(This story has no real rhyme or reason, I wrote it just because it popped into my brain)
“So how many times have you been through doors?” Michael whispered his question. He sounded like he was somehow in awe of my ventures.
I shrugged, “I didn’t really count after I hit three. What does it matter now?”
Michael turned slowly to James. “What about you?”
James snorted lightly and narrowed his eyes. “It’s not safe to leave.” His answer was crisp, and though it was quick, I could see him glance at me—disapproving. I wasn’t ashamed, but I still shifted my gaze to the floor.
“We need to wait a few days before you go your third trip,” I took Michael by his shoulders. Looking straight at him, hoping that he would understand the gravity of the situation, “You mustn’t go too soon. Wait, and I’ll go with you, ok?” He nodded, and I knew he would wait, even though I doubted he truly understand why. I released him and saw Peter staring at us.
“I’ve never been.” I couldn’t read the look on his face, and it made me nervous to respond. I hate when I can’t read people fully, I never know how to react. I just nodded and mumbled something reassuring. It was getting late and everyone needed to head back to the sleeping quarters anyway. I prodded Michael towards the doorway and Peter trailed him sleepily. I turned to James and surveyed his perfectly formed features. He was exactly what the higher-ups wanted. He was pretty without being girly, with pinked but clearly male features. His hair behaved well, he was slim without being scrawny. And to top it all, he was intelligent and yet seemed completely in line with the mentalities imposed on us from an early age. I wondered briefly if life would be easier had I just let myself be brainwashed, but then he brushed past me, muttering, “We need to get back.” I sighed, I couldn’t stay within the confines of the complex for too long or the extra body heat would register with the sensors. I had taken Michael outside long enough to detach his second identification chip and to hopefully let his body better adapt to life outside the complex walls, but with his last sensor still in place, he needed to be present for bed checks.
With the boys gone, I slipped through the heavy door and into one of the hundreds of outer staircases.
It had been two weeks since I had seen the trio of boys, but a scrap of fabric on the door handle meant Michael was restless to make his last trip. Having slipped into the complex during everyone’s waking period and hopefully masking my extra body heat with the powering up of generators and rising metabolisms of the waking residents, I now peered down the corridor and listened for footsteps. Content with my solitude, I wound my way up and down several staircases and through various hallways until I found the fabric centre where James worked. Row after row of brightly coloured fabric filled the warehouse size room and I caressed it gently as I made my way toward the desk. I encountered Michael just two rows before the front desk. He bounced eagerly on one foot. His youth inspired me and I smiled involuntarily.
We went to the front desk and James regarded us, a peculiar look on his face. He reached under the desk and retrieved a quilted jacket. “Trip three,” he said, and handed me the satiny red creation.
I stood silent, perplexed. My words of gratitude were stuck in my throat and a strangled sound escaped me when Peter suddenly tugged at my hand.
“I wanna come!”
Before I could tell him he was better off staying in the complex the alarm sounded. “Alert: there is an intruder in the complex. Alert: there is an intruder in the complex.” The noise was deafening.
Terrified, I grabbed Michael’s hand and we started running. I could hear little footsteps behind us, then a crash. Cursing to myself, I shoved Michael towards the exit and ran back to scoop up Peter who had knocked over a rack of cloth. I saw James running not far behind us. The now four of us ran through the seas of frightened people to my chosen doorway and into the outer staircases.
“Wow.” Peter was gazing around as though seeing something fantastic while the other boys and I caught our breath. I looked around, and raised an eyebrow. The outer staircases were hardly a thing of wonder. Soldered onto the concrete wall encasing the complex, the staircases were separated from the true outside world by another, poorly constructed wall of randomly patched together sheetrock and brick. Concrete ledges, like the one on which we perched, were randomly interspersed for the maintenance people to rest or maybe set tools.
“Three.” James’ voice interrupted my thoughts.
“This makes three.”
“Oh, for Michael?”
“And for me.”
I said nothing, mulling over this new development, as James hauled out a pocketknife and cut out his last identification chip, and therefore the sensor that would indicate his presence in the compound. He was now a complete refugee—like I was.
Avoiding my gaze, he turned to Michael and cut the thin layer of skin surrounding that last chip. I winced, remember how much it hurt to take them out, but Michael stood bravely, his eyes watering only very slightly. We tossed the chips off the ledge, no matter where they landed as long as they weren’t near us.
James and I exchanged looks, and then turned to Peter.
“I don’t really like blood,” he sounded so young. I held his hand while James quickly took out the first sensor. He hung onto Peter’s arm, even after discarding the chip.
“Peter, how old are you?”
“He’ll only have two then,” I concluded to James, though he would, of course, know this. He nodded, but said nothing. Peter looked vaguely perplexed but apparently deemed this information unimportant since he asked no questions.
Michael broke the developing tension by yawning loudly and I had to laugh. We all lay down on the ledge, exhausted by the stresses of escape.
I woke with a start, unused to people sleeping next to me. It’s only the two boys, I reassured myself. But two was not the number my mind wanted to hear, and upon realising Peter’s absence I woke the two others. James began pacing the ledge and Michael just stood against the wall seemingly numb.
I finally swung off the ledge, onto the staircase and started to open the door.
“What are you doing?” James stopped pacing to shriek at me.
“Acting, accomplishing,” I went through the door. It opened a moment later and I jumped in spite of myself.
“I didn’t figure you the type. I didn’t expect you to follow us.”
“I just couldn’t live the way they wanted.”
Utterly perplexed, I decided not to press the issue. I peeked around the corner, but immediately withdrew seeing Peter’s little frame as he talked animatedly to three security guards. I strained to hear what he was saying.
“-I just followed so I could see where they would go. They’re right through that door and then there’s a ledge beneath the staircase. And I think they were trying to kill me! They took away my chippy thingy! And-“
I turned to James, terrified, and shoved him back through the doorway.
“Pack it in,” I said to Michael.
“Pack it… what? Pack what in where?”
“Nevermind, it’s just a saying. Let’s go.” I jumped from the ledge to a stairway a few feet beneath it. The boys followed and we ran down several flights of stairs, pressing further into a darker area of the outer staircases. I stopped, trying to remember where the wall gave way. Leaning precariously away from the staircase I pushed against the outerwall and a mass of bricks fell away. I began to go with them but James caught me.
I hid a smile, “No, that’s supposed to happen.” I leaned through the hole and out of the inner wall area. Scrambling away from the opening, I watched the two boys fall through also. Both landed with soft thuds as they hit the grass, and I thought I was going to burst out laughing when I saw the fear and doubt on their faces.
“Sorry,” I took a breath and replaced the mass of bricks. “I should’ve warned you about the short drop.”
James was petting the grass and failed to respond, Michael just stared at his surroundings and took great breaths of air.
“The air… tastes good.”
I laughed again, “Careful, you’ll start hyperventilating if you keep doing that.”
I had forgotten, of course, what it was like, the first time outside the complex. The natural environment, the fresh air. I was glad it was dusk and there was no sun overhead, that might have been too much. I tried to remember my first time outside. My father had taken me, just as his father had taken him. Of course, his father had been alive before the complex, otherwise, we wouldn’t have known.
“We should get away from here…” I hated to rush the boys, but with security aware of the situation, we needed to move as far from the complex as we could. I turned back to look at it; I saw only an old abandoned factory… that was, of course, the intention when it was built, but it was still incredible that even I couldn’t really tell and I knew what it was.
James took my hand, and I took Michael’s hand, and we began to walk.