Fiction

Taken II

There was no time to follow their carefully crafted plan. They had to leave! This instant!

They had no idea how the Takers arrived so stealthily or how they took people; they just knew that once the Takers arrived, people disappeared.

Right now though, none of that mattered. They needed to adjust their plans on the go. Lamman’s tri-bike was out of the question, so also was the so-called ‘anti-Takers’ route rumoured to have been used by some in the town, who were wise enough to have fled when rumours of the first taking began.

“Jay, Grei”, Lamman whispered furiously, “Did you oil the hinges of the trap-door like I told you to, three weeks ago”?

Grei nodded furiously in return.

The three hurried to the back room that Jay and Grei used as a store room.  There was a pine storage chest for blankets and other beddings, in the middle of the room, with a couple of ratty-looking pillows tossed carelessly on top of it.

“All hands on deck,” Lamman proclaimed and flexed his muscles dramatically which would have had Jay in stitches had the situation not been so dire. All three bent at the knee and shoved the chest out of the way, revealing the trap-door underneath. It wasn’t really that heavy that it need three people to move it, but it made them feel like they were doing something productive; something that will save their lives.

Grei had been oiling the trap-door as per Lamman’s instructions so a gentle tug was all it needed. For Lamman, there was no going back, no dropping off at the rendezvous or pick-up point, nothing. He had to go with them. If he got caught, the Takers wouldn’t distinguish between ‘fleer’ and ‘returner’; both will disappear.

“Quick, down the stairs, through the cellar to the dark, green door!”

“Dark, green door? What dark, green door?”, Jay quizzed Lamman, a trace of irritation laced with trepidation, in her voice.

“To your left, as you get to the bottom of the stairs.”

“But that’s not a door, it’s part of the cellar wall with a hanging frame!” Grei burst out. His face was twisted in perplexity and consternation. “Lamman, what the…”

Jay put a restraining hand on Grei.

“Lamman, what is it you know that we don’t?”

“Jay, this is not the time! Just do as I say! That front room door will be broken down in the next few minutes; if we’re not out of here by then, we will be taken too! ”

Grei looked at Jay; she could read the questions in his eyes, questions she herself also had for Lamman but like he said, ‘this was not the time.’

As though receiving a silent signal, Jay and Grei reached for the hanging frame at the same time and pulled it off the ‘wall’. It came off easily as well as the painted canvas it was attached to; the one used in disguising the ‘dark, green door’. Both gasped in shock and turned to Lamman who raised his hand in the universal sign of ‘not now.’ He pulled the bolt and it slid back easily, noiselessly. He motioned the two to follow him through the door; the open door that spoke of freedom and liberty when, without warning, he fell like a disagreeable sack of giant-sized potatoes.

For a moment in time, Jay and Grei, froze in confusion and stupefaction.

“Lamman? Lamman! Get up! Get the heck up!!!” Grei screamed. He tried to rush to Lamman’s aid but Jay held onto him, pulling him back into the room. As always, she was already thinking two steps ahead – picturing the enemy out there, her shutting and bolting that blasted ‘dark, green door’ against their adversaries and looking for another escape route.

In the past, Grei would have joined her, done what needed to be done, then demanded answers later. This time, he didn’t respond to Jay’s instinctive ‘thinking-two-steps-ahead’ actions, he reacted without thinking. Shaking her restraining arm off, he let out a blood-curdling war cry, rushed towards the offending dark, green door, arms raised, fists clenched like hammers waiting to come down hard on its enemies, when he fell like a jute sack of unprocessed, ground cassava – improperly stacked at the back of a moving truck – face down, legs half in the cellar and torso half out.

Jay didn’t hesitate, didn’t wait for the awareness, the understanding, the how and why her Grei; all six foot four of him and solid muscle could be felled like an Iroko tree before an electric chainsaw. She jumped over Lamman’s prone body, already forming a picture in her head of how she would drag the love of her life, all 117kg of him back into the cellar and secure that blasted dark, green door against whatever was out there, spiritual or temporal. But all of that, remained just as it was – a picture in her head. Before she could get to Grei, to his size 12 feet at least, she saw something or someone or what the heck??? Her brain couldn’t compute what her eyes were seeing…that couldn’t be or could it? Was it? No, it…her brain, ordinarily as fast as lightning, had metamorphosed into snail slime.

Fine particles of what seemed like white sand blew into her face, she staggered back; the distance between her and Grei’s inert body yawning as wide as an abyss. Her body felt like her spine had been pulled out of its back. She put out her hand to find something to steady her, to right herself. She shook her head fiercely to clear it and took a shaky step forward, determined to get to Grei at all costs, but the ground, the same traitorous ground that took her best friend and the lover of her life, rose up, like a dark, gray wave, to meet her.

Fiction

And She Did.

“Mum! Mum! I’m back! It was absolutely amazing! There were lots of people from my old school! Can you believe it? I didn’t think anyone of them could be bothered to travel from that dump all the way to Central London for a University Fair! I suppose the offer of scholarships and cheaper tuition will draw even the most…” Her voice faded as she went into the downstairs toilet to relieve herself.

“…an eye-opener!” The sound of flushing drowned out part of her previous statement. “I mean when you suggested going to Uni somewhere in Europe, I thought you were out of your mind, as usual,” she chuckled to herself at this last statement , “But if others come to Britain to study, then why can’t we go to …Mum?” She halted the flow and cocked her head to one side.

“She’s probably not at home and I’ve just been yabbering on to myself,” she laughed nervously, wiping her dripping hands on the back of the sofa defiantly, as she pictured he mum yelling exasperatedly.

There’s a perfectly clean and dry hand towel in that toilet, Kayleigh!”

Oh well, her mum couldn’t see her now, so what did it…

…She thought she heard the closing of a window upstairs.

“Mum, I’ve been calling you for ages! Why didn’t you answer or say something. I’ve just been blathering to myself like my old Physics teacher, Mr Leman; you know the one that went on and on…” She bounded up the stairs in twos, straight into her parent’s room.

It was empty.

The window to the left was pushed wide open to catch the prevailing breeze while the curtain was making a light, smacking sound against her mother’s dressing table.

Humph, Kayleigh thought to herself, I took that for the sound of a closing window. Where on earth can this woman be?

“Mum! Mother! Kayleigh ran downstairs; two steps at a time. Her mother’s voice again – ‘Walk! Don’t run!’ – Humph!  As if she was back in primary school!

The kitchen door was shut which was a first. Her mum never shut the kitchen door; she wanted to keep an eye on the ‘goings-on’. Yeah, right! As if!

Kayleigh pushed the kitchen door open with force and it banged against the small, trestle table where her mum usually leaves her crossword puzzles, magazines, recipe books and other odds and ends. There was no corresponding shout from her mother; no ‘Pack it in, young lady! That door’s not your enemy!’

Nothing.

The kitchen was as silent as a mausoleum, save the running of the tap.  Kayleigh walked over to the tap to turn it off and inside the sink, an old-fashioned, sunken ceramic type, (even when they did up the kitchen recently, her mum refused to change it), was a colander with carrots, leeks, half a turnip, some parsnips, a handful of new potatoes and a potato peeler resting on top.

“Mum?” She spun around. There was no one there.

“Mum??” She poked her head into the laundry room. Empty.

“Mum!!???” She ran into the conservatory, through to the back garden; by this time, she was frantic. “Muuuuummmm!!!”

She ran back in, stood for a minute inside the conservatory, and heard her mum’s voice again, ‘Now, Kayleigh, take deep breaths, breathe…breathe…’ 

“You can’t just speak in my head,” Kayleigh lifted her head and screamed to the ceiling. “Where are you???” She ended on a half-whispered sob. Dashing a lone tear that had made its way down her cheek, she walked slowly through the house a second time;  going through each door – closed or open, sweeping with her eyes, every nook and cranny.

Her mum was nowhere to be found. In fact it appeared as if she had left in a hurry – tap running, vegetables half-washed, potatoes half-peeled, handbag (the leather one with faux-wooden clasps) half-spilled on the table and her car keys…her car keys? Her mum never went anywhere without her car even when they ran out of essentials – a bottle of milk, cheese or butter or whatever the essential was – she would drive to the corner shop; a walking distance of about five minutes…the corner shop…Kayleigh almost flew back to the living room window, ripping the curtain aside; her mum’s car was parked in the driveway.  So where on earth was she??? She let her body sag and drop into the nearest sofa, head in hand.

The sound of keys being turned shook her out of her gloomy despair.

“Mum?” She didn’t quite shout it out this time; more like a nervous whisper

“Kayleigh? Jennifer? Anybody home?”

“Dad!” Kayleigh almost knocked her father down as she careened into his arms. “I can’t find mum!” She let out a strangled sob.

“What do you mean you can’t find mum?” He gave her a fatherly smile. “Her car is in the driveway so she should be somewhere in this house.” He placed his laptop case down on a side table by the sofa that Kayleigh had just vacated.

“Dad, I’ve looked everywhere! She isn’t!!!”

“Now, now Kayleigh, there’s no need to yell at me. Here, love, why don’t you sit down and I’ll make us a nice cup of tea and you can tell me about it.” He walked over to the three-seater, gently sat her down and went over to the kitchen. A quick glance over his shoulder and a small trickle of dread crawled up his back. His daughter never looked this defeated at anything.

Never.

He returned with two mugs of tea, one sweetened with three sugars for his daughter and a black one for him.

“Now, tell me. What happened?”

And she told him.

– The argument about her outfit and how inappropriate it was for a university fair.

– Her hair…the style…shaved left side; the colour – pink.

– Her diet…grapefruit segments and chocolate-covered raisins for breakfast.

“She was going on and on, dad, moaning about everything I did, said, wore, ate, everything so I yelled back at her.”

“And what did you yell at her, exactly?”

She took a sip of her sweetened tea and placed it down, shakily, on the coaster on the small, glass-topped coffee table. She looked straight into her dad’s face, her eyes filling with tears and then her whole body began to shake like someone caught in a snowstorm without a warm jacket.

John grew as cold as his untouched tea.

“Kayleigh, darling, just tell dad, tell me what you said to her. Try and remember your exact words.”

She clasped and unclasped her shaky hands, tried to wrap her arms round herself in a bid to still her shaking. She opened her mouth to speak but a loud cry came out instead.

Her dad rose to come over, his hands outstretched to hug her. She stuck her right hand out, palm facing outward to halt him.

“I…” she gulped, paused then started again.

“I…I said that I wished she would just stop moaning and disappear!”

John gasped.

Time froze.

The air stilled and silence shrouded father and daughter.

After what seemed like an age, John turned to his daughter “You said you wished she would disappear?” It was more a question than a statement.

Kayleigh nodded.

“And she did.”

“And she did, indeed.”

This is not fiction

Mr D. Preshon Pt. 2 or What Jehlani Saw.

Jehlani saw swirling mists and darkness.

Darkness so deep and complete that it was hard to make out the figure of her friend standing at the door.

She reached in and tugged gently on her friend’s forearm; moved her an inch into the brightness of summer but the darkness slammed them both hard… back into its swirling vortex!

Jehlani saw Mr D. Preshon’s face in the vortex. It spun around her and Meeya like one of the scenes from a Batman movie; one where the Joker has his face plastered round his victim’s mind and the mind fractures into a thousand pieces, unable to bear the malevolence behind the rictus of a smile…

…the smile, that same smile that Mr D. Preshon offered to her that fateful day at a cafe in Cambridge opposite the Fitzwilliam museum where her mum was invited to give a talk about the origins of the Afro comb.  Did she resist him? How did she resist him? Did he come back? She couldn’t remember…she couldn’t seem to remember anything. This mist…this fog…this darkness; the swirling, the eddying…

Focus, Jehlani! Focus! Her mind screamed at her, silently, in her mum’s voice.

Her mum, that was it! Her mum…what was it? The thought was swirling in the vortex with her. She needed to capture it before it got sucked away into the never-ending abyss that was Mr D.Preshon’s abode.

Her mum referred to Mr D. Preshon as nwa Ekwensu – Ekwensu’s offspring; Ekwensu being the god of mischief. She also said that Ekwensu came from the phrase, ‘Onye kwe, o su’ – ‘when one yields, it will commence’…Ekwensu’s life blood was acquiescence, cut that off and he had nothing…

All these thoughts passed through Jehlani’s mind in mere seconds. She knew she could ‘resist’ nwa Ekwensu, Mr D. Preshon, as it were, but what of Meeya?

‘First things first’, her mum’s voice in her head again.

She focused her entire being on her mum’s voice and began to push back at the mist, bit by bit. She pushed and shoved, keeping her mum as a point of focus. The mist fought back but it had no form, no shape and for Jehlani, it had no point of focus. In her mind, she could see her mum commanding imperiously “Nwa Ekwensu, be gone!” … and then the mist disappeared.

Jehlani opened her eyes, slowly. She was still holding on tight to Meeya and just as tightly, Meeya’s eyes were still closed; her face contorted in fear and pain. Her work wasn’t done, Jehlani thought. Her friend had been pulled deep, too deep into Nwa Ekwensu’s lair; she would need to distract him while she drew Meeya away from his grasp.

“Mr D. Preshon!” Jehlani yelled into the vortex, injecting as much scorn and contempt as she could muster, “Pick on someone your own strength!”

She felt a bristling from the pushed-back mist and pulled Meeya towards her with all the strength she could gather.

‘CLANK!’

Her friend was chained! This wasn’t a case of ‘distract-and-extract’, this needed something drastic but subtle at the same time; drastic may prove more damaging to Meeya.

“What to do…what to do” Jehlani muttered a touch frantically to herself, all the while clutching firmly unto Meeya’s hand. She wasn’t about to let her go, no matter what.

“Meeya! Meeya!, Jehlani whispered. Something else her mum once told her – names weren’t just appellations but powerful markers of one’s chi, identity and self. That in Age of the Spirits, if you heard your name being called and answered without establishing if the caller was human or elemental, you disappeared.

Jehlani needed to keep calling her friend’s name but she wasn’t sure what she would say to her if Meeya did reply, still chained by Mr D. Preshon. She had been visited by Mr D. Preshon but neither captured nor chained so what do you say to someone going through something you’ve never been through before???

What would my mum do? Jehlani conjured up her mum’s face in her mind’s eye once again. She would keep calling Meeya by name to keep her chi from going over completely, speaking to her until she established some kind of link.

“Meeya,” this time, Jehlani raised a voice a notch louder than a whisper. “Don’t let go of my hand, whatever happens. Just like you didn’t let go when we were being chased by that pit bull at East Ham Central Park and we had to jump over that thing…what was it again?”

A flicker of something other than fear passed across Meeya’s face, Jehlani held her breath –

“Barking Central Park, not East Ham, you dolt.” Jehlani could barely make out Meeya’s croaky whisper before her face returned to its previously fear-and-pain contorted state.

A huge sigh of relief escaped from Jehlani before she could stop it. Actually, she didn’t care if Mr D. Preshon heard it or knew what she was plotting.

Her friend had responded to her.

Jehlani saw that there was hope.