It took two days for Carrie to reach the outskirts of the city. She had no sense of direction – with all the technology around, there was no need for one in the year 2303 – but she had followed her instincts, running, climbing and dodging danger at every turn, and found herself at last drifting among the piles of rubbish that marked the border between the edge of the metropolis and the wasteland that lay beyond.
What now? Carrie asked herself for the millionth time that hour. It was all well and good running away from her home and her life in GaGa land, but where could she go? There were no more small towns and villages, only the vast GaGa cities and the gigantic landfill sites that flooded around them like seas, and now Carrie was left wondering where on earth she could go without being found and arrested once again. The very thought of recapture made her feel sick. She bit her lip. There was no way she was going to let that happen.
Carrie sighed and plonked herself down on a discarded sofa, her long skirt blooming out around her like a black flower. She looked at the ugly thing she was sitting on, a neon green monstrosity with shiny plastic upholstery that was still in impeccable condition. Carrie reasoned absentmindedly that it must have been thrown out here after becoming unfashionable. After all, she reasoned sardonically, yellow seemed to be the colour that was all the rage at the moment. She began picking at her fingernails.
A footstep. Someone was nearby. Carrie froze and gripped the cold seat ferociously tightly. She listened warily. Crunch, crunch, crunch. The noise grew louder. Someone walking over the discarded plastic bottles and rubbish. And they were singing too.
'Don't wanna be an American idiot, dunna duh da, da da da, da da, DUN DUN!' It was a boy's voice, squeaky and pubescent. In one movement Carrie manoeuvred her light frame round so that she was safely underneath the sofa. He was getting nearer.
'Billie Jean is not my lover! Mmmm, hm hm hm, I am the one, but the kid is not my son …' He continued, humming and screeching his way through bizarre lyrics and strangely captivating tunes. Carrie's heart began beating faster. She could now see his feet, encased in a pair of black leather boots not unlike her own. He was dancing as he walked, swinging his right arms in wild circles while his left remained still, his fingers poised as if they grasped something Carrie couldn't see. What the hell is this joker on? Carrie thought to herself. She'd heard of drug deals taking place in the shadier corners of the school courtyards. Watched people. Listened. She'd never tried any herself, but she knew what they did to people who did, and that seemed the only explanation for why anyone else would have found themselves out here in the middle of nowhere, especially behaving in the way this boy was. Either that or he's a runaway like me, thought Carrie. She ruled the thought out immediately. There was no one else like Carrie. She was alone. She knew that.
At that moment, the boy's frenzy was mounting, his movements becoming more erratic and his song becoming more and more passionate. He began to remind Carrie of a crazed pup she had once seen in a GaGa pet shop, running madly round its enclosure and yipping wildly until it was taken away by a shop assistant. As puppy boy reached the climax of his musical soliloquy, he made a manic leap towards the top of a pile of precarious-looking plastics, crashing through them and landing in a breathless, dazed pile of teenage confusion. Carrie laughed aloud, a piggish snort erupting from her nose before her hand clapped over her mouth. She breathed in. His head snapped round. Eye contact.
Neither teen spoke. The boy gaped at her, horror-stricken, which Carrie gazed at him wide-eyed with her hand still clamped firmly on her face. Seconds elapsed. They felt like hours.
Eventually the boy shifted around to lie on his stomach, ducking his head to get a better view of the terrified, pale girl cowering under the couch.
'Hi,' he eeked out, his voice cracking. His hand flew to his throat and his face coloured. Carrie almost snorted again. This guy was too goofy to be intimidating. Still, she didn't feel brave enough to speak. He ran his hand through his dark hair, dipping his chin slightly in embarrassment, and cleared his throat. 'W-who are you?' he pressed, crawling slightly closer. Carrie moved back. Her face hardened back into its old mask of defiance.
'None of your bloody business' she spat fiercely. The boy recoiled as though an animal had just made a swipe for him. Carrie instantly felt sorry. But she didn't apologise. 'Who are you?' she asked, in a slightly less sharp tone.
'I d-d-don't really know,' he returned, in a slightly philosophical tone, his gaze dropping. Suddenly he smiled and propped himself up on his elbows, puffing out his chest like a proud pigeon.
'But my name is Galileo Figaro'. So this guy was a lunatic with a stutter and a weird name. Carrie was starting to warm to him. She fought the feeling. Liking someone was a weakness, she'd learned that the hard way.
'Where did you come up with that?' Carrie asked mockingly, avoiding eye contact with the stranger. He shifted uncomfortably.
'I found it. In a dream. It's hard to explain.' There was an uncomfortable silence. The two avoided looking at each other, their gazes wondering instead over the piles of rubbish surrounding them both. A soft breeze ruffled the boy's top, a soft-looking mottled grey muscle tank that looked like it had been worn many times. Carrie shifted. She realised she was stuck. Fuck! She thought, grimacing.
'Do you uh, need h-help? Getting out from under that uh, c-couch?' He winced every time he stammered, as if and it pained him to trip over his words. Carrie's iron front softened a little.
'Go on then,' she muttered. She inched forwards. He reached out and grasped her arms lightly, helping her to free herself from the tight spot she was crushed into. He pulled, and she wriggled free of her confinement.
'Sheesh, how did you even get in there?' he remarked, grinning. Carrie didn't smile. 'I mean, it's uh, p-pretty tight in there. You m-must be very uh …' He trailed off. Carrie didn't offer to help relieve his awkwardness. He ran his hand through his hair again. It was shiny and slick, like he had rubbed something through it to get it to stick up in messy spikes over his scalp. Maybe he had, but Carrie wasn't about to ask about a stranger's hair.
'So, what're you doing out here?' she demanded, her spine straightening.
'I could ask you the s-same thing.'
It was a fair point.
'Well, it's none of your business then,' she returned sharply, adjusting her bag on her shoulder. She pretended to busy herself rooting through its contents.
'Can I uh, h-hazard a guess?' he asked timidly, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Another wind blew and she caught his scent in the breeze. The guy needed a shower. She nodded at him awkwardly, attempting to exude confidence. 'You ran away, because the GaGa girls h-hated you. And your parents didn't want you either. And you felt … afraid.' He looked scared and hopeful. Carrie's resolve to dislike him weakened.
'I'm not scared of anything,' she returned, straightening again. 'But yeah, I ran away. Those GaGa creeps couldn't handle me, so I thought I'd help them out by leaving.' Another pause. 'You?'
'The same. Stupid BoyZone clones.' A pause again. 'So, uh, do you want to like, uh …' he trailed off again.
'What?' She pressed, stepping closer.
'W-well, I dunno.'
'You're kind of mean, y'know?' he said, turning away. Carrie stepped after him. She caught her breath.
'I don't really mean to be, I'm …' He turned around expectantly. 'I'm sorry, I guess. I'm used to people being mean back is all.' A goofy grin spread across his face. He really was like a puppy.
'I get it, don't worry. It's not easy being different in GaGa land.' He turned as if to walk on, looking back at Carrie as if inviting her forwards with him. 'Walk with me?'
The pair walked on in silence. Carrie smiled gently. I'm not alone, she thought, I am not alone.