Taking Flight – Excerpt

Deborah scrabbled around the room, tears sticking her sleep-wild hair to her face, picking up whatever she could grab hold of. The banging on the front door was getting louder, and Marcus knocked her to the floor, clasping his hand over her mouth, just as the beam of light from a torch slid across the disheveled room. Their hearts thundered against each other's as Marcus pressed her down with his full weight. Deborah could hear his frightened breath, lungful after panicked lungful blowing strands of her hair back and forth across her face.

"We need to go." He barely formed the words but Deborah heard them. He eased off her slowly and carefully when the blue torchlight passed on. Keeping low, he pulled the things Deborah had collected and flung them to the side. "We don't have time to take anything."

Deborah was stricken. "But my research…" she whispered, her chest lurching with the finality of what they were about to become—exiles from their own home.

Marcus cupped her face in his hands and forced her to focus through her panic.

"This is it. This is the moment that will affect our lives forever. You have to choose. Come with me and we will be on the run—perhaps for the rest of our lives—or stay and find the cure. But I have to go. I have to go…" More banging punctuated his words.

Deborah squeezed her eyes shut and covered her ears against the noise. Of course there was no question. Marcus was her life; she would go with him, but if only she could just grab a few papers. She glanced through to her table where piles of folders and notes documented over a decade of her investigations. Marcus followed her gaze.

"There's no time, we have to go now." He dropped her hand and retreated, leaving the decision to save her work up to her.

She watched, frozen, as he opened the cupboard door to the escape hatch they'd made months—even years—before. She couldn't remember how long they'd lived this secret life together. An image suddenly flashed into her brain, sealing her actions. The thought of running outside, hand in hand with her lover, was like a bolt of lightning to her soul; he'd hardly stepped foot over the threshold for years. What the hell was she thinking?

Deborah ran to the cupboard just as the front door was smashed in and what sounded like dozens of feet clattered through. Slipping down into the tiny space under the floor, she caught the trapdoor and pulled it shut, tugging on the string that would start a chain reaction of falling boxes and clothing to cover all signs of the escape hatch. It had always worked in their trial runs, but there was no one up there to check it had been a success this time.

She could hear Marcus breathing in the darkness as he patted about, trying to find the candles and supply bag they'd stored. Finally, a match struck and flared and Marcus lit a candle. It flickered over his strained face and Deborah had the biggest instinct to reach out and caress him with her fingertips, but he turned quickly and urged her on through the short passage that would lead them to their freedom or doom.

Footsteps banged about overhead, causing dust and debris to spatter sickeningly on them. Each drop felt like the touch of a captor and the adrenalin and nerves were becoming unbearable. Ducking down, they squeezed into the air vent that would bring them out behind a bush.

"Hurry up!" Deborah thought she was going to pass out or vomit, or both, and lurched through the hole as soon as Marcus's foot was through.

The night was the velvety black kind; a blanket of complete darkness swathed across them, muffling everything. It was eerily silent outside after the fearful shouting and crashing inside the house. They'd prepared for all eventualities and had stored clothing suitable for their escape in the shed just a few meters away. It seemed like miles to Deborah, who couldn't recall whether the security light still worked or not. Surely it would have been one of the first things they'd forfeited in the energy rationing?

She held her breath and closed her eyes as Marcus grabbed her hand and pulled her from their hiding place and out onto the exposed lawn. She just ran, trusting he would lead the way. Three steps, four, five; there was no click, no sudden flood of light, and she was yanked down behind the shed. She sat there shivering as Marcus crept inside and brought out the bag with clothing and blankets.

"Quick," he whispered. "We need to get as much of this on as we can and go—it will be cold out there."

She fought with the bundle of fabric he'd thrown her, her hands fumbling at laces and socks as she tried to pull them on over her cold, bare feet. The yawning gasp of tears that had been threatening since they'd heard the first knock on the door now dripped from Deborah.

"I can't do it," she wailed, feeling utterly pathetic. She'd always thought when the time came she'd be strong, capable, organized, and yet there she was, struggling with a sock. "I can't stop shaking."

Marcus quickly finished tying his shoes and threw on the rest of his clothing before crouching before Deborah.

"You're in shock," he said tenderly, helping her to dress. "Take some deep breaths."

He held her hard by the shoulders and stared into her eyes; she could just make out the gleam of his eyes in the darkness. He buttoned up her thick coat and pulled her to a standing position. She felt the blood drop into her feet, leaving a hollow iciness in its wake. Her legs began to give way but Marcus held her fast.

"You need to get it together, Deb," he said gruffly, shaking her hard. But it was no good; the wooziness was making her into a rag doll. He released one shoulder and smacked her hard on the cheek. It was instant. The clatter and sting pulled her from her stupor and snapped her back into the here and now.

"What the…" She scowled, but was relieved to be back. The heat on her cheek left her strangely invigorated and she grabbed Marcus's hand with new determination. "Come on."

They made ready and peeked out from behind the shed to see every light in their house on and their belongings being scattered everywhere in the search. Deborah winced as she caught sight of the back door handle turning.

"Now!" he said and sprang forward.