Comic 31 - Chapter 5 - 2

3rd Feb 2021, 8:53 AM in Chapter 5: Then fall together

Anton woke up in the dark, surrounded by the sound of shallow breaths. He could barely see the sleepers as he tiptoed his way between beds and out in the hallway. He remembered everything now. Wherever he was, there had to be a way out.

But the only exit from the hallway was through the toilets. Which simply meant there had to be another door at the other end, he told himself as he hurried along a row of broken sinks. Paint was peeling off the walls where the mirrors should have been; the only windows were too small and too high up to be of any use. The urinals in the next room didn't work either, and the stalls were hideous holes threatening to suck him in. He tried not to look and creeped through the next doorway into the showers, and then into a long room of broken sinks which looked awfully familiar.

No... that couldn't be right. He retraced his steps, trying to get a feel for the building's layout. The place was intended to trap him, but as the Caretaker had taught him, messing with architecture like that made it inherently unstable. Sure enough, the doors behind him were in different positions now, and led into rooms with changed layouts. But one of the doorways hadn't been there before. Had he willed it into existence? Yes and no, his mentor would have said. It was a vicious circle -- or a virtuous one. Matter of perspective.

He emerged into a corridor with lush wood paneling, carpets on the floor and sound-proofed doors with golden plates affixed to them. He didn't dare open any of them, so he went along, past a corner and then another. There were curtains from place to place, which meant he couldn't see what lay ahead... but what lay ahead couldn't see him, either.

It seemed that he was running in circles by the time he heard voices. There were two people, speaking in hushed voices... and they were coming towards him. To the right, a niche in the thick walls contained one of the many identical doors. With few options, he reached out and cracked it open, with a deafening squeal of hinges.

The voices ahead cut off immediately, and Anton held his breath. But no sound came from inside the room. Steps were coming his way, and he passed through the inch-wide opening like a puff of smoke.

The light of dawn seeped in through bay windows, revealing an office cluttered with wooden desks and metallic file cabinets placed wherever there had been a little room. There wasn't as much as a calculator in sight, and he'd only seen that kind of telephone in a museum. He crossed the maze to look outside. The windows, locked and protected by steel grates, led onto a narrow balcony, beyond which he could only see the tops of tall pine trees. There were a couple of keys on the nearest desk, but they didn't fit. He took them anyway.

Another door was present as well, so he advanced room by room along the outer wall of the building, until he reached a corner. And still no exit was apparent. He took a door to the left, expecting another corridor.

Instead, it was a common bedroom, like the one he'd just left except bigger. He passed between sleeping boys and girls, some his age, some much younger; they stirred, but didn't wake up. Perhaps it was for the better. The bay windows here were secured in the familiar way, but this time there was solid ground beyond them.

And the keys worked for a change.

The sleepers began to wake up while he made the cranks turn and pulled open the grates. The noise was awful; there was no time to explain. He ran outside, followed by cries of "what are you doing?" and "we'll get punished!" and "not if we go with him". He could only guess how many were doing just that, from the sound of their steps, and he pushed ahead towards the treeline. He could see a town in the distance, down the mountain. Maybe he could make it. Maybe they could all make it.

He spun on his heels to urge the other escapees on, and saw the last few being grabbed by the orderlies streaming out of the building. That caused their friends to stop, and soon the run ground to a halt, apart from a few stragglers who were too far ahead already. Then a gangly old man in a black robe came out the door, the way a spider might crawl out of its crack in the wall. He seemed to suck the hope out of everyone.

"So much for your methods, Klaus," he called out.

"They worked but for a little detail, Papp," answered a voice from behind Anton. "Which I'm going to fix momentarily."

The boy didn't have time to react. He felt a painful jab in the ribs and the world suddenly felt very distant. "Run!" he yelled. "They can't stop all of you!" He had the satisfaction to see some escapees follow his advice before everything went dark again.

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