This Is Not a Robbery

0. / 5. First of all / The End.

The feeling in the pit of my stomach, working its uneasy way to my throat, wasn’t from some glance at mortality. Part of it may have been the terrible omelet I’d eaten for breakfast, but even that didn’t cover the entirety of the feeling. The feeling was that there was something I was supposed to remember. Something important?

I was a hostage, but in good company.

“This isn’t a robbery!” a bank teller shouted, which seemed like an unusual thing to shout. What did a bank teller do?

1. Three of them, all insisting.

The robbers were awkward and unpolished, seemingly working at cross-purposes. They were all poor public speakers, too. Stammering, mumbling into their masks, not giving their attention to the whole audience.

That anyone recognized it as a robbery could have been chalked up to a lucky guess. Their incompetence was comic at first, though nobody laughed.

It was noonish, a flurry of midday banking, when the robbers had burst through the front door. A guard was shot—or, more likely, stunned—and laid out on the ground, like roadkill. There was a popping noise as he fell, maybe before or after. A phone rang. Nobody answered it. A land-line. They left it ring.

“Whatever this looks like, it’s not,” the first robber shouted. He wore an aluminum pie-plate on his face, one oblong hole cut out in the pie-plate for both his eyes to squint through. His voice echoed, tinnish and muffled, “Whatever you think—”

“—it’s not. It’s not a robbery,” the female robber—or non-robber—clarified. She had on a rubber anteater mask, but you could still tell she was a woman.

“We’re all going to die!” someone screamed, out-of-turn.

“Well yes, eventually,” the third non-robber admitted.

“But not by us,” the first robber clarified.

“Not on purpose, at least,” Ms. Anteater said, a rifle slung over her shoulder as she ran a chain through all the door-handles of the main entrance, locking out the outside world. The third robber—wearing a cardboard box over his head—tossed her a spray-paint canister. After dropping it, then chasing it across the floor, she walked back over to the doors and proceeded to lay coat after coat of a particularly roguish shade of orange over the fastidiously clear glass.

“Orange?” the Pie asked, skeptical.

“I was in a hurry,” No. 3 shrugged.

“Too ‘in a hurry’ to buy black?”

“Some day we may both collide in a car-accident, and die,” Ms. Anteater continued, following the previous line of thought.

“This is not a robbery,” No. 3 stated, again, for the record.

2. Her pliant snout.

The non-robbers herded all of us staff and patrons to the center of the room, where we were made to sit. We were relieved of our cell phones and electronic lines to the outside world, but promised that everything would be returned, apropos of this not being a robbery. The intruders handled these items as tenderly as the incredibly clumsy are able.

“We’ll need your watches, too. Wrist-watches, pocket-watches if anyone still has those, anything that might tell you the time.” The Pie seemed to be as in charge as any of the three. My vote would have been for Ms. Anteater, but obviously, this was not a direct democracy, or even a representative one. The non-robbers distributed dollar coins to us, proving that this was not a robbery.

“If it’s not a robbery, what is it?” someone asked.

“That’s—” No. 3 began, then stopped.

“A very good question,” Ms. Anteater said, “that someone should answer.” Her pliant snout pointed menacingly at the Pie.

“There is a time and place for everything,” he said, “and this is ours.”

The lobby was secured as best a lobby can be, windows and doors shut, doorless doorways blocked off by brass-colored stanchions with velvet ropes. Not the best of all possible worlds, but what is? It took maybe five minutes for the three to secure the place and get everyone into the center of the room.

3. Killing time.

“It’s difficult to explain,” No. 3 says.

“Robbers wouldn’t have to explain,” the Pie says, wistfully.

“…only because it’s understood,” No. 3 says. “There’s still a need for explaining. It just happens… inside.”

“We’re here because this is when and where we have to be,” Ms. Anteater says. Maybe Mrs. Who could know?

“You’ll think we’re crazy, if we tell you the truth.”

“We already think you’re crazy,” someone volunteered.

“A fair point,” No. 3 says, nodding. “It’s a fact that we’re on the run from the law, but it’s not your law we’re on the run from.”

“Are you foreign nationals?” A question from the diplomat.

“‘Foreign’ is one word,” Ms. Anteater agreed. “National, not so much.”

There were eleven of us. A baker, a painter, a lawyer. Two students. A would-be doctor. Seven parents. A cryptographer. An officer of the United States Government. A scientist, who studied the migration patterns of non-migrating animals. A convicted felon. A flight attendant. A video clerk.

Some people were more than one thing.

We were being held hostage by crazy people, was the impression at the time.

“My name is Frix,” No. 3 said. “This is Kichiro,” he indicated the Pie. “And, introducing, Voirrey.” He meant Ms. Anteater, the only one left unintroduced, up until that point.

“What’s happening outside right now,” Ms. Anteater said, “is nothing. Hear that? Nothing. Before long you’ll all be on your ways, and it’ll be like we never met.”

“We can’t stay here, see,” Kichiro said.

“Believe us, if there were another way…”

“What are you going to do to us?”

“We’re not going to hurt you in any way, don’t worry,” Ms. Anteater said, reassuringly.

The room spun, and darkened, and went away. The sky exploded, silently, above, a million points of light standing out in the blackness, a million points of light where before there were tiles and ceiling fans. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, so incredible and impossible and beautiful. A night from nowhere.

At first there was no sound, and then, gradually, the sound built up, flooded back into my ears, all of our ears. Chirps, hisses, howls, rustlings. Shapes not stars slowly resolving around us; black, tall, solid.

Everyone was standing exactly as before.

The bank, that was different.

Gone is different.

It was gradually becoming unclear what a bank was, or what Ms. Anteater had on her face.

4. The brigands, undone.

“Sometimes,” Voirrey said, apologetic-like, “you have to run and run and run, and even then it’s not enough. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. You were just supposed to be along for the ride, and then go back. It was just a quick escape, a temporary solution.”

The year is 1087. Plastic has not yet been invented.

But it exists.