What did I do to piss off the fates? Or perhaps they were as capricious as advertised. Because we had less than a quarter mile left to travel when a Resident called out the first warning.
Little Ben may hate teen trespassers, but he was too cheap to replace the lights they’d broken. Without a street light or steady moonlight (the moon had decided to flirt with us), The Crossroads were very dark indeed.
Brilliant for kids climbing over the wall – abominable for escaping pirates.
So how did they spot us?
Didn’t matter. The Inebriated Three stopped singing when the leaves started skittering and crackling a few yards behind us. The hunters were hot on our tail.
Without urging they sped up.
Laney clung to my hand so hard it hurt.
Wood (softly calling to me): “I can hear them.”
Beatrice: “So can I, but I can’t see…”
Orin (shouting): “Run!”
Me (panting): “Orin it’s too dark, I can’t see well enough to run!”
Even before the sentence finished, I felt a frosty hand slip into mine, leading us into a reckless run to the gates. He slithered around the sunken graves while we merely attempted to avoid stumbling, falling or twisting our ankles on their fringes. The serpentine pattern of our run completely confused me. Our feet ate up the ground, but when the moonlight momentarily skipped over the grass before us, the Gates appeared no closer. All the while the hiss and crunch of our opponent’s feet running thru leaves behind us grew steadily louder.
Our legs pumped, our breath bellowed, and we hung on to each other even harder trying to combat the sweat streaking our palms.
Wood (panting): “Where are they?”
Unheeding of our distress Orin continued pulling us forward on the twisting path forged by the unceasing information called out by the other Residents.
“Fifteen yards behind you!”
“Second group cutting diagonally west trying to cut you off!”
“A third group just arrived!”
Chief Escape Artist, my ass, should’ve taken a swig from one of the innumerable passes the flasks took this evening. Maybe then anxiety wouldn’t be howling in my head, and my heart wouldn’t be readying itself to explode from fear (yes I know alcohol isn’t the answer – but right now it really was). Though the Inebriated Three didn’t sound particularly calm at the moment either, so perhaps it doesn’t dull anxiety as much as I hoped.
The Residents gave us no quarter.
“Four heading in from the east.”
“Little Ben just arrived.”
“Two people down out of the closest group – but one’s still gaining on you.”
Even over their calls, I could hear snapping and skidding of those after us.
Beatrice (pulling up from a stumble): “My god, how many are back there?”
Wood (gasping): “Are we close?”
In answer, the Moon emerged for a moment to send a beam to illuminate the gates which were fifteen yards away. With one last burst, our legs screaming for relief, we surged forward snaking our way between the last of the markers.
Alice: “The Gate are still free! Hurry!”
Orin slowed, then his hand disappeared from mine and was replaced by the rough wood of The Crossroads’ gate. Frantically my hands sought the lock, my ears keenly attune to the whispering leaves and grass behind us.
Me (running my hands over the gate): “The lock, find the lock.”
“Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” The Resident’s chanted. Our panic was practically palatable.
Beatrice (yelling): “Here!”
“Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” Their voices riding the shrieking fear dancing across my nerves.
Fumbling with my keys, almost in tears when they slipped from my fingers, I finally found the lock and slid my key home. Twisting it I pulled the gate open, we fell thru, slammed the sucker closed together and I locked it in a flash.
Leaning against the gate, we all blinked at the sight before us – the well-preserved houses of Old Town tucked up tight, glittering under the diligent efforts of Jack Frost and ambient light. The utter peace and stillness of the night entirely at odds with our racing hearts and whistling lungs.
Nothing (other than our panting) broke the silence of the neighborhood; no rattling keys, turning locks, shouting, pounding, creaks or groans from the other side.
Nothing split the sense of peace until Orin, and the other Residents started laughing like loons from the top of the wall.
Startled it took a moment for the other shoe to drop.