Fiction logo

The Last Window

What is it worth?

By Lilly CooperPublished 5 months ago 24 min read
The Last Window
Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room. Lost in the moment she sat slowly on the corner of the bed.

His window was the only one left in the building, the others having been bricked up long before Shayla's time. There were books in the library all about what the world was like before. Some had pictures. Rolling hills, vast rainforest, huge dark clouds struck through with bright flashes of lightening, immense mountains with snow capped peaks and seas of crashing waves. The books were not available to everyone. Mrs Maggie said it was for the best, they just filled young people’s heads with nonsense and silly dreams. Library access was limited to those with permission from the Master. His captains had access and held meetings there, knowing they wouldn’t be accidentally interrupted. Outside of that small group, it was a select few who were allowed into the Library. Shayla was one of those few. The smell of the room full of books was like no other. From the moment she first set foot in there, she had been spellbound by it’s treasures. It hadn't taken long for the young daydreamer to begin illicitly ‘borrowing’ books. Her favourites were the ones with colourful pictures of a world she had never seen.

Outside the window looked nothing like the enchanting photos. The window looked out over a courtyard, boardered by a thick brick wall and paved with stone. The view reminded her of the castles like the ones from the books of fairy tales. Shayla fantasised sometimes she was a lady or a princess from one of the stories, held prisoner, waiting to be rescued and whisked off to see the world. The wall transformed into massive stone blocks and soldiers patrolling the wall with guns became knights in armour carrying swords.

The fantasy evaporated when she couldn’t for the life of her imagine where they would go after the rescue. The pictures and stories were all she really knew of beyond the walls that closed in on her every day. From the window, all that was visible were the tall walls and open blue sky.

What if the pictures were wrong and there was no savage ocean, swaying trees or tall mountain ranges? All of the things she could imagine were just the things from the pictures. Static, unmoving, cold. They didn’t make for good fantasies.

“For goodness sake child! What on EARTH do you think you are doing?!”

The hissing voice cut through the air sending Shayla jumping across the room like a startled cat.

“What if it’d been the Master come in and find the bloody maid sitting on his bed? Do you want to be sent to the lowest levels? Well! Do you?”

She kept her eyes trained on the floor and shook her head furiously. “No, Mrs. Maggie.”

“Well, get over here and help me straighten the bed! You should have been done in here by now! We all have work to do and you are NOT doing your share!” She shook her head. “I should never have put you up here. I thought seeing the window once in awhile would keep your head out of the clouds. Clearly, I was wrong.”

Shayla’s head snapped up, her bright blue eyes wide.

“It won’t happen again, Mrs. I swear!” Her heart pounded, as if it hadn’t been beating a fast tattoo already. She couldn’t lose the window. “Please. It won’t. I won’t.”

The old house keeper grunted. She knew she shouldn’t show favouritism, but she had a soft spot for this one. She reminded her of herself. Before life had beat hope out of her.

“Go on. Get. Don’t forget your duster!”

Ducking down to scoop up the duster she had dropped, Shayla scurried out the door and down the hall. Mrs. Maggie’s grumbling following her down the dim hall way. “Don’t forget your class!” Mrs. may be a bit gruff, but she looked after her team like they were her kids.

No one could deny Shayla was a daydreamer. Her mind was always a million miles away. Somehow though, she still managed to be one of the fastest on the housekeeping team. Despite falling behind schedule in the Master’s room, she finished her jobs fast enough to only be a little late for class.

Stopping by the supply cupboard to leave her equipment, Shayla headed for the subterranean levels where most of the population lived. Barrelling down the corridors, taking steps two at a time, she wove around people with an ease that came with practice. From the clock on the wall outside of the classroom, she had missed enough of class to earn a reprimand but not enough to receive a punishment.

As she pushed the door open, she could hear one of the students arguing with their teacher, not for the first time. Perry was always arguing.

“We have been over this before. Many times.” Teacher Tiny was sitting on the bench beside Perry, shoulders slumped a little in frustration. “Your work instructions are given in writing. You need to be able to read and understand them.”

“I work with other people! One of them can read it for me!” Perry pushed the paper and pencil away and folded his arms.

“You won’t always be working with others. When you are fully trained, you will have to work independently. Besides, you need to know how to count and perform equations. We all have to pull our weight.” The hulking form of their teacher looked like it was melting slowly. Perry had that effect on people.

Shayla quickly picked a piece of rough handmade paper from the pile beside the door, a charcoal pencil and slipped into a spot beside her friend who had shifted to make room for her. Kan waited until she was settled and angled his sheet of paper so she could see what she had missed. Nothing earth shattering.

“Where were you?” Kan spoke out of the side of his mouth trying to keep the conversation between the two of them.

Shayla chuckled. “Unsuccessfully avoiding you.” There was little risk of Kan taking offence to a jibe like that, especially as the two were as thick as thieves. “It took me longer than planned to finish my jobs this morning.”

“Ahhh, I see. Daydreaming again, were you?”

“I do not daydream.” Shayla shot back at her friend. He chuckled in response. “I don’t. I plot a way out of Mole City.”

Kan’s tone turned serious. “Hang back after class. I’ve got something to show you.”

Tiny interrupted their whispered conversation, addressing the room in general. “Alright, I’m going to be caught up here. Shayla, could you please lead the others through the puzzles on the board. Early mark when you are done.”

There were two other students in class and Shayla was delighted both were at a similar level of learning to Kan. It didn’t take them long to complete the tasks at hand. Tiny dismissed the four students while keeping a pouting Perry back.

“Shayla? Don’t think I didn’t notice your tardiness today. That’s six times this month..... don’t let it happen again......”

“Yes, Teacher,” she hung her head, trying to look humbled, “it won’t happen again.”

The big man snorted. “Ofcourse it will. If you weren’t ahead of the other students, it wouldn’t be allowed to slide. But rules are rules. Everyone needs to do their part.” He stared her down for a moment. “Not another one this month. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yessir. Thank you.”

Tiny nodded acknowledgement and returned his attention to Perry.

Rounding the corner, she ran smack into Kan who stood waiting. “Oof! Watch it! Maintenance team members are valuable you know!”

Shayla grabbed his arm, dragging him up the dimly lit corridor, putting as much distance as she could between them and the classroom. Free time was rare around here.

“Valuable? Why? All you guys do all day is gossip and pretend to be busy, whacking things with hammers when others are about!”

“That’s not true!” Kan retorted playfully. “Sometimes we hit things when no one is about. You know, just in case.”

The banter had her grinning from ear to ear. Underground where most of the population lived and worked, if you could call it living, life was colourless. There were no dyes for the clothing of people like them. The lack of sunshine was made up for with regular U.V. light exposure sessions. But people still looked washed out and pale. It may have been attributed to the poor lighting around the underground complex. With some people it was hard to tell where their skin ended and beige of the cotton clothing started. The entire world was one of oppressive monotones. She had grown up being told everyone had a job to do for the greater good. Sometimes she wondered where the good was. Personalities often became as sad and lacking as everything else around them. There seemed to be no room for light, laughter and good humour.

But when she was with Kan, the shadows both metaphorical and real seemed to roll back and reveal a hidden world behind the one she saw everyday. One where so much was possible.

“So, what is it you wanted to show me?”

“Shhhhhhhhh!” Kan hissed. “Not here.”

He did his best to look casual as he headed down the corridor towards the maintenance storage. “I’ve got to go back, I was running late and left my equipment in a mess. If Dean finds it like that, I’ll get plumbing duty for a week!” Her friend spoke loudly and winked at her. She groaned inwardly. He was a terrible actor. “I know!” He added in the same loud voice. “You can help me! I'll be done faster and we can head to the rec room!”

It took supreme effort not to roll her eyes. “C’mon. Let’s get this done.”

At this time of day the corridors were bustling with people going about their business, all performing allocated tasks. For the greater good. This place will kill us all, she thought.

She and Kan wove their way though the other subterranean residents that thinned as they neared the steps to the next level down. The next levels contained the machinery required provide clean water, air, electricity and remove waste. The maintenance equipment storage were the only other rooms, meaning there were few who had reason to be there. Kan used his key to access the storage room half way down the noisy corridor and ushered Shayla in before checking they were alone, closing the door behind himself.

“OK, spill. What is it you have to show me?”

“Keep your voice down, we’d be in for a world of hurt if anyone heard.” Kan looked around like someone could be lurking, ready to pounce and catch them out. “Yesterday, Dean sent Shorty and me to do some work on the first level lighting.” He snorted. “Can’t have the Master working in poor lighting, can we? I mean, there is barely any light down here! It’s like they want to keep us in the dark!”

This was not a new topic of discussion between the friends, though it was one they were careful to keep just between the two of them. Criticism of the Master could result in loss of privileges at best. Solitary confident at worst. It made Shayla shudder just to think of it.

“I know. The light nearly blinds me when I go to work on the upper two levels. I hate that we are so used to the dark that we can’t handle the light. But that’s not why you wanted to talk to me.”

Kan pressed his lips into a thin line before he relaxed his expression again.

“OK, yeah. We were finishing up, coming back along the second floor corridor and saw a group of the solider-boys hanging in the library. Nothing strange about that. Right? Well, I realised I’d left one of my tools on the first level. Dean’d be furious if I left it, so I ran back to the first level stairs.” Kan paused for dramatic effect. “There was no one in the library when I went past.”

Shayla frowned. There was only one way in or out of the room. The most important reason the Capitans used the room for meetings. No one could easily eavesdrop.

“Well. Where did they go? People don’t disappear. They had to go somewhere.”

“I thought the same thing.” He motioned to her to follow him to a metal cabinet against the wall and gestured to diagrams spared out on the top. “These show where the pipes and electrical run through the rooms. Notice anything odd?”

Looking carefully, Shayla was able to identify the maps as being of the library, the corridor and the next room. She knew the library, located towards the end of the corridor, had a wall in common with the outside of the building. But something looked off about the plans. “I’m not sure.....”

Kan took the pipe map and overlaid it with the electrical map before turning on a light box on the cabinet.

“How about now?”

The paper the maps were printed on was thin so the map on the bottom became visible through the top one. Nearly every wall of the library had either plumbing or electrical running through it. What was easy to miss when the maps were separate became glaringly obvious when the maps were view together as one. The depth of the north facing outside wall was noticeably more than the east facing outer wall.

“The wall is thicker on this side,’ Shayla ran a finger down the diagram, ’much thicker. And there are no pipes or wires in this part of it.” She tapped an empty segment of wall. “It... it looks similar to the gaps where the doors are.”

“Correct! I didn’t notice until I picked up the wrong map yesterday. Some idiot put it in the wrong bloody draw. Probably Perry. Lazy idiot, still can’t read. Dead weight, that one.’ He shook his head in frustration. “Anyway, I got to thinking last night about the disappearing soldiers. I had myself nearly convinced I’d missed them somehow. Then I remembered this.” He gently shook the maps for emphasis. “So, this morning I got the structural maps, looking for the supports in the wall and where the foundations are. And this bit is the same on all of them. It’s like it’s a void. There is nothing behind the wall. It may have been a door once, bricked up like the windows.....”

“But what if it’s not?” Shayla felt a wave of excitement.

She and Kan had long fantasised about what existed outside these walls. Sun, rain, trees, the sky.... all the things she had read about in the books. As they grew, their fantasies changed too. They stopped just wondering what it would be like outside. They had started asking, hypothetically, how they might get out.

At some point, Shayla wasn’t sure when, it stopped being a hypothetical question. If they could find a way, the two of them would run, far away. Away from the complex, its sunless corridors and pale residents who had never known anything but these walls, the greater good and the Master.

If there was a possibility of a secret way out... well, it was worth the risk of finding out more.

“We just need to get in and look around.”

“I’m cleaning in the library in two days......” Shayla could see the excitement in Kan’s eyes for a moment before it faded again.

“It’s too dangerous.” He sighed and shook his head. “I need to find a way to get in there. I....” He paused. “I can’t risk you getting into trouble.” He met her ice blue eyes with his own.

She hadn’t meant to, but she laughed. “Why? Because I’m a girl? I’m not stupid. I can do this! I have a valid reason to be there. If there is anything there to find, I will find it.”

Kan blushed and stared at his shoes for a moment. “I didn’t mean it like that...” He fell silent for a moment.

When he spoke again, his tone was neutral. “I guess you are right. We should do it your way.”

- + -

It took Shayla a little while to figure out what had caused the change in Kan’s behaviour. They had discussed what she might find. Kan had drawn a map to help her to find the suspicious place in the wall. He seemed sedate and not as happy to see her as he usually did.

It was when he went over every scenario he could think of that could result in disaster that she put it together. He was worried for her safety, trying to protect her. He had never said anything about being more than friends before. It may have simply been that she was his best friend and wanted to make sure no harm came to her. She suspected it was more than that.

She would have to work out what to do with that thought later, though.

She listened to the sounds in the dark, waiting to hear the signal they had agreed on. There had been a door hidden in the wall. From a distance, the panel looked like a bricked up section. She had found a catch that released the panel of skilfully painted wood that slid aside to reveal a hidden flight of stairs leading down into a dimly lit space. Her heart had beat so hard, she could hear nothing else. Instead of risking being caught somewhere she shouldn’t be, Shayla had slid the panel back into place carefully and finished collecting her cleaning equipment before running to find Kan to tell him what she had found.

They had spent the next week ironing out a plan. Kan was convinced it was a secret exit tunnel leading outside. The stairs lead down, lower than where the foundations of the outer wall would be and in the right direction to run under the wall. He had wanted to pack bags and run that night. Shayla had convinced her excitable friend they should plan a little more thourghly.

They had settled on a week later. Both had been stealing items they might need to take with them and Shayla had been hiding them in the library for safe keeping. Ready to go if the hunch her accomplice had turned out to be correct.

Now, she lay in the dark, waiting for the rhythmic tapping that they had agreed would be signal for her to sneak out of the orphan's dorm. Her family had died when she was still very young. A disease had ripped through the underground complex, killing many residents and leaving more than a few kids to be raised by the community as a whole. The orphans lived in dorm rooms with communal bathrooms down the corridor while the families lived in their own rooms with ensuites. Shayla had always thought living with a family in their own rooms would be better than the dorms. Until she found Kan hiding in the cleaning storage cupboard. The women in the infirmary had exchanged knowing looks as they tended to his wounds. It didn’t stop it though. His mother just learnt to hide it better next time. It had never before occurred to Shayla that having parents could be worse than being an orphan.

The tapping could have been the plumbing. But it was the signal she had been waiting for.

Leaving through the door closest to the communal bathroom, she checked the corridor was empty as she headed away from the dorm. To the casual observer, she appeared to have a legitimate reason to be out of bed in the middle of the night. Just a few strides from the bathroom door, Shayla took one last look around, ready to either continue to the bathroom or dash through the door opposite. Where her friend would be waiting.

She stifled a squeal as she stepped through the door to the stairwell and ran bodily into someone on the other side.

“Shhhh! There are soldiers patrolling the next floor!” Kan’s voice sounded ridiculously loud. Shayla nodded emphatically and concentrated on slowing her breath.

He waited patiently for her breathing to settle, listening intently for sounds around them. They had agreed, if they were caught, they would pretend to be a couple who had slipped out for some time together. It wasn’t permitted, but it would get them out of the worst trouble.

“C’mon. The patrol should have moved by now.”

“Are you sure? Why are they out tonight? Maybe we should wait for another day?” Shayla whispered, her voice sounding impossibly loud to her own ears.

“Don’t get cold feet on me now! I can hear them. We will wait at the top of the stairs and I’ll listen. They are patrolling every five minutes. If we wait just a minute after the last patrol, it still gives us plenty of time to get to the library before the next.” Kan’s face was intense even in the low light of the stairwell. “This is our chance, we have to take it. I.... I can’t keep going like this, Shayla. She will kill me one day.....”

Shayla’s shoulders slumped. If this escapade was just for herself, it’d be different. She could walk away from potential danger and wait for another time. But Kan? The danger in getting caught looking for an escape was less likely to be lethal than what was waiting back in his room.

She had to do this. For him.

Squaring her shoulders, Shayla nodded. “Let’s do this.”

He nodded once and lead the way to the landing at the top of the stairs.

They huddled in silence, listening intently for the guard. After what felt like an eternity, Kan reached out and gripped her arm gently. His hearing was better than her own. It was quite a few seconds before she heard the first sounds of the patrol in the hallway. As the sound receded, she began to count out one minute. She reached sixty before he did and waited for him to give her the go to move. He finally let her arm go and reached for the door handle, moving it slowly. Kan had oiled all of the door hinges and handles on the route they had planned during the week and the door opened soundlessly. Holding his hand out to signal her to wait, he carefully looked out to check the corridor was clear before waving her forward. One after the other, the two crept steadily up the corridor, nervously glancing up and down.

Kan kept her hand in his, leading the way and listening intently. So far, so good.

Shayla felt a sense of relief and elation when they came within strides of the door that was their destination. But her excitement was short-lived.

It wasn’t until Kan froze in place that she realised she should have kept counting the seconds. The sounds of voices and steps around the corner.

The Patrol!

Shayla dashed forward, past her inanimate friend to the door. She almost reached the handle when a tug on her arm jerked her backward. Kan still hadn’t moved but held fast to her hand, their arms at full extension. Panic set in, sending her heart racing again. She tugged on his hand trying to get him to move, to no avail. She stretched their joined hands out as far as possible and reached for the door handle. Her finger tips slipped off the lever on her first attempt, making her want to cry.

She tried again, pulling hard on his hand and leaning all her weight towards the door and stretching her free arm out enough to get the ends of three fingers around the metal, but she didn’t have the strength to pull it down and open the door. A whimper escaped her throat.

One last try. I have to do this!

She let their arms slack for a heartbeat before quickly launching herself towards the door. Their arms hit full extension hard this time causing pain in her shoulder.

It worked this time, her hand wrapping around the metal and pulling down. The door popped open just a crack. The pain in her arm must have been mirrored in Kan’s, because at that moment he started back to action.

Shayla almost fell through the door way, pulling her friend behind her. Once through the door, she held the handle down and pulled it closed quickly before very slowly releasing the handle, making every effort to avoid noise.

Kan, no longer frozen in fear, tugged on her hand this time and gestured to the back of the room. Moving quickly, they dashed behind a bookcase towards the back and ducked down to sit on the floor. Leaning her head back to rest on the wood, Shayla pressed her hand to her chest while she waited to find out if they had been caught. Beside her, Kan tilted his head, listening for sounds of pursuit.

When she opened her eyes again, he was watching her with the biggest grin she had ever seen him wear.

“They are gone! We’re in!” He threw his arms around her for a moment before letting her go again. “ Where are the packs hidden?”

Getting to their feet, Shayla lead the way to a side cupboard where she had stashed the packs. “Take this one. There is a parcel at the end of the top shelves of those three cases over there, they have the things I’ve been hiding. Collect those and I’ll collect the others.”

Stuffing her own pack with parcels as she walked, Shayla waited by the false wall for Kan to join her.

Kan grinned at her. “Shall we?”

She couldn’t help it. She grinned back. “Yes. Let’s.”

Before she could react, he lent in and kissed her firmly on the lips. He pulled back, smiling even broader if that were possible. He reached and pulled the hidden latch to release the sliding door and pushed it back.

It was then that the world exploded. The lights of the library normally left on low, flicked onto full brightness, much brighter than the corridors. Shayla found herself blinded and at the same time deafened by a series of loud bangs.

Shayla fell to her knees with her hands over her ears. Sounds assaulted her from every side. The bangs had stopped but there was a lot of shouting. She opened her eyes just enough to find out what was happening, it took her a moment to sort out what she was seeing. Laying on the floor with his face twisted towards her, was Kan. His blank stare and the red spreading from under his chest were easy to understand, but hard to comprehend.

She took her hands off her ears and reached for her friend. “Kan? Kan! Get up! Get up! Please, get up?” She shook him hard, refusing to accept what she knew was true. “No! Nonono!” Hot tears started running down her face as a shadow fell across Kan’s prone body. She looked up into Perry’s face, twisted into an ugly expression.

He leaned in close and hissed at her. “You two always thought you were better than everyone else. Better than me. Well, jokes on you! I heard you, I followed you and I worked out your little escape plan. Too bad it didn’t work, heh.”

Perry laughed and straightened up. “Good bye, you arrogant bitch. Glad I’m the one who gets to end you.” And he pulled the trigger.

- + -

Shayla sat bolt upright, gasping for breath. The window, kissing Kan, the escape plan: it'd all been a dream. The tears streaming down her face were real, though. She wiped them away and lay back on her pillow. How many times had she wondered what the view from the Master’s bedroom would look like if it hadn’t been bricked up like all the rest? There was so much in the dream her subconscious had tried to deal with, it was going to take her time to analyse it.

One thing she knew for sure, the book tucked under her pillow and its fellows in the library she often cleaned, were the last windows to an outside world she may never see.

MysteryShort StoryLove

About the Creator

Lilly Cooper

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

I may be an amateur Author, but I love what I do!

Subscribe to join me on my journey!

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

Add your insights

Comments (4)

Sign in to comment
  • Lisa A Lachapelle5 months ago

    Interesting and well done. Hearted.

  • Danwil Reyes5 months ago

    Cool. I enjoyed reading this.

  • Glad you made it and a great claustrophobic challenge entry

  • Cathy holmes5 months ago

    This is great. Really well done.

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2023 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.