The Only City Left: Part Seven
We trudged through utility corridors for at least half an hour before I worked up the courage to ask my parents, “What did you mean earlier? About someone being on to us. Did you do something bad?”
Without stopping or looking back, Dad replied, “Never mind, Allin. It’s none of your concern.”
“I think it is,” I surprised myself by saying. It must have surprised Dad, too, because he stopped in his tracks and swung around to face me.
His face looked angrier than I had ever seen it before. Instinctively I flinched and stepped back, expecting to be hit even though Dad had never and would never do such a thing. Mom put a hand on his arm, lightly, and he seemed to deflate a little bit. I took that as an opening.
“I have friends back in Glin’s Rising,” I said. “If you stole something from them….”
I trailed off as Dad’s face changed from angry to weary. He looked to Mom, they shared some of that telepathic adult-speak that was all glances and subtle nods, and he turned back to me.
“Let’s sit down, we’ll talk about it.”
We loosened our packs and sat uncomfortably against the assorted pipes that ran along both walls.
“First, we didn’t do anything to the folks back at Glin’s Rising, okay? That’s not who your mother and I are concerned about.”
I nodded, already relieved, but eager to hear where this was going.
“I’m sure you’ve wondered why we keep moving, why we can’t settle down someplace like Glin’s and just live out our days farming. Fact is, even though there’s not a lot of people left in the city, there’s still people out there who just want to destroy life when they find it. We, we got on the bad side of some of those people and now they won’t leave us alone.”
“So why can’t we fight them, pick a place, set up some traps, and take ’em down?” I asked.
“It’s not that easy, Allin,” Mom cut in. “They’re dangerous. Very. And there’s more of them than there are of us. Your father and I know what we’re doing. Trust us.”
“Dangerous?” I squeaked. “So you’re saying these very dangerous people are following us, and we’re leading them through town after town? What happens after we leave? Did you even warn the Glinites?”
My voice rose higher and higher as realization set in. In my mind’s eye I saw Tyena running toward me, waving. Was she running toward me, or away from someone else? I jumped up and slung my backpack over my shoulders, and Mom and Dad stood up, too.
“Allin, we have to focus on our family. Everyone else is on their own.”
His words were like an icy knife in my heart. This was a side to Dad I had never seen before, and instead of refuting him, Mom stood at his side in silent agreement.
“Tyena’s back there. She’s in danger. I’m going back to help her.”
“Allin, you can’t. Our family—”
“Screw our family!” I yelled, and in the shocked quiet after that, the only sound that could be heard was my hurried footfalls as I ran back the way we had come. Back to Glin’s Rising. Back to Tyena. Back, back.
* * *
I came back to consciousness with a coughing sputter and found that I was slipping off the ladder back into the water-filled tunnel below. As I struggled to get my bearings I slipped under and swallowed a mouthful of that cold, foul brew before I shot back up and latched on to the ladder again.
Needless to say, I spent the next minute coughing and retching, trying uselessly to get every bit of the water out of my system. As it was, if I made it out of these ducts alive, I would need some Restorit if I didn’t want to catch some nasty disease.
Satisfied that I had done as much as I could, I let out a huge sigh and forced my tired muscles to pull my sodden mass up the ladder. It was only a couple of stories later that I hit the top of the circular shaft, which was closed with a hatch secured by a wheel lock. By the light of my coil, I could see writing on the hatch, “HAB-221-X” something or other. The rest was obscured, but it didn’t matter. HAB would hopefully mean habitat, and somewhere I could rest and dry off.
Then I heard something that sent a new shiver up my already shaking spine. Deep, booming sounds coming from below, and getting closer.
I looked down and although I couldn’t see him yet, the water below was lit by big and ghosty’s blue glow.
“Doesn’t this guy ever give up?” I asked through shivering lips, and then turned my attention to the hatch above me.
Keeping my legs on the ladder, I grabbed on to the wheel lock and tried to turn it. I could barely feel my hands after my swim through the icy water, and the lock probably hadn’t been turned in ages, so I wasn’t surprised when it refused to budge. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t start to panic. A lot.
I could hear the thum-thum-thum of the monstrous ghost bashing his way through too-tight ducts, and the circle of water below me started to brighten noticeably. All I could think to do was try harder. I knew I had to open that hatch or say goodbye.
I held on to the wheel and walked my feet up the ladder to the second-from-top rung, so I was scrunched up nearly sideways at the top of the shaft. With all my might, I pulled on the wheel and pushed against the ladder with my feet.
The light grew brighter.
I gave it one last try.
The wheel spun suddenly and my legs slipped, leaving me hanging from the wheel over a two-story drop to a few feet of water. As I kicked my legs to grab at the ladder, I saw the ghost rise out of the water below me and squeeze himself into the shaft.
* * *
Go straight to Part Eight (or read my comments below first if you can stand the suspense).
4/1/2012 News: Two things: I hope you don’t think I’m being too cruel, returning from the flashback without resolving what happened to Tyena and the rest of Glin’s Rising? Rest assured, I know what happens there and you will find out, but now is not the time. The second is, I feel a little bad about ending another post with Allin running from the big blue ghost. In the final version of this story, these posts will all be part of larger chapters, so instead of cliffhanger-cliffhanger-cliffhanger, Allin’s flight from the ghost will be one long chase scene with a flashback in the middle. I promise you that we are almost done with big, blue, and ghosty for the time being.
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