It was an ugly gash across the landscape, a 200 meter wide canyon carved out of the living forest with a Y-shaped fence in the middle. The overhanging arms of the “Y” bristled with the steel thorns of barbed wire. I knew the signs, unreadable in the dark, warned of high voltage.
“Even if they don’t see us they will know we are here as soon as the electric is cut. Are you ready?”
Rose and Merl nodded. Rose, in heavy rubber gloves, was carrying wood-handled clippers. Merl had three saddle blankets. I was carrying a length of knotted rope tied to a heavy anchor.
I gave the hand signal and we rushed the fence. Rose knew the exact wires to clip. Merl threw the blankets onto the top of the fence to cover the barbs. I swung the anchor around my body several times before, with a mighty heave, I tossed it over the fence. Our escape route was set.
The light, agile Rose went over first. With the graceful movements of a gymnist she soon reached the top, trusting the anchor momentarily when her feet were out of reach of the fence, then dropped to the far side. Once over she added her weight to the anchor for Merl.
Merl was slow, too slow. His boots couldn’t slip into the fence making him rely almost entirely on the rope and Rose’s weight. He fumbled and slipped, despite the knots. They knew we were here. I expected to hear shouts and the reports of rifles at any moment. Even in the dark of a cloudless night Merl’s body dangling on the fence stood out in the barren waste between the trees.
Springing from the fence for momentum Merl lunged and got a hand on a saddle blanket. Bringing his knees almost to his chin he locked his feet together around a knot. Straightening his legs he was able to push himself up onto the blankets.
Over at last, Merl took over the anchor. Rose started for the forest but stopped half way to wait.
I had kicked my heavy boots off when I noticed Merl’s troubles, and had thrown them over the fence. This made it a little easier to grip with my feet so I did better than poor Merl. Still, the climb was harder than I had expected, particularly when my feet could no longer reach the fence. My hands, slick with sweat, were barely able to stay on the knots, my bare feet almost useless as I tried to shimmy up the rope. At last I was able to put my weight on the saddle blankets.
Swinging my legs over the top my pants got snagged on the barbs. I heard the distant choppers as I tried to free my pants leg. They were on their way.
Not waiting to see if Rose and Merl had listened to my command I popped my belt and unzipped my pants. The fall was uncontrolled leaving me momentarily stunned on the ground. A flash of light from the sky brought me back to life. They were almost here!
100 meters, a little more than the length of a football field. An Olympic sprinter could do it in about 10 seconds and I could do it in perhaps 15, that is if I had on running shoes and I was on a track. Barefoot, in the dark and on rough terrain? I discovered that machine guns can give a person great incentive to do amazing things. But was the adrenaline-high enough? No time to wonder, I sprinted for the cover of the trees.
My lungs felt that they were about to burst, my feet were scrapped, cut and bruise. Every toe was stubbed on a rock or root. I almost tripped over something seemingly every third step, though the ground had been bulldozed amazingly flat. The wall of the woods still appeared kilometers away, drawing away instead of closer.
With a whoosh of blades the land around me lit up. The only place I wanted light was still lost in darkness as I found myself running into my own shadow. The choppers had arrived but for the moment they were staying on the other side of the fence. Would they stick to treaty when their quarry was in sight?
I heard a voice. Instinctively I dove to the right. I was aware but didn’t pay attention to the short burst of gunfire. After a roll I hopped back to my feet and continued, trying to put random zigs and zags while staying focused on the forest. I was almost there.
The pool of light changed. I knew the helicopter was climbing to get a better shot. Would they cross the fence and come close enough for there to be no doubt?
I heard a pop. A light flashed out of the forest in front of me, ripping over my head. I instinctively rolled again and then took the last few steps into the woods. It was only after I had passed the first row of trees that I realized the light had gone away. No sooner did I think it then the light was back, but too late, I was hidden in the shadows.
Merl had used his flare-gun. It wouldn’t damage the helicopter, but they wouldn’t know, at least at first. The flare had bought me the precious seconds needed to get into the woods. There wouldn’t be a way to signal when we had arrived at the rendezvous, but at least all three of us would make it.
Lights played back and forth across the trees, but deep in the woods there was still plenty of darkness. The three of us moved together, though separated by several meters. It wasn’t long before the lights stopped. Were they giving up already? I didn’t trust them. Nobody escaped without a fight, I was sure they’d send commandos in to find us, treaties be damned.
Less than a kilometer into the woods we came to another opening. A large tree had fallen across the deep ditch. Coincidence? On the other side was a high stone fence, which proved easy to climb.
No sooner had we landed on the dirt road on the far side of the stone fence than we were surrounded by soldiers.
“Welcome!” a friendly voice called out.
A woman with the air of command separated herself from the others and walked towards us.
“Congratulations, you are now free.” She scanned me from head to toe and smiled. “Free as the day you were born.”
My face flushing bright red as I remembered that my pants were still hanging on the fence, a personal flag to my independence. I was buck naked, at least from the waist down. I was naked, naked for all to see. I was naked and free, as free as the day I was born.
I was free, truly free.
A weight lifted. It was over. The constant looking over my shoulder, the years of scheming and months of planning, they were finally over. I had long dreamed about this day, but for the first time I realized what it truly meant.
It was a new beginning, a rebirth.
I wrote a bit of flash fiction yesterday and just couldn’t leave well enough alone. The above bit of fiction is the rest of the story ;)