|Chapter Two||Homeward Bound|
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Posted 23 July 2015 - 10:45 AM Edited by Mokrie Dela, 11 December 2015 - 02:46 PM.
Chapter One - Outside
"A strong society is a united society." For all intents and purposes, the voice could be overlaid over complete blackness, or the opening credits of a movie, sounded over the name of a studio. Staring some generic actor's name that means as much to the individual as the speech being given.
The hall was full. New graduates, fresh from colleges and universities, sat in rickety metal folding chairs set out in uniform rows. Their eyes were optimistically fixed on the lectern at the front, set up on a small stage. Grey concrete walls surrounded them. Harsh white light flooded down from strip lights in the metal grid ceiling.
"And a successful society is only successful when guided by a steady hand of authority. We are a self sustaining society. We have everything we need, with very little reliance on the outside world. We place no dependence on convoys from other towns or facilities that can be ambushed or tainted. We are secure, we are safe - "
"You think they're buying this?" Toward the back of the hall and standing around the sides were existing residents, one of who whispered to the man next to him.
"Are you kidding? Do you not remember when you came here?"
The man scoffed. "We were naive, just like every single one of those morons sitting down there. Look at us, standing around them all like prison guards."
"Well, what would you rather, live out there to all the dangers of the world?" The man held his face in a serious pose for a moment before breaking into a chuckle.
"Shh!" a voice beside them chastised. The men shrugged the voice aside.
"After this facade," the man whispered, "what say we break these chains, just go outside for a day?"
"You serious, Ralph? We get caught, we'd be in for it."
"What, is this a prison?"
"No, it's a shielded community."
"It's a prison," a third man said. "Just by another name, run by totalitarian dictators with a silver tongue."
"That's a bit over the top," Ralph said.
"And what about the world out there? The gangs, the ferals, poverty..."
"That's the real world, not this... bubble. Look, I'm not a fool. I'm not saying well move out and live out there. We're safer here, sure, but don't you just want to get out, just for a day? We'll get some beers, some food... Have a picnic. Then we can sneak back in after dark."
A sigh. "Alright then, you've convinced me, guys."
* * *
There were six of them, hurrying through a service corridor. Electrical boxes and pipes whizzed by, lit by more harsh white lights. Their footsteps clapped on the polished concrete floor. From within a cool-box that one of the men carried, bottles clunked and thudded.
"I'm not sure about this," one said.
"Oh don't be a coward," Ralph said. "We'll have a laugh and be back before lights out." Ralph started laughing. "Yeah, I know, I know, 'it's not a prison.'"
One of the men began to tamper with a metal door, a bar crossing it connected to an alarm. A minute later it opened with a squeak.
“Shh!” Ralph, the leader of the group, said. A couple of the others chuckled and they all piled out into the sunlight. They all reached in to their pockets, putting on home-made balaclavas that would hide their faces should they get caught on any camera, inside or out of the facility.
The air was warm and humid. Immediately, the sun began to warm their skin, even through the clothes. As accustomed as they were to the air-conditioned facility that made up their home, stepping outside was a bit of a shock, despite the fact that half of the facility was outside, just within the safe confines of fortified walls.
“This way,” Maurice said, pointing in what appeared to be a random direction.
“Why that way?” yet another man asked.
“Because that's how we'll avoid the cameras. I work with them a lot; trust me, I know how to avoid them. There's a black spot.”
“Maybe we shouldn't do this, guys,” the youngest man said, looking around nervously.
“Why?” Ralph frowned. “If it's too much for you, go back.”
“Yeah,” another said. “We're just gonna have a bit of fun. We ain't gonna start another World War, or cause chaos across the country.”
“Worse case scenario we get caught and spend a few days in the Hole.”
“And you're telling me it's not a prison?”
Ralph sighed. “Well, no it's not. We've left, haven't we? We're outside. And we could have put in for external leave.”
“No one does that.”
“Whatever,” Ralph said, he turned to the reluctant man. “You coming or not?”
He thought about it for a few seconds then blew out a sigh. “Yeah, alright.”
“Cool. Just don't be a killjoy,” the toughest man of the group - Frank - said. “If you're going to mope around and worry, f*ck off now.”
“I'm good,” he said, this time with more conviction. Sure, he was a bit nervous, but hey, it'll fun, right? And as his friend said, what's the worst that could happen?
They crossed a footbridge that spanned an old, dried up stream beside the facility, heading aimlessly toward the distant industrial estate. They found themselves a good spot after a short while of walking, doing their best to avoid anyone who might know where they'd come from. Once they'd gotten away from the walls, they took their balaclavas off. Cars and trucks passed on roads. The odd pedestrian wandered in their daily lives, but mostly the streets were quiet.
There was a train track and siding, a footbridge stretching over it and an adjacent road. The bridge once had a spur that split off from the main walkway in a T shape, the secondary walkway stretching down a long ramp to a car park. But that had been decommissioned a while ago, the spur just dead-ending a dozen or so feet from the main walkway. The car park was now a construction site, empty but with half-built foundations. They headed down the dead end, sitting down at the end by the railings. One of the men opening a cool box, pulling out bottles of beer.
“Swiped 'em from the brewery,” he said with a smile.
“No one saw?” the nervous/reluctant man asked. The others all turned and glared at him. He shrugged and opened a bottle.
“Seriously,” Frank said. “It's a prison, just they don't admit to it.”
“Nah,” the beer supplier – Harry – said. “It's more like school. You're not allowed to leave outside of set times, and you'd have to apply for permission to leave the facility.”
“If it's not a prison, Harry, then we could leave at any time we wanted.”
“Which we have done,” Ralph said. “It's a shielded community. There's a lot of crime out here. Lots of feral freaks and gangs, you're all glad we live in there. It's just separated from the rest of this sh*tty world, that's all.”
“If it's so sh*tty,” the nervous man said, “then why are we out here?” He looked around. “Looks alright to me.”
One of the other men laughed. “That's the thing. It is. It's the normal world. We're just living in a walled town, and we're not the only one. Some cities built walls around the bad areas, keeping the gangs in, others built walls around the good areas, keeping the bad out. It's just like locking your door, and not letting your kids out to play. We're the kids.”
Harry laughed. “Don't you think they kinda exaggerate how bad it is, though? They say it's a wasteland, like a war zone. And look at it, just like mister coward here said. It's... sh*t, it's nice.”
“To be fair, they never said it was a wasteland,” Ralph said.
“Nah,” Frank added. “They just imply it. Our minds draw that conclusion because it's what we want to think. We're accustomed to the safety of the colleges and their security, and because we're safe in there, we want to believe the world out here is sh*t. Truth is, it's not that bad, and our all-glorious home isn't without violence and crime, is it? Harry here stole the beer. We broke out without permission. Last week I knocked that f*cktard Craig out...”
"f*cking Craig," the sixth man - called Danny - said.
“And what if we're caught?” the reluctant guy asked.
“Jesus Christ,” Ralph said. He sighed and pointed with his beer across the rail tracks that ran beneath the main part of the bridge, not too far from them. “Look my gran had a place up on the hills a few miles that way. Just out of the industrial district. I happen to know my cousin still lives there. If we're caught we split and we'll meet there.”
“Who's going to catch us?” Frank said. “No one knows we're gone.”
“It's a nice day,” Danny said. “Enjoy it.” He laid back, arms and legs spread and blew out a breath. “Look at the clouds.”
The reluctant guy sighed. “Got any food in there?”
“Yeah,” Frank said. “Mary here nabbed some from the cafeteria.”
“F*ck you, douchebag,” Maurice, who unsurprisingly didn't much like that nickname, said. “Keep being an asshole and I'll throw yours on the tracks.”
“Alright,” Danny said. “Don't get your thong in a twist. Or your bra.”
Maurice reached in to the box and grabbed a sandwich wrapped in cling-film. He hurled it over the railings. It landed on the train tracks.
“You f*cking prick,” Danny snapped.
Maurice picked up another. “You and Frank can share, but if you like, I'll hurl this one and you both get nothing.”
“And you get no f*cking beer,” Frank said.
“The beer is mine to hold back,” Harry said. “Don't be a dick.”
Both men sighed and settled down, sharing the sandwich. There were also chips and sweets, and the men all ate them with child-like enthusiasm.
They sat and talked, played cards and jacks. Their rubbish was mostly tossed over the railings. After a while one of the men looked up, at a spot where the bridge reached a building, the walkway cutting through a tunnel in the wall, twenty feet above the ground. His face went pale.
“Guys,” he said, his voice weak. All men turned their heads. Walking through the tunnel in the building were several figures, all dressed in orange fatigues with heavy, bulky, black armor on top. They were armed with guns – likely stun-guns, or at least they hoped. They all recognized the uniforms and logos.
“Sh*t!” Ralph shouted. He reached in to his pocket and pulled out his balaclava. “Let's get out of here!”
The men all jumped to their feet, putting on their balaclavas and began to run. Frank and Danny climbed the railings and lowered themselves down until they were hanging. They let go and landed in awkward rolls, some distance below. They were tough, the reluctant guy thought, knowing he'd break something trying that. Ralph was running toward the main part of the bridge. From the far end, the armed and armored guards also began to run.
He stood and ran, too, deciding Ralph was the best person to follow. He reached the main part of the bridge as the guards began to close in. He breathed out a frightened breath. A hand grabbed his wrist.
He turned, seeing Ralph trying to pull him. “They don't know who we are, so let's not let them find out.”
“They'll know its us. Clearly they know someone got out –”
“They're not internal security, they're Wranglers. Their job is to round up anyone who's IDs don't give them clearance to be out her. Cops, basically.”
“And it's not a prison,” Maurice said cynically. “Look, Ralph, let the baby run home to mommy and daddy. Let's go!”
Ralph pulled harder on the man's arm and ran. The man followed. He didn't want to get in trouble and if they could lose them and be back in before the reports reached the admins, they'd be alright.
He followed Ralph down some steps on the other side of the train tracks, where the Maurice waited. As soon as their feet hit the floor, Maurice pulled a large metal gate shut. A closed padlock hung from a chain around it. Unable to open the padlock, he wrapped the chain through the bars. Ralph shoved a metal pole through it too, wedging it closed.
“Go!” Ralph said. They started running again.
“Is that going to stop them?” the man asked, his speech broken by fast, shallow breaths.
“No,” Ralph replied. “But it'll slow them down. This way!”
They ran across an empty car park, dodging nothing more than lampposts. A loud clattering sounded from behind, and the man turned to see the gates being wrenched opened.
“Sh*t!” he yelled out.
“Keep going,” Ralph shouted. The man wasn't going to argue with that. Not only were they leaving the facility without permission – a negligible crime – but now they were resisting apprehension. That made things twice as bad. Perhaps more so.
The car park was surrounded by a tall, metal fence – but not too tall to scale. They climbed it and continued to run, crossing a quiet service street. Across the road a large green hill stood.The triangular rooftops and square chimneys of houses were just about visible over the wooden fence that stood atop the hill.
Ralph ran up the hill, quickly falling to all fours as he struggled with the steepness. The other man had more success, his agility carrying him up and soon out of sight.
“Come on!” Ralph shouted from the top. The man swallowed, looking back and seeing the Wranglers crossing the car park.
He ran across the street, to the blaring horn of a startled driver. Brakes squeaked. He jumped sideways, his hands reaching out,touching the front of the car as it came to a stop. Inside, the driver threw wild and angry arm gestures at him.
Just my luck, he thought, to cross when there was a car coming. He held his hands up apologetically and sprinted to the hill.
For the first time in what felt like forever, his feet landed on soft grass. They had grass in their facility, but this grass was outside – a misleading term, he thought as his feet peddled in an effort to find traction. The 'facility' was just a walled-in district. But sometimes it did feel like a prison.
He ran up the incline, his arms swinging wildly, his breathing short. He grimaced and pushed himself harder, feeling his leg muscles tighten and begin to burn. He looked back, seeing the guards now climbing the fence. He pushed harder, but felt himself slipping.
Like Ralph did, he threw his weight forward. His hands hit the grass, which felt cold and prickly. He scrambled like a rabid dog, climbing the hill.
He saw Ralph look at him from the top. Ralph then looked at the guards and turned to climb the fence.
Wait! he wanted to shout, but he was breathing too heavily. He finally reached the top of the hill, where the incline evened out, allowing him to get to his feet again. One more look over his shoulder and he saw the guards crossing the street. One or two had their guns up, and he imagined seeing himself through the cross-hairs or down their sights. He pushed, standing upright and began to run again. His feet slipped against the grass, but he kept his balance.
He wasn't a strong climber, but he managed to scale the fence. He landed in what was the back garden of one of the houses, losing his footing as soon as he found the ground.
He laid there for a second, feeling too tired to carry on. But then he saw Ralph, down between the houses. Ralph was looking at him, running backward across the suburban street. He motioned for him. Come on! he could almost hear him shout.
He got to his feet and ran, no longer able to break into a full sprint. He passed between the houses and into the street. Thankfully no cars were coming.
“Come on,” Ralph said. “This way.”
“I.. I'm too –”
“Oh come on, you're not that out of shape, are you?”
He followed Ralph, running, but at a slower speed. A few houses down the street, they entered a narrow alleyway. Shadows cast from the houses fell over them, cooling their skin. The alley led to another. From there they ran down the road for what felt like a day, but must have been only a few minutes. His legs felt wobbly and weak, but he had to keep going. His fright had subsided, but was very much still there. The Wranglers were rough, mercilessly rounding up anyone who's I.D. didn't permit them to be on the streets. And those that were 'guilty'? They were thrown into a transport truck and detained. Rumors about the conditions in the detention centers were unpleasant, to say the least.
Another, wider, alley, and they found themselves on more grass. This one was a large playing field with a slight incline, easily twice the size of a sports stadium. Ralph ripped off his balaclava.
“See the garages over there?” Ralph pointed into the far corner, his breathing heavy. In the distance, behind a metal spiked fence – no way were they climbing that without impaling themselves – the man saw the faded blue and red of metallic garage doors.
“Yeah,” he said, pulling his balaclava off, too. His breathing was fast and shallow. He was barely able to stand straight.
“There's an alley just next to it. Go through the alley, down the steps to another set of garages, then follow the road under the houses. You'll see another alley immediately after – go down that and you'll see a green gate. That's the house.”
“Wait, where the hell are you going?”
“That way.” Ralph pointed to another corner of the field. “There's a phone box. I'm going to try to distract or divert them. I'll see you there.”
Ralph ran off and for a moment the man was going to follow him. But he trusted Ralph then. He began to run across the field.
It took ages for him to reach the far end. With every step the field seemed to grow in length. The slight incline further drained his energy and he felt sweat beading down his face. He turned and looked back down the playing fields. He saw no Wranglers - they weren't exactly hard to miss. He didn't see a single person. He expected to see a helicopter or even a tank, but...
For a playing field, shouldn't there be people chilling out? People playing softball or something? Perhaps everyone was at their jobs, or hiding in their homes, too scared of the gangs that were supposedly so rife.
He stopped running for a moment, just to catch his breath. In that moment, he had a feeling he'd be running for the rest of his life. His fear returned. Standing in the middle of the empty field, he felt so lost. So alone. Abandoned. He was an idiot. It was his choice to join his friends in leaving the district. How would he explain that to his mother? The disappointment on her would be too much for him to bear. His only chance would be to get home before the Wranglers contacted the facility security. He ran.
But the Wranglers didn't know who he was. Only that he wore a balaclava and had ran. And running equates guilt.
He dropped the balaclava into a bin by a bench, throwing his jacket in it, too. He turned and ran down the alleyway, too tired to break into a sprint. Too scared to move any slower.
Where was it? he asked himself. Down the alley, then... He saw some steps ahead, at right angles, leading under an overhanging building. That's it!
He jumped down the steps and ran across the concrete that served as access to the garages, passing down the access road. Yes, under the building, then there's an alley straight after. Yes, there!
He turned down the alley, barely able to maintain a slow jog now. He just wanted to lie down...
Where was it? Which house? He looked at the gates, knowing Ralph had said something about them. What was it, a blue gate? He looked at the row of gates, hedges and fences and even walls in between.
There is no blue gate!
Oh god, he said to himself. What was he going to do now? Just wait here for the Wranglers to catch up with him? He looked up into the sky. There'd be a helicopter soon, he knew. God, he was fuc –
“Hey, idiot,” Ralph's voice sounded from behind him. He spun, the last of his breath escaping from his mouth in a wimpy gasp.
Ralph was standing with a green gate held open.
A Green gate! He hurried in, with Ralph shutting the gate and locking it.
“What happened? Where's your jacket?”
“I binned it,” he managed, his voice a raspy whisper. “They'd be looking for someone in a jacket.”
Ralph nodded. “Alright, lets get inside.”
They stepped through a set of patio doors, double-glazed glass bordered with white plastic. The man stepped into what was a small kitchen/dining room. Off-white linoleum dressed the floor, stretching from old, faded cupboards to a cheap, wooden dining table. The walls were wooden panels, and the room was dingy. The blinds were closed, and the lights were off.
Inside, Maurice - the man that had fled with him and Ralph – sat, his hands clasped in front of him. He nodded his hello. Harry was there too, drinking a glass of water, with a second which Ralph handed over.
“You need a drink.”
He nodded, unable to say anything.
“Sit down,” Harry said.
“Where's Frank?” he managed after a sip. The water tasted strange. Bitter, almost. He screwed his nose up at it.
“Yeah, I know,” Ralph said. “It tastes weird because it's not run through two miles of metal pipes and filters. It's not gonna hurt you, though. Just that our water back home is filtered. No idea where Harry and his ass kisser are.”
“Do they even know where we are?”
“I don't know. I...” Ralph's face fell. “Sh*t, I locked the gate.” He hurried out of the back door and to the gate.
A few minutes passed and Frank and the other guy came in with Ralph.
“Where's your jacket?” Frank asked as Ralph closed the door and pulled the blinds shut.
“He binned it,” Ralph said. “So they wouldn't recognize him.”
“You f*cking idiot.”
“Ralph, you know what he's done? He's ditched his clothing in a bin. They'll find it, and they'll know we've come in this direction.”
“Sh*t,” Danny said. “They'll find us.”
“Calm down,” Harry said. “They won't know what house.”
“But they'll know we're here somewhere. And we can't just leave. They'll spot us. Six men? Yeah.”
“Leave one by one,” Maurice suggested.
“And they'll be doing I.D. checks. Where's our I.Ds?”
“Well I've got mine,” Harry said.
“Then you're as good as caught.” Frank sighed. “Jesus. Over a coat. We're all f*cked.”
“Calm down," Ralph commanded. "We're not. They don't know we're here. Look, we can change our clothes and move on before they set up the blocks. Move in pairs, not a large group.”
“And where are we going to go?”
“Are they really going to set up checks and blocks?” He felt like an idiot for asking what was clearly a dumb question, at least it was judging by the looks he got back.
“We live in a paranoid society,” Frank said. “We live in a walled district, a self-sustaining facility that was built because of rising crime and sh*t. You have terrorists trying something every month, for God's sake.”
“That's the problem,” Maurice said.
“I... I was saying, they're doing it for God's sake – they're...”
“This ain't the time for jokes, you spic prick.”
Maurice rose to face Frank but Harry held him back. “Look we need to work out what we're doing.”
“More to the point, if we're not back by nightfall, they'll know who we are. This time tomorrow, we'll be in deeper sh*t. We won't be talking about a day in the hole, but more serious punishment. A week or two? A fine? A work conscription?”
“Guard duty?” Harry said.
“I don't know,” Ralph said, turning and looking at the one man who didn't want to leave in the first place. “If we'd listened to the voice of reason here, we wouldn't be in this mess.”
“Yeah,” Frank said. “Or maybe he's the one that tipped them off. How did they know we were there?”
“Jesus, asshole, leave the kid alone.”
“Kid?” the young, reluctant man snarled.
“Relax, man,” Ralph said. “You and Maurice are the youngest. Don't –”
“How exactly could he have tipped them off,” Harry said. “Psychic link?”
“You never know,” Frank said.
“Now you're being ridiculous,” Ralph said. “Look we have to try to get back, and we've got a few hours to do so. Lets get changed and make our own way back, in pairs. Meet under the bridge out front of the main entrance and we'll all go back in together.”
“What if we're not all there?”
Ralph looked around. “I hate to say it, but if you're late, you're locked out and busted. But I'm sure I don't need to say this: keep your mouth shut. Just be there before shift change. Frank, you take your little buddy. Get changed and go now. Then Maurice and Harry, you leave with us. Which way did you come?”
“Past the old sorting office.”
Ralph nodded. “Go back that way, but go past the gas works. You know the way from there?”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “Used to ride my bike down that track before I was lucky enough to go to college.”
“And if we see any gangs?” Maurice asked.
“Run,” Harry said.
Posted 06 September 2015 - 10:16 PM
Story-wise this seems promising. Right off the bat I felt some Fallout influence with the community being kept inside the facility. As usual your dialogue is solid, and aside from a few spelling and tense errors I don't have many things to bring up in regards to that.
There were a few times where I felt the timing for introducing something was a little off, for example only telling us that Ralph is the group's leader after he's already spoken quite a bit. Another thing I noticed that is a mistake I make a lot is that names get repeated too much;
"Oh don't be a coward," Ralph said. "We'll have a laugh and be back before lights out." Ralph started laughing. "Yeah, I know, I know, 'it's not a prison.'"
One of the men began to tamper with a metal door, a bar crossing it connected to an alarm. A minute later it opened with a squeak.
“Shh!” Ralph, the leader of the group, said.
This feels clunky - too much Ralph. Just break it up.
"Oh, don't be a coward," Ralph, the group's leader, said. "We'll have a laugh and be back before lights out." He chuckled lightly. "Yeah, I know, I know, 'it's not a prison.'"
One of the men began to tamper with a metal door, a bar crossing it connected to an alarm. A minute later it opened with a squeak.
“Shh!” Ralph hissed.
IMO this is better. This is something you've told me - an extra proof read will catch all these things. I only removed one instance of "Ralph" and moved the mention of him being the leader of the group to the initial mention. Like I said before, I'm getting a Fallout-like aura from this, which is a good thing. The facility seems to be a less restrictive vault.
Anyway, good job and you better continue. People are reading regardless of whether you get feedback or not.
Posted 06 September 2015 - 11:37 PM
Posted 11 December 2015 - 02:44 PM
Chapter Two - Homeward Bound
He followed Ralph out of the back door and down the flagstone path toward the rear gate. From there, they headed back through the alleys until they reached the playing field. This time, however, they didn't head to the far corner, but skirted one side, following the treeline that ran alongside the back fences of people's homes. Another alley presented itself to them, and they followed it to some steps that dropped to a cycle path.
“Up here,” Ralph said, pointing to the left, away from the playing fields and away from where they had previously run from. Wordlessly, he followed. Ralph knew what he was doing – more than he did, anyway.
They reached the train tracks, running alongside the cycle track atop a ten foot stone wall. An underpass stood ahead of them, at which he paused.
“Yeah, through here,” Ralph said. The underpass was lit only by the ambient daylight, a carving of dimness underneath the rails. Nervously, he stepped into the shadowy and foreboding tunnel. Ralph brought his finger to his lip, instructing quiet and for a moment, he didn't understand why. He looked at Ralph with a frown, but his mind soon caught up – as they were halfway through the underpass; Ralph didn't want to make any noise to warn any potential muggers they were there. He didn't see the logic in that – if anyone was waiting on the other side to jump them, they could do so as soon as they emerged from the underpass. But again, Ralph knew more than he did.
His heart beat harder and faster as he imagined a gang of leather-clad criminals stepping out from behind the walls. The more he thought of that, the more he saw it, and the more he saw it, the more he thought of it. The faster his heart beat. The color drained from his face, his legs feeling weak.
They emerged from the underpass unmolested, and on an empty stretch of the cycle path. To the right it curved up a hill and disappeared behind some trees. To the left it climbed more gradually, and quickly met more gray concrete walls. Instinctively he turned left. He paused and looked at Ralph who nodded.
“Main street is up there on the right.”
“Main street?” He blinked. “You mean shops and lots of people?”
“But won't that be risky?”
Ralph shook his head. “Right now, we're two guys walking on their own in a quiet area. If we're seen, it won't be too hard for a Wrangler to figure out who we are. But if we're in a crowd, we're just another face. We can blend in, and sure, we might run a higher risk of seeing an authoritarian figure, but we'd be less likely to be noticed.”
He nodded, still unsure, but agreeing with the part about them standing out. He could feel a perpetual chill in his spine and cold sweat dripping down the sides of his torso underneath his clothes. He followed Ralph up the cycle path to a road, which after a right turn, led them to Main Street.
Before they'd left their facility, he had imagined such a street to be a stretch of closed shops, metal shutters pulled down, scrawled with graffiti, litter strewn across the dirty ground, rusted and burned out shells of cars jutting out onto a moss and weed-covered street. But since running from the Wranglers – he still wondered if surrender had been a better option – his idea of the world had changed. It didn't look like a war zone or a wasteland. It didn't look scarred from crime or disease. It looked normal. And so, when Ralph had mentioned Main Street, he'd imagined a bustling center of commerce. Shops had their doors slung open and shoppers, laden with paper and plastic bags hustled in and out. Fruit was sold from crates on the side of the road, the grocer yelling out his best offers, trying to out-shout the fishmonger opposite. Cars and buses slid up and down the street and people on bikes, baguettes and wrapped meat in their handle-bar-mounted baskets, whizzed by.
Once again, though, his idea was proved wrong. The street wasn't a desolate place, but nor was it filled with hundred of people. One or two entered or exited a shop, and there was probably a couple of dozen people visible down the entire street – which did stretch for as far as the eye could see; he'd imagined that right, at least.
“We just need to follow this up to the big bank,” Ralph said. “And that road will take us out almost to the creek.” The creek was the small ditch that ran past their facility's outer walls. A few bridges crossed it, serving either main entrances or side doors.
He didn't say anything. Instead, he walked with Ralph. All they had to do was walk down the road. It was simple. He wondered how the others were getting on. Were they as nervous as he was? Ralph didn't seem that bothered. Was he tearing himself apart with worry on the inside? Or was he indifferent to being caught?
Why was he the one who felt like his insides were melting and being torn apart. He needed to visit a restroom. He needed to sit down. To sleep. He wanted to go home.
Perhaps, he thought, Ralph wasn't worried, because the punishment didn't bother him. The administrators of their home would scorn them and set them a work conscription for a few weeks. They would be fined some credits – the internal currency of their gated community – and their parents would be informed. They weren't kids, but adulthood was but a few years old to them. Despite that, he certainly felt like a child.
The people looked normal, though. He'd expected both extremes – hard-faced punks with hatred in their eyes; and soft-hearted folk, crushed by circumstance, walking with their heads down, opressed. Depressed. Instead he saw people like him, his mother, his friends and their elders. He saw men in suits, men in coats, men in hooded tops. He saw women, in much the same apparel. Some smiled, some wore their faces locked in neutral expressions. They neither seemed scared nor aggressive. Just people going about what appeared to be everyday business.
He was looking around too much, his head oscillating, eyes alternating from one side of the street to the other, jumping from one stranger's face to the next. Any one of these people could be a Wrangler in disguise, or a spy. He didn't know how it worked out here. Back at home, behind the tall, thick, reinforced concrete walls, they had two security forces. One patrolled the tops of the walls and secured the main entrances. They wore armor and carried weapons. The other walked the halls, corridors and courtyards, wearing sashes and were armed with nothing more than small, hard rubber bats for self defense. The former would protect the facility from attack from without; the latter would ensure that no squabbling would persist within. But there were also those predisposed to reporting on their fellow residents to the admin and the internal security heads. There was nothing wrong with this, on paper, but many viewed it as spying, a betrayal. Snitching.
How did it work out here?
“sh*t.” At Ralph's soft profanity, he was dragged from his thoughts and dumped harshly in reality.
“Keep calm, but I think we've been noticed.”
“What?” He started to look around.
Ralph grabbed his shoulder. “I said don't act weird!”
“What is it?” he asked, regaining what little composure he had.
“There's a man across the road looking right at us. Let's duck into this shop, okay?”
Before he could answer, Ralph was turning and walking in through the doors of the nearest shop. He followed, unable to protest.
The shop was far from what he'd originally thought of the world. The floor was cream-colored and polished. The lights were a bright white and reflected in the floor tiles. Hanging off of white walls were chrome rails of clothing, all in bright and summery colors.
He looked around, seeing T-shirts sitting on wooden tables and dresses hanging on floor fixtures. Blouses and jackets lined on the walls, hanging over jeans and chinos and shorts.
One thing, however, struck him above all else. The clothes were all women's.
“Err... Ralph,” he said.
“Not now, I'm trying to think.”
“No, I need –”
Ralph, too, was interrupted, only this time it was by a store clerk – a dainty blonde girl with a pale face and rosy cheeks. Her eyes twinkled like midnight stars.
“May I help you at all?”
He watched as Ralph stammered, caught flat-footed. The store clerk shifted her gaze slightly, and he answered her offer of assistance with a smile and a shake of the head. “No thanks, we're just browsing for a gift for my mother.”
The clerk smiled. “Well I'm around if you need a hand, just come grab me.” She bowed her head slightly and took a step backward, allowing them to moved further into the store. He felt a slight fizzing on the back of his head, and a chill shot down his spine – not through fear, but he didn't fully understand the sensation. Talking to the girl was nice, a stark contrast to the tension he had constantly felt since stepping through their compound's fire exit.
Ralph looked at him. “We have to look like normal people.”
He looked down at his clothes. “Don't we?”
“No, I don't mean look as in dress – I mean as in act. I get that you're a little nervous out here, but dammit, try to act cool. You looking around, acting shifty doesn't help – that's what that man was probably looking at.”
“What do we do now?”
“Well we can't run, as tempting as that is. I doubt he's alone if he's a Wrangler. Maybe he's just a member of the public, wondering why you're acting so strange, I don't know. I think it's best to just walk like everyone else and hope we can lose him in the crowd.”
“What crowd, Ralph? It's not that busy.”
“Do you have a better idea? Dress up as a woman?”
“Would that work?”
Ralph sighed, his thumb and forefinger reaching up for the bridge of his nose. “Jesus Christ. No. Besides, do you have any money?”
“No,” he said timidly.
“Exactly. Look lets just go, okay? And please, for the love of God, be cool.”
“Okay. I'll try.”
Ralph sighed and nodded, heading for the shop's doors.
Outside, he couldn't help but look across the street. The man was in the same place as before, staring right at them. This was bad, he knew. The man hadn't even moved. Ralph turned down the street and headed for the busiest part – ahead a street performer was playing an old guitar, the varnish chipped and faded. He didn't recognize the song.
It soon became a case of following and copying Ralph's movements. He jostled his way through the crowd, acting as though he was trying to see the musician, but slipped out the other side, joining a thick group of people that likely didn't know each other, but happened to be walking in the same direction.
He didn't look back, trying to act cool or normal. But he could feel the man's eyes on the back of his head, burrowing into his soul, almost reading his thoughts. For a moment he worried that they could actually do that. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as an unrelenting wave of paranoia and discontent washed over him. The mysterious man knew. He knew.
They followed the group as they crossed the road as a designated crossing, and they slipped down a side street. The desired effect was to escape from the man's view – perhaps at the musician, perhaps as they crossed the road with the crowd, or perhaps slipping unseen into the side street. But they were the only ones on the side street. Ralph stopped suddenly, his feet scuffing on the ground.
“This way,” he said, pointing down and alley and instantly marching in that direction.
He followed, finding themselves quickly in an empty lot behind the shops. A flat square of grass stood on their right, a tall wooden panel fence behind it.
“Come on,” Ralph said, dropping his shoulders and breaking into a run. He followed, the fear that had been lurking on the edge of his consciousness spurring him on.
They ran down another alleyway, emerging on another side street, parallel to the previous one. They turned right, still running, heading away from the shops and the crowds. Fear, too, was running, crashing through the borders of his mind. Sweat trickled down his forehead, stinging his eyes as it dripped into them. He wiped it away, futilely with a sweaty hand. But he didn't dare to fall too far behind Ralph – his one and only lifeline.
Ralph slowed and paused at the end of the street. “We need to head that way.” Ralph pointed.
“Then let's go!”
“No, we can't run from here. Main street crosses another rail line, and there's only other bridge is down there.” Ralph pointed in the opposite direction. “A long way away.”
“And we're standing here, waiting for what? To get caught?”
“No. We have to keep calm. If we panic, we'll get caught for sure. Keep your cool.”
“Okay,” he exhaled, his breath uneven. “So what way?”
“This way,” Ralph said, pointing. A side street stretched away from the shops. A few square buildings separating Main Street from apartment blocks. “This road meets another that'll take us to the Creek.”
“But it's quieter.”
“I know. There's not any other option really. We don't have much time.”
“Then let's go!” He turned to run. Ralph's hand shot out, grabbing his shoulder.
“I said we can't run. We do that they'll close in, call for backup and then i don't know what.”
“How do you know all this?” he asked, doubt crossing the fear in his mind.
“You think this is my first rodeo? Let's just go.” Ralph turned and began to walk hurriedly.
He just stood there for a moment, looking around. He didn't see the man who was staring. They were alone on the street. A chill shot down his neck and all of a sudden he didn't want to be alone. He hurried to catch up.
They reached the end of the road without incident. He followed Ralph and, as the sun began to fade, made their way to the creek. In the distance they saw the wall of their compound.
They found the footbridge over the creek as the sun finally began to give up on the day. Long, deep shadows crawled across the ground, turning the green reeds into a dull, ominous shadowy hue. He followed Ralph down the hill, the ground shifting slightly under their feet.
The others were there, sitting under the bridge, entirely engulfed in shadow. The thinnest of slither of gold was smeared across the otherwise charcoal sky. As he reached the bottom of the slope, he felt his hope fading with the light. The want to go home was unbearable. He wished he never stepped out in the first place.
“Good,” Ralph said. “We're all here.”
“For what it's worth,” Maurice said.
“What took you so long?!” Harry said. “Frank and Danny have only just got here.”
“We had trouble with some Wranglers,” Ralph said. “But we lost them.”
“Good,” Danny said. “Now can we go home please?”
“You weren't listening to me,” Maurice said.
“Everyone sure they weren't followed?” Harry asked.
“If we were, we'd know it by now,” Ralph said. “Let's just go.”
“You never listen to me.” Maurice's voice was almost ignored again.
Frank sighed. “What now?”
“Look at the time. We've missed it. Switch over's already happening.”
“You mean we can't get in, Mary?”
“We got all this way and can't go in?!” He said, looking at his five friends. Panic had finally broken through, enveloping him completely now. He was tired, he was scared. He wanted his mother.
“No,” Maurice said.
“No,” he said, standing. “We'll just knock on the door.”
“Are you joking?” Ralph said. You know how much trouble we'll be in? We'd be in less if we just wait until morning change.”
“How?” Frank argued. “Maybe pussy-boy here is right.”
“Because if we knock, like he said, we'll be causing a security situation. That's worse than being AWOL. We can pretend we've camped out in the basement or vents. Boys will be boys and all that. At least we can deny being out here. Without proof, they won't do anything serious.”
“Where do we go?” Maurice asked.
“Back to the house,” Ralph said. “Staying out here all night, we'll catch our deaths.”
“What about the Wranglers?” he asked with a shaky voice.
Ralph looked around. “We avoid them. Make a bolt for it like we did before.”
“If we can,” Harry said. “What if we get caught?”
Ralph's patience finally ran out. “Then we'll be beaten, remanded, interrogated and eventually turned over to compound security, where we'll be detained, isolated and put on a work detail for a year, probably. That's assuming the Wranglers don't convict us for unsolved crimes. We won't be seeing each other for a while. I don't want that. Do you?”
None of the six could do anything other than shake their heads.
“Well it's pointless us sitting here all night with our thumbs up our asses,” Danny said. “At least we'll have shelter, warmth and food and drink.”
“They're still out there though,” he said timidly to five sets of unimpressed eyes.
“Then lets avoid them then,” Frank said with a frown. “We'll have darkness on our side.”
Posted 11 December 2015 - 05:03 PM
Just gave this a read, and my initial feedback is that it is two things; an original piece, and the start of something good. Like Zebra said, it's got some ties to post-apocalyptic Fallout, and there's definitely this totalitarianism set in it. Characterization-wise, we've got a lot of Ralph, but not much from Maurice, or any of the others, which I hope we see change. The story itself has set itself up for a bigger one, and I'm interested to see what exactly we're dealing with here. I'd like to know more about the world, and the characters, and what they plan to do from here on out.
Form-wise, there's a few little mistakes, but nothing too big to really mention. A swift comb-over would help you point out the little aesthetic mistakes.
Keep the chapters coming, and I'll do my best to help you make this story as coherent and compelling as I can.
Posted 11 December 2015 - 06:12 PM
Posted 13 December 2015 - 10:39 AM
Posted 24 January 2016 - 12:06 PM Edited by Mokrie Dela, 24 January 2016 - 12:08 PM.
Posted 01 June 2016 - 09:48 PM Edited by Mokrie Dela, 01 June 2016 - 09:48 PM.
Chapter Four - Escalation
He woke to the voice of Maurice, who was standing over him, his arm out to gently shake his shoulder. For a second he was unaware of where he was, or why, blissful in the forgetfulness that waking up provided. But Maurice's face, and the strange surroundings of the bedroom quickly burst that bubble. He groaned.
“We're heading out soon,” Maurice said. “So if you want something for breakfast, you'd better get downstairs.”
He nodded and slipped out of bed. Within a few minutes he was downstairs, forcing himself to eat cereal and toast.
“We have to split up again,” Ralph said. “And we need to avoid the street where Frank was attacked.”
“That means looping round through the park,” Harry said.
“Well we can't all go that way,” Danny said. “We'd certainly be noticed, and I doubt we'd reach the compound.”
“Good point,” Ralph said with a nod.
“We can't be out all day taking a roundabout way back,” Maurice argued. “We'll be asking for trouble.”
“Well we can't go that way,” Harry said, pointing in the general direction of the shops. “So we have no choice but to loop round.”
“We can all leave out the back,” Ralph said. “Then there's three options. One, we go through the alley, through the park, and through the street with the shops. Two, we go through the park and across, past the industrial area, and three, we go the other way through the alley, through the houses, and past near where we were hanging out.”
“It's too long to go that way,” Danny argued. “
“So what,” Frank said, frowning. “We just make a break for it and stay together? Safety in numbers.”.
“Well no,” Danny said, missing the sarcasm. “The Wranglers would be on us quick.”
“I think we can go out the front,” added Harry. “Cross over, down the next street and past the shops – or the next street over; we can cut through the alley behind it. Then we can head straight down the long road that will take us to the far side of the compound.”
Ralph thought for a second and nodded. “That could work. Okay, Harry, you go that way, and take Maurice. We can't risk Frank going there.”
“Yeah,” Frank said. “I'll go down the high street then. I guess you want the quicker way, Danny?”
“Alright, we have a plan. We'll meet at the bridge again, okay?”
Everyone nodded. Ten minutes later, with the breakfast tableware washed and stowed in their proper cupboards and drawers, they were all heading out.
He followed Ralph through the alley and across the playing field. The street split, and ahead of them, looking familiar, led them back toward where their illegitimate outing had been interrupted. Perhaps, he thought, if they went that way, they could rewind things. Undo things. But Ralph turned left, leading him through an underpass beneath the railway. They emerged on the other side, in a large business park. On the left was a car park, full with vehicles, the owners likely in the square office building that stood tall beyond. On the right was another building, a side street disappearing behind to where another car park likely was. They passed the pair of buildings and walked on, passing a row of lock-ups that stretched away to their right and a wide, low building to their left. The corridor of buildings and car parks stretched ahead of them, taking ten minutes to traverse. Beyond that, Ralph led him through an alleyway that took them past a factory and another office, emerging on a street he recognized as having taken them from the compound to their ill-fated hang out.
The journey was uneventful, and the route Ralph was taking him was mostly backstreets and alleys, away from public eyes. He worried that they passed security cameras, their likenesses picked up by the Wranglers' technical team. He tried not to let his head pivot, to draw attention to himself, instead focusing on following Ralph and mirroring his calm and collected actions.
The corner of every building, every wall or fence, every parked car or dumpster taunted him. Behind any of them could be a lone – or one of many – criminals, a knife in hand, waiting to pounce. He looked at Ralph in front of him, wondering if his friend could protect them from such an attack.
No, he decided. Ralph was a friend, not a bodyguard. He'd likely try, but ultimately fail. And what about him? He didn't even want to think about that.
The tension and paranoia was draining him. That and the lack of sleep. He was scared, and he found himself angry at that. Angry. Why? Ralph continued to lead him through backstreets that he had no idea existed. He didn't know the world outside of their compound, their gated community, cut off from the world due to elitist paranoia.
Eventually, he began to recognize the terrain – the rough field with unkempt weeds and scraggly trees, the crooked stream and the muddy incline that ran alongside it. Their home was ahead. Finally, he allowed himself to think, they were going to end this all.
They met at the bridge again and, once everyone was present, began to head toward the door. They were halfway when the voice boomed. In mirrored unison, the six turned, seeing the steely face. His uniform was unmistakable. An orange shirt beneath a gray tactical vest, gray pants and a gray military cap.
“Wrangler Captain,” he heard whispered from behind him. He couldn't tell which one of his friends said it. Behind the captain stood two men, behind each shoulder. They wore orange military fatigues, with gray bullet-proof vests, gray combat helmets and face-wraps. Their knees and elbows were shielded behind gray pads and their tactical gloves were wrapped around what he guessed was less-than-lethal weapons. Or maybe they were lethal; he genuinely didn't know.
He looked back, hoping Ralph would have a magic answer. But the leader of the group of friends wore a face of fear. He was lost. He had no idea. None of them did. Behind them, two more orange-clad soldiers approached.
“It's over,” the captain said. “It's time to take you kids home.” His voice was that of a father figure; stern but lacking anger.
Frank moved suddenly, lunging past Ralph. He charged into the captain, knocking him into the two soldiers.
Ralph reacted instantly, instinct kicking in.
“Run!” Ralph and Frank bellowed, almost in unison.
He didn't need to be told twice. As soon as Frank tackled the unsuspecting captain, his legs were already trying to move. But when the guns of the other two soldiers began to swing, a new strength came over him. He fled. He had no thought. Only fear. Panic. Primal instinct carried him away from the danger.
A minute passed, perhaps two, perhaps a hundred. He didn't know. He ran as hard as he could. His breath wheezed through a dry and burning throat. His thighs felt like they were tearing. Fire raged in his chest and his skin grew wet. It was almost like running with his eyes shut, an unseen hand guiding him away from the horror. When his mind re-engaged, he found himself running toward an underpass. A loud yawning scream stopped his heart.
He looked up, expecting a Wrangler helicopter, but instead saw a train passing on the rails ahead. To his left he saw the overpass that they'd been caught and fled from in the beginning.
He didn't slow. He ran under the railway, finding himself in the car park where he'd been chased before. He looked back, but saw no one. The Wranglers were masters of stealth, hiding in the bushes, waiting for him to allow himself to stop. Then they'd strike.
He couldn't stop.
He ran across the same road as before and clambered up the slippery grassy hill. He couldn't climb the fence, so he ran alongside it, looking down the whole time. He was alone.
He wasn't alone.
He saw a lower fence and forced himself over it, falling on his behind on the other side. Like a frightened animal, he scrambled to his shaky feet and ran on, following the only route he knew.
Eventually he found his way to the house. He didn't know how long it had taken, but his eyesight had grown dark, the corners of his vision clouded. His breath was rapid and shallow, wheezing. He could hear his heart beating in his ears, a sickly thud and whooshing sound. His eyes flickered, his vision pulsing with each beat of his strained heart. His head was tight and hurt.
“You made it,” a voice said. He looked around, searching in panic for the Captain. But the voice was of higher pitch. Softer. It spoke again.
This time he looked up. Ralph was leaning out of an upstairs window. A thin smile crept across his glossy face. Then Ralph said something, but the rushing in his ears blocked it.
He didn't know.
He stumbled forward, his hand slapping on the house wall to steady him. His energy had abandoned him and he felt as though sleep was rushing at him, slapping his like a freight train. His vision began to fade, his head tightening, his body weakening.
Despite all the insanity, the danger and fear, he had only one thought cross his mind.
So, this is what passing out feels like.
Posted 08 January 2017 - 10:44 PM Edited by Mokrie Dela, 08 January 2017 - 10:44 PM.
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