It was Shay’s first time out, and she couldn’t wait. She had glimpsed the human world from behind the walls for so many years and now she was finally going on her first borrowing trip. All of that practice of climbing lines and disguise, sprints and lifts, were finally going to pay off. After all, she could hardly call herself a Borrower if she didn’t borrow anything.
Shay’s three older brothers, however, were slightly less enthusiastic at bringing Shay along. They noticed some things changing in the human house they lived in, which made borrowing easy and unnerving at the same time. Things were the same and yet they weren’t. For one, there were boxes everywhere. Drawers were empty. Essentials were scattered all along the floor.
It didn’t feel right.
Still, the thought of easy borrowing was too good to pass up and so their parents just warned them to be careful. Borrowing was a bit of a sore spot for their father, who had been injured some time ago because of a fall. Traditionally, it was their parents who took them out on their first borrowing trip; however, the injury was severe. Still, they thought it would be alright. After all, what could go wrong with all three brothers keeping an eye on their young and only sister.
So, they set out into the labyrinth of walls. The whole way, each brother drilled Shay on the safety measures in place. What to do if she heard something. What to do if she thought she was seen. Where best to hide. Most importantly, the rules of a Borrower.
Don’t be seen.
Don’t speak with the humans.
Don’t get caught.
Move if any of these things happened.
Shay’s nerves could not be more charged with excitement as they reached the trim corner door. Her oldest brother, Beau, listened first before calling Shay up to him. Her heart pounded in her chest, creating a slight hum in her ears. The pre-teen Borrower had to take several calming breaths before checking for sounds in the room.
“Hear anything?” asked Slate, the second oldest. Shay focused her energy on listening and heard nothing other than the air kicking on.
“No,” Shay responded firmly, wanting to sounds confident to her doubting brothers.
“You sure?” prompted Icon, the youngest of her brothers. Shay shot all three of them a look.
“Yes, I’m sure,” she affirmed. Beau smiled and nodded.
“Alright, then let’s get going. Stay close to me.” Beau cracked open their secret doorway and stepped out, Shay close on his side. They abandoned the safety of the walls, relying on the dresser they exited under for cover. Shay stared at the woodgrain and the legs of the low set dresser. It was immense as were the floor and bed and shelf set. Her brothers were right – everything in the human world was huge. She had seen it before, but that was at a distance. Being next to it was different altogether.
Another thing her brothers were right about – something didn’t seem completely right about the way the room looked.
Rooms usually had furniture and swept floors or carpet. This room was filled with boxes which covered the floor. Clothes were scattered on the furniture and hanging out of these boxes. There were large strips of plastic with trapped bubbles in them and, more pressing, were a few smaller boxes of snacks and food items.
The Borrower siblings listened and, sensing nothing, set their plan into action. Slate went first, darting across the floor and keeping to the shadows of the boxes, until he reached the base of the box. He propped himself against the cardboard like he was sitting in an imaginary chair as Icon began followed his lead and darted from shadow to shadow. When he reached his brother, he placed one foot onto Slate’s knee and one onto his shoulder. They used Icon’s momentum and Slate stood just at the right moment to vault Icon to the edge of the box. Within a moment, Icon was perched up on the edge of the box ready to reach down or use his line.
Beau motioned to Shay to go next, and suddenly her heart leapt into her throat. No. I prepped for this. I trained for this. Let’s do this! Shay checked left and right before darting across the floor from one box to the next just as two of her older brothers had done. Slate motioned for her to keep going, and she went for it. She darted toward her brother, leaping to land delicately on Slate’s leg, up to his shoulder, and up into the air to catch Icon’s hand. The routine was performed expertly.
Shay didn’t need to see all of her brothers’ expressions to know they were smiling proudly as she straddled the top of the cardboard box. In no time, Beau and Slate joined them and together they slid into the snack box. Slate stayed up top to watch while the other three maneuvered through the boxes and taped bags. Knowing the natural dangers of being a Borrower, they knew better than to open untouched bags of food unless absolutely desperate.
Thankfully, there were plenty of partial bags to choose from, and that’s just what they did. The siblings took turns pealing away the tape and keeping the bag open while the others slipped in and took the fragments needed to take home.
Shay, having never done this before, was excited to get into the bag and borrow some chips until she realized that the crumbs and powder coating the chips got everywhere and smudged some of her clothes. When she came out to her brothers snickering, orange dust in her hair, she had to stomp her foot and take a fistful of powder to chuck at the nearest one, which happened to be Beau.
The oldest took it in stride, ruffling his sister’s hair, before rounding up the siblings and preparing them to find any final essentials before leaving. Thankfully, they didn’t have to go far. They each needed new pins for their hammocks, razors for the kitchen, and paper clips for pot grabbers. All of these things compiled into a list of school supplies – and Beau knew exactly where to get them. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a climb to the top of the desk in the corner of the room. After pointing it out to his siblings, he began unlatching his hook from his hip.
“Stay put, I’ll be right back,” he directed as he made his way to the towering construction.
“Oh no you don’t!” retorted Icon. “You always pick out the easiest things and then they break. You need the quality stuff, which happens to be my forte. I’ll go.”
“Hey! What about me? I stayed watch. I should get to go,” argued Slate. The brothers didn’t have any time to say more as they looked around to see their sister, Shay, was already sprinting for the desk, hook in hand.
“Hey!” the boys shouted simultaneously after a fractional moment of stunned silence before sprinting after her. Shay, giggling and out of breath, reached the leg of the table and threw her line as hard as she could. The silver ring flew through the air in a magnificent arc before scraping a proper hold into the desk.
“You have to be quick to be a Borrower. Isn’t that what you told me?” she called over her shoulder as she began inching her way up the line. She was already halfway up the desk by the time her brothers were throwing their lines.
“Not fair!” hissed Slate as he was the first of the brothers to begin climbing.
“Shay! You have to be careful! This isn’t a joke!” Beau scolded as he began making good progress up the line in pursuit of his sister. Icon was partially out of breath but keeping up with his older brothers. He also knew he wouldn’t live it down if his sister managed to beat him to the top.
Shay made it to the top, rolling onto the surface, and shoving herself onto her feet, legs pumping as hard as they could to the edge of the school supplies box. She used her hook and swung, acing the hook once again before pulling herself up the edge and slipping into the box. Shay wasn’t prepared for the drop as she slid down the stack of notebooks which were propped up on a massive clamp like device. Shay could hear her brothers calling out, but she didn’t quite care at the moment. She had beaten them to the punch, and that was enough to please her.
Shay carefully maneuvered herself around the massive pair of scissors, slipped over the pencils, and found what she was looking for – a small box with an assortment of paperclips and safety pins. The pre-teen Borrower had just pulled the lid off of the contained and began selecting the paperclips with the rubber coating when she heard her brothers, but they weren’t laughing. She stopped and listened, picking up just in time the sound of deep thuds against the ground of something very large heading their way.
Shay’s heart suddenly tripled in pace, breath catching in her throat. Her lungs felt constricted. Mind began racing. Relying purely on instinct, she vaulted over the scissors and under the propped-up notebook – and just in time too.
The sound of the human’s voice raised, calling back over his shoulder, pierced Shay’s ears. Though she couldn’t see where he was, she knew he was near as she listened to the sound of shuffling boxes.
“Yes mom, I have it right here,” he called over his shoulder. He was much closer than she thought and, to keep from yelping in surprise at the sound of his voice, threw her hands up and clasped them over her nose and mouth.
Shay had heard him before, but his voice was always muted and muffled by the walls and floorboards. If her panicking mind remembered correctly, his name was Odd or Ted. Something like that. The pre-teen Borrower had more pressing matters than to remember the name of the young adult male who was most likely a few feet away. There was a massive shuffle and a grunt before the sound of retreating footsteps left the room. Shay knew she didn’t have a lot of time.
Hands shaking, she began fiddling with her line which had become slightly tangled at the end. She could hear her brothers now hissing her name from outside of the cardboard at the opposite corner from where she was.
“Shay? Shay? Are you in there?” It was Beau.
“Yes,” she whisper-shouted back. Her voice had a tremble to it she didn’t anticipate.
“Sit tight. We’re coming up. Get ready to run,” called Beau, still keeping his calls to just under a shout. Shay listened as her brothers spot checked one another and the sound of a scraping hook against the cardboard. She heard a brief huff as they lifted Beau to the top.
“We’re clear. Hurry! We don’t…” Beau was cut short by the sound of approaching footsteps. Shay’s heart stopped. If she was going to go, she needed to go now. The young Borrower darted out from under the notebook and leapt over the miscellaneous supplies, her foot nearly catching and making her stumble. Her brother’s hand was right there and, with a running leap, she caught hold of his fingers; but she didn’t hold on tight enough.
Just as Slate and Icon tugged on the line to help Beau lift Shay out, her nervous fingers slipped against her brother’s grip. Shay landed flat on her back and watched her brother’s legs vanish over the edge and the sharp, impacting thud of his brothers catching the eldest sibling. They would have tried again if the footsteps weren’t creating such a thunderous rumble in the ground, making each of the Borrower siblings shiver.
They had run out of time.
Shay, thinking fast, stumbled back towards her original hiding place while her brothers scurried back behind a few remaining pencil holders and cups on the desk. Shay tried to breathe calmly. She tried keeping herself from losing her mind as she heard the young man call back to his mother over his shoulder.
“I’m almost done. I want to get my car packed and moved so we can get the truck closer for the big boxes,” he called. Shay watched with horror as an eclipsing shadow engulfed part of the box. The cardboard shuddered as the box lids closed one at a time. Shay was left in darkness with only a sliver of light where the box didn’t quite fit together perfectly. The ground shook and jostled as it was lifted into the air, tossing the contents rhythmically as the human walked. Shay threw herself into the corner to stabilize herself and tried to ignore the lump rising in her throat.
What was going on? What was happening? Most importantly, how was she going to get out?
The three brothers watched in horror as the box their sister was in was closed and carried away by the human boy who lived in the house. It took all of their will to not charge out and reveal themselves to save her. As much as it pained them, they couldn’t do anything at the moment. Their hope was the box would be left by the door, leaving them just enough time to dart out and rescue her.
They descended at a worrisome speed and hit the ground running, their legs carrying them in and out of the shadows until they reached the front room. With horror, they watched the human carry the box through the front door and down the sidewalk. Their hearts sank, a tightness to their core and a swirling in their gut.
What were they going to do? What could they do? A fateful glance back revealed the other boxes were already sealed and shoved by the door to presumably be taken away. Even if they made it to the boxes, it was too out in the open and the chances of them being seen were astronomical. They couldn’t hitch a ride in a bag. They didn’t know where the human was going. They didn’t even know where their sister’s box was now.
Defeated and feeling utterly useless, they realized there was nothing they could do.
The brothers had to simply watch as the final boxes were loaded out with an unholy speed they could never hope to match. They dropped to their knees and beat their fists into clutched fists. Their only hope was that Shay would stay hidden while they came up with a proper rescue plan.