Troy wiped his brow just as a bead of sweat was about to fall into his eyes. The big day was drawing ever closer and the pressure was on.
He wasn’t sure how much more he could take. Despite his efforts not to look over at Eric, he kept finding himself stealing glances at him and thinking about what Eric had said.
It was dangerous – no question about that. But so was staying. Troy didn’t know how long he could keep up this pace, but if he fell behind, he would suffer the consequences. He was doomed if he did and doomed if he didn’t.
When he saw Eric heading for the bathroom, he automatically put down his tools and followed. He usually found it best not to think. It was safer that way.
The Big Man liked to joke about how his workers always liked to go to the bathroom together. They let him joke. If he couldn’t figure out that was the only place they could safely talk to each other, so much the better.
Nevertheless, they kept their voices low as they spoke.
“Have you had a chance to think about my offer?”
“Yeah. I have to go for it.” Troy surprised himself with the determination in his voice. “I’m terrified, but I’m more terrified of staying.”
Eric nodded. “Come morning, then. Just before dawn.”
“You see a reason to wait?”
Troy considered. He didn’t – not really. But on some level he had expected making the decision to leave to be different from actually leaving. He was ready for the first. He wasn’t sure he was ready for the second. Fear welled inside of him.
So did excitement.
He nodded once, not in answer to Eric’s question, but to confirm his decision. “Anyone else?”
Eric shook his head. “I asked Garth, but he’s wimping out. Probably best that way, now that you’ve decided to come. The more of us there are, the harder it will be to get out of here safely.”
Troy nodded again. Then they finished their business and left the bathroom separately.
Dawn really was the best time to leave. Everyone knew the Big Man liked to work under cover of night. That’s why he worked them so hard in winter when the nights were longest. He had all year to prepare for one night and he insisted on putting it all off until the last few weeks.
By the time the sun rose, everyone (including the Big Man) was usually so tired they just collapsed into bed. But there were still the guards to deal with, so it would be best to leave when it was dark enough to provide cover for their exit.
Troy wondered if they’d have enough energy to make the journey after a long night’s work, but he was so full of adrenaline that sleep clearly wasn’t an option anyway. He’d make the journey if it killed him.
Come dawn, Troy met Eric at their appointed meeting spot. As Troy approached he saw a second figure standing there and he froze, wondering if they’d been found out already.
Both figures had their shoulders hunched – whether against the cold or because of tension between them was impossible to tell from this distance. Troy almost turned around, but something kept him moving forward. He’d come this far and it was all or nothing at this point.
As he got closer he recognized the second figure as Garth and he tensed further. Had he come to turn them in?
He did his best to walk up to his comrades with a steady foot that betrayed nothing of his nervousness. Eric turned to him and said, “Garth changed his mind. Again.”
“Three of us?” said Troy.
Eric nodded. “It’s risky, but not much more risky than two of us. It just means we’ll have to be extra careful.”
“Let’s get to it then.”
And the three of them turned their backs on the North Pole – hopefully for good.