Round 11 Challenge: Put your main character in danger in a new and hostile environment. There should be a struggle for survival through which new aspects of his or her personality are revealed.
Sylvie didn’t look back, concentrating instead on the road disappearing into a black hole ahead. Looming out of the nothing, without warning was a ten-foot high patchwork of concrete, lunging out at her. The brakes locked and the SUV hit a pothole as she tried to swerve and avoid a head on collision. The wheels lost traction, caught and the rear fishtailed into a backwards slide. The rear bumper hit the wall first then slammed side on into the wall.
Sylvie felt a warm trickle blood where her head hit the window.
She’d found the border of the Dead Zone.
As she sat dazed, the darkness seemed to seep in through the car, obliterating any sense of something beyond.
A single questioned emerged as Sylvie contemplated lying down to sleep.
Turn the headlights on, or stay in the dark?
How did life or death reduce to such a seemingly simple decision?
She understood instinctively there was no time to debate the merits of either decision or to sleep. Wiping the blood away with the back of her hand, she flicked the parking lights on and blinked.
The hulking corpses of cars, rusting on tireless hubs and random piles of debris rose up through the tiny halo of light.
Could she drive, at speed and safely traverse the unpredictable road ahead?
Her head hurt and sleep was so seductive, but she’d come this far. She looked at the wall pressed up against her door. It went on, unbroken forever. It looked as though those in the Dead Zone wanted to keep people out, rather than the City wishing to keep them in.
How did she get in? She flicked the lights off.
Stay or go?
She curled her fingers of her left hand around the wheel and reached for the ignition with the right. If it turned over she’d go. The Universe would be telling her it wasn’t yet her time.
The engine roared to life and she pushed down on the accelerator.
Keep it simple Sylvie.
Driving as fast as she dared, her vision swimming in and out of focus, she steered around some obstacles, hitting others, all the time willing the wall to open. The SUV tipped forwards and for a moment there was nothing. The front crashed downwards, the seatbelt cutting into her chest and stomach as the front chassis absorbed the momentum and bounced up the other side of the gaping hole in the road. Sylvie crashed into the head rest and the SUV came to a stop. Only then Sylvie turned saw the way in.
She turned the lights on and put as much clear ground between her and the heavy gates blocking her entrance. She wiped the blood from her eyes, revved the engine, and caught in the periphery another set of headlights. Stamping on the accelerator and releasing the clutch, the SUV leapt forward.
Sylvie held on tight.
The gates held the SUV’s inertia for a moment and then exploded inwards, cart-wheeling away in a shower of concrete and metal shards. The car slowed and in the glare of the headlights the Dead Zone stretched out before her like a war zone the world had walked away from.
Sylvie put the SUV into low gear and bounced in over the uneven ground. In harsh light of high beam Sylvie could see nature had reclaimed the area where concrete had previously thrived. Tall heads of wild grass shook in the wind and large bushes of domesticated plants gone wild, quivered. In the distance she could see dome shaped structures and she headed for there.
Then the lights went out and the engine stalled. Sylvie tried the engine but there was nothing. Not even the click of the start motor trying to fire. It was as though someone flicked the off switch.
Sylvie opened the door and got out unsteadily, pulling the hoodie to shield her head from the howling wind. The shiver which ran the full length of her body had little to do with the icy air. She turned 360 degrees taking in the desolation.
How was it possible for this to be right on the doorstep of the city?
She reached back inside and grabbed a torch from her kit. It was intended for use in close quarters and barely cut a metre long beam ahead. If the car was dead, she’d have to go in on foot.
There was the crunch of footfall off to her left. Sylvie spun to shine the torch, but it succeeded only in blinding her to what lay beyond the tiny arc. She switched the torch off and waited for her eyes to adjust, wishing for the clouds to release the moon.
The footsteps came closer.
“Hello? I’m Sylvie.” She turned this time to her right. “You called for a midwife.” Her voice echoed. “Maia sent me.”
She took a faltering step backwards towards the SUV. Dry sticks snapped underfoot. Gravel crunched. The paced quickened.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled, as her back hit the car door. Her fingers found the handle, as the first figures bleed out of the darkness. Wrenching the door open Sylvie tried to scramble in, her foot missing, smashing her shins into the running boards. She pulled herself in, slamming the door and engaging the driver side lock, hearing the other three doors bolt in unison. Her heart caught in her throat and panic threatened to pick her up on a huge wave of adrenalin and dump her. She tried to stay focused and not hyperventilate, but she was fighting to breathe, her rib cage vice-like and tightening inch by inch with every passing second.
Keep your head Sylvie. You’ve come this far.
There was no reason to believe whoever was out there meant her any harm. She sat in the driver’s seat waiting for something to happen, a tap at the window to announce the escort’s arrival. Seconds passed as hours, and dread crept over her body with spider like legs, spinning her into the deadly embrace of its silken terror.
Remembering the wheel brace she reached across into the passenger footwell to retrieve it. As she rose up a pair of ember red eyes glared through the window.
Sylvie screamed, scrambling back pushing herself against the driver’s window, holding the wheel brace to her chest. Heat radiated through the cold glass and she turned slowly. Another pair of fiery eyes. The SUV shook as something jumped onto both the bonnet and roof.
The moon came out from behind the clouds and illuminated the faces pressed against the window. They were humanlike in structure but there was no humanity in them. The eyes burnt from sunken eye sockets in emaciated faces. Thin lips drew back to reveal vicious pointed teeth.
When the shock cleared she saw they were sniffing the air like a dogs.
She looked at the blood smeared on the back of her hand.
She moved quickly to shut all the vents, but it was too late. The faces contorted, a flicker of recognition passing in their eyes. Sylvie knew these were no band of albinos caught beyond society’s boundaries. They pressed against the glass, salivating. Hands, white knuckled, pummelling the windows. The car rocked.
Sylvie knew there was dignity in dying head held high before a firing squad but none in being torn limb from limb. These were monsters and she could battle something with a face. The Government was a faceless entity which sapped the energy and power from you. She could do this. If she lived, she walked away and reclaimed the life they’d all stolen from her – the Government and the Underground.
Let them think I died here.
Shining the torch out the window, the eyes recoiled. Turning it off, they returned slowly but more agitated. She knew what she had to do.
Shoving her wallet under the seat, Sylvie then climbed into the back with the torch. From the suitcase she took the oxygen tank, gauze bandaging, alcohol, scissors and matches. Using her legs to brace against the rocking, she gored a hole in the top of the alcohol and threaded a gauze fuse.
There would only be one shot.
Using the torch to drive them away first, she smashed the window with the oxygen tank. The rocking stopped. With a quick twist oxygen started seeping out. She threw it as far as she could. Her hands fumbled with the matches. They would be back before she got one sparked. Finally a flame flared and the gauze caught. Sylvie waited until it was blazing before hurling it out and throwing herself on the floor.
She braced for the explosion. One-two-three. Moaning filled the air. Four – five – six – seven. A dog howled. Eight – nine – ten. A dog growled. Eleven – twelve – thirteen … twenty.
A sickening realisation descended, she had been right. There had only been one chance. She sat up. The gauze had gone out.