Walk The Line

November 23, 2010
By , Harrogate, United Kingdom
Facing death was strangely relaxing. Ella gave up resisting – it was no use. Death was coming, she couldn’t stop it. Relief washed over her as she realised there would be no more fighting. Life was difficult; death was the easiest thing she’d ever done. Just giving up, forgetting about her worries and slipping away into non-existence. Her struggle was over, and she was glad. No anger remained at the girls who had brought her here. She was grateful. The light grew brighter, until it was blindingly bright. The train was coming… and with it, it brought the end of Ella’s life.

The old metal tracks snaked their way along the rain-dampened ground, with its think sprinkling of wet leaves. Ancient, gnarled trees drooped over the blackened strips of iron like they were too tired to hold their branches up any more. The side the girls approached from was protected from the path by a rickety wooden fence. White paint was peeling away in flakes, and it gave the impression that it could fall down under the slightest weight.

On the other side, a dangerous looking barbed wire fence held back an overgrown wasteland of long grass and wildflowers. Clinging to the ripped wire stood a derelict, dilapidated lookout box. It was painted to match the wooden fence, but years worth of graffiti had pretty much covered any hint of white paint in gaudy pictures and messages. The whole place gave off an aura of a bygone era, a neglected corner of the city. The brand new railroad on the other side of town was shiny and modern, the complete opposite of this place. This forgotten spot was a – albeit slightly shabby - respite from the glossy, perfect modern world.

But it wasn’t peaceful for Ella. The day was overcast, matching her mood. The build-up of cloud made the tracks look sinister and menacing. The warning signs nailed to the gate heightened the feeling of foreboding until all Ella wanted to do was turn and run.

They’d come for her after school, and Ella had followed them, like the gullible victim she was. Only now, when there was no way to escape, did she regret coming. Vicki, Fiona, Mandy and Ashley had been making her life miserable for over a year now. Looking at where they’d taken her, it wasn’t going to get any better. The rickety fence loomed high in front of the group. Laughing, Vicki pushed herself onto a stray brick and scaled the fence. She offered her hand mockingly to Ella.

“Come on then, Eleanor,” Vicki purposefully used the name Ella hated so much. “Or are you too scared?” She teased patronizingly. It made Ella’s blood boil, and she started to move forward. If only she could just push over that flimsy-looking fence… Mandy and Ashley grabbed hold of her, one on each arm, rooting her to the spot. Ella felt herself being shoved forward roughly; her hands slammed against rough wood and peeling paint. She looked wildly towards the gate.

“Wimp!” Ella heard the harshness colour the normally sweet voice. Fiona. Ella ignored her, and set her foot onto the brick. She pushed upwards until she was sat on the fence with Vicki. Did Vicki still think she was a wimp now? The others followed one by one until the five of them were sat in a row. Mandy began to absentmindedly peel paint off the fence below, and pretty soon they were all doing it. They competed with each other to see who could throw the paint flakes the furthest across the railway tracks towards the barbed wire fence and lookout box. No one said anything mean or snide to Ella, and for the first time she felt accepted. They didn’t seem to mind her being there, which was enough for Ella. She wondered if all she had had to do to be approved of by these girls was to climb the fence.

Soon Vicki was bored. She jumped off the fence and landed gracefully on the grassy bank next to the tracks. Fiona, Mandy and Ashley followed quickly, and Ella tried too, but made it rather awkwardly a couple of seconds too late. Vicki’s steely gaze fell on her, and Ella felt herself blush under the scrutiny.

“You think you’re good enough to be friends with us?” Vicki’s question was rhetorical, and Ella knew better than to answer. The other girls laughed scornfully as they moved to Vicki’s side. Faced with a line of disdainful faces, Ella shrank back involuntarily. They were blocking the fence, and her only escape route. She found herself beginning to panic, and looked around desperately.

“Don’t be afraid.” There was that deceptively gentle voice again. Fiona stepped forward delicately, and her blonde curls swept up around her face in the light breeze. She looked so innocent and sweet, no one ever suspected her of anything. Fiona could get away with whatever she liked, which was why Vicki had probably recruited her for her little gang when she moved here last spring. “We won’t hurt you.”

The fake reassurances did little to calm Ella. Heart racing, she decided the only way out of here was to fight for it.
“Let me out!” Her weak voice sounded pathetic even to her own ears as she tried in vain to push past the girls, who seemed to turn to impenetrable stone as Ella pressed herself against them.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Ella visibly balked at the ruthlessness in Ashley’s voice, as the twins grabbed her arms for a second time in their vice-like grip. To Ella the tall, dark-haired twins were like bodyguards for the other two – impenetrable barriers to keep people like Ella away.

“Home?” Ella squeaked, desperate to keep her bravado act up. Her frightened squeal was all the encouragement the girls needed to keep on tormenting her. Jeers of laughter and insults came flying at her, and although she tried to block them out, Ella couldn’t help but let a solitary tear drip onto her cheek. Today had been an awful day. Eventually the riot died down, and one voice was loud above the others.

“You want to go home? Well you can… as soon as you go to that lookout box and open the gate for us!” Pride was evident in Fiona’s voice at having come up with a torture for Ella all by herself. She looked over to Vicki for approval, and her face lit up as Vicki gave a barely susceptible nod that sealed Ella’s fate.

“I dare you.”

The tall wooden box looked down teasingly at Ella from across the train tracks. Set against a background of tangled plants and grass, it clung to the deadly barbed wire fence like a drowning person would cling to a raft. Ella frantically searched her mind for an argument, but found nothing that would suit. There was no choice about it. Gulping in air, she walked towards her fate.

Ella inched forward in trepidation. She could hear the sneering voices of the girls behind her. They didn’t think she would, or could, do it. How could Ella not think the same? She wasn’t good enough to be friends with them. Right there, as she balanced precariously on the edge of the grass bank, Ella realised she’d been kidding herself all along. She’d thought she was deserving of their friendship, but now she’d blindly walked into a trap. Fiona had been right to call her a wimp before. She was nothing but a coward. However, Ella knew she was in too deep now.

The late afternoon sun glinted off the wet railway tracks. It seemed to taunt Ella, daring her forward. The short distance between Ella and the lookout box seemed to lengthen to an impassable expanse. Surveying the ground beneath her feet, Ella felt panicky and tense. Every abandoned crisp packet, fallen branch and forgotten piece of rubbish seemed daunting, and she shrank back in apprehension. Hearing the laughter behind her at her sudden stop, Ella froze from her retreat. Tentatively, she propelled herself forward, leaving the mocking voices behind her.

As Ella moved further and further away from the others, she felt a sense of relief. Getting away from the bullies was what she endeavoured to do every day at school, and to finally be alone made her hope again. If she could only do this, maybe she would be accepted. Imagining herself with those girls, being looked upon in envy by everyone else, spurred her on. Her, geeky Ella, who had been picked on ever since primary school. She looked back towards the girls who had made her life miserable for so long, and laughed.

“This is so fun! I can’t believe you think this is difficult!” Ella sniggered, exaggerating her moment of confidence. She wanted them to know that she didn’t care what they didn’t scare her. Not any more.

Stepping forward without looking at the ground, Ella felt her foot give way underneath her. Her heartbeat sped up, her head pounded and her body tensed, preparing itself for the inevitable fall. Arms flailing, she searched desperately for a handhold. Rough tree bark, wilting leaves and jagged branches brushed against her fingertips. A tree! Grabbing hold of an overhanging branch, Ella felt herself jerk to a halt, almost pulling her arm out of its socket in the process. Still clinging onto the branch, she struggled to regain her balance on the wet leaves. Eyes firmly glued to the ground, she ignored the jeers and shouts from behind her, and instead concentrated on moving forwards.

Carefully zigzagging her way around the sharp cuts in the tracks, and other hazards, Ella could no longer hear the other girls. Maybe they’d grown tired of teasing her. Unlikely.

She looked back towards the grass bank. Vicky, Fiona, Mandy and Ashley were gone. Typical, she thought. They couldn’t even be bothered to hang around tormenting her any more. They probably had other people to terrorise. Ella laughed bitterly. The deafening screech of an ancient, un-oiled hinge caught Ella’s attention, and she swung around just in time to see the old wooden gate swing shut behind Vicki. What? That’s when she realised. The lookout box was nothing but a heap of long forgotten rubbish. There was nothing in it, especially not a gate-opening mechanism. Stupid, stupid, stupid. They’d tricked her! How could she have fallen for it? Cursing her foolishness, Ella began to walk back.

“Wait up!” she called, her voice cutting through the silence in the air like a knife into butter. No one replied. Ella started to run now, catching her feet on the twisted iron beneath her. For a moment, she could hear nothing but the squelching sound her rubber-soled school shoes made on the sodden ground. Her vision blurred as she focused her mind completely on getting to the gate in time. As she neared the edge, the unmistakeable sound of a lock snapping shut filled her ears. She was locked in! They’d left her! Although she expected nothing better from a bunch of heartless bullies, she felt disappointed and let down. Tears fought their way out of the corners of her eyes as she contemplated her situation. Desperately sweeping her eyes along the unsteady fence, she saw no footholds. No conveniently placed bricks, like on the way in. They’d left her no way out.

On the other side of the tracks, the barbed wire fence offered her a chance of escape. There was an Ella-sized hole a few metres down from the lookout box that had been her original goal. If only she could reach it, she could go home. Yes, her mum would go mad when she got in, but Ella could face that and even the inevitable grounding that was sure to follow, if only she could get out of this place; she would face anything. Anything.

She’d done it before, and could do it again. Freedom was not far away; she could forget about this whole ordeal. Thinking about the look on the bullies’ faces when they saw the new, confident Ella, who was independent enough not to need their pathetic, worthless friendship, filled her with renewed vigour as she began to head towards the barbed wire fence, never once taking her eyes off her aim. Ignoring the complaints of her aching muscles, Ella leapt cat-like from space to space, avoiding the twisted and sharp breaks in the railway tracks and the piles of slippery wet leaves. She’d learnt from her mistakes, and took care to watch where she stepped. Her confidence was shaky, and she clung to the little hope she had left to keep herself moving.

Looking back, she found that she was over halfway. This small victory cheered her as she pressed on. The tracks beneath her feet looked newer now, and cleaner. There was less debris littering them, and she found her way more easily. Carelessness slowly began to replace cautiousness and Ella found herself moving faster without stopping to check what she was stepping on.

The breath flew out of her as she hit the ground with a resounding thud. Trying to move her legs, Ella found she had got tangled in a stray fallen branch. It pinned her down and restricted her movement. The tracks cut into her stomach and arms where she lay; when she raised her hands from the ground Ella found they were lacerated with blood, sliced open on fragments of broken glass. Feeling sick and dizzy, she felt her body go limp. Surely it wouldn’t matter if she just lay down for a few minutes to rest? She felt so tired…

The noise was faint at first, then louder until it filled Ella’s ears. It matched her heartbeat as it sped up: Ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum… a train was coming. It wouldn’t see her, it was moving too fast. Her life flashed before her as she realised in no uncertain terms that she was going to die. She would disappear – just another freak accident. Her parents would wonder what had brought her to her death on the abandoned railway. Only the girls who had tricked her into coming would ever know the truth. Ella would if they would feel remorse, or regret bringing her out here. She doubted that.

In desperation, she tried to wiggle free. But every struggle only bound her tighter to the ground, and to the fate that awaited her just around the corner…

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