Saturday, May 3, 2014

Fence Jumpers: Part 4


Image courtesy of Pinterest

After following the Fence Jumpers through seemingly endless tunnels, Claire and Grace led Hannah down one tunnel while Cody and Wes continued on with Skyler.

"Where are the girls going?" Skyler asked, looking behind him and trying not to feel nervous. He needed to stop being such a wuss. He was fine. Hannah was fine. They were safe.

"To the girls' dorms," Cody replied. "No boys allowed. Sometimes though we'll play capture the flag and we'll have to invade the room. They're sneaky players, though."

"He's just grumpy because he was ambushed," Wes told Skyler. "We'll teach you all the tricks, kid."

Skyler nodded. They turned down another corridor and arrived at another cave. This was wasn't nearly so large as the main cavern, but it was big enough to hold several bunkbeds along the walls on either side. The bunks stretched a long way down the cave.

As Skyler passed the bunks, he saw posters, letters, and other things had been taped up on the walls beside each bed. Some had posters of popular sports teams, others pictures of girls. Other walls only held scenic postcards and letters.

"Does anyone get mail?" Skyler asked.

"Not really," Cody replied. "Whatever letters we have are usually ones we were able to bring with us, if we come from homes. Some Jumpers are orphans."

Cody directed Skyler into a smaller tunnel. "Head straight down that way. You'll find piles of clothes in there. Find yourself some clean clothing."

Skyler did so, and he found a small room full of clothes. It was organized, to a degree, but Skyler was able to root through them to find a clean pair of jeans (they didn't even have holes) and a fresh T-shirt. Both were a little bit too big, but they were clean.

Skyler tried going through the pile of shoes, and it took him so long to find a pair Cody had entered to check on him. Together they finally found a matching pair that fit.

"All set?" Cody asked. Skyler nodded and snatched a hooded sweatshirt from a pile before following Cody and Wes back into the maze of tunnels.

They arrived at the main cavern before the girls. Kip looked Skyler over approvingly.

"I'm glad we had something that fits," he said. "We usually just have to rummage for whatever we can. Sometimes we can send a few kids to go shopping, but it's always risky."

"How do you get the money?" Skyler asked, pulling on the hoodie.

"Some run errands." Kip shrugged. "We try to keep some available for things like that. Keep them from activities that might get them caught, and every now and then they can head up without much fear of recognition."

"Are you a Jumper too, Kip?" Skyler asked, suddenly curious.

"No. I stay here to keep track of things," Kip replied.

"We took him in a long while ago," Cody said, a hint of teasing in his tone. "There had been quite a few of us back then. Kip worked for the government, but when he learned too much and almost got killed, we found him when he was a fugitive and he came here. He's pretty much the guy who tells us to be careful and when to go to bed."

"Has it ever hurt you?" Kip asked, a smile playing at his lips.

"Nope."
"Yes."

Kip scowled at Wes.

"The girls are here!" Wes said quickly.

Skyler turned. He nearly gaped when he saw his sister. Her hair had been brushed, all the knots smoothed out. She had on clean jeans and a dark gray long-sleeved shirt with a black vest zipped up. She had on her same sneakers, though. Hers hadn't been in as bad a condition as Skyler's.

"Hey." Skyler smiled as they approached.

"Let me see." Hannah smiled back. Skyler obeyed and turned in place. "Nice." She turned for him in turn. "How is it?"

"Amazing as always." Skyler grinned. "Even beautiful."

"Stop it." Hannah blushed. "I'm not beautiful. It's just jeans and a shirt. It does feel nice to have different clothes, though."

Skyler and Hannah followed the Fence Jumpers through another set of tunnels and back outside. Skyler saw two Jumpers up on a walkway on the second floor, watching from the shadows. They waved. Skyler waved back.

They snuck through the gate, which had been unlocked for the day, and split up. Cody, Claire, and Hannah went one way, and Wes, Grace, and Skyler went another. Splitting up, Wes, explained, kept them under the radar. Large groups of teens were suspicious. But the Jumpers didn't like taking any chances, even if they were in the old, pretty much abandoned part of the city.

Skyler followed the teens down an empty street to an old-fashioned playground. Skyler gazed at it, awed. Years ago, kids would have played on these. Swingsets that were anchored in place instead of held by machines that could give you more momentum of you wanted. Stiff, unmoving slides instead of ones that could create twists and spirals, making it a never-ending slide for a minute or two until your turn was over.

But in this playground, nothing moved. It was all metal and firmly in place. Short fences hemmed it all in except on the right side, where a taller fence stood, dividing the playground from some kind of ball court.

Cody and the rest appeared opposite them. Grace and Wes ran ahead and vaulted easily over the fence and into the playground. Skyler contemplated the fence for a minute, then found his way to an entrance. Hannah met him there.

"Here." She handed him fingerless gloves. "Cody forgot to give these to you. They'll help while you jump."

"Are you jumping?" Skyler looked at the gloves, then at the fence.

"Probably." Hannah nodded. "I mean, why not? It looks fun. Are you?"

"I dunno," Skyler murmured. "On my way to the... whatever it is, last night we climbed a fence. Nabbers appeared and I was pulled off the fence. It was pretty high."

"You'll be okay," Hannah said. "This is a short one. You don't have to climb that long one."

Skyler watched as Claire and Grace raced to the tall fence, jumped, grabbed the links, and pulled themselves up and over. They dropped easily, landing on their feet like cats.

"C'mon." Hannah nudged him. She ran to a fence and lifted herself over. But she lost momentum halfway and had to drag herself over it. She was laughing, and it made Skyler smile. He hadn't heard her laugh like that in a long time.

Skyler looked at the fence, sizing it up as Hannah disentangled herself. He took a step forward, then another. He picked up speed.

He grabbed the fence with both hands and lifted himself up, half-jumping. He let go with his right hand and tried to swing his feet over the fence.

Instead his left arm gave out and slammed his side into the edge of the fence, falling to the ground hard on his back.

"Skyler!" Hannah hauled herself back over the fence as Cody ran up. Hannah dropped to her knees by her brother. "Are you okay?!"

Skyler nodded, wincing. His side throbbed.

"You sure, kid?" Cody asked, concern etched on his face. "You hit the top of the fence hard."

"I noticed," Skyler gasped. "My arm gave up."

"That happens," Cody replied. "Strengthening your arms is something everyone has to work on."

"Hannah made it over."

"Barely," Hannah laughed. "I looked stupid."

"It's a start," Cody encouraged. "You both did good. Hannah needs more speed and stronger jumps to help lift her over the fence. Skyler needs to work out."

"Hey!" Skyler glared at him, but accepted the hand Cody offered and was pulled to his feet.

"Hey nothing," Cody said. "You do. Both of you do. We have equipment back home you can use. Skyler, your technique was good. You have the right idea."

Skyler was hesitant to try again. He watched as their new friends taught Hannah. She was a fast learner, and pretty soon she was leaping over the fences easily. She only caught her foot on the fence once, but she still kept from falling on the landing.

Skyler also noticed how Wes was complimenting Hannah's performance. He would compliment her after every jump she made. Skyler knew he shouldn't worry, but the attention the guy was giving his sister made him feel wary.

"Your turn, Skyler." Cody came up to him. "You'll be fine."

"I don't think so," Skyler said uneasily.

"You'll be fine," Cody said. "Everyone falls. We just have to get up and not be afraid to fall again if it comes to it. Work on just getting over the fence. Don't try to show off."

Skyler looked at the fence again. Hannah gave him a thumbs up. Her hair was a wild mess and her cheeks were flushed. Grace smiled at him and nodded

Skyler ran.

He grabbed the fence, jumped, and managed to climb over it.

Everyone cheered. Hannah hugged him.

The siblings spent the rest of the morning vaulting over the fences. Skyler fell only once. He wobbled sometimes, but he managed to hurry over the fence.

Hannah even attempted the tall fence. She took a running jump, but her grip failed her and she fell flat on her back.

Skyler refused to give the tall fence a try after that.

By lunchtime, Skyler's hands hurt. He felt satisfied, though. He obviously wasn't the best, but he could jump the fences.

Kip was pleased to hear that practice had gone so well. He met them in the tunnels, about to fetch them. He showed the siblings to a smaller cavern where a bunch of work-out equipment was strewn around. Most of it looked too used, like it had fallen apart and then someone found stuff to use as substitute parts. Skyler saw a few pieces of equipment that required electricity.

"How--"

"We don't don't usually turn the electrical ones on," Kip explained. "Most of them can be used without it.

"Are they safe?" Hannah asked suspiciously, examining an exercise bike. Skyler joined her. It was one of the really old models. It didn't look safe at all.

"They are." Kip nodded. "I've used that one. But for what you two need, the bars are over there."

Skyler jogged down the cavern to where a metal structure stood. It was long and tall, with ladders on either end.

"Monkey bars?" Hannah asked. She looked at the posts that supported the line of bars above. "Is this one safe?"

"It's all safe," Kip chuckled. "I wouldn't let anyone use them if they weren't. I and a few other guys made sure this one was secured. You'll be able to lift yourself on these."

Skyler and Hannah experimented for a few minutes before returning to the main cave. They spent the rest of the day becoming acquainted with the other Fence Jumpers, as well as exploring and getting hopelessly lost in the tunnels before someone found them.

That night, Skyler was installed in his own bed. He shared a bunk with Cody, who had the lower bed while Skyler had the top.

Skyler stared at his blank wall. He didn't have anything to tape up on it, but maybe someday he would. His mind wandered to his parents as he drifted to sleep. Did they miss him? Had they tried looking for him? For Hannah? Could he and his sister ever go back? And if they did, would their parents hand them over to the government? Would he and Hannah become cyborgs?

The idea scared him. Skyler blinked back tears. No, his parents wouldn't do that. They hadn't wanted to in the first place. They probably didn't even know about the cyborgs.

"Skyler?" Cody's voice made him jump. He twisted around to see Cody standing by the bed. "You alright, man? You were breathing kind of hard."

Skyler shrugged.

"You want to come out on a run with me and a few other guys?" Cody asked. "Wes and I usually take the younger ones out to spy out a few potential targets." Cody smiled. "No dangerous stuff. Just watching the building, get them used to it. You'll be safe and we'll be back in time for the movie."

"Movie?"

"Yeah. Every Saturday we pull out a TV and one of us finds a movie from a thrift store or something."

"Um, sure." Skyler nodded. "Thanks."

Cody smiled and ducked into his bed. Skyler burrowed into his blanket and let the sound of the other guys bicker and tease as they got into their respective bunks lull him to sleep.

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