Beginning of story
Walking through the exit door closest to the Hall of Justice was surreal. It was the only exit door that was ever used, and then only by the Exiled. Even though I had been Outside hundreds of times before, it was different, having all those people watching, instead of doing it in secret, and knowing that I would never be coming back in. At least that first time I went Outside, I was able to do it with a sense of wonderment. I can't imagine the sense of terror and bewilderment other Exiles felt when confronting the Outside for the first time.
I was feeling something else, though, too, as the Exile door shut behind me. Despite their love of spectacle, no Citizen would want to follow an Exile Outside, and there was just too much area to be monitored. So, I was truly free. Finally I no longer had to worry about who was watching me. Okay, technically that was not true, but I didn't know it at the time. But as far as my fellow Citizens were concerned, I was already dead. My friends and family were mourning and my enemies rejoicing.
Suddenly I did feel a sense of bewilderment come over me. I finally had my freedom to do anything I wanted -- but I had to decide exactly what I wanted to do. From now on, every decision was mine to make. It was no longer a question of what I could get away with or what I had time to fit in. My schedule for the rest of my life was one giant blank.
Finally a bit of panic set in. While I was far better prepared than most for Exile, it still was a death sentence, so I walked out that door with nothing but the clothes I was wearing. It was better than nothing -- I suppose they could have gone for the humiliation of Exiling people naked -- but thankfully they had that much decency. Still, while my clothes were perfectly adequate for the controlled climate of the City, they were not up to keeping me comfortable Outside. My luck was with me though, for my exile began in early spring; the unbearably cool nights of winter were over, and the blistering heat of summer was still several months away.
Logically, I knew my next move was futile, but in my state of mild panic, I had to try. I made my way over to the secret entrance. I'm not exactly sure what I was hoping to do, had they caught me sneaking back in I almost certainly would have been executed. I guess I thought maybe I could sneak through the ventilation system and gather up some supplies to help me with my Exile. When the air vent finally came into view, all my hopes were dashed. The tree had been cut down, and there was a pile of ash and char where the base of the trunk had been. Not that that mattered much, I barely could have gotten my arm through the freshly welded grate over the vent. No one would ever be using that as an entrance again. I truly was never going to see the inside of the City again.
I sat there on the burned out stump for about an hour in a stupor. My mind wandered back over my life. My family had had such high hopes for me, and here after two short decades, when I still should have had a little more than half my life ahead of me, I was looking Death in the face.
The amber glow of the setting sun roused me from my reverie. There was one logical place for me to go for the night, the source of my criminal activity: the shelter.
Part 4: The Shelter