Rika’s bare sole slapped onto the landing. A hint of ruby light penetrated the black void, trickling down the next flight of steps. She swept her hand across the latex-coated wall. Concrete pocks kissed at her fingertips, despite the institution’s regular doses of paint. After rounding the landing, the exit’s ruddy glow hailed her up to the final flight.
She grabbed the handrail and heaved herself up the last flight of stairs. The hole-riddled tail of her plastic bracelet flapped between her wrist and the metal bar.
Clacks and the sound of groaning hinges echoed up the stairwell with a baritone voice. “Rika? You in here somewhere?”
She raced faster, pounding her tender soles on the rough treads. As she crested the top step, the exit sign’s beam faltered. Its final glimmer illuminated the alarm-hasped pushbar on the door, just two paces away.
Footsteps approached. The man’s voice rose louder, as if he were less than two flights behind her. “There’s no way out up there. That door only leads to the roof. Come back and take your meds, now.”
Rika threw her weight against the pushbar. Alarms screeched overhead as she plowed across the threshold. She squinted and raised an arm to sheild her eyes against the sunlight’s wondrous, all-but-forgotten, brilliance. Stumbling blindly across the stinging gravel surface, she hustled toward the blurry outline of a ledge.
Her palms patted the rough, unvarnished stone. She bent her knees and stepped onto the precipice. Crisp winds fluttered into her hospital gown. The cotton fabric buoyed against its feeble ribbon-tethers. Wedging bony fingers under her bracelet, she snapped it free from her wrist. She held it in her fist as she extended both arms wide out from her shoulders. The itching on either side of her upper spine had returned, and it now intensified.
Closing her eyes, she raised her chin to inhale fresh, delicious mist. The open air breathed its romantic greeting to fill her lungs with its clean flavors. No more metallic tastes and bleached odors. She opened her fist, letting the ID strap vanish into the breeze. No more false identities.
“Rika, no! Come down from there!” The panicked voice halted when she glanced back at him. He raised a hand, inching toward her. “You don’t want to do this. You have to come back in where it’s safe.”
She smiled at him, cocking her head as the tethers of her gown snapped apart. “No, I have to see whether I can fly.”
Rika spun, rolled her shoulders, and dove onto the wind.