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.