Authors: Echo Freer
Tags: #Young adult, #dystopian, #thriller, #children and fathers, #gender roles, #rearing, #breeding, #society, #tragic
Flashing along the hallway, through the glass of the front door was the intermittent red searchlights of a stealth. They heard the sigh of the air-brakes as it drew to a halt, then muffled voices and footsteps headed down the path towards the house.
âShiltz!' Monkey whispered urgently.
Suddenly, a loud banging noise echoed down the hallway. He could make out the silhouettes of at least four Security officers through the glazed front door.
A female voice boomed through the mail-slot. âJane Patterson? Security. Open up!'
Secrets, Codes and Hiding Places
âQuick!' Monkey grabbed Angel's hand and pulled her towards a door that opened off the kitchen. There was a padlock near the top, but it was hanging open and the door was slightly ajar. âDown here!'
There was a cellar under the house that Monkey remembered from a few years earlier. When he and Tragic had been younger, they'd gone down there once to play hide and seek. It was the only time he recalled Jane being angry with Tragic. âDon't you ever - EVER - go down there again!' the normally placid Jane had shouted, slamming the door and bolting it firmly. Shortly after that, the bolt had been removed and the padlock had appeared. The cellar had been firmly out of bounds from then on. Jane had told them it was because the rickety old steps were too dangerous. They could have fallen and been injured, she'd said, once more reverting to her gentle, caring self and Tragic never questioned her.
As Monkey and Angel made their way down the wooden steps now, Monkey realised that they were firm and relatively new - certainly not as old as the house. They'd probably been replaced within the last ten years, so would have been quite safe at the time that he and Tragic had played down there. As they descended the steps, Angel's hood caught on a nail. She stumbled and gasped but Monkey put out a hand to steady her, then raised a finger to his lips warning her to be quiet. A frisson of excitement shot through him at the physical contact but she pulled her hand away from his sharply; irritated.
When his feet touched the floor of the underground room, he narrowed his eyes, scouring the cellar for suitable hiding places. It was pitch-dark apart from the spasmodic red glare that flashed through a ventilation grille at the front. A cobweb caught Monkey in the face and he brushed it away impatiently.
As his eyes became accustomed to the dark he could make out dozens of large canvases lining two of the walls, some covered with cloth, others displaying Jane's weird paintings. They were abstract and Monkey had never been able to understand them. Shelves laden with pots and paints, tools and tins were along another wall. There were piles of what looked like old clothes and shoes - no doubt Jane's working clothes, kept down here because they were dirty. But he could see nowhere to hide two people.
âThey're bound to come down here,' Angel whispered.
âDon't worry,' Monkey reassured her; although he wished he felt as confident as he was trying to sound. Outside, they could hear the rumble of feet running down the side of the house.
âThe back door's open!' a voice called and more feet thundered towards the rear of the house.
Monkey groaned and mentally gave himself a kick for not shutting the door properly as Mov Bailey had advised him to do. He would have expected a patroller to come looking for a school-dodger but was confused as to why there would be this level of security looking for Tragic - or, more to the point, Jane. At least Angel had closed the cellar door after them. Hopefully, that would allow them some time.
Angel tugged at Monkey's sleeve and pointed to the corner at the back of the cellar. He could just make out two large chest freezers against the back wall. Monkey knew that Jane had always been keen on home-grown food. Tragic had told him she'd even taken on a public sustenance patch to boost their food quota. No wonder she needed two freezers.
They crept over to them and Monkey lifted the lid of the first one. It was full of bags and boxes of food arranged in wire baskets, all going soggy through lack of electricity. Angel opened the second. It also appeared full. Monkey was about to lower the lid despondently, when Angel stopped him.
âIt's different,' she whispered. âGive me a hand.' Monkey didn't know what she meant by
. He looked at her questioningly as she felt round the rim of the freezer. There were none of the baskets and bags of vegetables like the other freezer. As far as he could make out, the food in the second, larger one was mainly pre-packed, manufactured foods stored in what appeared to be five shallow wooden trays. Angel prised her fingers under the lip of one of the trays and raised it up to reveal a totally empty freezer beneath. âCome on,' she said, impatiently, lifting the trays and stacking them on top of one another at one side. Monkey picked up one of the boxes of burgers and shook it. It was empty; a shell. So was the box of chicken pieces - and the fish fillets.
âDummies,' Angel said quietly. âNow get in.'
âWe can't hide in here.' He was alarmed. âWe'll suffocate.'
Angel shrugged. âWell, someone's been hiding in here.' She pointed to the interior of the freezer. Three of the sides were the metallic casing that Monkey would have expected. The fourth, the one that was up against the wall, had a large rectangle cut out so that the brickwork was showing through.
They could hear footsteps above them, marching purposefully round the house instilling a sense of urgency in them. Carefully, without making a sound, Angel stepped into the huge freezer. She pulled the cord from the hood of her brother's jacket and tied it round the lock of the lid, then crouched down and began pulling the trays of empty boxes back over her head. âGet in,' she told him.
Monkey followed. He slid two more trays of dummy food into place, leaving a space in the centre so that he could reach up and grab the cord that Angel had attached to the lid. It was a tricky manoeuvre. He had to pull the lid to the point where gravity would finish the job, then remove the cord from the lock, slip his arm down, push the final tray into place and wait for the lid to close itself - all in a matter of seconds; all in the pitch-dark of the cellar. As he pulled the last tray over his head and sank down next to Angel, he had a fleeting moment of satisfaction at how he had acquitted himself, before the freezer top crashed down so loudly, the whole road must have heard it!
Monkey froze. He could feel his heart thumping against his rib cage and throbbing in his ears. His breathing seemed as loud as a loco in the silence of the freezer. He closed his eyes, waiting for the repercussions and swallowed hard, trying to steady the fear that was threatening to overwhelm him. He could feel Angel next to him, smell her. She smelt clean; of soap and shampoo. Wonderful! But what if Security had brought dogs with them? Crap! He hadn't thought of that. He couldn't bear it if they'd gone through all this just to be sniffed out. Angel's hair was so close to his face, it brushed against his skin and her breath was warm against his cheek. God, he fancied her! If she didn't choose him for breeding, he didn't know what he'd do.
He could hear the footsteps descend the stairs into the cellar through the hole that had been cut in the back of the freezer. He sensed Angel tense; holding her breath. Monkey did the same. In the all-encompassing blackness of the freezer, there was a shadow of grey at the back where the hole was. What if Security had thermal imaging? What if their body heat escaped through the hole and cast a bloom against the wall? What if it picked up their footprints on the cellar floor? What if one of them moved? Or sneezed? All these terrors ran through Monkey's mind as the footsteps came to a halt at the bottom of the steps.
He heard some shuffling and banging; obviously whoever was down there was going through the paintings.
âNothing here,' he heard one voice say; a male voice. âMust have been next door.'
âMaybe,' a female replied. Then, âWait! What's that over there?'
Monkey felt a looseness in his abdomen; a churning. He was going to crap himself. He squeezed his eyes even tighter, as though that could shut out his fear. He'd never felt so scared; not even when he was being chased by the hood. But it wasn't fear for himself, it was for Angel. He'd got her into this. If he stuffed up now, he'd ruin her life forever.
A diffused yellow light flashed across the brickwork at the back of the freezer. Monkey felt easier; they'd got sulphur torches rather than heat-seeking equipment. That was one weight off his mind. And he couldn't hear any dogs either. He started to relax a little.
âJust some old clothes,' the male said.
âThey look like providers' clothes to me,' remarked the female. âBest take them with us.'
The male didn't sound convinced. âCould be the pre's. Or maybe they're hers; she's an artist apparently. You know what those Bohemians are like.'
âYou're not paid to make decisions. Just take them!' the female ordered, and Monkey could hear the sound of scraping as though something was being picked up from the floor. âAnd check out those freezers at the back,' she barked.
âYes, Ma'am,' the male voice acquiesced.
Monkey went rigid. There was a creak as the lid of the other freezer was raised. He heard rustling, then a thud as it closed again. The footsteps grew closer and stopped next to their hiding place. The air in the freezer was warm now, almost stale with their breath. He felt Angel's fingers creep across his hand and wrap themselves around it. He squeezed hers in return by way of reassurance and tried not to flinch as a bolt of pain shot through the wound on his palm. The lid of the freezer groaned upwards. Monkey couldn't bear it. He wanted to jump up and shout, “found us!” like he did with Tragic when they were young. But he didn't.
âAnything?' the female voice shouted.
The lid seemed to be raised for an eternity. They held their breaths.
âJust food,' the male voice said eventually and the lid crashed down again.
Monkey let out his breath and felt relief flood through him. He gave Angel's hand another squeeze and allowed himself a smile as he listened to the conversation between the two Security officers from the basement and what sounded like two more on the ground floor.
âAnything upstairs?' the female asked.
âThe back bedroom window's ajar and there's a load of the pre's schoolwork on the bed in there. The nurturer's room's empty.'
âNo propaganda of any sort?'
âDoes the window look like forced entry?'
âHard to tell in this light.'
âDo you want us to take in the schoolwork?'
âNo. We've found what looks like providers' clothing in the cellar; we'll take that to forensics and send a team out in the morning to collect the rest. Do we know how the door came to be open?'
A fourth voice spoke, âYes, Ma'am. The post-nurturer next door says a pre-breeder came round earlier and she let him in. And we've also issued her with a summons for misappropriation of electricity.'
âGood.' There was a pause, then the female continued. âBring her in for questioning; she probably knows more than she's letting on. You - find out who the pre-breeder was that was snooping round. And, you, stand guard at the front until we've cleared the house and checked for prints in the morning.'
There was a muttering of “Yes, Ma'ams” before they heard the door at the top of the steps close, then the distant sound of the back door slamming. After a while, the brakes of the stealth hissed and it went silently on its way.
The house was quiet. Monkey and Angel stayed still; listening.
When he was certain that the house was empty, Monkey whispered, âYou OK?'
âYeah,' Angel said. âNow what do we do?'
Monkey shuffled round until his back was against the front of the freezer and his feet could extend out through the hole at the back. He pressed them against the wall and slowly stretched his legs, pushing the freezer away from the brickwork and creating a space for them to escape. Still cautious, the two of them tiptoed up the steps and out into the relative light of the kitchen.
âPhew!' breathed Angel, looking from the back door to the front. âNow, how do we get out of here?'
âWe go out the back, through the pre-school grounds and over the fences,' Monkey replied. âBut first,' his eyes scanned the kitchen, âwe find what we came for.'
Angel's face set. âWhich is?'
âEvidence of where Tradge has gone.'
She folded her arms and glared at him. âAre you mocking me?'
âNuh-huh,' said Monkey, distractedly. âWhat's the point of surviving all that if we just give up and go home?'
Angel turned on her ring-cam. âHave you any idea what time it is?'
âNope.' Monkey was already halfway up the stairs. âSometime between curfew and shutdown, I'd guess.' When Angel didn't follow him, he returned to the top of the stairs and looked down at her. âGive me ten minutes - OK? If I haven't found anything in that time, we'll leave. Deal?'
Angel sighed and followed him reluctantly. âFine.'
He went straight into Tragic's bedroom. There on the bed, as the Security officer had said, were e-screens and books, along with some papers. Angel began going though the drawers and cupboards while Monkey tipped out Tragic's backpack and began rummaging through the debris of his friend's life.
âThis is weird,' Angel commented. âIt doesn't feel right to be going through his stuff like this.'
Monkey agreed with her but was not going to admit as much. âHas to be done,' he said, rather more harshly than he'd intended. He was annoyed with himself. It had been an act of lunacy bringing her here. He'd endangered her life - and her freedom. And why? Because he'd got the hots for her! What had started as a ploy to make a bond and try to ensure that she chose him after he'd graduated, had almost got them both arrested and had practically guaranteed that she'd never look at him again.
He gave an almost imperceptible shake as though trying to rid himself of such thoughts and focus on the more burning questions: what had his friend got himself involved in? Why was there a dummy freezer in the cellar? Who had it been designed to hide? And, more worryingly: why was Security trying to find Tragic and Jane and what sort of propaganda had they been looking for in Tragic's room? None of it made any sense. Monkey had thought that Tragic had simply been trying to evade graduation, but there was something more sinister going on, of that he was sure.