Alignment Day Five
Each giant step was still too loud. Dry leaves split under her feet. Short ferns rustled as she passed. She looked for a more solid footing, but gravity pulled her down the wooded slope ever faster. If the deer and the squirrels could hear them coming the sparrows and the owls would surely find them. Zell skidded across a loose carpet of pine needles. She dropped to one knee to stop her descent before she crashed into the clearing.
Chester held himself upright against a tree, mapping a path around the spotlight of sun with his eyes.
The chime rang inside her ear. She closed her eyes and took a breath. There was still time, if she could get there.
Chester didn’t wait. He was already on the low side working into the cover of the forest. She looked back. She could still see the tops of silos peaking over the tree line.
Zell followed Chester around the clearing and made her own line down the mountain in a barely controlled series of leaps, and falls. Each reckless landing was louder than the last. Zell remembered Rimi’s advice “It isn’t the noise you should be afraid of, it is the silence.”
Zell’s mind got stuck thinking about her best friend, her only true friend. Rimi would know what to do. She could have talked her way out of this mess, and not just because she was older. Rimi is a survivor. She always knows when to turn on the flirt or kick down the door. She taught Zell just how little she could trust others, but when to rely on them anyway. Of course Rimi never would have put herself in this situation. Would she have run at all? Probably not. Certainly not with Chester. She shook off the thought, refocusing on their escape.
Up ahead the slope became gentle and the tree line broke open to the sky. Zell put up her hands up and stopped herself on an ash tree.
Chester caught up, breathing hard. He was soaked in sweat through the ridiculous tunic they made them each wear. The man was built for heavy machinery and working with his hands, not for a run in the woods. A row of thin red streaks crisscrossed his forearms leaking blood. Zell pointed to the cuts on her own arm. She was slashed too.
“Are you ok?” she asked.
Chester nodded and pointed to his ear. “Are you?”
Zell winced as she touched what was left of her earlobe. The ear throbbed and the blood hadn’t slowed yet. She let it bleed. There wasn’t anything she could do while they were on the run.
“I’ll be fine.” She said.
Chester’s eyes had moved to Zell’s other hand. A small stainless steel box, like a purse, hung from single thick tether. A tiny green light blinked incessantly, demanding attention. The frayed end, a web of glass wire was wrapped around her palm. “You need to leave that.”
“No it isn’t theirs.” A matching box hung a few centimeters from the base of Chester’s skull. The light on his box was steady.
“It isn’t yours either. Leave it.” He said.
“But if his transfer isn’t complete…”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s dead.” Chester interrupted.
Zell gripped the ripple tighter. It did matter. She held his memories, his very essence in her hand. This wasn’t the choice he had made. He was trying to start over, not end things. Besides she owed him one. If she could get there before the end of the Alignment, maybe there was still a way.
“The chime. You heard it too. There is still time.” She said.
Chester nodded. “That doesn’t change anything. It just means we have to move faster if you or I are going to get there. They’ll be coming soon. We aren’t safe here.”
Zell nodded. They moved to the edge of the forest put their backs to the trees and watched the sky. It was cloudless, clear and blue. She tried to conserve her energy, forcing herself to take slower breaths. Neither of them knew how far they would have to run.
He looked back at her hand. “Don’t let it weigh you down.”
The shadow crossed the field at high speed. The wide arrowhead pointed up the mountain from which they had come. It disappeared over their heads.
Chester pushed off from the tree. “Now.”
They both sprinted across the shorn grass. A few tree stumps poked out, wild mushrooms blossoming from their rings. Aged transmission towers kneeled over. A glass fiber necklace was strung from the valley into the mountain, loose and taut, knotted in places, but uninterrupted for as far as she could see.
Zell’s own ripple slapped against her back as they ran.
THE SPACE BETWEEN SHADOWS by Ralph Walker
2016 All rights reserved