveled all around the world. Being in a retired Air Force family, I was able to tour Europe, and half of the world. I have lived in many different places, such as, Germany, Texas, South Carolina, and many other places. I now live in Colorado, which I love dearly, but if anyone were ever to ask: I am a Texan at heart! I am the eighth of ten kids, and I love baking, writing, reading, crocheting, painting, and everything Disney related!