The guards came knocking on my cell door at midnight. I opened my eyes and blinked furiously. It took a little bit before the dream-figments disappeared. The world stopped spinning and returned to normal, lacking the hazel tint it had before. The knocking started again
Knock, knock, knock.
Enough to drive anyone crazy. If they weren’t already.
My heart was beating a million miles a minute, kind of like someone hammering a nail. Bang, bang, bang. Only, after the nail is hammered, the banging doesn’t stop. I eased off my stiff bench bed, crouching on the floor, waiting for the door to open and the man in the uniform to come storming in.
My stomach dropped.
Sometimes it was hard to tell the real from the imagined. Somebody sounding like Connie was out there, hissing my name. Maybe Connie was out there. Maybe a guard impersonating Connie was out there. Maybe no one was out there. Maybe I was hearing things, the dream-figments playing tricks on me.
“Lexia! C’mon! Wake up!”
It was Connie.
I rushed up to the door, peering through the barred box-hole. It really was her, no delusion. “Connie?! What are you doing here? What’s going on? What’s happening?” Blab, blab, blab.
The keys jingled as Connie unlocked the door. She grabbed me, pulled me out and gently closed the door again. Click. The lights lit up our faces eerily, kind of like a dream I had the other night. Connie stuffed the keys down her tunic and padded off down the hallway.
“C’mon,” whispered Connie. “We have to go.”
“But why? Where?”
Connie stopped and faced me. Her bright hazel eyes allowed no argument. They were like pebbles in her face. “You need to stop talking. The more you talk, the more chance we have of getting caught. And the more time we waste. Let’s go. Now.”
I don’t know how anyone could have mistaken her for a Loon.
“Connie. Please tell me what is going on.” I hated the way my voice sounded so petulant next to her confidence.
“Shhh.” She put a finger to her lips. “We’re getting out of here. Tonight. The guards have switched rotations. Remember, this morning you got to the common room before everyone else? Their rotation affects the night shifts. They have a fifteen minute gap in between each night shift because they think that we’re safely locked up in our cells. So that’s why we have to get out now.”
Connie was gripping my wrist with a rigid determination. We crept down the hallway, but I dragged Connie to a stop. The wires in my brain might not connect correctly, but I had a bad feeling I was drawing the right conclusion to what was happening.
“How do you know all this?” I asked. “Connie?”
Connie paused for a second, and I saw something fleeting in her bright hazel eyes. Guilt? Remorse? Hurt, most definitely.
“Nora. Nora came by a few minutes ago and let me out with the keys. She said we need to get out of here.”
“So then we have to go and get her!”
“No!” Connie squeezed my hand tighter, fingers digging in. A sharp pain shot up my arm. I thought I saw a drop of blood. But the blood was green, so it must have been imagined. “Lexia, no. She said we have to leave without her. She said if we came for her, she wouldn’t leave with us. That she’d only slow us down.”
“But – ”
Tears brimmed in Connie’s eyes. “We’re wasting time.”
My heart ached. It felt like it was in front of a huge ocean, and every breaking wave wore it down just a little more. Until there was nothing left. Nothing. Why? Why do things happen the way they do?
Against my will, I felt myself nodding. “Let’s go, then.” The words felt like poison in my mouth. Betrayal in a verbal form.
We broke into a run, pattering down the hall.
Turn this corner, then that corner. All the halls looked the same. White-washed and sterile. I wanted to get a piece of coal and just scribble everywhere. Then it wouldn’t be so blinding. But we didn’t have time for that. We had to run. Run, run away as fast as you can.
After a while, all the passages just blurred into one. We could be running down one big hallway for all I knew. I wondered if Nora gave Connie some sort of directions. She seemed to know where she was going. Her clear mind could probably remember directions, unlike my clouded one.
But, Connie remembered her way. Nobody caught us. Nora stayed where she was. The whole thing probably took under ten minutes. But I wouldn’t know. I can’t read a clock.
We finally made it out of that white, white place, ducking to get through some secret doorway, out into the world. I remember my first real breath. I remember gagging because it stank. The air was laden with soot. Heavy and claggy on the tongue. You had to really swallow for it to get down your throat. Then it just swirled in your lungs.
Then you take another breath.
If it were just me, I probably would have stood there for another hour, thinking. Looniness does that to you.
But Connie was there.
She shared my pain.
Connie took my hand. As my wrist moved, I could hear it cracking stiffly. There would be bruises from her grip tomorrow, I was sure of it. A physical memory that would fade over time.
“We have to keep moving,” she said quietly. “They’ll catch us otherwise.” I hated that word. They. I was ugly. So…objective.
I tore my gaze away from the tall, angular building that was Fletcher’s and looked at her. Long, blonde hair. Hazel eyes. Freckles. Wrinkles?
I thought for a bit; then nodded. “Mm,” was the only adequate response I could give.
And so, we walked down the road into the noisy, dirty, stinking city, away from the only life we’d ever known.