The Only City Left: Part Six
I left Glin’s Rising with my head hung low, uttering monosyllables to any questions that my parents asked. I saw them exchanging knowing glances over my behavior and I’m sure they chalked it up to typical teenage angst, but really it was because I’m not a good liar and I didn’t trust myself not to give away my secret in a facial expression or my tone of voice.
Tyena and I had come up with a hasty plan to allow her to find me. After a last, frenzied embrace, she went off to fetch some supplies and I returned to my parents.
Now, as we trudged through abandoned city streets on our way out of Glin’s Rising, I put the plan in motion. Whenever I could do so without being seen, I let a drop of red paint from one of Tyena’s tubes fall to the pavement behind me. The paint was dark against the faded black asphalt, barely noticeable, but Tyena would know what to look for and could use the marks to keep a safe distance from us while staying on our tail. Once we were far enough away, Tyena could show herself, we’d profess our love, and my parents would have to let her come along. It was the perfect plan.
Some hours later, we were approaching one edge of the city-section, marked by a steel wall that towered above us up to the ceiling. Set in the wall at ground level was a massive steel door that at one time had allowed passage between sections. Now it was rusted so badly you could hardly make out where the seams were.
“I don’t think we’ll be getting through here,” Mom said, scraping rust flakes off the door with her foot.
“Perhaps, perhaps,” Dad replied absentmindedly.
When confronted with a problem, Dad tended to go into his head a bit to work on the solution. There’s not much you can do to hurry him up at that point, as Mom and I were all too aware. She took the opportunity to rearrange her cocoon pack, while I shifted nervously, glancing over my shoulder to make sure Tyena wasn’t going to stumble upon us while we were stopped.
“Everything all right, hon?” Mom ventured, her voice wary.
I snapped my head up and around.
“Yeah, sure. Just, if we’re gonna get going, I want to get going already, you know?”
“Well, see if Dad can use some help, okay?”
“Sure,” I agreed, forcing myself not to look back one last time.
Dad was on his knees next to the wall. Beside him an ancient-looking control panel was laid out on the ground, trailing thick cords to a hole in the wall through which Dad had his arm buried to his shoulder.
“I think I got, if I can just, there!” he declared triumphantly.
The ground shook and rust fell like rain as the great doors began to slide apart with a piercing shriek. There was a zazazap! of electric current, Dad swore and yanked his arm out of the wall, and the doors ground to a halt, barely open a few inches.
As I helped him to his feet, Mom shone a flashlight through the thin gap.
“I’m skinny but not that skinny, dear. I think we’re going to have to take the stairs.”
Dad and I both looked to where she was pointing, further down the wall, to a set of switch-backed metal stairs that ran up to a platform near the ceiling.
“Emergency exits tend to lead somewhere,” Mom suggested.
“Worth a shot,” Dad said, shaking off the lingering effects of the electric discharge.
As we headed toward the stairs, I smeared an arrow on the wall to guide Tyena, my parents none the wiser, and I managed to paint an up arrow at the base of the stairs, too. I was getting worried, however. Tyena would have to stay pretty far behind us to remain out of sight while we climbed. She couldn’t even really approach the wall until we were through that door up above. What if she couldn’t find me? What if she ended up lost?
I must have been inadvertently looking for her as I had those thoughts because Dad stopped on the stair above me and asked, “You keep looking behind us. Is there someone following us?”
He knows, I thought. How could he know already?
“Trouble?” asked Mom, climbing back down to see why we had stopped.
“I don’t know. They can’t be on to us so soon, can they? Allin, did you see something?”
They can’t be on to us so soon? They who? Thoroughly confused now, I shook my head and fumbled out a lie.
“No, I just miss, I mean, I wanted to see Glin’s Rising one last time.”
They seemed to accept that and we continued climbing. I saved my glances for each time the stairs turned back around. If Tyena was following me, she was nowhere in sight. Maybe she had decided not to come. At the thought, my heart ached inside my chest. No, she would follow. I just knew it.
What I didn’t know was what Dad had been referring to. They can’t be on to us. Had my parents done something wrong while we stayed in Glin’s Rising? I’m sure I would have heard talk if something had been stolen or someone had been hurt. But what if it hadn’t been discovered yet? Could my parents be criminals and I didn’t even know it?
My thoughts were interrupted when we reached the top of the stairs. There was a human-sized door marked “Utility” set into the wall and it was more amenable to Dad’s hacks, so we were through it in a jiff. I was the last to enter and as I looked back I saw Tyena making a run for the wall, waving at me. Relieved, I waved back and made sure to ease the door closed so that it did not shut fully.
Things are going according to plan after all, I thought.
If only I had watched Tyena for a few more seconds.
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