by Chloe Taylor
Run. That was the last piece of friendly advice I had, just run! And that's exactly what I've been doing for nearly three years, alone, afraid and with absolutely no clue as to where I'm going or what I'm running from. It's a lonely thing hopping from town to town sleeping in strange hotels, constantly looking over your shoulder and never staying anywhere too long for fear of being noticed by the world.
It's the year 2098 and the world is at peace, or so we're told. Twenty years ago there was a war, a world war that engulfed the whole planet, the Americans and the Russians used the nukes and almost obliterated each other, and the rest of the world was torn between the two sides. Brother fought brother, father fought son, and yet no one could ever say exactly what had sparked the conflict. After ten years of all out war an uneasy truce was made and the fighting stopped, and out of the ashes grew a new world, but not a free world, after the President of the US was killed a government order rose up in her place, and a new dictatorship was born, old border lines were erased and new ones were drawn up, the west belonged to the American government, the east belonged to the new Soviet Union and everything in-between, from the tip of south Africa to Scotland was classed as no man's land.
I was born in 2074, before war broke out, my father was a marine and my mother was unemployed, we lived a simple life for those few years, we had a house in Duluth, Wisconsin in north America, a beautiful house by the lakes, we had a sailing boat and my Dad had started to teach me to fish. Tensions between America and Russia had gradually been growing worse since the Russian rebellion in 53, but it was just words, big men with big attitudes trying to impress, but on the 26th of March 2078, things started to get real. Russia launched a missile against the USA, inbound for Washington, the early warning system kicked in and destroyed the missile but the damage was already done, President Mila Kingston declared that America was at war with Russia, I was just four years old. From that moment on everything just seemed to spiral out of control; cities were destroyed, countries were evacuated and my life was turned upside-down. My father, George Brooks was called away to fight, while my mother and I fled to England, one of the few countries that refused to involve itself in the conflict and for a while she and I were safe there, but during times of war, nowhere is ever truly safe.
Two years after we had moved to London, the year now 2080, Russia began running nightly air raids on the neutral countries, France, Italy, Arabia, and England. We were living in a rented apartment in the south of the city, where the cheapest accommodation was to be found, my mother and I had been living there for six months when they came, like mosquitoes in the night, the sky was a hive of noise and the ground was a blaze of fire and shrapnel. I don't know how we got out of that house but somehow we managed it, scrambling over the debris, dodging fires and unexploded bombs; then there were men on the ground, shouting, shooting - I lost my mother. I was six years old. The Americans pushed the Russians back across Europe, but at a heavy price, London was lost, so were most of Europe's major cities and historic landmarks, and those that remained became highly militarised check points, places I would one day learn to avoid. Only a few remote villages and towns were left standing after the conflict, many of which were in the north of England, I was taken away to an orphanage in Northumbria, a home that had been set up inside Bamburgh castle on the north east coast, tens of children poured in each day for the first few weeks, then things began to settle and almost became normal again, despite the war raging in the world outside. What defined normal for me during the fifteen years I lived in Bamburgh was routine, having the same routine each day, from dawn until dusk, that is what kept me sane, what kept me from thinking about the loss of my parents and my life.
The war finally came to an end in 2088, but the world was a very different place, America was almost unrecognisable as the country of freedom and tolerance it once used to be, the government had taken control of he continent and ruled it with a dictator's fist. Russia was ruled by the highest bidder, and when they failed, or were assassinated as was more common, they were replaced by whoever could buy their way to the top. The world knew it was at peace but it was a fragile truth, crime and lack of punishment was rife, and peaceful people suffered at the hands of tyrants and criminals; I was lucky, I had the orphanage to protect me, but even that, eventually, came to an end.
June 21st, 2095, seven years after the war had ended. It was a day like all that had gone before it, the castle was alive with voices, music and laughter, children of varying ages swamped the corridors and halls, everywhere you looked they were hanging off of banisters, or draped over the decor. Many of the rooms had been turned into sleeping accommodation, not leaving much room for recreation, so we simply played, sat and socialised wherever we could find a space. However, I had found a secret sanctuary, well I say I, I mean myself and my friend Katelyn, my best friend Katelyn, we were the oldest girls in the orphanage, both 21 years of age so we needed to get away from the younger inhabitants from time to time, one day while exploring the castle we found a secret passage that lead to an old priest's hole, and then on through to the beach beyond the castle walls. Katelyn and I spent hour upon hour tucked away in that little room, we decorated in a modest way with what we could lay our hands on, and for those few hours we could escape our chores, the children and our lives and just be friends.
But on that day, that fateful first day of summer, when I thought I had some sort of life again, it was taken from me. Morning came and went as normal, I dragged myself out of bed at around 9:30 and drudged down to the banquet hall in the centre of the castle, most of the children were already stuffing their faces, I spotted Katelyn sitting in our usual window seat waving at me to come join her, she had already selected a bowl of cereal and some jammy toast for me. I crossed the room to the window, weaving and dodging kids under foot as I went.
"Where on earth have you been? I've been sitting here waiting for you for ages don't you know!" Katelyn barked teasingly at me, she knew exactly where I'd been, we shared the same room.
"Just savouring the few moments of peace we get around here before the castle wakes up" I replied, plonking myself into the seat opposite her.
"Yeah well hurry up and eat your Cheerios, because this is only the lot from the east wing, goodness knows what the noise will be like when the rest of them roll out of bed!" Katelyn reminded me with a mouth full of cornflakes.
"Good point" I shovelled my Cheerios in spoonful at a time, then crunched down my toast, then satisfied with our sustenance, Katelyn and I took a stroll through the castle grounds as we did every morning. There was a strong wind blowing in off of the North Sea causing my long blonde hair to whip this way and that across my face, Katelyn just laughed at my discomfort, she had no such trouble as her hair was boyishly short and dark brown, but in the early light it looked almost black. I could see my face reflected in her green eyes, my deep blue ones giggling back at me.
"You know, I don't think I ever want to leave this place Carla" Katelyn said, turning to me waiting for my answer.
"Me neither, it's so beautiful, unlike the rest of this poor country, you know I can't imagine myself ever leaving this old castle" I replied wistfully.
"Maybe if we stayed here long enough, they'd give us a title?!" Katelyn joked.
"What, like Lady Brook and Lady Dunnuck?" We both laughed at the thought. I miss the way we used to laugh. "Come on you, let's get upstairs, that room won't clean itself" I turned to head back inside, dragging Katelyn behind me.
"Really?!" she moaned behind me as we went back inside.
"Yes, do you remember the last time Mother Susan came and did a spot check on our room?"
"Oh yeah, that really wasn't good and I don't fancy spending another weekend working in the kitchens, I still smell of potatoes!"
"Right then, you go down to the cleaning cupboard and bring up some stuff, I'll make a start on the bedding"
"OK" she replied begrudgingly.
We both went our separate ways, Katelyn hurried off down towards the store rooms, and I walked back in the direction of our room which was at the top of the old Keep on the west side of the castle, as I reached the massive square structure three military helicopters flew past over head, everyone in the courtyard looks up in surprise, no military personnel had ever come that far north. I continued to climb the stars up towards my room, unaware of what was happening outside. Two of the helicopters had landed in the courtyard and the third was circling the castle grounds, bobbing up and down like an irritated wasp; in my room I could hear nothing of what was occurring outside, not until I heard heavy footsteps clambering up the stairwell outside the door, suddenly Katelyn burst into the room, nearly colliding with me, she was panting furiously and could barely string a sentence together.
"Katelyn?!" I exclaimed in shock, "what on earth is going on?" I tried to steady her as she spoke.
"The...castle is, is under attack" she managed to whisper, "we have to... get out now while, while we still can"
"What do you mean under attack, from who?" I was still confused
"Carla," she said solemnly, "they're Russians" there was a moment of silence, my eyes grew wide and I felt my heart skip a beat.
"Quick, pack some things, we'll escape through the priest's tunnel, they won't be able to follow us down there" We began frantically to gather what few possessions we had, some clothes, a purse, a phone, we didn't have much in the way of material goods. We threw what we had into an old back-pack which I slung over my shoulders, and scurried down the stairs, halting as we reached the lower entrance, by now we could hear screams as the soldiers outside chased people around the courtyard, I peeked around the corner of the door and saw them rounding people up into small groups, they seemed to be looking for something, or someone.
"There's no way out across the courtyard" I informed Katelyn.
"But the passage is in the Constable tower on the eastern wall, the only way to get there is across the courtyard."
"No there is, we can go through the main castle and cut through the kitchens, that will bring us out by the gate house, we can reach the tower from there" I had everything worked out, we could make it to the tower. Katelyn laughed half heartedly.
"Are you mad, we'll never get there in time!"
"Glad you have so much confidence in me Kate!" I said sarcastically, "Come on, back this way, we can make it if we run"
We turned around and headed back inside the main castle, luckily the soldiers, whoever they were hadn't got in yet, they were busy with the people outside, the corridors and rooms had never seemed so empty, the sound of laughter no longer filled those great vaulted halls, instead all I could hear was the sound of petrified screams and children crying, but then I could hear something else. A noise like hail on roof tiles, like a clap of thunder, my childhood memories provided the answer, gunfire. The helicopter that had been circling the castle was now firing upon it, windows began to shatter as bullets ricochet off of brick and stone, Katelyn and I could see the helicopter through the high windows in the Great hall, we decided to make a mad dash towards the door at the far end, our goal. The pilot must have spotted us because suddenly the air was full of shards of glass as the bullets shattered the ancient stained glass windows, mere millimetres behind us like a great swarm chasing us, we made it to the other side of the hall and the gunfire stopped, for a while at least.
It didn't take us long to reach the gatehouse, but the portcullis had been dropped and there were so many people scrambling to get out of the castle that is was nigh on impossible to cross, we could hear the soldiers coming so we went for it, pushing, shoving and barging our way across the long drive to reach the door on the other side, more gunfire, people began to drop to the floor, in fear of their lives or due to the loss of them. Together Katelyn and I reached the small wooden door and threw ourselves over the threshold, slamming the door shut behind us, although it was unlikely that a few centimetres of seventeenth century wood was going to do much to protect us against a 300 mile and hour bullet. The door lead onto a tight passage that wound its way beneath the upper walls towards the Constable tower, where the secret passage was hidden on the lower first floor; we were tired and out of breath, but by now we were running on adrenalin and fear, all of a sudden there were voices in the passage behind us, they had followed us and were closing in fast, I turned to Katelyn.
"Don't stop, keep going until we reach the tower!" I whispered, my voice shaking from the adrenalin.
She nodded in response as we both broke into a full pelt run through the passage, to the door at the end, thank God for that door. We dashed through it and pushed the heavy door shut behind us, sliding a bolt across it for good measure, Katelyn was already at the top of the stars, winder her way down to the lower first floor, I soon found myself jumping off of the last step and crossing the small room to the wall where we knew the passage was hidden behind an heavy old trunk. A crash, the soldiers had broken down the door and were already hurtling down the stairs, Katelyn and had to move quickly to push the trunk aside, which seemed twice as heavy than usual, they were getting closer, I knew that at any moment I would see the first come crashing into the room. We hauled the trunk out of the way and I clambered into the passage, a very low tunnel with step steps that were carved out of the bed rock, I could hear Katelyn's feet behind me but then they were gone, replaced by her screams as one of the soldiers grabbed her jacket and hauled her out of the tunnel.
"Let me go!" She cried out, but it was in vain, I started to climb back up the tunnel towards her, to help her, I caught a glimpse of the soldiers in the room, around a dozen, I probably had the strength to overpower one of them, and then what, what good would I have been then?
"Carla no!" Katelyn screamed at me, still kicking out wildly at her captives, "Carla just run! Run Carla run!" Then she was silenced, I didn't see what happened but I didn't hear Kate's voice again, I stopped, stuck dumb by what had happened, I had two choices, go back and be captured, or turn and run, I chose the latter. There was no way those great heavily built soldiers could have crawled down that passage after me, but I didn't want to take that risk; I carried on down the tunnel, I lost my footing several times and grazed my knees and elbows in the process, I finally made it to the half way point, the priest's hole. I stopped a moment to catch my breath, my whole body was shaking, trembling as the adrenaline surged around me, willing me to keep going, to run and make it out alive.
There was only a little way to go, but I felt like I was in that tunnel for hours, the sound of gunfire was still ringing in my ears, echoing through my mind, tormenting me like some twisted conscience, it can't have been long before I reached the end of the passage, a metal grate in the base of the cliff, using what strength I had left, I turned myself around and kicked the grate as hard as I could, at first it didn't budge but then I threw all of my strength into it and it came free, falling onto the sand beyond. Cautiously I crept out of the hole in the rock, my eyes constantly searching my surroundings, making sure I wasn't seen, I skirted silently around to a small dip in the rock, removed my bag from my back and settled myself down for a moment, the events of the past few moments were playing on a loop in my mind, over and over again, until I noticed something, before I dashed down the tunnel I caught a glimpse of the soldier that was holding Katelyn, I saw his uniform and the patches that were sewn onto his upper right arm, and they weren't Russian flags, they were American.