“Like a golden sun ascending
Breaking through to snow of night,
On the earth its glory spending
So that smoke, too, takes to flight,
Thus my Jesus from the grave
And death’s dismal, dreadful cave
Rose triumphant Easter morning
At the early, early dawning.”
Aaron sang. He didn’t understand all the words, but the music still moved him. They had sung it here in the Filtered Rooms before he came, and they’d sing it long after he died. They taught it to whoever came, and they sang as long as they could. And in the dark, the songs shone bright.
They shut off the lights. Of course they did. They couldn’t afford to keep filtering the air and provide illumination. Not for as little as they charged for someone to die in the comfort of smoke-free air.
Aaron sang. Well, tried to sing, more like. He coughed his way through the second verse, and then through the third.
Dying people sang things that no one else ever did. Dying people told stories that no one else ever told.
Stories of a place with no snow, no smoke, no sun – because a person would provide all the light they needed.
The girl on the next cot struggled for breath. She wouldn’t last the night.
Aaron shut his ears to her gasps. He listened to the songs. His lungs had already reached what they could do. At least he could sing in his heart.
Something hit him. It caught him in the arm, sudden but light. The something hit him again. He reached out into the dark and caught the whatever-it-was on the third strike.
It was a stick covered in cool skin – the arm of a dying girl. He felt it tremble in his grip.
Aaron flung it away. He stopped listening to her.
Her breath rattled.
He squeezed his eyes shut, but that didn’t matter. He couldn’t hear the singing over the sound of her not breathing.
“No one should die alone.”
That’s what the lady had said when Mavin brought him here. That’s why she set this place up. So no one would have to die alone. That’s why he was here. His sister didn’t want him to die alone.
It didn’t matter. His neighbor’d die whether or not he did anything.
Another pained breath, a gasp. She was leaving soon. Maybe for that place with no snow. A place where she could breathe.
No one should die alone.
Aaron reached out into the darkness beyond the edge of his cot. He cast his hand around, looking for something.
He found the stick covered in cold skin.
He found the hand. Squeezed once.
She squeezed back.
Her struggles slowed.
Her hand went limp.
Aaron held on.
“Jerusalem my happy home,
When shall I come to thee?
When shall snow and smoke have an end?
Thy joys when shall I see?”
The girl was there now. Aaron let go her hand. She was home. She didn’t die alone.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, A Personal Affront, here.
Read the next story, Sprouts, here.