They were on us, as the first fist was about to hit me, there was a great whooshing sound. We both stood and looked up as the sky exploded in fire. I saw something like a wave ripple across the stars, the sound began to fade and we heard them retreating away from us. I reached for her, but her hand seemed to wither in mine. She began to be unmade as I touched her. Her skin became transparent as glass, showing he veins and muscles beneath, until these also lost their opacity. She became completely invisible a few moments later and was entirely gone a second after that.
I couldn’t tell if it was snow or ash, but it was everywhere and it both froze and burned at the same time. Something had happened though, some sort of threshold had been crossed, we had done something. The feet were rushing towards us and she crouched down, ready to defend herself from the blows she thought coming, but I hoped they wouldn’t get to us in time. Either way, it was almost over.
My eyes glazed over, I could no longer see clearly. She began to cry again, just soft sobs of desperation. I could hear the bird though, and that was a realer sound that I had heard this whole time. There was nothing manufactured about that noise, it was simply an animal calling out that something was about to begin. The feet were coming though, and there was no where left to hide. They were running now, they were almost upon us.
That tiny bird, it had been the first thing I had actually seen alive besides her, since I could remember. It sat hunched and ready for the next phase, which I was sure was about to begin. I clutched her hand, and told her to think about what might come next. It was entirely possible that things were going to be all right.
They were a signal, and one that I could read on my own by now. She was growing calmer as I grew more confident, but the feet were closer, and there were a great deal more of them now. We had walked through the shadows, but they had somehow become solid and joined with our pursuers.
Something was wrong, these were shadows and memories. Smears of nothing. No more than the punchline of a joke we had been told all this time. She said we hadn’t escaped, we had worked ourselves in deeper. I wasn’t sure, something felt like this was actually the right path, we were about to find our way.
They looked like normal people. If we followed them, we could find the way home. We might get lost in the crowd, our follower would latch on to some other poor soul. We could be part of this movement and escape.
I cannot say that these were the most reassuring things I had ever seen, but the power lines at the very least gave some kind of path we could follow. If I went in that direction, surely I would find someone, or something. The sounds of the feet were still behind us though, and she was already starting to run in their direction.
After what felt like hours, I could see the end of the stairs, and thought we were almost out. The footfalls echoed behind us, the hoobnail boots making a distinct sound on the metal steps of the stairs. She didn’t look back at me, simply began to run up the spiral. After what felt like an eternity on the stairs, we finally came out into the open.
And so we began up the stairs, long, strait and then coiling spirals of stairwells. Our feet were loud on the steel and we had to stop every few hundred steps to see if we heard the feet of our follower on the stairs behind us. They were still there, still following and still moving at the same pace. If we just kept going faster than that, we could outrun them. But to what end? We didn’t even know if there would be anything at the top.