I slip back into reality with no memory of who I am, nor what has transpired before this. I’m not alone, either; two armed guards are walking beside me. It seems I’ve been a willing prisoner (am I prisoner? For some reason, I feel like one…), because I am not restrained. However, they do seem ready to pounce if I make any sudden moves, so apparently I am an escape risk. Wait… Escape from where? What is this place? It’s outside… but not outside… Oh, we’re walking along the perimeter of a building. High wall to my left, government-looking facility to my right… Why are they always these sleek, chrome, grey-white buildings? Governments never have any imagination… Strange thought. Was that me? Must be, these guards certainly aren’t saying anything.
There’s someone up ahead. She’s standing by a door. Is that where I’m being taken? Must be. Something is bubbling up inside me, with more and more urgency. Panic. Why am I panicking? Is something bad about to happen? No coherent thoughts in my head anymore all I can think of is escape. I must escape. How? The guards are speaking to the woman now. She looks young. My age, maybe. …How old am I? I don’t feel like I’ve been alive very long. She says something about vents. Vent… I get flashing images of being huddled up in one, wrapped in a blanket… It’s comforting. Did I used to live in a vent somewhere? That’s strange. I must have been homeless. NO! Focus! Escape! I have to get out, fast! The guards are leaving me with her. I’ll get my chance soon. They need to go away first. But I can’t let her take me too far into this place or I’ll get lost. All these bright lights and identical hallways. Oh, there’s a vent here. That’s funny. Maybe she was just saying there was something wrong with it… Why can’t I think properly? What’s wrong with me? We’re approaching a door. It is the only door that is different and the panic has reached fever pitch. I need to get away. I need to get away NOW. RUN.
I do. I turn around and make a break for it, taking the same path we came from. The woman is yelling for me to come back, yelling for someone to stop me, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone else here. Yet. They’re going to come for me. The thought makes me run faster. I get to the vent and yank it open, intending to hide or find a way out. It’s blocked. I whimper in fear and frustration. Of course, that must have been what she was saying. I’ve done this before. They know. They don’t intend to let it happen again.
I keep running and get outside, a giant wall glaring right at me. Another to the right, meeting it at a corner. The sliding doors are behind me, with that woman getting closer. She is armed with back-up, now… I can sense it like the hot breath of a predator on my neck. In my peripheral vision, I see the guards who had escorted me here coming in fast from the left. It’s a long yard and they had left me eagerly, so they are still far off. I have time to make a decision. Get over that wall. Without pausing to think about it I rush forward, slapping my foot against the right hand surface of the corner and thrusting myself up, twisting my body to grab at the other ledge. Using both my legs and my arms I pull myself up and over, hearing the dismayed yells of my pursuers as I make the jump down. I have no idea how I did what I just did but there’s no time for me to think. They’ll be out soon, and they’ll be armed. I run.
It strikes me as odd how fast I seem to be, and if it weren’t for the fact I was being chased, I’d probably enjoy it more. I like this. Feet pushing the ground back and away, air rippling at my clothes. Then I see them in the distance, standing in their oncoming jeeps with guns drawn, trying to close in on me, and I forget everything except needing to get away. There are houses and buildings here. Quick as a rabbit, I flit to the right, leaping over a fence and finding myself in a small complex. I suddenly realise how winded I am and begin to pant, bending over to rest for a few moments.
“You seem like you’re in trouble.”
I snap back up so fast I hear my spine crack, searching for the source of the voice. One of the little house doors is open wide, a man sitting on the floor with some food, his side facing me. He must have been eating, or about to. My stomach growls a little. He hears, and chuckles softly. Long, slim hands attached to bony wrists toss two small scones across from him. I feel strangely safe for now, so I walk inside cautiously, shutting the door, and sit down. He smiles. He has a kind face. Weather-beaten skin and a thin, wiry body. But he doesn’t seem to be very old. I remember that I still don’t know how old I am. I don’t even know my own name.
“Eat,” he says, tearing a piece off one of his scones and taking a bite.
Hungry as I am, it strikes me that this is a very small house in an old complex. Even the rug we were sitting on felt thin and worn out. He may be sharing the only food he has for the night. “What about you? Is that enough?” I marvel at the sound of my own voice. It’s quiet, raspy from lack of water. Not too high-pitched, not as deep as a man’s. I realize I do not know how I look. The need to see my face is rising.
The man watches me. He can tell I’m struggling with something, but says nothing of it. “I always buy extra. Don’t worry. Please eat.”
I gratefully reach for one of the scones when the door bursts open. In an instant, I am across the hall and in the kitchen, hiding behind the fridge. I hear a yell, then a thud. My heart races. I’m terrified and guilty. No. No, no, no please let nothing have happened to the man. Please let him not be dead. Grabbing a knife from the counter I glance out towards the room. Only one of those men, coming this way. As soon as he walks through the door I growl as my arm swings out and I stab him as hard as I can. Not waiting for anything, I get the hell out of there. There’s no time to check on the kind stranger. I can only wish he’s okay, and make sure to stay away from people. Their kindness could get them hurt. Those who were kind, anyway.
I run without a single break in stride, slowing only marginally as tiredness makes me lose momentum, then speeding up again a second later. There’s no one out but me and the men coming after me, though I have yet to see them. I know they’re out there. I change directions. Climb over walls. Vault over any obstacles in my way. Hide, and then break into a run again. I don’t care where I go, so long as it’s far, far away. I still have no idea why I ran. All I could say for sure was that I knew that once I walked through that door, there was no going back. I am a liability. Whatever they wanted from me, they did not get. And we all know what happens to liabilities. I nod my agreement and pick up speed.
But the night drags on, and soon I am too tired to continue. It strikes me as odd that it has taken me this long to tire out. Adrenaline, probably. Find a place to spend the night. Yes, I need to sleep. I see a large villa close by. It’s big enough that I think I can risk hiding somewhere on the grounds. I can leave in the morning before I am discovered.
Exhausted, I climb the gate slowly, trying to keep my movements controlled for as little sound as possible. At this point, the temptation to just let myself crash to the ground and sleep where I land is almost overpowering. Only the thought of what would happen if I did keeps me from it. Luckily for me, the only lights on are those in a few rooms on the higher floors, so I can sneak about easily, crouching low and close to the walls of the house.
Then I stumble across the children. They spot me right in the middle of their play, and curiously make their way over. Probably heard my labored breathing and turned to look. Crap, what the hell are they doing up so late? Why aren’t they afraid of me, a stranger who’s broken into their house in the middle of the night? I don’t even care anymore. The exhaustion is taking over. Just as they reach me, saying things I can’t quite hear, I slump to the ground and it all goes dark.