Trust the world to go to shit the day I’m finally meant to get braces.
Yeah, some might say to get my priorities straight, but I was actually pretty damn excited about having straight teeth. They’re a bloody mess. And if I don’t run faster, I think this crazy gal is gonna mess them up even more. It’s a good job I’m speedy. Having said that, so is she. My best hope is to find Milo or Elianna.
I’ve made the mistake of sticking to the alleyways in town. I shouldn’t even be out here – there’s a curfew – but there’s no way I was staying at the home. Nuh-uh. I’m not that dumb. This is my chance to get out.
I am, however, dumb enough to run where I can’t get out. If I find a dead end now, I’m scuppered. At least I can twist and turn in the short streets – my best hope is to lose her. But I’m running out of breath and she doesn’t seem to be feeling the effects of a fifteen minute run. Must be her alien enhancement shiz. Just my luck. Keep this up much longer and it’s bye bye Riley.
I turn another corner and spot my opportunity. Bingo.
I’ve emerged into a car park, where there’s several directions to run in, but I know if I want any chance I need to double back. There’s another fork coming out of the maze of alleyways, and I sprint for it, using the last of my energy. I turn quickly, seeing that my pursuer isn’t in sight, and veer right into another alley.
It’s another few minutes before I actually allow myself to stop. I pant as quietly as I can, crouched in the alcove of a shop door. I fish out my phone, texting Milo and Elianna, asking them where they are. I’m hoping they had the sense not to stay in their houses. But kids like us know what we’re doing – we know that the streets aren’t as scary as adults try to persuade us. We don’t mind a little camping out. It’s better than the kid’s homes.
They’re taking their time replying. What’s keeping them? It’s not like they can be going about their daily lives; working at a supermarket, showering, eating takeaways; it’s not generally a part of the end of the world schedule. Unless they’re in trouble. My heart slams in my chest. Please don’t let them be in trouble. They’re the only people I can rely on. Except Jordan, of course, but I don’t know where he is.
When my phone buzzes, I jump, then laugh a little to myself, checking the message. It’s Elianna.
The bedsit. Hurry and be safe.
I should have known that’s where they’d be. But getting there isn’t going to be easy without being spotted. It’s on the other side of town.
I need a ride.
I slide my phone back into my pocket and slither out of my hiding place. Checking once behind me, I walk on my tiptoes, hurrying out of the alley. I eventually emerge in the carpark that I came across before. It occurs to me that this is the perfect place to find some sort of transport, but I know there’s a chance I’ll be seen. I have to be quick.
I sprint towards the collection of cars, crouching behind one and looking around the area. I can’t see anyone. I rattle the handle on a car door, but it doesn’t open. A car. Seriously, Riley? If you can’t manoeuvre a go kart, I don’t think attempting to drive a real car is a smart idea.
But I don’t have any better ideas.
I try another car door, but it won’t budge.
And now there’s another problem.
In the corner of my eye, I can see a man slowly emerging from the alleyway, taking painfully slow steps as he observes the carpark. Does he know I’m here? Is he good or bad? Either way, I don’t want to stick around to find out. I search frantically for a better option than my own two feet.
And then I see it.
About a hundred feet away, outside the carpark, there’s a row of red brick houses. Out front of one, strewn in the driveway, a bike is discarded. I grin. It’s been a while since I rode one, but I used to be a pro. I can totally make a dignified getaway on it. I glance back at the man. He hasn’t made much progress, but his slow footsteps are unnerving. His head movements are almost robotic, lazily moving side to side every few seconds. I can’t move without him seeing me. But I’m not staying where I am. Nuh-uh. Not a chance.
“Well this has been fun,” I mutter, “But I’m out of here. So long sucker.”
I spring to life, vaulting over the bonnet of a car to save time, and bolting for the bike. I know the man has seen me when I hear his footsteps. Can’t catch me, dude.
I stumble a little as I dodge a bollard, but carry on, diving towards the bike and swinging my legs over the seat. Then I’m off, skidding out of the driveway and pedalling hard down the street. I wobble a little as I look over my shoulder, the man chasing after me, but not quick enough. I laugh and show him my middle finger.
I’m still laughing half way across town, when I’m joined by another crazy. A boy who can’t be older than eighteen. And goddamn, he’s fast. He sweeps towards me from a house to my left, until he’s running almost right beside me. I stop laughing, trying to speed up. But the boy throws himself at me and I cry out, the bike falling sideways and crushing me under the weight of it and the boy. My jeans rip as we skid across tarmac, opening up new wounds on my arms and legs and face. The boy grapples for my hair, yanking my head back. I yelp and try to wriggle away. The boy still has hold of my hair, but he’s preoccupied trying to discard the bike. This is my chance. My only chance.
I press my legs together and whip them around, the back of my knees connecting with his shins and sweeping him off his feet. He lets go of me, his face slamming into one of the bike’s wheels. He screams out, blood gushing from somewhere on his face. I don’t wait to see where from. I scramble to my feet and thunder down the hill. Not far now. But I don’t doubt that the boy is on my tail. And if not, someone else. I can’t stay on the road.
As I turn into Elianna’s street, I realise I need to do something radical to escape. I look behind me. The boy is following, blood pouring from his eye, and another has joined him.
Or maybe the key is not to think at all.
Well that's one thing I'm pretty good at.
With a cry, I launch myself over a garden fence, leaping on top of a bin and managing to grasp at the roof of the porch before the bin below me falls away. I pull myself up, and then scramble up the roof tiles. I reach the top and hug the chimney, unsure what to do next. The two boys are attempting to follow me up, putting the bin back in place as a launching point. I glance to the next house over. It’s probably two metres away. I shouldn’t even attempt to jump it.
Ah, fuck it. Nothing to lose. Except maybe my life...
I wobble back a few paces, precariously balanced. Then before I can change my mind, I take a running jump onto the next roof.
I made it.
I can do it again.
This time, with a bigger run up, it should be easier. But I slip a little as I jump, throwing me off. I hit the next roof hard, tumbling down the side. I grasp for something to cling to, but my hands only find air. I smack against a porch roof hard. I allow myself a moment to wince, looking back at the boys. They’re not looking at me. One of them is trying to help the other up onto the first porch. While they’re ignoring me, I slide off the roof, managing to land on the grass in a crouched position. I keep running.
I must be a ninja or something.
Only as I approach Elianna’s house does the pain in my body begin to register. There’s barely any skin left on the right side of my body, and it’s a mess of grit and blood. I’m bruised from my tumbles, and my head is throbbing. And despite the exhilaration, I’m scared. I ring Elianna, and after the first ring, she opens the door to the shared house, ushering me in. I collapse through the door, panting. I hear her bolt the door and then she’s holding me close, her skinny arms tight around my neck.
“You’re crazy, Riley. Crazy,” she whispers. I find the energy to grin.
“Better believe it.” I dizzily pull away, black dots clouding my vision. Elianna calls for Milo, who scoops me up before I can protest and thunders up the stairs. We turn into her bedroom, and I catch sight of Elianna slamming the door behind us.
I’m safe. At least for a while.