“It’s hard to know.” Parker said, rubbing their face as they stared at another small street on the computer screen, “The roads I crossed were deserted. I don’t think it was that far to the river.”
Trying to recall the night that they had escaped from the Authority was proving way more difficult than they thought it would be. It felt like every detail of the night had been burned into their brain and yet they were struggling to figure out where their prison had been. In reality, the parts of the night that stood out in their mind were the feelings of terror and hope. They hadn’t really thought to look around. Their only thought had been to get to the river, to put as much distance between themselves and their captors as was possible.
“How did you know you were close to the river?” Dakota asked as he looked over Parker’s shoulder.
“In the spring, the workers had been worried about flooding. I heard them talking to each other about what would happen if the river got any higher.” Colour rose to Parker’s cheeks and they started clicking to zoom out on the computer screen.
Dakota noticed Parker’s agitation, but didn’t comment. “Let’s take a snack break and then start back at the beginning.” He stood up, stretched and walked to the kitchen. Reluctantly, Parker threw one last glance at the screen and then followed.
“How did you actually escape from the Authority anyway?” Dakota asked with a frown as he pushed things around in the cupboard looking for something to snack on.
A long sigh escaped from Parker’s lips and they inwardly cringed at the idea of telling the story. It was a story that they usually tried to block from their mind. Well, really, they didn’t think of their time with the Authority at all if they could help it. “I pretended to be sick.” they mumbled not meeting Dakota’s eye.
He looked thoughtful for a moment. “How did that help you escape?”
For a minute Parker imagined themselves running from the kitchen and barricading themselves in their room. It was almost as if it took a physical effort to even let themselves think back to what they had seen and experienced. “The experiments they did on us made a lot of the kids really sick.” The words came out in a rush, as though the speed would make them hurt less. “I never got to see the other kids, but I could hear them yell, cry and then go quiet. I could hear the scientists talking about the symptoms. I could hear them trying to save the kids when they stopped breathing and sometimes I could hear them getting rid of the bodies.” Dakota was standing as if frozen in the middle of the kitchen, one hand still in the cupboard, the other clutching a box of spaghetti.
“As more kids died, they tried less hard to save the ones that got sick. There was a point where the workers gave up because it seemed like no matter what they did, the kids would just die.”
“So, one night, I pretended that I was dying. I acted out the different symptoms, hoping that they would move me to a different room and that I’d be able to escape when they thought I was dead.”
Parker paused to catch their breath. Their heart was racing as though they were running a marathon and their hands were shaking, but now that they’d started the story, they couldn’t stop. “It didn’t work. They didn’t move me anywhere, but they did leave my door open. As time went by, they checked on me less often. They just gave up on me.” Parker could still hear their voices in their mind.
“This one will be gone by morning.”
“It’s a shame, I thought maybe they would be one to make it.”
“There’s so few left now, we’ll be looking for new jobs soon.”
Anger burned in their chest and they wanted to cry and scream as the voices of the workers crept through their mind. Instead they just kept talking. “My door was open and the hallway was quiet and I just ran for it. I had no idea where I was going. First, I went the wrong way, but came to a room…” A dry sob shook their body as they remembered the cupboard jammed full of stuff. Their backpack was in there, and all the stuff from all the kids they had taken.
Somehow they found their voice and kept going, “The room was being used like a cupboard. I got shoes in there and found a headlamp before I ran back the other way.” They had never thought how lucky they had been to get those shoes. The shoes were a bit too big and looked like they were some fancy sports shoes, but without them they would have been running along the river bank in their socks. “I heard voices that I thought were coming towards me, so I shoved myself into a passageway that was kind of blocked off. It was crumbled in places and so narrow that I could barely fit through. But, I just kept going. I thought it was better to die in that stone tunnel then to go back to my prison cell.”
“Eventually, I got to a place where there was like a metal hatch. At first, I thought it was a dead end.” For a second the memory of it literally took Parker’s breath away. They remembered pushing on the metal with all their might, but it didn’t even budge an inch. There was no way they were going to move it. “When I was trying to push it open, I fell on some crumbled rocks and felt water. There was a trickle of water from a spot where the riverbank had shifted and the ground had moved. I still don’t really know how, but somehow I managed to pull myself up through that narrow crack in the ground. Then I ran.”
A profound silence fell over the room. Parker felt a strange kind of peace settle over them. In a way, it was good to have the story out in the room instead of festering inside of them.
“Geez Parker.” Dakota finally said, grabbing a can of soda out of the fridge and tossing it to them. “You’re one tough kid.”
“Thanks.” Parker opened the soda and chugged it.
Dakota filled a bowl with chips and they sat at the counter eating them together for a few minutes. “You know, I think we’ve been approaching this all wrong.” he said with his mouth full. “We should be looking at the river, instead of the roads. That’s what you’re more likely to recognize.”
With an effort Parker tried to pull themselves into the conversation. “What? How is that supposed to help? The river always just looks like the river.”
“Oh, so you don’t remember anything about that overpass that almost killed you?” Dakota asked, not bothering to suppress a look of triumph.
“I remember it,” Parker answered, not understanding where this was supposed to go, “It was a big ugly piece of cement.”
Digging around for a moment in the kitchen drawer, Dakota pulled out the tablet that Esme used for recipes and brought it to life. “Here’s a map of the Assiniboine river,” he said, zooming in on the Forks Market then slowly moving west. “The overpass that almost killed you had to be either here, at the Maryland bridge. Here, at the Legislative buildings, or at Donald St just before the Market.”
A smile crossed Parker’s face for the first time that day. “I went under 3 bridges.” Their finger traced along the river. “That means that the first one I passed under was at the Leg, which means that I wasn’t downtown at all!”
They had been scouring the streets in the wrong area. That was why nothing fit. The place they were looking for was somewhere between the Maryland St bridge and Osborne St. “Big, rich houses, huge yards,” Parker mumbled to themselves as they tried to make sense of the map in front of them.
“Should we go back to the big screen on the computer?” Dakota asked, but Parker didn’t answer, they were zooming in and out, trying to remember what they’d seen that night.
“It’s gotta be here.” Parker said, finally looking up from the tablet. “No where else makes sense.”
Dakota’s eyes widened a little in surprise, “The Gates? I guess that’s definitely big houses and huge yards.” He gently took the tablet from Parker and zoomed into the neighbourhood.
“You’re sure that you started on the North side of the river? There’s big houses across the way too.”
“It was definitely this side of the river.” At least there were some things they could be sure of, “I didn’t cross to the other side until I washed up at the Forks.” It all seemed like some kind of movie they had watched when they talked about it now. Emotional exhaustion washed over them as they watched Dakota throw a couple of sandwiches together.
“I guess we should have more than just chips.” He said, tossing Parker’s sandwich onto a plate, but carrying his into the other room. Parker was still staring at the tablet looking at a street side view of where they had been held prisoner. Hoping for some kind of aha moment that would pinpoint their exact location. They flipped from street to street, but each looked as unfamiliar as the next.
“Parker.” Dakota said loudly and they snapped back into reality. “I’m going to go and find out where I can find a public computer to try to send this to your mom. I also got a text from Jerry and might have to stop in at work. Esme will be home at regular time.”
Parker left their sandwich untouched and stood to watch as Dakota put on his jacket and boots. “What if it isn’t enough?” They asked in a small voice.
Looking up, Dakota smiled and took a step towards them, patting them awkwardly on the shoulder. “You did great.” he said in a voice that had the same mix of gruff and kind that Tiger had on a good day. “Your mom’s smart and she’s got something going on. We have to trust that it’s enough because it’s what we’ve got.”
Parker watched him walk out the door, feeling their heart contract and all the air in the room leave with him. They didn’t want to wait or to trust, they just wanted to go home.