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Escape - based on the novel Chasing the Valley, by Skye Melki-Wegner:
The solid stone wall towers over me, intimidating. My footsteps falter as I stare at the cold, grey height ahead.
Anger rekindles inside me, strengthening my resolve and returning my determined stride.
I hear the screams of agony rise up behind, feel the weight of horror-filled memories curdle in my stomach.
They flood my mind with fire, pain and loss.
The king's weapon against his people, against their hope.
Ignoring the raging fires, swamps of murky water and billowing clouds of poisonous fog, all magical twists of alchemy, I viciously gouge my fingers into a crack in the wall.
I bite back gasps of pain as my fingernails tear, broken and bloody, from my fingertips.
My worn, patchy boots scrabble for purchase in the rough rock, my scruffy, auburn curls swing wildly around me and I worry that the choking haze of smoke might fail to camouflage it from the wall guard.
I glance down to check my footing and panic overwhelms me.
Freezing in place, I hear the blood roaring in my ears.
Silently, I curse myself for this dizzy fear of heights, as the ground seems to loom up beneath me.
Clinging desperately, the violent rumble of burning wood spurs me on.
Smothering the acid taste of smoke and pain, I surge upwards like an opossum in a tree, fleeing the seeping odour of death and destruction.
My hands search frantically for a crack or jutting rock but instead they land on a smooth edge.
I search the haze for my next handhold but only the liberating sight of a dark canvas, scattered with pinpricks of light, greets me.
I gaze wide-eyed at the sky; it looks so different above the blanket of smog that hangs around the rooftops.
Clutching desperately to the wall's edge, I drag my trembling body up and collapse in a relieved heap. Stomach pressed to the icy rock, I try to wipe any trace of those wretched streets from my mind.
Reality sets in.
My heart pumps hope into my exhausted limbs and I struggle to my aching feet.
For the first time I see beyond the city walls, the breeze carries an earthy aroma to embrace me and I sigh.
Never again will I have to breathe the stench of the city streets.
Never again will I quake in fear at the drone of an airship.
I stare hungrily at the sprawling forest and distant shine of snowy peaks in the moonlight.
• By Evelyn Hessel-Palmer, Year 10, Dunstan High School