With a monotonous ping, the dull grey doors of the lift shuddered, and slowly pulled apart. Even before they were fully open the woman in the business suit was moving forward, the solid heels of her shoes clicking rhythmically on the hard, cracked, grey concrete, moving through the thin fluorescent lighting of the parking structure.
“Don’t,” she began with more force than she meant, into the phone pressed firmly against her ear, slipped under shoulder length black hair. She tried again, but the force was still there. “Don’t take that tone with me David. I know what day it is, thank you very much. And I told you…”
Amanda trailed off as David complained on the other end of the line. She had told him; if she’d told him once, she must have told him a hundred times that today was the big meeting. No, it had been the Big Meeting. The one about the merger, the one that would determine whether or not she still had a job to commute into London for. A job to pay the bills with. And just like every time she’d told him, David acted like she’d been the one to schedule it on Paul’s birthday. It wasn’t like he hadn’t known what she did, what she was like, when he married her; that work was just as much of a focus in her life as he would be. But, she’d told him, she did it for them; for her, for David, and for their son.
“I know he won’t turn three again,” she said, “and I’m sorry, I’m sorry the meeting ran late. I tried to get out as quickly as I could, but you know what these people are like, David. But I’m leaving now.”
She stopped in the middle of the floor, between the darkened shapes of parked cars. There weren’t many cars left, most of the rest of her colleagues having left hours before. Darkness had fallen early today, and now blanketed the parking structure in deep foreboding shadows despite the best efforts of the few fluorescent lights that flickered from the ceiling, where they weren’t out altogether. This late into November it seemed like she never saw the sun anymore, at least not beyond what came through the window of her office, the giant ball of light and warmth seemingly taunting her.
“How is he?” she asked, her voice smaller.
There was a long pause. “He’s sad,” David replied, honesty making his voice low as well. It seemed David had been deflated by the argument too. “He had a good time, of course, running around and raising hell with all his little friends, but… you can just tell that he missed you. I missed you.” That last was even quieter than the words before, and despite herself, the corner of Amanda’s mouth tugged into a half smile.
“I missed you too,” she said. “Both of you. Look—” She glanced down at the slim silver watch on her wrist, and the manila folder slipped from its place tucked under her arm, the files and papers flapping everywhere.
“Shit,” she muttered to the air. There really was nothing else to say. Sighing, she raised the phone again. “Listen, honey,” she said, “I have to go. I’m leaving now, OK, and I’ll be back as soon as I can. Put him to bed, will you, and I’ll see you both in about an hour. Yeah, yeah, I know. Love you too. Bye.” She hung up, dropping the phone back into the black leather handbag.
Hitching up the skirt of her business suit, she lowered herself onto her haunches, grabbing at the loose pile of sheets. She tsked to herself as she lifted one page that had made a valiant leap from the rest and managed to land with one corner in a pool of stagnant water. She examined it, seeing smears and stains. She’d have to reprint that, but thankfully it wasn’t anything that had a signature on it, so it would wait until the morning. It was too late to head back into the office now, which would be closing soon to leave only a skeletal security detail. Besides – and more importantly – she wanted to see her son. He’d be fast asleep by the time she got home, but after the stressful day she’d had, just to stand over him and watch him as he slept…
A faint scuffle, like the scraping of metal on concrete and the rustling of dried leaves, broke her from her thoughts. The noise had come from deeper within this level of the parking structure, far into the dark shadows. Odd shapes sat in those shadows; the blacker mounds of shrouded cars, their outlines merging and bleeding together to create unnatural bulky forms.
The noise came again. Probably a bird or something, Amanda thought.
Even so, she hurriedly scooped up the rest of the fallen paperwork, not even bothering to check if she was putting them back into the folder in anything resembling the right order. Something was making the fine hairs on the nape of her neck stand on end. Something was making her heart beat harder in her chest, and her blood pump loud in her ears.
The scraping came again.
No, she thought, giving herself a rough shake. You’re just being silly. It’s nothing. It’s probably nothing. There’s nothing there. But… just to be on the safe side…
Amanda hurried towards where her white Mercedes CLA was parked, fumbling into the endless depths and far corners of her hand bag for her keys. Her heels clicked deafening loud throughout the parking structure, the sounds echoing from the solid, low ceilings, with the deep pools of shadow sending the sound back at greater strength. Even the light coming from the open sides of the parking structure, over the short waist high concrete walls – fluorescent street lights mixed with the faint glare of a swollen moon that hung in a starkly clear night sky – seemed only to lengthen those shadows, rather than cause them to disperse.
And there was definitely something moving there now, slinking closer amongst the stationary vehicles. A darker shape of blackness moving through the shadow.
“Sod this,” she muttered, abandoning her search for her keys and grabbing her phone from the bag again, as well as the can of mace she had bought and hoped to God she’d never have to use. She dropped the folder to the floor, ignored and forgotten, and popped the cap off the can even as her manicured thumb pressed the space over the 9 on her phone’s touchscreen three times, then lifted it to her ear. There was a buzz, a click of connection, and then the other end began to ring. It sounded loud in her ears, and she almost dropped the phone in shock, biting off a curse.
“Hello,” came a man’s voice of the other end of the phone. “Emergency service operator, which service do you require?”
From the long shadows came a growl; low, deep. Primal. It froze the words in Amanda’s throat, froze her limbs stiff. She could barely breathe.
“Emergency service operator, can you talk?” The man’s voice was calm. It was a solid point of reality, a voice of experience, and Amanda rallied towards it. Even so, her voice was barely a whisper.
“Police, I think. I… there’s… there’s something here.”
“Ma’am, where are you calling from?”
“I…” There was another growl, and Amanda’s brain, the far forgotten part of it, reeled in denial. Where the hell was she? Why couldn’t she remember where the hell she was?
Two orbs appeared in the darkness. Two orbs that shone like burnished gold, shone with an ancient intelligence, shone with malice, shone with rage, shone with contempt. She gasped.
“I’m at… Richardson & Co,” she managed, somehow. The words had almost stuck in her throat again, only coming out as a thin, reedy, hiss. “The multi-story car park. Please send help, please send… there’s something here!”
“Ma’am, I’m dispatching a unit to your location. Can you tell me what level you’re on?”
Amanda’s throat felt red raw as she tried to force the words out again. Across from her, the deeper shadows were converging, melting together. Something was coming out. Something sleek, something lithe. Lupine, the most primordial part of her essence added, recognising it, but her conscious brain refused to accept that.
“It’s coming for me,” she said, wanting to back up, wanting to raise the can in her hand, but finding her treacherous body rooted to the spot. Her legs felt like jelly, like they should collapse under her at any second as if she were a puppet with cut strings, but still she remained immovable. “Oh God, it’s like a dog,” she managed finally, words spilling out with hysteria, as the shape came closer. “Like a big fucking dog!”
“Ma’am, did you say a—?” The operator’s words were cut off as Amanda screamed. Screamed loud and hard, a scream to curdle the blood, a scream that abruptly ended with a thick, wet gurgle.
Her phone shattered as it hit the ground.
The Void, that brilliant white glow of total absence, stretched on for infinity, humming with raw energy. Nothing could exist here, in this Void, in fact nothing did. And yet, despite the very fact that a presence here was contradictory to the Void, sounds echoed.
“And in other news, Muffin the cat was saved today—”
Another voice echoed, rolling right atop the first.
“—all units report to a disturbance at—“
“—passes it to Hilton, down the line to Jones—“
She floated, unsuspended, in the nothingness, her soft laced boots dangling loose below her. Blonde hair that hung to between her shoulder blades, and draping robes, swayed gently, as if caught by a breeze that didn’t exist. Her robes, layered and heavy, were white, but against the brilliance of the Void they looked dull. Her eyes were closed, but beneath her lids they moved back and forth rapidly, as rapidly as hands that moved expertly from screen to screen before her. Those screens, much like the woman, hung unsuspended in the Void. Those screen, a half dozen of them in total, were not the usual monitor that could be purchased in any branch of electrical outlet; they were more like thin blue sheets of translucent perspex, which flickered and scrolled as they searched through the web, perused TV stations, and snooped on CCTV footage. The screens images shifted rapidly under the woman’s touch, sweeping through channel after channel in seconds.
The woman was short, slender and youthful, appearing to be a good five years younger than her twenty four, a fact that often caused her no end of contention. Her features were soft, and a gentle dash of freckles lay in a strip along her cheekbones and the bridge of her nose.
“—don’t worry about it, baby, she don’t know a—”
A brief scoff rolled across the Void, despite her calm and medication. She resisted the urge to fling a casual lightning bolt down the phone line. That was not why she was here.
“—violence erupted today—“
“—for me. Oh God, it’s like a dog. Like a big fucking dog…”
Green eyes flashed open. There. That’s what she had been looking for. It had to be, there was just too much coincidence for it to be, well, a coincidence. With a small dismissive waft of her hand, the monitors blinked out of existence in a heartbeat, as if they had never been there, replaced by a glowing red disk that lay as if on an invisible floor. Burning red letters writhed and twisted around the circumference of the disc, dancing like flames. But these flames gave off no heat. She floated forward, an ethereal entity in the Void, and into the Comms Circle.
“This is Leila, in the Call Centre,” she said aloud. “I’ve got something.”