A crack of thunder boomed as lightning lit the sky, changing the pattern of the angry thud of heavy rainfall. I huddled in an alley, trying to stay hidden from the brunt of the storm by squeezing against the locked door of a closed bar.
My heart raced as I pondered what I could possibly do next. I knew the rain would wash away my scent, but I was deep in the heart of the city, and they would find me if I stayed here. Eyes were always watching for fugitives. I’d turned in a dozen or so myself just to keep food on the table regularly. I had to find a way out.
Steeling myself with new resolve, knowing that even dying in the outlands was a better fate than being caught, I pushed myself away and began running again, letting the rain pound on my back as I made my way west. I kept to the shadows as much as I could, and when I could run no more, I stayed on my feet, plodding ahead. When my legs were like jelly, I stopped again, heart pounding, leaning against another wall. Maybe I was pushing myself too hard. I hadn’t seen the dogs again for a while, but I knew they were there, hunting me.
I had to keep moving. I had no one I could trust. A distant bark gave me the motivation I needed to go another mile or two.
It seemed ages of running, walking, running again, and stopping to catch my breath, being beaten by rain and fearfully listening for pursuit the whole while, before I was nearing the edge of the city. In just another mile, I would reach the city wall. I could see it looming above the buildings in front of me. I’d heard there were ways to escape, but I didn’t know any details.
Suddenly, the rain stopped. A strong wind blew the clouds away as the sun rose, and I made it to the wall. A solid mass of ugly concrete it seemed, stretching so far in either direction that it seemed straight, though I knew it was round. It had been built, said the Powers That Be, to protect us fine citizens from the dangerous creatures of the outlands. Stories were told of giant cats prowling among dangerous vines, flying lizards occupying caves decorated with human bones, and great ugly beasts who made a sport of tearing small children to bits to feed to men. Everyone knew that the city was the one safe haven from all the deadliest creatures imaginable.
It was safe for me no longer. I could hear the hunting dogs being loosed in the city, as barking increased every minute. I’d once thought the Powers That Be only marked as fugitives those who had committed some awful crime, but now I knew that simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time and overhearing a conversation about plans for the city could land you on the list. I wished briefly that I could warn people that the city was not nearly as good as it seemed, but I could not believe anyone would listen to me.
Frantically, I searched for any way to climb the way, or any crack to wiggle through. I began running along it as fast as I could, looking for any sign of previous escape. I felt a crushing in my chest as my hopes fell. Nothing was there. I could see no way out.
A dog bayed behind me. They had caught my scent. My minutes were numbered.
More and more desperate to escape the awful dungeons of the Powers That Be, I ran harder and harder, pounding a fist on the wall as I ran, somehow thinking I might land on a switch to open a door. Soon, my hand was bloodied, but I could not stop.
Then, just as I began to see the dogs, hot on my tail, I saw a ladder on the wall. Thinking only of escape, I climbed as fast as I could go, pushing myself to the limit. The fastest, strongest dog leaped up and caught hold of my pant leg. I kicked back once, heard a yelp followed shortly by a thud, and continued my ascent, staring up. I could only hope this was no trick by the Powers That Be.
I learned it must not be when I felt a bullet tear through my leg. The men had found me from the uproar of the dogs. I climbed faster. I was so close to the top.
Finally, I looked over the wall. I swallowed hard as I realized I had to expose myself completely. Another bullet tore through my arm.
Bloody and weak, I dragged myself over and fell to the outlands side. My last thought, as I tumbled down, down, down, was to smile. I was free, even if it had killed me.
To my shock, I awoke in a bed more comfortable than my own, wounds bandaged. A plate of delicious looking hot food was on the nightstand. Seeing no one in the room, hearing nothing but the growling of my own stomach, I ate greedily.
As I ate, I looked out a window and saw trees, huge and beautiful and wild, nothing like what I’d seen in the city. I’d really, truly made it, and perhaps the outlands was not as dangerous as the Powers That Be claimed.
I soon learned how wrong I was.