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The Librarian's Revenge ©

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Cause for Alarm (Chapter 4)

Georgie BallPosted by Georgie Ball 01 Jun, 2009 10:27PM
This is as far as I ever got writing this! Coursework became too much and I was forced to stop, plus I had a horrendous block and was sick to death of writing as Florence. Forgive the silly mistakes, and comment on anything you wish, if you can bear to read such a long post!
Chapters 1,2 and 3 are in my category, and remember that this chapter is still not finished.

IV

The children huddled next to one another, gripping their clothes tightly about them. A cold breeze forced its way through to out very bones, and then out the other side of us all again.

“What do we do?” I asked Andy, again. It was then I realised that I frightening him with my indecisiveness. I needed to pull myself together for him, before he cracked. I could see them forming at the edges of his face, just waiting to crumble. I stood in thought for a moment or two, and sudden revelation happened. “The cemetery!” I exclaimed loudly, then remembered The Outsiders were near, and hushed down again.

“We can’t, it’s locked.” Andy said flatly, clearly believing I didn’t know how to get out of this.

“Well of course it’ll be locked… But we can scale the fence.” Andy looked dubious.

“But aren’t there-” I cut him off before he got a chance to continue.

“Yes, there are spikes at the top of it, but if I’m honest I’ve had to break into there many a time before it’s really not so difficult, I really mean it.”

My promises were now no more than words discarded at his feet that he had to step over carefully before hearing the things that meant something to him. I felt bad, but this time I knew I could pull it off. Everyone thought that is was too difficult or risky to break into the huge cemetery because of the large fences. There were many rumours that it was electrified, but as I knew from first hand, it was merely a rumour. As for the spikes at the top, that was easily solvable. All I needed was my bag with my equipment, and we’d all be over and safe for the night in no time. The cemetery was less than half a mile away and we could make it within an hour once I had my bag. Of course, normally a half-mile journey by foot ought only take about ten minutes, but I had a gaggle of children following, and we had to move under cover for fear of getting caught.

“Listen Andy, once we get to the cemetery, I have to disappear to get my equipment, and I’m going to leave you in charge, alright?” Confusion swept across his features at the mention of ‘equipment’ but he did not question me. We both understood the importance of simply trusting one another at this moment in time, and nothing else. “Come on, we need to get there quickly.” Without a word he followed me, and helped me to round the children up.

On the way there, I always scouted ahead to see if any Outsiders were headed our way, whilst Andy waited with the children. We quickly got to grips with how to communicate without words so as to make our cover more proficient. We crossed the first few streets relatively quickly and without incident, and just as I was beginning to get cocky, I almost rounded a corner into a large patrol. I signalled for Andy to stop, and I looked back over my shoulder.

He herded the sorry group into a small alleyway, and they dispersed themselves expertly behind dustbins and general waste. I should have always had more faith in them, really. I was worried about how well they would cope trying to hide from The Outsiders, but of course it was alleyways like this that I had found them, and most had spent their whole lives hiding and living in such places before I took them in. I smiled, thinking just how wonderful they all are, and came to crouch behind the bins with them too. The Outsiders turned onto the road we were on and a deathly silence fell across us all. The hiss like the sound of heavy rain on a corrugated metal sheet informed us that there were several guards approaching. They passed and I waited until I could no longer hear their terrible language before stepping out hesitantly to check the way was clear.

I waved them on and Andy held onto a little girl by the name of Charlotte. He dwarfed her tiny hand with his, and she looked up at him, her little cherub face smiling from ear to ear in utter adoration. My heart warmed at this, and I noticed how Andy hadn’t even realised. He was looking intently at me, with an expression I could not read. I smiled back at him, and suddenly he looked as though he were snapping out some kind of daydream, and nodded at me, waiting for the all clear. I cautiously peered around the corner onto the main road. This is where I was worried about. This road was so open, and so wide, not altered since the days were civilians still had motorcars, and now it was a lost highway used only by the vehicles for The Outsiders and the taxis.

If ever there was someone not to trust, it was a taxi driver. Many civilians were suspicious of them in the first place, because they and The Outsiders ruled the road, the only ones to have something which ran on petrol. Everyone else these days travelled by bicycle or by foot if they could not afford a ‘cycle, or if theirs had been stolen and was too expensive to replace. Taxi drivers were often not trusted also because many of them did odd jobs for The Outsiders and they were known to do almost anything to get their hands on money.

Again the nerves surfaced, fighting their way up my throat, desperate to escape.

“Come on,” I called back, and like little phantoms they crossed the street. Instinctively they hugged the shadows, becoming almost invisible. It was completely dark now, and there was no moon tonight. Foreboding rain clouds set in and my heart sank. There would be no shelter for us tonight.

The main road was soon far behind us and I could see the cemetery gates looming up, ever quicker. The Outsiders were bound to be near. There was always a patrol around the fences. The gates lay straight ahead of us. Hiding in plain sight seemed to be the best plan of action to me, and the children shimmied expertly up trees or hunkered down in the sparse shrubs. There was no one stationed at the gate tonight, which I noticed, but thought nothing of it, knowing it just to be an advantage. I climbed a tree and perched next to Andy. He leant against the trunk, his knees hugged to his chest. I put my arms around his shoulders, and hugged him tightly.

“Look… I need to go now; else I’ll never get my things. Will you be alright?” Another tight-lipped smile was his answer, and I clambered down from the tree again.

Steeling furtive looks about, wary for the missing guard, I set off in the opposite direction. My bag was hidden in a scrap yard only ten minutes away if I was walking. I broke into a steady jog, forever keeping an eye out for any other signs of life. My lungs struggled to catch in air, and for once I actually regretted being a smoker. I wasn’t used to running either, as I cycled everywhere I went. Normally I couldn’t stand going by foot, but it wasn’t as though I had a choice at this time. After about two minutes, my body got used to the motion, and my breathing sorted itself out. My heart, breath and steady footfalls creating a strange sort of percussion solo. There would be a guard at the gate, but for some reason they were always slack there so I was completely confident that I would get through to my equipment.

The archway for the gate was made out of scrap metal, mostly pieces of old cars from back when people could still afford to run them. I think I was five the last time I saw an ordinary civilian driving. By the time I was old enough to do it, no one even had one anymore. It had never really bothered me, to be honest. I liked the exercise I got from all the cycling. It was something that could keep me fit and healthy, and it was a lot more efficient for the job I had fallen into.

I crept up to the archway, the gates themselves were open, as per usual. For some reason nobody was too fussed about people going in and out. I think that The Outsiders must realise that this material was often used to create shelters from peoples’ families, and therefore they turned a blind eye to the thievery. Although I hate to say it, and I find it incredibly hard to imagine, they seem to care at least a little about the welfare of their ‘followers’. More than likely they only let it happen because of the political side of it. Not that it mattered if anyone to oppose them. They would be silenced before anything got out of hand. Taken usually.

I have often heard talk of ‘art’, and I imagine that if art were still around, it is what the scrap yard would be. The gates themselves were magnificent sculptures, clawing at the sky in the same desperate way we all seemed to want to do. Escape was what it seemed it was looking for. Escape was everyone’s dream.

Slyly, I crept past the guard on duty when their back was turned, and stole behind a huge heap of scrap wood. I needed to make my way to the scrap metal section, and then go three heaps in, and two to the left. I no longer needed to remember this as I knew the place too well now, but for some reason on this night it assured me a lot to have something to focus on.

I hunted around the pile, until I recognised where I had hidden my bag. As quietly as I could I pulled the metal off the top of the old wheelbarrow, and there was my bag. I unzipped it, and checked everything was in there. All was in order, and off I set. This time it took forever before the guard turned away. I dashed away, my bag clunking noisily over my shoulder. The guard noticed but did nothing to stop me. They never did.

This time the jogging was harder, what with the bag strewn across my back. It added a new rhythm of its own to the steady beat I drummed on the hard surface of the road below me. I had always liked this part of the city. It was the old industrial area, and it was where I felt safest. There were no houses for at least a mile around and the old looming factories decaying seemed somehow like a second home. There were rarely people or Outsiders here. It was the almost absolute solitude that I enjoyed. It wasn’t often in somewhere as overpopulated as England that you could find somewhere so void of human life, and I relished every second of it.

The walls of the cemetery loomed ahead of me, and I slowed to a walk, and then crouched behind a heap of rubble. A keen eye was needed to spot an Outsider in the dark like this. Their uniforms were as dark as the sky, and many a time whilst I was here I had almost walked into one, each of us as stealthy as the other. The static on its intercom alerted me and I welded myself to the shadows, waiting for it to be safe once more, before setting off.

Now I was beginning to get wary. I couldn’t understand why there was no guard around this night. I knew there would be two patrols walking around the perimeter, but they were easily avoided with patience. Andy called my name softly. Startled, briefly, I turned and was ready to flee, but soon it was under control and I stood at the bottom of the tree looking up at several faces. For the second time that night, I pulled myself up, from branch to gnarly branch until I was teetering next to Andy. He grabbed my arm to steady me. Thanking him I changed my position to a more comfortable one. I smiled a genuine smile, which Andy noticed. He frowned.

“Well? What now?” He looked questioningly at the bag, which I heaved off my shoulder and plonked down beside me. “What’s in there, anyway?” He quizzically asked.

“Everything we need for breaking and entering.” Now shock played across Andy’s face. I had never told Andy or any of the children what my job entailed, but obviously they thought it was something a bit more respectable. It had been at one point. When office jobs still existed for people like me, anyway. I got made redundant, as did everyone else of a background similar to my own. We were turned out of the offices en masse, hundreds of us on the same day.

After that, another revolt took place, and as it always had been, The Outsiders quelled those rebelling, and the streets were littered with bodies and bullets once more. I had known better than to get involved in such things, and stayed at home, safe in my basement for several days. Louis had held me on that single bed as my body was racked with sobs. He still had his job at the same office as I, which is where we first met. The Outsiders were bound to find out about how someone from the rich district was seeing someone of my stature, and no doubt he would be punished for it. Louis said that for now he was earning enough money to be able to support us both.

Whilst the 3rd Revolt was happening, no one dared leave their houses for the commute to the offices in the city centres, and when we all emerged again, the sight seemed worse than the 2nd. There was so much death everywhere. I walked through the streets, seeing the bodies of several co-workers or people I knew from living nearby. I had hoped that seeing bodies like this that it would mean I would find it easier to deal with things which were to happen later on, as we all knew it would. With The Outsiders ruling, nothing could get better, it could only get worse.

Once Louis was made redundant and exiled from the area his family came from, it was my turn to hold him while he fretted about money. We had been getting by before, but neither of us had dared think of what would happen once both of us were unemployed.

Time passed, and both of us found work again, although it wasn’t the kind of work we were used to. There were several months were we would return home at all hours of the night, chests heaving from being pursued. Neither of us ever spoke of our work. We knew it was not an honourable way to earn a living, but it was necessary and that was all. We got money, in fact a little more money than we used to earn in the offices, but that was where we left it. Our new ‘jobs’ were not up for discussion. We did what we had to survive. We got better at our work, too. No longer would we come home after being chased away. We both learned to be more secretive and stealthy. Sometimes it frightened me when I thought about what he had become. What I had become also. I just wished that we could live ordinary lives, at least as ordinary as they used to be.

Andy seemed to want an explanation. I didn’t have the time or the patience for it in all honestly. I looked at him gravely.

“I’ll tell you in time. Just not now. We have enough things to worry about as it is.” This answer of course did not satisfy Andy, but he knew not to probe. I heard him grind his teeth.

“How do we get over the fence?”

“We wait.”

“What?”

“Have you noticed the patrols passing yet?” I asked quietly. Andy nodded. “Well, we need to time how long between each patrol, so that we know how long we have to get over the wall.” It all seemed to make sense to Andy now, and having a plan reassured him. “We’ll start timing as soon as the next one goes by.”

We waited for the two patrols to pass three times each so as to be sure of exactly how long we had. It worked out at almost exactly thirteen minutes, so I figured that we ought to allow ourselves only ten minutes so that we could have some extra time to get away and to allow for if they were to speed up.

As soon as the next patrol had passed, ghostly figures appeared on the soft soil beneath the trees. Following me, we trailed across the road and to a part where the fence was lowest. I looked up at the formidable spikes, and then crouched down to my bag, unzipping it and pulling out think sheets of canvas. I threw them over the top so as to protect us from the spikes. Once they were in position, I hauled myself up and straddled the fence. One by one, I helped each little orphan up and over the fence. Andy came last, refusing my hand. I shrugged and jumped down, waiting for him to join me. After several seconds of struggling he made it, and fell in a heap at my feet. I checked the time. We were rapidly running out. I grabbed the canvas sheets and hissed one word through my teeth.

“Run.” I could hear the static from the ‘coms coming gradually closer now and blind panic set in. The children dispersed ahead of me, and Andy rose to stand. He took two steps and fell down again.

“Help!” He called quietly. I could see The Outsiders coming now, and I knew that if we didn’t hurry we would be caught for sure. A terrible urge to flee and leave him flashed through my mind and I hated myself for it. I ran back, grabbed his arm, pulled him to his feet and began half helping him, half dragging him behind me. I threw him down behind the nearest tomb stone, and crouched over him until the terrible sound of The Outsiders had passed.

Andy looked up at me, and fury erupted suddenly.

“What the fuck were you thinking? You almost got us caught then! If you hadn’t refused my-”

“I heard them coming and I tried to hurry, so I fell. I’m sorry!” Andy looked suddenly so alone and frightened of my sudden outburst I realised how bad I had sounded.

“No, no. It’s okay. What have you done?”

“My ankle...” He spoke quietly, very much unlike his usual confident self.

“Let me have a look.” I said softly, rolling up his grubby trousers. They had muddy marks on the knees from where he had fallen, and I had never seen him look so young. He reminded me of a child who had fallen over whilst playing in the street, chin and bottom lip quivering, eyes filling with tears. I could almost see him as a young boy, even though I had only known him for two years.

I held his ankle tenderly between my hands, and felt that it was slightly swollen, but there was nothing severely wrong with it.

“Well, it’s not broken. Just took a bit too much weight when you went down I think. It ought to be alright by the morning.” He smiled, thankfully and sat up and hugged me suddenly. Taken by surprise my arms remained at my sides at first, and then I folded them around him and squeezed him tightly. “We’re safe here, for now. Trust me.”

“I do.” He whispered. I let go, realising the intimacy and felt somewhat uncomfortable. I looked at the tombstone absently.

“I need a fucking cigarette.” I said, and moved away. The children were all sitting bunched together for warmth a few metres away from where Andy sat. Andy got up and hobbled after me, then sat down next to Charlotte, who instantly clung onto him lovingly. I grinned and sat a little way away, feeling in my pocket for my tobacco.

Hastily I rolled a cigarette, put it to my lips and lit it. I inhaled as deeply as I possibly could and then breathed it out, feeling a lot of the tension ebbing away with it also. My head began to feel clearer and I felt my muscles relax at last. The fact that we could rest and be safe here helped. I relished not having to worry about what was coming round the corner, if only just for tonight.

Despite how muddy the ground was, I let myself fall back, and observed the sky as I finished my rollup. Just as I was on the edge of sleep a little face loomed above me.

“Aunty Flo?” He asked. I was only half conscious and couldn’t manage a reply until he repeated himself.

“Hmm?” I answered groggily.

“We’re cold, Aunty Flo.” I came back to being fully conscious and recognised the boy to be Tom. I stood up and took his hand as I walked over the group. I picked up the canvas sheets.

“Who wants a nice cover to sleep under?” I asked with a smile. Tiny hands grabbed at the air above them.

“Me! Me! Me!” Their voices clamoured. I passed the sheets around, and they all shared them amongst themselves, curling up next to one another like hedgehogs readying for hibernation. No one was left without any cover except for Andy and I.

“Oh dear.” I speculated. Andy tried not to look disappointed. “It’s alright, we’ll sleep over here,” I said, and gestured to my bag a couple of feet away. “Come on.” I said, and sat down, patting the ground beside me. Begrudgingly Andy obeyed and limped over then plonked himself down with a wet splat at my side. “Here.” I pulled off Jim’s three-sizes-too-big jacket, and pulled it around the both of us. We only just fit into it together, and the night air was still bitterly cold, biting at our skin hungrily. We lay down, and out of sheer exhaustion were both asleep in seconds.

I awoke suddenly, gasping for air, my mind clinging on the remnants of a fast dissipating dream. Within moments I had forgotten completely what I was dreaming of, but I knew that the fear still remained. I was being held by someone or something. The feeling had not yet gone, because Andy’s arm was wrapped around me. He did not stir as I gently lifted his arm off me, and put it at his side. I moved as far away from him as possible without moving from under the cover and tried to get back to sleep. I couldn’t see it happening though. The dream had unsettled me.

I gave up on sleep after half an hour of virtually counting the seconds. As silently as I could I moved from beneath the covers and sat on a tombstone, rolling another cigarette. As I lit it, I looked around. I saw a huge sculpture reaching up to the sky. It was like a stone version of the gate ach at the scrap yard. I strolled over to it, and inspected it in the minimum light I had. There were hundreds of names carved in varying handwriting. The carvings were crude, looking like they’d been done as hurriedly as possible. I traced some of the names with my fingers. At the very top in relatively neat script was one word.

“TAKEN”.

A sharp inhalation surprised me and I spun around, only then to realise that it was me who had made the noise. Now fully comprehending what the statue... or monument rather, stood for, I ran my hand over the hundreds of names again. This monument was in memorial for all the people missing. It was there for those mourning their losses and it was there as a cry for help. Have you seen this person? Have you? I could see and hear their desperation in my head. I knew their pain well. There was not a day that passed without my heart aching for Louis... For my parents. I scanned the monument for their names, and did not find them. I wasn’t surprised. I hunted about for something to carve their names into it with. There was nothing sharp enough nearby so I went to check in my bag.

The jangling of the items in my bag awoke Andy. I pretended not to realise.

“Florence?” I pretended not hear. “What are you doing?” He questioned a little louder now, risking waking the children. I couldn’t pretend not to have heard him this time.

“It’s alright, Andy. Go back to sleep.”

“What’s going on?”

Nothing.” I hissed through grated teeth. This was the first time in a long while that the heartache and the loss had affected me this much. I stalked away, tears of grief, anger and frustration warming my dirty cheeks. I wiped them away stiffly. My handwriting had never been good, and now scratching their names into the stone it worsened.

Louis Winterson. Ben Saddler. Maebh Sadler. Their names scrawled in my spindly script did them no justice, and I felt pained for letting them all down in so many ways. The tears ran down my face, unchecked now. I sobbed a little hysterically, and sank down on my knees, dropping the knife I was holding. It was blunt now. My hands pressed against their names as though it would bring them back to me. It was as close as I could get. My head fell against the cold stone, cooling the sudden heat I was feeling. I let myself go properly for the first time since the children had come into my care. I held nothing back, and let the misery wash over me, vowing not to let it happen again until all this was over. If it was ever over.

Soft footfalls fell on the ground behind me. I stopped crying audibly, desperate not to be seen in the state I was. I could not control the way my body jerked each time I tried to breathe in. A hand on my back.

“Flo?” My nickname. None of the children ever really called me that. I recognised the voice that was beginning to deep with age. Andy crouched next to me and looked at where my hands were. He moved them away gently, and the names soaked in. “Flo...” He knew of Louis, but I think he guessed that the other two names were of my mother and father. I pressed my hands against their names once more, refusing to look at Andy, and instead focusing on them.

The crying started again, and I half fell, half slumped onto Andy. His arms wrapped supportively around me, comforting and warm. His fingers moved through my hair, combing it for me. The rhythm was something that I could grip onto and focus on as I forced my way back out of the mire of the misery I had let in. He rocked me back and forth and I experienced a warped version of déjà vu. He was doing to me exactly what I did to him when I first found him. He was fourteen, and his parents had been dragged away from him and then executed in their bedroom. He escaped The Outsiders somehow and ended up on the streets. He was a wreck when I found him, and I immediately took him home with me, and gave him a room to stay in.

His shouts woke me up in the middle of the first night. He was still dreaming when I ran into his room. He kicked his covers off him, and he thrashed maniacally about, limbs pin wheeling about him as though he was desperately fending some unknown attacker away. He cried out when my hands closed around his arm. He lashed wildly and almost struck me, but with gentle persistence I pinned him down, and coaxed him back to consciousness. Then he sat just like I was now until he was calm again. He kissed the top of my head, a kind of kiss that wouldn’t wake a baby, yet I felt it, shrinking away from him. The intimacy of the moment was suddenly very obvious.

“I-I’m alright now, Andy.” I carefully removed his arms from around me. He flushed red and stood up.

“Well. I think we ought to get some sleep, don’t you?” He asked gruffly. I nodded and followed him back to the jacket. Eventually I heard Andy’s breathing slow and I knew he was asleep. I lay awake as the sun rose, so tired I didn’t understand how I could possibly still be awake, yet somehow I was.

My eyes fluttered open and several faces loomed above me. My back and my neck ached so much I found it hard to move at first. It felt as though I had only closed my eyes for a few seconds, yet now the sun was shining brightly. The last thing I remembered was shivering with cold as the sun began to creep up the skyline.

“Aunty Florence, we’re hungry!” A little voice protested. I had no food to give them. I guess that was my next mission. I sat up and rubbed my eyes, which felt gravelly and stung when I touched them.

“Okay, okay. I’m up. Let’s get going shall we?”

I busied myself around our little ‘camp’ for the next few minutes, mothering the children, nursing cuts, reassuring those who were still afraid. Then I packed all my things up in my bag, and tried to think of the best way out. It’d involve scaling the fence again, but we didn’t want to go back the way we came. I worked out that the best way to leave the city would be across the industrial estate. That was on the opposite side of the huge, rambling cemetery that we were currently in.

Interspersed among the old and almost illegible grave stones, there were huge trees. The biggest trees I had ever seen. I had been in this cemetery, as previously mentioned, a few times, but that had always been an in-out job. Go in, collect the package, and leave as quickly as possible. Now I was able to take in the surroundings for once, and I noticed the enormity of the place. Tilted and aged tombstones spread out in all directions around us, the huge monument rearing higher than all the others, almost dwarfing some of the trees.

Because of the time of year the few leaves that were left on the trees were ranging from a deep auburn to a yellow much alike the pale afternoon sun. I hadn’t seen such a sight like this before, and I felt somehow at ease. Nature was rare these days. Originally Surrey was a county, but since The Outsiders stopped people leaving the country, and didn’t do anything about limiting the amount of children people had, the country became more and more overpopulated, causing the cities to expand until they was only a tiny patch of countryside between each county. I watched as the wind plucked a few more leaves from the spindly branches, leaving them barer than ever.

I worked out my bearings, and then lead a procession over the vast landscape. It took about an hour to reach the fence where I wanted to cross, checked for patrols, and threw the canvas sheets over. Repeating the routine from the night before, we crossed the fence and found ourselves looking at dilapidated warehouses and factories in all directions. No chance of food here.

I guessed that there would be no real risk of running into any Outsiders this far out, at least until we reached the border leading into the city of Kent. The children were slowing down now, fatigue and hunger taking its toll on their fragile bodies.

“Aunty Florence, I need to stop!” Joe said. Joe clutched his stomach and a pained expression crossed his face. I crouched beside him, our ungainly procession lurching to a relieved stop.

Joe was one of the younger orphans I cared for, he was four when I found him, and his birthday was less than a week ago. His little face lit up, the happiest I’d ever seen him, when I brought him a small cupcake. Now his face was the total opposite.

“What’s up, little Joe?” I asked kindly, my arm around his shoulders. His bottom lip trembled forebodingly and then the tears came. I pulled him in close to me, comforting him as best as I could. I looked up and saw that Joe’s distress was like dominos. His sorrow passed down the line, and several other faces collapsed into tears.

Oh God... I thought. I opened my arms to them, and the ones crying flooded to me, and the other, quiet subdued ones went and stood with Andy, who observed the situation gravely.

Once the children had calmed down a little, I took the liberty to take Andy to one side. I knew he wanted to talk with me from the way he kept on throwing me reproachful looks.

“They’re so tired and hungry...” Andy said miserably.

“And so are you, no doubt!” Andy nodded, a small smile playing on his lips. “It’s not that far to get to the border. It ought to only take about twenty minutes. I reckon they can manage that, don’t you?” Again he nodded. “Right, let’s get going then.” I smiled at him, trying to get him to feel somewhat positive, but I don’t think it worked. He turned away from me and called the children to order, and again we set off, myself at the front and Andy tailing at the back of the gaggle, making sure no one was left behind or straying from the group. Little Joe walked beside me, his tiny hand clasped in mine. My being there seemed to help him, and he toddled on beside me, smiling to himself. I could hear my own stomach and his gurgling impatiently.

Almost there, I kept on telling myself.

The factories around us began to grow less and less, and I could see the border wall. My mind was whirring with scenarios of trying to get through the gates. There would be several Outsider guards. The panic that I thought I had grown to control was taking over again, and the border wall was looming up ever quicker. I stopped, and turned into an alley.

“Having a quick break, everyone.” I called quietly. Their little faces shared a collective expression of relief, and they sank to the floor, leaning against the walls. There was a large dustbin at the end of the alley, and I watched several children gravitate toward it. They rummaged around inside, searching for food. The sight of it broke my heart. This is how they were when I found them, and now I was putting their lives in danger, and putting them back to exactly where they came from.

I was torn between stopping them, and promising them food I did not have, and turning a blind eye so that they could eat, albeit out of a filthy dustbin. Out of the corner of my eye, I looked and saw that they were returning to the group, empty handed. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief, and sat apart from the group.

I could not understand why The Outsiders were so adamant to find me. My job was illegal, but there’s no way that a search of this magnitude was set up for petty theft. My mind then wandered to it perhaps being because I was looking after the children illegally, but once again... Surely a search this wide wouldn’t be simply for that?

Why they were after me didn’t matter right now. I was sure that if we could get out of this city, the search would not continue there. As far as I was aware the search was only in Surrey City for now. If we could lay low in Kent, we may well be able to get away.

Cause for Alarm (Chapter 3)

Georgie BallPosted by Georgie Ball 08 May, 2009 09:56PM
Well, as the title suggests, this is chapter 3 of my novel. Chapters 1 and 2 are both under my category, so if you want to read the whole thing, go right ahead. Comment on anything you wish to, and please enjoy!

III

I rested for a few minutes, enjoying seeing all the children again. I smiled up at their ashen faces, but hope was returning to their eyes. They believed I could get them all out of this. I just wished it to be true.

At last I felt as though I could go on again. I tenderly detached myself from the children, and went to the staircase, taking Andy with me. Andy was the oldest of them all, at sixteen. He was the new “man of the house” as I had called him once. He had puffed out his chest in pride. He was truly wonderful with the children, and he had even gone out and got a job recently to help me pay for all our expenses. He baby-sat while I was out working, he was a relatively good cook and all of the children trusted him. If the children trusted him, I could trust him too.

I leaned close to his ear and we began discussing our plan. I told him all of what happened until now, and as he listened his face grew more and more grave. He nodded each time I stopped for breath. When I finished he leant back against the wall and blew his cheeks out. He shrugged.

“How do we get out of here?” I looked down into my lap.

“I don’t know yet. But if I don’t come back out of the outhouse soon, the guards are bound to get suspicious. We need to figure this out soon. Really soon.” Again he nodded. He was so mature for his age and I felt so sorry for him. He had so much responsibility for just a sixteen year old boy. We both sat in silence for a few minutes. I looked up.

“I can’t think of any other way to do this, Andy. We’ve got to try it.” He watched my face, asking with his eyes for me to go on. “If I lead the way through the tunnel, I’ll come out first, to check to see if the coast is clear. I want you to go last. You need to put the door back in position as best as possible, okay?” I stopped, thinking of how ludicrous and risky this plan was. I couldn’t see how it would work, but I could honestly see no other alternatives. “If the coast is clear, I tell the kids to come out, and they climb the fence to Mrs. Epstein’s garden. They need to keep climbing the fences, or going through holes in the fences until they reach the road. They need to wait there for me. Tell them to hide. I have to go out the way I came so that they won’t be suspicious.” I smiled wryly. “Everything will be fine.” I think I was saying it more to myself now, rather than to Andy or the rest of the children.

I rested a little while longer, sipping from a bottle of water whilst Andy relayed the plan in a quiet voice so as not to alert anyone above. Some of the children grew yet more frightened, and cowered, holding onto one another and crying, whilst the most extroverted of the group became excited by the prospect of adventure.

*

The children were instructed to never let go of the person in front of them as they followed me through the tunnels. The noise in there was deafening when I was alone, but now there were excited whispers, muffled sobs and the sounds of many tiny lungs filling the air beneath the ground. The feeling of claustrophobia set in on us all when Andy pulled the door shut behind him. It felt to us as though someone had just put the lid on a coffin for the masses. There was little air down here and with over fifteen of us, I realised we had to get through as quickly as possible. The child behind me, Dom, clutched desperately tightly onto the back of my jeans. He scrambled behind me on one hand and knees, falling every so often, little whimpers escaping his mouth.

“Dom?” I called back to him, quietly. He didn’t reply, but I could tell that he had heard me. “Listen, Dom. We’ll be out of these tunnels in no time. It’s really not that far, I promise you.” He sniffled in reply. Another promise. At least I felt sure I could keep this one.

The sad procession through the dark continued for another few minutes, and at last the roof was no longer scraping my head.

“Stay here, Dom. Don’t come up until I say so, alright?” I think I heard him reply with a ‘yes’. I seemed to be growing accustomed to fear now. The butterflies in my belly no longer felt like lead-weights, this time they were merely butterflies. I pushed the trapdoor up and began scrambling up the walls, heaving myself out onto the floor. Dom called after me, and softly I replied, reassuring him everything was okay, but I needed to check there was no-one waiting.

A sudden thought popped into my head. How would I get around The Outsiders being suspicious of me? I had been in here a long time.

“Dom? Dom!”

“Florence?” His voice answered.

“It’s alright; I’m going to need you to wait in there a little longer. Just another few minutes, please. Pass the message back along?” I heard him do as I said, and nimbly I ducked out of the toilet, and into a shower block. I had no towel so I would have to put the clothes back on wet. It was something that couldn’t be avoided.

Just as I had said, I was done within two minutes. I checked outside. The gate was still shut and there was no Outsiders in the yard the outhouse stood in. I rushed back to the toilet and reached my hand down.

“Come on, you can come out now.” Dom’s hand attached itself to mine, with a frighteningly strong grip. I pulled him up and out. “Just wait there,” I said, pointing out to where the sinks stood. His baleful blue eyes locked onto mine, and regretfully he let my hand drop. He did as he was told. I nodded, smiling, and then reached my hand back down.

One by one, the children emerged. Some of their eyes were shining with tears, others shining with anticipation for what was ahead. I felt a hand larger than the others grab my own and Andy’s grim face appeared. He looked completely drained. He had been in there longer than everybody else and obviously the whole situation was affecting him more than I thought it would. He was older than the others, and understood the severity of what was happening far more than any of the younger ones. A tight lipped smile greeted me. He stood in front of me, and I could tell he was on the verge of tears. He tried to let go of my hand, but I pulled him in to me and hugged him, warmly. He sagged against me, his breath warm on my ear.

“You don’t know if you can keep those promises you’ve made, do you?” He asked. His voice sounded strained. He always could tell exactly what was going on in my head. I didn’t reply, but shook my head slightly. Words caught in my throat. Several seconds passed.

“I’ll do my best to keep them. If we keep clear heads and out wits about us-” I could say no more. I swallowed and he moved away.

“Okay, let’s do it.” Andy whispered. Once again, I nodded, curtly.

“Okay, I’ll go out first. You all need to do exactly what Andy tells you, alright? You’re in good hands with him.” I smiled at the sea of faces before me. I was crouched before them, trying my best to convince myself as much as them that the plan would work out. I opened the door to the outhouse and stepped into the yard. The cool air hit my face, and now I longed for the comfort and the heat of the tunnels and basement. My hair was plastered to my face, still wet from the hasty shower. Steeling myself against the cold and the reek of danger I stepped forward to the gate. I glanced over my shoulder at Andy, who was watching me with ready eyes. He had his hand out behind him, holding the children back. They stood, silently obeying him.

My hands shook violently as they reached for the gate. I walked out, looking to my right at the Outsider guards. Their backs were to me. I gave Andy the thumbs up, and walked as calmly away as I could. The static on Their ‘coms crackled and their strange technical language exploded into life behind me. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, and I struggled desperately to fight the urge to run. I got around the corner safely and without incident.

Children began to appear in single file over the last fence. I gestured for them to hurry into the sparse bushes around the place. Andy followed them all and we conducted a headcount. All were present. A relieved grin split across Andy’s face suddenly.

“We made it!” He exclaimed wildly.

“Yeah, but now we have to find somewhere to go.”

My heart sunk. I couldn’t believe how careless I had been. How could I not have thought this far ahead? I had spent all my time worrying about the first bit, without even thinking about how much more dangerous it was going to get. I could see Andy was thinking exactly the same thing. Our eyes met.

“What do we do now?”

Cause for Alarm (Chapter 2)

Georgie BallPosted by Georgie Ball 08 May, 2009 01:34AM
This is the second installment of my novel, Cause for Alarm. It was orginally meant to be written for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where you write a whole novel of 50,000 words in just one month. I sadly only made it to 15,000 due to a sudden avalanche of coursework, but I will finish it once I get more time, after the exams are over and I am free!
For those who can be bothered to read all 2,000 words of chapter 2, feel free to comment on anything and everything.


II

When I first took the children in about three years prior, I knew that I had to prepare for instances such as this. I had just never thought that such a thing would actually happen to me. The basement was there when I bought the house back when I first moved in with Louis, my husband. He looked so pleased when he first went down there, showing me the almost invisible seams of the perfectly fitted door leading down a set of steep stone stairs. He had loved the privacy of it, and how cosy it was once you were down there. At first I had been a little dubious. The stairs were none too inviting, almost asking you to fall down them with the almost vertical steps. I followed him down, and he switched the overhead light on. The room was instantly flooded with a warm yellow light, and it surprisingly wasn’t cold at all, even though I had expected it to be. The walls were panelled with wood, so that the cold and ugly concrete beneath it could not be seen, and the floor was soft yet compact earth after many years of being trodden on. Despite the dirt floor, there did not seem to be any insects or sign of rodents at all.

On the walls there was shelf after mounted shelf, already full of tins. In one corner two single beds lay next to one another, and on the other side of the room there was a rocking chair and several ordinary chairs stacked up on top of one another. There was a tin bath taking up about a quarter of one room, and there was even a tiny cooker. I remembered looking at Louis in delight on realising that we had a perfect little den.

“It’s wonderful,” I had breathed against him as he embraced me tightly.

A week after we had moved in, Louis called me from the basement, excitement clearly in his voice. I had nearly fallen headfirst down the stairs trying to get to him quick enough. He pulled me closer to him, then gripping my arm hard, his eyes wide and gleaming he gestured to the wall next to the cooker. I shrugged, not understanding what he was seeing.

“Look harder!” He exclaimed. I moved closer, and saw it. Just like the trapdoor leading down here, there was a door in this wall. It was almost invisible. “I didn’t open it,” He burbled, “I wanted to do it with you.” I pushed him forwards gently. Tenderly he pushed it. It didn’t move. He gave it another push, lightly again. I barged past him, and used my shoulder. I fell into the space behind it. Dust and rubble, and several roots fell about me, coating my t-shirt and jeans. Louis pushed past me then, torch at the ready. He helped me up, then continued forward. After several minutes of claustrophobic crawling it was getting a little too small to continue. An exasperated cry issued from Louis’ lips.

“No!”

“What?” I asked hurriedly, worried.

“It’s a dead end.” His voice sounded thick in the musky, dead air around us. I patted his back sympathetically. We headed back, scrambling backwards because there was not enough room to turn around.

When Louis was Taken, I knew I had to find out where that passage had really gone to. I was certain that it was not a dead end, but it had merely collapsed at some point. I took several tools with me to help and began chiselling away at the compact dirt. I had to tear my way through several thickening roots which I presumed were the cause of the cave-in in the first place. It was too dark behind the cave-in to see anything once I broke through, so I busied myself removing the dirt I had dug out and taking it through to the basement. I smoothed it out and it became a new layer to the floor. Straight after, I collapsed on the bed in the corner and slept for a solid nine hours.

I woke up feeling sore all over, but completely refreshed. The door was open, a black portal willing me to enter and complete my exploration. Finish Louis’ mission for him now that he could no longer do it himself.

Cautiously I switched my torch on and headed into the dark. After a few minutes of scrambling, and listening to the sounds of my own breathing as though it were right in my ear, I reached the place where the cave-in had been. Stopping only to regain my breath, I pushed on forwards, nerves warring with one another in my belly. What if it were to cave-in again, and leave me trapped here? Regardless, I kept on moving. Two minutes later I reached a dead end. This time I could see that it was not a cave-in, but the tunnel simply ended. Downhearted I hung my head, and sighed.

It was then that I realised that I could turn around, which was unusual, considering usually to get back out of the tunnel you had to crawl and scramble your way backwards. The second thing I noticed was that my head was not grazing the dusty roof. Feeling my stomach flutter with excitement, I looked up, and swung the torch upwards also. There was room for me to stand up almost completely straight. The roof above me was not dirt, but old wood instead, and now that I was almost at my full height, I noticed a nasty smell drifting in from above. Frowning, I put my hand on the wood, and pushed. There was a resistance but I could feel it starting to give. I put my torch down on the ground, and pointed it up so that I could use both hands. With a grunt I gave another heave, and this time it moved. Dust and grit fell down into my eyes, and a sudden burst of natural light made me flinch, and I let it fall back down. Brushing the dirt from my eyes, I picked up the torch, and this time, more prepared I pushed again.

Heaving myself up using my arms for the most part, and my feet when I could find a hold on the wall, I levered myself into the tiny room. The smell was worse now, and I realised why. I knew where I was. This was the outhouse that was shared on my street.

I got to my feet quickly, and looked down. The trapdoor was alike the one in my in the living room floor. It was a perfect fit, and was hardly visible at all. In fact, I placed the door back and I found that with all of the dirt that was on the floor of the outhouse it wasn’t visible at all. It was situated in one of the lavatories. I pushed open the door, and stepped out to the row of basins. In dazed wonderment, I walked back to my house, about a hundred foot walk and marvelled at the person who had built it in the first place.

Over the next week I tried my best to stabilise the roof, and to expand it slightly, so that it could fit an adult a little better and I carved out several holes to be used as rungs in the outhouse exit. I had no use for this tunnel, but I felt a little better for having done it. I knew it would have been Louis’ project were he still with me and I took pride in completing it for him.

Breaking out of my daze I checked the road to my left. There was a small road which connected the back gardens of each of the houses on the street. This was the way The Outsiders had come when they raided my house the night before. It was the only way I could think of getting to the outhouse without just waltzing past them and through my front door. I saw two Outsiders standing near my back gate, blocking the way into my garden. The outhouse was built on some of the land beside my house. The outhouse had several lavatories within, two showers and a row of sinks. Many of the houses in our cul-de-sac were without bathrooms, but we were one of the lucky ones.

An Outsider glanced my way, and I nodded in his direction and moved into my neighbour’s garden, hiding up the bike. The back door banged open and Mrs. Epstein bustled towards me.

“Floren-” I cut her loud voice off with a silent finger pressed quickly to my lips. She frowned, concern cutting lines across her face. She beckoned me inside.

The door clicked quietly shut behind her, and she sat me down at her large kitchen table. I clasped my hands in front of me, and studied the general clutter and disarray of her home. The table was covered with papers from her husband’s work, and many plates, some clean, some dirty. Washing both wet and dry hung from every place it could. Despite the business the room had, it all seemed de-saturated, much alike Mrs. Epstein herself. Her son, Jim, had died recently. He had been caught in the middle of a fight between some rebels and Outsiders on the street. Trying to mind his own business had ended his life. Since then Mrs. Epstein had not been the same. She was usually perfectly calm and composed, and always so organised but now here she was, all in a muddle, both mentally and physically. I wanted to hold her and tell her I knew how it felt, but it would be too awkward.

At last she sat down opposite me. A stern gaze settled upon my face.

“What’s going on, Florence?” I didn’t reply. An eyebrow rose of its own accord. “Why are you in my back garden? And more importantly, why are there Outsiders all over the street? What have you done?” So many questions. As she vocalised the last one I heard a panic breaking through. No one wanted the Outsiders on their street. It usually resulted in some form of interrogation.

“I don’t know why they’re here, ma’am. But they’ll take me away if they catch me, and I can’t say I want to just go and give myself up to them. I got to get my kids though... If I don’t-” She stopped me as a tear fell down my cheek.

“I won’t tell them I saw you, Flo. You mark my words, love. Just make sure you know what you’re doing, alright?” Genuine concern playing across her soft features now. I could tell she was frightened for herself more than my well being and that of the children’s, but I can’t say I blame her after all of what she’d been through of late. She’d surely had enough to do with The Outsiders to last anyone a life time and a half.

A new expression settles on Mrs. Epstein’s face.

“How are you going to get the children out?”

“I have a way. But I’ll have to go very close to them. Can I please have some clothes and maybe a hat?” I felt terrible asking, but I had to take everything I could to ensure that I wouldn’t be caught. A pained look flashed across her features, but then with a curt nod, she stood and beckoned for me to follow.

Ten minutes later I stood in clothes far too big for me and made for the opposite gender. I was so grateful to Mrs. Epstein, but words somehow didn’t come. She was doing a brave thing agreeing to help me, and giving me her late son’s clothes to wear at that.

I nodded my thanks, and stepped out onto the scruffy lawn of the Epstein’s back garden. I clicked open the back gate and let myself out, feeling as though I was shaking visibly enough for the guards to notice me. The glanced in my direction again, but paid no heed. I walked with legs of jelly closer and closer to them, then opened the gate to the outhouse. I stepped inside shaking with relief. One step closer. I headed for the lavatory with the trap door. I had no idea if the roof had held. It was such a long time since I’d last ventured this way. I had a tough time of trying to get the door up in the first place. As soon as I did, I dropped down. This time, I had no flashlight. I pulled the trapdoor back over my head, shutting myself off from the panic that instantly set within me. The air itself was muffled and the heat was intense instantaneously. My breath came in short, sharp gasp, rasping down my throat and grating into my lungs. It felt as though I were breathing the dirt itself. What felt like an eternity later, I managed to stop panicking long enough to start feeling my way forwards. Time seemed to stop existing in the tunnel. Only my heightened sense of touch and sound seemed to exist along with the walls. I felt it was hard to recognise if I was moving forwards or backwards, or even if I was the right way up. The fear was so intense, yet somehow I kept myself moving. My only motivation was the thought of trying to rescue the poor children. I had no idea what They would do to them if they were found.

A bead of sweat dew-dropped on the end of the nose and there was a hot plop as it hit the earth beneath my hands. I was crawling blindly on hands and knees, wondering how moles could possibly do this their whole lives.

What could have been minutes or even hours later my head knocked into something. I swallowed, hard, fighting the urge to hyperventilate. I could always go back if it was a cave-in. My hands reached out in front of me and then to the sides. A frightening black emptiness lay behind me, so I knew I hadn’t gotten turned around somehow. This time I felt in front of me more carefully. It didn’t feel like the earthen walls. Excitement gripped me. It was the door! I listened closely and I could hear murmurs and sobs from the other side. I began pushing, desperate to get in. Suddenly the door gave, and I rolled into the room. There was half a loud cry, which was cut off by a hand clapping over the culprit’s mouth. Then the whispers started.

“That’s not an Outsider!”
“They’ve found us!”

“Is that..?” The whispering stopped and the eldest boy stepped forwards.

“Florence?” He asked in a hushed tone. Dazed and disoriented, I pushed my hair back from my eyes, and looked around the room. It was like a furnace in the basement, what with so many bodies filling the space. In the back of my mind I marvelled at how there had been enough oxygen. The voice, a little stronger, a little louder this time persisted;

“Florence?” I looked up at the boy before me, Andy. I nodded.

“It’s okay. I’m going to get you out of here now. Don’t worry.” I hoped that my voice didn’t show that I felt as though I couldn’t live up to yet another promise. Some of the younger ones began crying freely and flung themselves at me. I hugged them all as one and stroked their hair.

“It’s alright, now. I promise, it’s going to be okay.”

Favours Returned

Georgie BallPosted by Georgie Ball 26 Apr, 2009 10:55PM

WARNING: ADULT THEMES.

Seeing as there's not a section on the blog which isn't accessible to those of younger years, please don't read (like this will stop you) unless you know parents/guardians will be okay with it! Don't get me in trouble please ;)

I'm more than happy to take all kinds of crit, so comment on all of it, seeing as it's so short!


“Hey,” I said as I walked in. She lay back on the bed, half asleep. She opened her eyes and focused on me.

“Hey,” She replied, “What are you doing here?” I walked further into the room, clicking the door shut behind me.

“I wanted to see you.” I leant against the wall.

“Bullshit,” She propped herself up on her elbows, fixing me with an icy stare, “You never just ‘want to see me’ when you come by.” I pushed away from the wall and walked to the side of the bed, looking down at her.

“Something like that, yeah.” I bent over her and kissed her briefly. There was a sharp intake of breath as I moved on top of her. Our kiss deepened.

“You’re only here because you want me to fuck you.” She said coldly as she unbuttoned my jeans. Her hand moved beneath the elastic of my underwear. I tried to keep my voice level as I spoke.

“And you’re only doing this because you want me to return the favour.” She looked me in the eye.

“Something like that, yeah.”

Kitten Lips

Georgie BallPosted by Georgie Ball 13 Apr, 2009 01:15AM

Kitten Lips

Georgie Ball

I was curled up in the corner of the bed, snuggled tightly beneath the covers when I heard her come into the room. I was almost reaching the realms of sleep, to the extent as to being aware of what was happening around me, but unable to respond. I listened to her potter about the bedroom for a while, quite content in knowing she was there. Just feeling her presence so close to me made me happy. The sounds of her breathing in the quiet of the room, and her soft footfalls on the carpet lulled me closer to sleep. My own breath grew heavy and my thoughts began to wander freely.

I don’t know how much time had passed, but I was brought back from my light slumber gently, as I felt her clamber into the bed beside me. Her feet were cold, but I didn’t mind. She curled herself around me, her warmth so comforting, nuzzling into my neck, her sweet breath in my ear. She wrapped her arms around me, and I sighed in happiness, prepared to go back to sleep with her by my side.

We lay entwined for several minutes, just absorbing the other’s heat, content; completely. There was a throbbing hum of the traffic ebbing and flowing busily outside. If I let my mind wander enough, the traffic noise became a beehive, its willing workers slaving away passionately for their Queen.

Time moved slowly in my head. I was trapped between sleep and consciousness, enjoying biding my time next to her.

She sighed heavily and moved a little, awakening from her peaceful doze. I felt her become more alert beside me, and she moved her hand across my belly tenderly, her touch enthralling, enchanting. Her hand tickled my stomach slowly, her hands so soft and gentle. Her fingertips were like feathers of the finest down, relaxing, tantalising. I pretended to be asleep so as to prolong the moment, but I couldn’t suppress my smile. She knew I was awake, I could tell. I didn’t have to look at her to know she was smiling too. I adored every part of her, and how we could feel what the other was feeling all the time.

She moved her hand from my stomach, and placed it on my cheek, turning my head to face her. I opened my eyes blearily, desperate to see her beautiful features- and there she was. Her brilliant green eyes piercing into me, harsh, but worn with such softness that when under her scrutiny I felt like I was the only thing that mattered to her. She bent her head down to kiss me; and my lips and tongue met her own. She pulled away to look down at me, and I felt a lump in my throat as I looked at her. I never understood how someone could have such power over me. Her kitten lips curled up in a sweet smile, and I was lost in her gaze, entranced by her beauty. Nothing else in that moment existed other than that smile. I buried my fingers into her long, thick hair and pulled her down towards me, vying for her to be as close as physically possible. Closer.

Close enough now for love to become a verb. She kissed me on my forehead so tenderly and with such warmth that I felt as though my insides were melting. My desire for her was overwhelming; I wanted every part of me- more than that; every particle, every atom even, to be touching her. I held her so close and we kissed with a desperate ferocity. So much passion between us, and it zipped across our bodies like bolts of electricity, sending shivers down my spine and tremors like the beginnings of an earthquake.

I pressed my hand against the small of her back, feeling her skin, supple and soft. I ran my hand up her body until it rested on her neck, cupping her face to mine. With butterfly touches she pulled my shirt up and over my head, discarding it haphazardly on the floor. It was then I realised she was already undressed. I smiled inwardly, no longer disguising my lust for her.

Later we lay in the same position as before, gazing at each other in that same love-struck way. Her fingers traced around and around my lips and she smiled at me, dozily.

“I love you.” I whispered. Her smile broadened, and her breath was still heavy, panting, she pulled me towards her. She did not reply, merely answered me with the embrace, soon to be followed by hands and lips. It was answer enough for me.

As we kissed I thought that if I were to die then and there, I would die happy. More than happy. Blissful, even. What more could you want in life, other than this? I wondered. She moved on top of me once again, and we lay, our foreheads and noses pressed together, smiling at one another.

“Mmmm.” She murmured.

“Mmmm.” I replied. Her smile grew wider and her lips were on mine again, her hands in my hair, tugging gently, and her weight on her elbows, so as not to put any pressure on me. I loved that. How all of these tender considerations came so naturally to her. It was second nature to her. I loved how when I was with her, I was the same. Completely at ease.

I let my mind continue with these happy thoughts. I had this house, which I shared with her, I had a job, and so did she, which meant there was never any grief over money issues. The rent was paid each month, and there was always food available with some money left for savings too. Sure, our lives seemed pretty mundane, I mean, we went to work Monday to Friday, came home, cooked dinner and sat to watch TV and movies. We even went to restaurants sometimes, either alone, or with friends. Our lives were completely average, nothing out of the ordinary, and to be honest… boring. But she made it all so different. Yes, it was an uninteresting life which would all in all amount to nothing at the end of it, but I was happy, and that’s what made it bearable.

*

She had got a new tattoo recently. On her shoulder blade. Something quite extraordinary considering the drabness of everything else in our lives. I stood there next to her, grimacing just as much as she, for she squeezed my hand so hard. It was a small, black, purple and pink. A tiny flower with an equally tiny bird ready to alight on it. It looked ugly at first, as it was still sore and weeping slightly. She looked at it in the mirror, craning her neck round, a delighted grin across her face.

“It’s beautiful!” She declared, and promptly went to hug the baffled responsible artist.

Later that night, when the only light in our room was that of the streetlights outside, I peeled back the gauze, to admire it. She lay on her front, half asleep. It was still a little red, but already it had already begun to heal up well. I decided that I did like it after all.

“Honey?” I had asked.

“Hmm?” She answered sleepily.

“I love it.” I whispered, my teeth closing around her ear gently.

“Good.” Was the muffled reply from inside the pillow.

“Honey?” No time for an answer, “I love you.”

“Mmmm.” She said. I lowered my lips to the tattoo, and kissed it. I heard her sharp intake of breath as I did it, knowing it stung her and pushed a little harder. She rolled over.

“That was nice…” She whispered.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.” I grinned and kissed her collar bone, trailing my lips over her neck, and up to her jaw line. I paused. “No, don’t stop there.”

“I won’t.”

*

Looking back now, I still don’t really know what happened between us. Everything was going so well. We had the perfect life. Domestic bliss. I guess it was just… too boring for her. I guess that’s where we differ. I had achieved everything I wanted in life, and strived for nothing more. She always did. Always so passionate about everything. I was just content with what I had, and could never understand what else you could need. I thought she wanted the same as me, and never really listened. I guess that’s where I went wrong with her.

They say that time is the greatest healer, right? I disagree. Every day without her is more painful than the previous. I wake up in the mornings, and I reach to hug her and there’s this cold empty space beside me. I wake up, and I want to tell her about my dreams, no matter how mundane, like we used to, and I even miss the silly things like; making her coffee precisely the way she liked it. Fill her mug three quarters full with semi-skimmed milk, then to the top with cold water. Half a teaspoon, and I mean half exactly, of coffee would then be stirred in thoroughly. Then one minute in the microwave, so it was just the right temperature. Just above luke warm, and not so hot that it would scald your mouth.

I think that love is about recognising your partners’ idiosyncrasies, or mannerisms if you will. It’s all of these things about a person that you pick up on, that you would never notice with anyone else other than them. I loved the way she used to get so irate about the most menial of things. And then get yet further angered by my amusement at it. But it was only then that she would see the funny side of it, and her expression would change completely. Soften suddenly and she would laugh with me, then kiss me tenderly, a smile still splayed on her velvet kitten lips. I missed it. I missed it all. Playfully fighting over the remote during the evenings, or making her toast just right. Love is when you pick up on the insignificant parts of peoples’ personalities, and it is the way you hold onto it warmly, even after they’re gone.

Cause for Alarm

Georgie BallPosted by Georgie Ball 12 Apr, 2009 10:53PM
Cause for Alarm
Georgie Ball


I

That night I stood out in what I suppose you would call the back garden. It was more of a courtyard, really. When I first came to this house, I tried to grow vegetables in the muddy earth, among the weeds, so that they would not be seen and stolen by others. They were strangled by the roaming brambles and other creeping plants alike to it. After that I spent a week digging the whole place up, and we bred chickens for food. One morning I came out to feed them and they were all gone. Possibly an animal, possibly someone nearby thinking that they needed the food more than we did.

Now it’s just a barren, mini-wasteland. I come out to think, when I can, or to listen. That time I was out there to smoke. Luckily tobacco was something easy to come by these days. I don’t know if we grow it here, or if we have it imported. Both of which seem unlikely, but I have it and that’s answer enough for me. At least I can still have my vices. What I do miss is coffee and cigarettes. Coffee disappeared a few years ago. Suddenly it just wasn’t available any more. “Discontinued” someone said, when I asked. There was no point in asking why. Over time we had all grown used to not asking questions any more. This was just the kind of thing that happened on a slowly more regular basis.

We didn’t have any chairs out here. There’s no point in having things which can be easily stolen, I had come to realise. Instead I sat perched on the side of a large sink which was filled with rain water. I don’t know when or why that got there, but it served its current purpose. I took a deep drag on the cigarette, and relished the crackle of the paper as the fire crept its way slowly towards my fingers. I held the smoke in until it hurt, then exhaled a mushroom cloud, watching it drift and spiral away from me, twisting and turning like a strange, tribal dance with itself. I felt some of the tension ebb away with that dancing smoke.

As I took the last drag, I stubbed it out on the floor and flicked the end over the fence. Who was there to scold me for that anyway? I stood and stretched widely, yawning. A strange sense of uneasiness settled over me. There was an eerie silence which surely could not bode well.

I saw it in the birds first. If the birds stop singing and fly away, you try your best to follow them. As silently as possible I crept back in through the door as I heard the treads of the vehicle coming ever closer.

Quietly I raised the alarm and sad little figures came down the stairs, doe-eyed and frightened.

“Come now; just help me get the boards done. It’ll be okay.” I consoled them in hushed tones, forever doubting the promises I made to them on a daily basis. They knew the drill by now. We practised it regularly for such occasions as this. For some of them, they had been here before in this situation, and they helped the others along, but a the small few who had only ever practiced this were clearly scared, some with silent tears dripping a white stripe down their dirty faces. Sadness swelled within my chest, but I pushed it back within me, repressing it, and continued my work. They swung and locked the boards and windows inwards, then went on to help the stragglers. I went upstairs and tried to pull the curtains shut as quietly as possible. At the front of the house, where we were lucky enough to have glass, we never opened the boards. It made us too visible. I used to have all of them shut all of the time, but the house was so dark and dingy I found it was much better for morale to just set a little risk in opening the back ones.

A cold draught worked its way toward me from my room. I swore under my breath. I had left the window open. Idiot. I ducked into my sanctuary, keeping below the window, and peered up above the windowsill when I dared. The truck was slowly emptying people from its insides. They hadn’t seen me yet.

For a moment, I stood like a fox in the headlights (a phrase that has been passed down from the time before), torn between risking shutting it and being seen, or risking leaving it open, and the chances of them breaking in being greater.

When I worked up the courage, I stuck my arm haphazardly out of the window and took the hook of the board in my hand, pulling it closed slowly. My heart was in my mouth drumming a new time signature. I got the hook onto the latch, and went for the window. A sudden gust of wind howled through gaps in the boards and took the window from my hands. It slammed loudly against the frame work. My heart dropped from my mouth into my gut, and a cold sweat broke out. I saw through the gap that they had all swung round and were looking what I felt was straight at me. They clicked open the back gate, and walked into my garden.

The kids! I thought wildly, and turned and fled from the room. Not bothered by the sounds I was making any more, I thundered down the stairs. Some of the children were stifling sobs with grubby handkerchiefs or hands if they had nothing else. They knew things had gone wrong. I lifted up the patchy rug, and opened the trap door down into the cellar, herding them in as though they were sheep. I heard a steady thumping and splintering growing louder with each kick. They were breaking down my door.

“Quicker! Quicker!” I urged as loud as I dared. I couldn’t let the Outsiders know that I was not alone. After what felt like an eternity the children were all in. I hurriedly put the door down and covered it again. I could hear Them trying to kick in the back door. I tried not to be selfish and think about the expenses of having to pay for the damage, but it was difficult sometimes.

Although I knew what was coming, when the door gave in to the dark shrouded figures, it still made me jump. I stood before them, and then sprinted for the front door. I pulled it open and left it wide. There was no time to shut it. It would save it getting broken too… I hoped. I grabbed my bike from behind the bushes and jumped on.

The alarm went off, reverberating up and down the road. My head and heart pounded as I forced my legs to keep turning the pedals. The bells and the siren merged into a panicked cacophony, beginning to reach a crescendo. I couldn’t hear my pursuers anymore, but I didn’t dare stop to check. Just because I couldn’t hear them over the noise didn’t mean that they were gone. I skidded around another corner, swerving violently away from the mangled barriers on the side of the road. I had no lights on my bike, and the few street lights that still worked emitted a horrible artificial light that never seemed to do anything but create more shadows.

The shadows were where I was trying to stay currently. Becoming invisible was what I needed to do to get through this. As soon as I was around one corner, and out of view, I chanced a glance behind me. No-one was there. That didn’t mean I had lost them though. They were bound to have the dogs with them.

Already my lungs felt as though they were going to burst, and my legs were shot with pain. I had to carry on. I heard a shout behind me, and I knew that if I didn’t speed up I’d be dead in no time. I stood up, and pedalled yet faster. Faster than I could have imagined I could go. The bike rocked from side to side violently, and I veered out of the way of a tank which suddenly turned into the road. I wheeled round, and the pursuers on foot were coming toward me. On instinct I raced straight at them, then at the last second swung into a small side alley. I knew these roads like the back of my hand. So long as I kept on my toes I could get out of this, I told myself again and again.

I came out of the other side of the alley as the gunshots began. I felt the air beside me stir. Fear gripped me, and my mind could barely focus on what was going on. Every part of me was screaming to get out of there.

I continued on, through the tiny, winding side alleys of the outskirts, becoming more and more entangled in this intricate web of roads. Somehow I just seemed to know if I was coming close to a dead end, and managed to steer away. Slowly the houses about me were beginning to become scarce, and small scruffy patches of vegetation were making themselves apparent. At first it was just weeds struggling their way through cracks in the pavement, and then there were grassy verges, and brambles on either side of the road.

I had no idea where I even was now. It was not often I left my own district. It was too risky. Panic clung to me now, and I heard the roar of an engine coming up the road. Acting purely on gut instinct, I turned my bike directly onto a high grass verge, and flew over the top, landing in a gorse bush. I fought back the urge to cry out in pain as the thorns snared my clothes and skin, clawing at me violently. My nostrils filled with the sickly scent of the little pungent flowers. I prayed that that my bike was out of view. I could see it hadn’t followed me the whole way into the bush, and I dreaded the scenario of the vehicle going past, spotting it, then a suspicious soldier with an itchy trigger finger pulling back the branches and planting a bullet right between my eyes.

It wasn’t worth thinking about. If it happened, it happened, and I wouldn’t know anything of it, I stubbornly told myself.

I was pulled out of the morbid trance as I heard the motor come crawling up the road, much closer now. I froze, and held my breath. A cold sweat broke out on my forehead, as the stead rumble grew to a roar. Just as I thought I couldn’t take the tension any more, the sound began to fade. My ears filled with white noise instead, and I sat, chest heaving in the middle of the gorse bush, relived I had got through one more incident.

Getting home was the next step. The city would be alive with people looking for a woman on a bike. My description would be all over the radios, both public and of the Outsiders. I couldn’t leave my bike though. I needed it. I needed it for my job, to earn money, to collect food, for escape just like tonight.

For a while I pondered upon my options. I could bike back, and probably get chased home, and caught. I could walk back and leave the bike here, and collect it some other time. But being without a bike would make my life difficult, and the local Outsider Watchers seeing me without the bike would surely induce suspicion. I could not afford to bring attention to myself right now. The only other solution I could think of would be to stay here over night, and go back in the morning. There was no way of contacting the kids to let them know. There was a phone at the house, and I had one on me, but I didn’t dare call in case They were listening. We all knew they were capable, and if They were on an alert like this, then They would be far more likely to bug and trace the calls.

After an internal debate, I chose the latter option, but without the phone call. The kids would no doubt presume the worst, but they were strong. The older ones would take charge like I knew they could. We had done drills, and all I could do was hope that they would be able to do the same now it was a genuine emergency.

We always stocked up on food down in the basement room, and there was a working sink, and plenty of furniture. The mattresses we had would have to be shared out between them all, but they had enough supplies to last until I got home at least. I could not bear to think of what would happen if they ventured out of there. I forced my imagination to stop running wild, but there was every possibility that They were monitoring the house to wait for my return.

When I felt that the Outsiders has passed and the coast was clear, I cautiously poked my head up over the verge. I clambered out, and slid down onto the road. I could just see my handlebars sticking up out of the bush. How they hadn’t spotted it I had no idea. My head hurt just to think on it. My heart rate was finally settling to a normal rate, luckily so. I felt as though if it had continued on like that, that my veins would have exploded.

This time on foot, I scrambled up the side of the verge, and dragged my bike from the bush. It was only when I subjected my skin to the thorns again that I began to actually register the pain from the dive into the bush. The thorns had certainly done their job well. There were rips and tears over all of my already raged clothing. Some were full on tears, others were just little pluck holes. My skin was covered in thousands of tiny red lines, angry and gaudy against the pale of my skin. Most of them were no worse than a scratch a cat might give you, but I was heavily bruised, and where I had fallen against the branches, then the floor, the skin was scraped away. It was a miracle that I had not broken any bones.

Once the bike was free I set about pulling all of the weeds and thorns out of its spokes, and then stood atop the verge, and looked for a less prickly place to sleep and store the bike for the night. A little further down the road I spotted a less bramble area and trudged over to it. I pulled the undergrowth over the bike as best I could, and then checked its visibility from the road. It couldn’t be seen as far as I could make out. I then collapsed beneath a small sapling enclosed in ferns and fell into an exhausted slumber.

Every few hours I would awake, in a panic, sure that They had found me, or found the kids. I would wonder briefly why I was so cold, and why I was covered in water, and then remember it was nothing but dew and that I was outside. The horrors of the chase came back to me, and all my other worries would flood back into my mind like a tsunami wave. At dawn, I gave up on sleep altogether and sat until I felt it was a reasonable time to be deemed not suspicious to be about. I presumed it was roughly 8am.

Before I left, I buried my torn jumper, and rolled up my trousers. I tucked my hair behind my ears also. There was nothing I could do about the bike, but if I looked different to usual, then the description of the bike and me would not match. It was the best I could for now.

Nervously I dragged the bike out of its cover, and set off back towards the city. I was worrying now about the Outsiders upping the perimeter control, but I needed to go home so I had no choice in the matter.

It was only as the smoggy sky-line was beginning to creep into view that a sudden realisation dawned on me. I was covered in cuts and bruises. How would I explain that if I got stopped? Before my mind managed to play out the scenario, I stopped it, and thought instead of excuses. I had taken a fall? They would never believe it. My mind was drawing a complete blank, too busy thinking of the horrible things they would do to me if I was caught.

As I drew nearer, I could see the Outsiders patrolling. My heart was in my mouth again, but I continued nonetheless. To stop now would be certain death. There was no way that I could look at all nervous, or out of place. I headed for a back road where there seemed to be less of the Outsiders. Their patrol cars were circling the main road round the edge of the city.

I managed to get past the cars, and my bike juddered over the countless potholes which had pockmarked the road created by the barrage of bullets from countless fights. The ground around the perimeter of each city was always the worst. The Outsider’s didn’t like groups of people leaving, and from what I had heard of The Great Revolt, many people had tried to leave en masse. For days the citizens waged a losing war against the Outsider Grunts, until eventually they were all either dead or had given up. The survivors disappeared soon after, either in hiding, or suicide, unable to cope with the new reality.

Now it was my time to follow their path, but in the opposite direction. It was strange how despite I always wanted to be away from the city, all I could think about was getting back in again.

The houses began to thicken like the concrete jungle the sprawling city had become, and as I wound my way warily through all the backstreets I knew, I grew more and more cautious. At every corner I felt as though I’d bike into an Outsider and a gun would be pressed to my forehead, with an itchy trigger finger at the ready. But there was no cool gun barrel, lusting after the gunpowder; instead the streets were eerily empty. There were no civilians around at all. I can’t say there were normally many, but this was the first time in a long time that the streets had been as empty as this. I knew that it meant trouble, and I could almost smell it in the air.

I left the outskirts of the city, and found myself coming towards the centre. But I was on the wrong half of the city centre this morning... I looked out of place in the rich district normally, and considering today I was covered in dirt and all of my clothes were torn, I knew I stuck out like a saw thumb. Desperately trying to calm myself, I repeated in my head how the majority of the time The Outsiders tended to stay clear of this district, because the people here weren’t so troublesome, and therefore didn’t need surveillance and patrols like we did. The lowlife. The scum of the city.

I needed to get out of this district as quickly as possible. If anyone from this neighbourhood spotted me, they were bound to be suspicious, and call for help. Judging by the fact that people were on the look-out for me in any case, I could not afford that kind of attention. I kept my head down, and my legs kept turning my pedals.

Somehow I made it through without incident. As soon as I broke through to my home district I felt a conflict of different emotions. I was beginning to feel relieved, because this my territory and I knew it so well after all of my years of skulking around, yet at the same time I knew that I had to become more aware now. After just two streets I came across the first patrol. Their voices all crackled indistinguishably through their intercoms. I was unable to decipher any of what they were saying. No one could ever figure out if they were speaking in their own language, or if they just managed to understand each other through such heavy static.

As soon as I saw them the familiar rush of adrenaline, panic and a faint nausea rose up within me. I turned my head down and away from them, pretending I was looking at the houses next to me as I passed them. I had wanted to stop and go a different route, but if they had noticed me stopping and turning around, then no doubt suspicions would have arisen. I could not play it this blasé from now on, however. I had to be a lot more cautious.

Ten minutes later, I came across another patrol. Instead of taking the quickest route and going left, I chose to go straight across the crossroads. I didn’t dare risk going past them again. I chanced a fleeting glance in their direction, and I felt one pair of eyes fixated on my face, burning through its mask as though with laser-vision. I hurriedly crossed and as soon as I was out of sight I went full pelt around another corner. Smack bang into the middle of a patrol.

Fuck.

This was it, and I knew it. I ought to just hold my hands out to them and let them cuff me or whatever else they were intending. After an excruciating few seconds, I realised they hadn’t recognised me. Somehow they didn’t know who I was. I had just stopped; stock still in the middle of their formation. Realising that if I didn’t move then and there it wouldn’t take them long at all to figure it out, I mumbled a gruff ‘sorry’ and moved along. There was a silence behind me beside the sound of empty static. It seemed to reverberate back and forth between the walls of the tightly packed houses, getting into my head, entering one ear and leaving the other almost simultaneously. I was beginning to feel very sick. I just needed to get home and see how my children were.

After the severely close call, I had to stop in an alleyway, and wipe tears of fear away from my face. I stayed there, myself and the bike resting against the wall for a good few minutes. Slowly my composure came back to me, like a frightened puppy needing to be held and nursed. Once I felt ready I got back onto my bike, took a deep breath and continued. I was only a mile away now, at the most. If I had survived the chase last night, and the close encounter from just minutes ago, I felt that I could at least make it the rest of the way to my house without incident.

I was right, but as I was about to turn into the cul-de-sac I lived at the end of, I noticed the vehicle parked in what had once been my driveway. They were guarding the house. My heart sank. The children were trapped, constantly at risk of being found. I couldn’t understand why The Outsiders hadn’t already performed a search and found them. Or perhaps they had, and they had taken my children, but were letting me believe that they were still there to try and lure me in... Paranoid thought whipped through my head in an instant, scenario after scenario. I had to stay calm and think of a way around this. I couldn’t just go on my hunch that the children were gone. I would never be able to live with myself. I had to at least check to see if I could find them.