I woke some hours later in full panic mode.
The panic was mysterious, unidentified at first – just pulsing fear, an anxiety I couldn’t quite place or name. The realisation crept into my subconscious slowly.
By the time Jay woke, I was in tears. They were hot, embarrassing tears, and I tried to mask my gasping hiccups.
“Charlie? What’s wrong?” He’d noticed, of course. And I felt so stupid.
“It’s nothing.” I managed, pulling away from him. “Charlie?” He pressed. Short tempered and stubborn.
“The shovel.” I admitted finally. “I don’t have my shovel anymore. I… it was kind of… It made me feel safe.”
“Oh, shit. Shit. I had it at the farmhouse. I left it there, I didn’t even…” He moved closer again, his breath warm on my neck. “I’m sorry. I was just so focused on getting us here.”
His words were curt and bitter – the place we’d worked so hard to reach had been just short of hell, a prison we now hoped to make it out of alive.
Annie was curled up beside him, one little arm hanging lazily over the edge of the desk. Her other arm was tucked in tight, a thumb resting in her mouth. It was something we might have discouraged once, but not now. Annie had her thumb, I had my shovel.
Jay, I suppose, had us.
“We’ll go back and get it.” He said suddenly, sitting up straight. “We need somewhere to go once we’ve gotten away from here.”
The sudden movement stirred Annie, and she sat up slowly, eyes bleary and hair a wild mess. “Can we eat now?”
Jay reached for his pack and rummaged around inside it, victoriously pulling out the remaining tin of chicken that Rachel had given us. “Sure can, kiddo. A feast of chicken for my favourite girls?”
He cracked the ring pull and we ate in a relieved kind of silence, passing the tin back and forth and getting chicken juice all over our fingers. We only had a tiny amount of water left, and we made Annie slowly drink half of it, capping the rest and zipping it back up into her pack.
I licked my fingers and wiped them dry on my jeans, reaching for Rachel’s watch.
We slipped down off the desk and put our packs back on. Jay paused to straighten the oversized jacket Annie was still wearing.
“Okay kiddo, it’s about to be showtime.” He ruffled her hair, the familiar gesture almost making her smile. “You need to stay quiet and hold Charlie’s hand all the time, okay? Do everything we say.”
“Okay…” She reached out for my hand and I took it, conscious of how badly my own hand was shaking.
“I guess Rachel will be about to take over sentry.” Jay whispered to me. “Do we just wait until 6:15? Do you think she knows where Harvey put us?”
I’d put her watch in my pocket and now I retrieved it, illuminating the display once again.
I fiddled with the side buttons until the display dimmed again – darkness had swooped down quickly around us and the jarring, telltale light of the watch in this tiny room made me skittish.
“We – ” I’d only started to speak when we heard it. Difficult to say exactly what it was, just some kind of commotion outside. People yelling – Colin? – and several people’s pounding footsteps on the concrete grounds of the compound.
A few moments later and we could still hear fractures of yelling through the open window, further away now, and only intermittent.
“Now… I think.” Jay muttered in the dark. “Now!”
He cracked the door open slightly and we were greeted with an empty, barely bathed in moonlight corridor of McKenzie’s. He took a couple of steps out the door, head bobbing wildly as he looked in all directions.
“Let’s go. Follow me, close.”
There was nobody around, but the fractured yelling continued. It sounded like it was at the complete opposite end of the compound by now.
“Goddamn it — what were you — ” The yelling reached us in pieces, too disjointed and unclear to determine who was yelling, or why.
We skulked our way through the dim corridors, skin prickling with anticipation. The old exit signs, illuminated in days past now sat brooding in the dark, visible to us only once we were standing right before them.
Still, they guided our way to the front of the compound.
We had seen no one, and could no longer make out the yelling. Someone could be on their way back from whatever had happened and could find us at any moment.
We had no time for real caution.
We stepped out from behind the shadows of the main building and jogged across the asphalt towards the security gates.
Hoping to find Rachel. Hoping she hadn’t betrayed us.
She stepped out from behind the shadows in the security booth, an unreadable expression on her face.
“Rachel,” I gasped. “It worked, we – ”
“You don’t have time.” She interrupted, raising a hand to stop me. “Just go. Colin could be on his way back even now.”
“Thank – ” Jay started.
“Go!” She hissed, frantically looking behind us. “It’s not just your lives if we’re caught!”
Without another word, she shoved a small satchel into Jay’s hands and turned her back on us, closing the booth door behind her.
She watched us through the booth’s tiny window, the moonlight guiding our way as we turned our back on the compound.
No shouts, no bullets or angry footsteps followed us. The memory of Rachel’s strange expression lingered on my mind, but she hadn’t betrayed us.
Harvey was not yet after us, not yet aware we’d taken back his prize child.
Our child. Our Annie.
We followed Jay on his zig zag through the long grass. He kept his pace at a half-jog, and Annie kept up easily, our hands linked tightly.
The wilderness spat us back out on the highway.
Still nothing but silence behind us.
We crossed the bitumen, fought our way back into the wild grass on the other side. Only once we’d made some progress inland did Jay stop.
“We can make the farmhouse tonight.” He said, shoving the satchel Rachel had given him into his pack, not checking it for now. “We have to keep moving. I don’t know if we can stop there. It might be too close to McKenzie’s. He might look for us.”
His words were hurried, panicky, mirroring the way I felt.
“Let’s go.” I said, squeezing Annie’s hand reassuringly.
We took what we hoped was one last look at the McKenzie’s sign, and set off into the night.