by Ada Fetters
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Okay. There are no catorast-caliber lights in this room. I know that for a fact since I messed with every light-switch when Mr. Gruber, the guy who owns the place, first handed me the keys. Someone must have left the flood-lights on in the front of the building. Those flood-lights are shining down through the band of windows near the ceiling of the basement studio. I barely registered the existence of those windows until now. If anything, I saw them as mirrors darkly reflecting the interior of the studio. I put my glasses on, turn my face upward and squint. Yep, they do exist.
I back out of the room and pull the door shut for good measure. Then I pull my phone from my hip pocket and ring security. No one picks up. I dial the extension for the main reception desk at the front of the building, with the same result. The former is annoying, the latter is unsurprising. All the regulars are at home in bed.
The place isn’t that big. Although no one told me about a switch that controls obnoxious outdoor lighting, there are only so many places it can be. So the switch is someplace else. I shift my weight from foot to foot. It shouldn’t be a big deal to go turn the lights off.
The thing is, music itself is not a saved file that will load when I get back from whatever mundane problem that requires my attention. Music is more like a lover who is ready now, but might wander off if I delay for too long. That includes dubstep, by the way. But MDUSA insists: Demented drops demand darkness!
He is right. I set off down the hall. You’d think I’d be used to the feel of a building after-hours. I am used to darkness, and I am used to my world overlapping the worlds of others instead of running parallel with theirs, but in places like this I feel like an intruder. Objects seem strangely flattened without people around to use them. Once in a while, I hear diesel engines or sirens, but they are damped by the pane windows and sound as if they come from yet another world.
Soon I reach the cubicles where limp jackets are hung over chairs. I can smell the intern who shed the jacket nearest to me. Long stands of her hair cling to the fleece.
There is a monumental crash from ahead. The windowpanes rattle. This is clear and present, not like the dream of engines outside. I pause at the top of a breath. Another crash drops so hard I feel it through the soles of my sneakers. I put my hand on the wall beside me and force myself to release the breath I’d been holding.
The crash came from inside my world, from someone who was moving around here while I thought I was alone. I stand before the dark hallway with my eyes narrowed as if by squinting hard enough I can see around the hall corner.
A chuckle echoes from the hallway ahead of me. I can’t see whoever it is. They are still around the corner but the breathy, knowing quality of their chuckling makes me twitch as if they were whispering close to my ear. So many possible reactions wash across my brain at once that I am unable to act on any of them.
Silence descends. Just when I am starting to think I imagined it, the chuckle returns and wobbles up into a higher register. It is either getting louder or closer but I still can’t see whoever it is. I am reminded — irrationally — of the shadow-people gliding over the floors.
It occurs to me that even in darkness it is possible for someone to creep along the walls without my seeing them, if they match the shade of their surroundings and I am not looking directly at them. I stand there in an agony of indecision. The sound rises.
Whoever it is begins to shriek. My knees nearly give out but that is just a jump-scare: the dread is gone. The screaming reduces it to fun-house horror. At high volume the sound gains the artificial tenor of a tone repeated exactly. Rather than a murky suggestion of all the sinister things it might be, I can identify it for what it is: a relic of the past. This is a recording studio, after all. I feel like smacking my own forehead.
“Knock it off.” My voice is pitched to cut through the artificial noise. The grainy dregs of fear in my throat make me sound harsh.
The fun-house vocals continue. Maybe whoever it is does not know how to turn it off. Maybe they need to be told again. Some people are like that. Turning a corner reveals an open door and the glow of a computer screen illuminating the room.
Curiously absent: the hunched silhouette of another late-night worker or the eyeshine of a nervous intern. No one is around.
I dial back the volume and turn the loop off. A stack of cardboard boxes lies where it was knocked to the floor, in a reflective drift of compact disks and old keyboards. I finally register the scrape-marks on the door where someone has pried it open. That explains the crashing around.
So where is the intruder now? The best-case scenario is that they thought I was somebody bigger and meaner than I was, and made a dash for the exit.
There is only one way to find out, which doubles as a handy escape-route if the guy is still around. I sprint to the nearest door and shove it open. The outside air feels like a dryer full of wet clothes.
There is only one car in the parking lot. Somebody is seated there with one leg outside of a Chrysler. When they hear the door of the building fly open, the pale smudge of a face turns toward me. Light sparks from an earring in his left lobe. I catch an impression of a tribal tattoo winding down his arm before he slams the car door. He steps on the gas, tearing out of the parking lot so fast the car rocks as it whipped onto the street. I stand in the doorway for a minute, trying to process this.
Good thing, too. Turns out the big switch for the catorast is located on the inside-right of the exit. Lucky me. Unfortunately I am rattled by creeping around the supposedly deserted building. For the rest of the night, I keep thinking I hear people outside my space. Sounds flick through my head. The rattling of windowpanes, artificial screaming, tires pealing out. The stretches of silence in between. Later I will try to capture the feeling of the uncanny lurking below a mundane surface, but for now I am still too close to it. The night is a wash.
* * *
Pedaling my bike uphill in the breaking dawn gives me some perspective. It is hard to brood while dealing with a long, steep incline. Bands of hazy sunlight between buildings flick across my skin before I plunge into the next shadow.
By the time I slide into the booth next to Nate, across from Leona, I am able to give them an amusing account of the brightness shining into my subterranean studio.
“Did you only see the shadows of things, down in your cave?” asks Nate, half-smiling.
“All humans only see shadows and reflections,” I retort. “Not the world itself. I may not be always able to see, but at least I know what I’m seeing.”
I take a breath to continue the story, but Nate wraps his arm around me and pulls me into his shoulder. His laughter rumbles under my ear. Both he and Leona are deeply amused. I have no idea what is so funny about waves reflected in a limited range of frequencies on the EM spectrum, but something in me unwinds what has been tense since the catorast first hit me.
Instead of pushing back, I stay leaning against Nate. He lets me be. Leona begins to describe her evening, which includes a manic-crazy girl following her into a restroom stall. This sounds interesting, but I make the mistake of closing my eyes.
When my friends shake me awake, I complain about missing the story. Leona says she’ll come over to watch old movies in the evening, and she’ll tell me then. “I’m not going out again this week,” she declares. “I’ve had enough.”
I will be happy to make breakfast when she arrives at sunset, and it goes without saying I’ll share some pot with her, but “I have a grand total of one beer left in the fridge, which you can have, but you’ll probably want to pick something else up.”
Leona says she’ll pick up my brand even though she’ll be the only one drinking unless she stays past midnight. She is good at planning ahead.
There is no rain today, but I don’t need help getting to sleep.
Because of the big trees in back, the insulation, and the heavy, fitted curtains, my abode is a cool refuge when the street outside experiences the kind of evening heat that makes the tar soft. I can leave my dark glasses on the bedside table. I don’t need them here.
Before Leona arrives I decide to take care of emails from various people. Per usual there’ll be friends to reply to, my half-sister reporting family drama from a state away, shows to arrange, and at least one journalist from a webzine acting like they are doing me a favor by asking to interview me.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Ada Fetters