The girl looked behind her. She knew no one was following but still, she had to check. To be absolutely sure.
The last two times she ran away she was certain there were no trackers but they still found her in less than three hours. This time would be different. This time she was going to literally take a turn for the worse.
Hiding out in the City was futile. They could smell her fear, catch her scent, match her appearance, so familiar to all their spying gadgets. One was watching her now, peering at her high above the street lights and towering buildings, a circle of glass and metal tinged with a coppery hue so beloved of the Authority.
She had chosen a new plan. A plan so horrific they would never be able to bring her back willingly to parents who hated her and a world that cared nothing but to control her every breathing moment.
Her breath ironically was difficult to control at this moment and her heart squeezed in her chest painfully, for she had arrived at the turning point in her life, the point of no return. She was going to enter The Other Place. The Darkness.
Just ahead a rectangle of night separated two granite towers. The street lights barely lit the stone edges and a cold wind puffed wisps of fog into the well lit but deserted thoroughfare. This was it, the entrance, or exit rather from a world of light and energy into a place of unknowns.
The girl reached the side street no one entered except to store goods temporarily to be transited through the great warehouses on the edge of the City. It was a dead end. To the young girl it was freedom.
One final glance behind her, a brief peek at the coppery lens recording this final moment in her City life, and then she plunged resolutely through the cold air.
The first thing she did was trip over something.
Cursing herself for being over cautious she fumbled in her holdall a moment and then a pale golden glow issued from her trembling fingers. Rubbing a bruised knee, the girl gave the stone block that had tripped her a rueful glance before weaving a more careful way down the gentle slope towards a faintly luminous fence that terminated the side street. Electric volts hummed through the wires and she hesitated before carefully removing a glove.
Slowly the girl reached out her bare hand. This was it. No turning back, no returning. The Darkness was so close she could taste it on her tongue. A metallic bitter taste, but all the more welcome for the freedom it would bring with it. Slender fingers gripped the warm wires, a jolt spasmed her body and she remained still.
The faint glow of the fence vanished as soon as she had touched it so that the only light was the torch she held in her right hand. The sound of gasping sobs could be heard as the curly blonde head slowly raised itself up to look into the starless night and then the girl fell on her knees, weeping copious tears of frustration.
They would come for her again. The Darkness had spurned her. Punching the fence in anger it was then she realised there was a hole just big enough to squeeze through. Defective. The killing volts had been leached away through damaged connections and no one had cared enough to fix it.
The hole seemed too neat and tidy to be the result of decay. The swaying sheet of wire when pulled to brought the glow and hum back to life and it stung her hand. Pushing at the hole again killed the charge.
Tears were replaced by laughter. A secret exit from the hated City. A surge of joy filled her slender frame. She was not alone. Others wanted to escape, to seek the Darkness, to know freedom. Only, they had found an alternate way that kept dreams alive.
Once again she looked behind her and now she understood. The weaving path she had made through the junk concealed this part of the fence from the lighted street beyond. Everything had been planned carefully, but by who?
A sound made her freeze. A whining sound from beyond the fence, getting louder. A light flashed by and the sound diminished. The comforting silence returned and she breathed easier. Yet she trembled and trembled at the enormity of her discoveries.
Freedom lay beyond the fence, living, breathing freedom. No one would follow her there, for it was truly the Darkness. A place where there was no light, no warmth, no food or water. Nothing. To her it sounded like bliss.
In the daylight, when the mists lifted, it seemed just a confused jumble of shadows and occasional gleams of abandoned metal. An empty mazy playground full of unknowns. At night it became the Darkness.
There it lay, just beyond a thin fence of wire with a girl sized hole in it. She pondered whether she should just hang out in the side street a while to see if anyone else might come along to use the exit. Then she remembered. Three hours could soon be up and the coppery lens was just around the corner, recording her disappearance, noting her non-reappearance and relaying the puzzle to a central control. Enforcement officers would be on their way.
Without further hesitation she plunged head first through the hole, just remembering to close the gap behind her before losing footing on the other side and tumbling several yards through brushwood onto a wide expanse of tarmac below.
The girl stood up quickly for the hard flat surface was as cold as ice. She shivered both with terror and the drop in temperature.
It was nigh impossible to get her bearings on this apparent wide ramp but a short walk away from the bulky warehouse walls high above her helped resolve her surroundings. The glow of her torch was lost in the dark but City lights off to one side hinted at a striped curve hugging the raised platform of the street level she had left behind. It stretched to left and right, sweeping off into the distance. She counted five stripes as she walked farther from the City and then she met a high concrete barrier, closing her in with claustrophobic menace. It was a five lane bypass. She was effectively still within City limits, Authority control, Judicial punishment.
Panic seized her as that whining sound returned. A road vehicle, this late at night, using the bypass to skirt the City on its way to some unknown destination, full of passengers with unknown purpose.
She broke into a run. Surely the mysterious keepers of the exit had also a solution to the bypass, a way out to get beyond to that magical world where no City Authority could reach? Already the tarmac was changing colour under the approaching headlights. She was totally visible in the open.
With an agonised groan the desperate girl fled back the way she had come, recalling the scratchy brushwood that had slowed her fall as she first made her escape through the fence. Amidst their confusing tangle she hugged herself wretchedly, clinging to a small piece of hope as the great roaring road beast thundered past, intent on other business, the occupants oblivious of a little girl thing hiding so near with rapid beating heart and wavering dreams.
Again the beautiful silence and sweet blackness filled the air around the shivering bundle of tired limbs. The girl rolled cautiously to the kerb and stretched those aching limbs as far as they would go. She lay there, half concealed, gazing up at the night sky, ignoring the cold and wishing she could see stars but there were none. Only drifting low smoke greeted her gaze, luminous with street light carried over from the hated City.
Yet even so, there was a calm within that drifting hazy softness, and the girl fed upon it, clearing her thoughts, revolving in her mind the circumstance of the hole in the fence. A pathway from Light and oppression to Darkness and freedom. Why would it stop at the bypass? What was the point?
She retraced her steps, positioned herself directly where the hole would be found, quite invisible now but the buildings were her guide. She looked to left and right, then directly across the tarmac to the faint wall opposite, a wall of solid concrete. She ran the five lanes in a moment of terrified vulnerability, so naked out in the open directly in the path of imagined monster trucks hurtling towards her. Abruptly she bumped up against the concrete, panting rapidly. The golden glow of her torch revealed uncertainties, irregularities in the wall. Looking back, the girl confirmed she was in alignment with the fence. This was it, the secret path continued.
Another surge of joy seized her trembling frame. Then she froze, listening. The silence was perfect. She would have time. With torch in mouth she reached for the first irregularity in the concrete, a metal spike bent into a supportive hook that easily held her weight. Shifting her holdall to keep it from fouling her progress, she hauled herself up to the next hand hold, found sure footing on the rough surface and kept on climbing. Progress was easy, as if planned that way. Which of course it was and the girl silently thanked her unknown and masterfully cunning benefactors, guardians of freedom in a crushed and weeping world.
She reached the top and found the concrete ridge so narrow that before she could balance herself she tumbled head long over the other side into complete blackness.
The sluggish river water that met her was too shallow to fully break her fall and for a moment she lost consciousness. Only the icy cold revived her in time and she flailed about in muddiness and tangling weeds in what seemed an endless battle for life before finally rolling onto a bank of smelly ooze that slipped through her slender fingers repeatedly before she could get a meaningful purchase and drag herself to relative safety.
With chattering teeth and shivering limbs the girl forced herself up the slippery bank and onto a gravelly path. The shock of the fall was numbed by the cold and renewed energy fed on an inner joy. She had escaped.
The toxic river water clung to her clothes, the freezing mist filled her lungs with raw pain and the black shadows ahead made her dizzy with disorientation. But the river was behind her, the towering bypass a thing of the past and the soaring columns of light that marked City residences were forgotten in the exulting truth. She was free.
To be continued...