By John Shea

We’ve been told to escape.

We’ve been told not to expect assistance, given the circumstances.

We’ve been told that the enemy is not merely closer but is inside.

Inside where?  Inside how?

We’ve been told that wasting time on such unanswerable questions is counterproductive — indeed, dangerous — and that each moment is precious.

We’ve been told to escape, but the means and the directions are left entirely up to us.

We’ve been told that the alternative to escape is not to be considered.

Because of the horrors that would follow?  We have not been told.

We’ve been told to remain constantly vigilant.  The enemy, being inside, is likely to approach at any time, from any direction, more swiftly than we can imagine, and the supporters of the enemy are growing in number as well.  They cannot be recognized until too late.  You will know them, we’ve been told, or you have known them, before everything changed.

We’ve been told to escape, leaving everything behind, anything that can identify us, anything that reminds us of what our lives have been, because that is too burdensome, too dangerous.  Everything that remains will no longer remain.

We’ve been told to escape.

A quiet farmhouse in the hilly fields outside the old town, the center of the lavender industry, with its old church conserving the remains of an obscure saint; the window of the farmhouse showing the dewy fields as the dawn saunters in from the east; the first stomach-teasing odor of the bacon, of the hearty bread, of the insistent coffee; the breeze outside the window, the lazy messages between birds, the…

But not that kind of escape.  That kind of escape is no longer possible.  We’ve been told to escape, and the alternative to escape is not to be considered.

We’ve been told that all is lost, or at least to consider it so until evidence surfaces that some has not been lost.

We’ve been told to escape singly or in small, very small groups.  The ties of family will just slow the escape and endanger the group.  So we’ve been told.  We’ve been told that it would be imprudent to stop and hurry back to where mother or son has slipped on the wet cobblestones, trying to hold back the gasp of pain, to where grandfather is limping and breathing heavily under the knapsack stuffed with memories, no, it is unthinkable to turn back if a remnant is to be saved.  So we’ve been told.

Escape is the only solution.  You cannot be sure at this point if it is the mother or the son you have known, the grandfather who bounced you on his knee, that is how the enemy works, the enemy takes our lands, our homes, our sense of identity, our meanings, all of it, and failing to escape will be the end.  So we must escape.  How, we have not been told.

Escape.  Escape now.  The alternative is unthinkable.

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About John Shea

John Shea was born in Rome, graduated from Columbia College, and studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where he now works as an editor and writer.  He may be the only person to have published stories in both Partisan Review and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  His story "The Real World" received an honorable mention from Writer's Digest; was published in Columbia; and was later performed as part of Writing Aloud, a program of InterAct Theatre Company of Philadelphia.  The Café Irreal ran his "How to Make Something Out of Nothing," one of a series of "Instructions" on "Matters, Large, Small, and Scarcely Conceivable."  In 2005, he won second prize in the Philadelphia City Paper fiction competition, and his story "The Bus Ride" appeared in Shadow Regions, a horror anthology, in 2006.


  1. Posted January 2010 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    This is an excellent and compelling piece. Each time I read it, (3 times), I still felt as if I was reading it for the first time and I held my breath to the very end!


  2. Posted January 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I love this story. It is quite unique. It has charm and a musical quality to it. I found myself wanting to read on and on.

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