The Feral Boy 5
“Javen’s your son?!”
The man nodded and wrapped his hands around the bars. “Yes. I wasn’t sure who they brought in earlier, but your description sounds about right.” He smiled, his eyes sparkling. Amelia noticed a lump in his pocket and his hand was circling it, rubbing the smooth, curved edges. “Can you bring him to me? I mean...” His bottom lip quivered and wiped his eyes, taking a deep breath as he did so. “Sorry. I just...I just never thought it could be him, you know? I never thought...”
“It’s fine. So you really are his father?”
The man took another deep breath. “Yes. I wish I could prove it to you, with a birthmark maybe, but I can’t. No distinguishing features whatsoever. I am his dad though. Cross my heart.” He swiped his chest and smiled, tears still glinting in his eyes. “Who are you then? H-his girlfriend? You can tell me.”
Amelia shook her head, a tiny voice in her head telling her to pretend, just for one moment, that she was. But she couldn’t. Not now. Not ever. “No, Sir. I’m just his friend.”
Javen’s dad nodded. “And I take it you’re a Comfort?” His eyes swept her body, and Amelia had the sudden urge to cover up. She felt like she was being undressed.
“So, will you? Bring my son down here?”
Amelia nodded, shocked. Javen and him looked rather similar, but father and son? Javen’s dad was supposed to be dead! “But...but how did you get here?” She gulped and asked the question that had been on her lips from the moment he had spoken. “How are you still alive?”
The man sighed and slumped down onto his knees. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. All I know is that the guards pass me by - they pretend I don’t exist. Look, I was wondering...Can you bring Javen back here? I-I want to see my son.”
“Of course.” Amelia took a faltering step backwards. “I need to go, but, but I’ll bring him here. Thank you, Sir.”
The man nodded. “My name’s Henry. And thank you.”
Amelia smiled weakly and took another step from the bars. Her head was reeling. She turned around and started running to the other side of the hall. He was Javen’s dad. Javen’s dad. It didn’t compute, it didn’t click.
It was true though - the man wasn’t lying. The more she thought about it the more she was sure. The identifying features they shared were laid out clear as day. The shape of the nose and eyes, the rounded tips of their fingers. They were related alright. But...but how?
The corridor of darkness was speeding forward, the metal bars glinting in the dull lights. Amelia kept running. Javen was here somewhere. And she would find him. She had to find him.
The black suddenly ended to be replaced by a mottled gray screen. Amelia stopped in front of it and ran her hand down its flat surface. She had reached the wall. She had reached the wall, and still no Javen. She turned around, suddenly aware that her hands were shaking.
“Amelia!” The voice was thin and quiet, but it was there.
Amelia studied the rows of cages. The ones in front of her were were dark, only a few of their patrons awake and moving. Most of them were still asleep, and none of them were Javen.
Amelia whipped to her right. “Javen? Where are you?” The dim light made it impossible to see further than a few feet in front of her face. She stumbled forward and collided with the side of a cage. Something brushed her arm, something slimy and rotten. She jerked backwards and shuddered.
“Amelia! Go to your...right!” Amelia edged to her right and her foot slipped into a gap between two cages. “Go through the gap! I’m on the other side.”
Amelia wriggled through the thin passage and then staggered onto the other side. “Come forward!” Javen’s voice was closer now, and she could smell his musty, dirty perfume. She ran forward and fell into the side of the cage. A hand wrapped around hers and a voice said, “You came.”
Amelia pulled backwards and smiled at Javen through the bars. He was dirty, his top lip stained red with blood and his arms criss-crossed with scratches and cuts. But other than that he was fine. He was safe. Amelia felt a warm wave of relief wash over her and her heart almost melted in her chest. He was ok. Amelia looked at him and smiled. “I came.”
Javen bent his head towards her. “Thank you. Now, are you going to bust me out?”
Amelia’s smile faded and she nodded. “Yeah, but...em...how?”
“You don’t know?”
Amelia shook her head. “I didn’t really plan anything. It just...happened.”
Javen sighed in dismay. “Well, that was smart.” He pulled his hand away from hers and looked over the bars.
“The bars aren’t that strong, just enough to hold someone in. They’re cheap - if we could get some leverage...”
He closed his eyes and screwed his face up in concentration. “To your right there’s a box. At the bottom of it, hidden in shadows there’s a metal bar. Bring it over here.” His eyes snapped open and he smiled. “Observation, my friend. Now, can you get it?”
Amelia nodded and went to the box Javen described. She ran her hand along the bottom edge of it. Nothing. She tried the other side. Nothing. No, wait. She moved her hand a few inches away from the box and felt there. Bingo. The rough, cold edge of metal rubbed up against her skin. She curled her hand round the bar and heaved it upwards it was heavy, but she could still carry it. She ran back to Javen, slipping the bar through the cage.
Javen cocked his head to one side and picked the bar off of the ground. He held it like a feather, the muscles in his arm taut and tense as he pushed it under one of the bars. “Grab it.”
Amelia held the bar on one side as Javen adjusted his grip on the other. He glanced up at her and grinned. I’m going to push, and you pull ok? We should be able to get it off together, or bend it, at least. On three.” He paused and tightened his grip. “One, two, three!”
Amelia pulled the bar backwards, propelled by Javen’s thrust forward. There was a creak and Amelia heard something grate against metal. “Another push.” Javen’s strained voice seemed miles away through Amelia’s closed eyelids. “One, two, three! Heave!”
Amelia pulled again and this time the cage bent out of shape, the bars changing shape as though they were made of clay. Amelia beamed and pulled the bar harder. “Javen! It’s working!”
He grinned back and nodded. “Stop there. I can squeeze through that big a gap.” He dropped his side of the bar, and wrapped his hand around the bent cage. Amelia took the bar and laid it on the ground. The gap wasn’t that big, now that she could see it properly. Javen looked huge in comparison, his slender frame filling up the gap.
Amelia bit her lip. “Can you get through?”
Javen nodded and slipped his foot through the gap. “I’ve got through smaller.” Grinning, he turned sideways and hopped through the gap, landing on his tiptoes. He straightened up and smiled. “Piece of cake. Now, are we going to go? The guards probably heard the metal break.” He held out his hand and Amelia wrapped her fingers through his.
“I can’t believe your ok. That you’re safe and well, and...what am I saying?” She giggled and let her head brush against Javen’s shoulder. He leaned his head against hers and closed his eyes. “I’m so glad you came.”
Amelia smiled. Amidst all the torture and gloom and despair, this moment was perfect, a glowing memory. She wished she could freeze it in time, keep it unblemished, but a moment later, Javen started and blinked. “We need to go. The guards will be coming soon.” His grip tightened on Amelia’s hand. “Where did you come from?”
“Eh, down that way and then I turned left, I think.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
“No, I need to take you somewhere first.”
Javen narrowed his eyes and broke into a brisk trot. “There’s not time, ok? The guards here are vicious. We need to leave. Now.” He took a sharp left and came out onto a stretch of cells Amelia hadn’t seen before. This stretch was empty, and smelled of disinfectant and urine.
Amelia dug her heals into the ground. “Javen. No. I need to take you somewhere first. Its urgent.” Javen had stopped and his head was lowered. He was deathly silent - she couldn’t even hear him breathing. “Javen. Come on!” She grabbed his arm and yanked him backwards. “I need to show you something!”
Javen held up a hand, his face hard and pale in the dull corridor. “Shush. Don’t you hear it?” Amelia stopped and listened. Footsteps. Loud and fast, echoing through the air, whispered on the non-existent breeze. Amelia turned white and clenched Javen’s arm between her fingers. The noises were coming from in front of them.
“Javen? Where do we go?”
Javen stayed silent for a moment, before whipping round. He grabbed Amelia by the shoulders. His eyes searched hers, their determination gone and their hardness lost. “You run, ok? I’ll take them.”
Amelia sighed and shrugged Javen’s hands off her. “You tried this before, remember? And that didn’t exactly work, did it?” She held Javen’s hand. The footsteps were getting louder and Amelia could feel her heart racing in her chest. It was like Javen’s house all over again. “I’m coming with you and I need to show you this thing, ok? Now, come on!” She tugged his arm and together they started running.
The rows of cells seemed endless, stretching on for miles. Everywhere Amelia turned there was another junction, another decision she had to make. Her eyes hurried over the cells like startled rabbits, looking everywhere and anywhere for a glimpse of Henry. No matter where she looked, Javen’s dad was nowhere to be seen. And all the time, in the background, a bass to her frantic search, were the footsteps, each one getting louder and faster. Amelia’s palms began to sweat and behind her she could hear Javen’s breath quicken. He had done this before, back when he was a child. Running from the police, the guards. It was horrible, knowing what she was putting him through. All he wanted was to leave. But she couldn’t let him. She had to show him. She owed it too both of them.
Amelia took a right turn and paused. Was this it? Was this the row she had been looking for? She prayed it was. They had been searching for over five minutes - a precious amount of time to be wasting as the guards got ever closer, winding their way through the infernal labyrinth. Amelia looked around wildly. Please let this be the right one, please...Yes! The smiley face poster was on the wall, as ugly as it was ten minutes ago. But it seemed to be smiling now, a huge beaming grin. Amelia tugged Javen’s arm again and pulled him towards the corridor. He resisted and pulled his arm from her grasp.
“Amelia! We need to get out of here!”
“No! This is it! It’s down here! Just follow me, ok?” Javen’s face remained blank, his eyes speaking volumes.
He was unimpressed. Amelia bounced on her heels. “Your father! It’s your dad, Javen! For goodness sake, come on!” The words just came out, and Amelia felt a hand clap over her mouth as she said it. It took a moment for her to figure out that it was hers.
Javen blinked and stared at her. “No. It’s not. I don’t know what you’re trying to do here, but stop it, ok? Stop it.” His eyes had returned to their hard, determined state. For the first time since Amelia had met him she was scared. He looked wild.
“Javen, just listen, ok? I met him-”
Javen held his hand up and glowered. “No. He’s not here. He’s dead, ok? I’ve accepted that. Your little rouse isn’t going to work. Now, we need to leave.” Javen crossed his arms, waiting for her to agree, to join him. Amelia felt her heart tug. She wanted to join him but she couldn’t. She didn’t have time to wait. The footsteps were growing louder by the minute, and if Javen was more concerned with being stubborn than trusting her, then he could stay there. She would get his father out herself. “Fine. Be that way.” She crossed her arms and turned away. She was going to do this. She had to do this. Amelia bit her tongue and ran.