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Chapter 4: Life

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Chapter 4: Life

The tunnel was already chilly when Fred had entered it the first time. The place, however, was becoming colder. Fred turned to his right and saw a wall of debris blocking his path for the fifth time. It completely sealed off the passage. He gaped at the destruction before him. What kind of “pets” does she have to create five impressive cave-ins? he wondered.

“Argh!” he shouted, his voice bouncing off the walls. He kicked the wall, irritated and afraid with the situation he was in and furious with himself for wallowing in self-pity.

Pressing the power button of his mobile phone, the screen flickered to life displaying a blinking empty battery cell and went dead. Fred pressed the button again. It didn’t respond. He dropped to his knees, breaking in a cold sweat, as realisation hit him. He was utterly lost and alone – cut off from civilisation – in the city’s famous underground network of tunnels. If he stayed, he would surely die from hypothermia or from his fear… No, no, no. He shook his head furiously. Don’t think about it! Get up. Get up! Fred got to his feet, leaning his hand on the wall for support. He focused on breathing in and out until he felt calmer and concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other.

Time dragged on. Or, has it stopped? He wasn’t sure anymore. His only consolation was the globes of light along the walls which made the way visible for him. It was as old as the tunnels, ever shrouded in mystery and one of the highlights of the country’s folklore. The light, however, didn’t provide warmth. He was hungry, tired, and very cold. He could feel the chill seep through his jacket and into his bones. Unable to take another step, Fred sat on the earth and laid his back on the wall, shivering. Five minutes. He promised five minutes of rest and that’s it. But… he was so tired. His eyes drooped heavily. Fred had hoped someone would have noticed his absence and come look for him. He reckoned he had been walking for hours. Still, no one had come. Fred could no longer fight the drowsiness. As his eyes closed, he regretted every heart break he had caused his mom.

“Fred”, a voice pierced the void. “Fred, come back… Come back to me.” Fred felt something brush his mouth. It was soft and warm. The warmth made its way to his heart and spread outwards.

Heavy-lidded, he forced his eyes to open. Worried amber eyes peered at him. Then, darkness welcomed him back in its embrace.

He woke to on a strange bed covered in a thick blanket. Sunlight streamed down from the window warming his exposed arm and face. A steaming mug of ginger tea and a bowl of soup sat on the bedside table. A note beside it told him to stay put. He touched his lips, the events of the night before returning to him. Strange as it sounds, a girl had kissed him to literally save his life.

Coming back to the present, he waited for the girl. But when he heard voices, curiosity got the better of him. Pressing an ear to the floor, he recognised the speakers to be Electra and Mr. Roucan.

“The boy saw you”, Mr. Roucan said.

“He thought I was a hologram”, Electra said.

“Where is he?”

“Why are you asking me? I’ve been stuck here during the storm. He might have lost his way in the bowels of that monstrous academy. Or, he might have taken shelter some place to wait it out.”

“I know you’re hiding him. No one suddenly disappears the way he has.” Mr. Roucan’s voice rose.

“There is no one here but the three of us”, Electra said coldly.

“Father, sis is right. Maybe Fred got lost or- or stranded somewhere”, Louis intervened. “The storm last night was very strong.”

The room fell silent. Eventually, the front door creaked open. Fred scrambled to the window, careful to keep himself hidden. Mr. Roucan was walking in the direction of the opening out of the underground forest.

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