Refugee

I find my feet, and run again.  Adrenaline gives me a boost, but barely three streets later I'm gasping for breath.  My legs feel heavy and cold, I'm not running anymore, just staggering.  It's a damn fast stagger, but it's still a stagger.  The houses round here are all residential, there's no one on the streets, and no cars either.  They'll all be locked up in garages, or hidden behind high wrought-iron gates.  Maybe I did the wrong thing leaving my car behind.

I can't go any further, my chest is burning and heaving and my legs are so shaky I'm barely keeping my balance with each lurch.  I slump against a privet hedge, letting it take my full weight.  Prickles stab into me but I don't care.  I tell myself I'm too old for this, but I'm not.  If I were I'd be dead already.

The streets are silent for now I think, but it's hard to hear anything over the blood pounding in my ears and my gasps for air.  The burning in my lungs is easing a little, but my vision's blurring again, narrowing into a little tunnel, and I can't stop myself from shivering like it's freezing cold.

"The next gate along is open," says a man on the other side of the hedge.  "Go in, and into the house.  You need to change your clothes.  They're tracking you."

"Who are you?" I say.  My throat is sore and my voice sounds hoarse.  There's no answer.  Of course there's no answer.

I want to just sit here and let someone else have all my problems, but I can't.  I'm not betraying the conspiracy because I'm bored, but because it's wrong.  I have to get back to St. Paul's.  I try to stand, but my legs aren't co-operating, so I crawl instead, bruising my hands and knees against the paving flags.

The red-painted, tall wrought-iron gate is open, just as the voice promised, and I push it open with my head, and crawl on through.  It swings shut behind me, and there's a click as the gate's bolt shoots home.  I roll sideways onto the lawn and bury my face in the grass when I hear it; it takes a few seconds before I realise what's happened.  The grass is easier to crawl on anyway, the driveway is gravelled.

I use the gargoyle shaped door knocker on the front door to pull myself to my feet, and push the door tentatively.  It opens a little, I have to push harder to open it enough to slide around the edge of it.  I push it shut behind me.

The hallway is bright, light comes in from a window beside the door, and two windows in the wall that the staircase runs against.  Opposite the staircase is a hall with two more side doors and a door at the end.  There's a telephone table with a kitschy bakelite telephone on it, and a picture of a rottweiler in a tacky plastic frame hanging on the staircase wall.  The first of the side doors in the hallway is open.  I pick that one as requiring least effort.

Through the door is a sitting room with a couch, a table, and an LCD television set.  There's a fresh set of clothes lying on the couch, and -- I freeze -- a bomb on the table with a digital timer counting down from 7 minutes and 31 seconds.

The End

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