Louise Carlson stared at the computer screen, the CCTV footage frozen still. She chewed her inner lip. “HR is gonna have our heads on a platter for this,” she said to the empty office.
Noelia leaned into the doorway. “Hey, Carlson, you figure out where our man is at yet?”
Louise pulled a face. “Well…”
“No luck? Hm. Maybe I oughtta phone the company, see if he’s ill.”
“Actually, I found out what happened to him.”
Noelia glanced up and down the corridor. She slipped into the room and pulled the door shut. “I don’t like how you worded that, Miss Carlson. Tell.”
“I, uh… I think it’s best if you just watch.”
Neolia came around the desk, arms folded. In the lenses of her glasses, the computer monitor reflected its electric-blue glow. “What’s this?”
“Security footage. I decided to check this morning, whilst we were all skidding around on the roads. Looks like our reliable Mr Tosun didn’t follow instructions or protocol when he had the place to himself.”
Neolia swore. “The cinderflayers? The rothands? The stenchtrees?” She shook her head. “Just show me what he did.”
Louise brought one of the many windows to the forefront and hit the pause button. “I’m afraid it was the bladebodies.”
Tosun was at the desk. “I think it was the morning shift not turning up that pushed him over the edge.” Louise nudged the slider at the bottom of the screen. Tosun twitched and jerked as he moved and sipped at his coffee. Once or twice, he picked up the phone — hard to tell if he answered or made a call.
“That was me, telling him I’d be late.” Neolia looked at Louise. “Did you call him too?”
“No, I just phoned you.”
“Mmh. I might’ve told him about you. Can’t remember. I had several calls before I phoned in to let him know. Told everyone to not stress, and to only come in if they could manage it. I’m a nice boss, like that.”
Louise bit her inner lip and said nothing. She continued to fast forward through the video. “He stays like this, until…”
At 9:53, Tosun got up and wandered over to the corridor. He peeked through the window.
“Don’t do it,” whispered Neolia.
But Louise knew what happened next. Tosun went and sat back down. Over the next 15 minutes, he got up and peered through the window of the door. Six times in total. The last two times he opened the door with his key card. The penultimate occasion he took a step into the corridor.
And then he took the plunge.
Neolia hissed through her teeth.
Louise paused the screen then swapped to the next window. This view was of the corridor right outside her office. This clone of the hallway, which sat metres away from where they watched the CCTV footage, was empty. Save, that was, for Tosun.
He stole down the corridor. He cast several furtive glances over his shoulder as he made his way. At each closed office, he knocked, waited, then opened the door. No doubt he had an excuse for intrusion, should any of the rooms have an occupant.
But, of course, all offices were empty.
The last moment before Louise minimised the window showed Tosun as he ran to the door. The one with the words ‘MAXIMUM SECURITY GENERAL ADMISSION PROHIBITED’.
“Oh Jesus,” said Neolia.
“Yep.” Louise, who’d already been through this once, felt her chest tighten.
Tosun took one last glance down the corridor — the corridor he’d never traverse again. And then he slid his key card through the scanner. The light flashed a lighter shade of grey — green in real life — and he stole through the door.
Louise paused the video, then flicked to the last screen. This one showed a different corridor, the one beyond the maximum security door. Of course, this was the last closed-circuit camera in the place. The rooms shown on Louise’s monitor had a strict ‘no-camera’ policy. For obvious reasons.
Tosun reached the first door and paused. He pulled something small, rectangular and black from his pocket.
“Knew it,” said Neolia. “Wanted to get evidence. Make money, sell our secrets. Or report us to someone — one of those hippie-dippie groups.”
“Shh.” Under normal circumstances, Louise wouldn’t have dared to silence her boss. Considering they would soon watch the demise of an employee, it seemed appropriate.
Tosun gripped the phone in one hand — no doubt already recording — and his key card in the other. He slid the card through the scanner and pulled the door open. And staggered backwards.
From the door, light spilled. Shadows writhed in the doorway. Louise knew what created those shadows, but Tosun saw them for the first time in his life. Little wonder he’d taken a few steps away. He recorded for a few seconds. Longer than Louise would’ve liked, considering what could’ve gotten out. At last, he dashed forward and slammed the door shut.
Neolia breathed again. “Not the stenchtrees then.”
Tosun edged towards the opposite door. He repeated the same action, camera phone in one hand, the other ready to open the door.
He’d only opened the door a crack when something tried to snake through the gap. Neolina swore under her breath. “That’s what you get when you tackle rothands without backup.”
Tosun dropped his phone and fell to the floor. His hands tugged at the handle and pulled the door shut. Tosun’s mouth opened and closed in a shout or a scream. Whatever tried to break the gap snaked back and retreated.
Neolia laughed. “Ha. That’s what you get, you idiot.” She had forgotten that the man would die in two doors’ time.
Tosun got to his feet and brushed himself off. He picked his phone up, looked around, then tested the door. Louise knew he needn’t have — those rooms had an automatic lock upon closing.
Tosun approached the last door before his death.
“Cinderflayers?” asked Neolia.
“Well, they’re no danger unless they’re on fire. Which I hope they’re not.”
Tosun approached the door and hesitated. Small wonder, the rothands had almost torn him to shreds. It would not be a pleasant way to go. Louise imagined how hard his heart must’ve thudded.
The penultimate door harboured no jump-scare, but the sight seemed to disturb Tosun. Neolia nodded. “Creepy buggers, aren’t they?”
“Yeah. Prefer ‘em when they’re creepy to when they’re screaming and flaming and terrifying.”
Tosun remained in the doorway for a solid half a minute, entranced. All the while, he kept his phone at chest level.
“Where is that phone now?” asked Neolia.
“It’s with the rest of him. I don’t think it’s functional, though. And in 30 seconds or so, you’ll see why.”
Tosun shut the door and headed for his doom. “Bladebodies,” said Neolia in an intake of air.
“Told you.” Why was it that managers never listened to you until they saw it with their own two eyes? She’d never given Mrs De Luna any reason to think her incompetent.
“I’d be surprised if he lasted ten seconds against those mothers.”
Louise, who knew that he didn’t, kept schtum. She let the video play out. With her boss over her shoulder, Louise watched the awful scene unfold for the second time.
Tosun edged towards the door. He held his phone aloft. He slid his card through the scanner. The light flashed green — light grey via the CCTV. He pulled the door open.
And then the creatures inside room number four fell upon the hapless security guard. The scream on his face was clear, even though the resolution was poor. Blood splashed over the linoleum of the corridor. It was black via the security footage.
“Oh, Jesus.” The tightness in Neolia’s voice indicated nausea. But Louise knew better. The woman had a stomach of steel, and a resolve made of tougher stuff still.
The bladebodies peeled the man. Bits of skin and flesh splattered over the walls and floor. A few flecks of Tosun flicked into the lens of the CCTV camera itself.
“Don’t tell me they’re free, Miss Carlson. Don’t tell me that, and we’ve been wasting our time.”
“No, no worries about that, Mrs De Luna.” And she was right.
The bladebodies pulled Tosun into their room. The man — what remained — continued to fight and struggle. Although it was clear he was upon the precipice of unconsciousness. A viscous trail of blood and viscera followed them. Whether by accident or design, the door slammed shut behind them.
Neolia sighed. “Christ.” She looked down at Louise. “And that mess is still waiting for us to clean up?”
“See to it, will you? And destroy this footage. Make sure his phone is appropriately destroyed, too.”
“Sure,” said Louise as she smiled through a false grin. “I’ll get right on it.” And then the part of her that had said ‘Hello, good morning, Tosun’ to the man every day spoke up. He had a wife and a daughter. He bought her a muffin on her birthday. And now he was dead. “Why do you think he looked? We trained him — he knew the dangers.”
Neolia ran a hand through her hair. “The working class are basically just oversized toddlers. No self-preservation instinct.” She sighed. She started to leave, then stopped and turned on her heel. Neolia snapped her fingers. “Better call the company. Let them know there’s been an accident. We need another daytime security guard.”
“Yes, ma’am. And the bladebodies? There are rules regarding the destruction of creatures that have caused the death of a human.”
“No one needs to know, Carlson. Each of those buddy-boys is worth a quarter of a mil. Our funding only goes so far.” Neolia ran an imaginary zip across her mouth. “Here at Retention Labs, we keep our secrets.” Neolia flashed a grin. “Hell, that’s why they pay us the big bucks, no?”