I squeeze my legs out of our tunnel and look back at my brother, “It worked!” he shoots me a worried glance and I then remember that we are doing something illegal, and start whispering instead, “I mean, it worked,” I unknowingly touch the jewels in my back pocket, thinking of the portal they would make to a new life.
He looks back at me while struggling to squeeze out of the tunnel; my brother is a round man, and a fair bit heftier than I, so he had gotten caught on the tunnel’s exit, as it was smaller than the tunnel itself.
“Of course it worked, but are you still sure we’re safe?” my brother’s head shot furtively around, looking for the cougars.
That’s what we call them at least, everyone else calls them the police, but when you’re hanging around a bank trying not to look suspicious, it’s better to not talk about the missing police, cougars are much less suspicious, plus, where we live, everyone knows about the cougars who prowl the city at night: it’s the oldest trick in the book to get a toddler to sleep here in Denver.
I gave him a pat on the head, unknowingly pushing him farther into the tunnel, “don’t worry, the cougars are gone,” but I’m not so sure of myself, and I go check around the corner of the alley we are in.
The bright light of the street blinds me; I’ve been in darkness for so long. I blink a few times to get used to the light and then try to act casual as I scan the road for cougar cars. I don’t see anything threatening, so I go back to my brother, who is still stuck in the tunnel’s exit.
“C’mon brother, let’s getcha outta there,” I waltz over to my brother trying to act as cool and suave as a millionaire, when I trip on a rotten apple that was strewn on the ground, possibly by a homeless man. I fall flat on my face, and my brother starts laughing at me.
Then everything takes a turn for the worse, my brother is still laughing and the slight sound of sirens is heard in the distance. It’s not loud, but it’s certainly there. The expression on my face changes from pain to absolute terror in an instant. The cougars are here, and they’re on the hunt.
I scramble to my brother’s side, my face still throbbing in agony as I pull with all of my might on my brother to get him out of the hole. But he stays put. I can’t get him out of the tunnel to save my life. My mind wanders off the task and starts pondering how accurate the expression is to me. I imagine life in prison, scared, lonely, and taunted by my cell mates, but quickly snap the thought out of my head. We have to get out of here.
A loud pop rings out as the pressure holding my brother in the tunnel releases, “Great,” I mumble, ignoring the fact that he’s out of the hole, “now the cougars know where we are.”
My brother stares at me, it’s as if we’ve switched places, his face is one of absolute terror while mine is now one of annoyance, “brother,” he says to me, his voice small like a mouse pleading not to be eaten by a cat rather than an international thief, “Shouldn’t we be getting out of here?”
I look at him, still annoyed by the cougars, “thanks Captain Obvious,” I ignore his response. It’s not important anymore, “follow me,” I say, and then stare up the web of interlocking fire escapes towering above us. You’re such an idiot, my brain says to myself, shut up, brain, I have a job to do, I respond. I look back at my brother once to make sure he’s all right, and then start up the ladder leading to the first level. I make my way through the patchwork of staircases and ladders, surprised by how easy it is to scale the things.
For a split second I allow myself to think that we will be okay, but then I look back at my brother. He is struggling to get up the ladders. While I am up at least ten, he is not even half that. My mind races on what to do, but in the end, I can’t leave my brother like that. I sprint back down the fire escape to help my brother, and that’s when the cougars pull up. Their sirens are like needles pushing into my skull. The bright lights flash, and I stare at my shoes. Embarrassed. A man shouts through a megaphone, but I can’t hear him. Instead, I stare at my brother and mouth the words, “I’m sorry”, and hop down to the ground in surrender.
The cougars place the cuffs around my wrists and lead me to their car. It’s dark inside. I take in the smell of the cab, a hint of donut mixed with tears of men, and I feel I can smell the defeat of thousands of people who were once in the same position as me. I look out the window; my brother is in this same position as me. I suddenly realize how much I don’t want to go, but the cougars don’t understand my emotions. Instead, they grab the jewels out of my pocket, shut the door, and take me away to my new life.
Andrew Cottrell is a thirteen-year-old who plays the clarinet,— and after eight years of training has a 2nd degree black belt. He received Gold Honor Roll every semester last year, and every trimester so far this year.