Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned

Finish the Story – Running Away

F

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The yellow lines on the highway sped by in a blur, and we flew through the night, and we felt free. But we weren’t, and we knew it. We were running away from something, and running away was never the path to freedom. I thought about asking John to turn back. I thought about suggesting …

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  • The yellow lines on the highway sped by in a blur, and we flew through the night, and we felt free. But we weren’t, and we knew it. We were running away from something, and running away was never the path to freedom. I thought about asking John to turn back. I thought about suggesting that maybe we'd made a mistake. Maybe we could have convinced them to see us as people.

    The moonlight shone off John's wings, leeching away the auburn fletching of his feathers so that they seemed a solid, angry gray.

    My whole being ached. What had started out as the painful heat of unused muscle groups across my back and chest had evolved into a shaft of pure torture from neck to calves with every wingbeat. We'd never flown this long before, and certainly never in the unpredictable currents of open sky. Always before, our test flights were carefully monitored in aviation buildings and wind tunnels.

    Flying — really flying had been almost terrifying at first. I'd been forced into a landing twice, almost clipping a telephone pole once.

    John was my rock, my anchor. Each time, he landed next to me and held out his hand, wings spread and chest pumping like a bellows.

    He was tired, too, for all that his wingspan had almost a whole foot on mine. He was older than me by almost a year, but the program scientists hadn't let him start flying until I was ready, too.

    I didn't know how much longer I could go. I didn't even know how long we'd been flying. Miles, certainly, but were we even still in the United States? I couldn't tell, and we avoided following the busiest roads. Our scenery had changed from forests to cornfields, though, so I knew we weren't in Missouri anymore.

    I just had to trust that John knew where we were going.

    John's left wing broke pattern, then collapsed. A flush of cold terror spilled from my scalp down my tortured back as I saw him fall.

    For a moment, I couldn't do anything but stare helplessly. Some part of my brain kicked in and sent me in a barely-conrolled dive after him. I saw him right himself briefly, wings half-extended to level out his fall into something less like a plummet.

    Even from here, I could tell it wouldn't be enough. He was going down hard.

    I dove after him, completely helpless. With his wings beating, I couldn't get close enough to grab him even if I had the weight or muscle to carry him.

    He fell in a low arc that sent him tearing through tall yellow stalks of corn. I followed overhead, wincing at the sharp sounds of thick corn stalks cracking as he plowed a long swath through them.

    Finally, thankfully, he stopped. My heart thundered in my chest and I could barely control my muscles enough to get my wings properly arced for a landing. I half-stumbled to a halt a few hundred feet from where he'd fallen. I landed hard and the corn stalks felt like glass as I crashed through them.

    I lay there in a tangle of feathers and mud and stared up at the moon, too exhausted to do more than hope that John was okay.

    Was this freedom?

  • The yellow lines on the highway sped by in a blur, and we flew through the night, and we felt free. But we weren’t, and we knew it. We were running away from something, and running away was never the path to freedom. I thought about asking John to turn back. I thought about suggesting that we stop the car and head back to the city.

    I knew that he would, if I asked. I knew that there was very little in this world or the next, that he wouldn’t do for me if I asked it of him. We could turn the car around. As many issues as we had getting the damned thing going, once it had been started, it’d shown no signs of flagging, so I knew that we could turn around without issue.

    The highway had been clear all this time we’d been driving from the city, so I knew the way wasn’t blocked or impassable on the way back.

    I closed my eyes in face of the breeze coming in through the half open window. Lifting my hand, I let it hang outside the car as we covered ground, letting my hand slip up and down according to the whim of the wind as we went.

    At times, it was easy to forget all that had happened, easy to forget all that we’d lost. With my eyes closed and the wind forcing my hand to slide up and down like a fish swimming alongside the car, it was easy to forget the Calamity.

    Billions dead. 60% of the world instantly rendered uninhabitable to humans. The creatures that had started to come out at night with unnaturally sharp teeth and claws and an intensely wrong number of glowing eyes.

    We’d been safe at the compound at least. Safe in the shelter, away from the ravaged world.

    Oppressed, sure. Ruled by a petty tyrant, also sure. But safe, which was more than I could say for most of the world.

    But we’d gotten away. Stolen a car, the one working car in the compound at the outer edges of the city and driven away with it.

    We’d left Sam behind to do it. He’d been caught. He’d been screaming as we left, the nightmare guard were beating him, were probably about to drag him back into the ‘safety’ of the compound as we drove away, dirt and gravel spitting up in a fan behind us as we peeled out at top speed.

    It wasn’t our fault. He’d been slow. He’d been weak. Couldn’t hack the clouds of nonlogic that floated around outside the shield of the compound. Couldn’t deal with the screaming insanity that became the inside of our head as we struggled to make it past the thin band of the toxic stuff that formed a barrier of entry to where the only still working car had been parked.

    As I let my hand fishtail up and down in the wind, I opened my eyes and glanced over at John as he drove. His jaw remained clenched, the muscles in his forearms standing out as he gripped the wheel and handled the car with deceptive lightness.

    I thought about suggesting that we turn back, of going back to the compound and finding a way past the band of nonlogic and getting inside, taking our lumps, as it were.

    Then I turned away from John and shut my teeth on my words.

    I couldn’t go back. Weak as it was of me to leave Sam behind to take the punishment for all three of us together, I wouldn’t dare go back. Not now that I’d gotten away.

    So I kept quiet. I kept my mouth shut and I said nothing.

    I let my hand drift up and down in the wind outside the car.

    After so long moving around on only my own two legs, speed had become a novelty again.

    I let my hand drift and closed my eyes, thinking about how so very much like his twin Sam had looked as he’d watched his brother leave him behind to his fate.

Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned