Content Warning: This story contains graphic violence, heavy themes and lots of swearing.
The footsteps were clearly audible even from the opposite side of the office floor. They reverberated from the door leading to the stairs where the echo from the concrete steps was even louder. The fire door slowly closed muffling and finally muting the noise entirely. Sweat had started forming on Jack’s forehead, his heart was racing and his adrenaline kicked in. The closing of the door left silence, the sound he had been waiting all day for. He jumped up from his seat and left his desk, He walked around the whole floor following the square corridor. His eyes darting between the cubicles and empty offices. No one. Finally, no one. He jogged the final meters back to his office. He closed and locked the door. Just in case.
He looked at the bottom draw of his desk and took a deep breathe, now or never. He took the key out of his pocket and opened the heavy draw. He was relieved to see it was still there. Stupid place to hide it he thought, it’s the first place someone would look. He peered around his mostly bare office, bookshelves filled with technical books he had never read and reports too old to even be relevant. He knew there was no where else to put it, but he still hated having it so obviously belonging to him. Jack took a long stare out his window to again reinforce the notion that there was no one there, he then reached into the drawer and lifted the bound folder out. He opened it up on his desk and looked at the tattered hand written pages inside, TOP SECRET marked with a large oppressive stamp on every one. He flipped through them. His eyes only looking at the page numbers, the contents he could not bring himself to read. Six hundred and sixty six, every single page was there and at his mercy.
He moved to face the machine behind him and turned it on, a hum and a red light greeted him in turn. He took the top page into his hand, it was yellow and filthy but not old, it was a page from a diary of someone who had been writing quickly. The pages beneath it where from a similar past. Together they formed the story of something powerful and silent and it had lay in his desk ominously, like a stick of dynamite that would take everything apart if it were exposed to a flame. He held the frail paper over the machine, he paused and gave thought to the gravity of what he was about to do. It was not the first time he had crossed this bridge.
Six figures, that’s what he would be on now, his recent promotion had been well earned, so many missed dinners and parties, so many missed movie nights and time with Kate. He had earned it. This was just a test, just one more hurdle towards his higher goal. Don’t think about it, just do it. He held the page above the machine and lowered it, the machine buzzed as it sliced the page into dozens of thin strips, like a block of mozzarella flowing through a grater. He exhaled the breath he had been holding in since he picked up the document. He was shaking. One down, six hundred and sixty five to go and with that thought he proceeded to page two.
The sensor lights outside his office cut off, they were the last ones on the floor to do so. The one inside his room would have gone out too if not for his constant chair swiveling between folder and machine. Deep in concentration jack hadn’t noticed the near pitch black in the space around him. As the pages moved briefly past his face, certain words would catch his eye. Slaughtered. Mutilated. Mass grave. Children. Words that despite his best efforts he could not ignore. It only hastened him to shred them faster.
A shrill, high pitched noise shattered his thoughts and silence that enveloped them. Like an up tempo fire alarm, its sound was all engrossing. The normally small barely noticeable light on his phone blinked to the sound’s tune. He picked up the receiver, Hello. He paused and then remembered the rest of his automatic response, this is Jack Connolly.
When are you coming home?
About another hour or so, I got caught up in this, probably best you get dinner for yourself, I’ll just grab something on the way home. Jack talked in his calmest voice. He hoped it worked.
You said you wouldn’t have to work overtime anymore. Clearly it hadn’t.
I’m just taking care of some loose ends, I won’t have to do this much longer.
Just hurry up and come home.
I swear it will get better soon.
The line was quiet.
He placed the receiver back on its cradle. He sighed, and picked up page thirteen. The call had broken his calm collection of thoughts and he felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He had to go to the bathroom, now.
He opened the door to the hallway and stepped out. It was pitch black except for the light of the moon shining in from the windows. He waved his hand in the air and caught the sensor beam, he heard the buzz of the fluorescent tubes above powering up and then the lights sprang on, like the delay between turning on a tap and the water emerging from a hose. Jack found the brightness of the light all around him unsettling compared to the blackness just beyond its border. He turned and locked his office then walked down the hall. There was a delay between him stepping into the black and the light above him humming and powering on, banishing the darkness to beyond its borders. The thought entered his head, if he was trying to part the red sea he would have drowned by now. He hated how dark the halls got at night, it was like the world didn’t exist until he stepped on to it. During the day that kind of thought made him feel powerful, but on this floor at night, he felt vulnerable and alone.
He entered the last cubical as was his routine and despite the knowledge that he was alone, he locked it. As he sat there the thoughts rushed into his mind like a crowd arriving late to a stadium, congested at the door. The things that got stuck to his mind were words, words like Militia. Bodies. Limbs. Women. No intervention. He started to sing, only just out loud. That song Kate had been humming that now he couldn’t get out of his head. It had been annoying him for days, now he was glad it was there. Whatever reason the department had for wanting these files destroyed, Jack sure hoped it was worth it, he knew it wasn’t.
The curtain came down. Darker than anything he had seen before. He struggled to find the toilet paper in the black. He stood up, fumbling for the door lock. He stepped out into the cold, bare silent room, his shuffling feet the only sound. He reached into his pocket and took out his phone, he flipped the screen up and his picture of Kate partially illuminated the area in front of him. His silhouette moved in the mirror in a way that was so unfamiliar that it was completely foreign to him. His attention was so fixated on this surreal moment that the figure behind him almost looked correct. Until it’s lanky, tall form shifted to a position that engulfed Jack’s mirror image completely. Jack’s adrenaline kicked in the moment he realised he was caught with no chance of escape or defense. It was the same feeling he had felt when seeing a giant spider attached to his sun visor while driving down a freeway. He ducked and crawled under the wash basin faster than he thought he could move. His phone flashing pathetically into the darkness with near useless results, the figure had moved faster than Jack could and he couldn’t find it.
It was a feeling almost worse than seeing it. The terrifying sound of the urinal’s automatic flushing fixated Jack’s attuned senses and sent his heart beating faster. His shaking arm set off a humming sound and the lights exploded blinding him and chasing the blackness away. He emerged from under the basin cautiously his every movement made with purpose. His heart racing, muscles tense, it occurred to him how on edge he was. He knew there had been nothing in the room with him, but he opened every cubicle to check. Satisfied, he washed his hands and splashed his face. Get a grip Jack, you have a job to do. So let’s get to it.
He walked out into the dark corridor, the familiar hum was heard and the spotlight followed. He took his phone out of his pocket and lit the area immediately in front of his feet, His imagination was playing with him and he wasn’t going to give it any toys to use. He walked the dreaded corridor back to his office his little blue light bridging the gap between the abysmal black and engulfing light. He turned the handle of his door and entered the room. The folder lay open and wide on his polished desk. His stomach sank and the adrenaline pumped back. The folder was open and empty. His hands shook as they fumbled and erratically searched his office, His panic left the floor littered with books, papers, his phone and drawer contents, and his picture of Kate, which he crushed under his frantic feet.
Jack collapsed on the ground. His back against his desk. His hand running through his greasy, sweaty hair. The footsteps were clearly audible even from the opposite side of the office floor and they were running. Jack heard the fire door slam shut. The fret that had overwhelmed him was killed as he jumped to his feet and ran out the office, his determination brought back as quickly as a diver off the block at the sound of the starter pistol. He didn’t know who he would find when he caught them, or even what he would do. But he did know that he had to get those files back. No matter what.
He ran deep into the dark before the lights realised he was there. His conditioned familiarity with the floor plan now being his greatest asset, he ran as fast as he could in his restricting suit. He slowed down rapidly in order to move around the narrow corner. His hands grabbed the wall as he stopped at the sight before him. The new black hallway had a single light at its far end. It was a single light tube that got his full attention. It was positioned just in front of the fire door that led to the concrete stair case and in front of it, was a pile of neatly stacked papers. Jack approached them slowly. The sensor light above him would not acknowledge his presence as he proceeded blindly toward the papers. He looked around as he reached them, there was no one there. The top page was blank, but for one word; CHOOSE.
He quickly bent down and scooped them up, clenching them firmly in his hand. He turned to the fire door, and pushed it open looking up and down the stair rails.
Hello, he said.
The echo was deafening as it shattered the silence. Jack stood there on the cold concrete landing, he had the urge to run down the stairs, get into his car and drive. The paper in his hands urged him otherwise, they had to be destroyed. End of discussion. So Jack turned and walked back through the door. He hurried back and ran in to his office. He slammed the door behind him and locked it. He looked at the balled up papers in his hand, the page on top was completely blank, as of course he knew in his head it had always been. He sat back on his chair, and gave out a long sigh. He picked up the half cup of coffee that had been on his desk since that morning and had a sip. Its rancid texture brought his mind back into focus. Just get it done.
The last page was now in his hand, covered in signatures of people he didn’t know, and in a moment no one else would either. It sluiced through the grinder and it was finished. Jack sat back in his chair, the rings of sweat around his neck and armpits now long dry, and the biggest burden he had ever carried now lay shredded and dead, the anti-climactic end left the burden’s ghost heavy on his back.
Jack put on his coat and grabbed his keys and started the walk to the elevator. He was half way down the corridor before he realised that every light was on. Not just the marked path he had taken, but the whole floor. Jack stopped and observed, fuck this screwy building, I’m never coming back here after dark again. He proceeded down his path and the humming all around him cut out and the whole floor went dark in an instant.
Jack stumbled around in the dark, running his hand along the wall to guide him.
Its just the sensors, the electricity is still on, the elevator will work. The elevator will work.
A single light touched on, like a spotlight at the far end of the corridor, it looked so small to Jack, like it was on the horizon. Some one was standing under it. A tall lanky looking creature, its arms far too long for its body and its long grey body, bare and sweaty. Its hollow eyes though missing were still looking straight through him. Jack could hear it breathing, its broad shoulders heaving with every breath. A single image cut through Jack’s racing mind.
The creature’s mouth opened wide, it had several rows of broken rotten teeth, its long scream made Jack jump. The creatures threw its body forward and its feet slammed against the ground hard and fast.
Jack dropped his briefcase and jacket, he ran into the wall and rebounded off it and into another, he didn’t care, he just had to keep moving, He bounced of the wall and estimated where the corridor was and ran as hard and fast as he could. He held his arms out in front as far as he could as his only means of early warning of wall or obstacle. He heard the echo of his heavy footsteps reverberating down the corridor. The footsteps of the thing behind him were louder and more frequent. He could see the green exit sign in front of him, it was tiny and in the distance like a star against the infinite black of night. Why was it so far away, this corridor is not this fucking long!
His arms out stretched, he dreaded the moment he would eventually run into something, but he feared the presence behind him more. So much more. The horrendous sound was just behind him now, just make it to the stairs Jack, come the fuck on, you can do it! Just swing that door open and slam it in this fucker’s face! The sign wasn’t getting any smaller.
What is happening?
Jack’s world shattered on impact and time seemed to stop, the pain shot through him and it was immobilizing, he fell to the floor, a helpless wreck. The moment of shock past and left the hard to swallow reality of what had happened. His eyes watered up and he closed them in response to the pain that was shooting up through his arms. The black behind his eyelids turned red and he felt the heat of the light above him shining down. He opened his eyes to a blurry haze. The sight was like looking at a red stop light in his car while it was raining. The red wasn’t just from the lights turning on, It was on the walls too and on the carpet and on him.
Jack saw a sight so unfamiliar he couldn’t even figure out what had happened to him at first, but the sight of his bone piercing clean through his skin and muscle on his arms came home.
He slummed to the floor, he couldn’t move his arms, even if he had the intact muscle and ligaments to do it. The impact the wall had on his out stretched arms felt like he had nothing left inside and the creature would be on him in a matter of seconds. He closed his eyes and waited for the impact.
He gasped for air when he couldn’t hold it in any more, he opened his eyes and looked down the dark corridor. He couldn’t hear it either. He pushed his back against the wall and used his legs to force himself up. Don’t stop Jack, let’s go. He limped his way down the hall towards the door, same plan, just get out. His arms left a trail that reminded him of an overflowing champagne bottle being hurried off the carpet. He was losing blood but the flow didn’t look to be his most pressing danger, that thing was still lurking around somewhere.
He shuffled up to the heavy fire door and stared at it as he realised the dilemma. He decided on the only real option. The steel handle was freezing cold and it hurt his teeth like he was biting into an ice cream. He pulled the door slowly, the stabbing pain in his arms and mouth was matched by the fear that his front teeth would snap. He pulled it hard enough to make a gap and his foot crept its way into the opening. His jaw released with a clink and he forced the heavy door open with his leg and squeezed into it.
The stair way was dark and oppressive the only light coming from somewhere on the lower floors. He rested in the doorway.
A loud bang from the deep broke his thoughts as it echoed its way up the concrete and continued past him. He heard the footsteps deafening the sound of his breathing and dripping, they were running up the stairs, it sounded likes hundreds of feet were stampeding their way upwards. The powerful light below cast their demented flickering shadows onto the guard rails.
Jack pushed his back hard against the door and flung it open, he ran back down the corridor and darted around the corner as he heard the door slam shut behind him. He reached the elevator well and paused. What is down there waiting for me?
What is up here looking for me?
Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breathe. He screamed as he raised his shattered arm and flopped his blue finger onto the down arrow.
It didn’t light up.
Jack gave out quick, rapid breathes and raised his hand again, the pain shot through him and he gave up the attempt.
You idiot, Jack knelt down and pushed his nose hard into the button, the green border covered his vision.
The running feet were now clearly audible. The adrenaline kicked in again and Jack started to sweat and bleed more. His leg was shaking in anticipation. Hurry the fuck up!
He heard the door slam open and the sound of it being broken off its hinges, it gave a deafening boom as its heavy frame hit the ground. The feet were running through the corridor and gave a nightmarish version of the sound he had heard so many times before. Jack closed his eyes and waited for the crash.
The running feet were near his corridor, the noise was interrupted by the sound of a microwave finishing its job. Jack’s eyes shot open and he ran to the far yellow luminous arrow. The stainless steel doors shot open and Jack ran into the elevator. He frantically nosed to the ground button. The doors started to close and the running feet reached the elevators and slammed furiously against the nearly closed door.
Jack peered up at the digital floor indicator.
No, no please, Jack pushed himself back against the mirror that made up the elevators back wall. He let out one heavy breathe of helplessness as the doors opened on the top floor.
The figure stood there looking through Jack with its hollow eyes like he wasn’t there. Its mouth dripping through its rows of broken teeth. Its massive figure ducked as it entered the elevator. Jack crumbled to the ground. Please, what do you want? He begged through teary eyes.
The creature turned and moved its lanky sharp fingers out and turned them to push the close doors button.
The steel doors closed, engulfing Jack and the creature in walls of mirrors. Jack pushed further into the corner, he created as much distance as he could. The creatures arm returned to its side and it turned to face the door. The elevator jolted as it started to move down. Jack saw it’s dripping mouth open and its snake tongue roll out. It breathed heavy as it stood there staring with hollow eyes into nothingness.
Please, Jack said. Please, I haven’t done anything, please, just let me go.
The creature breathed in deep and spoke.
They send me.
Please no, I didn’t hurt anyone, I never even read those papers.
So they send me.
The elevator plummeted down at a speed that forced Jack against the Mirror, unable to move. He felt the sinking feeling deep in his chest. He couldn’t scream.
The fall came to an abrupt end and the mirrors opened up into a world of deep red.
The creature turned and its massive hand engulfed Jack’s head and it dragged him out of the elevator. The rocky floor felt like the coals of a dying fire and Jack’s skin burnt away from his muscle with the remains of his pants.
The creature lifted Jack up by his head until he was level with the hollow eyes. His peripheral vision saw the creatures other arm move as fast as he could blink and he noticed the muscles of the arm holding his head relax as the weight it was bearing released. Jack could taste blood and the all the pain disappeared. The creature moved long slow strides towards the opposite wall and Jack saw a line of poles as far as the horizon, all with heads in various states of decomposition impaled on top. Their eyes followed his as the creature walked past. He saw some of them trying to open their mouths, but the spears allowed them no room to move. The creature stopped in front of a new pole, it like all the others was made of yellowing bone, sharp to a point.
The creature lifted Jack’s head high and brought it down hard. He couldn’t feel the crunch of his skull so much as he could hear it. The creature stepped back and looked into Jack’s eyes one last time and then walked off.
Jack closed his eyes and let the tears well up. His ears were ringing and he could hear a humming sound that got progressively louder. The sound over powered all other sounds and Jack could feel his fingers moving. The pain was coming back and Jack opened his eyes to see white tiles, a bloody circle in the middle of it, He reached up and held the throbbing pain coming from his nose. He jumped to his feet at the site of the bathroom. He touched his whole body in reserved recognition that it was in fact there.
His head was pounding from the impact of the floor. He knew he had passed out, and he knew he had not been dreaming. He looked around frantically in search of anything to anchor his mind, to what or where he was. He saw something on the basin. Something out of place for a decadent office bathroom. A piece of yellow bone.
Small and sharp to a point. He walked over to it and picked it up, examining it in his hand. He closed his hand around the shard and felt calm as his mind focused. He walked out of the bathroom into the bright corridor and entered his office. He sat at his desk and placed the shard of bone down in front of him. He stared at it for a long time and then he looked at the papers. He looked and read. He neared the end of the pile as the sun started to rise. He wiped the tears from his eyes. His hand was steady when he reached into his top draw and took out a large envelope, he placed the papers inside carefully, then opened up the tray of his shredder and placed the remains in as well. He walked over to the mail shoot. He picked up the marker pen hanging by a string next to it and wrote on the envelope. He took one last glance at it before releasing it down the shoot. He had never done anything before with such conviction.
To the Editor,