Tuesday, November 5, 2013

If the Dark Forces had a sense of humor...

Dylan heard a soft, girlish giggle and caught a brief glimpse of a white dress. He looked, but the child was gone... again.

He'd been wandering this city for two days now, and he hated it. It was always dark here; even in the daytime, the sky remained a dark, sullen gray: clouds heavy with the promise of rain that never came. The people who lived here were furtive and sullen. Maybe they didn't like strangers, but after two days of watching them Dylan had concluded that they must not like each other very much, either. He'd given up on trying to get a room, and slept on a bench in the bus station.

That was where he had first seen the little girl. He'd woken up to find her sitting on the bench across from his own: a bright-eyed child of six or seven in a clean white dress, cherubic despite the darkness of her curly hair, and smiling the first genuine smile he'd seen in what felt like weeks. But when he'd try to say something to her, she'd run away, laughing. He'd caught glimpses of her here and there, since then. Once he'd seen her in a shop, but when he went inside the only person there was an elderly woman who looked him over and sniffed as if disappointed. Later, he'd seen her in a park; but again she was gone before he could round the fence. Then he'd caught a glimpse of her sitting on the steps of an old, weathered house; but it hadn't been her, it had been a stout matron in a frumpy old dress with a white blouse. That was when Dylan had first started to wonder if he was losing his mind.

This time, though... He'd seen which way she went. She'd darted into an alley, dim and grubby even by the standards of this place. He took to his feet, following her. Whether she was a real girl or just a figment of his imagination, this time he meant to keep up with her.

The alley narrowed further, until he was running with brick walls at arm's length to either side. There wasn't much back here, just rusty pipes and a few lines of laundry strung overhead. The girl had a good head start, but Dylan had longer legs and he knew how to run without exhausting himself. He fell into an easy pace, gaining steadily, letting the walls of the alley slide past.

Ahead, the buildings came together to form an arched roof over the alley. The girl never hesitated. He heard her laugh as she vanished into the darkness. The laughter stopped a moment later, as he followed.

He slowed, running with his arms in front of him. He couldn't see anything here, and if he ran headlong into a wall... Well, that would definitely put an end to the chase. Still, he didn't quite slow to a walk. He couldn't hear the girl anymore, not her laughter nor the sound of her footsteps. It was possible that she'd ducked off to one side, in which case he might go past her without even realizing she was there. The thought made him slow further, to a fast walk.

That was when the alley went dark behind him. He turned, looking back, but there was nothing there. He turned again, and realized that he wasn't sure he was still going the same direction. He might be headed straight for a wall, or an open manhole, or... Anything.

Dylan stopped.

Anything could be in here. He fumbled in his pocket, wishing for the first time in his life that he smoked; if he did, he might have had matches, or a lighter. He had... nothing. Half a dollar in change, a crumpled receipt, and a keyring with only three keys. Finally, he gave up and started forward again, shuffling slowly. He kept his arms out, feeling for walls; he tried to feel along the ground with his feet. He drew a breath, finding nothing but darkness.

Another breath.

A third.

As he drew in his fourth breath, his hand found a solid surface: smooth and cold, definitely not brick. He stopped, barely touching it, and suddenly there was light all around him.

He had his fingers against the back of a massive steel door. All around him were rows of tiny, numbered cabinets. There was no way in or out. "What the hell?" he wondered out loud.

* * *

Forty-five minutes later, he was sitting in the back of a squad car with his hands cuffed behind him. The officer who'd arrested him, a big red-headed man with a build like a fireplug, slid into the driver's seat. "Look kid," he said. "I read you your rights, so you know you don't have to answer me, but... how in the hell did you get into that vault? The door was sealed, there isn't a mark on the walls or anything out of place, but the cameras went dark for a second and then there you were. How'd you do it?"

Dylan shook his head. "I wish I knew," he said.

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