The outstretched tip of a tree branch raked its claws across his cheek. He ran as fast as his tired legs could muster through the dark wood. The shouts of men and the barks of dogs trailed not far behind. His arms yearned for relief. The boy slung across them weighed sixty pounds, though he should have been closer to ninety. The pale face of his son flashed in and out of focus whenever the moonlight pierced the foliage.
As Edgar lifted his foot to leap over a fallen log his strength failed him. His toe caught the edge, pitching him forward and loosening his grip on the boy. His son’s body landed heavy in the brush, crumpling the dead leaves and errant twigs in is fall. Pain shot through Edgar’s shin.
Behind him blazed the lanterns of those desperate to bring him home. No one left the Fringe. They were no more than five hundred feet away and Edgar’s stamina was flagging. High above the tree line in the opposite direction, the City beckoned. Skyscrapers that seemed to touch the stars sprouted up no more than a kilometer ahead. Their lights glowed a brilliant green. They were a beacon of hope. He couldn’t give up.
He scooped up his son’s body from the ground and threw him over his shoulder. He could feel something warm and slick on the boys bare legs. If he could just get Karl to the perimeter, he would be safe. They had technology, they had medicine, things that could save the boy’s life. Behind him were glorified herbalists and witch doctors. Keepers of the old way they called themselves. The peace that the Fringe was supposed to bring was shattered when his wife and then his son, fell ill.
The snarling dog’s were nearly on him. No more than two hundred feet away was the end of the tree line, beyond it the City limits. It was a place member’s of the Fringe dared not go. A toxic place they said. A place where the city would wrap its tendrils through your mind and seduce you with its promise before it left you an empty shell. Edgar didn’t care.
The huffing breath of a large German shepherd was suddenly to his right. An instant later its teeth latched around his calf, its fangs puncturing his skin. With his free hand he unsheathed the buck knife on his waist. A second later the blade sliced through the dog’s neck and it went limp. But the damage was done. He could barely put weight on his leg.
A momentary flash of guilt flushed over him at the sight of the lifeless animal, a slave to the bidding of men. It was the men he hated. But it was the dog that was dead. He dragged his leg behind him as he shuffled toward the tree line. The leg did no more than keep him from falling over. He ripped off his glove and jammed it between his teeth and bit down as hard as he could. He pressed down into his leg and surged forward. He was too close to fail. The soft earth churned under his feet.
“Edgar, stop!” The tree line was only fifty meters now. Hot breath burst past the glove as his last shreds of strength faded.
“The bastard killed my dog,” a man groaned. Seconds later an arrow whistled through the air and punctured a tree only a foot from Edgar’s head. If they were shooting to kill it meant he was close to salvation. A pale glow at the edge of the forest urged him on.
Less than five feet from the City’s perimeter, a hand wrapped around the shoulder of Edgar’s coat. He lurched back, sending his son tumbling to the ground.
“GET OFF ME!” Edgar screamed, his hands wrapped around the shirt of a wiry man pressing his weight on top of Edgar’s chest.
“Got him here,” he yelled. Edgar, fished his free hand for the buck knife at his waist but it had come loose. His breath grew ragged as the man’s knee held fast to his sternum. His fingers found a rock. Edgar swung it up and connected with the man’s temple. He staggered and fell into the brush.
Edgar crawled for his son and pushed his body into the pale light of the perimeter, under a stand of heavy ferns where no one could see. He searched the ground for the knife, a lucky glint of light reflected off its hilt revealing it in the darkness.
THUNK! An arrow shaft protruded from his leg, sending him to his knees. Half a second later another came out of the trees and buried itself in his bicep. He lost grip of the knife.
A mountain of a man emerged from the darkness, torch in one hand, the other wrapped around a revolver. His bare chest was lathered in sweat, his shoulders draped in wolf skin. The grey hairs of his beard were cut down to a short stubble.
“Where’s the boy Edgar?” he said.
Edgar, his face drained of color, looked up into the eyes of the man known as Thorogood. He said nothing.
Thorogood cocked the gun, leveling it on Edgar’s forehead. “WHERE IS HE?”
Edgar’s eyes never left Thorogood. “Rot in hell.”
“If that’s how you want it,” said Thorogood. He touched his torch to the brittle leaves on the forest floor. They went up in flames.
“Bring him with us boys,” Thorogood turned and walked back into the dark wood. Other men seized Edgar and carried him back to the Fringe.
“NOOOO!” he screamed, struggling in their grip, reaching for the perimeter, reaching for his son. “You’ve killed him you sons of bitches. NOOOO!”
Exhaustion and blood loss overcame Edgar and he slid into unconsciousness as he watched what was left of his world burn.