This story is by Aurelia Lye-Cull and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The gates slammed shut, their rattling echoing on for miles. Reverberating against the sturdy walls, breaking through, surfacing and skimming across the ocean, passing countries, and finding…
Home. It was all Piper could think about. The house she had so desperately wanted to leave, was now the house she would give anything just to be in. What’s more, she would be there, if not for her persistence about going on the expedition. At least staying home, the seemingly boring option, was safe. Now, she was stuck here with no one but her friend Louis, and people they had met along the way. Lily, Nate…they were her new “family”.
Piper had felt homesickness before, but never this crushing. Agonizing, ripping apart her soul, bleeding from the inside. The room was cold and desolate, her “family” were locked up in other cells and they were separated by thick, rocky walls. She gently brushed a hand against it. Perfectly solidified. Then she stared around at her bare room. Stripped like a clothless manekin. Isolation, in this wretched blackness, was her destiny.
She wobbled as she slowly stood up, ankles still throbbing from the ropes bound tightly around her feet, keeping her trapped. She tapped the walls around her, praying for a trapdoor. A window. A miracle. Just some way to escape this stifling trap. She could not make a noise. The people would come. The people would hear. The knife would slit across her throat, withdrawn dripping crimson with fresh blood. A final breath would escape, lingering in the cell, mingling with the stale air forever encased within the impenetrable walls. And just like that, the light will flicker before surrendering, into the black claws of death.
Piper fidgeted, considering her options. Anything noisy was definitely out, but didn’t that forbade everything? Except for a soulless eternity of isolation? Unless she could make some noise, but sneak out quick enough so all that could be seen was a deserted room?
She would need either a window, or a hole in the wall. Either one would send water gushing in when she escapes. It would definitely not be a subtle feat. Yet somehow she would need to make it out and take three people with her on time. Three walls to break.
With a struggle, she pulled her backpack closer and rummaged around to find her materials, with only a slight twist in her ankles. She bit back a scream as the ropes gripped on even tighter, and tried to decide what would help her escape. After long mundane hours of idle sitting in her cell, her active brain needed another challenge. And this was just the task. She already felt the wheels turning and gears clicking in her mind as she began the captivating journey from problem to solution. Harnessing her past experiences and years of learning, she focused hard, until she finally found a sliver of a solution.
The first two obstacles were the locked gate and the rope. Piper was confident she could work the lock to open the gate. She stared at the rope bound tightly around her ankles, biting into her flesh with a death grip. The pain was so intense, it seared through her ankles and made it hard to breathe. She ran her fingers across the knots, not taking long to identify the type. Then, she went about in what she remembered as the quickest and most effective way to untie that type of knot. Her fingers worked deftly, and at some point she could feel blisters forming on her fingertips. Wincing, she grit her teeth, refusing to give up. As the minutes went by and turned into hours, the darkness seemed to intensify, though it was impossible to know if it really was or cabin fever was creeping in and highlighting every worry that encased her in this suffocatingly small and dark room.
At one point she nearly gave up, she had never faced such a massive challenge in her entire life. But the fear of isolation for her and her friends pushed her to continue. Sweat drenched her face, and the skin on her fingers was bright red and raw, but she could feel it in her blood. She was this close.
At last both knots released and the rope fell to one side as she gasped for air, her chest and fingers burning. She coughed and gently ran her finger along her blistered and scarred ankles before slowly staggering to her feet, struggling to keep her balance. She forced deep relieved breaths into her weary lungs. Leaning against a wall, she tested her ankles, and allowed herself to smile, just for a few moments. She was that step closer to escaping.
Now, she had to find a way to pick the locks and bust out quickly. If someone came and discovered the ropes were undone, she would be in huge trouble. She took two pins from the inside pocket of her backpack and crept towards the bars, staring hard at the lock and trying to make sense of the challenge and break it down into somewhat manageable steps. Passive thinking made her fidgety, and each time fog clouded her mind and drained her, she would remember home. Then she would open her eyes and stare at the depressingly dark and empty room she was trapped in, and her chest would tighten. She would take a shuddery deep breath, and then refocus her mind, reminding herself that the quicker she snapped back her attention, the quicker she would be back at her favourite place in the world, home.
When she managed to break out, the alarm blared loudly in her ears, rattling her bones and brain. She forced air into her lungs and sharpened her concentration, which was hard when she felt so overwhelmed. The lights were so glaringly bright after having been trapped in the dingy cell, and the alarm was giving her a splitting migraine. Gasping for breath, she ran to the cells she knew her friends were in and banged on their prison bars to get their attention, praying that they had already undone their ropes.
“Quick! We need to leave!” she screamed over the alarm, heart racing. As luck would have it, the nearby guardstation was empty and there was a small table with…keys? Piper blindly grabbed the keys and frantically worked on undoing the locks. Once that was done, she kicked the bars open and motioned for them to join her immediately. Nate had difficulties with his ropes, but he’d at least loosened them a bit and Piper found that her own experience thankfully made figuring out the pattern of his far easier than she had feared. Breathing quickly, she then grabbed their wrists with a death grip, and sprinted out.
The way out was long and windy, almost like a maze. There were also lots of obstacles, and the further she progressed, the more Piper felt like she was in one of those fast-paced obstacle course games, desperately trying to dodge the pitfalls and escape. To begin with there were just boxes and spare handcuffs to be wary of, but then the levels got harder and they had to sneak past actual people, from those serving food, to the burly security guards barricading them from freedom. The screaming alarm covered their noises, and there were surprisingly fewer guards searching for them than she anticipated.
Only once she was very near the exit did she suddenly remember with a gasp that the prison was underwater, so they would have to hold their breaths and swim until they reached the surface, if they even reached the surface on time. It chilled Piper to think this escape could be all for nothing and they could very well die out there, but she had to give it a chance. A tiny chance of freedom, of going home, was better than giving in and dying isolated in that cell.
The agile group ducked, jumped, swerved and sprinted, never stopping no matter how weak their limbs felt or how badly their chest hurt. As they got closer, a security guard grabbed Piper, but she quickly aimed and kicked him hard and he dropped her, howling in pain, until Louis knocked him unconscious with the butt of his own gun. Thoughts swirling, she did not take a moment to rest before getting back to her feet and zooming on.
At last they reached the entrance, but had to wait a few more agonizing moments for Piper’s trembling fingers to undo the lock. A whole gang of guards were yelling and running hard to surround them by the time Piper and Louis managed to close the isolation door and heave the hatch open. With barely a moment to glance at each other, all four filled their lungs and swam off into the ocean without hesitation, breath held, propelling themselves ahead.
They had made it out.
But would they make it to the surface on time?