As the bell, finally, reached my ears, I were already out of my seat and had ran out of the door before anybody noticed. Taking flight like a gazelle running from the animals above it in the food chain.
The things I had brought to the lesson were already systematically packed up in my bookbag - in their usual, tidy order - so all that I had to do was swing the bag over my shoulder and sprint out of the classroom once the bell rang.
This is my only chance, I can’t wait another week to try again.
My feet flew over the gray stone floor of the hallways to get to my locker as fast as possible. With quick hands I unlocked mine and swung it open, grabbed my raincoat and closed it again right afterwards. Directing my steps towards the front doors as the corridors began to fill with people.
Once outside, I started running, and I weren’t planning on stopping until I arrived at my set destination. The sky was full of clouds and the light drizzle of rain made me soon regret not putting on my coat, as I felt the cold raindrops crash against my bare arms.
I ran as fast as my legs could carry me to the center of the city, determined to get to the destination in time. Looking down at my wristwatch, I saw the hands of the clock ticking forward, impelling me to increase the momentum of my feet.
With one last turn to the left at one of the high rising skyscrapers of downtown, I saw the bus stop, with its vehicle still there. The bus didn’t look like the other ones that went around the city. This one had been vandalized with spray paint, its body full of dents and what looked to be bullet holes. That only showed what kind of place it was heading to.
My legs took me to the bus as fast as they could and went through the already open doors. My eyes wandered over the seats of the bus and saw it was completely empty.
Shocker, considering where it’s heading...
I started walking again, only to get stopped not soon afterwards when the busdriver stuck out his hand in front of the aisle, indicating me to stop from walking any further.
My eyes flew up to meet to the ones of the driver.
The man behind the steering wheel looked to be around his forties. With a bald head, dark chocolate-colored skin and a pair of kind and dark, almost black, eyes.
Clearing his throat, he revealed a deep and raspy voice once he started talking. “Are you sure you’re on the right bus, miss?”
“Yea...I think so.” My answer were hesitant as worry started to bubble up inside of me.
What if I’m on the wrong bus? What if I missed it? Maybe the bus already left? What would I do then?
“This is the bus that goes to The Edge, right?”
“Yes. Yes, it is.” The bus driver seemed to hesitate before answering my question. “I just don’t think it’s such a good idea for a young girl like you to go there all by herself.”
That was the last chance I would get to change my mind, turn around, and go home. Back to what my life usually looked like, instead of this doing this thing that my parents and everybody else would qualify as insanity.
No! I can’t believe I’m even considering it! I’ve come this far and I’m not going to get stopped now! And definitely not by a busdriver who won’t let me go on the damned bus!
“I know what I’m doing.” My expression was dead serious, not giving away any of the weakness that existed inside of me, to prove my words.
Slowly, he lowered his hand, indicating that I could keep going.
“Okay... Take a seat then. We’ll be off soon.”
Proud of myself, I looked at the empty aisle in front of me. Paying the driver and walked down the aisle, I took a seat in the back of the bus. Setting down the bookbag beside me, put on my raincoat and leaned back in the worn seat. Resting my head against the cold window, I let my eyes follow the raindrops on their journey down the already drenched surface of the glass.
There is no stopping me now...
After a while, the wheels on the bus began to roll and I were off to a place I’d never been to before.
A few minutes later, after having watched the astounding structures of downtown slowly turn into the less fancy and less stunning houses closer to the fence, to the security of the of the high fence separating the city to The Edge, turning into the destroyed and vandalized buildings that once were a part of the glorious city. Everything there seemed to appear darker, gloomier. Like there were something harmful covering the whole ghost town.
Here and there I could spot something lurking around in the dark alleyways.
Having gone a little further into the the ruins of the buildings, the bus stopped at an open and abandoned area, the town plaza. That had to be the worst place of the town - or at least so far it was. Every shop window were broken and the shops looked to be completely looted and destroyed. The same applied to the old stalls that were placed throughout the town square.
There seemed to be no people around here.
I rose from my seat, took my bag and got off the bus - but not before getting a last warning from the busdriver.
Now I’m here, I’m actually here. This is neither a dream nor a nightmare.
Looking around the area, I walked over to one of the small street signs in hope to find the way to the place I was looking for - but to no such luck, every guidepost were dirty or destroyed, making it unable to read.
Great. Just great. How am I going to find that god forsaken place now?
There were no people in sight on the plaza so I directed my eyes to the different streets that led out of the square.
I tried to remember as much information as possible about the place that I could and made an attempt to direct myself in the right direction.
The place is at the east end of the town and the direction I came from was north-west. Now the only problem is - in what direction did I came from?
Looking back to where the bus had stopped I saw nothing but the destroyed town plaza.
That’s good, really good.
I studied the streets once again before deciding a random one out of them and started walking down it, hoping it would lead me in the right direction.
After a while of wandering around the streets like a lost puppy, I tried to find someone that could help me out with directions.
There were not a lot of people out, but the ones I found were either acting really weird and wouldn’t answer any of my questions. They acted like I didn’t even exist - I was used to it, but that was weirder than anything I had experienced before - and the other ones tried to steal my bag or tried to get a grip on my arm or coat, so I ran away. Because I wasn’t completely stupid - only half.
I wandered the streets for what felt like hours - it was actually only one hour, but still - I felt the energy getting dragged out of me as I starting to doubt that I would find someone who was willing to help me.
I went down one of the ruined streets of the town in the now pouring down rain, looking out for potential people to ask or not so vandalised and destroyed street signs.
Looking up at one of them, I saw the same thing I had seen on the other ones - nothing. Or at least nothing that I could make out a street name of.
Heaving out a heavy sigh, I looked around the streets for one last person to ask before giving up on my treasure hunt.
The only person in sight was a guy a couple of feet away, leaning against a brick wall that belonged to another rundown store - this one also having a big hole in the large shop window.
He was just standing there, with a cigarette in his mouth, looking like he didn’t have a care in the world. He was wearing dark clothes and a sweater with the hood up, hiding his face, which made it hard for me to make out any of his appearance other than his tall and lean built.
He looks nice, maybe he can help me?
Doubtfully, I started walking towards him.
“Excuse me...Hi. Do you live here? If so, could you please help me with directions? I’m kind of lost.” I said in such a sweet voice as I could manage.
He just stood there, looking at the street in front of us, acting like I wasn’t there - just like everyone else had. But something was different about him in comparison with the others I had encountered. The other ones hadn’t heard me, they acted as if they were in another reality. At a better place then right there and then. Like they were intoxicated with something - and I knew that the guy I was talking to wasn’t intoxicated, that’s for sure.
Maybe he just hadn’t heard me?
“Excuse me. I was wondering if -” I tried again, but I didn’t get any farther into my speech.
A cold voice, not giving a shit about anything in this world interrupted me. The voice of the stranger next to me.
“You know, it’s really stupid for someone like you to go around talking to strangers like this.”
My eyebrows drew together. “Like what?”
He turned his head towards me, and despite the fact that I couldn’t see his eyes, I could still feel the cold glare he was giving me - a glare carrying similar temperature to the coldness in his voice, sending a shiver down my spine.
“You know what part of town you are in, right? And around here you don’t just walk up to a stranger and start talking to them. That’s common knowledge. Everyone learns this as a kid, which, I think, even includes you.”
“Yes...eh, I know, Sir, but I was just asking for directions.”
A cut off snort sounded from under the hood of the stranger.
“That’s even more stupid! Going around here all by yourself. You could be shot dead in a second!”
“What do you mean, Sir?”
A snorting sound came from under the hood. “You’re really fucking stupid.” He took another drag from his cigarette, and once he blew it out the cloud of smoke came in my direction, burning my nose and making me want to cough. I stopped myself from doing that.
“Ehm...So you won’t help me?”
Please, I really need to do this.
“What makes you think I’m going to help you, when no-one else around here is going to? For all I know you could be calling the cops right now.” he responded vigilantly and I could feel him eyeing me suspiciously up and down.
The cops? Why would I be calling the cops?
I thought about his words for a second before answering.
“First of all, you’re the only one to actually stay and talk to me, and not trying to do something to me.”
With those words, something about him changed. The cold and though persona cracked and he almost seemed...shocked?
He thought about my words for a second and then composed himself.
“Still,” He cleared his throat. “How do I know that you’re not just trying to frame me?”
“I promise, I’m not trying to do anything. Plus, my phone died. So even if I wanted to, I won’t be able to call the cops. And if I called them, I would be taken to the city, too. I’m here for a reason, I just need help finding the right place.” I held my hands up in front of me, to clarify that I wasn’t any threat.
There was a short pause while he thought about his answer.
“It’s like you’re looking for trouble walking around here alone. Where exactly do you so desperately want to go, anyway?” he questioned.
“The old storage factory for the forestry that closed down about fifteen years ago. Where some drug dealers used to hide their drugs. It was found by the cops nearly a year ago and got closed off for good after that.”
He froze after my words, but recovered as fast as if it never happened.
“I don’t think it’s such a good idea for someone like you to go there all by themself. Why so desperate to go there anyway? It’s not like there’s much left of the place after the cops’ so called ‘takedown mission’"
“There’s something I need to know and that’s the only place I know of that has the answers I’m looking for.” I answered secretively, my determination evident in my voice.
I felt him studying me before sighing and putting out his cigarette.
“Fine. But like I said, you can’t go there by yourself, I’ll help. But, we have to do this my way if you want it.” he agreed in a cold tone, showing no emotions whatsoever, while putting his hands into his pockets.
Praise the lord, finally someone willing to help me!
“Thank you.” I said with a deep sigh of relief.
“No problem.” he said in a bored voice. “But if this is going to work you’ll have to do as I say, when I say it. We’ll try to lay low and not draw too much attention to us.” he explained. “I just need to get something before we start.”
With that said, he started walking down the destroyed and empty street and I followed his lead.
We walked for awhile in silence, sometimes passing different people. Every time they were walking past us he would make me walk closer to the walls of the buildings or a bit in front of him.
I had no idea, but I knew better than to argue about it.
And when we were walking past them, I saw them eyeing me like I was an intruder in their private territory.
Maybe that’s exactly what I am?
We turned to the right and began to enter one of the alleys.
“Where are we going?” I asked to break the silence. He didn’t look back at me.
“The place I keep my stuff at.” he answered shortly, in the same cold voice as before.
I nodded - despite him not seeing it. “So... we’re going to your house?”
“You could say that.”
I nodded again.
Turning a few more times, we came to a street with - what looked to be - a small, old and deserted factory, surrounded by a high rising fence. We walked towards it and stopped in front of the fence.
“You can climb, right?” he asked as he took his hands out of his pockets.
“We are going in there?” I asked with big eyes, motioning to the abandoned factory in front of us. My face paled as I saw him nod. “Okay...I guess we’ll have to find out then.”
I fixed my bag so it wouldn’t fall off and took a hold on the chain-link fence, taking a nervous glance at guy beside me.
What makes me so sure I can trust him. What if he’s playing tricks with me, and planning on doing something to me? What if he’s a murderer and is leading me into a closed off area, where I won’t have any chance to escape, so that he can kill me?
Shaking away my doubts, I started climbing.
He’s my only chance to get what I’m looking for.
Once I were safely standing on the ground on the other side of the fence, he ran up the side of it and jumped over with ease. An act that could only have taken him less than five seconds.
“Show off...” I said under my breath after adding a fake cough, all while he just snorted a laugh at me.
Directing his steps towards the gate of the building I followed him without a word.
He put in a code in the keypad that was on the right side of the doors, and placed his thumb on a little screen below it. A clicking noise was heard, indicating that the doors were unlocked. He opened one of the big double doors of the gate to a narrow passageway and pushed me inside, he followed right behind me and shut the gate closed after that. The clicking sound were heard again, meaning that the doors were, once again, locked.
I heard him walk over to the side of the doors and flick, what I supposed was, the light switch. The lamps blinked a few times before finally lighting the place up.
The inside of the factory looked a little better than the outside. There were metal beams placed throughout the whole place to support the roof, but other than that, there weren’t much left from before the factory had been abandoned. Steel workbenches with drawers and matching cupboards were placed in the open surface of the big room, some things shattered on them. Further inside the room were an old mattress lying on the floor - with a small blanket and a single pillow, which looked to have been hastily thrown on top of it and were now lying there in a in a mess. Next to it was a small wooden wardrobe, and farther away, some interesting looking workout equipment. Nothing like the stuff i had seen before.
This place looks...interesting?
It looked like nothing I had seen before in my entire life. I knew the people in The Edge didn’t have proper homes - but this? He didn’t even have a real bed, for god’s sake! And what’s up with all the benches and storing units? The people in The Edge were poor, so he couldn’t have that much stuff. Right?
The place kind of looked like one of those secret headquarters for the superheros in the movies - just less luxurious. A home for someone who was trying to stay undercover.
“You can take a seat if you want.” he said as he walked towards one of the benches, pulling out a chair from underneath one of them.
Doing as he said, I sat down on the chair made of the same wooden material as the wardrobe.
I took off the hood of my raincoat, revealing the wavy mess of cold brown hair that were plastered on my head, reaching down a little further than my shoulders.
Glancing around me, I took in the magnitude of the room. In the end, my eyes landed on something on the bench, a picture frame with broken glass. The foto inside looked like a family photo. The family consisting of a mom and dad, a boy around the age of thirteen and another boy, who looked to be around the age of seven.
A family. He has a family. I wonder where they are now. Hm, wonder which one of the boys he is.
I inspected the picture closer. The mother and the oldest son both had green eyes, while the father and the youngest son had brown.
Weird, I thought everyone from The Edge had brown eyes?
My eyes darted from the picture to the guy, which I still couldn’t see the face of properly because of the hood. He was standing at one of the benches, with his back to me. A rattling noise was heard as he took something out from his pocket and put it in one of the drawers under the bench. He turned around and looked at me, leaning against the workbench behind him.
“So, uh...girl? We’ll have to wait till the sun goes down until we start moving towards the warehouse. It’ll draw less attention and it’ll be easier to get in unnoticed.”
Going to an closed off warehouse in the middle of the night? Isn’t that sketchier than going there during the day?
An uncomfortable silence spread through the room.
“It’s Hope.” I said to break it.
He made a confused noise, telling me that I should explain what I was saying.
“My name, it’s Hope. You referred to me as girl before because you didn’t know my name, so I thought...” I got interrupted by the warm laugh that filled the room.
“You’re kidding, right? No-one would be stupid enough to name their child Hope. It sounds like a stripper name.” I flinched at his word.
That one was new. But of course he is right. I don’t know much about strippers, but now when I think about it, it does sound like a stripper name. What were my parents thinking?
The laughing continued.
“Well, apparently my parents are.” I said under my breath while figuring out the most effective way to murder my parents.
Can you kill someone with a car door?
The laughter stopped immediately after my words.
“Wait, you weren’t kidding?” I shook my head. “Well, I don’t need to know your name, anyway, cause this’ll be the first and last time we see each other. So it doesn’t matter.” he stated, going back to the cold exterior he had when he first met me.
There was another pause.
“Anyway, now that I have told you my name. What’s yours?”
“Like I said,” he started. “This will be the last time we see each other, which means, I don’t see why you need to know my name. Plus, it will be safer for you not to know it.” he whispered the last part, but I could still hear every word he said.
Safer? Come on, it’s just a name! How can knowing someone’s name set you in danger?
It became silent again.
I see this guy isn’t much for conversations.
“So... How long is it until the sun goes down?” I asked.
He turned his head and looked out through a window located above the big double doors.
“Maybe an hour or so. If you want you can take a nap or something, I need to do some work for tomorrow, anyway.” he said and motioned with his head to the mattress on the floor.
After that, he turned around and started doing something on the workbench.
I walked over to the mattress, taking off the book bag and coat from my shoulders, revealing my dark blue school uniform, laid them down beside the mattress and laid down on top of it.
But I didn’t close my eyes.
I kept looking at the guy standing by the workbenches as he tinkered with something on the bench in front of him.
He opened the drawer under the desk and took out a thing in a shiny steel material, a thing I knew all too well what it was. The thing made a clicking sound as he opened it. He took some tooles out of from another drawer, and after that, he started cleaning the gun in his hands.