Flash fiction story challenge and free story, by Melissa Vazquez
This story was featured in The Second Realm Short Story Collection: 2014
Adeline thought the girl in front of her looked like some otherworldly fairy, trapped in the gritty Tower they lived in.
“Don’t make a sound,” Diane whispered to the group of people she directed. They were a group of eight in all, mostly pale-skinned. Even those with naturally dark skin looked pale, from the lack of sunlight.
They were a group of people desperate to escape the Four Towers, the sprawling metropolis of interconnected Towers, each one with a specific purpose. Life had been cruel to the generations before the Four Towers existed, with war and pollution tearing the earth apart. The Four Towers had risen up over the city skyline, replacing any need to step outside into the poisoned air.
For Adeline, life in the South Tower was insanity. No human was meant to live in a glass bubble such as this. Even if she spent time in the gardens, they were still indoor, artificial creations meant to mimic the landscape they had come to replace. That was why the small fifteen year old girl was in the lower levels of the Tower, where the agricultural workers toiled. Diane had promised her a way out.
She regretted not even saying goodbye to her mother, but she knew her mother would only try to stop her. Adeline had her father’s rebellious, adventurous spirit and being confined in the Tower, no matter how large it was, drove her up the wall.
Adeline wanted to go outside.
She had been raised on a history that told of nothing good outside the Four Towers, from the choked, polluted waters and soil not fit to grow anything healthy. Somehow, life outside the Tower felt more real than the utopia the Tower tried to create. She didn’t care if her meals were always perfectly cooked and balanced in nutrition. She didn’t care that the Tower was nearly free of crime. She wanted a real life. Outside of the Tower.
Their group followed Diane through a series of twisting hallways, most of them only lit by the flashlights they carried. This section of the building had been abandoned after an irrigation system had flooded the area, but it hadn’t been sealed off, like most of the ground level and underground levels were.
One girl, who couldn’t have been older than Adeline froze when she saw the end of the hallway. “Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this. We could be killed if they found out.”
They were the Justice Division. No one knew for sure, but rumors floated around that there were no jail cells on the upper floors, as they had been told. No elevators ran that high. The Justice Division could be harsh in its black-or-white punishment and people suspected that criminals were killed, rather than jailed.
“You’ve already started with us. Don’t wimp out now.” Diane’s voice was like acid. “One foot in front of the other. That’s all it takes.”
The girl whimpered, but continued walking with them, until they clamored at the end of the hallway. A large, vaulted door stood before them. It was one of the older doors, to an older tunnel system, possibly an old subway system. This door didn’t have the monitoring system that the new ones had.
An older man approached the vaulted door. He turned the handle this way and that, having memorized the way to open the door a long time ago. With a great gasp, as if the Tower itself were exhaling, the seal to the door was broken. The door swung open, thick and heavy, leading to a tunnel on the other side. They had been right. They were in an old subway system.
There was a buzz of excitement within the small group but Diane calmed them, at least until they managed to make it out of the subway. She was determined to make it to a small colony outside of the Tower, one rumored to embrace the way of life before the Four Towers had arisen. To Adeline, that sounded like a dream come true.
Their journey through the subway was full of twists, turns and rubble, but at long last, they scrambled out of the concrete tunnels…and into the sunlight.
Adeline had never been outside before. Her pale green eyes squinted as the evening sun blazed above, harsh and unfiltered. The air tasted different out here. Inside the Towers, everything was filtered, the air free of pollutants, pollens and chemicals. Outside, she could taste the decaying city in each breath she took. It wasn’t clean, but she didn’t keel over, like she had been warned about. The sun’s warmth didn’t bake her to a crisp, either.
Was her entire education about the outside world a lie?
“They’re coming!” someone behind her yelled.
She whipped around and saw a group of men in black uniforms running towards them, weapons drawn. The Justice Division. How had they caught up so fast? How had they known?
The girl who had hesitated earlier was in hysterics over their appearance. Adeline ran ahead of her, pushing her long brown hair out of the way. This was no time to panic. They were so close to freedom. She could hear shouting from behind her, of the Justice Division catching up to some of the slower people she had left behind but there was no time to stop and go back. She had been so desperate to escape the Tower. She couldn’t stand the thought of going back and facing the Justice Division.
She and Diane were at the front of the group and she stuck close to the blond-haired girl. Diane knew the way to the colony.
“I’m behind you!” she shouted to Diane. “Don’t leave me behind!”
She was able to catch up with the girl she had only met a few days ago. Diane grabbed her hand and continued running. Adeline took it as a sign that she wouldn’t be left behind for the Justice Division.
Freedom was in their grasp.
Featured image of the futuristic city found here.