The Countdown. Short Story.

My weekend was pretty boring. I finished up the antibiotics on Friday, so I’m hoping it’s done with. My throat is slightly sore, but I’m not sure if I’m just really, really paranoid. I’m hoping I am.

On with the show!


They ran. There was nothing else they could do.

Hand in hand they dodged people in the crowded streets, ignoring the cries and shouts of indignation, they slipped through side alleys and raced down boulevards. They had to reach the gates, before word spread of her escape, before they sealed the city. If the gate were closed they were both dead. It would be by firing squad if they were lucky, if unlucky, slow and drawn out, they might be made fight to the dead. He squeezed her hand tightly, not wanting to lose his grip. They couldn’t be separated.

They were just ahead, large, imposing doors. The doors were made of some unknown substance they were the purest white, almost glowing in the afternoon sun. They looked heavy, but he knew they could swing closed in a matter of seconds, he had seen it before, when others had tried to run. The gates were still now, the guards looked as though they didn’t much care what was happening. They wouldn’t look twice at the young couple running. It was none of their concern, they’d think they were just a couple running from their parents and eloping, or a couple out for an afternoon of exploring the outside. They made it through the gates and continued on the stone path, running until they could run no more.

“We should get off the path, they’ll follow it when they look for us.” “You’re right, we can slip off, just wait a little longer, until we can’t see the city.” She nodded, they were walking now, trying to blend in with the others. The people here were returning home, to one of the suburbs nearby, they lived close enough that they didn’t need transportation. Three city gates, one for processions, one for automobiles and one for foot traffic. They scanned anything moving through the Auto-gate, keeping records, foot transportation was mostly ignored, though the cameras in the city would trace them to it. The procession gate was always closed, except on coronation days or when important dignitaries came to visit.

Soon they reached the woods, an area four miles wide had been cleared of foliage around the walls, so no one could sneak up on the city. Once they reached the woods they slipped off into the trees, gaining a few disapproving glances from some of the workers. It was a little jarring, stepping from the moving path onto solid ground, he always forgot how fast it moved. They had come almost five miles in fifteen minutes. They  moved quickly, the deeper they were the harder they’d be to track down. “Where are we going to go?” “I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought that far. I didn’t even really think we’d get out of the city.” “We’ll have to get out of the system, once we cross the border we’ll be clear of them. I don’t know much but I could give them information, they’ll let us through.” He nodded, good, that was good. He had some money, but not enough to bribe their way by. “I heard that there are a few houses around here, not much, but they’re mostly left alone. They might be willing to help. They were all marked as potential up risers.” “Won’t they get in trouble?” “The city was planning on moving against them soon. We won’t make it any worse for them.” “Shouldn’t we warn them?” “They won’t believe us and if they do, they’ll just report us in hopes that they’ll be spared.” He sighed, she was right and he knew it, but it still pained him. He didn’t want people to die because of them, but they needed to get out.

They had walked for four hours before stopping. They reached a small village, fifteen houses, a village that didn’t exist on any maps. “We should go in, look for food or shelter.” “No, I don’t like this place. The city would know if it and if they knew, I’d know. They made me study the surrounding area. This is probably a base for them.” They had skirted it carefully, and then rested in a small grove. It was getting darker and she started to shiver. He pulled her against him. “Do…Do you want to talk about it?” She shook her head. “I’m here if you do.” She leaned into him, “I know.” They began to doze.

He didn’t know how much time had passed when she woke him, shaking him frantically. “What’s wrong? Is someone out there?” “No. It’s not it’s started.” “What’s started?” “The countdown.” Tears were streaming down her face. “What? When?” “I don’t know, I woke up at fifteen. I don’t know when it started.” “Shit. Shit what do we do?” “I don’t know. Ten.” “Why didn’t you wake me sooner?” “I thought it might stop I thought that I could stop it somehow. You have to run, you have to get away from me.” “No, I’m not going anywhere. We’ll figure something out. We will.” “Nine.” He smiled and kissed her gently. “Remember when we met?”

They had been nine, in line to get vaccinations and he started to cry. He didn’t like needles, he never liked them. His mother had scolded him, telling him to stop being a baby, but not her, she started to talk to him. Distracting him from what was happening. They talked for an hour and he had forgotten all about the needles. When it was his turn for the vaccination she watched him, smiling encouragingly. He didn’t cry, he stayed strong for her. It was two years before they met again. There had been an outbreak of the Bots, they both caught milder versions. They met in the treatment centre, this time trading contact info. They had been inseparable after that, spending most of their time together. His parents disapproved of it all, told him he shouldn’t be getting involved with one of the Pawns, but her parents had been welcoming to him, treating him as a second child.

They had known it was coming, she had been going to lessons for years and the day she turned 18 she was taken. He couldn’t just leave her, he had heard stories of what would happen to her, from those radical groups. So he decided he’d break her out. It was the only thing he could do.

It had been surprisingly simple, they had walked out of the place, she had gotten a day pass with ease. The entire time he expected to be captured, he never thought they’d get away with it. He had regretted getting mood hair at that point. It kept rippling to light purple, luckily most of the staff were old, they didn’t keep up with the fashion trends, a few that noticed just thought it was because of the guards.

They held onto each other tightly, waiting for it to happen. “two.” She looked at him, fear in her smile, eyes brimming with blood,  one drop began to roll down her cheek. She began to shiver uncontrollably, she coughed a mist of blood which settled onto his face. “One. Thank you for trying.” Tears began to roll down his face, he wasn’t sure if she was still crying or not, the blood made twin tracks on her face. He nodded, unable to speak. He held her tighter. She gasped, “zero.” And their world became white.

The city trembled, his glass tipped and rolled off the table, shattering on the marble tiles. “Right on schedule. Is everyone ready to mobilise?” “Yes your Honour.” “Good. Give it a few moments, then send them out, the communications grid had been taken off line. Kill some citizens. Destroy a few buildings.” His assistant nodded, then left the room. Perfect. It was a brilliant plan, he could now openly attack Free Zone 93, just across the border from them. Everyone would believe the story of the attack, he made sure everything was perfect down to the last detail. The bomb was even one of theirs, it was difficult to smuggle across, but he had managed. The citizens would fight back most of the dead guards that were found would be wearing Free Zone uniforms. He turned on the television and watched the emergency broadcast.


About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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