Snakes In The Garden
Her husband didn't notice her bulging belly or her plump, round face.
But she did.
He didn't notice the changes in her movement or the way that she had started to struggle to climb the staircase that led to the second story of their picturesque townhouse.
He didn't notice the fear that was lurking behind her eyes or the careful way that she had started to choose her outfits.
It's ironic to live in a society where your deepest secrets are never hidden from the world around you and, yet, so easily guarded against the lover that's laying beside you in bed.
But this is the world that she was born into. A world without choices. A world where lovers share no secrets out of fear of what those secrets might do to their ability to remain alive.
The wind in the air was cool that day.
She had hidden her figure behind a loose-fitting dress shirt, modest pants and an oversized coat.
She had ignored the usual call for an afternoon "gathering" in the town square.
She had nothing but the clothes on her back, the money in her purse and a real and genuine fear of what might happen to her if she was found to be pregnant.
Every woman in her world knew that there were limits to their freedom. The world around them was shrouded in restriction but, for women, those restrictions were especially brutal.
Every decision was dictated. Every breath curated by some invisible figure at the top of the hierarchy.
She was doing everything that she had been taught never to do. She was thinking for herself and that could get her killed.
It was a miracle that she got as far as she did before anyone realized that she was gone.
She had escaped by a matter of sheer grace. She had run as fast as she could to the edge of her little town until the forest around her began to swallow her up.
Soon after, she heard sirens and the sound of dogs. Images of fugitives being hanged raced through her mind.
She knew they'd take her husband in for questioning. Perhaps, in a different world, his ignorance of her condition might have saved his life. But that wasn't the way things worked in this one.
They'd hang him. She knew it.
She shrunk back at the thought of it. But she didn't love him. She didn't really know what love was. Had never seen it or heard of it.
She hadn't chosen him. He had been chosen for her.
She ran as fast as she could until she heard the sound of water. She knew how to swim but she didn't know what lay beyond whatever body of water was standing between her and possible freedom.
She tried her best to move parallel to that sound until she heard the sound of angry dogs drawing closer to her.
They'd drag her back to town with little care for her wellbeing. If they knew that she was pregnant, they might even torture her publicly.
Her only choice was to move forward - no matter what lay ahead.
She turned back toward the sound of bubbling water and charged through the trees ahead of her.
Just as she came in full contact with what appeared to be some sort of waterfall diving deep into a swirling mix of water and rocks, she sensed that she wasn't alone.
She turned to see eyes that she had spent her entire life being deathly afraid of staring angrily back at her.
A "gatekeeper" stood several feet away from her with a snarling dog at his side.
She knew exactly what he would do to her if he was the one to catch her.
She stepped backward toward the water and the dog began barking.
She could jump but she might not make it.
Before she could think any longer, she caught sight of another gatekeeper nearing them.
She turned and jumped, praying that she would survive.
The next few moments blurred together menacingly before her eyes. First, she hit the cold, icy water. Then, she felt her arms struggle to brace themselves against each passing rock that she hit.
She was aware of the fact that she hadn't eaten since morning. Now, the afternoon sky above her was deepening.
She was weak. She had no idea how she would survive but it would be a miracle if she did.
She felt the rushing water around her drag her body toward a stretch of land that laid before her.
She had no idea how far away she was from the gatekeepers. She didn't hear them but she knew they wouldn't stop looking for her.
She had spent her life being taught of the dangers of "running". She had been taught that "runners" were a threat to the peaceful existence that had been carefully designed by the "ancestors".
She grew up hearing stories about what happened to runners that were found. She grew up watching public executions.
But she never thought she'd be a runner. Now, she was a snake. A threat to a peaceful ecosystem that had been curated for centuries.
She laid on the ground for far too long. But she was tired. She couldn't help it.
She only suspected that her pregnancy was the reason for her fatigue. She'd never been taught anything about birth or even the natural process of creating a child.
She had only been taught that children were a gift given to special families. You had to fit a certain criteria. Be well-bred.
She and her husband did well. But they were just regular people.
She didn't graduate at the top of her class. She hadn't impressed any of the "watchers" throughout her adolescence. She had always, simply, existed.
How this had happened to her, she didn't know. There were measures kept in place to prevent women like her from having children. But, yet, here she was. A living threat to everything that had been set in motion since long before her own birth.
At some point, she drifted off.
In between her slumber, she sensed hands grasping at her small, tired body.
She was too tired and weak to remain fully conscious and the stress from running had exhausted her.
She felt herself being lifted off the ground and carried.
She only knew that this presence wasn't that of a gatekeeper because of how peaceful the hands that were touching her felt as they carried her away. The touch was too gentle.
When she finally gained full consciousness, she was in a room that screamed of a foreign atmosphere.
She'd never seen anything like it. It was full of color. Beautiful. Dozens of plants and green silhouettes lining the walls.
Her eyes scanned the room for a sign of danger but there was none.
She heard voices drifting out of the hall and into the room.
Cautious and afraid, she slowly sat up. Then she noticed folded clothes sitting on the bed beside her.
She had no idea how she looked. She had abandoned her coat and her purse somewhere between running for her life and jumping over that waterfall.
She was cold. She realized that now as she took a good look at the wet clothes that clung against her body.
She made sure that the door of the room was tightly closed and then she changed.
When she finally stepped out of the room, she was surprised to find far more people waiting out in the hall for her than she had realized.
And this wasn't a house. It was some sort of compound and there were no windows in sight.
As she stepped out, several of the faces before her lit up.
They were happy to see her but she didn't know why.
She sat with them for a while. She was terrified of them.
They spoke so openly and freely against the only society that she had ever known. She wasn't fond of it either, but she had been taught never to openly speak against it.
But everyone here voiced their disapproval with so much freedom. She wanted to urge them to be mindful of the fact that someone might be listening. She wanted to run and not risk getting caught listening in on their rebellious statements.
And then she remembered that, no matter how quiet she made herself in their presence, she was just like them.
Whatever reason they all had for running, they were all in the same boat. They were each, individually and collectively, a threat to a society that prided itself on its perfection and flawlessness.
No matter what she did now, she (and the child that she was carrying) would never fit into that world again.
They sent her off with food and more clothes. They instructed her to keep running until she reached the outer bounds of the forest and then they instructed her to look for a house that was nestled deep in the thick of the trees.
She learned that she had been underground, in some kind of bunker. They were a group of runners that had chosen to stay behind, waiting for anyone like them who needed help.
She went in the direction that they pointed her in and she hoped in her heart that they would never be captured.
She ran for two days straight without stopping. She was too afraid of what might happen if she stopped.
She was too afraid of letting her guard down and being caught. By now, everything that she had once known was probably in shambles.
Her husband was probably dead. Her home, shut off from curious eyes. Her job had probably replaced her. Her reputation was probably torn into pieces.
So she had no choice but to keep moving forward. Whatever lay ahead of her, her only option for survival was to keep moving.