It used to be a bustling, trading town of 30,000. Then it became 13,000; then 3,000.
People were being taken. No one knew where or why. They just appeared, took you and left. At first it seemed clear; you tried to think about it or started to talk about it, then you realised that it was all shrouded in grey mist.
Grei and Jay walked briskly through the former market square; former because it was a shadow of what it once was.
It was dark and grey with a few traders plying their trade. Strangely, no one seemed sad or angry; they just carried on with their day… a tad nonplussed but that was it. They knew people were leaving and not coming back, they had a vague idea of whom, what or why but they didn’t appear too bothered by it. In fact, they rooted for anyone who tried to flee the ‘Taking’ and spoke vaguely of doing so themselves.
As they walked through the market, Orant, the cobbler was standing in one of the darker shadows.
‘So where are you guys going?’
Everyone knew when everyone else was leaving; it was one of those towns.
Grei blurted out before Jay could stop him, ‘Oré’
‘Don’t mind him’, Jay countered with a smile, ‘Kogi’. She hit him playfully as if to suggest he was being silly by not speaking the truth.
‘I’m going to Kogi myself,’ Orant smiled back.
Jay kept the smile still and surreptitiously shoved Grei along before he could give away her ruse.
They got to the entrance of their small apartment and Jay shoved the keys through the keyhole and her other half through the open door, before he could give voice to the thoughts she saw race across his face.
Onyii was already waiting quietly in the shadows.
‘We don’t know who to trust. We don’t know how they know people are leaving and come to take them just before they are packed and ready to go.’
‘But we’ve know these people all our lives and the lives of our forebears before us,’ Grei cried out; a man in agony.
‘I know, G, I know… but I don’t think they realise what they are doing. The Takers are taking advantage of that trust to ferret out information. Look around you, Grei. No one seems bothered that we are a tenth of what we used to be; that people are disappearing. They all seem to think that it’s a bad dream that will go away with the warm, morning light!’
Grei’s baffled face cut Jay deep. She knew he was battling with the knowledge that their once peaceful, open and trusting town had become a place of darkness and emptiness. Thankfully, people still kept that trust and peace. Strife had not yet descended and she prayed it didn’t. They needed to get away before the Takers arrived.
‘Take this’, Onyii whispered as she shoved a holdall-cum-suitcase into Jay’s hands. A tear made its way slowly, without hindrance, down her smooth face.
Jay looked round the room and in a flash, knew precisely what to pack and what to leave behind. Grei was still dithering; picking up objects and putting them back down.
There was a soft knock on the door; then silence. Then another knock and a low whistle. It was the sign they’d been waiting for. Lamman was here.
They could not possibly take their car. Onyii mentioned rumours of roadblocks popping up unannounced on the main roads and the highways leading to other towns. Lamman was the town’s champion bike designer and racer. His specially-designed bike would carry all three and their belongings out of town to safety; the less others knew, the better.
Hand in hand, Jay and Grei took one last look round their apartment. One they had saved for, bought and lovingly restored to its former glory.
‘We need to go now guys’, Lamman spoke softly, not wanting to break the spell but knowing that this was no time to entertain deep feelings.
‘Yes, we need to go’, Grei all but sighed.
The back door beckoned. Lamman knew best not to park the tri-bike anywhere near the house. He had left it by the town water reservoir, seventy yards away from Grei’s and Jay’s back garden.
Suddenly there was a knock on the front door and a bang at the back.
All three froze.
The sound of a powerful engine purring in the background.
The Takers were here.