Across The Border

Entry by: Briergate

16th September 2016
Across the border

The searchlight swept a wide repetitive arc of yellow, highlighting each section of No Man’s Land in turn before plunging it into darkness; moving on to the next area. It was hypnotic, counting the seconds between each sweep.

He remembered the games they used to play when he was a child, and free. Hide and Seek. How, with eyes closed, he’d stand against a tree, every sense other than sight becoming more acute, his skin tingling and bristling with anticipation as he strained to hear each tiny sound of his friends evading him, counting and counting.

One, Mississippi. Two, Mississippi, Three, Mississippi, Four….

After six seconds, then, the light had made one full revolution, and he screwed his eyes up tight against the beam as it bathed him in light momentarily, and then fell away. Just as when he’d been a child, his senses were primed and primal; and just as then, he was playing hide and seek. Except before, he was the hunter. Now, he was the prey.

One, Two, Three, Four…

He needed to focus. All around him, the prison loomed stately and imposing; his residence for so many long hours, and days now. A familiar building with each crevice and archway, bar and lock imprinted upon his mind like a brooding and detested blueprint of hell.

He pressed his spine against the wall, feeling the cold blush of it permeate his prison-issue clothing and making his shiver. Count, now. He commenced recounting the seconds as the light swept, illuminated, and moved on once more.

He had just one chance, or he would fail. And failure was not an option.

A chill breeze was sweeping along the dust-filled yard, obscuring his footprints. He’d counted on that. In fact, he’d counted upon every single factor of his current environment and circumstances many times. Rehearsing the number of steps he would need to take to complete each disparate part of the plan. Factoring in the weather forecast for the area the prison was in. The percentage calculations of whether there would be rain, whether there would be a full moon or partial, whether there would be sufficient cloud to guarantee obscurity in between the harsh circling of the searchlight.

He stared out at the yard and shivered, emotion rather than cold causing the animal response to the barren ground before him. How many men had stood here, just as he was now, and counted, and breathed a rhythm, before seizing their chance and running towards the electric fence? How many men had felt the shadowed doom of discovery, just before a bullet stopped their footsteps, stopped their breath? It was unthinkable. And yet, he thought of little else.

He scanned the horizon, picking out the glint of the razor wire above him, the soft sheen highlighting the smooth metal of the rifle as the guard in the watchtower gazed out at the yard, and the prison behind it.

His father had always predicted he would end up in a place like this. And, he’d been right. He felt as if his entire life were simply a one-way journey straight through the damn prison gates and into the wasteland behind it. He felt at home, here, at least. With the group of men he’d come to befriend, he felt as if he had some support within these lonely walls, and perhaps that was as much as anyone could hope for in an environment as chilling and desolate as this.

He counted again. One, Two, Three, Four-

His shoulders tensed, his knees braced. He could feel the hammering pound of his heartbeat and a swooshing of blood as his adrenalin surged and his breath quickened.

Five, Six-

The light circled, familiar in its repetitive motions. And he ran.
He ran harder and faster than he ever had. He ran with his back to the wall, circling the electric fence until he had reached the foot of the watchtower, and the next dark space he could hide, and wait, and count again. He was gaining ground, and then he almost stumbled, and ended up throwing himself forward with the agility of a hunted animal and rolling into a ball under the metal structure supporting the tower just as the light swept around again.

Christ, that was close. He imagined the light to be gunfire, or electricity, that would scorch and burn if it touched him. It may as well be, he thought. If he was seen, he was lost.

Three. Four. Five.

His breath was regulated again now, with just the swift pant of adrenalin fuelling him, rather than exhaustion. His heart still pounded, but that would perhaps give him the fire he needed in his limbs to achieve the next section of his journey.


He started to climb, counting while hefting his weight up the metal, his hands becoming sore against the corroded steel. At five, he flung his body around to lie flush against the scarred struts, holding his body straight and taut as the light swept around again.

He braced himself, and then lost courage, and so stayed for another six seconds, and then twelve, looking up to calculate his next stage as he counted unconsciously now, screwing his eyes against the brightness of the light automatically.


He moved upwards on the inside of the struts now, his wiry frame easily taking him higher, and higher, swinging inwards and holding still and quiet to evade the light. He was nearly there.


His hands reached the top of the metal structure, and he almost grinned to himself. This was too easy. Surely it couldn’t be this easy? Although he had planned it all again and again in his mind, he hadn’t anticipated actually succeeding. And yet, hadn’t he known on some level that he would? Because otherwise, what the hell was he doing hanging here, on the outside of a mammoth metal structure, with a guard and a gun above, and a deadly drop below?

He had to succeed.


With stealth, he hauled himself up, and up, until his head reached the top of the watchtower. In front of him, close enough to touch, the guard leaned out, his rifle loosely held in hand, scanning the vast No Man’s Land below for any sign of movement.

He climbed favouring caution, not speed, now. The searchlight didn’t reach the shaded canopy of the tower, for fear of obscuring the vision of the guard within. So now, silence was everything. And yet, despite the new focus, he found himself counting still, as if his mind had recognised the critical importance of being attuned with the circle of light, and continued to monitor it.


With soundless movements, he had made it over the top and down onto the floor of the tower. He looked around him, absorbing his situation. The guard was wandering from one side of the small space to the other, still scanning the borders of the prison below. As long as he doesn’t turn, he thought, I am going to succeed.

The thought gave him renewed vigour, and adrenalin surged once again. He pulled a small vial out of the pocket of his prison garb, popped the cork soundlessly, and flung the powder out in a wide semicircle by the guard.

His eyes accustomed to the darkness now, he was able to locate the item he’d come to retrieve. Just out of reach, to his right, a greasy red scarf loosely tied to the corner strut of the tower. He hesitated for a moment more, waiting for the guard to walk to the opposite corner, and began to inch his way towards it. He reached out his hand, almost grasped it-

The guard turned, lowering his gun for a moment, moving back further into the tower. Time seemed to stall and then move in jagged angles as the guard felt his pockets, pulling out a handkerchief just in time to release three, four, five six explosive sneezes into the material.

It was enough. As the guard’s eyes were closed, his handkerchief pushed tight against his face, racked with noisy sneezes, he was able to make the final step of his journey. He reached again for the rag, quickly untying it before standing upright, holding the item in his hand like a trophy; a severed head; the ultimate prize.

“Fernando?” he said quietly. The guard turned, confusion and momentary fear in his eyes as he realised for the first time that he was not alone. Relief relaxed his expression as he registered his friend standing before him.

“Jesús me asustaste!” Fernando cursed. (You scared me!)

Carlos grinned, waving the red rag in his colleague’s face. Fernando held out his hand to shake Carlos’, laughing and shaking his head.

“Y mañana, es su turno , mi amigo. Gané de nuevo.” (Tomorrow, it’s your turn, my friend. I won again.)