Wednesday, 11 November 2009 - 7:20 pm

Gathering storm

I don’t have much time. Last night was not what we expected – it was both better and worse than we had hoped.

It’s hard to know where to start. I suppose I should start with the end and say that we made it. Sort of.

We’re free. I can look around and see familiar, friendly faces. I don’t have to worry about who’s watching and what I’m doing, because they’re all friends, all in the same position as I am. I can sit here and post without fear of someone stealing the laptop.

But there’s no celebration. No smiles or hugs of joy. No song circling the firelight. Sombre faces and painful grimaces sit with us tonight.

We’re not all here. Not all of us made it, and we don’t have a celebration in us. It doesn’t feel right. Instead, we’re huddling in the dark and wondering if the cutouts will catch up with us.

There’s a part of me that wonders if all of this was worth it.


I should go back to the beginning. Tell all of this in order. Start in the black of last night, when the dorm was full of sleeping breaths and drifting snores. The sound of cloth moving against cloth pulled me out of a tense doze; there wasn’t any chance of sleep for me, not after I knew what was coming.

In the strange world between sleeping and waking, I wasn’t sure if the movement was real or part of a dream trying to drag me down. Then Jersey touched my shoulder and I was starkly awake, nodding and pushing myself up out of the bed. It was thickly dark in the dorm but I could see my friend’s face enough to know that this was it. Time. I tried to shush my heartbeat so it wouldn’t wake anyone.

The first thing we had to do was wake the other girls who might be coming with us. I nudged Jersey off to fetch Jaye while I went to wake Iona. The strange one had gone to sleep on her own bed for once, but she was already conscious when I touched her arm. I put a hand to her lips and tugged her up, leading her out to the disused bathroom at the back of the dorms. She didn’t make a sound. A few moments later, Jersey arrived with a sleepy Jaye in tow.

I explained what was happening in quick, hushed words. Iona watched me calmly without a flicker in her expression. Jaye’s mouth fell open and she shifted back from us a step, as if escape was contagious. She asked if we were serious three times, and then how we thought we were going to do it. I couldn’t blame her for the note of disbelief in her voice – we did spring it on her.

I tried to answer her questions, but I could see her withdrawing from the whole idea of it. Jersey looked from me to Jaye and asked her bluntly if she wanted to come along. Put on the spot, Jaye clearly wanted to fold in on herself. Leave? Leave Haven? No. Of course not. Are you insane?

Tia was the one who told us that she would want to come. But Tia wasn’t there and Jaye was obviously not as eager to be out of here as we thought. I was left wondering what on earth we would do with her. I wasn’t prepared for her to say no. She might run and raise the alarm, or wake the rest of the dorm, or cry until someone asks her what’s wrong. She might ruin us by accident.

Jersey wasn’t paralysed with indecision like I was. She just stepped up and punched Jaye in the face, before I could do anything about it. The poor girl crumpled and I struggled not to shout out. The last thing we needed was for the dorm to be brought down upon us right now. It took another punch before Jaye was unconscious and I flinched at the dull, painful sound. I couldn’t have done it. I’ve never just hit someone out of the blue like that, cold and unprovoked.

We had no way of knowing how long she might be out, so we bound her up with the ruins of my blanket: feet, hands and mouth. I tried to make her comfortable against the wall, murmuring apologies she wouldn’t hear. It wasn’t her fault; she didn’t deserve this. It’s just a shame.

When that was done, we turned to the one remaining recruit, who had stood watching us silently. To my surprise, Jersey stepped up to ask Iona gently if she understood what was happening, rubbing her sore knuckles.

“Don’t speak, shhh,” Iona said, nodding slowly. I guess that meant she understood. “Is it time?”

Jersey and I looked at each other and silently agreed that Iona wanted to come. We didn’t have time for any kind of in-depth assessment and she was willing enough. We had already talked about the alternative – leaving her here with the madams and the vultures – and decided we didn’t want to do that.

I told Iona that she must be quiet, not a sound, fetch her things and we’re going. She nodded and shrugged, and stood there waiting for us. Apparently, she already had everything she wanted to take with her. No-one wanted to fumble about in the dark looking for her clothes, so we left it at that. Grabbed our packs and slipped out of the back door.


Outside, I hissed at Jersey, asking her where we were going. To fetch the supplies, she said, leading me off down the back of the next building. It was difficult to see and we tripped over the uneven ground between the patches of light thrown by the floodlights in the courtyards. Staying out of the light meant much stumbling and fumbling – I think Iona made the least noise of the three of us, floating along in her private cloud as she does.

Jersey seemed to know where we were going, so I followed her. I didn’t dare ask her about what was going on and the plan for getting us out of here; we were having enough trouble keeping quiet. I was lost in this escape – I didn’t like trailing around after someone else and I didn’t like not knowing what was going on. I’m used to being in the know and in charge. Nerves swirled around me, twitching at every shadow.

The packs containing the supplies were stuffed in an empty refuse tank – they didn’t smell great but they were still there, safe and waiting for us. There were too many for us to carry on our own but we grabbed what we could. We would have to come back for the rest – the notion made my stomach flop over on itself with unease.

We had just shouldered the load of stinking bags when a beam of light slid over us, slippery as oil. We gasped and hit the ground so fast that the air was punched out of me. I pressed my lips closed to avoid an audible gasp. A pack dug into my back as I huddled down, trying to be small despite my snail-like burden. I felt huge and impractical, and as glaringly obvious as if a neon sign was hovering over me. I eventually dared a breath, kept small and shallow in case someone heard me. Boots crunched against the concrete and I saw a shape move against the distant floodlights. I don’t know how I knew, but I felt it looking in our direction and the beam swung past us again.

Then there was a thud near my head and I looked up. There was a boot. A flashlight’s beam pinned my hands down, the glare blinding me. This is it, I thought. This is the end.

We’ve been caught.