It took me a long time to write this. I hate it. It didn’t want to be written, and it killed me to trudge through. This is what I came out with, so this is what the blog is getting. Bleh. Onward, ho.
“I don’t trust them.”
Tully glanced over her shoulder at Phaedra as they began slinking through the dark, ankle-deep in mud. She could hardly blame her companion for her doubt, but if they stayed here because of mistrust, then they’d definitely die. At least this gave them some glimmer of a chance.
Or so she hoped.
“No one wants to stay here, Phae…. If we don’t trust them, who will we trust?” she whispered, but heard no response. Phaedra’s mind was more than just in the moment. It was terrifying to see her reacting to the lunacy they put them through here. Tully could see her rash actions, but something always told her there was more to it. Where they saw Phaedra reacting in the heat of the torture, Phaedra’s mind was five steps ahead of them. Nothing was ever put to chance with her.
She was vicious.
“Fine. But if they want to escape, and wind up getting in the way—”
“Don’t suggest it. Please,” Tully hissed, and kept walking toward that rickety porch on which she’d met Felix only hours earlier. Before they even rounded the corner of their own bunk house, Tully and Phaedra lurched forward, a force from behind knocking them both forward several steps. Tully gasped, and Phae spun around and pinned the culprit to a wall.
“Nonono! I’m sorry!” Fiona wailed in a hushed tone, cringing as she struggled against her own weight, Phaedra’s fists balled in her shirt.
“Are you crazy?” Phae scolded and let her go, watching Fiona slump a bit and burst into quiet tears.
“I’m sorry, I really am!” She sniffled, hugging herself against the cold. “You can’t leave me here, please… please don’t….”
Tully sighed, and rubbed her forehead with her fingers, trembling hard. “Come on, then. Be quiet. We can’t babysit you, Fiona, you have to handle this on your own, alright? When we move, you move, and if you fall behind—”
“I won’t! I won’t fall behind, Tully, I promise,” she sniffed again, and rubbed her eyes with the back of her sleeved hand.
Phaedra shook her head, and turned away, motioning them along. She loved Tully for her compassion, but it was likely to get them killed if they weren’t careful. Fiona was a sweet girl, but she was flighty and panicked easily. ‘Babysitting’ was a very accurate word for what this would turn into, Phae was sure.
The gray, illusory feel of dusk enveloped them as they passed around the bunk houses and through the mud pits, braced against the cold. It felt like an eternity before they finally reached that tilted old porch, Tully leading the way onto the sloped platform. Felix and Silas were pressed against the wall, speaking quietly, until Silas spotted the three women and nodded in their direction. Felix turned and drew a breath.
“You made it,” he smiled a little to Tully, and opened the door behind them. It was dark, and Silas slid in on his hands and knees, setting up a few candle nubs and lighting them with a pilfered match.
“We did. We brought Fiona,” whispered Tully, and glanced back to the quaking redhead behind her.
Felix looked them all over and gave a nod. “That’s more than I expected, but I think we can compensate. Come in.”
The three women followed the pair into the shack that had, as far as Tully knew, gone unused since their arrival. When they stepped inside, dusty crates with clothing hanging out over their edges loomed in the dim twilight. Glancing down at herself, Phaedra cursed, touching the filthy bag-like dress she was wearing. It was ridiculous that they kept these things in bulk. How many more people were they expecting here?
Phae glanced over to see Felix on his knees in the center of the room, spreading things out amongst the stubby candles. Pages and even a pencil pilfered from the office were laid out neatly in minutes, and Felix drew a deep, steadying breath.
“We need to make this quick before someone sees the candle light through the windows.” He slid his hands over a page. “These are all parts of one map, and we managed to arrange them together. Look. This is Blackford Hill, here.” He tapped a finger against a fenced octagon on the map. “We’re right here.” His fingers slid over a little black rectangle, and gave it a little tap. “It puts us close enough to the fence to make a break for it. The mud has gotten so out of hand just behind this building that it’s made one of the fence posts sink a little. If we can dig under the fence while the ground is soft, we can make it into these woods here.” Another tap of his finger and he slid it through a patch of puffy-looking treetops.
“Fantastic plan, but what’s beyond those woods?” Phae asked, staring Felix down. “We can’t just run off blindly—”
“The river,” stated Silas, arms folded as he leaned on the wall behind his companion. “If you follow the river north, it leads to a small town—the one I was taken from. I’ve got friends there. We’ll be alright if we can make it.”
Sated, Phaedra gave a small nod, and looked over the map. “What else do we need?”
“Nothing. It’s risky, but it’s now or never,” Felix replied, gathering up the pages and folding them, stuffing them under one of the crates as Silas leaned down to blow out their candles.
Fiona’s hand slid into Tully’s and gave a squeeze, trembling a bit. Tully smiled weakly, and pulled Fiona into a gentle hug, conscious of her injuries.
“It’s going to be fine. We’re getting out of here, I promise.”
“Can… I stay with you and Phae? I don’t have anywhere to go,” Fiona whispered, tears welling in her eyes as she slid her arms around Tully.
Glancing to Phae, Tully offered a pleading look, earning a small nod from her love. “Of course you can,” she answered without missing a beat, pulling back and tucking a bit of hair behind Fiona’s ear.
“Probably shouldn’t dilly dally here, kids,” noted Silas, tugging the door open and letting Felix out ahead of him. “I expect we’ve drawn a bit of unwanted attention. You hear ‘em?”
Phae cringed. “I hear them. Come on, let’s go.” She snatched Tully’s hand, and dragged her and Fiona off the porch at an awkward jog behind her. “We’re ill-prepared. We should have found a means of getting provisions.”
“It’s an escape, not a camping trip,” muttered Silas, wading through the ankle deep mud without a moment’s hesitation. The fence post dipped where they said it would, leaving the chain-link warped and sunk beneath the mud. It was almost imperceptible, hidden behind the storage building with the rickety porch. No one would have guessed—unless they were looking for a way out.
Felix dropped to his knees by the fence and started pulling handfuls of mud away,piling it as best he could at his side. As Felix dug, Silas pulled at the fencing, tugging it back with grunts and groans, his hands bruised and bleeding as he used all of his strength. Phae stood beside him, wrapping her fingers around the links as she pulled along with him. Tully was beside Felix, digging frantically, pushing and pulling mud from under the fence, creating a gap.
“Fiona, slide under…” Tully panted, smearing some mud from her cheek with an equally filthy forearm. “If you can get under, you can push the fence while they pull and Felix and I can get through and push it so Phae and… and—”
“Silas,” Felix corrected as he caught his breath.
“Silas can slide under behind us.”
Fiona gave a faint nod, and crawled beneath the fencing, sliding through the mud with a groan. On the other side, she threw all of her weight into the woven wire, shoving Phae and Silas back a few steps. Though, once they got back to pulling, the fence lifted and Felix shoved Tully through.
Sirens sounded, the five escapees stopped dead in their tracks. Men with guns were pouring in from all sides, schlucking through the mud like a stampede of horses. The night had closed in, and all they could see were the flashes of gun metal, belt buckles, and coat buttons in the moonlight like glowing eyes in the darkness—advancing.
“Felix, go,” Silas said, and shoved the count with his foot. “Go! I’ll be right behind you!”
“I’m not leaving you—”
“You’re not! I’ll be right behind you!” Silas grabbed Phae’s arm, and she swiftly disengaged him. Shocked, he stared at her. “We don’t have time for this.”
“You’re going to need all the help you can get,” stated Phae, unflinching, staring him down. The guards were closing in, and a shot rang out—still Phae didn’t move.
“Fuck! Fine! Felix, take the girls out of here!”
Felix cursed, and sprang to his feet, snatching the front of Silas’ shirt and yanking him forward, their lips crushing together in a quick, frantic kiss. “Hurry the fuck up.” He stated and ducked under the fence, grabbing both girls by the arm and dragging them along.
“Phae!” Tully shouted. “Phaedra!”
“Stop it!” Felix yanked her again, tugging them into the trees where Fiona finally collapsed and wept. “We have to keep moving.”
“We have to wait for them,” Tully snapped, arms sliding around Fiona, rocking gently with her. “I thought you had some grand plan. This was the most half-assed—”
“I did what I could with what I had!”
“And now Phae and Silas are fighting a ton of men with guns! They’re unarmed, Felix!” Tully cried out, holding Fiona a little tighter.
Felix leaned against a tree and scrubbed his face with his palms. Tully was worried for Phaedra, he knew that. He knew how she felt, though his sudden affection for Silas only irritated him a little, on top of making him sick to his stomach when he thought of what might be happening to him right now. Sliding down, he leaned back on the tree truck, and swallowed hard. “They’ll find us here.”
“They won’t. Just… be quiet and wait,” she whispered, stroking Fiona’s hair as the girl finally started settling down.
The gunshots were numbing, Tully only closed her eyes, praying that Phaedra would make it through, and would burst past the trees any moment. She didn’t mind running. She could keep running from those soldiers all night if it meant Phaedra would come through alright.
The knot of soldiers rushing them was a little alarming, but Phaedra didn’t care. They had worked too hard and come too far trying to get Tully better, then make it through this mess. This hellish place wouldn’t survive. It wouldn’t be allowed to keep doing this to people. Good, innocent people, lumping the best with the worst, corralling decent citizens and labeling them, torturing them, treating them like defective livestock.
Glancing to Silas, Phae watched him draw a breath, and take on the first of the dozen or so that were charging them. Everything slowed down. Phae looked around, she could feel her lungs heaving, her heart pounding, the rush of the air around her—and before she knew it, she was in the thick of the fight, throwing men off of Silas, dodging rifles and bayonets, trying to keep behind the men around them to avoid the bullets flying from those that weren’t.
Her eyes darted to Silas, who had yanked up the fence, a stolen rifle in his hand. With a stout nod, she bolted for the fence, bruised and bleeding, aching in places she had no idea had been hit. Rolling under the fence, she darted up the hill as her very new acquaintance dropped the woven metal.
Phaedra spun, eyes wide as Silas toppled forward into the mud. The fence was being lifted…. She darted forward, and hoisted him up, his arm slipping over her shoulder as she dragged him up the hill.
“Felix!” She screamed. In seconds Felix, Tully, and Fiona burst through the trees, Felix helping with Silas as Fiona and Tully held back the branches to let them through. Bullets were flying. Silas was bleeding. The woods were just so far— when they burst through the trees, Phae glanced over… everything seemed still. Too still.
“Phae… Phae!” Tully cried out, holding her arm with blood leaking through her fingers, but her eyes were on Fiona, her expression twisted in horror.
No one had heard the shot… There was no scream… Fiona was slumped against a tree, a clean hole in her neck, her eyes were wide as she choked and sputtered. Tully fell to her knees beside her—
“We have to keep moving.” Phae said reluctantly, trying not to look at the girl they’d tried so hard to save.
“No…” Tully let out a sob as she watched the light leaving Fiona’s eyes. She couldn’t speak. Blood spattered over her lips and poured out of that angry little hole as she fought not to drown. Bullets were flying through the trees again—
Fiona took one more gasp, gurgled, and fell still.
“Tully!” Phae shouted, using her free hand to yank the blond up by her sleeve. Tully screamed and sobbed, fighting even as another bullet clipped just below where the first was lodged in her arm. Phae continued dragging her with Silas under one arm, Felix still trudging ahead with the other half of their wounded friend.
And Fiona stayed by the tree, bloody and broken, a sacrifice to Blackford Hill.