‘Start the clock!’
The call came down the line, just as it always did. People jumping to attention, swarming like ants around a piece of abandoned food. On the wall behind us, large red numbers appeared, each of them counting down.
‘One hour! Move, move, move!’
We set to work. All of us, from the youngest child to the oldest still able to work, rushed to our stations. The patterns were appearing and disappearing, fighting against us but we had to see through them.
It was the only way out of here. The next window wouldn’t open for another three years.
Forty minutes left, so I called the section heads to me. ‘Anything?’
Griselda looked at me with sad eyes, the smallest of shakes breaking through her facade.
The meeting lasted sixteen minutes. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you only have twenty-four and change, it’s an incredibly long time.
There was a commotion at one of the workstations. Two young men were at each other’s throats, snarling and circling like wild beasts. This was happening more and more.
‘He pushed me!’
‘He stole my food!’
A gasp ran through the crowd. In their society, stealing food was a crime punishable by death.A knife appeared in the hands of the pusher, teeth drawn back into a grimace as he attacked the food stealer.
I watched the attention drift away, people no longer looking at the patterns but paying all their attention to the fight. I sat on the cold, dusty ground and placed my head in my hands. Heard a grunt as one of them connected with the other.
The numbers on the wall were down to single digits now. Five minutes. They weren’t getting out this time.
I wasn’t ready to wait another three years.
It seemed like the numbers were speeding up, actively working against me to leave me here.
I watched in despair as the final zero appeared for the last time. There would be no escape for me. Not now, not ever.
The Idiot in Tin Foil