There was a loud shout from above, her heart shot to her throat as she ran blindly toward the nearest exit. How could they have known? Had someone ratted her out? She was so quiet, she had even taken extra care not to wake her room-sister. They couldn’t catch her, she wouldn’t allow them. Last time they caught her trying to escape, she wasn’t allowed to leave the house for months except for the Friday afternoon walks with Nurse. She threw herself on a heavy door and fell into a blinding glare. The Outside, she was close, the gates were not too far away. She ran like a wild animal pursued by dogs, she felt very much like a wild animal. Her bare feet were numb to the sharp rocks that nipped at their supple underside, her mess of hair trailed behind her and her arms flailed wildly in her large, sheer nightgown as she ran, and ran, and ran…
She woke up the next day in a locked room. They had caught her again, thrust her back into the stark, sterile prison of her room. She rubbed her head and sat up on a bed that wasn’t hers. She tried to remember what had happened and where she was, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t remember anything. She couldn’t feel anything. She picked at her fingers and stared at the wall.
Three hours later Mother came in. “Dear, you gave us quite a fright last night. You shouldn’t go running off like that!” She embraced her and kissed her on the forehead tenderly.
“You are a very sick girl and I am taking care of you,” she stroked the girl’s hair.
“This is for the best, you know that.”
“If you run away one more time,” Mother leaned and whispered in her ear, “I’ll have to take away your legs.” She smiled, her smile made her eyes twinkle and dance ferociously. They were blue and cold, they sucked you in and tormented you, but you were caught up in them all the same, enjoying the pain they caused you.
“You are a good girl darling, but I must punish you, you understand dear. You went too far. You will not be eating this week.” Mother left and shortly after, or perhaps a long time after, for she had lost all sense of time, Nurse came in and fitted her with a tube. “That ought to teach you not to run again you little cunt,” she sneered, pushed away the cuffs that chained the girl to the bed, and forced a needle into her vein. She just stared blankly at the wall with hollow eyes, submitting to Nurse’s will.
That was how it was for a long time, she lived a life carefully controlled by her caretakers. They determined when she would wake up, what she should eat and even how she should feel. There were others too, they were blurs flitting in and out of a reality concocted and dominated by Mother and Nurse. As the moon turned and the seasons changed, Mother became more lenient. She began shoving less and less pills down the girl’s dry throat. Some days she would be allowed to walk outside her room alone, and some days Mother would sit next to her and talk about things she didn’t comprehend, but it was nice to have the company. And after quite some time, her run for freedom was forgotten.
But not by her.
Those gates still existed, and inside her was a clawing, a ghastly gnawing, an itch, a tug, some mysterious sensation that willed her to be free. It was as if some glowing thing had hatched and perched inside the chasm within her chest. Hope? Was there such a thing for a girl that knew little more than a blank wall and a heavy chain? And yet, every day as she sat on her bed and stared at the wall, biting her bloody lip, she thought of those gates and what must be behind them. What if there wasn’t anything there? What if she stepped out and fell off the edge of the world? She shuddered. She hadn’t shuddered for a very long time, and the sensation stirred that instinct within her.
The moon was full when she decided to do it. Instead of running out the gates she would climb over the fence in the back. It was very high and hard sharp points, but she did not think of that. After two attempts she managed to get into her coat and quietly slip out of her room. Her feet were sweaty and made a wet schlip sound as she walked, so she had to stop to wipe them on her gown a few times. The back door was in the kitchen and the key was in the sixth pot on the first shelf. There were nine keys, but she found the right one immediately. The door creaked as she slipped out and skipped to the fence. Skipped! She didn’t know she could skip! There were no guards here, no lights, only the heavy moon gazing down at her her languidly, as if amused. She grasped the iron bars with her hand and kissed them. They tasted like her blood. Was that what freedom tasted like? Casting away her doubts she pulled herself up and climbed. The air was electric, it filled her lungs with ecstasy, her heart beat like it hadn’t before, and although her body was straining under the physical exertion, she had never felt happier, or more alive.
It was then when it almost came crashing down again.
“YOU NASTY PIECE OF SHIT!” screeched a shrill voice that cut into the silent night like a blade. The girl saw the gleam of red eyes coming closer to her. “GET BACK HERE SO I CAN SAW YOUR LEGS OFF!” She felt the blood leave her body, as if frightened away by the threats. She blindly threw herself over the other side of the fence and fell. She thought the voice had caught her when she felt a piercing pain in her arm, but when her face hit the grass she realized that she had only cut her arm on the fence. Without sparing herself a second to catch her breath she ran, thinking only of putting as much distance behind her and the fence. She could hear the wails of Mother and rage of Nurse following her, but those were only voices. And the voices would fade away into the air soon enough.
She wouldn’t stop running until she reached the city, and even then she couldn’t stop until her legs gave out beneath her. The city smelled strange and unpleasant, of human waste and sulfur. A cloud of damp smog hung over her head, so that it felt as if the world was darker there. And even the full moon, which seemed to take up so much of the sky before, was a only speck of light in the distance. She shivered, her coat was thick but the cold stabbed at her from every angle. She needed to eat. She pushed herself to look for food, though every part of her body protested. She stumbled across a garbage can that was lying on its side and bent over to look for food. All she could find was a small broken bone with a bit of marrow inside. As she was getting up, proud of her prize, she heard a growling from behind her. She spun around to find two emaciated wild dogs with the look of death upon their haggard faces. With matted fur and teeth as long as knives, their eyes were locked firmly on the bone she had just found. Filled with fear she ran, despite her legs’ pleas to stop. She ran delirious for a full two seconds before the dogs descended upon her. They sank their fangs into her bony arms and clawed at her eyes with foaming mouths. She screamed and kicked but they wouldn’t stop tearing at her thin frame, having decided that she would make a better meal than a broken bone. Just as she was about to submit to her fate of being eaten alive by feral dogs, they stopped tearing at her to rip each other apart. By some unknown grace, she managed to crawl away behind a small bush, lie on her back and slip away.
She opened her eyes and immediately wished she hadn’t. She wished she had died in her sleep and her soul had floated away to the stars. With great difficulty she rolled over and pushed herself up. She spotted a man selling food out of a cart and her mouth watered. She staggered over to him and opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t. He hadn’t seen her so she reached a pale arm out to him and touched his shoulder. He turned around, smiling but as soon as he saw her his smile dropped and his face fell into a hideous expression. Horror was etched into his features and his skin turned green. He turned to his left and spat, then pushed his cart hurriedly away.
Broken, she collapsed on the sidewalk. Passing people didn’t notice her lying there, a mess of bones and blood, and those who did merely turned up their noses in disgust and walked away. They were too used to the pathetic huddled masses of city urchins and had long lost what little empathy they had. As she lay there, festering, and feeling that bird within her shed its feathers and burn, she thought of Mother and Nurse. She thought of the wall in her room and the embrace of the cold chains around her wrists. She looked down at her bare hands, they were cold and ghostlike. She looked down at herself and sobbed for the first time in years, and with the thought of her caretakers in her mind she set her head down on the hard stone and died.