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His fingers were white with tension, gripping the wall so hard that a nail chipped against the brickwork. And for a moment that was all that there was; then the tension relaxed and his flushed face followed them round the corner.
At least for now.
He all but collapsed down to the ground, placed his back to the wall and buried his head in his hands in an attempt to regain some semblance of control over his breathing.
He was too old for this. Fifty-eight next April, he thought with an involuntary shudder, but he kept himself in shape. Or so they'd said down at the gym - but weight training was one thing; he was too old to be chased. It felt like his lungs were bursting; and his legs, they were almost numb.
He allowed himself a couple of minutes, but no more - he'd better be moving again.
And it wasn't as if he had a choice about it. He'd lost all choice back there in the store, almost thirty years ago. He still wasn't sure how they'd found out. He was just a kid then, a pimply nineteen year old youth with influential friends who enjoyed a good dare. Maybe he hadn't really had a choice then either. And anyway, they shouldn't be judging him on what he did as a kid.
Begrudgingly his legs carried his full weight again, and to accompany his sigh of resignation, they forced themselves back to the march. He may have thrown them briefly, but they'd soon be hot on his tail again. And they didn't give up.
When he saw the lamppost he found his second wind. Just another couple of miles to go. A right by the light and he could relax a little through the park - it'd be dark enough for him to lose himself in the shadows. And just the other side of the park was safety. Jim and Kathy would hide him until this died down a little and he could find a way out of the town.
He had to jump the gate - they'd locked the park at seven - and his weary legs let him down briefly. But he rolled with the fall and came up unhurt.
He sat there for a while under the bush, his heart pounding. It was a bush just like this where he'd shown them. They were impressed, he knew - they hadn't thought he'd have gone through with it. They didn't say much, but he saw the gleam in their eyes that day, the gleam of newly-earned respect. It was when they'd really let him join in things. Now look what it had brought him.
He hadn't seen those kids in years, not since he'd got himself work at the animation studio in New York. They weren't the sort to hang around with someone who worked in an office - it was like all the respect he'd earned had gone. Just another time slave, they thought, and there were millions of them. Dare you to skip work tomorrow? Yeah, right.
But nobody else knew - it was just their little secret. So how had they found out? Maybe one of the kids had a grudge? They'd had their scuffles but he couldn't remember anything serious. They'd always patched things up fine, he thought. But what if they hadn't? What if one of them had let something fester? Maybe he'd been watched all those years in New York. Maybe he'd been followed down here to Florida. Maybe... He shook his head. His mind was just playing games now. They probably wouldn't even remember his name.
But who else? He'd kept it under wraps all these years, almost forgotten about it in New York. Obviously he'd made sure of being careful when he'd been headhunted by Disney. He couldn't let them know - it had to stay well and truly locked up in his past.
Maybe he shouldn't have taken the job? But hey - it was every animator's dream to work at Disney. They were the ultimate. And it wasn't as bad back then - there were rumours, of course, but nothing concrete. He'd seen it as an honour that they'd hired him - and they'd even provided him a house in the new town they were building. A whole town owned by Disney.
Most of the people there weren't employees though - they'd opened it up to the public. But they'd flocked in! There were huge queues, people almost coming to blows over who could get in. Not that they'd have been approved, of course - this was going to be a moral town, run on Disney principles. No fighting here.
He hadn't cared about that much - it was the work for him, the privilege of working on future classics. He didn't mind the restrictions, and anyway, it had worked - it had become a really good place to live. No crime, no drugs, no fights. Just as Disney himself had envisaged.
Why was he thinking about all this now? He had to go, get through the park to the safety of Jim and Kathy's. Before they recovered his trail and... well he didn't like to think about that. He set off again, keeping to the shadows, bush to bush, out of sight.
Out of sight, out of mind? He laughed. If only...
If only he hadn't have gone through with it. He'd only been nineteen, he wasn't even old enough to drink then. But he'd done it anyway. He snapped himself off that train of thought sharply - how did he know what was going to happen? Hindsight was all good and well, but it didn't get him out of this mess.
And a major mess it was too. He'd heard rumours for a while, but it had become pretty obvious in the last few years. Disney himself was long dead, of course, but his influence lived on. And with the power of the films, it was hardly surprising that the kids were addicted. Hell, he'd been one himself. He couldn't get enough when he was young - he'd even become an animator just to see if he could do the same. Not that he could, of course, back then anyway. It had taken years to hone his skills to the point where they'd wanted to take him on anywhere.
But that was just work, he told himself. Art. Vision. A hobby that had grown into a living. It hadn't changed his mind, like them. It had become obsessive with them. Nobody knew when it had really started, but it was bad now.
Maybe it was the PR people, or the lawyers. Disney had always done things in strange ways, capitalised on their almost guaranteed sales. They'd only do limited runs of the videos, make sure the prices were over the odds. People would buy them anyway. And you couldn't use the imagery anywhere else - it was copyright enforcement taken to the limits. Well now they'd taken it further. Well the fanatics had. It had become almost a religion to them. And not a very tolerant one, he thought.
He smiled through his exhaustion as he reached the opposite gate, almost falling onto it. He looked up and there was Jim and Kathy's.
He clambered over the gate. The street was empty and he found his way over the road and up the steps in front of the house. At last, he thought, at last. He looked back. No sign of them - he'd made it after all. Not bad for an old man, huh? He smiled again and rang the doorbell.
'Kathy! Oh you don't know how happy I am to see you!'
He eased past her in the narrow hallway, slumped down onto the big chair in the living room that he had always found so comfortable. Now he could feel his legs throbbing. He couldn't have made it much further. He let out a big sigh of relief. Finally, it was over.
It was when he looked up that his heart sank. He could see it in her eyes.
'Kathy?' he said, his voice breaking.
'How could you? How could you do it? You, of all people!' she cried.
And he couldn't answer. He couldn't do anything as he watched them file in behind her. Now his past would really catch up with him. He felt faint, reached for the arm of the chair, but his limbs didn't want to obey him any more.
'Mr. Davies?' came the pointless question, and he slumped a nod in reply.
And as they read the charge he closed his eyes. He heard their words, blurring together, their hate somehow slicing through. 'charge... copyright infraction... found guilty...' But he couldn't see them now, he couldn't see how many they'd sent, or how old they were, or whether he'd be able to recognise any of them. All he could see was Kathy's eyes.
And as they slit open his shirt, only the large tattoo of Mickey Mouse emblazoned across his chest could see the knife arcing down.
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