I dreamed I was running through an open field at dusk, my mother calling to me in the distance. Then I woke up. There was a dead woman on the floor. Blood everywhere. Fists banging on the door. Voices shouting: “Open up! Open up!”
I sat up, dazed. Mother of God, I thought, what have I done? I could not remember anything: who I was, where I was, how I’d gotten there. Only the open field at twilight, my mother’s voice, a dream.
I looked down at myself. I was naked, splashed with gore. Sitting on the oval shag at the base of a wooden bed, my back propped against the bed frame. I looked around. I was in a small but pleasant bedroom. Flowered curtains covered the window by the bed and the transom over the door. There were paintings of peaceful woodlands on the wall. A dresser, a lamp stand.
But the lamp had fallen over. The bulb had shattered. The dead woman lay sprawled in the broken glass, dressed only in her underwear, bra and panties. Her throat was ripped open—her face—her front—all blood.
The pounding on the door got louder. The shouting got louder. “Open up! Open up!”
Then I heard a lower voice beneath the clamor: “Here he is with the lock code!”
I had only seconds before they came in.
I moved without thinking—or thinking so many thoughts at once, they became just a rush of mental noise. Murderer.… Get away.… Run…
I jumped to my feet. There were two doors, one to the outside, one leading into a bathroom, a dead end. I sprang to the window. I grabbed the curtains. My heart soured as I saw the blood thick and sticky on my hands and under my fingernails. I yanked the curtains open.
Bars. There were bars on the window. Thick, heavy, iron bars, three vertical, two across. No way through; no way out.
The pounding at the door ceased suddenly.
“Put the code in! Hurry!”
I heard the tones of the lock pad outside as someone entered the code to open the door. Another second and they’d be in the room.
I crossed to the door in three quick strides. I reached up to the transom above it, reached through the flowered curtains. There were bars there too, vertical and across. I grabbed the lower horizontal and pulled myself up. Reached up, grabbed the higher horizontal. Now I pulled myself as high as I could, pulled my knees up as high as I could, braced my feet on the top of the doorframe, curled myself into the transom recess, clinging to the transom bars.
Then the door came open beneath my feet. Four large figures in dark suits charged across the threshold.
“Where is he?” one shouted—a woman, by the sound of her voice. She rushed to kneel by the body on the floor.
Another stood at her shoulder. Another—a man, I think—dropped to the floor to look for me under the bed. The fourth rushed into the bathroom to search for me there.
I let go of the bars, dropped out of the transom, dropped to the floor behind all four of them and bolted out through the open door.
One of the guards shouted behind me: “There he goes!” Instantly, a siren blasted—so loud, it obliterated thought. I was in a white hallway, doors and transoms all the way down. A camera that was hanging high on the wall had spotted me. Now steel gates were rattling down from the ceiling to block the way out to my right. To my left, three more large guards in dark suits came pounding fiercely around the corner, putting on speed as they saw me.
“Sealing Z Wing,” an automated voice announced, barely audible beneath the siren’s scream.
I raced to the right, away from the guards, toward the dropping gate. It was already halfway down, too low for me to duck under. I dove headfirst. I hit the floor, scraping the naked flesh of my thigh and shoulder against the hard ceramic tiles. I rolled. I saw the edge of the gate above me, inches from my nose.
Then I was under, out of Z Wing. The siren was muted slightly as the gate fell shut behind me.
I turned onto my belly, propped myself up on my hands, like a lizard, looking around. The hallway here was short, the corner close. There was a door just across the way. An exitsign: a stairwell.
I started to move, then stopped short. My heart seized in me as I saw the camera on the wall in front of me. If it spotted me, another gate would slide down. I’d be trapped where I was.
But the camera was aimed high, above my head. It hadn’t seen me yet. I crawled on my elbows toward the corner, toward the stairwell door. I got underneath the camera. Then I leapt to my feet and ran.
There was a second—a long, an endless second—before I reached the door when I thought that someone in the hall would be sure to see me or that the door would surely be locked or that—I don’t know what—something else—maybe gunfire would cut me to pieces…
But then I was through the door, in the stairwell, grabbing the banister, hurtling downward several steps at a time, out of breath, wild with fear.
Where was I? Who was I? Had I killed that woman? I had. I must have. I could almost remember it. The feeling of my hand on her throat, the fingers digging into her flesh, squeezing, ripping. For a flashing half second, I saw the scene play out in my mind, saw my own wild and murderous eyes, my gritted teeth, as I seized hold of her. It made me sick to think of it. What kind of monster was I?
I stormed down one flight, then another. Then I was at the bottom, stumbling into the heavy door there. I listened for the sound of footsteps charging after me. There were none—not yet.
I drew a long breath to steady myself. Pulled the door open. Peeked out.
There was an empty cellar corridor, only half lit. No one around, silence except for the static hum of electricity, the sough of a boiler somewhere. And something else. The louder drumbeat of machinery. I looked toward the noise. At the end of the hallway, I saw a laundry cart peeking out from around the corner.
Laundry. Clothes. I needed clothes.
I hurried to the cart, my bare feet flapping against the hard floor. I looked in. Cursed. The cart was empty. But there was a door beside it. The thud of machinery was coming from there.
I went through the door and I was in an automated laundry, a large room with conveyer belts, chutes and suction tubes, scales and washing machines, everything in motion everywhere. At first, I didn’t see any people. I thought I was alone. But as I rushed to grab a pair of black pants off a conveyer, I froze, my hoarse breath catching in my throat.
Two workers were standing at the end of the belt. They had been feeding sheets into the automatic folder. Now they’d stopped. They were just standing there, just staring at me. Men or women, I wasn’t sure. Women, I thought, in their fifties—I thought—their heads shaved, their bodies hidden in shapeless black sweatshirts and black pants.
We all three stood still, gaping at one another. Then, before I could even think what to do, one of the workers made a small movement. Just her eyes, just a glance, down at a corner. I followed the look. I saw words scratched into the paint, just above the floor:
I had no inkling what that meant. None. But as my gaze returned to the worker, I understood: She—if it was a she—was telling me she would not alert the guards; she would not stop me. Goodfellow lives. Hooray for Goodfellow.
I started snatching clothes off the belt. A black sweatshirt. Black pants. As I put them on, the worker across from me made another subtle movement of her eyes. I turned to see a line of black sneakers against the wall to my right. I found a pair that fit well enough. I sat on the floor and pulled them on. All the while, I was fighting down rising flashes of memory: how I’d leapt at that woman, seized her throat, slaughtered her just before I lost consciousness.
This time, when I looked at the helpful worker, she lifted her chin. As I finished lacing the sneakers, I turned to see a long cellar window high on the wall. No bars. It was nighttime beyond the glass, but there was some light outside, enough so I could make out that the window was just at ground level.
I had to climb up onto a table to reach it. I had to hammer the old lock aside with the heel of my palm. But then it pushed open easily. I glanced back over my shoulder at the two workers. I gave them a nod of thanks: Goodfellow lives. Then I clambered out into the blessed air of the blessed night.
I’m not sure what I expected to find out there. Walls. Gun towers. Spotlights. But while I could still dimly hear the alarm screaming in Z Wing, there was nothing like that here. As I moved away from the window, I saw where I was, and my confusion only grew deeper.
I was standing at the base of a looming brick complex. A touring central building rose above me with a mansard roof flanked by two great conical towers black against the moonlit sky. Lighted windows here and there showed the shape of two great wings enclosing the central courtyard where I stood. Two low streetlamps lit the paving stones of a pathway that led from the courtyard to the front gate.
And beyond the gate was a city: a rising skyline of jagging spires and soaring towers, all of them dark, visible only by the moonlight.
The front gate was high, spiked, padlocked, blocking the courtyard exit, but the surrounding wall was low. Another moment and I had hauled myself up on it—over it. A moment more and I was running away as fast as I could down shadowed alleys and abandoned streets.
Later—I’m not sure how much later—I rested, bent over in an alley, my hands on my knees, my breath raw and painful in my chest. I tried to think, but just to think felt like a kind of madness. I still could not remember anything clearly—nothing except the dream. Me running through the field. My mother calling. It was as if I had been plucked out of my country childhood and dropped, suddenly all grown, into this nightmare city.
And what kind of city was it anyway? I’d been running at least an hour—running, then slowing to a walk until I caught my breath, running again—and every street was empty. The buildings all seemed deserted. Some were in ruins. Some were just stark and desolate in the night. Here and there, I spotted a wavering light behind a curtain—but each soon went out. Once or twice, I saw a human shadow in the shadows—then it was gone. Other than these, the only things moving were rats and mangy cats and water bugs on walls, and the wind and sometimes garbage in the wind and sometimes autumn leaves.
After a while, I straightened. I stumbled on. I’d traveled a few more blocks—aimless, not knowing where I was going, where I should go—when something stirred in my mind, in my memory. There was an image, bright in my brain: a woman sitting over me where I lay on a bed. She was smiling, reaching down to gently stroke my brow. Was it my mother? Or the woman I’d left dead in the room?
I stood still and tried to make the memory clearer, but before I could, I noticed something. On a street of dark brownstones up ahead: a dim glow. Another of those wavering yellow lights I’d spotted before. A faint sign of life.
My heart beat faster. I moved cautiously toward the light, stepping silently, looking everywhere, keeping low, praying I could get to it this time before it vanished.
It went on burning. I reached the third brownstone on the block. The stoop there—the stone stairs—led up to the front door and curled down to a small cellar entry. The light was coming from a window down there.
I went down the stairs. The window was barred. It was covered by a thin sheet. The light—it was candlelight, I thought—came through the sheet. I could hear soft voices murmuring. I moved closer.
“Be with you,” a man said, very low.
Several people answered, nearly whispering, “And also with you.”
“Lift up your hearts,” the man said.
“We lift them,” the others answered.
I recognized the words. From my childhood. They were a prayer—or part of a prayer at least, changed, strange somehow. I took another step toward the window, and as I did, something, a shard of glass, crunched beneath my sneakers. I gasped. Held my breath. Stood still.
Too late. They’d heard me. The voices stopped. The light behind the sheet went out. My throat went dry with fear. I knew I had to run, but for another half second I just stood there, so hungry for a human voice that I couldn’t bring myself to go.
Then I went. I dashed to the stairs. I dashed up two steps at a time. Reached the street—and a hand grabbed my arm hard, held it fast.
I spun and cocked my fist. A giant stood over me. A man nearly seven feet tall, with muscles bulging under his tight sweatshirt. A black face, a shaved head, eyes that glowed white in the moonlight. He must’ve been the lookout to have been on me so fast.
I didn’t swing at him. I doubt it would have made much difference if I had. He could’ve killed me with a blow. But he didn’t strike at me either. The two of us just stood like that a second, the wind whirling dead leaves in a dance around our feet. Then the giant lifted a single finger and pressed it to his lips: Ssh.
I nodded. He let me go. He tilted his head for me to follow him. I followed him.
The basement room was still dark when we stepped in. Then the giant murmured, “It’s all right,” and a match flared, blinding. Someone relit the candle. I saw five more people in the yellow glow, two men, three women. They were all afraid.
The room was wrecked, rubble on the floor, the walls peeling, some of the beams bared. There were four battered wooden chairs and a rickety card table. That was all the furniture. There was a jug on the table, a paper cup, a paper plate with crackers on it. There were two Popsicle sticks tied together with string to make a cross. The cross leaned against a worn old book; another worn old book lay open beside it.
The man behind the table was old, older than me at least—sixty, seventy, I don’t know. Face long, hair tousled and gray, what hair he had. He was dressed in a priest’s shirt, black with a high collar, white paper folded at the opening in front. The other man was small and squirrelly, a frightened little fellow with eyeglasses taped together at the bridge. Two of the women were middle-aged and shapeless under cheap flowered dresses. The third was younger, very pale with sweet, delicate features and wispy straw-blonde hair curling down past her shoulders. She wore a dress of white linen, belted at the waist, cheap and worn like all their clothes but pretty on her slim, graceful figure; soft and feminine.
“Is this a…?” I began to ask, but before I got even that far, they all reacted suddenly. The priest put the edge of his hand to his mouth, the fingers spread. The giant held up a single finger.
Some of the others reached for me as if to stop my speaking by force. Several of them broke out, “Ssh!”
The priest moved close to me, close to my ear, close enough for me to smell his acidic breath. “They record everything and then search for certain phrases,” he said.
I nodded. I realized now what I’d heard at the window, the prayer I’d heard, what was strange about it. It was a mass, like I remembered from my childhood, but they’d edited out the name of God.
“I’m not one of them,” I began to say, my voice low. “I broke out of—”
The priest cut me off with a nod. “We heard the siren. We know where you came from. We won’t give you up. But you can’t stay here.”
“I’ll take him for the night,” said the giant.
The priest shook his head. “They know you. And me.”
He turned to the other man, the squirrel, but he was afraid and looked away.
“I’ll take him,” said the young woman. She got up and came to join us by the table.
The giant shook his head at the priest, a quick shake, his eyes bright and ferocious. The priest said, “Rebecca…”
But Rebecca said briskly, “I’m new. They won’t think of me. We’d better hurry, though. We’ve stayed here too long already.”
“Just for the night,” said the priest. “Then he has to go. They’ll have him an hour after the sun comes up. I’ll try to send for help, but if I can’t…. You understand?”
Rebecca nodded. “He’ll leave before dawn, I promise.” She gave me a quick glance, then moved to the door. But before I could go after her, the giant grabbed the front of my shirt, grabbing a hunk of my chest at the same time. He pulled my face close to his and stared at me, unblinking. I stared back at him and sneered. We were both men: we didn’t have to speak to understand each other. He was telling me he’d kill me if I harmed her. I was telling him I’d never harm her, and he could go to hell. Satisfied, he let me go. I rubbed my chest where the skin was burning.
I walked through the night with Rebecca. She kept her eyes turned shyly down to the pavement, her hands clasped modestly in front of her. The air was cool, crisp, autumnal. It stirred her hair. I glanced at her and something likewise stirred in me. I thought of the woman I’d left dead on the bedroom floor. Was that who I was? A killer of women? Was it possible I would do the same to…
No. No, what I’d told the giant was true. I would never hurt this girl. Never.
“I don’t know who I am,” I told her. “I can’t remember.”
She nodded but didn’t look at me. “They take your memory first. So you don’t miss the rest. If you got out in time, it might come back when the drugs wear off.” She gave me a quick glance, the glimmer of a reassuring smile. “We’ll get you help. Try not to worry.”
With that, I caught another glimpse of my memory: the woman sitting over me on the bed. Her face. It wasn’t my mother. It was the woman I had murdered. She was leaning down to me, smiling tenderly, stroking my forehead with a tender hand. In her other hand, she held a syringe. It was the moment just before I grabbed her.
We walked past a grimy brick wall. I saw white words scraped at the bottom of it, just above the sidewalk: Goodfellow Lives.
Rebecca’s apartment was in another brownstone, not far away. She lived on the top floor, the fourth floor, in the back, with a view of a courtyard below. After she lit a few candles, I could see that she had tried to decorate the place, covering the broken walls with shelves of scrounged books or framed magazine advertisements: laughing women drinking soda, the sea at sunset, mountains in the mist. Her attempt to wield a “woman’s touch” against the creeping desolation here struck me as at once heroic and depressing.
She pointed to a bowl of water atop an ancient dresser. A small mirror hung on the wall behind it.
“Go wash,” she said. “I’ll make you something to eat.”
I was hungry—I was ravenous—but I said, “You don’t have to do that.”
“I want to. Go wash.”
I washed. I was glad to get the dead woman’s blood off me. It fouled the water in the bowl.
When I raised my dripping face, I saw Rebecca reflected in the mirror. She was moving about the kitchen, an alcove off the main room. She had built a makeshift stove in there, a pile of bricks on top of the broken gas oven. I watched her as she started a flame with expert efficiency.
She saw me looking at her. “Sit down now,” she said. She nodded at a folding chair before an old wooden table at the living room window. I sat. She went on moving about the alcove, cupboard to countertop, preparing soup and toasted bread. I went on watching her—and maybe it was just my desperation and loneliness and confusion, but every move she made struck me as so housewifely and homey that it made my chest ache and flame.
“Can you tell me…” I began to say. But I paused then, remembering what the priest had told me. They record everything and then search for certain phrases. I went on more carefully: “Can you tell me…anything?”
She glanced at me where she stood stirring the soup. “Not very much,” she answered softly. “Too many dangerous words.”
“The p—” I almost said the priest but stopped myself. “Our friend. He said they’d have me an hour after sunrise.”
She nodded. “In the day, they don’t need to listen to us. They can see.”
“Even here? Even inside?”
She studied the soup in the pot, avoiding my eyes. “It won’t take them long. But…our friend is sending for help.”
Goodfellow lives, I thought, but of course I didn’t say it. I was already learning not to speak my thoughts aloud.
“Try not to worry,” she said again, as she set a bowl of tomato soup and a plate of toast in front of me. “I know it’s hard, but try.”
My stomach ached with hunger, but I couldn’t turn to the food right away. I couldn’t take my eyes off her face as she leaned down, leaned close. I breathed in the clean scent of her skin. I was mesmerized—by her kindness more than her beauty. That other woman, the woman in my memory, had used the very same feminine gentleness to hypnotize me so she could do what she wanted to do. But in Rebecca, it was all real, and it called up some old spirit of gallantry and devotion in me so that I felt, in that moment, that I would have killed for her, or died.
She caught my look and flushed and slightly smiled. “Go on and eat now,” she said.
“You would make a wonderful wife.” I blurted out the words before I thought what they might sound like to her.
She flushed even deeper, and her smile went into her eyes, making them bright. “That’s why I’m here,” she said. “Now eat.”
Once I started eating, I couldn’t slow down or stop myself. I guzzled the soup and devoured the bread, the crumbs falling down my chin. “I’m sorry…”
“It’s all right,” she said, and she refilled my bowl, and I ate again, the same ferocious way.
When I was done, Rebecca cleared the table, carrying the bowl and plate to a sink already full of water. I brought my glass in and set it in the water with the rest. I was standing close to her. She turned to look up at me.
“I’ll clean up,” she said. “You’d better rest.”
“Thank you,” I said to her. “But I have to go.”
“No. No.” She lifted a pale, dripping hand to my shoulder. I felt the dampness through my sleeve. “You can’t. There’s nowhere to go. I’ll make a bed for you here.”
“No. I won’t lead them here. I won’t bring them down on you when the sun rises.”
“But if our friend gets help, they won’t know where to find you.”
I’d thought of that, but it made no difference. “I can take care of myself. I won’t let them come here looking for me.”
She kept her hand on my shoulder. “It doesn’t matter. Really. They take us all to that place eventually. It’s just a question of time.”
But it mattered to me. “I have to go,” I said again. But I didn’t go, not right away. Standing there like that, looking down into her blue, fretful eyes, I felt the urge to kiss her—it was nearly overwhelming. How could I, though? I hardly knew her. I hardly knew myself. Still…I put my fingertips against her cheek to see if she would stop me, and when she didn’t I leaned down and pressed my lips to hers a long moment. I felt as if my soul had caught fire. Then I forced myself to break away—and more memories flashed in my mind, like windows of light opening inside me. It was all horror. The things they’d done to me. The things that woman had done to me all the while seducing me with her tender eyes…
“Stay,” whispered Rebecca, and I knew that she was burning inside like I was, lonely and desolate like I was.
But I said again, “The night’s almost over. I have to go.”
It was another hour before I saw how bad things really were, how true her words were: There’s nowhere to go. Until the last moment, until I rounded the last corner, I thought there had to be some hope of escape, somewhere to run to; there had to be. With that hope in mind, I kept pushing through the darkness, down the empty streets. The moon crossed the meridian above me and arced down beneath the skyline. The shadows grew deeper, the air cooler. I could feel the morning coming near. I clung to the deepest darkness I could find and went on running.
Once, suddenly and without a sound, a craft passed overhead. It was terrifying. I pressed myself flat against a wall, my eyes turned upward. Massive and slow, the ship blocked out the visible strip of sky above the building tops. It made no noise. That was eerie in itself: the thing was so huge and it made no noise at all. And at the slightest movement down below—a scattering of leaves across the pavement, a prowling alley cat, the rattle of a scraggly sycamore trembling in the wind—it shot a searchlight to the spot with pinpoint precision. I pressed to the wall hard and held my breath. After what seemed like a long, long time, the searchlight winked out, the ship passed on. But it left no doubt in my mind it was as the priest had said: they would have me within an hour of daybreak if I could not find a way out of the city.
And for another little while, I really thought I could. I ran on, more slowly now, careful, watching the skies, afraid the searching craft would make another pass. I zigzagged to stay unpredictable, but I kept moving in one direction overall. I thought: The city has to end somewhere. There has to be open ground somewhere. And I remembered something else now too: trees, deep forest, caves, places to hide. Was that a childhood memory or a more recent one? I didn’t know. I just kept running, kept looking for the edge of the city.
Then I found it. I came around that final corner and there it was. Now I understood why there was no wall around the building I’d escaped from, no watchtowers there, no guns.
They were here. The last line of buildings ended, the last place of shelter. Then there was a long, open apron of concrete, at least a hundred yards wide. Then the wall.
It was a monstrous thing. A line of twelve-foot-tall barbed wire, and then the titanic blank stone, rising so high I had to crane my neck to see the top of it. And at the top: the guns—the towers and the guards and the big guns—and huge spotlights trained down on the apron, unlit now but surely like the searchlight in the flying ship, ready to snap on at the slightest movement below them.
That’s why I’m here, Rebecca had said.
Now I understood what she meant.
I hadn’t broken out of a prison. The whole city was a prison. There was no way out.
It took a long time for me to find my way back to Rebecca’s. Morning was coming fast, and as the moon went down and the dark gathered itself before daybreak, more crafts came into the sky, big black monsters, slow, searching. Some passed overhead in glowering silence, and others stood still and hovered for a long time. Again and again, I had to hide myself, motionless, my muscles throbbing. If I moved even half an inch, the searchlights would have sliced through the shadows and pinned me where I stood like a bug in a display.
By the time I reached Rebecca’s neighborhood, there was a cool dawn wind blowing and the black sky was turning blue by subtle shades. I wasn’t going to go all the way back to her apartment, of course. I was determined not to bring the hunters down on her, come what may. But if the priest had managed to get help, they would look for me here. I could at least pass by to see if anyone had arrived to rescue me.
Just as the first small clouds became visible, just as the blue of the sky turned rose, I crept breathless onto her street and looked toward her building.
The brownstone was dark. It seemed empty. No sign of anyone inside. I was certain right then that no help was coming. It was over. I was sick with disappointment. I was sick with fear.
More memories had come back to me by then. The slow tortures. The murmured words. The fake tone of kindness in the fake bedroom where the curtains hid the window bars. You have the power to make all this stop, Robert. Robert, that was my name. Robert Sherwood. They had wanted to take even that away from me in the end. That world is gone. The world of names like yours. Of men like you. Tell us what we want to know and we’ll help you adjust to the new ways. If you won’t, we can find the truth ourselves. We can take the memories right out of you. So you might as well tell us: Where are they, Robert? Where are his people? Where is he? Where is Goodfellow?
I swore to myself I would die before I let them take me back to those clean and efficient torture chambers, that phony gentleness, that deadly kindness. I would kill as many of them as I could, and I would die.
But even as I swore it, it was too late. They were on me.
I turned to go, and they came speeding at me out of the dawn—around the corner to the right of me, down the street to my left: weirdly silent vehicles planing just above the pavement, dipping, tilting, soaring straight my way. Their headlights blinded me. Their red flashers came on all at once and their sirens started howling, throwing my mind into confusion.
I tried to run, but large officers in heavy gear poured out of the cars and surrounded me. They wielded hand weapons that spat hot sparks. They moved in fast, brandishing them. I ducked the swipe of the first sizzling billy and punched low and dropped the guy. But the next blow struck me in the back. It took only a touch and the shock paralyzed me, sent me to the ground, helpless, quivering. Two of the officers grabbed my legs; two grabbed me under the arms. They lifted my spasming body and hustled me to a car.
They stuffed me in the back seat, a cage made for the purpose. A big hairless Asian officer put his massive hand on top of my head and shoved me through the open door.
But as he did, he leaned in after me so that, for a moment, his face was close to mine. And very low, he whispered in my ear: “Goodfellow lives.”
There were two of them in the vehicle with me, two men: a broad-shouldered black-haired white man with a scarred cheek in the passenger seat, and the Asian guy, driving. As we pulled away, the Asian met my eyes in the rearview mirror and I met his. I was recovering from the stun baton by then and made a gesture of recognition at him, an imperceptible nod. I knew the man. I could not remember how, but I knew him, and I knew that the priest had succeeded, that help had come.
The other vehicles departed and we drove on alone. The morning rose around us, bright and clear. I saw the prison city fully now, a desolate ruin. Slumped buildings surrounded by rubble. Frightened faces peering out at us through broken windows as we passed. What looked like blackened bundles of rags moved, hunched and trembling, through the gutters, scrounging for I don’t know what—something they could eat, something they could trade.
The two men in the front seat kept their eyes straight ahead. Soon we were at the wall. There was a bit of business with the guards, but the scarred man in the passenger seat had already cleared the way, sending orders on a device he had. I remembered that then too: it was a world of such devices, messages flashing back and forth. It had always been that way, even when I was a boy in the country. That’s what had made the takeover so easy for them.
The great steel gate at the wall’s center slid open, and we passed through into the free city.
It was enormous. Spires and pyramids and towers soaring, gleaming and clean. The broad avenues seemed to go on forever. With the bright morning full now, the people were pouring out of their skyscraping hives and into the streets to go about their business. I watched them through the vehicle window: a vibrant and diverse parade. Individuals of all different nationalities and races. Clothing that ranged from sleek scraps covering near nudity to clownish outfits of colored silks. Elaborate hairdos dyed pink and green and orange or shaved heads or dirty, knotted, dangling locks. You couldn’t tell the men from the women, which of them wore dresses, which wore suits and ties. You could only barely tell the children from the adults. They all strode along quickly, aggressively, each with a sort of belligerent pride in the unique display of his or her identity.
Nothing seemed wrong with any of them—not at first. But as we continued driving—none of us speaking, the car silent except for a staticky blast from the dashboard now and then—as I continued watching out the window, I began to notice—notice or half remember, I’m not sure which—that something was off, in fact. Something was awry everywhere. The whole city scene taken together was like a song with the notes just sour, just slightly, painfully out of tune.
Because while all the people’s clothes were different, all their faces were the same. All their expressions were the same, I mean: angry, watchful. The eyes of each scanned the faces of the others all around them, searching for a wrong thought or a wrong feeling; vigilant for any show of judgment or condemnation of each one’s special rightness and individuality. And with the anger, there was fear. Every one of them was frightened of the others, frightened that another’s suspicious glance would spot such a wrong thought or feeling in themselves. There was no conversation among them, only people murmuring furtively into their devices or listening to their devices with faraway gazes. There was no one laughing, no one smiling, no one holding hands.
And then, very suddenly, without any warning at all, I saw—someone—a woman, I think it was, but maybe a man—stop and point a finger and start shrieking—wild, ragged shrieking, the words indistinguishable. She had seen something, or imagined she had. A critical frown. A derogatory thought. I don’t know what. But just as suddenly, as if they had materialized from nothingness, the police were everywhere. They had surrounded the man she was pointing at, closed on him with their electric weapons, shocked him to the ground and then started beating him with blank-faced and mechanical brutality. And no one stopped to watch. No one even turned to look. They hurried past on the bright sidewalks without hesitating. The woman who had started it too: she stopped shrieking, stopped pointing and walked on while the savage beating continued behind her.
A few blocks farther, we saw another scene, almost exactly the same as the first—and now, with a shock, I remembered everything.
Dear God in heaven. The world they’d made. My eyes filled at the horror of it, but at the same time, my heart swelled with pride and gratitude as I realized what risks these men in the front seat must have taken, what an operation it must have been to infiltrate the prison city and bring me out like this on such short notice. Right then and there, I swore before the altar of heaven that, if I lived, I would go back for Rebecca and her friends. I would not forget them.
If I lived. The next moment, my warm feelings were replaced by an almost unbearable tension of suspense as I realized how far we still had to go, how bleak our chances were of making it all the way.
We passed from the gleaming city center into gloomier bohemian side streets. We went past fashionable galleries and theaters advertising shows with names like The Murder Scene as a Work of Art and Euthanasia! The Musical. Elegant old cathedrals, decked with flashing neon, offered sexual services perverse enough to rouse the pleasure-weary body back into some semblance of working order. Supermarkets promised to honor all ration cards, and walls made of some sort of complex machinery flashed electric signs announcing the next deadline for sharing whatever you owned.
Yes, I remembered. Each was sovereign here, yet all were slaves.
Beyond all this, in a deserted area still under construction, just past a large dirt lot of rising girders and rebar and dormant earth movers standing like paralyzed dinosaurs under the risen sun, the Asian brought the vehicle to a stop at the mouth of a dreary alleyway. The officers opened the door and let me out and left me at the curb. Even as their car sped away into the city, shadows emerged from the alley shadows and beckoned me to hurry on to the next leg of the journey.
We went underground, through connected cellars, then into stinking sewers and finally through hand-dug tunnels braced with rough-hewn planks and logs. We rarely spoke. We stopped only to eat or grab some sleep. I don’t know how many days we traveled.
When we came out into open ground, it was night again; the moon already fallen. All the same, we traveled bent low, and ducked as often as we could into high grasses. By dawn, with about half a dozen of us left, we reached a thin forest. We moved through the trees quickly, and the trees grew thicker, denser, closer together. By stages we made our way into the place I had remembered: a dense and tangled and deserted wood, with black sinkholes dotting the ground here and there, and arched, vine-covered entryways leading into fathomless limestone caverns. The branches and autumn leaves interwove so thickly over us that even the high sun touched the place only here and there. It was mostly shadows, broken only by occasional fading beams with gnats and motes fluttering and drifting in them.
Here at last, in a little clearing, my companions solemnly shook my hand and left me. I was alone. But it was all right. I wasn’t worried anymore. I knew exactly where I was. This was the very place that I would not reveal to my torturers, the place I had fought to keep locked in my memory through all the agonies and deceptions. This was the place I had defended with my bare bloody hands even when they’d sent their best, that woman, to tear it out of my memory by seduction and by force.
I knew where I was and who I was, and I knew what would happen next.
Sure enough, after a few more moments, they emerged from their caves and hiding holes. They came out of the wooded depths on every side of me, moving with effortless quiet, not even a leaf or twig crunching under their feet: men and women both, dozens, no, hundreds of men and women, more than that, so many, going back so far into the trees that they seemed to fill the forest, this forest one literary joker among them had rechristened with my name. The men carried the guns they had refused to surrender and the expressions, which they had also refused to surrender, of boldness and of merriment. The women, in their hand-sewn dresses, held their children on their hips and by their sides, and their eyes flashed with both courage and kindness. And all of them, men and women and children too—all of them were raising their fists in defiance, and from all around me, like a natural noise, came their voices murmuring what my torturers had never guessed: my name, the name these friends had given me:
“Goodfellow. Goodfellow. Goodfellow.”
Andrew Klavan is the author of such internationally bestselling crime novels as True Crime, flmed by Clint Eastwood, Don’t Say A Word, filmed starring Michael Douglas and Empire of Lies. He has been nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award five times and has won twice. He wrote the screenplays to “A Shock to The System,” which starred Michael Caine, and “One Missed Call,” which starred Edward Burns. His political satire videos have been viewed by tens of millions of people, and he currently does a popular podcast The Andrew Klavan Show at the Daily Wire. His most recent book is a memoir of his religious journey The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ.