What Came After - Prologue This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

May 4, 2011
Aubrey Tift felt the pounding of his heart all the way up to his temples, but he didn’t dare waste time worrying about the noise. As far as he knew, he was utterly alone out on the chilly grounds. Except for him, all of Camp Baldet was asleep, and would stay that way for another few hours. Aubrey knew from years of experience that unless there was a strident, raucous distraction outside, none of the campers would even think about venturing out of their bunks. Aside from the certain punishment that would follow, no one wanted to give up even a moment of rest until the sun was peaking between the buildings and bouncing off of the iridescent windows like flames. Still, guards must have been on duty somewhere nearby, and being out of bed after hours called for a public whipping – one that any Counselor would relish administering. Aubrey knew the sooner he vanished into the darkness beyond the boundaries of the camp, the sooner he left that threat behind for good.



All that stood between him and freedom was the fence. It soared at an impressive eleven feet, and the slight buzz of the electric current coursing through the chain links was magnified by the apparent lack of any other noise. If Drew Parish hadn’t been knocked into that one-and-only un-electrified section of fencing just the day before, Aubrey would still be in his bed, dreading the new day like the rest of the campers. The section of fencing was a mere strip about four feet wide that stretched the whole height of the fence, as far as they had been able to tell. Aubrey was certainly risking his life in his lonely escape attempt. It was clear to him, however, that it was his only option.



The other campers had been reluctant to accept his thinking. Once Aubrey had shared his plan, Drew Parish himself began to swear there had been a slight shock when he’d hit the fence. Aubrey knew he was just trying to convince him to stay at Camp Baldet, since they had grown up together and Drew couldn’t imagine a life without Aubrey. The reverse was true, as well. Aubrey was as accustomed to Drew’s quiet mumbling and piercing stares as he was to his own habits. They both longed for a life past the fence, a life on their own. The only difference was that Aubrey was willing to take the chance.

In all honesty, Aubrey admitted to himself as he approached the non-electrified area of fencing, I probably wouldn’t be here, either, if it hadn’t been for the Lottery. In order to properly prepare for the incoming visitors, the Government had ordered that the security at all camps be doubled. Aubrey was certain that the broken piece of the fence would be patched up in a matter of days. He couldn’t afford to wait any longer.

Aubrey stopped a few feet before the fence, casting one last look behind him. He knew this was the moment of truth – either he’d escape, or he’d die trying. He preferred either option over a lifetime of Camp Baldet. Aubrey waited for the glaring eye of the searchlight to pass over one more time before taking a running leap towards the chain-link fence. His fingers curled around the thin metal strands and his muscles groaned as he pulled himself up two feet. His heart pounded faster at the metallic clang his jump had caused, but after a breathless pause, he realized that no one was coming for him. Energized by closeness of freedom, Aubrey climbed up another few feet, panting slightly at the exertion.

He glanced down, noticing that he had somehow made it halfway up the eleven feet of temporarily un-electrified fence. Gritting his teeth, Aubrey continued to climb, pushing away the fear that an electric current would jolt him to his death the moment his hand closed around the next hold, until he reached the top. Immediately, he noticed that he didn’t have much time before the searchlight swept over his quadrant of camp. Gingerly swinging his legs over the top of the fence and clinging tightly to the bar at the top just below barbed wire, Aubrey lowered himself down until his feet each found a hold on the other side of the fence. He reminded himself not to panic, though the searchlight was getting closer every second, telling himself that crashing to his death on the other side would be exactly the kind of end the Counselors would like to see befall him. He climbed down with precision, staring into the empty expanse that was Camp Baldet on the other side.

Before he knew it, his feet were touching down on the ground while the searchlight passed harmlessly overhead. Aubrey leaned against the fence for the briefest of moments, waiting for his heart to catch up with the speed of his thoughts. Now his fear was matched by excitement and anticipation. The vast mouth of the City stretched out before him, beckoning him to enter it for the first time. Aubrey took a few tentative steps forward, half expecting some alarm to sound, but when none did, he found himself running away from Camp Baldet, footsteps echoing around the dank, empty streets, never daring to look back.

A few minutes later, Aubrey slowed to a halt, suddenly uncertain. Why wasn’t anyone after him? That escape had gone exactly as planned – and it was much too easy. Panting, Aubrey glanced back, shivering at the moonlit yard of Camp Baldet, now partially obscured by buildings, wondering where the guards were. They were constantly patrolling during the day, so why shouldn’t it be the same at night? Escape was easier at night.

Aubrey heard a puddle splash behind him, and he whirled around, ready to run. To his surprise, he saw nothing but the puddle itself, which was still rippling from a now absent force. Then, to his left, there was the grating of a something being dragged across concrete. Aubrey didn’t wait around to look this time, instead propelling himself between buildings and running faster than he ever had before. Recapture was not an option.

Aubrey froze as he reached a fork in the road, knowing he was wasting precious time trying to decide which way to take. Aubrey took one step to the right, but stopped when he realized that it looped back the way he had come. Stumbling, Aubrey backed into a store with shattered windows as he scanned the street around him. It was then when he saw them emerging from the shadows, faces as pale and ghostly as the moon itself, with their sunken eyes and their clothes, nothing more than bloody tatters. Lips drawn back in snarls, they advanced faster than Aubrey could ever have anticipated, forcing him back the way he had just come. Then, they were everywhere, swarming around him until there was no open place to squeeze through. Aubrey stood in the center of the growling mass, now wishing someone had heard his heart pounding all the way back at the fence. If someone had, perhaps his heart wouldn’t now be in such danger of stopping altogether.





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