He hadn’t remembered much when he was taken off the road. It had been dark, and the road had covered over with smoke, blotting out the streetlights and the camera flashes from the crowd. Next, there had been gunshots. On his left, on his right, in front of him? He couldn’t tell. The sound seemed to come from everywhere and it was disorienting. He didn’t even flinch at that noise anymore, though. On the Walk, the sound of a gun was commonplace. He’d gotten used to it.
Next there were the hands, grabbing at his arms, his shoulders. These were harder to ignore, but he couldn’t fight them off if he tried. They were pulling him, pulling him off the road. If he walked off the road, he’d be dead. Shot dead like Percy. He had to keep moving, he had to make four miles per hour. He resisted as much as he could, then he felt a sharp pinch in his neck and the world faded to black.
He woke up slow, not all at once. He blinked slowly, wincing in the bright light. He became aware of the throbbing in his head and the persistent ache in his feet. Once he fully returned to consciousness, that was when he started panicking. Why was he laying down? Why wasn’t he walking? God, why wasn’t he walking they’d kill him they’d kill him.
He sat up, urged on by fear even though his whole body was crying out in protest. He swung his legs over the side of the bed. He tried to stand, letting out a soft cry when he put pressure on his feet. He sat back down, gritted his teeth and tried again. Holding onto the edge of the bed, he began to walk.
“Baker,” a raspy voice interrupted his concentration, and he turned to look. It was Garraty, laying in a bed much like Baker’s own, looking very small and pale. “Lay back down, Baker. The Walk’s over.”
Baker did as he was told. It felt good to be off his feet again. He let his head sink back against the pillow and his breathing slowly returned to normal- the panic ebbed away and the pain in his feet subsided to a dull ache. It wasn’t going away. Baker wondered if it would ever go away.
The room he was in was lit by bright fluorescent bulbs, that only intensified Baker’s headache and made his eyes hurt. The room was small, with only the two beds in it and a table between them. On the opposite wall, there were two doors- one presumably leading out and the other possibly to a bathroom. Baker would have to investigate later when his feet didn’t hurt as bad.
Baker realized he was hungry, and parched, and just plain confused. Why were he and Garraty here? And what had Garraty said? The Walk was over? That wasn’t possible- the Walk didn’t end until only one was left.
“Garraty, what happened?” he asked, looking over at the other boy. “What is this place?”
Garraty shifted to face Baker and propped himself up on an elbow. “We got rescued from the Walk. This group that’s against the Major, they set off smoke bombs on the road, shot at the halftrack, and dragged off as many of us as they could,” he said. “I don’t know where we are, but I think we’re safe here. I think they’ll help us get better.”
“Do you know who else is here?” Baker asked.
Garraty shook his head. “I only woke up a few hours ago, and they didn’t tell me anything.”
Just as he said that, a woman walked into the room, entering through the door on the right. The hallway that she came from looked dim. “How are you feeling?” she asked them.
“Alright,” Garraty answered, and Baker just grunted in response. His mind was running a mile a minute. Where were they? What was going to happen to them? Why had these people decided to save them?
The woman went over to Garraty first. She gave him some pills and a glass of water, and set a tray of food on the table beside his bed. The food looked bland, but definitely better than the concentrates they were given on the Walk, and it made Baker ravenous.
She turned to Baker next. She had short dark hair and a kind face. It made him feel more relaxed to be around kind faces. She introduced herself as Pamela, and she helped him to the bathroom. “I’m going to clean and bandage your feet, and then we’ll get you something to eat. How does that sound, Art?” She was talking to him like a child, but Baker found he didn’t mind. His brain was too muddled and confused to take in the full gravity of what was happening to him, so Baker just nodded.
Pamela helped Baker to sit on a stool next to the bathtub, and then she filled the tub with warm water. She began to gently wash his feet, cleaning off the dirt and dried blood and flaking skin. He bit down on his fist to try to stifle his cries of pain, but he couldn’t hide the tears that rolled down his cheeks. The bathwater was quickly turning brown, and the blood and pus and dirt were washed away. What Pamela couldn’t wash away, however, were the bruises, the ugly purple swollen bruises that covered his feet. Baker had to look away.
She drained the tub and gently dried his feet. Baker winced at the pain and the broken sob that came out of him. It was embarrassing to cry like this in front of a stranger, though he supposed he had done much more embarrassing things on national TV as part of the Long Walk. “You went through something really hard, Art,” Pamela said as she applied ointment onto his feet. “That makes you brave.”
Baker didn’t feel brave, but he wiped at his eyes and tried to pull himself together. The ointment was soothing, even if it didn’t get rid of the pain altogether. “Where are we?” he asked, and hated how cracked his voice sounded.
Pamela shook her head as she began to bandage his feet in clean, white fabric. “I can’t tell you that,” she said. “But you’re safe here.”
After that she helped him back into bed and then brought him water and a tray of food. She pressed two pills into his hands- “they’ll help with the pain”- and he took them without hesitation. He devoured his food, barely even tasting it. It felt good to eat. It felt good not to think and just feed his body. Pamela left and Garraty was asleep in his bed.
When Baker finished eating, he set the tray aside and he slept too.
Pamela was back the next day, to clean and re-bandage their wounds, and to give them breakfast. Garraty went first, and then Baker. It still hurt when she cleaned his feet, and silent tears rolled down his cheeks. “Did you- uh, did you manage to save anyone else?” he asked, not sure what answer he was hoping for.
“We did,” Pamela said. “We got 10 boys total. They’re scattered across the country, in safe places like this.”
Baker felt relieved at that. He and Garraty weren’t the only survivors. He wondered if the others were his friends. Maybe McVries, Abraham, Collie Parker? He hoped, he hoped. “Is anyone here besides me and Garraty?”
Pamela nodded as she bandaged up his feet. “Yes,” she said. “Peter McVries.”
Baker learned that McVries was in a room down the hall, and he was in critical condition after being shot in the stomach. Pamela didn’t tell him how he was doing, just that he and Garraty couldn’t go and see him now. It didn’t sound great, but to Baker it was the best news he’d heard in a long time. McVries was here.
As soon as Pamela left, Baker sat up in bed and swung his legs over the side so he was facing Garraty. “Hey, Garraty?”
The other boy lifted his head. “What is it?”
“McVries is here.”
Garraty sat up immediately, a look of shock and joy on his face. “Really? He’s here?”
Baker nodded. “Pam said he was hurt pretty bad. I guess he got shot by one of the soldiers when they were getting us out.”
“But is he okay?” Garraty was sitting on the edge of the bed now, hands gripping the bed frame so tight they had turned white.
“I think so,” Baker answered. “We can’t see him now, but Pam said it would be soon.”
Ray let out a sigh of relief. “God, I can’t believe we’re all here. I can’t believe we’re alive.”
Baker couldn’t believe it either. He had become pretty accustomed to the notion that he’d never see his family or his home again. He had become accustomed to the notion of never again breathing in the summer air or napping under a willow tree or reading a good book or laughing with people that he loved.
And maybe he never would do those things again. What kind of life could he have now? Surely the Major was looking for them.
“Garraty?” he asked, his voice small and unsure.
“Where are we gonna go from here? We can’t go home.”
Garraty considered this for a moment, and he looked upset. He didn’t answer. The two fell into troubled silence.
“Baker?” Garraty whispered. “Are you awake?”
It was nighttime now, and the room was impossibly dark.
“Yeah, I am.”
“Why do you think we’re here?” he asked. “Like, why did they save us?”
Baker thought about this for a couple minutes. It really didn’t make sense. Why go to all the trouble to save ten walkers? “I don’t know. Maybe just to say fuck you to the Major?”
Garraty yawned and Baker heard him shifting in his bed. “They want us to do something,” he finally said. “They didn’t go to all that trouble out of the goodness of their hearts.”
It was funny. Garraty was always the innocent one, but now he sounded as cynical and jaded as McVries. “I wonder if they’re looking for us,” Baker said.
“Probably,” Garraty answered. “Who knows if they’ll find us? How can they know where we are when we don’t even know where we are?”
Baker snorted and the two fell silent. Before long, Baker heard Garraty’s breathing even out, and then he fell asleep too.
It was a couple of days until they were allowed to see McVries. A man named Alan came to get them and escorted them to McVries’s room. Baker’s feet felt a lot better, but it still hurt to put too much pressure on them and he and Garraty walked with crutches. It wasn’t too far a walk from their room, and Baker noticed how dim the hallway was. There were no windows in sight. The floors and walls and ceiling were made of cement. It looked like they were in some underground bunker.
Alan opened the door for them, and there was Peter McVries, lying in a bed and looking weaker and smaller than Baker had ever seen him. Garraty was at his side in an instant. “Pete! You’re alive!” he cried, sitting down in one of the chairs by his bedside. Alan left them alone and the door shut behind him.
“Hey, Ray,” McVries said, his voice scratchy and raw. “It’s good to see you.” Baker limped over, dropping into the seat next to Garraty. The two of them were holding hands. “Hi, Art.”
“Hi, Pete,” Baker replied. McVries called them by their first names. It felt like they were people- the Three Musketeers- and not just nameless numbers on a march to the death. It felt good. “How are you feeling?”
“Like shit,” McVries answered. “Of course it feels good to lay down and eat real food, but my stomach… it hurts like a bitch.” McVries pulled down his sheets to reveal bandages around his torso. Blood leaked through the bandages on the left side.
“Shit, Pete,” Garraty said, and reached out to touch the bandages. McVries winced. Garraty pulled his hand back and mumbled a “sorry.”
“Are they taking care of you, Pete?” Baker asked. The blood on the bandages looked black.
He nodded. “Yeah. They’re feeding me and cleaning the wound and all that,” he answered. He grinned at them and squeezed Garraty’s hand. “When they told me you guys were here, I couldn’t believe it. I’m glad to see you.”
“I’m glad to see you, too,” Baker said, and Garraty just wiped sweaty strands of hair out of McVries’s face and beamed.
The three sat in companionable silence, basking in the knowledge that they were alive and they were together, until Alan came in and told Baker and Garraty that they needed to go to bed.
Knowing that McVries was alive, Baker felt more grounded. With the three of them together, they had a chance of getting out and having a normal life. They could leave this strange underground bunker and go find a cabin in the woods somewhere. Things could never go back to normal, but they could make a new normal.
In the bed next to him, Garraty awoke from a nightmare, breathing hard and crying. Baker went to him, grabbing his hand to calm him. “Ray, Ray, just breathe. Breathe, okay? You’re okay. I’m here.”
Slowly, Garraty’s breathing evened out and he wiped at his eyes. “Art, can we go talk in the bathroom?” Baker nodded and helped him to the bathroom. Garraty sat in the tub while Baker sat cross-legged on the plush rug in front of the sink. “Every time I close my eyes I feel like I’m on the Walk again,” Garraty said after a while.
“Me too,” Baker admitted. Even when he was just laying in bed, allowing his subconscious mind to wander, he was brought back time and time again to the Walk. “It’s helped me a bit to think of myself more as Art Baker, and less as #3, you know? Like, I’ll recite things about myself.” Garraty looked at him confused. “Like, my name is Art Baker. I’m from Louisiana. I have seven siblings. My favorite book in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I was on the Long Walk, but I got out.”
“I’ll try now,” Garraty said, and took a deep breath. “My name is Ray Garraty. I’m from Maine. I used to have a brother but he’s dead now. I have a girlfriend named Jan. I like to dance. I like to knit. I escaped the Long Walk.”
“That’s good, Ray,” Baker said reassuringly. Garraty had his legs pulled up to his chest and he was staring down at his knees.
“Art, do you remember anything from when we were taken?” Garraty asked.
Baker shook his head. “Not really,” he answered, desperately trying to piece together what happened. “It was dark, and I remember guns everywhere. My neck really hurt and then I just passed out. I don’t really remember anything before that.” In fact, the whole last day of the Walk was fuzzy in his memory.
“My neck hurt too,” Garraty said, and began to rub the side of his neck absentmindedly. He paused, and then looked at Baker, a dark look on his face. “Do you… do you think they gave us something?”
“Gave us something?” Baker repeated. “Like, to knock us out?”
“I, uh, I think so,” Baker finally said. “I mean, I can hardly remember anything from that last day on the road.”
“What do you think about the pills they give us?” Garraty asked next. “They say it’s for pain, but I always feel worse after I take them.”
“Ray, come on, this just sounds insane now,” Baker said. But even as he said it, Baker’s mind was filled with doubt. The pills never did ease the aching in his feet, and they always made him feel tired and sluggish. He remembered just the day before when Ray had collapsed on his way to the bathroom after taking his pills. Baker had hardly had the strength to haul him back up on his feet. “But I think you might be right. We should stop taking the pills.”
“We’ll have to tell Pete, too,” Ray said. “And when we get our strength back, we have to get out of here. We can’t trust these people, Art.”
The next day they went to see McVries again. They hadn’t taken their pills- they hid them under their tongues when Pamela gave them to them. Baker hadn’t been able to notice much of a difference yet.
They settled into their chairs by McVries’s bedside and Garraty immediately reached for his hand, locking their fingers together. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“I’m alright,” McVries answered. But he didn’t look all right. His face was red and sweaty, and his bandages still oozed dark blood. “Just taking it one day at a time, eh, Ray?”
Garraty grinned and ducked his head. Baker remembered that conversation. That was one of the first days of the Walk, and they’d been talking about the key to living a happy life. Garraty had said to just take it one day at a time, and McVries said that was bullshit. Honestly, Baker didn’t know where he stood on that one.
“Pete,” Garraty said. “We don’t think we’re safe here.”
McVries furrowed his eyebrows and scooted up so he was in a sitting position, wincing as he did so. Baker watched in horror as his bandages darkened with even more blood. “What do you mean?”
“We think they drugged us before they got us here, and they’re feeding us pills to keep us weak,” Baker answered. Saying it out loud, he realized it sounded insane, but he believed it to be true with all his heart.
McVries processed this for a moment, wiping his sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes with his free hand. “So you think I should stop taking the pills?”
“It’s up to you,” Garraty said. “We think they’re fucking with our memories. Like, can you remember anything from that last day?”
“No?” he answered, and paused, looking deep in thought. “No, I don’t. I kinda remember the smoke, but not much before that.”
“We think that if we stop taking the pills, we might be able to remember more,” Baker said.
“Alright,” McVries said. “I’m in.”
Garraty and Baker began going to the bathroom to talk more, with Garraty in the tub and Baker sitting with his back against the sink. It felt more comfortable to talk in there, where they couldn’t be interrupted or overheard. Baker’s every waking thought was consumed by paranoia. Pamela and Alan had always been nice enough, but he didn’t know their intentions, and that scared him. He and Garraty had never met anyone else in the bunker, but he knew there had to be more. When they left the room to visit McVries, the network of hallways looked winding and complex.
“Do you think we could make it out?” Garraty asked, studying his hands.
Baker shrugged. “We don’t know how big this place is. We don’t know the way out. I don’t know if Pete could make it.”
Garraty looked up at that, eyebrows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t think they’re taking care of him,” Baker replied. He drew his knees up to his chest. Seeing McVries had made him feel hopeful in a way he hadn’t known for a long time. But their last visit with him troubled him. Watching fresh blood bloom on his bandages when he moved, seeing how sweaty he looked. It didn’t sit right with Baker.
Garraty looked down. “We’ll go see him tomorrow.” His voice wavered, but Baker didn’t mention it.
The next day, Garraty and Baker visited McVries. It had been a week since they had stopped taking their pills. Baker felt stronger and surer on his feet, but he had no way of telling if that was from the pills, or from resting and getting regular meals.
McVries looked worse than he had before, and Baker’s heart tightened in his chest. He looked thinner, like he was wasting away. Garraty and Baker exchanged glances, like Garraty saw what Baker was seeing but didn’t want to acknowledge it.
“How are you feeling, Pete?” Baker asked as he sat down. Garraty sat down and grabbed McVries’s hand. With the other hand, he pushed his dark hair away from his eyes. His hand lingered.
“Pete, you’re burning up!” he cried, and then looked to Baker in desperation.
“Ray, don’t worry about it, okay?” Pete pleaded. “Let’s not talk about it.”
And that’s when it hit Baker. McVries knew he was sick. He knew he was dying. And he knew that there was nothing any of them could do.
“Okay,” Ray said quietly, and brought his hand down to rest on top of McVries’s. McVries gave it a squeeze.
“Are you guys feeling any different since you stopped taking your pills?” McVries asked.
“I feel a bit stronger,” Baker said. “But I don’t feel like I remember any more from that day.”
“Same,” Garraty said, but he sounded like his brain was thousands of miles away. He was rubbing circles in the back of McVries’s hand with his thumb, and looking at him with soft and tender eyes.
“I think I’ve remembered a bit,” McVries said, and the two regained focus as they looked at him attentively. To Baker, he said, “I was walking with you, and Abe. Parker was there, too, but like ten feet ahead of us You and Abe were playing that coin game again. You were winning.” Baker smiled at that. He remembered playing that game with Abraham earlier in the Walk. “And you, Ray, were walking with Stebbins, and he was probably playing fucking mind games with you.”
Garraty snorted. “That sounds like him.”
“It’s not much, but that’s all I have. We were passing through some small town. It was pretty dark out. The woods were on our left- I guess that’s where they came from.” McVries fell back against the pillow. It seemed like the effort that went into speaking had exhausted him. “Tell me what we’re gonna do once we get out of here. Please.”
“We can try to look for the others,” Baker said. “And then we can find a cabin up in the mountains somewhere, where we can live.”
“You could paint again, Pete,” Garraty interjected. “You know, woods, mountains, streams, and shit.”
McVries laughed at this, but it was hard to ignore the pained look on his face. “That would be nice.”
“We can hunt and fish, and live a peaceful life, away from all this,” Baker continued. “We can move on. And then maybe one day, it’ll be safe to live a normal life.”
“Spending eternity with the two of you wouldn’t be so bad,” McVries mused. “Three musketeers for life, huh?”
“Three musketeers for life,” Garraty and Baker echoed.
At that moment, Alan came in to tell them they only had a few more minutes left. The door clicked shut and the two looked back to McVries. As much as he didn’t want to think about it, this felt like a final goodbye, and Baker hated it.
The two stood. “Bye, Pete,” Garraty said, and then leaned down to press a kiss to his forehead. He straightened back up, and McVries clung to his hand. He held out his other for Baker, and he took it.
“Hey, I love you guys,” McVries said. “The Long Walk’s bullshit, but I’m glad I did it with you guys.”
“I love you, too,” Baker said, and squeezed his hand. “At least something good came out of all this. I met you guys.”
“I love you, Pete,” Garraty said, voice serious and eyes shining.
The three dropped hands as Alan came back in to usher Garraty and Baker back to their room. The last thing Baker saw before the door shut behind them was McVries with his head in his hands.
The next morning, Pamela brought them their breakfast and pills, just like she did every morning. Baker hid his pills under his tongue as he took a sip of water, as was his new routine. “Hey, Pam?” he asked.
“I was wondering about Pete. Could someone change his bandages or something? He didn’t look too good when we saw him yesterday,” he said. He didn’t know if anything he said could help, but he’d hate himself if he did nothing.
She gave him a warm smile. “Of course, Art,” she said, and smoothed down his hair. “I’ll go see to that right now.”
Pamela left the room, and Garraty and Baker exchanged looks. “Thanks,” Garraty said.
“You don’t need to thank me,” Baker replied. “He’s my friend too.”
The two began to eat their breakfast, consumed with worry for McVries.
Baker’s memories came back to him in dreams. Maybe he was influenced by what McVries had said, but either way he could see himself on the road, playing coin toss with Abraham. He was cheating, and with each round he lost, Abraham grew more and more frustrated.
Parker was a few paces ahead of them, occasionally turning around to laugh at Abraham. “How can you be so goddamn stupid, Abe?” Collie had barked out. “It’s obvious he’s cheating you!”
“He’s not cheating,” Abraham defended. “Are you?” he asked Baker.
“Of course not,” Baker answered, and when Abraham wasn’t looking, he winked at McVries. McVries laughed.
The halftrack trundled along on their right. It was their third night on the road. They were passing through a small town, so they had street lights overhead and a meager crowd turning out to see this year’s Long Walkers.
It had been instantaneous. They heard the clanging of metal and then smoke descended over the road. Baker figured the clang came from the bombs hitting the asphalt.
The guns came next. Deafening and from all sides. Baker kept walking through it all, like he was hardwired to keep going. He guessed at that point he was.
The crowd was screaming, and he heard walkers crying out in pain. One of them must have been McVries.
Then the hands.
That was the part where he always jolted awake, panting and covered in sweat.
“Can we visit Pete today?” Ray asked Pamela the next morning.
She simply smiled as she handed him his pills. “I’m afraid you can’t today.”
Baker looked up from his breakfast tray. “Why not?”
“It’s just not possible right now,” Pamela answered. If she was frustrated with them asking, she didn’t show it. She was good at always keeping her voice neutral and her expression kind.
When she left, Baker and Garraty exchanged nervous glances. They had become adept at communicating with their eyes and not their words. Right now, Garraty looked scared, like he was asking for confirmation from Baker that McVries was okay, but he wouldn’t believe it even if he got it.
Baker said, “We need to get out of here.”
They spent the afternoon practicing walking back and forth across the room. It was much easier to walk than it had been that first day they went to visit McVries. Their feet had healed, and they felt much less sluggish than they used to. When they had taken the pills everyday, Baker always felt exhausted by even the smallest amount of movement, but now he felt strong.
Garraty looked strong as well. He reminded Baker more and more of the day they first met, though it was hard to ignore the gaunt look in his eyes.
“Ray,” he said. “I think we can actually make it.”
They didn’t mention the question of whether or not McVries would be with them.
“I think we can, too.”
Pamela brought them their breakfast the next day, and Baker knew he had to ask about McVries. Garraty had been up all night, tossing and turning, worrying. Garraty hadn’t mentioned it, but he knew that was what he was thinking about. Baker had had a hard time sleeping too.
She gave Garraty his pills and then turned to Baker. He hid them under his tongue as always. She turned to leave and he spit them out and put them under his pillow. “Hey, Pam?” he called.
She turned around to face him with a smile on her face. “What is it, Art?”
“Is Pete okay?” he asked.
Her smile faltered and then fell. Baker sucked in a sharp breath. “No,” she answered. “I’m afraid he passed away.” Baker felt like he’d been punched in the gut. He turned to Garraty as the door clicked shut behind her.
“Ray?” he asked. His voice was small as he tried to speak through the tightening in his throat and his chest.
Garraty was looking straight ahead, his face pale and colorless. He was silent, except for his ragged inhale and exhale. He was so still and quiet that it was frightening.
Finally the dam broke. Garraty screamed “fuck!” and picked up his glass and threw it against the wall. It shattered, and glass and water showered down onto the floor.
Baker was with him in an instant, pulling Garraty into his arms and rubbing his back as they both broke down and cried.
Garraty didn’t talk for a few days after that. He just paced back and forth, back and forth. Baker laid curled up in bed and watched him until he couldn’t stand it. Then he’d roll over onto his other side and cry quietly to himself.
Baker knew Garraty loved him, but he didn’t mean nearly as much to him as McVries had. He felt that old familiar guilt creeping up on him. He’d felt it first when his older brother died of a heart attack. He’d been devastated. His brother was his idol. Sure, his brother had gotten into trouble with the law, but Baker himself had done worse. His brother was a good man. After it happened, he’d cried himself to sleep, night after night, thinking it should have been him instead.
And that was why he signed up for the Long Walk, right? That guilt that told him he didn’t deserve to live?
He’d been there right next to McVries, the night that they were all taken. He should’ve been the one who was shot instead.
That’s what he thought about when he tried to sleep. He couldn’t have been more than a foot away from McVries in the smoke. Why couldn’t he have done something to help? Why couldn’t it have been him instead?
A few nights after they heard the news about McVries, Garraty and Baker were sitting in their normal positions in the bathroom.
“We have to get the hell out of here,” Garraty said, looking up from his hands. “Or they’ll kill us, too.”
“They didn’t kill-” Baker began.
“Yes, they did, Art,” Garraty insisted. “They shot him.”
“We can’t know that. It was probably the soldiers.”
“He was shot on his left side. The halftrack was on our right.”
The realization hit Baker. “Oh, shit…”
“And they didn’t take care of him here. They let him get an infection and die,” Ray continued. The tears were falling freely now. “They don’t know what the fuck they’re doing! They’re not doctors! They don’t care if we die. They just want some walkers so they can rally the people and take down the Major!” His voice was gradually becoming louder. “All they need is one.”
Baker buried his head in his hands and cried. He knew he couldn’t have helped McVries, but it was terrible to know that he was alive while his friend was dead. And leaving without McVries felt horrible. This had been their plan together, the three of them. The three musketeers.
But he had to do it. For Ray, who deserved a normal life. And hell, after all this, he deserved a normal life too.
He looked back up, wiping at his eyes with both hands. “We’ll go tomorrow?”
The next night, the two boys sat on the edges of their beds, and put on the shoes they had worn on the Walk. It was all they had to wear, and they needed shoes, but Baker still cringed as he put them back on.
“Do you think they’ll catch us?” Garraty asked.
“I don’t think they’re expecting us to leave,” Baker answered. “They think we’re taking our pills. They think we’re weak and we trust them. They think we don’t know what they did to Pete.”
Garraty nodded and they both stood. “Ray, I really think we can do this. We need to do this.”
They crept to the door and Baker opened it a crack. The hallway was empty, and they stepped out, quietly shutting the door behind them. Baker’s heart was hammering in his chest, going a mile a minute. The fear he felt as they snuck the hallway was akin to the fear he felt when he got his first warning or first saw the soldiers raise their guns against Curley.
They kept moving forward, and the hallways remained empty. Baker saw no signs of life. He guessed it was true- these people really thought they had Baker and Garraty under their thumbs. They really thought they had no idea what was going on here.
They stuck close to the wall, mostly so they had something to lean on as they continued taking tentative steps forward. His feet hurt, but it was manageable. Once they were out, Baker wondered how long it would take for them to notice and start looking for them. And was the Major still looking for them? Were they leaving one bad place just to be caught and taken to another? It wouldn’t do any good to dwell on it now.
They had taken Garraty’s watch when they first got here, so they had no idea what time it was and how many hours they had until dawn.
He felt a tap on his shoulder and he looked back at Garraty. Garraty pointed down the hallway on their left. At the end there was a ladder. Maybe a ladder meant a hatch up to the outside world. Baker nodded and headed down that way.
They reached the end of the hallway and looked up. It was a tall ladder, and it looked like it led to a trap door. Looking back once at Garraty, Baker started to climb. Walking was one thing, but climbing was different altogether. It was a lot harder. His legs and feet were aching by the time he reached the top. He looked down and saw that Garraty was right behind him.
He felt around on the trap door and found a handle, which Baker twisted and then pushed up. Dirt and pine needles cascaded down on them as it opened. Baker grimaced and shielded his eyes from the debris, but at least it was open.
He clambered up and then he was laying on the dirt floor of a forest. He could smell pine trees and feel the cool night air. He reached down and pulled Garraty up. The two sat there for a minute, just catching their breath and clinging to each other. The sky was huge above them, dark and full of stars.
“We made it, Art,” Garraty said, and he was crying.
Baker was crying, too, from the relief, and from all they’d been through and all they’d lost. “Yeah, we did.”
The pair got to their feet, leaning on each other for support. Baker shut the trap door softly. He knew they’d need to move. Once it got light, there would probably be people looking for them, and they would need to find food, shelter, and fresh water if they wanted to survive.
“This is it, huh?” Baker said, wiping his hands on his jeans. He looked around him, at the big forest looming overhead of them.
“Let’s go,” Garraty said, nudging Baker with his elbow. Baker looked at him, and Garraty looked scared, but he looked hopeful too.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Baker agreed, and they stepped forward into the future.