I walked through the snow in silence, my worries about the night drawing in only marginally lessened by the finding of the concealed path. I tried to whistle a tune but I couldn’t think of any.
I hadn’t gone far when the stillness shattered. A loud bang, somewhere in the distance, caused me to start violently. Recollections of dawn raids in the city came back to me in an instant, along with the fear and the panic that always accompanied them. I could not pinpoint the source of the sound, nor the direction it came from.
It took me a good few minutes to calm down. Only after I had reasoned with myself that I was no longer in the city, and that I was safer here than I had been in months, did I do the one thing I could do: keep walking.
A little while after that it was fully dark, and some time after that – I had no way to tell how long – I caught the gentle purr of an engine. And it was getting louder. There was nowhere for me to hide. I was cold and tired. So I just stood there and waited.
Lights appeared ahead of me. I raised my arms to shield my eyes from the blinding brightness. A car stopped a few metres away.
“Are you Luke Ridgeway?” a voice called out the window.
“Yes…but how do you know that?” My question was ignored.
“You’re to come with us, sir. We would’ve met you at the gate but the snow slowed us down and then we blew a tire.”
“Come with you where?”
“We are not at liberty to disclose that information, sir. Please get in. Or stay out here and perish. Your choice.”
It wasn’t really much of a choice, so I discarded the dead branch and climbed in.
There were two men sitting in the front of the car; a driver and a passenger. From the moment I got in, they talked quietly amongst themselves, and ignored me. I fell asleep.
I was jolted awake, as the car bumped along an uneven surface. I looked out of the windscreen and saw what looked to be bonfires stretched along the outside of a huge fence that loomed before us.
The vehicle paused at a gatehouse, where armed guards were stationed. One of the more senior personnel approached the car and the driver handed him a piece of paper which he proceeded to read. On looking up he stared at me intently, but directed his question to the driver.
“Are you sure?” There was a trace of both excitement and disbelief in his voice.
“That’s what I was told. I know nothing else.”
The man nodded, stepped back and waved us through the gate. It clanged closed behind us with an ominous sound that sent chills right through me.
Something didn’t feel right here. What had I gotten myself into?