The Curfew Breakers

June 5, 2008
By Michelle Hertel, Whitehall, PA

They ran through the empty streets of the silent city, occasionally looking behind them, making sure that they weren’t being followed. The two friends ran hand-in-hand, running as far away as they could. The only thing on either of their minds was to run, to get away. And, of course, they were both thinking of what had brought them to this, to flee the city they both called home.

“I never though one night could change everything,” panted the boy when they decided it was safe to stop for a quick breather. “I mean, one day everything’s perfectly normal, and now we’re running for our lives.”

“I know,” agreed the girl, breathing more easily. “Do you think your parents have realized your gone yet, Paul? I know mine have.”

“If they don’t know now, they’ll know soon enough.” He paused, then spoke quickly and harshly, remembering what his friend had said, “How do you know that your folks have figured out you’re gone?”

“They’ve called me like five times,” said the girl, holding up her cell phone.

“Give me that!” shouted Paul. He snatched the phone out of her hand and threw it with all his might down the deserted alleyway. “Jess, don’t you realize that they could track us with your phone?”

“I didn’t think of that, Paul. I’m sorry. We’d better get moving again. We’ve been standing still long enough for them to get the signal from my phone.”
Paul nodded and grabbed Jess’s hand again. They took off down the street again, urged on by the faint sounds of sirens emanating from the inner city.


Paul and Jess were walking with a group of their friends, roaming through the dimly lit city streets and alleys, talking and laughing like most teenagers did. They walked around the city’s maze of sidewalks easily, their feet carrying them wherever they wanted to go. Most of the group had lived in the inner city for their entire lives, and knew every alley and every turn of the city. In fact, they probably knew the city better than most of the policemen in the city.
Slowly, the group dwindled. Everyone knew, only too well, that anyone who wasn’t in their house by curfew was arrested and put in jail for a short period of time. But everyone also knew that people arrested for missing curfew never came back, even after their short jail time was finished. After a while, Jess, Paul and their friends Jane and Mike were the only ones left from their group.

“Guys, its already 9:37!” said Mike nervously. Curfew hit at 10:00 exactly, and it was still a twenty-five minute walk to everyone’s houses. They quickened their paces, terrified of missing curfew. They got to Jane’s house first, so she said good night to everyone, and they continued on their way. They were nearing the neighborhood that Mike, Jess, and Paul lived in when the bell rang to announce that everyone had to be in their house. The three friends looked at each other in terror, and broke into a dead sprint toward their houses. Jess got to her house first, and hurriedly opened the door, wishing Mike and Paul good luck and shutting the door quickly.

Paul and Mike continued to their houses-on the other side of the neighborhood. Already they could hear the sirens as the policemen made their rounds. Paul pumped his legs faster, desperate to reach his house before any policeman saw him out after curfew. Finally, Paul rounded the corner to his and Mike’s street.

“Come on, Mike!” shouted Paul. Mike was sprinting with all his might, struggling to keep up with Paul.


“Are we close yet?” panted Jess.

“See those clouds up there?” asked Paul. Jess nodded. “Those are from the waterfall there. That’s where we’re headed. We have a ways to go, but once we’re in the woods, they’ll have trouble finding us. We have to get to the waterfall so that they can’t track us.”
Jess surveyed her surroundings. The woods weren’t too far off, only about another mile. But after they got to the woods, she and Paul would have trouble finding their way to the waterfalls. And they’d need food.
Making a split decision, Jess tore her hand from Paul’s and sprinted over to a convenience store. She ran up to the glass doors and smashed it with her elbow. Jess stepped through the doorframe, careful to avoid stepping on the glass. She looked around for a second then grabbed a travel bag, usually used for carry-on bags for airplanes. Jess sprinted around the store, stuffing the bag with food and drinks. She noticed the blood dripping from her elbow where she had broken the glass, and hurried to grab a first aid kit. She could hear Paul shouting at her, so before he could get someone’s attention she grabbed a compass and hurried back out of the store.

“What the hell was that?! You could’ve gotten us killed! Hurry up, we gotta get out of here!” Paul shouted. Jess grabbed his hand, ignoring the stabbing pain in her elbow as she did so and they started running again.
They ran all night that night, terrified of being caught by the police the entire time. Finally, Jess and Paul made it to the forest, just as daylight was breaking. Even though they both knew they were safe for the time being, Jess and Paul continued to run, deeper and deeper into the forest.

“Paul-look there’s a cave over there. Let’s rest there for now,” suggested Jess.
Paul nodded, and they made their way to the cave. The cave was small, only about five feet deep and six feet tall, but it was good enough for them to rest for a little while. Paul opened the bag Jess had filled with food and took out the first aid kit.

“Let me see your arm, Jess,” he said grimly. She held out her arm, wincing as the cuts on her elbow stung. Paul sighed and pulled the gauze and tape out of the kit. Jess looked around at the forest while Paul dressed her wounds, looking anywhere but her elbow, since blood make her light-headed. “There!” announced Paul. “All done.”

“Thanks. Do you want some food and water?”

“Do I ever! There’s nothing like running for a few straight hours to get you hungry and thirsty!” Jess laughed, glad that Paul hadn’t lost his sense of humor with all that had happened in the last two days.


Mike was sprinting with all his might, struggling to keep up with Paul. Then, several things happened all at once. Mike tripped and fell to the pavement, falling hard on his wrist. Paul reached the patio of his house, ready to sprint into safety. Worst of all, a siren turned on, and it was just around the corner.
Mike struggled to his feet and limped to Paul’s porch, his feet dragging, desperate to make it the last few yards. He was clutching his wrist, and in the dim light cast from the streetlamps, Paul could see tears sparkling on Mike’s face. Paul turned to go into his house, scared of getting caught, then felt a surge of guilt for even thinking about abandoning his friend to the mercy of the policemen. He turned and ran into the street to help Mike into his house.

“No,” whispered Mike. “It’s bad enough I’m getting caught, I won’t have you getting killed too.”

“You won’t be killed,” said Paul feebly. No one was entirely sure what happened to those who never returned after a missed curfew.

“You hear that siren?” demanded Mike. “It’s getting closer. Get out of here.”
Paul shook his head and helped his friend off the street and behind a bush. “If you won’t come to my house, at least let me try to help you, okay?”

“Fine. I won’t move,” promised Mike. Paul nodded and turned to leave. “And Paul? Don’t let anything happen to Jess. Whatever happens to me, don’t let anything happen to her.”

“I won’t,” promised Paul, crossing his heart before turning and sprinting into his house.


The next morning, Paul and Jess set out again, using the compass to guide them toward the falls. Even though they were safe in the woods, both Paul and Jess were anxious to get to the waterfalls so they could disappear to the other side of the river. The woods, excellent for hiding in, were not so great for moving quickly. Paul and Jess spent much more time than they wanted to stepping around tree stumps and over rocks to avoid tripping and falling. They hiked all day long, and yet there was no sign that they had gotten any closer to the waterfall.


“I won’t,” promised Paul, crossing his heart before turning and sprinting into his house. Paul took one last glance at Mike before shutting his door-just as the policeman turned onto his street. Paul hurried to his window and looked on the street, cracking the window as much as he dared to listen.
At first, it seemed that the policeman hadn’t noticed Mike. He drove right past the bush, but he must have glanced at his rear-view mirror and seen him standing in the bush, trying to blend in. The policeman slammed on his brakes and jumped out of his car, pulling his gun from his holster and pointing it at Mike’s head.

“Step forward with you hands held high!” shouted the policeman, not lowering his gun. Mike held his hands up and stepped into the light. The policeman holstered his gun and stepped forward to arrest Mike. Mike suddenly launched forward and slammed his shoulder into the policeman’s stomach. The policeman doubled over in pain and Mike took advantage of the man’s pain to hobble down the street as fast as his twisted ankle would allow.
Paul watched, horrified, as the policeman stood and pulled out his gun. “STOP! Or I shoot!” he shouted. Mike froze. The policeman walked over to him, grabbing his wrists roughly and handcuffing them tightly. He ignored as Mike protested, trying to say that his wrist was injured.

“No! Let me go! I would have made it home in time for curfew if I hadn’t tripped and hurt my wrist and twisted my ankle! No! Let go of me! Help! No! NO!” Mike shouted for help, but no one could argue with a policeman, or they’d disappear too.

“Alright, kid,” began the officer, pausing in the street, “You have two choices. One: you tell me who else missed curfew that you know of. Two: I shoot you. Right here right now. Make your choice.”

“I’m not telling you anything!” said Mike harshly. The policeman pulled out his gun again. He made Mike kneel on the street and pointed it straight at his heart. “Alright. ALRIGHT! I’ll tell you!” Paul couldn’t believe it. Mike was going to sell him and Jess out. “There were two others! Their names were Paul Harmon and Jess Case. They both live in this neighborhood! We all got home after curfew.”

“Where do they live? And where do you live?”

“I live down this street, 79 West Rocky Avenue. Paul lives on East Rocky Avenue-I don’t know the number! And Jess lives on Florida Drive-I don’t know her number either. I’m sorry.”
The policeman grabbed Mike by the top of his arm and dragged him to the cop car. He threw him into the back seat and drove away. Paul hurried downstairs and called Jess to warn her. The next morning they met and acted like they were walking to school just like every other day. Instead-they ran.


After several more days of hiking through dense greenery of the forest, Paul and Jess could finally hear what-for them-was the sound of hope, the sound of a new, safe future. The roar of the waterfall grew louder as they neared it, until they were so close that they could even see the clouds of vapor rising above the waterfalls.

“We’re here!” said Paul with relief, turning and smiling at Jess. “We’re safe.” Jess smiled back at Paul, and hugged him tightly.

“I couldn’t have done it without you, Paul!” she whispered. “But we’re not safe yet. Come on! I’ve always wanted to go swimming in a river!” Jess and Paul laughed together. They looked, not toward the waterfall, but toward the river that led away from the waterfall. Paul and Jess hurried to the river and, after one last glance back toward the city, its skyscrapers barely peeking out over the treetops, they leapt into the river, into their new lives, letting the river carry them away.

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