*It’s four years since I wrote a short story and was more than a little astonished when this story leaped into my mind. For those who are returning after reading Part 1 I’m glad to see you’re enjoying the story. For those who missed the first part yesterday you need do nothing more than click on the link in the last sentence to catch up. The story concludes…
Anna thrust the memory away with a wince that culminated in a brief head shake. To the left Dar was still staring at the pavement. Several paces beyond the front door she waved until he glanced her way. Dar waved back and Anna motioned for him to approach. He held his arms out wide as if to ask why she wouldn’t join him. She shook her head and pointed at the house. Nodding, he climbed to his feet and followed her to the home’s south side. The two sixteen year-olds retreated past the empty kennel and behind the SUV that hadn’t run even in her mother’s lifetime, its wheels long gone and thick dust covering paint too faded to possess color even if visible.
Slipping into his arms, Anna leaned back her head and welcomed his long, delving kiss. Her heart fought for additional space near lungs stilled. He moved to her neck and she whispered a gasp, her hands running over and around his broad shoulders.
A loud clap! sounded and Anna jumped. Pushing Dar away, she stared with unblinking eyes until he laughed.
Glaring, she turned. “What?”
“That was across the street. Fools nailed plywood on the roof to try and stop a leak and it just blew off.”
She exhaled and pressed fingertips to her forehead to recenter her focus. “Mama is suspicious.” Anna glanced up at angled features growing hard and brittle too young, but refused to linger on the deep brown eyes where the compassion was always visible. “She thinks I’m study—”
“Down!” Dar shoved her to the ground and prodded her to crawl inside the plastic dog kennel that hadn’t housed a dog in generations.
Her hands went to either side of the entrance and she recoiled. “Dar, no! There are bugs.”
“There’ll be worse than that in thirty seconds. There’s a drone coming down the street.”
“A drone?” She relented, curled up at the far end, and closed her eyes tight, the act mimicking muscles tensed in arachnophobic anticipation.
“The drones only run at night after curfew….”
“Then something’s changed, hasn’t it.”
“You don’t have to be sarcastic.” In the close confines she felt his shoulders sag.
“Sorry.” In the silence she heard his exhale moments before the telltale hum that was the drone’s passing. “It’s this damn place. They won’t pay to heal us, but they’ll pay to keep us from leaving.”
“How’d you know it was coming?”
Dar laughed and her heart skipped and twirled. “The sensor in my pocket buzzed…I could feel it.”
Risking the vermin sharing her space, Anna opened her eyes and looked at him. “Sensor? That can’t possibly be legal.”
He laughed again. “Then don’t ask about it.”
Anna touched her fingers to skin darker than her own and that’d become rougher in recent times. “My mother says you’re trouble.”
A big hand covered her small hand and squeezed. “I’m trouble because we’re all in trouble.” He squirmed. “It’s tight in here.”
“Because you’re six inches taller.”
“H’m, well, I’m getting out. It’s gone.” Outside, Dar extended his hand and helped her so she wouldn’t have to touch possible infestations. Anna squirmed, relieved when he turned her around and brushed at her clothing.
Her brows lowered. “Why aren’t you studying? Exams are next week.”
“I don’t know if I’m going to take them.” His confident stare faltered at the last and he looked to the side.
“Not take them? But we’ll never have anything if we…”
“…Don’t work at V.I.L.? And what would I do there, Anna? I’m trouble. Remember?”
“That isn’t funny.” Her gaze shot back-and-forth while she searched her jumbled thoughts. “You…you could work in one of the offices…”
“…Collecting money from struggling people like us for services only V.I.L. provides. They take everything except what we need to pay our rent or buy groceries at the V.I.L. store. That isn’t a life. Still, like I said, they don’t want me.” He chuckled while she brushed at his shirt. “That is, unless I have exceptional scores on the tests. If that happens they’ll lock me in an office instead of a cell, but it’ll still be a cell.”
“Still, you should study. You’re smart. They’ll change their mind about you after you test. Then we’ll move to the city. I was there when my brother started his job right before grandpa began to, ah, fade.” Her eyes lost focus, the blighted landscape surrounding her cast away. “The shining towers. The air ships. The bullet trains. Silent cars, even. Appliances that work. Decent doctors. Culture. Hot water. It was glorious.” The memory faded and revealed Dar biting his lower lip. “What?”
“They have all that over the border.”
“No.” Anna shook her head. “That’s a lie people tell to make us not appreciate all V.I.L. does.”
“No, that’s a lie V.I.L. tells us so we think there’s nothing better. You sound like your mother.”
“My…?” Anna took an extra step back. “I know it’s harsh here, but there…there has to be suffering…I mean, we have to sacrifice so V.I.L. has enough to keep us safe. Those who are strongest will want to move into the city.”
Dar shook his head and raised his hands as if to ward off evil spirits. “And what are they keeping us safe from, Anna?”
“The anarchists and…and the radicals. The awful weather we always have.” Her eyes widened. “Radicals who talk like you. You’d have us destroy the factories and murder…”
“…Murder the corporates?” His fists clenched. “They’re too powerful anyway. They want everyone to believe that everyone else is out to destroy them. Sure, safety from the radicals is under the dome…mostly, anyway, but there’s no safety from V.I.L. and its artificial, prying eyes. The weather? Who the hell do you think caused the bad weather? This used to be forests.” Anna stared down at her dust covered shoes. “I’d settle for just getting out.”
“Getting out? North?” He nodded. “But there are patrols…”
“There aren’t as many in the mountains.” Dar moved close and grasped her arms. “Come with me.”
“We have to do this now—before it’s too late.”
“Too late? What are…?”
“They’re finally going to do it, Anna. They’re going to build a wall to make it impossible to cross.”
“I’ve seen pictures. They’ve already started it. If we don’t go now we’ll be trapped here forever.” His intense stare melted into a softer expression that allowed a welcoming smile to spread. A gentle hand brushed hair out of her eyes. “We could do it, you and I. A few weeks, maybe a month, hiking in the mountains…I know where we could cross.”
She searched those brown eyes. “You’re serious.”
“I have some supplies…if we’re careful with them. I’ve been planning.”
“Your family? They’ve made their choice, but it isn’t too late for us.” Dar hunched down so their gazes met. Anna’s eyes took in his features, including the scar guards left there several years ago when he’d attempted to forced his way into the city to find a doctor to save his sister. Tests early in life deemed her insufficiently intelligent to warrant saving if she became sick.
She became sick.
Dar was never the same afterwards…
Her fingertips slid over his dusted black hair to his temple. Such a handsome face, yet hardship, frustration, and anger were accelerating the aging process. “Do they have scientists there?” His embrace was crushing. “I…I take it that’s a yes?”
Releasing her, a grin wide across his face, he nodded. “We can leave in a week…after exams. They’ll be slower to search then, especially if we’re sure to not have memorable scores either way.”
“But weeks…they’ll be looking for us within a day or two and it’s open country to the mountains.”
“It’ll be okay.”
“But the border…crossing…”
Dar kissed her. “Quit worrying and go study so they don’t suspect what we’re planning. I can elude the drones long enough to get us into the mountains. A month from now we’ll be safe in Canada.”
Anna glanced to her left, her gasp escaping an instant before her back struck the side of the house. Before Dar could take a protective step in front of her she grabbed his arm. Chest heaving, she forced a smile to her lips to simulate innocence, but the scouring wind forced her to wet her lips.
“Grandpa…” Where was the air she needed for her lungs? “Grandpa, how long have you been standing there?”
The hunched, barefoot senior moved his gaze to her fidgeting companion and back to his granddaughter. “Long enough.”
“Damn it…!” Dar looked towards the brown sky.
Faced with Dar’s dream endangered, Anna stiffened her spine and grasped his hand. It took losing the dream to know it was a shared dream. “Please, Grandpa…” Her plea failed to find the necessary words and faltered. The wavering old man extended his hand and the folded paper he was clutching. “Grandpa?”
A tear ran through the dust coating the man’s face. “Take it.”
Her vision blurring, Anna searched for words. When her silence endured and she remained still, Dar crossed the distance and took the sheet.
He retreated to Anna’s side and unfolded it. “What the hell…?”
“It’s a map,” the old man explained, his body swelling with what Anna sensed was pride. “On paper there’s no way for them to sense it.”
Dar shook his head. “But…?”
“It’s an underground route to the mountains…shows hidden stashes along the way. Likely some has changed, but it might help.”
The young man looked up. “I…I don’t know what to say other than, thank you.”
Anna advanced on her grandfather and wrapped her arms around him. “Oh, Grandpa, if—”
“No, I’d never survive the journey. The map was your father’s. You were to have been born in Canada, but your mother…”
“She was determined to not leave…”
Always the man had held her gaze and watching him fail to do so caused her eyes to widen. “Oh no…” The man in the picture and her mother’s reaction to it brought forth the water in Anna’s eyes, creating mud streaks on her cheeks. She rested her face against his chest and held him tighter. “I love you, Grandpa.”
“You’re my life, Anna, and the life your father never lived.”
There they remained until her mother’s voice reached her ears. “Anna?”
Eyes wide, the girl separated from the old man, her relief at discovering her mother was still at the front door doing little to diminish the trembling in her limbs.
The old man smiled. “I do believe I’ve been wandering.” He winked.
Dar’s hand rested on her arm as he shoved the map in his pocket. “Go on, and don’t forget to study.”
Anna took a deep breath with her back to the wind, held her grandfather’s hand tight, and led him towards the street where her mother was looking in both directions. “Grandpa was wandering.” She wiped beneath her eyes. “I was so worried…”