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The Princess and the Pea
There was no sun today. Only heavy clouds, dripping rain. Rachel reached out and let the drops fall into her outstretched palm. It felt good to be able to move again, after that cramped ride across the German countryside. The rain trickled like tears down her dirty face, leaving clean streaks on her dirty face. She closed her eyes, forgetting her fears, and for a moment, forgetting to wonder where her mother was. Her mother had been taken away. She wanted her mother. Her mother would have taken her hands and danced with her in the rain. But now Rachel had to dance by herself. She closed her eyes—
"Hey!” A harsh German voice interrupted her reverie. Rachel could tell that he was threatening just by the way he looked at her. Her outstretched hand began to shake. The scary man slapped her hand down with the butt of his gun, snarling at her. Rachel began to cry. "Move!” The evil man said in German, addressing the whole group. "And don't look back, or you are dead!” Herded like cattle into one long line, they began to shuffle in the mud to the wire gate in the distance.
"Rachel," a voice whispered urgently behind her. "Can you hear me?” Rachel knew her mother never let her talk to strangers, but her mother wasn't here. And besides, the woman's voice was oddly comforting, and reminded her of chicken noodle soup and her cat Sammy. She wondered if she would ever see Sammy again, or be able to run her hands through his tufts of fur as he curled up in her lap.
"Yes”, she whispered back, but she looked straight ahead because she didn't want the German to hit her with his gun again. It had hurt.
"Rachel, I want you to pretend for me. Pretend that you are a princess," the calming voice began. "You're wearing a long, royal blue silk gown, that's heavy from the rain. Only your bare feet peek out from the bottom, and they squilch and squelch through the muddy earth. Your milky white skin is covered in teardrops of rain, and your red curls glisten with jewels."
Rachel liked that. She smiled. She lifted up her grown so it didn't get muddy, and stroked the blue silk.
"Look ahead," the voice whispered, "do you see the gate? It's big and made of iron, full of swirls and designs.” Rachel saw it. She badly wanted to get there. She was very tired of walking, but she forced her feet to move. Dead silence, except for the occasional bark, a shot, a scream, the sound of bodies falling. Rachel heard none of it. Rachel wasn't frightened. Rachel was a princess. Finally, she reached the gate. It was tall and grand, and she was mesmerized by the intricate designs.
"Weak and scrawny," They were saying. "Too young.” Rough hands shoved her in one direction. Rachel neither heard nor felt none of it. In her mind, a servant gently took her hand, and led her forward. He smiled at her. She smiled back.
"Up ahead, there's a palace. Do you see it Rachel? Inside, there's warmth, and happiness, and everything you could ever want. And you will have it. After all, you are a princess."
Rachel could see the glowing windows of the palace. It reminded her of coming home to her house in the dusk after a long day of playing outside. Her house glowed like that too. She wondered if Sammy were inside, and her mother, and her father, and her older brothers.
"And inside the palace—" The voice stopped. To Rachel, it sounded as if she were crying. Rachel didn't understand. Rachel didn't look back.
"Inside the palace," the voice repeated, choking back sobs, the words softer than the raindrops falling, "there is a very warm and comfortable bed."
Rachel thought of her bed at home and how comfortable it was. She missed her blanket.
"There are hundreds of mattresses piled on the bed. But underneath all the mattresses, there is a pea. There are hundreds of peas, Rachel. They hurt a lot. Because you're a princess, and so sensitive, they can ruin your perfect sleep, your perfect ending.” The voice was so soft now, Rachel stopped for a second, so it would come closer and she could hear it. Warm breath on her shoulder, a whisper in her ear. "But Rachel, you are a princess, and you don't feel the pain.” She had reached the big oak doors of the palace. They creaked open, beckoning to her. "Go on Rachel.” The voice was hoarse from pain. "Sleep forever, princess."
She was pushed into the gas chamber, but in Rachel's mind, she swept gracefully into a palace. It was very warm inside, and she was surrounded by the King, and Sammy, and her blanket, and her family. Everyone was smiling. Instead of the smell of acidic gas, Rachel smelled chicken soup. Instead of screams of death, Rachel heard the soft hum of laughter and the soothing voices of those she loved. Dry and warm, she ascended a staircase, lay down on the hundreds of mattresses. Rachel slept forever.