Finny turned to the left. At the end of the walkway away from the stairs was a small window.
This window was the only window in the whole factory that wasn't guarded by thick bars. That was because this was Joe's escape route.
Secured next to the window was a knotted rope, never to be touched by the kids who worked in the factory. Unwound, the rope reached the whole way down to the small back yard below.
There, under a heavy tarpaulin, Joe kept a motorbike with the keys already in the ignition. Next to the bike was a big red button that disengaged the lock on the back gate.
This was to be her way out -- an easy climb down the rope and escape over the back gate. Finny looked at her hands. The whiteness now extended to the knuckles on half of her fingers.
Only her thumbs seemed to be relatively unaffected. She rubbed her fingers with her thumb; they felt like someone else's.
She would not be able to grip the rope, even with the handy knots, well not enough to make the descent. Finny needed another way out.
Despondent and desperate in equal measures, Finny looked down onto the factory floor. She needed a ground level escape route.
Front door, no chance, even the back door to the yard had three locks on it and bolts and then a heavy bar across the middle of it. The windows then. Nope, still barred.
No window fairy had materialised to magic them away for her.
No holes in the wall for her to wiggle through either. Even the air vents had solid-looking bars across them now.
Joe had replaced the steel vent grills with heavy brass frames, each with a single thick brass bar across the middle.
Anything metal that might cause a spark had been replaced with brass where possible, even the drains.
Down the middle of the factory floor was a wide gutter. Spaced along the length of the gutter were large drain holes, each of them covered by a heavy grill.
Whatever the factory had been used for before Joe bought it had needed drainage.
Even though that wasn't needed now, it had been cheaper to just replace the iron drain covers with brass ones rather than to get a builder in to fill them in and cement over them.
Now they were used by the boys to wee in rather than go all the way to the toilets during their precious break time. Even the overseers sometimes used them.
Finny hobbled down the stairs to the factory floor and stood over the nearest drain. Normally she would have been able to look down into a square conduit about forty centimetres wide.
The trough continued out under the front door, then under the sidewalk and into the main sewer that ran under the road. A distance from where she stood of about ten metres.
Finny knew the sewers well, again, it was a kid thing. This one went past the scrapyard opposite the factory, where it joined another sewer running right in front of the orphanage.
Right in front of the orphanage front door, in the middle of the road, about seven metres from the junction was a manhole cover.
Finny had her escape route. Just one problem remained.
Instead of a dusty, boy-wee stinking tunnel down which she reckoned she could just about have fit and then slithered her way to the sewer,
the conduit below was now a raging torrent of fast-moving foamy rainwater.
Inside, Fear bigged it up. Stomping around and pointing out the obvious. Things like, 'you're bleeding...
a lot!' and 'look how weak you are! You can't even feel your toes!' Oh and the biggest of them all 'YOU CAN'T SWIM!
' Anger, Resentment, Injustice and even the unnamed one said nothing; they had nothing to offer. This time Finny was alone with her fear.
She stood above the brass drain cover, watching the hypnotic flow of foamy water hurtle past her feet.
She could just stay here, make a bed for herself in the coatroom with all the felt uniforms and sleep until morning. Sleeping felt good right now; really, really good.
Let Joe find her when he opened up, take whatever punishment was coming. It would be worth it just to snuggle down in amongst all the cosy felt. Wouldn't it?
A frown formed. But as well as whatever Joe would do to her, there would be other bad things too. She would lose precious credibility; of course she would, she had got caught.
'Finny, the climbing girl' would be forgotten. 'Finny the... the...' Her tired brain couldn't come up with a suitable epitaph, but it would not be pleasant.
She'd probably lose her job too, and Joe might even get her thrown out of the orphanage. Her eyes filled at that thought. She didn't want to go back to what it was like before.
No then. Scared or not Finny was going down the drain, literally. All she had to do now was get the cover off.
She tried just squatting down and pulling on it, but she only just managed to lift it the tiniest fraction before her strength reached its limit and the grating thudded back down.
Finny looked around for a lever.
She found something suitable amongst the factory bric-a-brac without much difficulty.
She even remembered to get a piece of wood to wedge under the drain once she levered it up so that she could move it.
Despite her failing strength, the shakes and the growing numbness Finny managed to lift the heavy grating and slide it away from the hole.
Not taking her eyes off the rushing water and with Fear now totally losing it in her sub-conscience,
Finny slowly sat down cross-legged on the edge of the rectangular hole facing the sewer she hoped she would be alive enough to emerge into.
She uncrossed her legs and lowered her feet into the cold water.
So strong was the current that, as hard as she tried, she could not bend her knees enough for her feet to touch the bottom of the trough. It was going to be a fast ride...
That was good, right? Using what strength was left in her arms, Finny lifted herself up and over the hole and then began to bend at the elbows, lowering more and more of herself into the water.
Finny's butt barely touched the water before the fierce current grabbed her. She just had time to suck in a breath before it felt like a giant had grabbed her and yanked.
Finny's forehead smacked into the concrete lip of the drain hole with enough force to snap her skull back and make her head spin.
She didn't even feel her elbows do the same, leaving a layer of skin on the sharp edge of the lip as her arms scraped down into the flow.
Cold silence filled Finny's ears, and everything went black.
Mere seconds later, the eight-year-old's body was ejected feet first from the conduit with enough force that it almost hit the far wall of the four-metre-wide main sewer.
Finny's head sank beneath the broiling water, her long red plaits trailing after.
Finny felt her feet touch bottom. She bent her legs until her bum hit her heels and then she pushed with all her might. Her lungs burning, Finny's head broke the surface.
Around her, the world roared.
Finny couldn't swim any better than the frantic doggy paddle she had once managed when a gang of teenage girls had relieved their boredom by throwing her into the pond. But it was all she had.
Just managing to keep her head above water most of the time, Finny knew that everything depended on her getting out of the sewer before the strength she already felt failing,
left her altogether. She had to make it to the ladder up to the manhole outside the orphanage... Because she wasn't going to be able to make it to the next one.
A vision of herself, dead amongst all the roadkill bodies, washed up by the storm in that creepy underground place outside of the city focused her mind.
Using the feeble glow of the orange street light that barely managed to illuminate her surroundings, but mainly her familiarity with the sewer system Finny realised that the churning,
swirling vortex directly ahead must be the junction in the roads above. If she was swept onwards, past the intersection, she would die. It was that simple.
Fear, now, was her friend. Fear gave her reason not to die. Fear gave her the will to try to live. Most importantly, Fear gave her the adrenalin boost she needed to actually do it.
The feeble doggy paddle of a half-drowned little girl in a stinking sewer turned into the powerful strokes of a mighty blight-wolf forging its way across a storm-swollen river.
Finny slammed into the corner of the far wall of the sewer she needed to be in. Above her, a few metres away, her friends were sleeping.
But now the strong current was threatening to pull her away, pull her back around the corner to join the dead dogs and other rubbish of the streets.
Finny screamed defiance and forced her numb fingers to haul herself along the wall towards the dimly seen ladder that led up to the street.
Inside, everyone joined in to help her. Standing on the shoulders of Fear, every emotion Finny had ever known willed her along the slimy, shit-covered wall.
Finally, her clawed hands touched the metal ladder, and Finny wrapped her arms around it with more passion than she would likely ever show any future lover.
The woman on duty behind the desk woke up from her doze as the feeble knocking finally registered, intruding on the dream she would never remember.
Her first thought was that it could be a drunk, it wouldn't be the first time. But the knocking was slow, and low down.
It was also not the first time that an abused or injured child had made their way to the orphanage as a last resort. Nevertheless, she unlocked the drawer and took out the small pistol.
With the thick chain still on to prevent the door being flung back in her face, she opened the door.
At first, she couldn't make out who or what was knocking on the door, and the smell! Then her eyes adjusted and the evidence before her solidified into...