He sits in an armchair by a fire, the back of his head facing me. For once I am no longer cramped in my cell, carving numbers into the walls with my blade. Maybe this is my chance to get out, to go Outside and run away. My thoughts swirl around and I tap my pocket. The blade is still there, safe and tucked away. Hidden from sight.
“Go on,” Alyn taps my shoulder and gently pushes me into the room. I turn back, to say something? To run back to my cell? I’m not sure, but as I turn, the door slams. This could be their plan, to kill me now. To take me to the others that were punished and then do the same to me, slowly, painfully. Behind me, the man clears his throat, an indication that I should turn around? I’m not used to talking, or standing, but I turn anyway. He stands next to the armchair, his steel grey eyes glaring at mine. Grey, like the mist and the bars.
“What do you want?” He croaks. I stare blankly, I thought that Alyn would have stayed and told him what I want. But now that I think about it, I’m not sure if I even want answers.
I stutter, “Um, I want to know what’s Outside.”
It sounds like he chuckles, or maybe he coughs. I’m not sure, but he looks at me and smiles, revealing horrible teeth. I grimace noticeably. “Follow me,” he says. I raise an eyebrow and follow him. I don’t notice it at first, but beside the fireplace is yet another corridor, but this time I can see the end of it and where it leads to. This is the perfect opportunity to turn and run back down the corridor. But what good would that do? As far as I can remember, Alyn had locked the door. Great. When we enter the room that’s at the end of the corridor, the man closes it behind us. I jump at the loud noise.
“It’s not often that we get the delight of showing people around, but you,” he points a long finger at me; “you’re different.” I shift my gaze to my feet, still bare, but what else would they be?
“Why?” I don’t mean to ask another question, but I do. And I regret it. He starts to walk over to the far wall in this small room; I follow with quick footsteps until he stops. I look up from the floor. Spread across the wall is a long pin board, coloured pins and clips hold papers in place. I look at the man.
“This,” he explains, “is our research. Three years ago a group of scientists created a disease they called RMD, which stands for Running Man-made Disease.” the man walks over to the left hand side of the pin board and points to the top, where an article hangs by a blue pin. I think I know what pin boards are used for, but I can’t remember. The article is printed in black and white, and shows two men in white lab coats holding a container. The disease?
The man walks to his right a bit and points to another article, “however, after containing their disease for about three and a half months, one of the scientists took it home. He poured it in his wife and kids’ drinks and infected them. It turns out that this man had a mental illness, but none of the scientists ever reported it. They were the first ones to be infected.”
“You can probably guess what happened after that,” he says. And I can. Was I alive when this happened? Of course I was, this was only three years ago. How old am I now? “You see, we rescued some people, and now they stay here.”
I don’t want to believe him. I didn’t want to know about all of this, about a disease, about death or about the mad man that released the disease. I wanted to know what’s Outside, but after something so terrible happened, what could be? Nothing? Everything? Maybe they’ve rebuilt the population, maybe there are towns and cities and villages and people. But then I look at the pin board again, and I can see that this isn’t the case. The pictures aren’t clear, but they’re clear enough to see the damage that was done. The man must be missing something out. They wouldn’t drop bombs on cities if people were just infected with a virus, would they? I’ve never heard anything like that.
“Why would they kill the people that were infected?” I ask, finding my voice at last. The man hesitates to the point where I start to think that he isn’t going to answer.
“Because they didn’t want anybody else to be infected, so they had to discard of the infected to let the rest live.”
“But,” I begin, “couldn’t they have put them somewhere underground? Somewhere where they could get better?”
He shakes his head, “disease doesn’t work like that Esther.” How does he know my name? At least, I think it’s my name, “it would have found a way out. The virus was air born, which means that it travels through the air. If it was only contagious by bodily fluids then yes, that would have worked. But I’m afraid that this wasn’t the case.”
I think for a moment, “what happened to the man? The one that let the virus loose?”
The man looked down at me, “after he infected his family, he drank some hydrochloric acid that he found in the science labs. He killed himself.”
I gasp. Why would he do that? Before I can open my mouth to reply, the man interrupts me and holds up a hand.
“You see Esther, now that we’ve told you this information; we can’t afford to let you go back to your cell. Who knows what you might do with it?” My heart skips a beat. I knew I wouldn’t get away so easily, that kind of hope is impossible. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I tap my pocket again. Is this my chance?
Get out of there.
My back hits the stone wall, I hadn’t realised that I was backing away from the man. He starts to come towards me, slowly, slowly, and then quickly.
And I run. I turn and run through the corridor, slowly at first, and then I remember how to run. My feet carry me quickly into the other room, and then I am stuck. How do I get out? I look over to the door, it’s ajar. Didn’t Alyn lock it? I know she did, but as I hear quick footsteps behind me I realise that there is no time for questioning. I grab the cold metal door handle and swing it open to find two figures stood in front of me. I gasp and reach for my blade, but it is too late. They each grab one of my arms and hold me tightly, preventing me from running away.
“Esther! We weren’t going to hurt you!” Exclaims the man, clearly faking his surprise of how I tried to run away, “we just wanted to talk! But now that you’ve tried to leave us, we are going to have to hurt you.” He flicks out a small pocket knife from his pocket and flips it open, revealing the knife. I struggle underneath the grip of their strong arms, but they hold me firmly in place. The man walks up to me and brings the knife to my cheekbone.
“Such a pretty face,” he smirks, “it’s a shame that we have to ruin it.” He drags the knife along my cheek down to my chin, and I scream. I kick my legs out and thrash my arms but it doesn’t help, I feel the blood dripping down my face as he moves onto my collar bone and strikes it with cuts. And then, everything happens so quickly that I don’t have time to take in what is happening. The door slams open behind us, and the man that is holding my right arm falls to the floor. The man, who has taken the knife away from my collar bone, has run down the corridor into the room with the pin board in it. To hide their research? I don’t know. Now I don’t think, I don’t notice anything, but I reach into my pocket and draw out my blade.
Without thinking, I slice the other man’s wrist with my blade, causing him to let go and clasp his wrist to his chest. Then I turn around. Framed in the doorway is the boy. The boy? Yes. In his hand he hold a small knife slathered in thick red liquid. Blood.
“Come on,” he says, and tries to take my hand, but I whip it back. What just happened?
“Come on!” Shouts the boy, and I jolt back to reality. He grabs my hand and I take it this time. I have so many questions, but now is not the time.
“How did you get out!?” I shout at him as we are thumping down the corridor hand in hand. He doesn’t answer. But then I remember this corridor, and I can tell that we are going the wrong way.
“This way!” I abruptly turn left and we can see our prison cells at the end of the corridor. It won’t be long now until more strong men are looking for us, but I can’t think about that, not now. All I can think about is running.
The cells are drawing close now, and suddenly I am afraid. Ahead of us I hear somebody shout. Male? I can’t tell, but I start to slow down because I can feel the boy dragging me ahead with him. Everything starts to go hazy, but then it all goes back when I hear shouts. I looks around and stop, ignoring the boy, who is shouting at me to keep running. But I don’t. All of the people, all of the prisoners, are screaming at us. To let them out, to free them like we are free. I look at the girl with the orange hair, she is pressed against the bars with a pleading look on her face. My eyes well up with tears, I don’t want to leave her. But it’s too late.
Behind us many footsteps start to approach the cells. I look back, but then I am pulled forwards by the boy. What’s happening? An alarm goes off, and suddenly I am running faster than the boy, faster than I was before. I run down corridor after corridor, and I don’t stop for anyone or anything. I can hear the boy behind me, panting, feet thumping on the ground, heart racing. This is the most real thing I have felt for what feels like a lifetime.
“Wait!” I slow down at the end of yet another corridor and turn around. The boy is leant against the wall coughing up phlegm, gesturing me to keep going. But I wait, and before long we are back on our feet. And somehow, I know my way out of here.
After what feels like hours of running and stopping and running and stopping, we reach a massive set of double doors. I look at the boy, who nods and grabs the handle of the left door. I do the same on the right. Does this lead to the Outside? After seeing the man’s research, I no longer want to go Outside. But it seems like we have no choice, the footsteps are gaining on us quicker than we anticipated. We look at each other, and then haul the doors open, letting in a massive beam of sunlight. I shield my eyes and grab the boy’s hand. Together, we run Outside.