It takes us a while to find the Highway. We don’t leave town much, and why would we? Everything we ever needed is right in here. School, doctor, food, park. They don’t take too kindly to people traveling, neither, and anyway Pa never got approved for a car. So none of us is quite sure where that Highway is. My little brother used to explore a lot, before he got sick, and he would’ve shown us right where to go, but he ain’t talking. We find it anyway, though, just as the sun is setting, all orange and purple and beautiful. It reminds me of the broken colored window by the old church, such clear colors. They say the sky used to be all smoggy and foggy, but we’ve got rid of the pollution now.
The Highway is like a big long millipede, up on huge concrete legs, roaring with the cars that go by overhead. The exit ramp has carvings all over it, showing how great the President-King is, how he liberated us all from famine and strife and such. Biggest of all is the American Eagle, with the hammer and broken chain in its claws, symbol of the Government. People’ve done graffiti over the carvings, but it don’t last long. They say those carvings are our history, and it ain’t right to cover them up. I don’t know what I think about that. All I know is this Highway’s terrible huge, and longer’n I can tell, and I don’t want to have to follow it all the way to the end.
“Pa,” I say, while we’re standing there listening to the cars go by. “We followin’ that all the way? We going to go to the other end?”
He looks down at me, raising his eyebrows in that smart-looking way he has, and shakes his head. “We’re just following it out of town,” he says. “Just to get away. It’s clear ground, see?”
He points off under the Highway, and I can see it: it’s kept clear for a ways around, and right underneath the road. I don’t know why, but it is. We’ll be awfully exposed under there, but we’ll move fast.
“Come on,” Pa says, and he strides off toward the Highway, his back so tall and straight, even with my little brother strapped to it.
So we walk, and we come into the shadow of the Highway just as it’s getting dark. It’s cold down there, bone-chilling cold, even though it ain’t winter. I wonder if the Police know where we are yet. They always seem to know. But I don’t think anyone saw us come here. Then I think: they probably have dogs. So it don’t surprise me when, after a couple hours, Pa leads us away from the shelter of the Highway and we go through some streams, and then through the water ditches by the farms, getting all wet and muddy. We don’t come out ‘til the sun’s just coming up, and I can barely walk anymore ‘cause I’m so tired. We go into the mouth of a sewer pipe, and then far enough back so we’re in the dark and no one could see us if they looked in. It’s scary in there, but that don’t matter to me, I’m so tired I go right to sleep.
My little brother coughing and hacking is what wakes me up. I crawl over to him, hardly able to see because it’s so dim, and hold his hand. He thrashes a bit, but Mama takes his other hand and we calm him down.
“Mama,” I whisper while we’re sitting there in the dark. Pa’s out checking to see if it’s safe to go outside. “How are we going to live? What are we going to do for food?” I avoid the question that I know we both can’t stop thinking about: how will we save my little brother?
“We know some people,” Mama says. “Your pa and I. They’ll help us. Don’t you worry, honey.” She gives me a hug.
I feel warm and safe, wrapped up in her arms, and then Pa comes back and says it’s okay to keep going. It’s almost night time again, and there’s a forest close by. We can stay in the trees and there ain’t no one who can find us. We should be away from the dogs by now, what with all that walking in streams and water and getting our pants all muddy. I’m feeling less scared now, and more excited. If my little brother weren’t about to die, it’d all be dandy. I’d only ever dreamed of doing something like this. Running away. Living out in the wild like an outlaw, like Robin Hood in the old stories Pa told even though he wasn’t supposed to.
We make it into the forest, but that’s as far as we go.
They’re waiting for us in the trees, those Police. Men and women both, you can never tell with Police because they all take drugs to make their muscles bigger and don’t show their faces. They come out, like evil ghosts, with their guns and their shields up, and they shout for us to get down on the ground. We all go flat and put our hands over our heads. I want to cry and I want to scream, but I ain’t gonna. I ain’t gonna let those police see how scared I am.
“When I move–run,” Pa whispers.
Mama nods, her eyes all wide and frightened, and takes my hand. I don’t know what’s going on. The Police are coming closer, and they’re laughing. Mama is crying. But didn’t Pa tell us to run?
“I love you, Eric,” Mama says, so quiet it’s almost not a sound.
“I love you too, Dany.”
And then Pa undoes the straps and pushes my little brother off his back and leaps up. The Police are close now, aiming their guns at us, but they don’t react until Pa takes a pistol out of his pocket and starts firing it and screaming.
Mama drags me up off the ground and picks up my little brother in one arm, and we run, stumbling away into the woods. There’s gunshots behind us, and everyone is shouting. Pa’s voice is loudest of all. I look back, tears streaming down my face, and I think: this is what he meant. This is why she cried. Then we’re out of sight behind the trees.
But I know it won’t take them long to catch us, and I know Pa’s got himself kilt for almost no reason.
There’s an emptiness inside me now, and I know it won’t go away for nothing.