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                                                  Orphans
                                                                    By Kent Rosenberger


    “Over there with the others,” he heard someone he could not see say just before being tossed
carelessly away.  He landed haphazardly on an uneven, flat wooden plank next to others like him who had
been treated with equal harshness.

    Without a word, the man who brought him here turned around and walked away, not caring as to the
fate of his delivered charge.

    Unable to leave until someone came along to rescue him, he decided to settle in for a while and get
acquainted with his surroundings.  Who knew how long he was going to be waiting here?  He was being
punished and he knew it.  So was everyone else sentenced to this place, he reckoned.  That could make
for good company or bad trouble, depending on the circumstances.  He hoped forgiveness was not too
long in coming and that his stay in this uncomfortable state would be brief.

    “Excuse me.”  Someone to his right was addressing him.

    “Who, me?”

    “Yes, you.”  The figure was bigger than he was, shrouded in a black jacket with blood red markings.  
“What are you in for?”

    He answered, but found his reply to be wrapped in an almost shameful quiet.  “Nothin’ much.  I…said a
bad word.”

    “That’s it?  A bad word?  Really?”

    “Yep.  Really.”

    “Boy, I’ll tell you, they’ll get you for anything these days, won’t they?”

    “Well, what was it?  The bad word, I mean.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell anyone.  What was it?”

    There was an apprehensive silence for a short while, followed by a whispered confession.  “Well, I
said…I said… ‘Nigger!’”

    The black-shrouded figure did not seem surprised, did not even react.  “That’s it?”

    “Yep.  An’ what they don’t understand is that’s just the way my folks talk.  I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”

    “I’m sure you didn’t.  It sounds like you and I have something in common.”

    “Really? What’d you do?  Cuss out your mammy?”

    “No, nothing like that.  Something much, much more serious.”

    “Well, what was it?”

    “I…I am being accused of making a deal with the devil.”

    “Sakes alive!”

    “Oh, it’s not what you think.”

    “You mean you ain’t done nothin’ like that a’ tall?”

    “No.  No, I admit it’s true.  But I relented.”

    “You what?”

    “I got out of the deal.  I’m perfectly innocent.”

    “Innocent?  But the devil?  Ol’ Lucifer hisself?”

    “Oh, don’t be so judgmental.”  The comment came from somewhere behind him.  Female, maybe a
year or two younger than him.  “I don’t think any of us belongs here.  I think we’re all victims of a
misunderstanding.”

    “Oh?”  The youngster did not sound concerned.  “An’ what’d you do ta get put in here?”

    “Nothing.”

    “Nothin’?”

    “Well, the official charges say, ‘use of illegal substances,’ but I had nothing to do with it.  I didn’t even
touch them.”

    “Aw, I heard that one afore.  Even used it once er twice myself.”

    “No, really.  It was a friend of mine, I swear.  Not even a friend, in fact.  Just someone I ran into.”

    Before either of the others had time to break the doubtful silence with further argument, another female
chimed in with support.  “I hear you, honey.  I’m here for ‘immoral conduct.’  I paid my debt to society, but
these people don’t seem to think that’s enough.  I’m still being reprimanded.”

    A thick, wrinkled neighbor to the black figure admitted aloud, “‘Implied homosexual activity.’  That’s the
accusation against me.  But they have no proof.  Who are they to judge?”

    The youngster realized the group of misfits he found himself amidst was just as lonely and confused as
he was.  Bickering over who was right or wrong, or whose alleged crimes were more severe than whose
was not going to help matters at all.  “Listen, we gotta be strong together,” he said finally, sensing need for
optimism.  “I been in situations like this afore.  It don’t last too long usually.  Someone’ll come along
‘ventually an’ give each a’ us a home.  You’ll see.”

    “I don’t know about that,” the dark figure replied anxiously.  “Look.”

    As he spoke, several emerging, angry people could be seen heading their direction with shouts on their
lips and torches in their hands.

    “Who are they?” the girlish voice squealed in fright.  “What do they want?”

    It all became clear to the dark figure.  “Don’t fret, young lady.  What’s your name?”

    “Alice,” she cried.

    “Alice, it’s okay.”  The lie was transparent but well-intended.  “Like the boy said, we’re all going to stay
together, do you understand me?”  

    Her sobs died to a small whimper.  Evidently she was willing to believe in this stranger in black.  In her
present situation she had little choice.

    “You’re not alone, Alice.  We’re all here with you.  We won’t leave, I promise. You can trust me.  My
name is Faust.”

    “And I’m Huck,” the youngster said, as if stating his name would give strength to his upset companion.  
“Huck Finn.”

    “Hester Prynne,” the adulteress teen introduced herself.

    The thick, wrinkled one proudly announced, “Call me Ishmael.”

    “It’s going to be alright,” Faust reassured them falsely.  He knew what was coming, as did the others.  
But they were determined not to show fear.  Even now the fast moving flames blazed a trail toward them,
and the others like them, up and down the kerosene-saturated kindling.  “Just don’t look at it.  Think of
something happy.  It’ll all be over in a flash.”

    “Why are they doing this?” Alice bawled, feeling the flames lick at the gold-tipped leather she was
dressed in.

    “Because,” Faust informed her as the fire overtook him as well, “they’re book burners!”

    END
About Kent Rosenberger

I am the author of over
thirty e-books available for
review at  Amazon.
com/kindle and
Barnesandnoble.com
under my name, including
novels, poetry and short
story collections. My work
has previously been
published in such
magazines as 365
Tomorrows, The Absent
Willow Review, Aphelion,
Big Pulp, Bumples, Danse
Macabre, Deadman’s
Tome, Death Throes,
Digital Dragon, Flash Shot,
The Horror Zine,  The
Literary Hatchet, Morpheus
Tales, Orion’s Child,
Resident Aliens, Schlock!,
Title Goes Here and Weird
Year. I am also the winner
of the 2011 Title Goes Here
short story contest and the
Fall 2018 Creativity
Webzine Flash Fiction
contest.