Moment of Silence

The day had finally ended. The sun’s rays crept down the horizon, ready to wake up the other side of the world, and most on this side were readying for sleep.

Most, but not those within this school. Not the ones that set out smuggled candles in their barred windows. Not the ones that kneeled before their beds with their heads bowed. Not the ones that sat awake, bleary-eyed and mournful. Not the ones that sat on dressers and stared at the linked metal keeping them contained.

Six of them gathered on the ceiling of the dormitory, their long, silently established routine falling into place. But tonight wasn’t a night to recount mundane happenings during their day—no, tonight the air hung differently around them as they settled on the cool concrete, a neat circle forming without any prior instruction.

Tonight… Tonight was for a tradition that the adults never knew about. A night where even the most volatile inhabitants took time to silence themselves.

The six exchanged looks. Four were solemn; two were confused.

Seconds, minutes, an hour passed.

Not a word echoed among the student body.

A late-night English drizzle quietly pattered down and clung to sweatshirts, sweaters, and coats. Those on the roof didn’t stir from their circle, only pulled up their hoods and huddled closer to the vanilla-scented candles in the middle.

“Sometimes I feel like I can still feel him hovering over my shoulder,” the tiny smuggler queen whispered, a blank look etched into her features as the flames flickered in her eyes. No remorse laced her words, but the heavy air almost cast the illusion that she grieved for her long-dead friend. “Now more than ever. Telling me to tear the school apart but also beat the shit out of the cops.” A blink, then a soft snort as she shifted. “Always a contradictive bastard. Never knew what he wanted.”

“Only that he wanted out.”

She flicked her eyes to the blonde boy sitting next to her, neither confirming nor denying his statement. The current king of the school had shoulders heavy with an invisible burden, eyes never straying from the flames—as if looking for answers within their elegantly brutal dance. “He wanted out of this place,” he repeated, “and we’re trying to stay in.” Finally, those haunted eyes slowly, so slowly, lifted to meet the gaze of each teenager sitting with him. They all stared back, bleak but firm.

The third in command, the one that saw demons in the shadows, reached out and squeezed his king’s knee. “Tonight’s about him, mate. Let’s put away our problems for now and focus on him, yeah?” The king smiled and nodded, placing his hand over the demon prince’s and squeezing in thanks.

“Right.” He turned his attention to the others—making sure to dip his chin at the duke with voices in his head—and specifically focused on the albino and hotheaded duchess and the bundled-up evil genius of an adviser. “Tonight’s the anniversary of Casey Byrns’ death, also known as Lucifer. Before I showed up and spread the rumors about myself, he was known as the king of East Wolff. Killer, crazy pyro, and really unpredictable and reckless.”

“He was stupid,” deadpanned the queen, earning soft glares from the older students and smothered chuckles behind frozen hands from the newer ones. She shrugged and waved at the king to continue.

“Everyone was afraid of him when he ruled, even the teachers and doctors. Hell, he probably scared the bloody headmaster. There wasn’t any drug that you could shove down his throat without it getting spat back out. If you tried injecting some into his system, he’d thrash so much it wasn’t worth the effort and risk to everyone’s health. The most you could use was a cloth soaked in chloroform. He was a monster, and he wasn’t afraid of letting people know that.

“He hated this place, hated how they ran it. Rumors say that he looked into the history of the school and preferred it back then, that he tried getting the school to revert back.” The king glanced over at the small girl sitting next to him, and she dipped her chin a fraction in silent and secret confirmation. “Obviously, it didn’t work.”

The demon prince smoothly took up the next section of the story. The burning flames cast almost eerie shadows over his angular face as he slid a grim stare at the looming chain-link fence surrounding the campus, accentuating the sharpened edges and hollowed contours. “People say that Lucifer was a nutjob, even by our standards. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that he had a dream, and he went after it. Took life by the balls and challenged the world to fight him for his freedom.” In a blink, he averted his eyes back to the two that needed to hear the story. “And it wasn’t a challenge that he took lightly, because he fought like the devil for what he wanted.”

“It cost him his life in the end,” whispered the quiet duke, ushering in the next part with soft grief.

The prince let out a heavy sigh and nodded. He wrapped his arm around the shoulders of his king when he felt the other’s weight against his side, then continued the story. “Yeah. One night, things changed. Lucifer was less obnoxious and defiant. People thought that he finally got some medication in his system, but she knew better—not that she’d bother to correct people.” He glanced over at the queen in time to see her slash of a smile, then back to the duchess and adviser. “He was planning. He thought that he could escape somehow. People have tried before, but barely made it past the dorms before they were stopped. What made him think he could do it is beyond me, but I guess his arrogance got in the way of logic.”

The queen picked at the sleeves of her sweater and picked up from there. “He had a plan, and it was a bloody good one, but his execution was off and he screwed it up. The bomb went off too early, and he was too high up to land safely. Twisted his ankle on the way out of his dorm window. It cost him the time he might’ve needed to succeed.

“Growing up, he’s gotten used to running away and scaling fences. Getting hurt was the least of his concern. The ankle slowed him down, but it didn’t cripple his resolve. The barbed wire hardly made him bat an eye. All that he needed to focus on was the stretch of grass he needed to run across and the ten meters of fence he had to climb.” She fell silent, and one might say she was choked up.

A minute passed in silence before the king finally spoke. His voice was so soft, the other five could just make the words out. “By the time the guards realized the bomb was a distraction and shot him down, he had made it nine meters up the fence.” His throat bobbed. While he had never met the king before him, he respected the boy’s fearlessness and ferocious grip on his ideals.

Years had gone by since that shocking death. It had sent a ripple through the student body, a permanent cleavage between them and the staff that kept them prisoner in this Hell. For once, they all saw just what they were to the adults running their lives—nothing more than dogs in need of training. Any act of defiance singled you out as unimportant and dangerous, a threat to be rid of. There were more deaths after that, all tragic in their own right, but none quite as impactful as the death of the feared—no, fearless—Lucifer.

The six sitting around the candles plunged back into a respectful silence, as every student did every year on this day. The six that currently fought for their own freedom, but not to escape, but to defend the place they loathed. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but Casey Byrns had carried around a vision with him, a vision of a better world for the likes of them, a better place. Maybe it wasn’t this one, maybe it was another place yet to be made, but they all silently agreed to carry on that vision in their fight. They wouldn’t stop with the police, or the people trying to raze this place. They would turn to the school and force a change to happen. Shove history books in faces and make very real threats.

Casey Byrns died trying to achieve something that everyone brushed off as unneeded, and opened eyes to the harsh reality of their world with his fall. And though none quite had the guts to stand with his ghost before now, the six right there, sitting on that roof…

They’d tear down concrete walls with their bare hands, shatter their bones, bleed themselves dry, and scream themselves hoarse if it meant living just one day with a sliver of freedom and normalcy.