“I can hear something. Can you?” A said.

“I can’t hear anything.” B said.

“It’s definitely something…do you think they’re looking for us?”

“How many times have we built our hopes up? It’s nothing…forget it.”

There were sounds of a scuffle some distance away.

“Ya see, I told you, it’s the Ws and Ys fighting,” B said.

“Why’re they fighting?”

“The Ws were speaking their Number language and the Ys didn’t like it,” B said.

“I’m not sure I still remember the Number language. How about you?” A asked.

“I recite a poem my mother taught me when I was little, every night. Inside my head, though, so no one hears me,” B whispered.

“I dream about the food we had. The feasts, especially the smoked salmon and berries,” A said wistfully.

“My stomach hurts all the time, it’s so empty,” B said, still whispering.

‘You don’t have to whisper. We’re the oldest, so no one is going beat us up,” A said confidently.

“I wouldn’t be so sure. Abb to Zbb don’t like disobedience to the Almighty. They’ll report you and you’ll get the beatings,” B replied.

“I prefer beatings to the touching any day. The Azz to Zzz pray all day to the Almighty so they won’t get touched. It seems to work,” A said.

“I can’t wait till I’m old enough to get out of here. I want to go home.”

“What’s there for us? Have you thought about that? We can hardly speak the language; our clothes are different; our hair. I used to have braids down my back; now it’s like a top of a hairbrush. I don’t want to be here, but I’m not sure about going back,” B said sadly.

“I wonder why they never came for us. Do you ever wonder about that? Why they don’t visit? Why they don’t write? Maybe they don’t want us back?” A squeaked out the last sentence and then started coughing. It took a while to stop and then he spat out blood. A continued, “Many ran away. I wonder if they made it back? Do you think they killed them?”

“Nah, they probably didn’t go home; just stayed away from everyone. Not sure they killed them, but maybe they killed themselves,” B said. “This place makes you feel bad inside, like you’re a bad kid, like you’re worthless.”

Just then, there was a commotion again. More fighting and more crying. This time, there was a cry from a small child.

A left to see what was going on. After ten minutes, A came back, wiping his eyes.

“Why you crying?” B asked.

“There was a little Wwa crying, being bullied by some Tbc. I had to sort them out but the Wwa was grabbing onto me; didn’t want to let me go. It makes me sad and then I start crying. I can’t let them see me crying; you know what’ll happen. I can’t stand the behavior of some of these Letters. They learn bad habits from the Almighty. The Wwa couldn’t be more than 3. Skinny; too thin. Not enough food.”

B just nodded, fighting back tears, too.

After some silence, A spoke again, “There are quite a few sick in the Axy to Zxy dormitory. TB maybe?

“Is that what you got?” B asked.

“Yeah, it looks like.”

“My mom used some herbs in a tea to help with coughs; my granddad did some healing stuff, too,” B said.

A just nodded.

“There was dancing, singing, all kinds of cool things we did,” B remembered. “None of this praying, stupid board games.”

“Hey, ya better shut up before they hear you,” A shushed at B.

“Sometimes I wish they’d hear me and beat me so bad I’d have to go to the infirmary. Get a rest, maybe.”

This time, there was a high-pitched beep; several beeps. A looked at B excitedly.

“They’re coming. I can hear them.” This time B didn’t argue.

A and B sat in anticipation, awaiting their freedom. It didn’t come, though. After what seemed like a long, long time, both A and B went to sleep.

Several weeks later, more sounds were heard. This time it was the sound of dirt being lifted. A poked B from his slumber and pointed upwards. All the Letters started to gather in their groups. No one spoke. It was as if they were holding their collective breaths. The digging was getting closer. Soon they would be free.

Sunlight finally peeked through and all the Letters gasped at the marvel of the sky; clouds, sun. A became 11 and held onto B’s hand, who became 33, and as they were lifted up out of the grave, their spirits flew to the sky. They felt like eagles taking their first flight. Swooping up in the air, circling the graves, viewing the activity going on below.

Ravens, wolves, hummingbirds, bears, and other creatures appeared in the sky, gesturing the Numbers to follow them. These were their ancient ancestors coming to help them to the other side; to freedom, to love.

99, who was Wwa in her grave below, whispered to her great-grandmother, “They found us!” Her great-grandmother smiled and led 99 to her home.