my partner and i were escaping from a vast industrial complex. another nightmare, and we wanted out. that much was clear. the rest was a fuzzy blur.
our partnership was an artifact of our shared understanding and intent to be free from everything we knew to be true about life up to this point. slowly. methodically. over time, through careful communication, making sure we did not raise any suspicions that could jeopardize our freedom. through knowing glances and hidden notes we planned our escape.
the time came, and we made a break for it. we knew when and where the guards patrolled. who was on shift. the employees who would suspect something was wrong. how much time we had before someone would discover us missing. how to maximize that time. calm and methodical, the process was surprisingly unexciting and matter-of-factly. sneaking down the long, windowless hallways bathed in waves of flickering flourescent light. passing through locked doors while security guards who were supposed to be monitoring the cameras watched porn. crawling through maintenance ducts. hiding in containers as they moved from one end of the complex to the next.
at some point, something we did tripped an alarm. they were on alert, looking for us. it was ok, though — we never expected a clean break, and weighed the risks. almost there, almost to freedom. we just had to avoid getting caught for a few more minutes. pounding hearts and hot sweats belied our fight or flight circumstance.
the container we hid in stopped moving. voices. footsteps. getting fainter. minutes passed. no noise. time to get out. i opened the container carefully, and a blast of cold, moist air hit me before giving way to a clear fall night. outside. we’d never been outside before. the chill and the darkness frightened us. we peaked around the corners to make sure no one was watching, and left the last sanctuary of the container.
a full view of the industrial complex from which we had escaped greeted us. gigantic, smooth, angular concrete. non-descript save for the uniform placement of floodlights on the walls to illuminate the surrounding grounds, giving the complex a halo of light by the hands of human industry surrounded by darkness. our bare feet struck softly on hard asphalt. another new sensation, leaving us in awe of what it feels like…on the outside? a chill wind blew past us.
in the distance, we could make out the dim shadow of a jagged treeline resting ominously against the night sky. except we didn’t know them as trees. we had never seen trees before, and stumbled like frightened ghosts through the darkness. light is good, they taught us. the darkness presented us with a disturbing image of the unknown. food? clothes? shelter? we had no idea when, where or how we would come across these things. still, desperation drove us on, toward the treeline. we ran toward their jagged shapes, entranced.
shouting behind us. lights, dogs plunging into the darkness after us, tracking us by our scent. radio signals. they know our location and our direction of travel. afraid, we ran as fast as we could toward the treeline. our legs pumped acid and our lungs burned. not much time left. each desperate footstep seemed to take weeks to fall, never fast enough. they closed in.
i didn’t look back. i was too focused on the treeline and too afraid to know how closely our pursuers followed. i was determined to fight defeat until the very end, even if the only weapon i had to weild was ignorance of the ultimate futility of all my struggles. i wanted to feel surprised when they caught me. i refused to know when the dogs would nip and tear at my feet. i didn’t want to see how they outflanked us, closing in on every side. i didn’t care about the accuracy of the snipers setting their sites on me while i waited for the sting and shock of the bullet entering my back and exiting out the front of my chest with an aching explosion.
suddenly i arrived. a dark, somber wall of trees stood stoicly before me, at once beckoning and guarding the entrance to the forest. the dogs and others pursuing us sounded somehow more distant now. i’d never seen trees before, let alone the specimens growing up amdist a thicket of brambles at the edge of civilization, like a wall separating us from the wilderness, from wildness itself. us? gasping for air, suddenly, i grew cold, hesitated and looked back.
a wave of relief washed over me to see how she followed close behind, how they followed further behind her. no turning back, i thought. we can make it, i waved to her and smiled. naked. barefoot. i reached back behind me to start my way into the embrace of the brambled woods, knowing she would soon do the same.
a giant claw scraped my chest and tossed me aside like confetti. in a flash, several large, dark objects shot out of the treeline toward the compound. i rose to my feet, aching, in a daze, my chest burning and bleeding, just as another salvo of these fearsome four-legged creatures bounded past me without so much as a threatening glance.
stay out of this, they warned as they moved effortlessly toward their query and their kill. toward her. toward them. us. a frozen wind wafted gently from trees out toward the complex.
i couldn’t see her. i ignored the warning. it was too late. it all went wrong. my desperation escalated to impossible levels as i ran clumsily after them, toward her, back toward the compound, shouting. threats. epithets. anything. noise. my ears rang over the muffled sounds of humans screaming. dogs yelping. blood-curdling roars and firearms as blood dripped down my face into my eyes. i couldn’t see into the chaotic orgy of violence unfolding like shadows in the silhouette of the compound flood lights, another alarm. in the space between civilization and wilderness.
they had used us like bait. i cried and sank with limp knees into the futility of my rescue attempt. one of the beasts, hearing my pursuit, slowed and turned toward me, bounding back in a flash with the taste of blood already on its tongue. we locked eyes, and i understood without mistake as i stared dazed into the giant sharp-toothed maw closing in on me, and met it awake in a cold sweat, gasping for air and crying out to the darkness. at them. for her. my heart beat like an angry sledge hammer against its fragile cage, demanding freedom. but there is no escape.