Once they pressed the button, the elevator doors began to close, and Anny could do nothing but watch her last chance of escape disappear. It was almost more than she could take. If she had been emotional, she probably would have broken down into tears right then and there, in the middle of the elevator, in front of her two captors and the crazy kid beside her. But Anny had never been emotional. She stayed silent.
By now the anxiety was wearing off, leaving her with nothing to deal with but bitter anger. She felt stupid for trying to run, and for trusting a stranger against her better judgement. If it hadn’t been for him, she might have escaped. But instead, there they were, partners in crime. They stood in silence, the men in suits towering over them. Even if there wasn’t anywhere to run, they kept a firm grip on the kids’ shoulders, just in case they tried anything else.
Anny, of course, had given up by now. She was in enough trouble already. She glanced around the cramped elevator, watching as one of the men pulled out a key and opened a secret compartment below the dashboard. As the panel flipped open, it revealed a collection of levers and switches, all of them unfamiliar to her. What were they for?
But the man was only interested in one button. He leaned in, pushed it, and watched it flash blue, only to lock the panel up again once he was done. Not long after, the elevator began its descent. Anny felt a jolt as it passed the ground floor, then the basement. She waited for the next jolt, expecting the elevator to stop. But there was no jolt. And it didn’t stop.
It kept going down.
Oh no. She was really in trouble now. Anny looked to her right to see what the other kid thought about it, but he didn’t seem worried at all. He was paying more attention to the teddy bear in his arms than anything else. It looked like one of the stuffed animals from the mall. Had he really taken the time to swipe it before being forced into the elevator?
She glared at him. What’s wrong with this kid?
The boy caught her gaze. He looked away soon after, shuffling his feet. Another stretch of silence, and he offered her the bear.
“You want it?”
She ripped the bear out of his hands and whipped it back at his face. “What’s wrong with you?!”
“Jeepers!” he said, catching the stuffed animal. “Could’ve at least said thanks! Do you not like bears, or what?”
“Bears?” she exclaimed. “Bears?! Are you serious? You have got to be kidding me! Do you realise how much trouble we’re in?!”
He seemed genuinely shocked. “Whoa, cool it down! I was just–”
“You almost killed a toddler with a golf cart!”
“Oh yeah?” He crossed his arms and stuck out his tongue. “You’re the one who steered us into the bears!”
She felt the heat rise to her face. “I saved that kid’s life, you jerk! What else was I supposed to do?”
They continued to bicker until the fight got physical. The two men in the elevator had to step in and pry them apart.
One man looked to the other and groaned. “This wasn’t in the job description.”
The elevator jolted again as it came to a halt, putting an abrupt end to the fight. Feeling anxious all over again, Anny held her breath, unsure of what to expect. She had seen enough sci-fi films to imagine what an underground prison might look like. Was that what they were headed for?
The doors opened, the kids were thrown out. Anny could see nothing but darkness, stumbling forward as she felt another pair of hands grasp her arms.
“They’re your problem now,” grumbled one of the men.
“Let’s keep it that way, eh?” said the other.
And with that, the doors closed and the men disappeared. The two kids found themselves in the dark, unable to make out much aside from figures and shapes. Anny considered the possibility of escaping, but pushed the thought from her mind as her surrounding captors hurried her along the dark tunnel. She didn’t have a clue where they were going, or where she would run if she did try to escape. Not to mention that they were probably outnumbered.
It was a long time before she saw any light, and when it did appear, it was only a dim lantern up ahead. She could see the crate it rested on, and the shape of a woman sitting beside it. The group approached, the light fell to her captors. And then her heart skipped a beat. Something wasn’t right.
A contrast to the clean suits of the men from the mall, these sentinels wore long, flowing robes. They all had their hoods pulled up, with a scarf over the bottom half of their faces. Their eyes gleamed like a wild animal’s in the faint light.
Who are these guys?
One man emerged from the group and spoke with the guard by the lantern. “We found her,” he said, gesturing back to Anny.
The woman on the stool rose to face her friend. “Good, very good.” Turning to the rest of the group, she spotted the kid with the orange hair. “But who’s this?”
The boy, more irritated than intimidated, shook off the firm hand resting on his shoulder and faced the approaching sentinel. “Who wants to know?”
“Ah.” The guard removed the mask from her face. “It’s you. Again.” She didn’t seem too impressed. “What did you do this time?”
“Well, wouldn’t you like to know!” he replied, crossing his arms.
“I’m not altogether sure that I would. But I’m bound to hear about it sooner or later.” She turned her attention back to one of the men. “Take him to Bellator, along with the girl. Maybe he’ll set the kid straight, for once.” The sentinel stepped away from the group, heading towards two large doors just ahead.
Taking a set of old keys from her pocket, the guard unlocked a great big bolt and pushed the heavy doors open. They were very large, at least eight feet high, and wide. More of a gate than anything else.
The group filed out of the tunnel, each individual nodding to the guard in acknowledgment, who in turn nodded back. It was all so strange, from Anny’s perspective.
Where are we going? she thought, too scared to speak in the presence of the guards. Her eyes were on their cloaks, a mix of black and red that shone as they passed the lantern. She glanced over her shoulder to where the kid was walking behind her, still holding the teddy bear. How did the guard at the gate know who he was? Was it supposed to be a good sign? Anny didn’t know.
But none of it mattered as they stepped through the gate. The darkness of the tunnel had been left behind. There was light, colour. And as she lifted her gaze, she was spellbound. They had stepped into another world.