XXXV

I’m running. There are others running too, but I don’t know who they are and I can’t see their faces. You’re there. Are we chasing or being chased. Darkness outside, the storm is closing in. There are people parked out front, I can see their headlights.

We race from one side of the abandoned shop to the other. I can’t recall how we got here. Scrambling for an exit, there is a side door that leads us to an alley. The chain link fence to the right blocks access to the street, a gate to the left is locked.

Through a door entering an office, currently unoccupied, just a maze of cubicles. A maze that eventually leads us to an exit. Opening the door, there is a flash of light.

I’m on a bus. Hurriedly drawing or making something. I don’t want others around me to see whatever it is as I’m constantly covering pieces of it up while I work. On the side I notice that I’m scribbling the floorplan of the abandoned store in the corner of a notebook. The bus hits a bump.

We’re back in the store. Just as before. Exactly the same. It’s ok, I’ve already done this. To the side door, across the alley, through the office. It goes quicker this time. Exiting the office, a flash of light.

The bus ride is getting increasingly rough, the driver appears to be in a hurry. Seems the store is a daydream – or nightmare. Is it a manifestation of the anxiety associated with this piece of work. People keep shuffling past my seat, and I keep hiding my work.

At this point I become aware that I’m watching myself in third-person. Is this also a dream? I can see that I’m still scribbling the floorplan off to the side, it’s more detailed now, it hasn’t reset like the dream-land progress through the store. A bump.

The store again. Everything says ‘do something different’ this time, but that’s clearly not how this works.

Store. Alley. Office. Flash.

The bus stops, it’s dark out, and whatever I’m been making is finished but still in a hundred parts. Everyone has scrambled off the bus, I can tell they’re waiting for me. In the rush I haven’t been able to pack everything up correctly, and as I step off the bus I stumble and everything spills onto the ground.

Everyone is glaring at me. It’s started raining. Collecting myself and gathering everything off the sidewalk, my notebook is snatched from my hand.

“Have you finished that floorplan, we’re here now.”

Off.A short story in 12 small parts.

IV

Their nightly routine was always the same.

“Sam, it’s time to go to sleep, lights out…”,

“But Mum,” he protested, “I don’t like the darkness, I’m afraid of the monster in the closet”,

It was always the same reason, like a recording being played back repetitively for comedic effect. The response of Sam’s mother too was always the same.

“Sam, we’ve been over this, there are no monsters in your closet, I promise. You’re perfectly safe in bed.”

Sitting bolt upright, arms crossed, Sam would never back down. The resulting compromise was always to leave the night light on.

The soft yellow glow of the night light was just right, and as always its presence ended the nightly battle peacefully.

Even better yet, it perfectly masked the pair of glowing yellow eyes that belonged to the creature Sam’s parents kept under his bed.

II

You think you know someone. We had left dinner early, not even lingering long enough to consider dessert. Eve seemed in a particular rush but wouldn’t say why. Maybe it was something she ate.

We were headed towards the station when her phone rang. Barely removing it from her inner jacket pocket she glanced at it and dismissed the call. I couldn’t see who it was, but I do the same with work calls all the time so I wasn’t concerned.

As the lights of our train came into view Eve casually turned, looking half at me, half through me – just as she had done a thousand times before – and smiled.

“None of this is what it seems. Jasper will explain.” she said softly with an oddly apologetic tone. The words had stunned me, was that her intention? Turning further to face me, she took two quick steps backwards, my outstretched hands clutched at the air.

She was gone.

XIX

“I know what you said, but this is not over. We need you back at the bunker. Now.”

Upon entering, Oliver immediately sees an imposing – unknown – figure standing at the centre console.

“Where is she?!”, bow drawn, and aimed.

“Felicity is fine, she doesn’t even know you’re here. Nor do the others.“

“How d–“

“I am not your enemy Mr Queen,” raising his hand, but still facing away, “believe it or not, we’re a lot alike, you and I.”

“Enough with the riddles! Who are you!”, Oliver lets fly an arrow, striking the screen to the man’s left.

“They said you had trust issues,” the man replies, casually reaching down, plucking the arrow from the screen to examine it. “They also said you don’t miss… You make these yourself?”

“I don’t miss. WHO ARE YOU!“

The figure slowly turning to face Oliver,

“My name is Bruce, and I need your help.”

XXXIV

Brief dreams of other places, other faces. The where and when I’d rather be. The things I’d be doing and how I’d be doing them. Routine, constants, the avoidance of change that I see no personal benefit in. The chasing of happiness and the fear of failure that prevents me. I’m asleep, but conscious that I’m letting my brain deep dive into complete nonsense. I force myself to wake up.

Awake again, the darkness, and the previously discovered calm returns. It returns just long enough that when I feel something grab my shoulder I spin around, reeling back in the process. Extremities tingling. The darkness drains away, and muffled sounds trickle in. I stare blankly at the face that’s suddenly appeared behind me.

“The bus route ends here. You need to get off.”

VIII

The shock wave rippled through their camp site, and several hours earlier than they were anticipating. The plan had always been to be further from the impact site, but communication delays had hindered them before their egress had even begun.

By the time they got out they knew they were unlikely to get as much distance as desired, still they had pushed on long enough to ensure they’d be safe, and they were.

While they were all now awake, it would still be hours before they would know if it had worked, and to what extent. Only then could they return.

X

Even with this in mind, and knowing they only had about a hundred metres between themselves and relative safety, the next few minutes would not be without obstacles.

Thus far they’d been sticking to the side-streets to avoid drawing the attention of the guard posts that had been set up along the main strip.

This itself wasn’t as simple as it sounds, as most of these side streets had been cut or blocked off in some way – and moving or getting around these blocks quietly wasn’t the easiest thing to do.

XVII

Their living room wall was now mostly string, push-pins and post-it notes. The TV sits unplugged in a corner, all non-essential furniture piled up on the other side of the room.

The only concrete piece of information he has to work with is a name. Jasper. Ok, ‘concrete’, is probably overstating it, but that is how it feels compared to everything else.

But still, who is Jasper?

The, now mostly ransacked, contents of their apartment has turned up nothing, no further clue as to who Jasper is and how – or why – he can explain why Eve had stepped into the path of a train that evening.

It has been three weeks and he knows no more now than he did then. The authorities have been of no use, her death ruled a suicide in the absence of anything to prove otherwise.

The police don’t believe that this Jasper character exists, and as he rifles through yet another closet even Jake is beginning to question it. Then he notices something behind what seems like the 47th box of shoes.

XII

Charles, only five-nine, but built like a tree and dressed head-to-toe in black tactical gear.

Handguns holstered on each leg, a small knife strapped to one ankle, and two of the biggest machetes I’d ever seen – one hanging over each shoulder.

Honestly, given the stories I’d heard, I was expecting more guns, but I had a reasonably strong feeling that the machetes weren’t just for decoration.

We hadn’t been told her first name, and none of us were particularly eager – or game – to ask… so ’Charles’ it was, and Charles meant business.

XXX

Files. Guess that shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. Feels like half a dozen or so, but not much good to me, the light from the clock is not even remotely sufficient enough to read anything. I toss them aside and try the top drawer. Nothing, it’s definitely locked. Odd, every filing cabinet I’ve ever seen has a single lock that secures all the drawers at once. But, hey, why would this be a normal set of drawers, nothing else about this situation is normal.

The voices are still there. No clearer, no closer, still not concerned.

Feeling my way around the filing cabinet there is something wedged underneath it, feels like another file, but I can’t pull it out. Shoving the cabinet, it doesn’t budge. Sure, I’m not the strongest guy in the world, but I should be able to move a small filing cabinet without too much difficulty, right? Not this one, it doesn’t move a millimeter, like it’s bolted to the ground. Why would it be bolted down on top of another file?

XXVIII

Why of all the dark rooms in existence am I in this one, why couldn’t it be your typical dark room with a sliver of light peaking out from beneath a door. For all I know this room doesn’t even have a door. Craziness of course, it must have a door, right? How else would I have gotten in here. Must find the door.

There’s that elevator sound again. This time joined by what sounds like faint muffled voices. Distant voices.

I decide to work my way left away from the drawers, feeling slowly along the base of the wall desperately hoping to stub my fingers on a door frame. There is nothing immediately next to the drawers, I must have moved three or four metres along the wall by now – I wonder how big this room is, hard to tell in the dark.