Control: Chapter Six

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It was growing dark as Louisa ran. For a long time she hadn’t stopped, and in the darkness she was drenched in sweat. She couldn’t see more than a few metres in front of herself: the fallen branches and forest floor materialised in front of her. She felt alive; erratic; as though her mind was on a precipice, and she could either scream and fall, or sit, poised, for that little while longer.

She could hear the sound of sirens somewhere far away. Through the trees she’d catch the occasional glimmer of yellow, scraps and chinks of the police lights, stencilled against the darkness ahead. She knew they’d be looking for her — that Governor August will have picked up the phone, the second she slammed the front door and ran. She wondered if they could track her through her chip. Surely, she thought, they would have found her already if they could. Maybe they were coming for her now, or maybe, somewhere, they were watching her move, a tiny dot on a huge screen in a computer lab for all to see.

Her breathing began to settle, suddenly docile. Her legs, aching slightly, were pushed to the back of her mind… a simple fact that she could easily, for the moment, coexist with. Running, though she was quite clearly exhausted, cleared her head, and for the first time in her life, she felt as though there was space in her mind.

Like an empty room, it was only a matter of time before someone, or something, walked in. Governor August’s words had cleared the mental rubble and forged through clouded passages, opening Louisa’s mind to an entire vista she hadn’t known existed. So, she thought, this is what clarity feels like. Memory, clear as day, floated to the surface.

My head hurts and I don’t know why. We’re meeting the nice lady, that’s what Dad said. There’s lots of steps and Dad carries Gracie on his back. We get to the top and Dad kneels down, asks me if I’m okay. It hurts to smile but I do, and Dad runs a hand over my hair. He smiles.

“You’re a big kid, aren’t you? Walking up those stairs all by yourself?”

He stands back up when the lady comes over. Her dress is shiny and white. She has a big smile and lots of shiny things on her ears and neck. Dad looks nervous. He keeps brushing himself down and looking from side to side.

“Abel August!” the lady says. Her eyes are shiny, too. She must be smiling so much it hurts. She kneels down next to me.

“I’m going to be your new mother,” she says.

Cora. Louisa remembered it all now. After her mother died, it had been terrible. She remembered sleeping on cardboard boxes and her father digging food from the dumpsters of the supermarkets. And then, her father being loaned a cheap, brown suit. And that day at government house when they’d met Cora. They became the government’s charity cause after that. Cora was his good, respectable new wife, nothing at all like the supposedly evil defect he’d been married to before. They gave him a title; Abel August, Governor of Defects. He took care of people like her mother. He cut them off, from income, food and everything else it took to live, to make sure nobody made the same mistakes as Rose. To protect them, Louisa recalled with a spurt of anger.

That was why she’d run away. Her heart ached as she realised what a shell of a man her father had become. Her mother hadn’t died for that. She’d died for rebellion and belief in what was right, and her father was not. She knew almost nothing of her mother; she’d been too young to remember much, but the small amount she did know was infinitely more promising than anything her father had given her. Cora, too, had given her nothing. Louisa longed for the memories of a happy childhood, framed in a perfect, old-film-photo bubble, but there was nothing. Cora had never taken her shopping, or done her hair, or read her stories before bed. She knew Cora loved to shop, and she played with Gracie’s hair as she gushed about the latest seasonal fashions… but to Louisa, Cora had always been cold and disconnected.

Maybe that was because the aftertaste of dissent and their gritty past had made a visible mark on Louisa. Or, she thought, maybe she reminded her father too much of Rose, and Cora knew he’d never love anyone as much as he’d loved Rose.

It was growing cold. The blanketing darkness of the late night was setting in, and Louisa didn’t have any idea of where she was. She was well and truly alone. She sat down on the forest floor as twigs and leaves crackled beneath her. Owls hooted faintly, somewhere higher in the trees. The wind rustled softly, the sound fading out on to the dark, empty air… and that was when the loneliness slammed into her. She missed Gracie. She missed her mother. And somewhere, deep in the pits of her stomach, she yearned for the lost part of her father. She wanted so badly to go back and try to reconcile everything, but knew there was no bringing it back. Louisa, alone on the forest floor, cried herself to sleep.

She woke in a soft green light. The ground was dewy below her and she shivered with the cold, despite the weak ray of sunlight shining down on her. She stood and brushed her hand over her cheek, which had evidently been covered in mud in sleep, and pulled her hair back into a ponytail. She stretched, her body aching from sleeping on the floor, and then began to walk.

She walked, and walked, and walked. The sun reached its peak in the sky and began to then set, and Louisa, stumbling along and nearly falling every so often over some fallen forest debris, knew she needed desperately to find food and water. She was fairly certain she was walking away from the Sanctuary, or she’d have walked in a circle already. Stopping by a fallen tree, she closed her eyes and listened carefully for the sound of water… there was a stream nearby. She jumped over the fallen tree, which opened onto a small rivulet. She followed it downhill as it broadened, listening hard to follow its sounds as there wasn’t much light to see. The rivulet ran off the edge of another precipice. Louisa was weak with heat exhaustion and hunger, so she sunk to the ground and began to drink. She shuffled forward, easing her legs over the ledge, and when she saw the fire burning down by a lagoon below, she wondered if she was seeing things.

And then, Louisa blacked out.

Tara Wesson is a second-year Journalism and Creative Writing student. She likes long walks on the beach, piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain. But no, she's really just a book-lover with a dog called Shorty, a love of travel, and a penchant for dad jokes.