November 3, 2012
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Pounding feet, pumping arms, whirling mind. That’s all I am now. I tear through the forest, running blindly. I’m on autopilot as I try to figure out how they found me. I was supposed to be safe, at least for a little while, at the old mine. No sane person would venture into the ancient, crumbling buildings filled with rusting metal and wild animals. Unless, of course, you’re one of us. And you know what the past protects.

I return to the present as the path beings to level out. In the dark of night, it’s hard to make out what’s directly in front of me. When I realize what it is, I stop moving completely. No, I think to myself. Please, no.

How could I have not noticed which way I was going? I know this mountain better than those who have spent their entire lives here. I should have known not to turn that corner, come this way… But there’s no going back now. I can’t hear them behind me, but I’m sure they are there. I force myself onto the narrow path, and complete terror, far worse than what I was already experiencing, engulfs me. Don’t think about it, I tell myself. Don’t do it…

But I can’t stop myself. Grave Digger. The name of this evil trail tastes foul in my thoughts. The thought of the countless people that have perished on this winding path makes me hesitate and I almost trip. Just one false step, an unexpected rock, then tumbling down, down, down. Gone forever.

I can’t move too fast. That I know. At least I also know they can’t pursue me too quickly, weighted down by their heavy weapons and Hunting Beasts. I’m much faster, much smaller, much lighter. What I carried from the mine weighs next to nothing, and is silent in my bag. Despite the feat that still runs through my veins, I’m sure-footed. Once again, my body runs on autopilot.

My whirling thoughts float to the black bag bouncing on my hip. It’s essential that I protect the contents it conceals, from both weather and those pursuing me. The books will be safe from the elements in my military-grade bag, as it’s water-, fire-, and bullet-proof. However, if my pursuers get their hands on it, they won’t have the slightest problem ripping it open and destroying the books it hides.

Back at the Government Resistance Headquarters, before all of this, they had told me of the cruelty of those we face. I knew it all already, had in fact witnessed it. But I hadn’t realized the lengths they would go to just for three books. There isn’t anything special about the copies I carry, the trilogy had been printed thousands of times and these three volumes simply sat on the bookshelf of an average person. I’m sure the plot is something the government disapproves of, but nowadays, what isn’t? I think of the titles I saw briefly before I slipped them into my bag. I’m sure I’ve read them before. The Hunger Games…

It hits me and memories come flying back. These books were really popular a few years before the new government took over. They are about a rebellious girl whose actions result in the destruction of her country’s oppressive rulers. I remember watching the movies with my friends, laughing about our celebrity crushes on the actors, arguing about how the books should have ended… I blink back tears. I can’t be thinking of those we lost at a time like this.

As I shake of my moment of weakness and remember the plot, I realize why the government wouldn’t want these particular books in the rebel’s possession. They would give us hope. And that’s something we are in short supply of at the moment. None of our operations have been going well, our numbers are rapidly decreasing, and new laws (as well as government officials to enforce them) have been making our lives of secrecy and deception much more difficult. So recently, we have stopped most of our major jobs and focused on sending spies to collect books, art, and music recordings from their hideouts, mostly old and forgotten places (like the mine). We try to get whatever we can, just to spread hope and return pieces of the old life to the rebels.

I hear a howl and snap back to attention. This isn’t good, I think. They never let their Beasts howl until they are sure of a capture. Or a kill. I push myself to fun even faster, but I know I won’t be able to go on like this for long. My mission now is to save the precious books no matter what the personal cost.

The freezing wind flares suddenly, and I shiver. The temperature is always low in these mountains, but tonight it’s worse, much worse than usual. Unfortunately, my jacket is thin and as the wind picks up, I’m shaking hard.

I’m fighting to keep myself together, just long enough to deliver the books to a safe drop-off, but it’s clear I won’t be able to make it. As I’m pushing myself forward, a sudden burst of wind wrenches the tie from my hair, and it spills down across my face and shoulders. The constant wind whips it around my head, making it impossible to see. I don’t have time to stop and pull back my hair, so it tears violently around me. I’m stumbling forward, trying not to fall from the cliff, when a dark shadow rounds a bend from behind. My head whips forward and back, both trying to see where I’m going and make sense of this funny shadow. I’m looking behind when it darts forward and lunges for my ankle.

I scream in agony as its long fangs pierce my skin. Blood flows from the deep bite, glinting in the slight moonlight. I lash out and the creature is hurled from the cliff. Its dying shriek echoes around the mountains.

I’m stumbling and shaking with the cold, not slowing down, but falling to pieces. The uneven, bloody river flowing from my ankle will leave an easy trail to the drop site where I’m trying to get the books. There’s no way out, I think hopelessly. Just no way. But I wasn’t selected for this mission for nothing. I will find a way.

My thinking is interrupted by two more furry, black Beasts. They, too, lunge for my ankles. The grab ahold of my legs and yank.

I fight to hold my balance, but the Beasts are too quick. I fall.

I’m screaming as I tumble over the side of the cliff, but I barely even notice. Every survival instinct I have is searching for something, anything, to grab onto. My hands dart out of their own accord, finding the thick gnarled branch of a wind-beaten scrub oak growing out of the mountain. With that obstacle out of the way, I’m now focusing on how to save the books. I have only about one to two minutes left before my grip relinquishes or the Beast Handlers show up to kill me. But I need to hide the books before the Handlers get here, for they will take the books from my body and dispose of them. I’m only about 20 feet from the path, so it won’t be the slightest problem for them…

I’ve decided on my plan when the Handlers come around the bend. I muster my last remaining strength and fling my bag away from me with all my might, praying desperately that the blood, still flowing freely from my ankle, won’t stain it and allow the Beasts to find it, or that my body won’t intercept it as it falls.

A wave of exhaustion sweeps through me as the bag drops out of sight. I feel my fingers release the branch as all my strength leaves me. And then I’m falling.

Down, down, down. Gone forever.

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Claire_A This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm
I seriously haven't commented on this yet?  Come on, Claire!  So.  I just read it again and it is soooo good!  Really good discription and twisting plot.  You inspired me to write a short story, which you know I never do!
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