"He's got away!" said the gatekeeper. In a fit of what must have been terror at what he'd let happen, he ran passed me, through the town, screaming these words: "He's got away he's got away he's got away!" He was so tall that his shoulders were in-line with the roofs of the one-story houses around him.
I was so terrified of what the giant was yelling about - who or what had gotten away? - that it took me a moment to notice the two peace officers, who were giants as well, that had suddenly stopped the man to question him. I could hear exactly what they were saying. Giants were great projectors. If you wanted people to hear you, all you needed was a giant. Firstly, they were loud and their voices thunderously deep, so the sound carried over crowds- and mountains for that matter. Secondly, people tended to listen to the twenty-some-odd foot creature that was yelling at them. Peace officer was the ideal occupation for the fumbly, mostly gentle people.
"Who got away, Ally?" one of the peace officers asked.
"T-the boy! The boy!" the gate keep, Ally, said, stumbling and trying to calm himself down with noticeable effort. His fingers twitched, ready to grab something they knew weren't there.
As the officers asked him what boy he was talking about, I looked at where he'd come from. The gate was wide open and some people were inching toward it, their bodies wanting so badly to set foot into that world. Maybe time had eroded the memory of what happened to folks that stepped outside the gate, but tales we’d been told as children kept the fear etched in everyone’s hearts. You could see the conflict on their faces. All they had to do was run. They might make it into the forest, and if they stuck to the thick areas where the trees were young and knit keenly together, they might actually make it.
It was a damp evening, and everything was beginning to look grey from the lack of sun rays. I took a few uncertain steps towards the gate. Smoke drifted out of chimneys all around like some sort of entity itself, thinking of sneaking passed the peace officers. It flowed in the breeze and sailed up and over the very top of the wall, some of it even whisked itself through the bars in the gate, too weak to make the final leap.
"Hey!" an officer's voice echoed in my direction. I twisted around to see him staring past me. They'd just noticed the people creeping towards the gate while the gate keeper had them distracted.
"Get away from there!" he spoke like he was scolding a child.
The people shrunk away and scattered back to their houses like mice. They were mice to the giants.
"Sir," the same officer that yelled at the others was looking at me now. I shivered under his gaze. "Come with us, please."
I nodded. Who was I to argue? My stomach twisted in what must have been anxiety, or fear, and my chest felt tight like someone was winding a rope ‘round and ‘round my body.
"Where'd he go?" asked the officer to the gate keeper.
"Just... through the gate- I don't know where he went after that." Ally said.
My heart pounded. Why, I wondered, was the gate open in the first place? There was no reasonable answer, there couldn't be; the gate was always closed. Always.
Then in no time at all we were stepping through the gateway, and I had to tell myself over and over again that I was leaving with permission- no one was going to get me in trouble. I was safe.
Things I'd only ever seen from the gate expanded in my vision as we walked closer. It felt so strange and exciting, like I was meeting a character from one of my favourite books. There was a graveyard of old machinery, rusty vehicles, tools, and plenty of unrecognisable hunks of metal. Shards of glass littered the ground. It was a bit shocking to me, even though I knew it was a common practice for those that were strong and tall enough, to throw one's unwanted items over the wall. I would have bribed my neighbour to throw my dead motorbikes over the wall a long time ago if I hadn't needed them for parts. Looking at the rubble now made me feel a little guilty, even though I'd never actually participated in this junk yard myself, I'd never had a problem with it, either.
Despite the foreign debris, the forest continued to flourish, growing around the piles of rust in a way that almost looked too polite considering all the metal was invading the growing space. A tree peeked out of the windshield of a pick-up truck. The model looked older than my grandfather, it's edges rounded, making it look sort of like the designer was aiming for a bubble-look.
One of the officers unclipped a flashlight from his belt, and switched it on. He swept the light over the graveyard, but nothing was there. The glass gleamed in the grass like billions of twinkling eyes. I hadn't even realized it was dark until the light was on.
The officer that wanted me to come along nudged me with his boot, causing me to stumble forward. "Call for him." he said in his grumbly voice.
I peered way up at him, but he had the flashlight trained on me, blinding me. "I don't, uh, know the kid..?" Giants seemed to think that all humans and little people knew each other. All of us. As if being little was a free pass into being connected with everyone else your general size.
"Call him!" he repeated.
"You've already scared him away, with that attitude." I said under my breath so quietly that thankfully he didn't hear me.
I plodded forward a few steps to get away from the giants. They didn't normally make me feel uncomfortable, but too much time spent with them zapped my energy. It was exhausting, constantly craning your neck to look up at them.
Once I had a little more breathing room, I stopped, cupping my hands around my mouth.
"Hey!" I yelled. I didn't know his name, or what I should say, so I just said what came to mind. "We're here to... to take you home!" I yelled some more. My voice echoed throughout the forest, and eventually faded into silence. There was no reply.
One of the giants coughed down into his hand, and his stray breath hit my back with surprising force. It was kind of gross but also felt warm at the same time. It wasn't surprising the kid hadn't answered; he wasn't fooled. No matter what the giants did they'd still be seen a mile away.
Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something move. I could have imagined it, but I couldn't be sure. I made eye contact with one of the giants, who glared at me oddly, and I put a finger to my lips. His expression turned to curiosity. He was probably thinking something like 'humans are weirdos'.
The Giants sat perfectly still, watching me as I laid a careful foot in between twigs and dry grass, dodging glass and a rusty muffler. I bent down and my fingers gripped the muffler.
"What are yo--" one of the Giants started to say but I shushed him, continuing to tip-toe further away from them, and in the general direction of the movement I’d seen. I didn't want them to catch onto his hiding spot; not yet. Not if that was where he was hiding.
There was a ways between the giants and me now, several metres. I casually looked around, not wanting to seem as though I knew where the boy was hiding. The muffler was cool and rough under my grip. It felt like the rust was leaking into my fingertips. I tried not to imagine it.
That’s when I noticed a blue bit of wool peeking out from behind an old tractor. I paused- more like froze, then scratched above my eyebrow. Something was very wrong about what I was doing. It bothered me the same way the trash pile did- guilt, I realized. I couldn't just turn the boy over to these monsters; who knows what they would do to him after doing something like running away- and getting outside the wall. If the tales were true, it wouldn't be pretty.
I glanced back at the giants, hoping they had forgotten about me and were distracted. But they were still staring straight at me. I was terrified they could hear my pounding heart. But their eyes were glazed over as they watched me; bored and tired no doubt. They probably missed their shift change, and dinner. I felt somewhat sorry for them in that moment. But not sorry enough to change my mind. I sneaked up on the boy, slipping out of the giant's vision behind the tractor. The boy was huddled there in his jacket, and now that I was closer I could hear him sobbing softly. I put a hand out to touch his shoulder, but paused, leaving my hand hovering over him.
"Don't be scared." I whispered. The boy jumped, and his shoulder bumped my hand. I gripped his coat to prevent him from running out into the open. His watery eyes stared up at me pleadingly.
"I'm going to help." I said, hearing the words escape my lips made it final somehow. I gave the boy a stern look that I hope said 'trust me' and 'if you don't be quiet we're both going to die'.
I peeked over the top of the tractor, and nearly swore in front of the kid. The giants were coming our way. I glanced back at the boy, cursing under my breath. "When I say run, we're going that way." I pointed to the thickest part of the forest I could see. "Okay?"
The boy nodded. I stood up to see how close the giants were, and almost choked on my own tongue. It was now or never. Thankfully they were looking off to the side now, away from the tractor. I lifted the muffler and threw it into a patch of garbage behind them. There was a clang and they twisted around to the ruckus the muffler was making as it bounced off a windshield and landed in a pile of junk- sounded more like a nest of tin cans.
"Now." I said to the boy, pulling him by his jacket to his feet.
And we ran.