the walls are shaking again. the rumbling sound rumbles over us… rumble rumble. i remember being scared of the rumble when I was little. not anymore. the rumbling passes so i pull my blanket over my head until i am cloaked in darkness and then i click on my torch.
the tiny flickering light scans over the words:
a broken power window can be an expensive repair, but if you have basic auto repair tools and access to an online service manual you can fix it yourself and save big bucks.
i have read this car repair manual 118 times. it is one of 3 books that we own. the other one is a leaflet on how to quit smoking and the other other one is a dictionary. they are not good books; they have no pictures and no characters or conversations. but I like to read. and even more than that, i like to write. i hide under my blanket (i have to when i read and write, otherwise everyone will make fun of me) and i write poems and i write in my diary and most importantly, i write stories. i sometimes write about about a girl who escapes out of the tunnels and goes to the world that’s outside.
isn’t she lucky.
in my stories, she climbs out of a hole that she finds in the roof of the tunnels. it takes her such a long time – hours, maybe even days. but when she finally escapes, she is in such a magical world. there are beautiful flowers which can talk to you (sometimes they even tell you off), there are colourful cats with big cheesy grins (and the cats can even go invisible) and there are people there that have tea parties every single day, even if doing so makes them go a bit mad.
i like to live VICARIOUSLY through these stories. (VICARIOUSLY is my favourite word at the moment which i found hiding near the end of the dictionary and so it is all the range in my stories and poems right now) i live VICARIOUSLY through the stories because my dream is to be like the girl in the stories. what i want more than anything in the world… i want to go outside.
i lower the blanket very slowly so only my head can be seen poking out. sitting at the end of my bed, a rat stares at me inquisitively. i stare back and i wonder what he is thinking.
‘why alice, you are so big!’
‘well, perhaps you are just small.’ i reply to the little rat. i am a little taken aback at his rudeness. he passes me a small bottle. the label says ‘drink me’.
i suppose if the label says i should…
suddenly i feel a funny feeling. before i know it, the tunnel walls around me are growing larger and larger and larger until suddenly i am no more than the size of… a rat.
i turn to face the rat. you will not be surprised to know that i am quite furious.
‘just who exactly do you think you are, shrinking me down like that?’ i ask him. i do my best to be polite but it is quite hard.
‘well alice, i’m sorry but i do think that you were just obnoxiously big before.’
i am about to lecture the rat on his terrible manners and perhaps give him some advice on proper etiquette when suddenly:
i am whirled back to reality with a gasp as i hear its final squeak and its little bones crack as lorna stomps on it with her trainers. a pool of blood creeped out slowly, slowly, slowly. she lifts her shoe to show parts of his little body stuck to the sole. i look up at her in horror.
she has a cruel and evil grin plastered across her face. she is much older than me but everyone says we look exactly the same; we both have enormous, glowing eyes. the only difference between me and my sister is that she has long brown hair and mine is blonde. she sucks on a cigarette, leaving a red lipstick ring around the end. she coughs and splutters and then flicks it on the ground, kicking it toward me along with the rat guts.
‘why did you do that?’ i ask her, but i secretly hope she doesn’t answer in case i start crying. she just laughs and walks away.
i try to get back under my blanket but now all i can think about is the dead rat lying next to my bed and so i get up and run away, rushing past the little body and making sure i don’t look at it.
‘lorna wait!’ i call out.
‘what is it, i’m busy.’ she doesn’t look very busy at all.
‘did you go outside today?’
lorna rolls her eyes at me and plops down onto a cushion on the floor. ‘so what if i did.’
‘i just want to hear about it.’
she looks at me angrily. ‘alice, you know you can’t go up there until you’re eighteen. get over it.’
‘please just tell me what it’s like.’
she sat forward, her big blue eyes staring soullessly into mine. ‘it’s full of evil people. if you go up there, people will try to lock you away or worse, try to kill you. they lie to you and steal from you. trust me, you’re better off down here.’
‘but no one has ever locked you away or tried to kill you. if it’s so dangerous, why do you always go up there?’
‘alice, you know why we have to go up there, how else are we meant to get food. and people don’t try to kill me because i’m old enough and smart enough to be safe.’
she looks me up and down. ‘you wouldn’t last two minutes.’
‘but what if i was really careful…’
‘alice if you don’t drop it then i’m going to tell dad you were asking about it again.’
upon that threat, i feel myself grow pale. i stop asking immediately and scurry back to my bed, hiding under the covers once more and squeezing my eyes shut as tight as i possibly can so i don’t have to think about the dead rat or my dad or lorna at all, not even a little tiny bit.
i have a secret!
you have three guesses.
ok ok fine i will just tell you… i’m going outside! can you believe it?
here’s what happened:
lorna and all the people who are allowed to go outside get there by climbing up a ladder through a hole in the tunnel roof. (i know what you’re thinking. if i wanted to go outside so badly, why didn’t i just sneak out through the hole? well i never could because it is locked shut with an enormous padlock, so please stop interrupting me.) so anyway, when i was looking for biscuits in the food storage the other day i accidentally overheard lorna talking with the boss. the boss is normally the one who looks after the key. he keeps it hidden away in a secret place that no one (and i mean NO ONE) knows about. but then the other day when i was hunting for biscuits i heard him tell lorna where he keeps it.
so… i stole it.
now it is the middle of the night. everyone else is fast asleep and i am packing a bag. i am bringing with me:
my diary and a pen
bottle of water
i put my bag on my back and silently tiptoe past all the sleeping bodies. as i get further and further away, the tunnel becomes darker and damper. holding my torch in my hand, i shine the light in front of me so i can navigate my way around the puddles in my path ahead. i can hear the scurry of rats somewhere nearby and wonder if they are friends of the one lorna killed. maybe the dead rat’s ghost is even living VICARIOUSLY through his friends. finally, i reach the ladder.
i stare up to the roof of the tunnel. i am so excited, my heart feels like it will break my chest at any moment. i take one last look behind me, hoping to see the sleeping figures of my friends and family, but i am too far away. all i can see is darkness. so before i can talk myself out of it, i start to make my way up the ladder. when i reach the top, i put my torch between my teeth and reach into my pocket for the silver key that will unlock the enormous padlock. click. i can barely contain my excitement and let out an involuntary squeal as i push open the entrance.
it takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the light; even though it is night time here, it is still much brighter than i am used to in the tunnels. fearful of being seen, i quickly crawl out of the hole and replace the metal door in the ground before running to hide down the side of a building. i rub my eyes as hard as i can and look around me. slowly the light stops hurting my eyes so i take my chances and walk into the open road. the first glorious thing that catches my eye is a tree. i trail my fingers across the wood and reach up to feel the leaves. i picture it in daytime when the sun is out and imagine how beautiful it would look then. i pull a leaf off of the tree and bring it close, breathing in the bitter smell. this is when i notice the air. i take a deep breath and it feels like my lungs are getting cleaner. i have to clasp tightly onto the tree because of how dizzy it makes me.
suddenly a load roar sends me running out of the road and back into hiding down the side of the buildings. i peek out to see what could have caused the terrible noise and recognise instantly the metal monster that wizzes past me. a car! i dance with glee and rush back out into the road and begin to skip deeper into the city.
there is no one here. it is so late at night, they must all be asleep. i have the whole world to myself.
there are no smiling invisible cats and no flowers that scold me. there are no tea parties hosted by mad people or white rose bushes painted red. but there are smells and colours and flashing lights and metal monsters and there’s a sky with stars and a moon.
and i think that i would rather have the moon.