“DOWN, NOW!” Mark called while knocking the younger man aside and diving at Claire. The force caused the couch to tip and Mark cradled her as they flipped. Before she had time to reprimand him for breaking her couch, explosive sounds filled the air and all around her things shattered off the walls. Mark’s body felt very heavy and his weight crushed her as he protected her from the debris flying through the air. An eerie silence fell.
Cautiously Mark rolled off his sister and looked around. Claire lay flat on her stomach, stunned and unable to move. What just happened? Unexpectedly she was yanked from the ground. Mark swept her up and crushed her to him-protecting her as if she were a small child- he darted from behind the couch and headed for the stairs.
“Grab the pretty boy!” Mark called and began taking the stairs two at a time. Claire watched over his shoulder as Mike said something to Keith before jumping over the small couch and out of Keith’s reach. Keith followed suit just as another explosion rocked the house. Keith paused-looking undecided-then turned toward the stairs. Mike disappeared into the kitchen. Claire lost sight of them both as Mark reached the top of the stairway and darted around the corner.
“Mike, Keith!” She cried out to them. “What’s happening? I don’t understand!” Claire’s asked Mark. He kept his eyes straight and answered with a hushing sound. He rushed forward, pausing only long enough to kick open Claire’s bedroom door. He set her on her feet inches from her closet door. “Mark, please, tell me what is happening.” She demanded, quietly. Tears stung her eyes and she tried to push aside the panic she felt. Rule number three in her brother’s imaginary hand book. NEVER Panic!
“We’ll explain later. We have to go. NOW!” Mark threw the closet door open, making it scream in protest to the rough treatment. He was shoving clothes to the side when Keith came up behind her and began pushing her towards a small cupboard.
“Where’s Mike?” She dug her heels into the carpet and looked around her. She could hear shouting downstairs. It sounded as though an army of wild animals were stampeding through her living room. She could hear glass breaking and men swearing. That would be a beast to clean tomorrow! She struggled against Mark, “We have to get Mike!”
Keith grabbed her arm and swung her around to face him. “There’s nothing we can do for him, I’m sorry. We have to go NOW!” Keith turned her towards the closet just as Mark pulled the back panel from the wall. She gasped. There was a hidden stairway behind it. Mark quickly squeezed his body inside.
“Follow Mark,” Keith commanded while pushing Claire through the passageway. Keith followed then quickly fixed the clothes and closed the wall. Mark produced a flashlight from somewhere and handed her a heavy backpack.
Claire’s heart thundered in her chest. Her mind whirled with confused thoughts. How did they know? Why were they prepared for something like this? Were her brothers really businessmen or where they secret agents of some kind? That explained a lot. They had an unyielding and steady flow of cash, and with their master fighting skills…
Her thoughts whirled and her body trembled as she moved down the narrow corridor. Gone was the rhythmic rise of her chest in exchange for shallow gasps of thin dusky air which left her lightheaded. To add to her turmoil voices of unfamiliar, angry, men surrounded her.
She paused and a firm hand touched her shoulder causing her to yelp. Instantly a hand covered her screams. “Shh, Bear.” Keith whispered. As if to emphasize the importance a deathly silence surrounded her. The angry voices were gone and both Mark and Keith stood perfectly still. Mark grabbed her flashlight and suddenly she stood in complete blackness.
“Never panic, never panic.” She repeated to herself loud enough only she could hear. The silence seemed to drag as she stood-paralyzed-on the step. Her body began to ache. In her chest her thundering heartbeat threatened to expose their location. Finally, a muffled voice drifted through the wall.
Slowly other voices began to join and soon the angry sounds surrounded her once again. Keith’s hand slowly moved from her mouth and back to her shoulder. “Go.” He whispered.
They quickly made their way down the stairway. All around her the shouting became impatient. “Where is she?” “She couldn’t have just vanished.” “Where’d she go?” They weren’t looking for her brothers? Her eyes widened, and she felt her heart pause. They wanted her.
She stopped abruptly causing Keith to bump her. She looked up at him. The sorrow and guilt in his eyes seemed to confirm her suspicions. Her knees began to tremble with such ferocity she feared she would fall. Her hands shook so badly she could barely grasp the thin hand rail at her side. Slowly Keith began to move forward, forcing her to take the steps with him. She leaned against him for support as they moved down the stairway.