Outside:Down here the air was cloying. The smell of damp and soil mixed with our breaths in a cocktail of ill health. My hair had started falling out in clumps and even the tiniest amount of light made me squint and screw my face up in pain. I knew I wasn’t the only one who wondered if we would ever see the outside again.
We had all heard tales of The Stairs; the legendary exit that a lucky few were supposed to have found.
In the beginning I’d believed the story simply because I needed to. My faith had long since deserted me and all that was left was a shell of a human being trying to exist.
“We found them! We found them!”
Ecstatic cries burst forth from the shadows and Nolan came racing towards us holding something up in his hands.
He and one of The Elders had gone in search of them but the rest of us had remained here. I didn’t see the point in going and I guess that’s what we had all thought and why we chose to stay.
Nolan stopped in front of me and held it out.
A branch. A branch from a tree.
I looked up incredulously.
“You mean it really does exist?” I managed to croak. I hadn’t spoken for so long my voice was out of practice.
He nodded, his eyes shining brightly.
At that moment I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know what to believe any more.
We had come so far and lost so much and now we were standing so close to freedom that we could almost reach out and touch it.
The thing was, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to step out into the unknown. Despite the depressive and monotonous surroundings, I knew what to expect here; a life of misery and yet one I was almost comfortable with.
Nolan must have known what I was thinking because he suddenly said quietly, “Don’t cling to something just because it’s familiar, Bethany. It’s time to let go.”
I stared up at him and wondered when he’d grown so wise. I was supposed to be the big sister and yet here he was acting as the older brother.
“Well then,” I said. “What are we waiting for?”