Monday, November 07, 2005

Chapter 3: That obviously was not the reaction I’d been expecting.

Before I knew it the door had swung inward and out shot a hand and arm that took hold of me, jerking me out of the alleyway and into someone’s firm embrace.

Light from outside was quickly doused as my only known escape was shut off with a thud and my fate sealed with the click of several locks. The sounds bounced off the wall, taunting me, daring me. As if I hadn’t left my bravado on the other side of that door.

I blinked, and seem to come to myself long enough to ready my lungs for a scream. Taking a sharp breath, I immediately expelled a series of harsh coughs and continued hacking uncontrollably for an eternity made up of several minutes.

By the time the racking coughs had subsided I was bent over, hands on knees and fighting to reassume a normal breathing pattern. A glass filled with clear liquid was offered at eye level.

“What is that?” I’d rasped.

“It’s not too quick on the draw, huh?” noted someone to the front and right of me.

Looking up, I saw a couple silhouettes that hadn’t been visible before. And, approaching from behind came the voice I’d come to know. “Remember our discussion about how you should never, you know, speak?” He took the glass and knelt before me, holding the drink beside his face. Clear eyes bored into mine for too long, the corners of his thin lips curled into a smile that, considering the circumstances, was disquieting in its allure.

“Water,” he said, reminding me of the question I’d forgotten. He took a sip before attempting to hand it to me. “Nothing more.”

When I hadn’t taken the glass he’d nodded at it, nudging it closer to me. “The smoke spreads everywhere, takes some getting used to. But, it helps to stay well hydrated.”

“I’m okay, thank you.” Standing, I wondered exactly how far the exit actually was.

“Don’t forget that it’s locked,” he commented as he, too, rose.

I swallowed the lump in my throat as I met the gaze of the man that towered over me. Deciding not to play dumb I answered, “I didn’t ask.”

“Sure you did.” Holding up a hand to stall my response, he continued. “Listen, we’re not going to hurt you. As a matter of fact, we’re here for just the opposite. Allow us a few minutes to explain, and I promise you’ll be free to leave, if you still want to.”

Having used up my reserve of rebellion, I acquiesced.

He smiled and introduced me to our audience.

What, I wondered, had I gotten myself into?

“We’ll start with the resident loudmouth, who you’ve met. Lukas.”

It was difficult making out features in the dark. Lukas seemed to be made up of dirty blond, spiked hair, strong cheek bones, and an adolescent’s lanky body whose stance reeked petulance. He nodded, his eyes darting to the man beside me before determinably pressing his lips together.
Beside him was “Threes.” A full-figured girl whose soft smile and imperceptible nod gave off an air of quiet confidence. I wondered at the nickname, but was in no position to interrogate anyone.

“My name is Chris.”

Chris’ pale yellow hair hung in a bob that ended in a natural curl at either side of his face. It swung slightly as he gestured toward himself, then to me. “And, your name?”

“Polly,” I lied.

He paused, searching my face before continuing. “Alright…Polly. I’m sorry that this is all so abrupt for you. But, we’ve been waiting for you for a very long time. Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones. So, I hope you’ll come to forgive our sense of urgency.”

He cleared his throat, and I noted that the other two had disappeared once again. “But, first,” he said, before coughing into his hand, “let’s get out of this smoke. Even we can’t stand it for too long.”

“Are we going outside?” I asked, though I knew better.

He smiled again, and instead of an answer, he offered his arm.

Even more disturbing is the fact that I accepted it.

~*~

“The ‘Cave’s’ kind of a mess, but we’re working on it,” Chris explained.

The “cave” was the inside of a warehouse whose windows had been spray painted to hide the light that would otherwise show from within. Other than that, the used curtains, carpet and furniture managed to project an incongruous sense of warmth and comfort.

Chris led me to a large armchair that sat on a spacious shag rug along with two small loveseats. Lukas opted for the loveseat closest to me, while the other two sat cross-legged on the furry carpet.

My throat seemed suddenly very dry, and I tried wetting it with the little saliva I could produce.

Chris asked me if I was ready for that water.

“I’m fine.”

“Suit yourself.”

“I mean, I’m sure you’re great folks, what with you snatching me off the street, so you’ll have to excuse my suspicion.”
I looked over at the glass that now sat by my feet. “How do I know there’s not any extra surprise in there?” I murmured half to myself.

Lukas sneered. “Okay, how abouts you think for just a second. Why would we need to put anything in your water?”

“Well, I’m certainly not going to offer any ideas.”

“Obviously, you’ve allowed a few too many movies to warp your mind.”

“Right. My suspicion is purely the work of my imagination. And, has nothing to do with the false stoner and his band of friends holed up in a smoky den found only at the end of an abandoned alleyway. Not to mention the whole snatching me off the street deal.”

“What Lukas means,” Chris cut in, effectively heading off the boy’s retort. “Is that it’s a little late in the game to play the logic card, Polly. But, if that’s what you want, here’re the hairy facts: One,” he said, extending his thumb, “You’re surrounded, alone and, probably unaccounted for as far as your whereabouts are concerned. Do you really think we’d need drugs of any kind to do whatever vile, creative things we might have in mind? And, two,” he said, unfolding his forefinger. “We know what those are.” And, he nodded towards my head.

Even though I’d kept them hidden, I felt the buds of my antenna glow. Were they blushing?!

Chris continued, “And, we know why they are. So, I suggest you drink up, because you’re gonna need it.”

He held my gaze until I diverted my eyes to rest on the glass below me.

“Well, I don’t drink after other people, either.”

At that, Lukas snorted and threw up his hands. “Oh, great! It’s a diva, too!”

They took turns explaining it to me.

They called themselves, “Seekers,” and there’s was just one of many such clans that were scattered throughout this and—to my surprise—other worlds. I was told that this specific group consisted of more than twenty members of various backgrounds, ages, experiences. But each Seeker determined to play their role for one shared purpose: to save the world.

At that, I’d laughed without thinking, but their deadpan expressions sobered me quickly.

“It’s alright,” said Three’s in a quiet, assured voice. “I laughed, too. At first.”

She continued where Chris had left off. And, I learned about a disease.

“We’re all born with it. It works like some ticking time bomb.”

“What disease? Are you telling me that that’s why I have these things?” I asked, gently touching the top of my head.

“What you have developed is related to our topic. However, it is not a symptom of it. Actually, everyone will suffer from it; some sooner than others,” Three’s told me.

“Enough with the riddles…just tell me,” I pleaded. “I need to know what’s going on.”

“You do know…you know the disease we’re talking about,” Lukas offered, with a look of mischief that I already found foreboding, “It goes by nicknames like ‘passing away,’ or ‘kicking the bucket.’ ”

“ ‘Dying?’ ” I prompted in disbelief.

“Bingo! Hey, your deductive reasoning skills are improving already! There’s hope, yet.”

Ignoring the court fool, I looked from Chris to Three’s then back again. I didn’t laugh this time.

“Are you calling ‘death,’ a disease? Death…as in that fact of life that most sane people learn to cope with?”

And, they all had the nerve to nod.

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