I’m taking a break. I’ve battled with a lack of direction with this work since the beginning. It started out as an experiment and the first thing I’ve ever written. I’d consider it a huge success. I’d never have thought I’d have 140,000 page views and ~800 individual reads when I started. I’ve enjoyed writing it, and hope everyone has enjoyed writing it. However, I think I need to recharge my batteries (and buffer) when it comes to this story, and I’d like to try something a bit new for a bit.
There’s a good chance I’ll build up a buffer and start posting again. If this is the case, then I aim to start posting by April, so look forward to then.
This update came out longer than planned, so expect one short post in the next few days that will mark the start of the sabbatical/hiatus.
Thanks for reading,
Emma lowered her head as she wheeled the chair through the corridor. It was now a flurry of activity. Nervous looking security tried to personnel watched as a doctor ran past.
“Sorry miss, you can’t go down here.” One held his arm out to prevent her from getting any closer. For a moment Emma thought he’d recognised her. He hadn’t, but there was already a group of onlookers, all clearly patients from the ward standing back but trying to peer over his shoulder. Of course she wasn’t allowed any further, there’d just been a shoot-out.
“I just need to get to that room there,” Emma said, nodding to the door Beth was behind.
“I really can’t let you go any further.” He held up his hands, “You’ll have to come back later.”
“But she really shouldn’t be in there alone. I was just going to get her this,” She nodded down to the chair in front of her.
“She can wait.”
“I don’t think you understand. She’s been in a…” Maybe saying that was a bad idea. “She just got diagnosed, its… it’s real bad.” He was frowning. Considering it? She studied the laces of his shoes, trying not to look guilty. How do you even do that? Needs more. “She’s expecting me to be back, I’ve already taken too long. I really don’t want her to worry-”
“Okay, fine. But don’t go any further than that door.” His frown remained, but he sounded sure. “I’m watching you, don’t get up to anything funny.”
Emma gave him the nicest smile she could muster and a genuine thanks before pushing the chair to the room. She’d taken far too long to find one, and all that time Beth had been lying alone, in the dark with all this going on outside.
She backed into the room, working the handle down with her elbow.
“Beth?” No response. Too dark to really see much, Emma stroked the wall, scouring her memories about where the light-switch should be. Eventually her fingers caught plastic and the room burst into the same burning white light as the corridor outside.
“Turn that off.” Beth covered her eyes with her fore-arm. She was in much the same position as Emma had left her, flat on her back, knees hanging over the end of the bed.
Emma left it on. “You have to get ready to go.”
Beth pushed herself up into a sitting position, still squinting in the bright light. She looked at her hands. “Blood,” she said, pulling at her plain blue hospital pyjamas liberally splattered with crimson.
“Yes.” How could she respond to that? Emma kneeled at the bag, “Here, I think there’s something to put on over your top in here.”
She rummaged through and pulled out a coat, an old baggy jumper, some loose jeans and slip on pumps, bundling them up in her arms before approaching Beth. Beth grabbed the jumper as Emma held it out, “I can dress myself.”
She did. Clumsily pulling clothes over her stained, thin pyjamas. Emma watched as the blood-stain soaked through slightly. But it was much less obvious, brown instead of red. It could be mistaken for coffee, at least for now.
Besides, it was invisible when she shoved her arms through the heavy jacket Emma held out for her.
“Give me the bag,” Beth said, holding out her hand.
Emma passed it to her. Beth twisted and turned it up-side-down on the bed. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t want to be seen carrying something where I’m going.” She said, “Definitely not in a bag that looks this expensive. Learned that from Alexis.”
Odds and ends spilled out. A tablet, one of the latest models that Beth push to one side, hardly noticing it. A bunch of toiletries, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. There was a small collection of plasters, bandages, tubes and sheets of pills: the makings of a rudimentary first aid kit. Finally, a heap of battered notes wrapped in bands and a small black pistol.
“Take your bag off, leave it here.” Beth said as she picked out the cash from the heap.
“Here.” Beth passed her a bunch of notes, “Probably ten thousand dollars there. I’m sure that will cover a new one. Shove it in your clothes. Keep a few in your outer pockets. Twenty, no more than that.”
She pulled up her shirt and started shoving the cash in her waistband before pulling herself to the edge of the bed.
Emma pulled the chair round and braced the wheels against her shoes, unsure on how to operate the brakes. Beth pulled herself into the chair, leaning forwards and rubbing her temples.
“What’s it like out there?” she asked.
“People. I had to talk my way past.”
Beth reached out and took the gun from the bed. She slid the clip out, studied it before pushing it back in it’s place and yanking back the slider along the top with a characteristic click.
“Pass me that blanket,” Emma grabbed one of the carefully folded white blankets from head of the bed and gave it to Beth. She shoved it onto her lap, her hand underneath still clutching the gun. “Let’s go.”
* * *
They met no resistance, the security were happier with people leaving the area than entering it, not even saying word as Emma pushed Beth past their impromptu checkpoint. Emma kept her attention on the people around her, looking for anyone that looked suspicious or out of place, but it was difficult when she really didn’t know what she was looking for. Beth twisted to look over her shoulder at the room they’d come from, but there was no one entering or leaving. No sign of her father.
No one tried to stop them leave, not even the hospital staff, clearly distracted by the more important events. It was early morning. Visiting hours were over, and most of the patients were asleep. As they moved further from the scene the number of police and security personnel decreased, and they had no reason to stop a young girl taking her friend for a walk, and they didn’t seem to question Emma’s presence outside of vising hours.
As they moved away from the upper floors and wards that held long-term patients the sleepy atmosphere dropped away. Hospitals never sleep, there were always new accidents and new illnesses providing a steady stream of patients for the staff to deal with. None of it was quiet, but it lacked the frantic fever of daylight and left them with a clear path to the front steps of the hospital.
They took the ramp to a row of marked taxies, the first of which’s door jumped open at the prospect of a customer.
“Where do you two want to get to?” The man said.
“Eastfield industrial estate, right by the river.” Beth answered.
He pulled open the passenger door. “You okay getting in or do you-“
“I’m fine,” Beth interrupted, pushing herself out of the chair and staggering the steps towards the car. The driver expertly folded the chair up, obviously familiar with taking patients from the hospital. “Leave it.”
“Beth, are you sure?” Emma said, hovering by the door.
“It’s not ours, besides we can’t take it with us anyway.” Beth pulled the seatbelt across her shoulder. “Get in.”
* * *
“Sure is an odd place to be going at this time of night. Do you live around here?” The cab passed through the sprawl of light industrial buildings. There weren’t any flats in sight. Understandably odd.
Beth didn’t reply, ignoring him every time he tried to start a conversation. This time Emma couldn’t come up with an explanation, the small-talk had passed. There was no reasons she could think of to come to this place. Besides, wasn’t it dangerous in places like this in the middle of the night?
She followed Beth’s lead and said nothing.
* * *
“Here,” Beth had carefully counted out the notes. A typical fare, with a typical tip. She’d already been far too strange already. Not that it mattered if this taxi driver went back and blabbed about the odd fare he had. She wasn’t going to make the mistake of paying him more than he was due, that was bound to raise suspicions needlessly.
What would Alex do?
She’d be careful. She’d take care not to look out of place.
Beth crumpled the notes in her fist and flattened them out before giving them to the driver. They had just enough money to cover the taxi fare, they were school kids. They were totally uninteresting.
* * *
Emma opened the door and got out first before walking around to help Beth. But she’d already climbed to her feet, leaning heavily on the side of the car. “Are you sure that-“
“I’m fine Emma,” she snapped, “I feel a lot stronger than earlier. Just give me a hand and I’ll be fine.”
She reached out a hand and Emma grabbed it. Taking her weight, they started walking. Beth doggedly leading the way, regardless of her apparent weakness. Emma heard the car tires crunch on the gravel as it drove away. Without the steady hum of the engine and the mutter of the cab driver’s radio the silence of the early city fell. Noise, but distant. Movement in the street one along. Cars, busy elsewhere. The buzz of a faulty transformer in the buildings. Sounds filtered through corridors of concrete and brick before reaching the ear.
“Where are we going? Are you sure this is the right way?” Emma stumbled as the ground tipped into a downward slope. “Beth, tell me what’s going on.”
“Here, this is it.”
A fence, wire, with a broken gate.
“What is it?” Emma said. There was the unmistakable sound of water lapping against stone.
* * *
Emma clutched Beth’s arm harder than Beth held onto her. She didn’t trust the dissolved, rust red iron of the hand-rails, or the patched crooked grates that lined the floor.
The sight of the oozing river below made her feel like she was going to throw up.
It wasn’t until they got to the other side that she realised what crossing the river meant. When her foot hit the ground again she didn’t relax, quite the contrary.
“Beth…” She said, “Beth, this is the Island.”
“This place is dangerous.”
“Emma,” Beth gave her a cold look. “This place is safety. For me. When we find Alex she can take you back out. I can’t get there on my own.”
Emma looked at Beth, really looked at her. Pale, thin, her hands had a constant tremor. Tired. “Okay, but let’s hurry up.”
Beth set off once again, picking her directions with purpose. She’d gone this way before.
* * *
Emma’s eyes darted from sight to sight. There was more activity here than in the city. They were accosted with guaranteed deals for all sorts of things from something as general to ‘a good time’ to groceries. Beth ploughed onwards, ignoring all interactions. She seemed to avoid the less well populated areas but as they continued the streets narrowed. The storefronts became the entrances to flats, and those became the backs of warehouses. Eventually they were presented with a fork of two dark narrow alleys.
Beth looked upwards. A worn ladder lead to another level. “Can’t go up. Not up for that,” she muttered. “Come on. Hope we’re lucky.”
Her tone set Emma on edge. Surely it wasn’t that bad?
They started down the better lit of the alleys. The walls still closed in, towering over the girls and blocking out the nigh time haze of the sky.
As they approached the buzzing streetlight in the centre the shadows shifted in front of them.
Beth’s grip on Emma’s arm tightened. Emma could hear her heart beating in her ears. Was this not lucky? There was no doubt it was bad news. Beth pulled her back. They turned and started in the other direction. Not worth the risk?
“Not so easily.” Someone leaned casually on the entrance to the alley, features picked out in the dingy light from the alley entrance. “This is our patch. What have you got to pay us?”
“Fuck off.” Beth said. Emma flinched as a flash of metal in the man’s had caught the light.
“Why so rude?” He said. Beth was sideways, head flicking between the man at the entrance and the one they’d turned to avoid. “Can’t part with a little cash?”
“We don’t have anything.” Beth said.
“Oh I’m sure you do. Nice coat like that, you’re sure to have some money to go with it.” His hand flashed again, the was spinning a knife between his fingers.
Beth didn’t respond, then slowly shoved her hand in her pocket and pulled out the hand-full of notes she’d gathered before.
“I’ve got twenty,” She said, holding the notes out, “That’s all. Spent the rest.”
He took a step forwards. “That isn’t an awful lot. I’m sure you’ve got more in that pretty-“
“Don’t take another step.” Beth said.
“What?” His voice changed from its jokey sing-song melody to a bitter drawl.
Beth pulled her hand from her jacket again, this time holding the pistol.
“Take one more step and I’ll put a bullet through your face.” She stood straighter, no longer hunched with fatigue.
He stopped, but didn’t take a step back, and didn’t look too worried.
“Like that’s a real gun.” He mocked, “Do you even know how to shoot that little toy?” He smiled and lifted his foot.
Before it hit the ground Beth’s arm snapped down and two loud cracks rang out in the confined alley. She whipped around and fired again. Two shots in quick succession before the other man had built up enough momentum to fall forwards.
“Oh my god, oh my god!” Emma had to hold back a scream.
They did. Beth had lied. She didn’t shoot them in the face, just put an ounce of lead into each knee cap.
“Go.” Beth said.
* * *
“This is it.” Beth said. Her arm draped across Emma’s shoulder, her feet dragging, she could hardly keep open her eyes. She rested them, letting Emma guided them, only opening them to direct them towards Alex’s basement.
The exterior door lock was broken and they got through with a shove. Beth led them through the basement and to the door of Alex’s garage home.