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Authors: Lara Fanning

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BOOK: Red Fox
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The creek we crossed would also run under the fence at some point but we would run into the same problem. It will be just as secure and perhaps even guarded. How do we conquer this? I begin to wonder if it’s even possible when I see a streak of movement in the corner of my eye.

I turn my head just in time to see Whil, running at a break neck speed towards the charged fence. His legs stretch out far, his face is contorted into a grimace of concentration, and as I gape at him, silently screaming, he bends his knees and lunges for the fence in one massive leap. For one instant, I watch him soaring in slow motion, reaching for the fence, and then he hits the wire with a ringing chink. The whole thing seems to shudder under his weight and to stop the panicky shout that threatens to erupt, I slap my hands across my mouth. Whil’s fingers wrap around the mesh and he jabs the toe of his boots into the wire holes with desperate actions until he is steady. I hear no static noise that might indicate Whil is frying alive, but for long moments he doesn’t move.

“Whil!” I shout. “Are you alright?”

Turning his head, he meets me eyes. He isn’t smiling and the look on his face is strained. I can hear the ragged saw of breath in his throat.

“Shirt. Jumper. Pants,” he huffs.


“Take them off. Give them to me.”

I don’t have time to ask questions. The longer Whil hangs onto the fence the more tired he will become and the more chance he has of falling and being electrocuted. Then I realize why he hasn’t sizzled to death by electrocution — not yet anyway. The electricity doesn’t have anywhere to ground itself and so there is no circuit for the voltage to run through. Like a bird sitting on a power line, Whil is safe. I tear off my heavy jacket and throw it to him. He catches it and begins climbing higher on the fence. Struggling to remove my boots, I watch him ascend, teetering on one leg as I try to pry the shoe from my foot. Finally, the boots are off and I pull my jeans down and throw them to him as well. He catches them and also snags my shirt when I toss it.

“Don’t sniff them!” I shout stupidly, my mind throwing me random thoughts to say in its hysteria. “They stink like B-O.”

Though Whil is struggling to stay aloft, I cheek lift in an uncontrollable smile and he gives a laugh of raspy exhale. The scene is so utterly ridiculous I could laugh myself, but I don’t. Standing in my plain black bra and underpants, I feel no embarrassment, for Whil doesn’t have the opportunity to look at me. Besides that, vanity and self-consciousness is not something I, or anyone else, has time for anymore. I wrap my arms around my shoulders for the cold is bitter.

Every nerve in me shivers with fear for Whil’s safety while my brain spins in anxious anticipation that he may have found a way out of the ring. If Whil’s plan works, and, geez, I hope it does, we will be out within the hour and on our way to safety and freedom. We won’t have to think of some elaborate, time-consuming plan to cut a tree down with the bones of the dead horse or dig a tunnel system beneath the cement footings—all ideas that were already flittering through my brain moments ago.

I watch, open-mouthed with my heart thundering in my chest. Every inch Whil moves up the fence, I wait for him to topple, hit the ground—with a leg, foot or finger even still pressed against the chain link—and shudder violently while the electricity charges his body. But he doesn’t fall. He reaches the top of the fence with my clothes tucked under his arm.

As he unhooks one hand from the fence and begins gathering up my jacket, his other arm, bearing the weight of his body as he hangs, shakes dangerously. Every muscle in the arm is tightened and tense, and the veins in the nook of his elbow are taut and showing clear under the skin. I don’t know if I could hang there like that. It looks like his veins might burst from the effort. Frozen with fright for my new companion, I urge him on quietly, while jumping from foot to foot, depending on which one was last submerged in the freezing cold snow at my feet.

Carefully, Whil lays my brown jacket over the razor wire. Then he does the same with my jeans and shirt until all of my clothing is draped over the razor wire like some sort of twisted, prison clothesline.

“Rock,” Whil says. His voice is low and muffled.

I know what he is planning to do, and the thought terrifies me. One wrong move will send Whil toppling to the ground, either cut to pieces or electrocuted. Hardly able to tear myself away for fear Whil will be dead next time I look, I search for a rock and quickly find a large stone that I will be able to throw and he will be able to catch without too much danger of it weighing him down.

“Here, Whil!” I say loudly, running to the base of the fence. “I’ll throw on three. One. Two. Three!” I lob the rock up and he leans back, catches it with ease but teeters for a second when his fingers start to slip away from the chain because of the sweat slicking his palms. I gasp and then shout out, but he quickly regains his balance and places the rock on my clothes so the razor wire sags from the weight. He asks for another rock, which I find and throw to him. He catches it and does the same with it.

He has created a half metre length of sagging, covered-over razor wire. We can get over it, but if the rocks move in any way it would mean the wire would ping up and snag our skin. I am not a clumsy person but I certainly don’t pay enough attention when needed and I don’t know whether I will have the strength to climb the wire at all, let alone carefully navigate my way over the serrated top.

Whil climbs a foot higher and then lifts his leg over the weighed down razor wire. The shiver that erupts over my body has nothing to do with the cold. Goosebumps steal over my skin and I cover my mouth as he straddles the fence, swings his remaining leg over the wire and begins making his way down the other side. Two metres from the ground, he jumps, hits the ground and rolls into a snowdrift on the other side of the fence with an ‘oomph.’



I sigh with relief and pull my boots back on, but then my body ripples with a powerful tremble. Looking up, I see the fence separating us: Whil on the side of freedom and me on the side of enslavement. A terrible panic I have never felt before overwhelms me. My whole body quivers, and my breathing becomes hectic and short. I want to run up and down shouting in terror, for I cannot scale the fence. I want to grab hold of the fence and end the torment right now.

Whil has to leave and save his own skin. I have to stay in the here. I will die trying to get over this fence. I may be able to run fast and move swiftly but I do not have the strength to cross this fence, nor the courage to run at it while knowing it could be the last thing I ever do.

My brain gives a painful throb. Before my eyes, the fence seems to grow larger until it’s looming above me, fifty feet high. My knees give a feeble wobble and I lock my hands together and chew on the inside of my mouth, trying to fight off the panic.

“Freya!” Whil says loudly. I glance at him. He has obviously been saying my name for a long time for a concerned expression has taken residence on his face. He is standing directly in front of me on the other side of the fence, where the Native Dog track continues. It will lead
to safety and freedom.

“I can’t do it,” I say, my voice hardly more than a whisper. “I can’t.”

“You have to,” he says firmly. “You
do it. Get a running start and jump. You’ll be fine.”

For some reason, my legs obey his command. I don’t know how I do it. My brain is screaming at me not to. It senses danger as I begin backing up to get my distance, while every fibre in me wants to run the other way.

“I can’t!” My body trembles, as my mind and instincts battle, and when I’m finally backed up enough, I stop and move no more.

“Look at me!” Whil shouts now, demanding and pulling my gaze to his eyes. “Do you want to stay locked in there for a fortnight until Seiger comes to get you? Do you want to be a prisoner for the rest of your life? You do not seem like the sort of person who will bow under someone else’s will, and that is what you will be forced to do if you stay in there. Now get over the fence, Freya.”

I keep my eyes locked on Whil and the path he stands on. Both of them give me courage and a new calmness works its way into my mind.

I will
stay cooped up in this pen like an animal.

Gritting my teeth, I charge at the fence, and a metre from it, I propel myself into the air. It happens in slow motion just like when I watched Whil. I see the fence approaching and my clawed hands reaching to grab it. I pull up my feet and feel the impact as I hit it. I feel my body slam against the wire and my hands and boots rattling down the mesh as I slip. My fingers instinctively curl, and I jab the toes of my boots into the holes frantically, desperate not to come anywhere near the ground. The wire hurts my fingers as they lock around it, but I stabilize, every limb shaking with effort and fear.

Knowing I won’t be able to hold myself up for long, I begin to climb carefully but quickly. The toes of my boots only just fit into the holes in the fence and because the wire is icy, they slip occasionally, sending a wave of adrenalin through my blood. My breath is ragged and steamy. Each time I curl my fingers around another length of wire they twinge with pain. By the time I reach the top, my entire body feels like lead. The chain mesh isn’t strong enough to be ladder-like. It sags under my weight, making the climb all the more difficult.

Feeling more comfortable at the razor-wire top, I swing my leg over the fence like I’m mounting a horse, being cautious to avoid knocking over the rocks and clothes. There is a metal pole running along the fence-top and this is what the razor wire is welded to. The rocks are placed precariously on the narrow pole that lies hidden beneath my clothing and a gust of wind alone could blow the rocks off. Holding my breath, I lower myself over the other side of the fence. There is still a three-metre drop between the ground and me. Slowly, I climb down, careful not to slip when so close to success. When I’m a metre away, I jump and land in the exact same place Whil did. Jolts of pain tremor up my legs. My feet feel like they’ve been poked with a million tiny needles. I stumble towards the snow, gasping and arms flailing uselessly for balance. I land face first in the snow drift. My body is so hot and sweaty that I hardly feel the cold bite of the snow pressing against my flesh.

Dark specks whirl passed my eyes. Did I just climb that fence? It didn’t feel like me doing it. I don’t remember how I did it. All I know is that now I can see Whil standing at the base of the fence. He smiled at me and then turns his attention to the top of the fence where my clothes still hang. I don’t care about the clothes for I am on the same side of the fence as him and it isn’t the inside! I let my head fall back for a moment and close my eyes in relief.

We’re out!

The next thing I hear is a dull
noise and when I open my eyes Whil is sprawled in the snow on his stomach. His head is turned in my direction, but his eyes are closed. For a moment, I think he might be resting or even asleep, but then a trickle of blood streaks down his fair skinned, freckly face. And I realize my clothes are tucked under one of his arms again.

My eyes blur with the vision of Clara lying on the concrete with blood pouring from the bullet wound in her head. I see the D group being herded from the town centre to be gunned down. And then my eyes focus on the body of the boy in the snow and my heart stops.

“Whil!” I shriek. I try to stand, but my legs give way thanks to the pins-and-needles, so I scramble towards him on all fours, cutting my knees and my palms on the sharp ice beneath me.

I get to him, breathless. There is a wide gash on the crown of his head and thick, hot blood seeps from it, making the snow it touches turn crimson. His lips are parted slightly, his eyes closed. I don’t understand what’s happened to him until I see one of the stones he used to weigh down the razor wire lying a foot away. The edge of it is bloody. My hands shake and a pathetic splutter of noise escapes my lips.

I crunch my eyes closed, guilt washing over me. Without him, I never would have had the courage to climb the fence. If I hadn’t fallen back in the snow a minute ago, I could have told him to forget the clothes or warned him that the rock was falling. I gently lift his lolling head into my lap and decide that ceasing the blood flow is priority number one. I pick up a solid, clean lump of snow and press it against his wound, hoping the freezing ice will clot the blood. Leaving the clump resting against the wound, I carefully pull on my warm jacket because I’m starting to shiver sitting in my underwear. When my teeth begin to chatter noisily, I decide we need to find shelter somewhere but there’s no way I can carry Whil.

I scoff to myself. Yesterday, I willingly left Whil with Seiger when I made a run for it. I didn’t care if he was left behind in the wilderness while I went on and survived. Only it was Whil who figured out a way for our escape while I was scrabbling in the mud like a wild dog. Now I sit with his head cradled in my lap, trying to think of a way to keep him alive, like a wolf protecting its pack mate, and wasting my precious escaping time thinking of ways to nurse him back to health. I don’t know whether it is my brain that has changed its view on him or perhaps my heart.

Body becoming numb with cold, I take my filthy shirt and tear it into one long strip of fabric. I push away the clump of snow and knot the fabric around Whil’s head so it straps under his chin like a helmet. Instantly, my shirt stains with red but I ignore it, sit him up and thread my arms under his armpits and latch my hands over his chest. I gather my waning strength, breathing plumes of frosty tendrils, and then haul my weight backwards. The snow is slippery and makes Whil slide along easily. But it also makes my boots slip like I’m walking on oil.

Gingerly, I tug him towards a big red Wattle tree. Its canopy of spiky leaves is thick and there is a bare patch of dry dirt at its base. I slide Whil underneath the tree, take my boots off quickly and pull my pants on. As I replace my boots, I pray that touching the fence didn’t set off some sort of alarm. If so, there is no time to wait around, no time to wait for him to recover. Instantly a sense of panic clutches my gut and I want to bolt.

But could I leave Whil behind? My teeth clench. I know the answer: If I had to, I could abandon him, shamed as I would feel. Sheepishly, as if he might hear my thoughts, I look down at Whil’s still face and brush the bloody hair from his forehead. Perhaps both of us are best off dying. With a start, I realise I don’t have time to sit playing with a stranger’s hair, and I get to my feet.

Whil doesn’t stir as I wander the nearby area, hoping to find something we can eat. I’m so hungry I would happily eat a Witchetty grub if I could find one. A leafy bush growing near the fence catches my attention and scramble to it when I see the branches are sagging with the weight of fruit it bears. As I draw near, I see the fruits are small dark purple berries hanging in bundles. Seiger’s warning flashes through my mind, and I turn away from the Nightshade bush.

My former confidence wanes. Yes, I know how to navigate these parts, but I know nothing about what plants are edible. If Seiger hadn’t warned me about the Nightshade, I probably would’ve eaten the fruit. So instead, I find a long, firm stick and a sharp stone to whittle it with, then I sit down beside Whil. His face is pale, and with a start, I wonder if he is dead.

Pressing my fingers to his jugular, I can feel the steady pulse of a normal person beating beneath my fingers. I sigh, relieved, and lie down beside him, forgetting about my intention to craft a spear. I feel exhausted, emotionally and physically. The thought of my sole companion dying from blood loss or concussion makes my chest swell with emotion. As the minutes go by, I find myself edging closer to Whil until I am pressed entirely against his warm body. I can’t find the will to move away so I lie there, starving, thirsty and my body aching from the tortuous hike, the climb over the fence and the impact of hitting the ground.

It could have been worse,
I tell myself.
Both of us could be unconscious or electrocuted or still inside the fence.

We now have a thirteen-day head start on Seiger, who will expect to find us within the fence when he returns. At least, we will have thirteen-day head start if Whil wakes up soon. I sit up again and look down at his motionless face. Being so close to him, I can see the light brown freckles scattered over his nose and cheeks. And the length of his sooty eyelashes, so long they almost touch his cheeks when closed. I also notice how his lips are parted, the shape of them and the rosy pink colour.

As if to humiliate me, his eyelashes suddenly flutter open, exposing the pale blue eyes beneath. I don’t have the time to look away. He is cross-eyed for an instant, but then his gaze rests on my face, and I watch consciousness flood back to him. Something inside me whoops for joy and dances around like a wild animal. But I keep my facade under control. I look at him with pursed lips and feel an unreasonable irritation prickle at my heart. Why am I irritated at him? For breaking us out of the arena? For being a gentleman and climbing the fence to retrieve my clothes so he was knocked unconscious by a well-aimed falling stone? For giving me a heart attack because I thought for a few minutes he might be dead?

“What happened?” he asks groggily. “Are you okay?”

My anger immediately ebbs. When I speak, my voice is shaky and quiet. “I’m fine. The… the rock you weighed the wire with fell and hit you on the head.”

He stares at me for a moment and then gives a throaty laugh. “What?”

“The rock fell on you. That isn’t funny,” I say, aghast he is so light-hearted about it.

He winces in pain for a moment and smothers a groan. “It’s funny it hit me on the head and couldn’t have just landed in the snow or hit my arm instead,” he says. He touches the make-do bandage strapped around his head. “Is it bad?”

I think about the ugly gaping gash and fight back my repulsion. I am accustomed to seeing a sheep with half its leg cut off from running through a barbed wire fence. Since I was a child, I’ve tended to wounded stock animals but seeing a bleeding gash on the crown of another human’s head is much worse. I swallow nervously.

“You’ll be okay,” I say weakly, but I feel the blood run from my face.

He frowns. “That means it’s bad.”

“Well, it isn’t pleasant!” I say. “You scared me half to death. Far out, why didn’t you just tell me you were going to run and jump at the fence? I could have been more prepared to help instead of fumbling around like an idiot to find rocks and take my clothes off after you needed them.”

He looks confronted. “I had to do it off impulse. I wouldn’t have had the guts to do it if I’d stopped to think about the possibilities. I’m sorry.”

“Just don’t get knocked out again.”

“I promise I will try not to,” he says seriously.

I can’t help myself. I chuckle at him and sit back to start whittling away at the end of my stick with the sharp stone. I don’t know if I will be able to hunt anything. The thought of eating a raw kangaroo or wallaby makes my stomach flip-flop with disgust. There still isn’t any dry grass or wood to make a fire to cook on, and even if there were, without a lighter I wouldn’t manage to make a spark anyway.

I peek at Whil from the corner of my eye. He is resting again, and I feel warmth prickle in my cheeks as I watch him. Am I beginning to feel flustered around him because we are the only two people sitting in the middle of the bush fighting for our lives? Or might there be more to it than that? I look away, biting down on my lip hard. Now isn’t the time to think about these things. I have better, more important things to think about. Like surviving.

BOOK: Red Fox
11.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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