By Steven Mace
Clyde impatiently drummed his knuckles on the dashboard of the car. “Come on, come on!” he muttered in agitation as he scanned the map he’d rested on the steering wheel for directions on where to go. They had reached a crossroads. In front of them, the desert stretched out into the distance, a flat and empty yellow landscape. Dust billowed around the car from Clyde’s action of slamming on the brakes seconds before.
Thea looked back over her shoulder, through the rear window of the car, back in the direction from where they had come. She saw nothing. She flicked a glance upward, to check for any aerial activity. The lack of any movement behind them did nothing to assuage her anxiety.
“Okay, left turn.” Clyde hit the accelerator and the car roared down the dusty, worn, potholed motorway. The engine did not sound in good health, and Thea wondered how far it would take them before it finally gave up the ghost. It had not taken Dr Walton long to sound the alert and send most of the base’s troops in pursuit of them.
“So where are we going?” she asked Clyde, not for the first time.
He gave her an irritable grunt in reply, exasperated.
“If they send helicopters after us, they’ll spot us in no time”, Thea had told him anxiously. “We’re sitting ducks out here.”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” he’d snapped at her. He had changed gears, angrily pulling at the gear-stick in his frustration. “We need to find shelter, dump the car, and hide. That’s what we’re going to do. First, we’re going to get as far away from that place as we possibly can.”
So here they were, hurtling down an ancient motorway in an antique vehicle, worn and scarred from years of war and disuse, with bullet holes in the front and back windscreen.
“You don’t know where we’re going”, she said, after several minutes of silence and anxious watching of the horizon and the skies. It was not uttered as a question, but rather as a flat statement of fact.
“Does it matter?”
“I suppose not.” She took a sip from her water bottle. “We’re as good as dead anyway.”
The first thing she remembered of her childhood was the Tube. That was what they placed you in when they wanted you to go to sleep. It was also where they made sure you got the vitamins and the nutrients that your body needed. Her earliest memories were of the scientists, prodding and probing, attaching things. Of course, there were also the things she hated most – the needles. Sometimes the scientists injected them with drugs when they were awake. But mostly, she thought, they did it when they were asleep. As a child, she’d thrown tantrums and become agitated when she’d seen a needle. They’d always had to sedate her. As the years had gone by, they’d always put the drugs and the other chemicals in her system while she was sleeping.
She didn’t think that Dr Morgan was an unpleasant man. She’d known him all her life and he had always been kind to her. Sometimes, she thought that he had sad eyes. She knew he didn’t always like what he had to do. Dr Walton on the other hand, was a cold man with no discernible conscience. He had empty, dead eyes that were distorted by his thick lens spectacles. He had always kept his distance, particularly from the children, who he clearly despised. Thea knew that, whatever happened, he’d always be loyal to the Programme. Ultimately, Dr Walton would always be loyal to the Director and to himself.
Nightfall came. Clyde stopped the car by the side of the deteriorated road and they sat there in the dark together for several minutes. It took a while for Thea to actually register that they had stopped, as she had been so pre-occupied by her thoughts and memories. She looked at him questioningly, squinting at his features in the gloom and trying to read his expression.
“Why have we stopped?” she asked.
“I can’t put the headlights on. Travelling in the dark like this, they’ll spot us easily. We have to wait it out until dawn.”
“But what if they come?” Thea asked incredulously, staring at him. “You’ll give them the opportunity to catch up with us.”
“We’ll find somewhere”, Clyde said firmly. “But…we’ll find somewhere tomorrow. We can’t travel now, Thea. Because of the lights. They’ll find us much more quickly. We should get some sleep. Wait it out.”
“Clyde, what if we don’t find somewhere?” Thea said anxiously. She looked out of the car. She could see nothing, only the blue sky at the edge of the horizon, and darkness.
Despite his answer, he did not sound convinced. Thea gazed at him, feeling deeply concerned and wondering how this was destined to end.
“You should get some sleep”, he told her. “I can sleep here. You can have the back seat. Take one of the blankets.”
Thea glanced at the back seat of the car. She knew it was an old car and so it was dusty back there. She knew that the car hadn’t been cleaned properly despite being preserved by Dr Morgan. It was a whole world away from the comfortable cell at the facility. Still, she had no choice. She sighed and clambered into the back of the car. She took one of the covers they’d hurriedly brought with them, and covered herself with it. Then she lay back and closed her eyes. She had not expected to fall asleep that quickly, but she was more tired than she cared to admit. It had been a frenetic and incomprehensible day, the culmination of all their carefully-arranged plans for escape. It did not take long before natural sleep came.
When she awoke, it was still dark.
“Shhhh”, Clyde said. He was leaning over her, crouched in the space between the front and back seats. For a shocking moment, she thought he was trying to be intimate with her, and she was about to push him away. Then she realised something was happening outside. There was light coming from somewhere, casting beams across the interior of the vehicle.
She propped her head up and looked out of the car window. To her relief, the source of the light was not close. In the distance she could see lights flashing, like incredibly bright stars, moving on the horizon. It was impossible to tell how far away they were.
“What is that?” she whispered.
“I don’t know” Clyde replied softly, “But I’m glad we stopped moving. I started seeing them ten minutes ago. They’re probably vehicles of some kind. From the Facility, I’m sure of it. I think they’re looking for us.”
Thea caught her breath. “Then we should get moving too.”
“No. Let’s take our chances. The car lights will completely give us away. If they come down this road, then they must come down it. We don’t move until dawn.”
“Clyde…how…what do you think will happen? Do you think we can find somewhere to hide out here?” Her wide, questioning eyes met his.
“I’ve heard stories”, Clyde said evenly. “I don’t how reliable they are, but I heard them from people I trusted, who saw the outside. I heard that there were settlements out here. I even heard that they had technology and medicine in these places. If they do, then we might be able to survive.”
“I hope so.” Thea watched the ominous lights on the horizon for a little longer. After a while, she lay her head back down on the seat again, and offered a silent prayer to whichever God had forsaken them.
Clyde fell asleep too. He dreamed of the children, all together in the laboratory. They are all asked by a scientist in a white coat to lie down. Then the clouds of smoke start to fill the room. It smells funny, not like normal smoke, and Clyde realises that it is gas. It has a chemical quality. It’s too late to panic because he feels strangely relaxed. He can’t move his muscles. He is frozen and everyone else is lying on the floor. That’s when another man in a white coat enters the room, with a needle.
Suddenly Clyde realises that he can move. Strength has returned to his body and he can move his muscles. He jumps up and runs past the scientist with the needle, through a door. He’s running down a sterile, white corridor lit by florescent lighting. He runs into an empty room and slams the door shut. It’s a dead end, there is nowhere to go. He watches the door handle turn slowly and holds his breath. The door opens, and two helmeted soldiers in uniform look into the room. They are carrying guns. They look straight at him…and through him. They close the door. He must have become invisible, because they didn’t see him. He tests his theory by walking out into the corridor. It’s true. He passes soldiers and scientists and all cannot see him. He is the invisible boy, and he can go anywhere he likes. He goes into a stairwell. Two scientists- a doctor and a laboratory technician- are standing there talking. They still cannot see him, but they pause and stare at the door opening by itself. It bangs shut, and they look like they have seen a ghost. He creeps down the stairwell. At the bottom of the stairs there is a boy from the laboratory experiment, standing silently and all by himself with his hands by his side. Clyde cannot look at his face, doesn’t want to look, because he is horribly disfigured….
When Thea awoke again, she saw clear blue sky through the car window. For a moment, she did not know where she was. She was used to seeing the plain white ceiling of the laboratory or her room in the facility, like she had done for every day all of her life. Then she finally got her bearings for where she was, and it all came flooding back to her.
She sat up, and wondered where Clyde was. She was the only one in the car. Then she saw him. He was stood by the side of the road several yards away from the vehicle, closely examining the map he’d taken with them. He was sipping a drink from a small flask.
He looked up at her when she got out of the car, yawning and stretching. Her limbs were stiff from her cramped sleeping posture during the night, forced to be spent in the car.
“Do you want something to drink?” he asked. “I have some water, in another flask.”
“Please.” She was only too aware that her throat was dry and she felt parched. The thought made her worry about what they would do further down the line of their journey for food and water. She tucked a stray lock of blonde hair behind her ear and gratefully accepted the flask Clyde gave her.
“I have some bread too”, he said.
Thea was hungry, so the offer was impossible for her to refuse. As she chewed on the bread, she thought about the breakfasts she used to have at the facility: cereals, yoghurts, toast, fruits and meats as a selection to eat from. Did she feel a pang of regret? Surely she did not, after all that had happened and the risks they had taken. She put all thoughts of the facility out of her mind, and focused on what Clyde was saying.
“I think we should carry on”, he said. “We’ll find somewhere today where there are people who can help us. I’m sure of it.”