I hit the brakes and leaned over to throw open the passenger door.
“Get in!” I shouted.
She did, without hesitation.
“Drive!” she screamed, for the second time in our brief acquaintance. And this time, I did.
With a blast of adrenaline I set the tires squealing just as the Protector cars came into view. Later I wondered if the Wolves would have even noticed us if I had played it cool. But my nerves were running away, and carrying me along with them.
The faster I drove, the slower time seemed to go, until the little details of our journey began to jump out at me like moments frozen forever in my memory.
I saw a street bum shuffle out of an alley. He had a can of paint in one hand and I wondered with regret if I would ever read what he had written.
I saw people sitting inside a restaurant, lifting wine glasses as they smiled at one another and then paused in surprise as I blazed past.
I met the gaze of a young woman walking down the side walk. As our eyes locked, I wondered if she would live and die here, or if might meet her someday beyond the city perimeters.
And then, there it was: the edge of the city, and the dark forest beyond.
“No!” Kara cried, “They’ve blocked the road!” And so they had. A road block of Protector cars was set up a few hundred feet ahead of us. There was no way through or around it, and no way my piece-of-junk Nissan could blast through it like it always happens in the movies.
At the last moment, it struck me that I might as well destroy the Nissan. Giving up now would be certain death.
“Hang on!” I told Kara through gritted teeth, and at the last moment, I turned sharply off road and bumped out across an open field toward the distant tree line. I was still driving pretty fast and the shocks in my car were well worn. Kara and I had to keep our heads down because every bump threw us up against the roof.
I saw in the rearview mirror that the Protector cars were following us at a slower pace. Their lives were not at stake.
We were still a quarter mile from the forest when a tire blew.
“We’re going to have to run for it,” I said, looking over at Kara. Her face was white and her wide eyes reflected my own scared expression.
“I can run,” she said and opened her door. I grabbed my pack and followed her.
And so we both began to sprint toward the forest as fast as we could go. My backpack bounced up and down and my breath came in ragged gasps.
Then suddenly I felt a strange rhythmic pressure on my ears and was blinded by a spotlight. There was a helicopter right over our heads.
“Stop and lay face-down on the ground!” A voice on a megaphone instructed. I looked up and saw 4 Wolves in full SWAT gear repelling down toward us.
Kara screamed and hesitated, frantically turning from side to side, as if looking for a new direction.
“Don’t stop!” I yelled and grabbed her hand. “Keep running!”
The helicopter followed us and the Wolves continued to dangle overhead. The end of a rope slapped me on the side of the head and I felt blood trickle down my ear.
Then up ahead, I saw a figure running toward us. It was Marcus. I was so glad to see him, he almost seemed to glow like a light bulb in my mind. There were others in the tree line behind him, and I felt a great surge of strength from hundreds of others who had made their escape before us.
As Marcus ran toward us he yelled, “Keep running! Don’t stop - you’re almost there!” His voice was joyous and had no fear in it.
But at that moment the Wolves landed on the ground just behind us. I heard their heavy breathing and felt a set of teeth rip the heel from my boot.
As I staggered forward, Marcus ran right past us and into the Wolves. Kara screamed, but neither of us turned around. I didn’t want to see what would happen to him. I felt shocked and numb at his sacrifice.
Willing, friendly hands caught us at the tree line and I sank to the ground, drawing my breath in ragged sobs. Tears of horror and relief ran down my face.
Marcus. What have you done?
“Look, Janey.” I heard Kara say.
In the spotlight, between us and the Wolves, danced a great Bright Ostrich. His wings were spread in defiance and joy. His head bobbed as though with laughter, and the great talons on his feet left deep punctures in the ground as he danced, unafraid.
“Marcus?” I whispered. Kara’s hand gripped mine. She was laughing and crying at the same time.
The Wolves fell away in dismay, and began to howl their frustration in unison. After they stopped, I heard Malory reporting for Channel 9:
“Tonight our Protectors grieve for a great loss of human life to the unspeakable terrors of the Mountain forest. How long will people give into their foolish desires to be free? How long will these deadly terrorists threaten the simple-minded populace? For the sake of our loved ones, we must report any troubled or suspicious behavior. . .”
Then they all began to leave. The helicopter and it’s spotlight turned away and we were finally left in quiet darkness.
A few moments later, Marcus stepped out of the shadows and hugged his sister Kara. I felt unsure about what I had seen, and at the same time satisfied that it was good and that I would understand in time.
So began my life of adventure, creativity, and freedom beyond the perimeters.