Sunday, April 18, 2010

Challenge 22: Dreams of Ducks

The little yellow duckling perches on the edge of the river bank, wanting to follow his siblings into the water, but too scared to make the leap. I know how he feels.

It's funny how, when you're little, people think you don't understand anything. They have to tell you what to do. That little duck's mother is chirping at him, telling him to hurry up and do as he's told. It's very naughty to hesitate. My papa says that if I hesitate to follow his commands, it might kill me.

Twittering, the duckling pleads with mama to help him, he can't push himself over the edge. He backs up and tries to take a running jump, but at the edge, he stops. Mama turns around and paddles away, the line of ducklings following, not looking back. That is all the encouragement he needs. He can stand the thought of being left behind. He jumps. A splash, a surprised cheep and he's swimming furiously to catch up. Tough love.

When I close my eyes, I can still see Sonja, my big sister, paying for her disobedience. She has fat tears sticking to her cheeks as she leans over me to kiss my hair, then they drag her away and toss her through the blue wall of safety to the wilderness beyond. She is engulfed by the clouds of ash. A big hole opens up in my heart, but I can't let on, or papa my throw me out with her. I'm perched at the edge of a huge gulf and I'm too scared to jump.

The siren wakes me and I sit up straight away. I'm really good at pulling my boots on, then my jacket. I'm standing outside the door before my mind starts wondering what's wrong this time. The next thing, Simon comes running up the corridor. That's pretty normal, actually. Papa is too busy to come get me in emergencies. Simon scoops me up without saying anything. His face is really white, except for the huge bruise under his right eye. I don't struggle, not me.

We go down the stairs, through all the busy corridors. Everyone is scrambling about. No one notices me and Simon. Out through the mechanical-engineering wing and up the road past the big building people call Erskine. I asked Jack why once. She said some old guy gave the University a lot of money, but Jack makes up answers when she doesn't know them, so maybe she's lying.

There is a motorbike in the stand which looks like it hasn't been used for a very long time. Simon heaves me onto the front and revs it up. I am really surprised that it has any fuel. Things like that are rationed these days. I can't hold back a squeal of joy as we zoom off down the empty streets. I have no idea where we are going, but this is the funnest adventure in a long time.

There is a big supermarket about half way to the edge of the blue bubble. It's always under guard, but it's where papa keeps all the supplies organized. It has more than just food there now. Jack goes shopping for computer bits in the underground carpark, since no one drives these days. Simon grabs me off the bike and goes over to the grate. She's in there, arguing with some dude with floppy brown hair. The guy by the switch stares Simon down. “Whatcha want.”

“I need Jack,” he replies simply, not reacting to the hatred I can see in the man's face.

The guy grimaces and the turns on his heel.

“Oi, Jack,” he yells. “Michael's whore wants to talk to you.”

Jack's head snaps up and her eyes lock onto Simon's face through the grate. Slowly, she crosses the carpark to stand on the other side, but she doesn't open the grate. She looks at me in Simon's arms and says, “Aren't you old enough to walk, kiddo?”

“I need to talk to you,” Simon whispers. He lets me down and I crouch, pulling at my jacket. It's really cold.

Jack folds her arms, but doesn't walk away. In grown up's talk, that means she's listening.

“I need you to take James for a couple of days.”

I stand up at that, looking between Simon and Jack.

“You need me to, or Michael does?” She is pretty pissed off. “You're the one that's practically married to the bastard. I don't intend to be his pawn much longer.”

“Good,” Simon hisses. “Then take the kid with you for God's sake. I don't trust Michael around him anymore.”

“Oh merde.” She shoves her hands in her pockets. “You should come too, Simon. Just walk away.”

“I can't, Jack.” His voice is barely a whisper. He and Jack used to be about to get married but then Simon started working for my dad and Jack threw her ring in the trash compacter. “He depends on me.”

“Fine,” she says, turning her back on him so he can't see how sad she is. “Leave him with me. Sonja and Robbie will be glad to have him back.”

My breath catches. My brother and sister are out there, waiting for me, but I still have to jump. I won't let anyone just drag me over that ledge.

Simon walks away without saying anything and I run after him, crying. “Why are you sending me away. Papa will be so angry.”

Simon turns and kneels in front of me, putting his hands on my shoulders. “I'm sorry James, but it's not right, what your daddy does. I am going to try and make him stop, but if I don't succeed, I need to know you are safe.”

Simon got on the bike again and drove away. He didn't even look back. Tough love. I sat down on the pavement in the cold and cried. There was no choice now. I didn't want to be alone. I couldn't go back and get Simon in trouble. I would go with Jack into the unknown and maybe there would be a family of Collins out there to snuggle up to and make me feel a little bit braver.