Strange things have been happening in the office building of the man with the terrible eyes. Lately, he has been catching the tail-ends of his coworkers' conversations-- conversations that tend to end abruptly when he walks into the room. He is not quite sure what they are talking about, but he does occasionally hear the words, "waking," "stirring," "aggressive," "messily consumed," and "torn to shreds."
It has been nearly three months since a mysterious, unfillable hole appeared in his yard, and a little over one month since he's come to terms with it. There were a few weeks in the intermittent time where he completely lost track, either due to the temporal warping effects of the hole itself, or because he was what his Supervisor politely called "in care," being "cured" of the insanity brought on by the appearance of the hole. Though he does not remember clearly the events leading up to it, he cannot shake the feeling that his supervisor and, indeed, the company as a whole, is somehow at fault. These days, he just uses the hole as a place to dump his trash, and tries not to think about it.
Today is Tuesday.
Today he is at work, as usual, in his cubicle, as usual, and someone has just come in, grabbed one of the boxes of papers by the door, and left, flicking off the light without noticing he is there, as usual.
The man with the terrible eyes sits idly in the dark, wondering if it's worth the effort to go and turn the lights back on. In fifteen minutes or so, someone else will just come in, take a box (or return one) and flick them off again, anyway. The sheer futility of turning the lights on and on and on again is starting to grate on him. Everything is starting to grate on him.
He does not want to be here today.
He has had this thought before, albeit usually more out of wistful boredom, and usually the thought is followed by a creeping sense of guilt or shame. After all, how could he be unhappy at his job when so many others have no job? When he himself had no job, and would probably not be able to get another should he lose this one? But today the thought isn't born out of boredom or dissatisfaction, but agitation. He does not want to be here. He wants to be somewhere else. He is unsure of where, exactly, that somewhere else is, but all the same there is a nagging, frustrated need to leave.
After a few minutes spent vainly trying to sleep in his cube, he stands up and walks around in the dark. He flicks on the light as he passes, mostly out of habit, and walks a few laps around the room before returning to his cubicle.
Time passes. Not much time, but at this point all time is too much. Seconds have become hours and minutes are years and there's a wordless scream building up in his throat. He needs to leave.
He gets up, stretches, and with one quick glance at the security camera nestles in the ceiling corner, he leaves his cubicle. He leaves the office, flicking the lights off as he goes.
The room where his cubicle is is at the back of a much larger, much busier office. Here, the cubicles are full of people shuffling papers and typing on computers and making phone calls and generally looking busy. He feels a pang of guilt- when was the last time he had to do any actual work?- but it passes.
A few feet away, against the back wall, there is a water cooler. He isn't thirsty, and if he was, there's a water cooler in his room for him to use, but he wants to try something different. With what he hopes is an air of casualty, he approaches the water cooler.
The water tastes exactly the same. A red-haired woman carrying papers passes by him. She does not look at him, but he averts his eyes out of habit. Since starting here, he has driven dozens and dozens of people insane. Almost a hundred, though he didn't keep exact count at the beginning, and so now isn't exactly certain of the number. In any case, he has no idea if any of the people here are the same as the ones he sees in the interrogation room. He has no idea if any of them know about him and his terrible eyes.
He finishes his drink and tosses the paper cup into the trash bin nearby. There's nothing else of interest here, so he goes down a random hallway and tries to look like he belongs, trying to think like he belongs.
He does belong, doesn't he? He works here too, right? Sure what he does is a little . . . different than what the others do, but this is still his building too, isn't it? He has as much right as anyone else to be here.
And so on.
Down the hall there are offices. Some have their doors open, most have them shut. Past them are open, empty rooms with nothing but chairs and long, U-shaped tables he assumes must be for meetings. A few on the right side have windows, so he goes and looks outside for a few minutes and wonders if anyone will notice he's gone.
For a while, nobody does. The farther down the halls he goes, the fewer and fewer people there are. None of these people notice him, even the ones who almost run into him. They stare blankly ahead, and though he is not certain, he thinks he sees small, round burn scars on their temples.
Inside, the urge to move, and to keep moving, grows stronger. He is almost jogging when he comes across the elevator. This elevator, he knows, has to have both up and down buttons pressed at the same time in order for the doors to open. He does not know how he knows this, as he has never seen the elevator before, but the button-trick works and without a second thought he goes inside.
The floors are as follows:
Sub basement A.
Sub basement B.
Sub sub sub sub basement Q.
As well as several lower floors with aged masking tape covering their numbers, and a floor simply labeled V.
The urge inside him claws at him, telling him to pick one of the lower floors, but he doesn't dare. They're obviously supposed to be at least a little secret. They aren't available through other elevators he's been in, just this one it seems, and while he knows he has some leeway with the wandering around excuse, he does not think it extends to mysterious V floors. But at the same time, he is curious. As a compromise, he presses the button to the sub sub basement. The doors close.
The doors reopen. The lights are dim in the new hall. Some of them flicker. Some of them hum steadily. They are the sort of lights that are unbearably bright to look at directly, but still leave the room dark. A wave of hot air greets him when he steps into the hall. The air is heavy, humid, and hard to breathe. It reminds him of spent air, of air that has been taken in and turned loose by too many lungs in too small a place. It feels like the breath of some great, unseen beast, though he doesn't like that thought and forces it away as soon as it is thought.
He glances over the top of his sunglasses and finds that there is no difference in the lighting with them on or off, and so leaves them on. There are few doors down this hallway, and the few there are are locked, but there's one at the very end, away from the other doors that captures his attention. Unlike the others, it is unlocked. The handle turns freely, and he pushes it inwards...
...and immediately regrets it. The new hall is full of screaming. He clutches his ears and finds it does nothing to block out the sound. Something- something, no human can make noises so loud, so piercing- is screaming, and he screams with it. When he takes his hands from his ears, he finds them stained with blood. There is wetness on his face, and a coppery taste in his mouth. His ears and nose are bleeding.
Through the pain and the noise, the urge is still there. It tells him to go go go! Get up! It says. Move! Keep moving! And eventually he cannot resist it. He struggles to his feet and staggers down this new, empty hallway to the door at the end, still clutching his bleeding ears and trying to plug his bleeding nose. A small, astute part of his mind registers that the urge has subtly, oh so subtly, gone from an aggressive “go go go!” to a quiet but insistent calling, “come. Come here.”
He desperately tries to open the door, but it will not budge. The blood on his hands make it difficult to grasp the knob. The shrieking in his head will not stop.
"I'm coming!" he shouts, hitting the door with the side of his fist. "I'm coming, hold on!"
The stupid thing wouldn't open. But it had to. He needed it to open. His eyes hurt. He tears off his glasses and tosses them over his shoulder, not looking to see where they land. He gives up hitting the door and starts trying to kick the knob off.
"Let me in," he shrieks. "Let me in!"
Let me in.
Fire courses through his veins and the doorknob flies off. When he reaches for the door, it flies open before he touches it. A high-pitched alarm pierces the air, but he barely notices it over the sound of screaming. He steps through the threshold.
The screaming stops.
He staggers into the pitch-black room, ears pounding, hands throbbing painfully, blood and sweat trickling down his face and neck.
"H'lo?" he croaks. His throat is raw. The only answer is an agitated clicking noise coming from his left. He reaches around, looking for a light switch.
"Anyone in here-" The words die in his throat.
He can see the creature clearly. It is pitch-black in a pitch-black room, but he can distinguish it from the surrounding darkness.
It's humanoid. Two arms, two legs, a sort of head. But the head is too large, too pointed and long, with no discernible features, and is at the end of a long, snake-like neck. The creature's body is disproportionate. Its back is hunched and its arms are far too long, and they, like the rest of its body, are stick-thin in some places and bulging with muscle in others. When it drops to all fours, its back legs bend the wrong way, giving the impression of a spider. It has no eyes. Its back is arched and it stooped, but it stands taller than him by at least two or three feet.
For a long moment, the creature just stares at him. Somewhere behind him, the alarms are going off and people will probably be arriving soon, but those are distant noises. In the room, there is nothing but he, the creature, and the gaping silence between them.
Then, suddenly, the creature lunges at him, but it is stopped by an invisible barrier. It does not scream- not the way it did before, but from behind whatever unseen wall keeping it away, he can hear muffled growling and angry animal noises. It slashes at the barrier with thick talons longer than the length of his hands, and they scrape against the surface with an ear-splitting shriek. It stops, after a moment.
He is not running. He should be running, he knows he should be running, but he is not. He cannot. He is afraid, but that is not why he isn't running.
The creature lifts up its arm and places something that is like a hand- a hand the size of a shovel blade, a hand with four long, long claws instead of fingers or thumbs- against the invisible barrier.
The silent, incessant urging inside compels him forward. He does not want to move forward. There is screaming in the back of his mind telling him to run, to call for help, to get as far away from this room and this creature as he possibly can. But his body isn't listening, and the screaming is being drowned out by an overwhelming desire to see whatever this creature is up close. He steps towards the figure. It waits, exuding an air of patience. It remains still, so very still, until he is at the barrier, and he places his hand against the spot where the creature's is at.
It feels at first like glass, but there is an electric edge to it he cannot fully comprehend. There's no electricity shocking his hand, but he feels something jolt up his arm and up his neck and his pain flares in his eyes and, for a moment, he is blinded by a brilliant white light. Something that is not electricity but feels like electricity courses from his fingertips, spreading both outward and inward, up his arm and into the barrier.
He yelps and stumbles backwards. The creature gives a guttural cry and surges forward, knocking him off his feet. There is a searing pain in his arm as the creatures claws slice through his sleeve and through his skin.
He does not know if he says the word or thinks it, but the creature pauses, just for a second, before lunging at him again. There is a rush of air as it strikes the space where, a split second before, his head had been. He rolls to the side and scrambles to his feet, heading for the door. The alarms are still ringing, and he hears footstep, many heavy footsteps, coming down the hall. He turns the corner into the hall just as the creature shoots out of the room, landing on the opposite wall.
It does not reflect light. He can still see it clearly, but now it is a creature-shaped void on the wall with claws digging into the concrete. He runs toward the sound of footsteps, and feels claws swipe across his back. He shouts and staggers but continues to run, clutching his shoulder where one claw had caught and had torn a chunk of his skin away.
The footsteps are those of men and women in tan uniforms, carrying huge guns that have rest on their shoulders.
"Down!" one woman calls.
He dives to the floor and feels the shot she just fired whiz above his head. The creature shrieks in pain behind him.
"Move!" another voice calls. He runs to them, and they push him back, behind them and away from the creature, who has recovered and is currently crawling on the ceiling towards them. They fire more shots, and he can see that they aren't shooting bullets, but oddly colored blasts of energy.
The creature growls and dodges and, when dodging doesn't work, it suddenly burrows into the wall as though the concrete were damp cardboard. The people in tan uniforms curse. Many unclip walkie-walkies from their belts and start yelling into them. One woman grabs him roughly by the shoulder and says,
"What the hell d'you do? Who gave you clearance to-" Her eyes go wide, and he suddenly remembers that he's not wearing his sunglasses; they were lost somewhere in the scuffle. He looks at the floor quickly.
"Shit," she says. "It's you." She takes her walkie-talkie and speaks into it. "Bright Eyes is here."
He glances up in surprise. That's my nickname? Really?
"- and we're gonna need someone to escort it back upstairs. He needs a medic, and Boss's gonna wanna have a few words." To him, she says, "Wait here. They're coming to get you. Don't cause any trouble." She moves to join the others inspecting the hole in the wall.
Waiting sounds like an excellent idea. While they all run around, shouting directions into their walkie-talkies and sending people off to catch the creature, he finds a nice, stable wall to lean against and does nothing until his escorts arrive to take him away.
* * * * *
He thought there would be more yelling.
They do not yell at him. He was expecting yelling. Raised voices, at the least. Being fired on the spot, dragged out of the building and beaten up in an ally, maybe arrested after for trespassing, or sued for damages. His house taken, his car towed, his bank account drained. But no.
Instead, two men who may have been the ones he'd met on interrogation days and may not have been hefted him off the ground, walked him into a large, comfortably sterile office, and set him down on a cushioned chair in the corner. They stayed with him, one pacing the room in a figure-eight while talking on his phone, the other sitting in the chair beside him and resolutely not meeting his eyes.
Minutes passed. Now, his Supervisor arrives, followed by a gaggle of people in lab coats, in hospital scrubs, in hazmat suits and in regular black suits.
His Supervisor kneels down in front of him and says, "Look at me."
He doesn't. He keeps his eyes on the short, tan carpet and says nothing.
"Look at me," his Supervisor says again, an edge of steel in his voice.
He does. His supervisor does not gasp when their eyes meet, but he breathes in sharply through his nose and, after a moment, lets it out. "Tell me what happened."
"I. . . I heard it screaming," he says, faltering. He stops.
"I didn't, at first. I just- I had to go. I had to get up and I thought, "I'll just take a walk around the office" 'cause I haven't really seen anything before and I went and just wandered around and the more I did, the more frustrated I was and I had to keep going and I found the elevator and I- I wanted to go to the bottom. But I didn't want to. It was me wanting to go, but it wasn't me and I went only halfway down because it was better than nothing and I had to, like something was pulling at me, and as soon as I got down there I heard it screaming and it was so angry. It was so, so angry. I didn't- I mean, I didn't want to go to it, but it's like it was dragging me and I couldn't stop and I couldn't think and I didn't want it- I didn't want it! But it-"
"What?" snaps his Supervisor. "What did it want?"
"It wanted me. It wanted to kill me, but that would be second. It wanted me there. It wanted me there and it wanted me to- to not be alive anymore. Not dead, really, just not alive anymore- that was important. That was the thing, and the only way to get that is to kill me. So it wanted to kill me, but not because it wanted to kill me, it just wanted me nice and quiet and dead and I knew it." It's starting to get very hard for him to breathe. "It wanted me dead and I couldn't stay away. I knew it wanted me dead and I still had to go to it."
The room is silent.
"The thing. What is it?" he says.
"Something I don't think you should know about just yet," says his Supervisor. The Supervisor stands and steps back, allowing the team of hazmat suits to surge forward. "Take care of him," he says.
The world becomes a blur of yellow baggy suits and hand-held machines beeping in front of his face. Once they're satisfied he isn't radioactive or particularly dangerous, the people in scrubs and lab coats move in. They have syringes. Some inject things in, some take blood out, and all ignore his protests. They do all the usual doctor things: they check his heart and his lungs and make him say the alphabet backwards and, while he is struggling to remember what comes before w, someone injects him with something, this time in his neck, and the whole world slowly sinks away into blackness.
* * * * *
He wakes up in his office.
For a split second, he has vivid memories of lying on a cold table and people, many people, cutting into him with steel knives. Memories of electricity coursing through his veins, administered by a woman with a clipboard operating a large machine. Of his eyes burning.
But all that is gone before he has even sat up all the way, leaving his heart pounding and head blissfully empty, save for a vague feeling of unease. The door to the office opens.
"Hey there," his Supervisor says, entering. "Fall asleep again?"
"Uh. Yeah, I guess so." His voice sounds distant to his own ears. "How can you tell?"
"Your time was up a half hour ago," he says, pointing at the wall clock. "Don't think we're paying you to sleep. At least, not overtime."
It's a joke. The Supervisor's bright smile and warm eyes tell him it's a joke. He musters up a weak smile of his own and gets up. His legs are like jello, and he stumbles, but catches himself on the desk.
"Are you alright?" his Supervisor asks, making no move to help.
"Yeah," he wheezes. "I'm fine." Pain burns in his shoulder and back. It takes him a moment to remember why.
I was hit by a car he thinks, the memory swimming hazily to the surface. Last week. Asshole didn't even stop.
He doesn't quite remember all the details, but that's probably just due to shock. He's certain that he's lucky to be alive. He walks unsteadily out of the room, and his Supervisor closes and locks the door behind them.
"You sure you're alright? I can call you a driver."
"I'm fine, thanks. Sorry." He doesn't know why he feels the need to apologize, but the need is there all the same. "Really, I'm sorry."
His Supervisor meets his eyes, just for a moment, and the smile shifts, still bright, but with an unfamiliar heaviness.
"I know you are," is all he says. The Supervisor peels away when they pass the staircase, and he's left to walk across the lobby himself.
Outside, he is immediately bombarded with the feeling of being watched. It's ridiculous; there's hardly anyone on the street and none of them are looking at him. But all the same, he hunches his shoulders and makes a beeline to his car. Even inside there, the feeling of being watched does not ease.
"Stupid," he says to himself, starting the car. "There's nothing watching me." The words are comforting, so he repeats them to himself.
There's nothing watching me right now.
There is nothing watching me from the shadows.
Nothing is watching me.
He navigates out of the parking lot, the words still circling around his head.
Nothing is watching him.