LEVEL 2 – 10
Still in the bathroom, Luke and Dylan sat on the tile floor. It had been nearly an hour. All of the officers showed no signs of leaving anytime soon. Luke’s voice shook as he whispered, “If we don’t get out of here before dark, either those cops are going to arrest us or your dad is going to murder us. If we even make it back.”
Dylan considered the length and breadth of how much heat she’d get if she did make it home later than when she’d said. Still, they couldn’t just waltz out of the front door. Even if they really were the police, something didn’t feel right in Dylan’s gut. But now wasn’t the time to sort it out. Now was the time to think of a plan.
Crawling over towards the door, Dylan gently opened the bathroom door, surveying the ravaged room. Thankfully there appeared to be enough materials to work with. Dylan turned back to Luke and leaned into his ear, “I got a plan, and you’re not going to like it.”
After constructing what they’d need to escape, Dylan manned her position by the door. Taking a step back to check on Luke, she mouthed, Are you ready?
He was not. Luke was staring at the floor with a droopy puppy-dog look on his face. Dylan was about to snap in anger. She changed her mind. Looking down at Luke’s feet was a crumpled photograph of an attractive teenage girl. Aside from her long golden hair, her face was distinctly Japanese. She was waving to the camera while standing in front of the Six Flags Over Texas welcome sign.
Taking a breath, Dylan asked solemnly, “That her?”
Kneeling down, Dylan gently picked up the picture and offered it to Luke. He almost didn’t take it. Extending his free hand, Luke accepted the photo. He shoved it in his jean pocket and flashed Dylan a weak smile.
Returning the small smile, Dylan attempted to sympathize, “We’ve got a clue. It’s one step closer, but we can’t stay here.” Luke nodded. “Okay. On three, we go.” Stepping back to the door, Dylan eased it open just a sliver. She couldn’t hear any footsteps down the hall. Pushing open the door a little further, there wasn’t an officer to be seen. No time to waste. “Three!”
Luke followed after his sister as they swiftly and silently made their way to the master bedroom. Only a few feet from the entrance, Dylan cringed as she heard the floor produce a loud creak beneath her feet. Almost immediately, the herd of officers stampeded up the stairs.
Closing the master bedroom door behind them, Luke unfurled the sheets he had been holding and tied and end to the door handles. Dylan was busy trying to open one of the windows, but they wouldn’t budge. In a panicked voice she called out, “Toss me the screwdriver!” Luke threw over his keys and Dylan got to work on the lock.
Officers pounded on the door, “Dallas PD! Come out with your hands up, now!”
Another officer, spoke into his walkie-talkie, “Adam-10 to control, we’ve got multiple suspects barricaded in the master bedroom. Preparing to breach.”
Fortunately, Luke had explained to Dylan that the master bedroom door opened outward: the harder the officers pulled, the tighter the knot tied around the door handles became. Between the pounding and the shouting, Dylan still fumbled to open the window. Her hands were shaking. Sweat had pooled up around her fingers. The multi-tool kept slipping in her grip. She desperately worked to pry open the window lock, but it was no use. They were trapped.
Suddenly, Luke shouted from behind, “Get out of the way!” Dylan ducked and rolled to the side as her step-brother hurdled the office chair through the window. Glass exploded outward in a mighty crash as the chair flew through the air. Luke had managed to tie the other end of the sheet to the chair. In a rushed and frightened voice, Luke commanded, “What are you waiting for? Get out!”
Tucking the binder under her arm, Dylan grabbed hold of the sheet rope and rappelled down the side of the house. Looking up, she watched Luke follow after her, walking down the wall with both hands on the rope. Momentarily distracted, Dylan nearly fell as she reached the end of her rope, her feet slipping off the chair dangling in the air. They were about twelve feet too short.
As Dylan judged the drop distance, Luke kicked the top of her head, shouting “What are you doing? Keep going!”
Nervously, Dylan shot back, “We’re out of sheets.”
“Okay, hold on,” Luke said as he climbed over Dylan. Holding onto the end of the chair, he urged, “Climb over me, and then drop down. Hurry up.”
Dylan complied. She had to let the notebook drop to the ground. Watching it fall was a mistake that almost gave her vertigo. Awkwardly climbing over the chair and her step-brother, Dylan eventually made it to his ankles. Only about three feet from the ground, she let herself drop onto the hard pool deck. Glass from the window crunched beneath her feet.
Luke began swinging on the rope side to side, building momentum. On his downward swing he let go of the chair legs and landed at an angle, rolling onto the pavement. It wasn’t nearly as graceful as a Kung-Fu dive and roll, but it didn’t sound like he broke anything on the way down. Standing to his feet, the chair suddenly came crashing down onto the deck.
Peering over the side of the window, the cops shouted down, “Don’t move!”
Dylan and Luke didn’t listen. They ran like hell. Out over the pool deck and out into the backyard, they dashed towards the tennis court. If they could reach the tennis court, they might be able to climb the side of the court’s fence and leap over the gate. All they had to do was sprint the length of a football field, and outrun the cops following them.
With one arm cradling the binder, Dylan furiously pumped her free arm. She desperately tried to ignore the iron weights settling in her lungs, and the burning sensation in her legs. It felt like her calves were about to explode.
Still, she ran.
She heard the officers chasing after her.
She felt the raindrops begin to fall.
The more that stacked up against her, the harder Dylan pushed herself.
Having reached the tennis courts Dylan threw the binder over the black gate and climbed up the side of the fence like there was no more tomorrow. After all, if they got caught, there might not be a tomorrow. Reaching hand over hand they climbed high enough to step out and touch the top of the gate with their feet. Both Luke and Dylan pushed off from the fence and perched on top of the gate. Unfortunately, they’d both misjudged how slick the steel had become from the steadily increasing rain. After making the leap, both Dylan and Luke barely caught the top of the gate in time as they slipped, nearly falling to their deaths.
Hanging from the top of the gate, Dylan could now clearly see four police officers running full tilt towards her. Grabbing the vertical bars, Dylan slid down to the ground. Even slick with rain, the rails still burned her hands. Landing hard on the grass, tumbling backwards into a fresh puddle of mud, the girl clawed her way onto her feet. Then, she ran some more.
One of the officers yelled back towards the house, “Get the squad cars and cut ‘em off!”
Luke’s long legs carried him further and faster as he shouted back, “Come on, hurry up!”
Dylan was certain she’d twisted something, or sprained whatever could be sprained. she definitely felt something was wrong as they kept running down the grassy hill and through a private community park. The rain continued to get worse. With each step she sank into a soggy, slippery earth. Combined with gravity and inertia working with Dylan, it nearly felt more like falling down hill than running.
Then things got worse.
Headlights shone through the trees, bearing down on Dylan and Luke. Two of the squad cars were making their way down the hill after them. The vehicles had their brights and lights on. Blue and red beams chased each other over the grassy slope. That’s when Dylan also noticed the lights reflection in the water ahead. Just ten more yards ahead was a man made river that cut through the center of the park. It was wide enough to swim across, but not for a car to drive through. It was also stagnate and freezing.
Wading into the water, Dylan did her best to hold the binder out of the water as she swam one handed through the river. Only about twenty meters across, Dylan’s feet touched the bottom of the river and made her way up the opposite embankment. She heard one of the squad cars skid to a halt. Judging by the sound of the splash, the other wasn’t so lucky. Still, she didn’t dare look back. Every step she took weighed down with more mud building up around her feet and ankles. Every breath burned as it entered her lungs.
The pain didn’t matter. They had to keep going.
Having reached the top of the hill, Dylan and Luke were spent. Reduced to a staggered jog, they made their way into a housing track filled with average sized estates. Ducking into the closest back alley, Luke breathlessly spoke, “There’s a community pool two blocks down. Pretty sure there’s a payphone.”
Dylan didn’t even have enough energy to reply. She kept pounding the asphalt after her step brother. At the sound of an approaching car rolling towards the end of the alley, Luke dove behind a trashcan. Dylan followed suit. Peeking through the space between the plastic can and the wooden fence, the young girl saw the side of a squad car slowly approaching the end of the alley. It lingered there, blocking off their escape.
Gasping for breath, Dylan inhaled a mixed scent of cool rain water and garbage fumes. She coughed into her elbow, but the sound still carried down the alley. In that same instance, the spotlight from the patrol car swept the alley. The light hovered over the trashcans Dylan and Luke pressed themselves up against. It wasn’t just the rain or the puddle she was currently sitting in that made Dylan freeze in place. Hopelessness began to creep into her brain like a frigid fog.
Just as it had been when she was trapped in Amie’s bathroom, the world suddenly seemed impossibly large. No matter how much confidence or proficiency Dylan gained through gaming, she felt like she was the avatar under control, and not the player behind the controller. Her opponents were the ones with the power. The squad car at the end of the alley was the one in control. Then again, just like being stuck in the bathroom, that fog of fear eventually cleared.
Water sloshed over the pavement as the tires of the patrol car slowly rolled forward. Luke put a hand on his step-sister’s shoulder and panted out, “If we hop this fence and cut across the lawn, we’ll be directly across from the pool.”
Slowly lifting herself to her feet, Dylan heard every muscle in her legs scream in pain. Every tendon felt like razor wire. Every bone was a step away from shattering. All the neurons flooded the highways of her brain with the same message: Stop. Moving. This was pain that she could no longer ignore. Unfortunately, she’d still have to work through it. There was no other option.
Struggling to climb up on the trashcans, Luke was kind enough to offer Dylan a boost over the fence. Pressing herself over the top of the wooden railing, she felt splinters dig their way into her stomach. Luke apparently had enough energy left to easily throw himself over the fence and land on the other side. Dylan considered staying on the top of the fence for awhile longer spread out like a cat with the falling rain gently massaging her back. Then the cop car came back.
Quickly rolling over the other side of the fence, Dylan would have broken whatever was left to break if Luke hadn’t caught her. She managed to cough out a weak, “Thanks.”
Luke said nothing. He tugged on her sleeve as they hobbled through some stranger’s backyard towards the side yard. Again, life could never just be as simple as Super Mario World. Just run from left to right, again and again. No matter how much he ran, Mario never looked as exhausted as Dylan felt. Then again, what did she know? Maybe after all those times breaking brick blocks with his head, that plumber was probably just too brain dead to feel anything at all.
Perhaps, Dylan thought as she and Luke waited by the gate, she’d simply will her brain to ignore the pain. But silencing the cries of her throbbing muscles would yield the same results as a meter maid politely asking NWA to keep the noise down. It wouldn’t make a difference. The pain would not be silenced. It had to be embraced, traversed, and overcome. As soon as that patrol car turned the corner out of sight, they’d have to run again.
And that’s exactly what they did.