The sun was just coming up over the horizon, but it was already sticky hot. I peeled off my thin jacket, stuffing it into my bag as I started the long walk up Broadway towards Grand Central. The walk would take me over an hour, but would save me forty dollars. As I exited the station, the elevated train whirred by overhead. It was nothing like the train I had come in on. Even from down here I could see the polished silver skin on the cars shining in the morning light. It was transportation for the elite, for those who couldn’t afford to lose an hour walking down on the street with the common people.
The city began to fill as I walked. By the time I crossed Canal Street, the sidewalk was full of people rushing in every direction. My lens constantly scanned, but only once did I see it flash orange. I whipped my head around in the direction the screen indicated, anger and fear flaring inside me, automatically expecting to see the woman from the train. But it was someone else, an older man in ragged clothes who stared absently into the crowd. I quickly turned away before he noticed I was looking at him, and hurried along.
My path through the city narrowed the farther I went, and the great protecting walls got closer and closer until I was walking through what felt like a tunnel. In this part of the city, they had only saved the buildings on Broadway, keeping the street that should have been underwater dry in order to connect north and south Manhattan. The towers just a block beyond had been torn down to make way for the wall, or in some cases filled with cement in order to save resources. There were places, I had heard, where you could walk up to the entrance of a building, open the door, and be greeted by nothing but a solid wall of concrete on the other side.
I paused, looking down a side street towards the wall beyond. I had never gotten very close. The inner edges were protected by police, constantly scanning the area. All it would take to bring the city to its knees was one big breach in that massive dam. And it had been attempted before. Whenever an attack was made, lens would flash red, enough to chill anyone paying attention to their core. Red was reserved for only one designation of person.
One officer patrolled along the street beyond, and I looked at him for a moment. I wondered if he was scared all the time. Like I was.
He noticed me, and I saw him lift a finger to his ear, saw his lips move.
I quickly moved on. Even showing too much interest in something so important could land me in a heap of trouble, and I wanted no part of it.
Several others, clearly on the same path as me, whizzed by me, their bodies accustomed to the long walk to and from north and south. When Mom had still worked, she made this walk every day to save cash. But it had been a long time since she had worked anywhere. Now, as I walked along her old commute route, I wondered what would happen to her after I was gone.
Nothing, probably. She would just sit there, slowly waste away, staring at the screens before her without even noticing anything had changed.
My stomach felt heavy with this thought, and my pace slowed as I imagined her dead, never having realized or cared that I was gone at all.
I looked up at the narrow passageway before me and suddenly felt I had to get to the other side. I couldn’t breathe here, with the buildings rising up around me and the wall threatening to cave in just beyond them. I broke into a run, desperate to make it to the station before my nerves could get the better of me.
I couldn’t stay. I had to get out. And once I did, I would never come back. Never.
I ran all the way up Broadway and didn’t stop until the wall receded further back into the city, and I was deposited onto Park Avenue. I stopped, heaving, and leaned against a tall, white building to catch my breath.
Here was a little better. When I looked up, it felt like I could see a little more sky. The buildings that shot up into the morning were like pieces of both ancient and modern art, weaving together as they reached out, a great exhibition of human innovation and passion. Together they combined to create a beacon calling people to what was left of this great city. The buildings here seemed untouched by the oppressive concrete structure that kept the encroaching world out just steps back down Broadway.
I rested my hands against the cool, white stone at my back and breathed deeply. I would have loved nothing more than to disappear into one of these great monoliths, to hide out and be forever impossible to discover. I could start over inside their vast interiors, be somebody else, somebody so different that no one would ever be the wiser that I was just a rat from the wasted streets of Brooklyn.
“Move along, miss.” The voice surprised me, and I jumped at suddenly being torn from my fantasy.
A man stood a few feet away, one hand on a long, black baton tied to his waist.
I pushed away from the building.
“But I’m just standing,” I argued, my breath still not completely caught.
“Can’t stay here,” he said.
I looked back the way I had come. The street was really very wide, but it was dark, like some nightmare or another waited at the end of it, where I had just emerged from.
“Okay,” I said absently. I turned away from the dark, creeping main artery of the city, and made my way up Park Avenue.
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