The hallway was a madhouse. The backup floodlights were flashing and sirens wailed incessantly as people ran about trying to evacuate the building, though there had been no evacuation order that I had heard.
I smelled smoke, but it was faint, and smelled electrical. Walking past the elevator, I saw at least part of what all the fuss was about.
The very same elevator that had trapped me earlier, had given way. Whether the problem was physical, or mechanical was beyond my guess, but the doors were left open, beckoning one to slip down the cavernous chamber.
The opening had been cordoned off with “Caution” Tape, but that hardly mitigated the risk. Carefully, I edged toward the ledge, and peered into the darkness. I wanted to know what had happened.
I could feel heat rise from the shaft, as the smell of molten wiring flooded my nostrils. Shielding my face as best as possible, I stole a glance down the hole. Even though the car had crashed far enough down that I couldn't see it, I could see flames licking up the sides of the hollow void, as firefighters on various levels below battled the blaze.
The fire hadn't made it past the third floor of the elevator shaft, probably due to it struggling to engulf the entire cavity from the parking garage.
Counting my own lucky stars, I headed to the stairwell.
I opened the door to the stairs and my footsteps tapped back as my feet left the carpet, and hit the cold cement of the hall.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
My shoes echoed all around as I made my descent, sounding eerily like another individual, paralleling my descent from a flight above. My heart began to race, as I reasoned with myself, telling my fears that it was just an echo. That there was no one else in the corridor, and I was just being paranoid, however justified the paranoia was.
Continuing my steady pace down, I had reached the third floor, and I could feel the temperature rise a few degrees. Obviously, the fire was not under control yet. There were two stair cases in this building; the one I had taken, and another, on the opposite end of the structure. Both stairways were cement in construction, and fire proof to a degree, with big heavy doors at every level. However, both were seated directly across the hall from the elevator shaft.
Probably a layout that seemed convenient at the time, given if the elevator goes down, the stairs are already in your lap, but the concrete stairwell had heated up quite a bit, and was starting to feel like an oven. I loosened the tie around my throat a bit more, and rolled the sleeves on my dirty white oxford up. I paused at the third floor landing, my curiosity still piqued. My echoing footsteps stopped with me, which brought about a bit of relief.
I figured there were a good few firefighters on the third floor, as they were trying to prevent the fire from climbing higher into the building. I also figured that they may know what had happened.
I didn't expect them to give up the information to just anyone passing by, but maybe if I just propped open the door for a few, I'd overhear something informative.
The silence of the tomb-like concrete stairwell filled my ears as I contemplated opening the overweight door. Leaning inward, I strained my ears, trying to hear anything on the other side.
I could feel the inferno in the adjacent shaft as I went nearer to the door. A bead of sweat rolled off the tip of my nose, and splashed onto the concrete landing. I couldn't hear anything on the other side of the door. No voices. No emergency alarms, or sprinklers. It was unpleasantly quiet, which set my nerves back on edge.
I leaned in closer, the warmth of the door now radiating onto my face with malice. I felt my hand edging unconsciously toward the latch as I willed my ears to pick up anything through the sweltering entryway. Closing my eyes, and slowing my breathing I focused, trying to drown out the rest of the world. After a moment, I could hear a low rumble. Only it was quieter than that of a growl, or of thunder in the distance. Instead, it was a rustling rumble.
The sound of fire. That is what I was hearing now.
My fingertips grazed the door handle, as my thumb aligned with the fastening tab along the top. The metal was warm to the touch, but not hot, as my hand slipped around the cylinder.
Taking a deep breath, I depressed the locking mechanism and tugged on the handle.
With some effort, the large metal slab loosened, and then shifted toward me. A wave of hot air washed over my face, forcing me to shield my eyes. After a moment, the calibration came, and I inhaled a mouthful of the hot air as the hallway came into view.
It appeared as normal, though the air was heavy and the lobby was sweltering.
The elevator shaft was directly across the hall from the doorway in which I stood.
Inhaling another gust of air, I steadied my nerves, and crossed the threshold into the entryway. The massive steel door slammed into place behind me as I crossed the hall, toward the oven like chamber. I felt the blaze emanating from the cavern as I approached. I could see charred metal up the sides of the walls, evidence of the flames reaching at least this high in the building. The fancy beige wallpaper in the lobby, too, had scorch marks from the flames licking up and around the sides of the opening.
I felt my feet bringing me closer to the mouth of the hole, perhaps against my will, as my eyes wandered further into the recesses. The entire chasm was revealed to be smoked out, as the immense heat washed over my face and ears. The billowing darkness obstructed my view of the interior, but I could make out a faint glow below, orange and incandescent, yet looming threateningly beyond.
Turning my back to the elevator, I faced the hallway, looking for anyone I could interrogate about what had happened. I could see puddles of water here and there from the firefighters battling the blaze, and muddy footprints tracked about, but the area was vacant.
“Hello?” I prodded the silence.
After a minute of nothing responding, I stepped toward the stairwell.
Maybe they evacuated the floor. I reasoned, shoving against the copper bar which opened the cumbersome door.
The door moaned in protest. The temperature cooled drastically once I stepped through the doorway, the breeze freezing the sweat on my brow and rejuvenating my step at the same time. I swallowed a gust of the cool air, and headed towards level two.
My car was in the basement, Underground Parking.
No doubt whatever travesty had struck the elevator machinery also lie on the frigid sub-level floor. Plummeting deeper into the reaches of the construction, the heat steadily rose, though the draft emitted from the parking garage kept my sweaty brow chilled and the hairs on the back of my neck on end. I was now on the first floor and had resolved that the emergency staff on this level would probably be too busy to entertain inquisitive bystanders.
At least I could hear voices, the second floor had been just as vacant as the third, and I had begun to consider the fact that all the lower floors had been evacuated.
I pressed my ear to the door, striving to make out any information between the hollow thuds of footfalls, and the hot metal's objections to the icy water snuffing the blaze.
After about a minute of listening intently, all I could make out was “Second floor contained” before the hose was blasting away again at the elevator shaft. It seemed they had stopped the flames from spreading further up into the building, but I heard nothing of the contraption or the fate it had met.
I spent another minute or two listening, but heard nothing outside of directional commands coming down the line, and progress made in containing the inferno, which forced me to press on. There were far too many other concerns requiring my attention at the moment.
The final two flights of cement steps leading to the parking level were dimly lit, which was typical protocol for the building. The equivalent of emergency floodlights, only illuminating the landings, were provided this far down. A bulb basked desperately over the first floor flat, struggling to reach the foremost steps. As my left foot impacted the surface, the darkness began to wash over me, rekindling the anxiety and fears that had plagued the beginnings of this chambered journey downward.
I could see the stifled glow of the next beacon's futile attempt at radiance on the half way deck. I was completely engulfed in the chilling gloom of inky blackness now, and the lackluster incandescence ahead offered a temporary salvation. Cravings for safety drove me into a run down the remaining steps, two at a time. The draft blew past my ears in a deafening manner as I jumped, clearing the last three steps and landing hard, on both feet on the heavy platform.
Even as the draft chilled my brow, and the events of the day had forced fear into my veins like ice, I could tell the blaze was still blistering in the elevator shaft nearby. The air carried a heavy heat upon its breath, and the smell of melting electrical components was scorching the hairs inside my nose. I hovered on the landing, right at the peak of the descent, where the light's reach died out, procrastinating departure from the liberation the lamp provided. I could see the final glow beyond, illuminating the entrance to the parking lot. The gleam flickered inconsistently at the base of the steps, forcing me to fear even more leaving the faint but persistent radiance of the bulb basking over me currently.
Taking a large breath, and steeling myself, I plummeted down the final flight of stairs. It was now or never. I needed to reach my car. I skipped every other step, and in just two seconds, I had cleared the gap and was at the door leading to the garage.
The light buzzed and hummed above my head, a faint clinking sound could be heard each time the glow faltered, but the dull radiance returned every time. Shifting my briefcase from my right hand to my left, I pushed on the latch, releasing the gateway from its resting place.
I was met with a draft of hot, smoky air as the metal slab swung inward. The darkness of the parking garage greeted me, though the stairwell was too far from my car to see it through the gloom. I stepped over the threshold as the flickering ray from the bulb behind me emanated on the floor, and cast a long shadow of myself into the darkness ahead.
The elevator entrance was engulfed in flames. Slabs of twisted metal lay in a heap inside the raging inferno, and four firefighters could be seen among the smoke, trying to keep the blaze under control. Their muffled shouts rang out above the sounds of water occasionally.
The entire garage was smoky and the smell of burning wires was more prominent here than anywhere else I had been in the building prior. I figured due to the main control panel for the elevators being on the underground parking level. Chances are the short that started the fire took place in there. I slowly walked into the darkness of the cavernous parking lot. Though, my curiosity prodded me to inspect further, the tragedy.
The heap of metal appeared to be what was left of the elevator car, after it had crashed. A few slabs had been pulled out of the shaft, presumably by the first responders, and were strewn about a few yards away from the blaze. These appeared to be the doors to the car, as well as one of the main wall panels. Perhaps, they had been trying to free people trapped inside.
I shuddered at the thought of being trapped again, and turned away.
That's enough. I concluded, and headed into the shadows, towards my beat up old Subaru.
I hadn't parked far from the elevator that morning, and after just a few hurried paces, I had reached my vehicle. Plunging the key into the lock, I turned it, and popped the door ajar. Removing my blazer, I tossed it and my briefcase haphazardly into the passenger seat.
Damn! I thought to myself, realizing I had left my travel mug upstairs, on my desk. Screw it! I'll get it Monday.
Arranging myself in the driver seat, I closed the door behind me. With a click and a twist, the ignition triggered and the engine roared to life. The emergency services members glanced in my direction, no doubt prompted by the sound of the car starting.
Noticing this, I put my hand up in a friendly gesture, and one of the fellows nodded in reply. He looked a bit like the man who had helped me out of the faltering elevator earlier that day, but I couldn't be sure.
While I gave my car a couple minutes to warm up, I tugged my briefcase out from under my jacket, and flicked the number dials to my code. With a quick push from both thumbs, the tabs released, and I lifted the lid to the portfolio. After a moment of fiddling with papers and folders I found the strange envelope which had been addressed to me, and pulled it from its nesting place. As I did so, the noxious fumes of the marker followed.
I glanced over the outside again, to ensure I didn't miss anything the first time around, but indeed, it only said “Ray” in scratchy capital letters. I slipped my finger under the tab and dislodged the papers, removing them carefully.
My sister's beautiful, innocent face met my eyes from the picture on top. She looked so focused and determined on her way out the door. Thinking back, I could remember seeing that look across her face many times throughout her childhood, and early adult years. She had always been a very intense individual, completely immersing herself in whatever project she chose at the time.
I felt my cheeks moisten with silent tears as my mind wandered back over the years.
Dammit Lucy, where are you? You're all I have left, I thought, as the tears picked up in intensity. I couldn't bear the idea of losing my sister. After the earthquake took our parents, my little sister became my life. She was my world. The only ray of sunshine I had left.
I needed to understand. Anger forced my tears to cease. I wouldn't let this go. This envelope was proof that there existed answers somewhere, and I was going to find them. Tucking the photos back in the off white envelope, I slipped it back into my briefcase and closed the lid.
Reaching over to the jacket, I flipped the material around until the opening of the inner pocket found its way to the top of the mound. After a moment or two of manipulating it, I fished the yellow lined paper from the hole, and opened it up. Folding it so that the address and phone number faced outward, then I set the paper back on top of my jacket in the passenger seat.
Putting my car in gear, I proceeded to leave the parking garage.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the car emerged the dark cave, and the afternoon sun bathed my car and upper body in its comforting warm embrace. The horrifying events of the day began to slip into the background as I merged onto the county road connecting the city to the suburbs. I had even turned the radio back on, and was sashaying gently along to “Piano Man” by Billy Joel as the mile markers breezed by.
I was over the halfway mark to my home, and therefore to Miss Catz's home, as well. I had planned on scoping the neighborhood, finding her apartment building and unit number, Building C Unit 33, to see if there was any odd activity at a glance, before heading home to change.
Jennifer's complex was in between Lucy's place, and my own, forcing me to pass my sister's uncomfortably vacant windows again on my way to Presidio Boulevard.
I made the right turn on to Presidio, and looked for the address. After a moment of slowed driving and searching, I found it. 558 Presidio Boulevard. The address marked an entrance to a housing development, called Mariner's Bluff. I had been incorrect in my assumption of her living in an apartment complex. Mariner's Bluff was a gated town-home neighborhood designed in a ranch style. I had stopped at the entrance and was looking at the public map of the area.
It appeared that the homes had been divided into subdivisions. Three of them. A, B and C.
My eyes wandered over the map's hieroglyphs, tracing the main road to the C section of the neighborhood. Once I had found the group of houses marked “C” I located lot number 33. Tracing the main road with my eyes, I came to 33 on the map. It appeared to be at the top of a hill in the back of the community. I let my foot off the brake pedal, and began accelerating past the map sign, and deeper into Mariner's Bluff. The development was really beautiful. The main entrance still gave the appearance of “suburb” with cramped apartment buildings lining the streets, and 7-11's or Starbucks at every major intersection, but once you entered the gated area of the neighborhood, it had a very quiet and peaceful calm about it.
The luxury style ranch homes were surrounded by rolling grassy knolls and wildflowers grew in legions among the fields, peppering the lush green landscape with rich reds, radiant golds and many other colors in lavish glory. Their scent carried potently along the breeze through my open car windows as I took in all the sights. The late afternoon sun glimmered brilliantly off of the lake in which division “A” nestled up against. Most of the houses in this section appeared to be lake houses, many with docks connecting to the lake, a couple with boats attached.
As I progressed further down the main road, the landscape began to change again, the hills picking up in tree density, as the lake fell into my rear view mirror taking the lake houses of subsection “A” with it.
Soon the main road was engulfed by heavy forest on both sides. The giant red wood trees towering overhead, their tawny branches reaching for one another across the road, high above my tiny subaru below. I felt extremely insignificant driving between the nearly thousand year old trees, their looming presence threatening to block out the sun entirely with ease. After a few more minutes of near darkness between the trees I began noticing driveways and mailboxes lining the road. The placement was sporadic, and I would venture to say nearly a quarter to a half mile separated the drives roughly on either side of the road. I figured this must be section “B”, though I hadn't seen any houses as of yet. The foliage was far too thick.
I remembered seeing this section of forest on the map at the entrance, and knew section “C” started just a short stretch from the other side, though it felt like woods had been going on forever. The mailboxes had ceased, and I hoped that it meant that the woods too would soon relent. It seemed unreasonable to fear the temporary darkness brought about by the shade of these trees, I could reason that, but after the day I had had so far, I was in no position to trust anything.
After another five minutes of suffocating murkiness, the trees began to thin and grow slightly more sparse. Two more minutes and I was out of the woods, the wildflower ridden rolling hills returning as a small river wove its way down the hills next to the road.
I breathed a sigh of relief at the welcoming sight, and pressed a bit harder on the gas pedal, increasing my speed and taking in the aromatic scents of irises and orchids. I knew “C” couldn't be far now, two bends in the road according to the map I had referenced earlier, and I should be at the start of the neighborhood.
The hills grew steeper on this side of the forest, and the wildflower species seemed to deviate a bit from “A” less yellow flowers and more red and purple ones. I guessed due to elevation changes, as the road had become quite steep and was still ascending as I neared the second bend in the path. As I rounded the corner, the landscape began to level out a bit, save for a lone hill off in the distance down the way.
As I approached the hill, I felt my foot ease up some on the gas. Something felt, off. I couldn't quite place it, as houses had now started to appear again, letting me know I had arrived in section “C”, and they appeared to be very expensive in design. However, they all looked vacant. No cars in any of the driveways. No porch lights to chase away the shadows of dusk or warm glows from fireplaces or living room televisions.
I had gotten the vibe that this development was a “Vacation Home” style getaway, but San Francisco maintains a fairly temperate climate for most of the year, therefore making vacationers a nearly year round occurrence. I had seen evidence that at least a couple of the lake houses had residents inhabiting them. Well, I had seen boats on a few of the docks, but this neighborhood looked like the houses owned by the “financially fortunate” individuals, and it seemed unreasonable to think that not a single one of them would be vacationing at this time of the year.
It was May, and while the early morning air still gets chilly, the average temperature stays in the 70's which is ideal for just about anyone who cares enough to purchase a getaway home in San Francisco.
So why was neighborhood “C” a ghost town?
My eyes scanned the lots as the late afternoon sun began casting shadows of the massive houses. The numbered plots seemed to start around 25 in this portion of the development, and I had just passed 29, on my left. Assuming that the odd numbers would stay on the right side of the street, I guessed Jennifer's house to be the largest one, coming up on the left.
The mailbox curtsied the road, just to the right of the undergrowth lined driveway. The house, or mansion more accurately, could barely be made out in the distance beyond. Unit 33 sat closest to the aforementioned hill, nestled up against it, with the backyard appearing to be hillside itself. The home faced east, with the setting sun beginning to fall behind the gloomy darkness the hill presented. Though the silhouette of the house could be depicted against the uneasy darkness behind it, the interior seemed quiet, vacant. I had rolled to a stop right across from the drive. I hadn't pulled over, however. Not seeing another vehicle at all in the almost hour I had been inside Mariner's Bluff, I figured there wouldn't be any traffic to hinder.
There were no vehicles present in front of the house that I could see, although, the possibility of a garage was real. No lights illuminated any of the many windows adorning the front of the home, nor could the unnatural glow of a television be made out.
The setting sun created a darkness over my dash, initiating the instant response one gets to turn on their headlights to overtake me. I resisted, and instead pulled up a bit, and off to the side of the road. The main entrance to the house was far enough from the main road that the minimal shrubbery appeared sufficient to conceal my dark green vehicle, in case anyone was home.
Slipping the gear shift into park, I released the brake pedal instantly, wanting to emit as little light as possible in the rapidly approaching nightfall.
Shifting in my seat, I pulled my cell phone from my front pant pocket, opened up the dial pad, and entered the numbers I had recited until they had been branded in my mind.
“415-933-0519,” I spoke the numbers aloud as I dialed them. Hitting the send icon, I waited. The reception in the valley next to the hill beyond was shoddy at best. My phone displaying only one meek signal bar of four possible.
It sat, boundlessly, on the “Dialing” screen, but failing to connect. After about three minutes of waiting in perpetual vanity, I yielded, tapping the “End Call” icon.
Determining that making a call from this location would prove hopeless, I decided to follow the main road the rest of the way, to the opposite entrance, and head home. I could shower, change clothes and regroup.
As well, the unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach combined with the darkness of night enveloping my idling car and surroundings, only served to make this unfamiliar, though quietly beautiful neighborhood feel threatening and alien. I was more than ready to leave.
Keeping my wits about me, I pulled away slowly, without turning on my headlights right away. In fact, I didn't submit to my lights until the hill was in my rear view mirror and Unit 33 was out of sight. Although the unsure darkness terrified me, what ever feeling of dread overtook me in the presence of that hill, seemed to gradually subside as the distance between myself and it increased.
My headlights did a fair job of illuminating the roadway well as I drove back out of Mariner's Bluff. The numbered mailboxes told me that the numbered vacation home lots stopped at 45, about a half mile from the second entrance to the development, and that the forest I had encountered early on in the area continued on, and encroached upon the tail end of the road way.
While I imagined that the trees provided wonderful shade on hot summer days for neighboring kids, the menacing branches appeared to reach to impossible angles toward the street. Seemingly trying to prevent anyone from leaving their grasp.
A wave of fear crawled up my spine with a tingle as I tried to laugh off the unreasonable assumptions. With false security empowering my way, I accelerated further, seeing the lighted sign at the entrance ahead. After a few minutes, I had passed the sign, and was back on Presidio boulevard, only minutes from my own home.
By the time I pulled back into my parking spot in the alley behind my building, the sun had fallen below the horizon, and the city lights illuminated all the street corners. The ambient glow faltered in the alleyway, though. Just like it did every night, obscured by the two towering apartment buildings on either side of it. As I turned off the lights, and the engine, the darkness overtook me once more.
Wasting no time, I collected all of my belongings from the passenger seat and exited the vehicle, making my way across the drive and into the main entrance to my apartment building. My unit was on the first floor, and I made it inside in an instant, dropping my keys on the table right inside the door. I hung my jacket on the hook, and set my briefcase next to my desk. Picking up the television remote from the desk, I turned the small tv on, allowing it to become background noise to my thoughts and planning. I wanted to find Jennifer. I needed to know if she knew my sister. If she was the one responsible for the strange communication I had found at work that morning. I needed answers.
Fishing my phone, again, from my pocket I dialed her phone number and initiated the call. Because of my profession, I have my cell phone set to automatically block my phone number, to avoid pesky or threatening phone calls from various cases past. Therefore, I knew that my information would be difficult, if not impossible, to track down.
The call connecting pulled me from my thoughts, and soon thereafter I heard ringing from the miniature speaker. The ringing continued, and stopped after five, and went to her voicemail. “Hey, this is Jen, I can't get to my phone at the moment, but leave a message. I'll get back to you soon. Bye!”
I ended the call before the message had a chance to begin recording.
Obviously, this was her personal cell phone. The girl sounded... normal. She sounded bright and friendly. She sounded a bit like Lucy.
Scratching my head, I set the phone on my desk, and tapped the power button on my personal laptop. As it began its venture to life, I meandered to the kitchen. Glancing first at the coffee pot, but a familiar scolding voice rang in my head. My sister's voice, nagging about how I can't live on coffee alone. I felt a small smile spread across my face, and reached for the fridge instead.
Grabbing a loaf of bread, some sliced turkey, and a jar of mayo I nudged the door shut with my foot. Heading back towards the counter, I released my haul and began constructing a sandwich. I could hear the theme to the 7 o'clock news intro humming away in the living room, followed by the familiar anchors' introductions.
Replacing the sandwich ingredients, I snagged a bag of hot cheetos from the pantry, and headed back to the living room. Setting my plate and chips on the coffee table in the living room, I walked back to my desk, picked up the laptop and placed it on the coffee table as well.
Entering my password, I listened to the news as I began eating.
“Police are still investigating the disappearances of animals in San Francisco and surrounding areas. Although, one report states finding their family pet dead, and apparently... drained of blood. More on this story as it develops. Tip lines remain open in the disappearances of Lucy Lyndale and Michael Anderson, and investigating officers remain active in trying to locate the two.”
My ears had perked up at first, but the lack of answers stung as I tried to chew my tasteless food. My eyes felt heavy, as I ate and by the last of the sandwich and a few cheetos, I had fallen into a restless slumber upon the sofa.
Uneasy dreams of running through the woods plagued my nightmares. Aimless and desperately trying to evade some unseen, yet no doubt threatening force, pursuing me endlessly in the dark.
I woke with a jolt to the sound of my cell phone vibrating on the desk. Not ringing though, a message. The short buzzes and flashing lights violated my sleep-numbed senses as I stood and picked up the phone from my work space. It was a text message, from a number not stored in my phone.
“You're not safe.” was all the message read.
I glanced up at the number again. It looked familiar, but I couldn't place it in my half-awake state. Not safe... My thoughts wandered back over the previous evening. Of course! The number was Jennifer's.
I looked up at the corner display on my phone's screen for the time.
Glancing back down at the message, I looked at the time stamp.
“What do you mean, not safe? What do you know about Lucy?” I typed back in response, making my way to the kitchen for some coffee. I hit send on the screen, and flipped the light switch in the kitchen on.
Replacing the coffee filter, I put some new grounds in it and started the brewer. Rubbing the sleep from my face, I grabbed a mug from the cabinet, and set it next to the coffee pot.
Another erratic buzz from the phone in my hand startled sleep further from my mind. I glanced back down at the screen, “I'm so sorry, Ray. I tried to stop her.”
I was stunned. This girl had sent the message.
“It found me!” My phone buzzed in my hand again, before I could respond.
“What found you? What are you talking about?” I hit send, my fingers moving faster than my thoughts could keep up with.
“Can't explain now. Can I meet you in an hour?”
“Why not now?” I texted back, impatiently.
“Not safe. Get out of your house. Meet me at 3:30 at the Denny's on Beach Ave. Just over the bridge.”
I looked bleary eyed at the screen. I knew that diner. I had been there many times in my teen and early adult years; loitering and drinking way too much coffee. It was about twenty minutes from my apartment.
The sounds of the coffee dripping stopped, as the machine finished its cycle. I flipped the power switch back off and filled the mug with the steaming liquid. I'd have to settle for bringing a mug, as my travel container remained at my office the previous afternoon. Inhaling a quick swig of the strong black coffee, I turned toward the hall. I had enough time I could take a quick shower and change out of the, still stained from my daring elevator escape, work clothes and into something a little less “lawyer” before I met with Jennifer.
The coffee rejuvenated my senses and chased the strange dreams away completely as I stepped into the shower. After a quick rinse, I got out and dressed. I had elected one of the two pairs of blue jeans I owned, and a plain black T shirt. Running a comb through my hair quickly, I left the bathroom, half empty mug of coffee still in tow. Stopping back at the couch where I had fallen asleep in my sandwich crumbs and hot cheetos, which I brushed aside, I plopped down onto the cushion.
My laptop had gone to sleep on its own some time in the evening, so I just closed the lid. Finishing the last of the coffee in my mug, I set it on the table next to my laptop. I stood and walked to my briefcase, taking only the permanent marker stained envelope out. Nothing else in there was relevant at the time. I pulled my cellphone from my denim pocket, and glanced back at the message thread. She had said to get out of my house. I scanned back over the messages with unease.
Glancing around my home out of paranoia, I looked for things out of place, though nothing appeared to be amiss. I didn't hear anything except for the low and persistent hum of the refrigerator running in the kitchen. My front door was still locked. I hadn't seen anything unusual in my bedroom when retrieving fresh clothes either. Dismissing it all to an overactive imagination, I tucked the envelope inside the pocket of a brown suede jacket hanging by the front door.
Grabbing the keys off the desk, I switched off the main light and locked my front door, slipping quietly into the dark alley where my car sat. I pulled the collar on my jacket up and ducked low into it, scanning for anything unusual around my apartment or car. Of course, 2:30am on a Friday night, the city was far from quiet, but nothing appeared to be in the immediate area but me. Shaking the uneasiness off to the cryptic message from Jennifer warning me out of the house, I opened my car door, and stepped inside. I locked the doors behind me and started the car, bumping the shifter down into reverse, I backed out of the drive, not allowing my aged vehicle its preferred few minutes of warm up time.
I wanted to get to the Denny's as soon as possible, in hopes of answers about Lucy. As I backed onto the connector road leading to Main Street, I glanced around the block. The street I lived on was lined on both sides with dense apartment buildings, and on a Friday night, there are generally one or two units on the block throwing wild parties. Loud parties, with music and screaming women and cars filling the street, but tonight there was only silence in the windows; and the street lay vacant as I passed. Turning right onto Main, I headed toward the well lit bridge dancing across the darkness in the distance.
The thick fog whisped up and over the bridge platform from the bay as I drove along the stretch. The radiant lights of the shops across the bay cast an ambient glow into the haze over the city as police sirens wailed somewhere behind me. A heavy fog rested just over the bay, preventing view of the water's surface as I passed over, above it. The late night air echoed with the sounds of Friday night inner-city chaos as I finally saw the familiar yellow glow of the Denny's sign erected off to the side of bridge on the right, placed high above the building, to attract attention from the highway no doubt. Whether or not it was its intended purpose, it did exactly that, and I knew I'd be there in no time.
Tugging my phone from my jacket pocket, I sent a text message to Jennifer's number, “I'm three minutes out.”
Keeping pace across the bridge, I awaited a response, lessening the gap between myself and the end of the stretch. My wait wasn't long, as my phone began buzzing persistently, alerting a text message.
“I'm here. Back booth.” The message read.
Tucking my phone back into my jacket, I made the right turn off the bridge and followed the frontage road leading to Beach Avenue and the Denny's.
Pulling into the parking lot, I navigated through the fairly full car park, and pulled my subaru into a vacant space along the back, scanning the windows of the diner as I passed. Most of what filled the booths and tables inside were typical of what you would see at 3:20AM on a Friday night at Denny's, but in the furthest back booth, near where I parked my car, sat a young girl. She sat alone, sipping coffee and observing the other patrons filling the dining room, with dark hair and quiet eyes.
As I shut off my engine and headlights, she glanced over in my direction. When I made contact with her, she gave me the “deer in headlights” look. Obviously, this was Jennifer, and she clearly knew who I was as well. I gave a slight nod in her direction as I locked my door and closed the car. A brisk pace carried my feet to the entrance of the diner, and once I jostled the door loose from its passageway, the sounds of dishes clanking and the slurred voices of drunken customers flooded out into the quiet parking lot. I entered the building and headed straight toward the dark haired girl in the corner.
I sat at the table, directly across from her. She raised her gaze to meet mine, her green eyes filled with sorrow and fear, as she took another long sip from her mug.
“Jennifer?” I inquired, searching her face for answers to questions I had not yet asked.
The girl nodded in confirmation, again lowering her eyes to deflect my focus.
I pulled the envelope from my inner jacket pocket, and set it on the table. “Did you do this?” I asked her.
The girl cleared her throat, and nodded, confirming she was the unknown confidant.
Opening the envelope, I removed the photos and letter, sliding them across the table, right in front of Jennifer.
“Why?” I asked. “What does all this mean? What did you warn her about? What found you?”
“He did,” the girl finally spoke.
“What...” I began, when a waitress invaded our table.
“What'll ya have?” the abrasive middle aged woman prodded.
“Just black coffee, thanks,” I answered the woman, never looking away from Jennifer's face.
The waitress disappeared again into the deeper regions of the restaurant.
“What is he?!” I interrogated.
“It's a long story," she replied with a defeated sigh.
“Where is my sister?”
The unpleasant waitress returned with another coffee mug, and a pot of steaming liquid. She planted the second mug on the end of the table, near to me, and filled it to the brim. Jennifer slid her mug out passed the photographs, and gestured for a refill. The woman obliged, and then bumbled away to refill coffee at other tables.
I brought the stained mug to my lips, and let the cheap brew wash over my tongue and re-wet the dryness now residing at the back of my throat.
“Where is Lucy?” I restated my question.
Finally, Jennifer lifted her dark eyes to meet mine, still fearful, "He got her, she's gone.”
I felt my heart fall into my stomach. “No. You're wrong.” I fumbled, not processing what I was hearing. It couldn't be. Not Lucy.
“I'm sorry Ray.”
“How did you find me?!” I demanded, my voice raising in volume. “Who are you?” My fist bounced off the table, causing all the silverware and glassware to rattle and some of the nearby patrons to turn and look at us. “I went to school with Lucy.” Jennifer answered after a drawn out pause, and the abandonment of the curious onlookers. “We met in college a few years ago.”
Jennifer began rummaging through her bag to her right, and pulled out a couple of pictures.
I recognized my sister immediately, standing next to this girl, smiling brilliantly. My breath caught in my throat again. This photo was taken at her graduation from college. I had been there too. I scanned the faces of the people in the background, but did not see myself.
“Who took this photo?” I asked Jennifer, handing it back to her, and reaching for the second one.
“My mother did. It was a memento for our graduation, myself and my best friend,” Jennifer paused for a moment, “Your sister.”
I let out a long, slow breath, trying to keep my rage and sorrow at bay. Taking another long swig of the bitter coffee, I glanced down at the new photo in my hand. I coughed and choked as the coffee found its way into my trachea instead of my esophagus and stomach.
The photo was of Lucy and Jennifer again, but this time they were in a small bar, the lighting was terrible, but I could tell the place was quiet. The booth the girls were seated at had a view of the back exit to the bar, which lead to a patio and a large stretch of dense woods. The girls were smiling, clearly enjoying their drinks, but on the patio right up against the door stood a being, eyeing the smiling women. The creature didn't appear to be human, it was far too tall and emaciated. It also appeared to be gray in color, not that of any healthy human being in existence.
“What is that?” I asked her, pointing to the grayish figure in the background.
“That is what found me. We call it the Razor.”