Chrissy hadn’t heard of the place opening. She was walking by when she noticed the smell of cooking food wafting on the breeze and echoes of the radio announcer’s nasal voice carrying across the car park. “Oh, my God.” Her nose wrinkled in distaste for the large structure immediately. As she shaded her eyes from the midmorning sun, she wondered if the inside looked as repulsive as the outside.
“The largest building with the most steel used on the interior of its kind in the country has been built right here in…” the location was marred by the wine of feedback, “and there’ll be more to come in this great city of ours in the next year or so.” The radio announcer’s voice boomed across the car park.
“Great.” She muttered pushing back strands of her blond hair from her face, “More hideous buildings.”
“When does it open?” one voice asked nearby.
“In a few minutes.” A voice replied to first voice’s friend.
“Cool, I’m staying all day.”
‘I’ll stay to have a quick look around then I’m goin’ home.’ She thought, ‘This place is creepy.’
Suddenly, the carnival stopped. Everyone emptied the rides and moved towards the darker grey doors of the complex. The music of the radio station was turned off with a loud ‘zap’. People surrounded Chrissy looking at the tall dark doors like obedient children. They waited for them to open in silence. This made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up; she quickly rubbed them down as she looked around herself uneasily. Her discomfort caused her to wonder if it was only her; or did everyone else feel this way too.
Slowly the doors began to slide away from the centre of the building. She waited to hear a grinding sound, but all that was heard was the sound of the wind and a few plovers crying overhead. Then she heard the unmistakable sound of people marching. In an eerie silence, the people walked in the same direction. Chrissy was pushed along by some people behind her whose gaze was transfixed upon the interior of the building – even though the doors weren’t fully open as yet. The whole action reminded of her of the film called ‘Metropolis’ where the slaves were walking down the huge halls as one. As the crowd surrounding her nudge, jostled and shoved her in the direction of the building, she felt panic well in her gut and it tighten into a knot. There was something about that place she didn’t like. What it was, she didn’t know. But the discomfort was evident. Every person seemed to hold their breath until they were inside. As suddenly as they had gathered at the doors, the crowd dispersed. Each was going in their own direction as though they were programmed. Chrissy stood outside a café looking around at the interior that boasted huge amounts of steel. The entire interior of the place glistened with all kinds of things made from steel. Staircases, lifts, fountains, shop-fronts, escalators, there wasn’t anything left untouched by the creator of this monstrosity.
“The toilets are probably made from the stuff.” She commented to herself as she turned to the café and took a seat at an all-steel table and chairs. Her stomach still felt knotted up though. She looked around, wondering what it could be that was making her feel terrible. Music echoed through the place like a ghost’s song. People milled around going from shop to shop looking at items like it were Garden City or the Myer Centre. Some were buying, others putting stuff on lay-by. But still there was something that bothered her about this place. The waitress attended to her and quickly took down her order on her metal-backed notepad. Dressed in black, she turned and walked away leaving Chrissy to her thoughts. She looked around again: “There is still something wrong. I just can’t place it.” She whispered.
“I think so too.” A voice said next to her.
Looking up with a start, the blonde blushed a little before replying: “You’re feeling sick too? There’s something not right here and you can’t put your finger on it?”
Nodding the waitress placed the frothy cup of hot liquid on the table, “Mind if I sit down?” when Chrissy gestured to the chair next to her, the girl quickly sat on the edge of it. “I have just started working here; and just being here for the last few hours has put me on edge.”
“It could be nerves with you.”
The girl shook her head making her glossy black hair shimmer: “No, I had to be trained to be here while the last finishing touches were being put on. Strange stuff has been going on then. Sometimes I heard screaming. And once I saw a body bag out the back in one of the industrial bins.”
At this, the Chrissy stopped spooning sugar into her coffee and stirred it slowly: “A body bag?”
“Yeah. And I told my boss. He asked me to show him; and when I did, we found it was gone.” She glanced down at her hands. They were shaking badly as she picked at bitten nails. “I’m tellin’ ya, there’s something wrong here.”
“What could have been moved after you saw it?”
“That’s not all.” The girl said. “I started receiving spooky phone calls and e-mails too. Death threats saying that if I quit, they’d kill me.”
“They’re hiding something big.” Chrissy looked around the place then her gaze rested on the mezzanine level where management were situated. “I’m not all that comfortable here.” She picked up her cup, blew at the froth on the top and started to take a sip.
The waitress’ hand covered the edge quickly as she yanked the cup out of her hands; spilling it across the table. The hot brown liquid splattered across the table they sat at, dribbled over the edge, onto the other two chairs, then onto the floor. The cup teetered on the edge of the table for a moment as though to decide whether or not to stay where it was, then it finally overbalanced and shattered on the floor. “I’m so sorry, how clumsy of me.” She gasped as she quickly crouched and started to pick up the pieces. Putting the curved pieces into the largest piece, she glanced up at her only customer: “It would have killed you painfully. I have seen it happen before.” She pretended to bump her: “I’d get out while the doors are still unlocked; while you can. I can’t leave now that they’ve got me.”
The young woman glowered at her: “Go!” then she stood and left, winding her way through the shining maze of tables and chairs. Chrissy tried to get her attention again, but she ignored her. There was what was wrong. Why hadn’t she noticed it before?
Chrissy looked around and realised, all the employees in the shops all wore black; like they belonged to some kind of club. She began to walk towards the doors and felt that the waitress was right. She was becoming a prisoner; but for what reason she couldn’t quit figure. That was still eluding her.
In the near silence, a loud noise from the management level of the centre made her start. Turning slowly, she found a large group of people running along the balcony. All of them were coming from one particular room. She watched in amazement as approximately twenty people were shoving others out of their way to get away first. Their thundering footsteps echoed around the place as they all turned left and half-stumbled down the stairs. Some people were shoved over the railings, falling, hurting themselves; but getting up and pushing themselves to go on. The ones who didn’t get up fast enough were trampled underfoot. Chrissy was standing near the doors – close enough for them to open – when the commotion started. She wanted to run. She wanted to open the doors. She wanted to do many things, but moving out of the way of the stampede was something she found she couldn’t do. It was like she was a doe hypnotised by a set of headlights. Finally somebody grabbed her and yanked her out of the way; just in time as well. The main front-runners slammed into the doors screaming for them to open. They dragged their fingernails down the grey shiny surface. Many pounded upon them, only to have them shudder. The little black box at the top blinked red and green madly; but the doors had been locked. Panic welled in her gut. Sweat popped out on her all over. Chrissy didn’t know what to do. She wondered who had grabbed her, and found that it was the waitress; but she never got to thank her. She was on the floor convulsing. Her skin had turned a ghostly white; her black hair was withered like old leaves. The colours of her eyes were the things that really stuck with her for the rest of her life. They were devoid of colour. The iris had shrivelled to a pinprick and her nails were grey. With her eyes wide, Chrissy fought to keep down her breakfast. She took as deep a breath as her body would allow and pushed herself up. Slipped, fell. Got back up again, slipped again. This time, she only needed her hand to regain her balance. She joined the mad, scary mob. This time, though, she was part of them. She wanted to get out as much as they did. She grabbed at their shirts, and jackets and yanked them out of her way until she came to the doors.
Jamming her fingers into the centre join, she worked at getting them apart. The other people understood what she was trying to do. As fruitless as it may be, she had to try. She could see a slit of the outside. Glinting, shining, glaring. She wished so much to get out there. Sweat beaded on her forehead, slid down the sides of her face and soaked her underarms. Suddenly, a hand grabbed her elbow. Hot pain shot up her bicep to her shoulder. Chrissy collapsed to her knees, as she turned; but kept one hand on the floor firmly keeping herself mostly upright. Looking up, she saw a tall, dark slim figure. It was dressed in a long black gown. She saw only its face was white. Skin was pulled tightly over its skeleton. Black glistening eyes – bottomless and unfeeling – glared into her face. Tears blurred her vision as she tried to pull out of its grip, but the hold became harder. As soon as her tears touched her skin, she felt them lift. Like chewing gum, they stretched toward the dark figure. With growing terror, Chrissy watched as the mouth of this creature stretched open. No teeth showed, and no remorse. This creature didn’t stop. With a deafening roar, her sweat, her tears, her body’s moisture was sucked up by this creature. She witnessed her skin changing from its usual peach colour to a ghostly white pigment. It was horrible and memorable at the same time. But anger replaced the horror and the shock. She gritted her teeth and with the last of her strength, she pulled herself free of this creature. But instead of running, she fell. The last of her reserves had been spent, in the right way too. She didn’t want to die. Collapsing to the slate floor, she hit the side of her head, stunning herself. She new the creature would hang about waiting for her to get up again so it could finish the job. But with wheezing, gulping breaths she stayed down. She stared across the gleaming floor where others were suffocating. Some went peacefully; others struggled. The shadow slipped away from her side. Looking at where it stood, Chrissy waited. Another body slammed down next to her. She looked up and saw another creature. It only looked at its victim as they died. Watching to make sure they’ve done the job right. She was horrified by it. The person next to her convulsed violently; as though struggling to live again, but unable to. She waited until the creature had turned and moved away before taking a deep, wheezing breath and pushed herself to her feet. This action nearly caused her to pass out; but she pushed herself to keep going. Staggering slightly, she made her way to a water cooler. It had to have water in it… her whole existence depended upon it. She grabbed the square top and depressed the button. To her delight, water did expel from it. It soaked her skin and face first. Then, she tipped her head forward to wet her hair. But to her horror, her long honey locks had turned into grey/white lengths of rope and cord. She cried dryly and looked back at the black creatures. But not for very long, as she quickly turned back to the cooler and drank huge mouthfuls of the water. The first one that hit her stomach almost came back up as cramps grabbed at her. But after that, they stayed down. Glancing at the creatures, she saw that two of them had noticed her at the cooler. They were slowly making their way to her to finish her off.
Chrissy froze. She felt cornered as she frantically looked in every direction but found all the shops had closed up. She searched quickly as she shuffled along the wall knowing that she was dead if they got a hold of her again. Pushing the cords of her hair back behind puckered ears, she began to shove the panic down and think. Sweat oozed from her dried pores and made its way down her face and tickled her back. She didn’t have much time to get away as they slowly made their way toward her. Without a clue where to go, Chrissy ran. The black-gowned creatures followed her; their need for her body’s moisture was at the top of their list. And they’d stop at nothing to get it. Down the frozen escalators, and along the silent ghost town of a shopping complex, she ran finding that all the shops where closed up. All accept one. A liquor shop still had its doors open. She had an idea when she bolted inside to the startled clerk who’s head jerked up from reading a book.
“What the…?” his eyes were wide with fear as his book flopped to the floor and he stumbled back against the second cash register. “Please don’t take me. I didn’t say anything about you guys.”
“So you know.” She point to him as her voice came out old and hoarse. “You know what they are.”
Nodding, tears streamed down his cheeks. “Yes. I know what they do.”
“You know their weak point then.”
“I can’t tell you.” He groaned wishing he could take his eyes from her, but found he couldn’t, “I’m dead for just seeing you.”
“You think I care.” She walked to the counter and slammed hers hands on it. “Give me the back door key. I know you have it.”
“You’re dead for talking to me… as you said.” She whispered.
Looking past her shoulder, he quickly pressed a button behind the counter and doors slammed down from the top of the entrance. Fumbling with the keys, he shook. Finally, he gave up and pulled up the only yellow-tabbed one. “It’s this one.” He handed it to her. “God, I’m glad to die for this. I’m sick of their control.”
“Good.” She said as she snatched the bunch of keys from his hand. “Thank you.”
“Don’t.” he muttered as he half turned: “Now get out of here so I can play the decoy.”
Running out the back, she dodged the pallets of booze that were still wrapped in plastic and past the humming of the large fridge. Finally, she came to the back door and tried the key. Fortunately, the key he gave her was a true fit. She turned it and door creaked as she shoved it open. Then, just before she closed, she snapped it right at the lock mechanism; slicing her hand a bit. It was something she hadn’t noticed until later. Looking first to her left then her right, she decided a left turned was good and took it. About five metres down the grey hall, she heard a bashing from the door, it made her break into a run until a stitch ached in her right side. She tried most of the doors, but all were locked. At this point, she was beginning to panic when a door to her right swung opened and a white hand was offered to her. Chrissy hesitate as the door from the liquor store smashed against the wall tearing it off its hinges. Glancing down where the creatures came from, she looked at the hand again. A face appeared from the shadows. It was a human face. White as snow. A guy and he didn’t say a word, just looked at her. She took his hand and he pulled her into a room and slammed the door. Darkness enveloped her. A lock slid across as the loud punches were conducted on the other side of the door. Wincing at the echoes, Chrissy put her hands over her ears. She didn’t know her hearing had become so sensitive.
“Come on.” His English accent was acute as his hand found hers and led her through the darkness, “What’s your name?”
“Okay, I’m Raymond.” He replied. “How long has it been since they attacked?”
“About half and hour.”
“Why are they after you?”
“I survived.” She peered into the darkness. “Why are you questioning me in the dark?”
“I’m looking for the lamp.”
The sound of gas escaping hissed, then a moment later, light glowed gently from a Coleman lantern. Raymond looked over at her. His white hair had been combed back and she found he had a very refined face. “You look like you lost only surface moisture.”
“I found a water cooler and drank some.” She said.
“That would’ve pissed them off.” He grinned.
“Yeah.” She smiled.
He walked up to her, took her chin and looked at her carefully; turning her head from one side to the other. “Yep. You lost only the surface moisture; nothing more. This we fix; but it will take time.” He walked over to a back pack and opened it.
“We? You mean to say there’s more?”
“Yeah.” He nodded as he looked up at her. Damn she was pretty. Her hair would have been a lovely honey colour had those creatures not gotten to her. Quickly, he pulled out a torch from the backpack and handed it to her before finding a second. “Here, you’ll need this.”
“How many more are there? I mean, what about your family?”
Raymond stopped as he did up the pack. He wished she hadn’t asked that. “Let’s get you out of here. You’ll be tired from running.”
“Here’s some keys I was given.”
“Good, we’ll be able to find out their locking techniques.” He took the bundle and shoved them into a pocket in the backpack before turning on a torch. She turned on hers as the lamp was switched off. He pulled the backpack onto both shoulders, adjusted the straps and looked at her in the torchlight. “We need to get out of here now that they know of our whereabouts.”
She looked around, “They stopped.”
“Yeah.” He said as he turned: “That means they’re going back for re-enforcements. We’d better go before they get back.” Shining the torch into the darkness, she noticed there was a hole in one wall, big enough for a person to bend down and walk through. He walked her to the hole and gestured her toward it. “Ladies first.”
“I appreciate it, but I hardly know you, Raymond let alone trust you right now… so if you don’t mind, I’d rather you lead the way.” She said hesitantly.
Nodding, he half-smiled: “I was testing you on how much you trust people. And right now, that’s not very much.” He turned and took a step into the hole in the wall.
“I thought this was a sham.” She sighed.
Looking back, his eyes lit up: “You did?”
“I was suspicious from the moment I saw the building.” Chrissy suddenly felt very sick. Her bottom lip began to shake, but no tears came. “I felt sick to my stomach. Also a waitress had given me a coffee filled with poison, but she couldn’t go through with killing me, so she swatted it away from me. Oh, God, Raymond!”
“Chrissy, it’s okay.” He stepped out of the hole and touched her arm. He wished he could hold her, but he was too scared to get close in case he lost another one. It wasn’t like she had anyone else. So, he stepped closer and held her for a few moments until her sobs subsided, “Are you ready to come with me? Get out of here?”
“Yes. But where do we go?” she asked.
“All of your questions will be answered in due time.” He whispered as the bashings at the door began again. They were harder this time. “But we must go now. Otherwise we’ll be mincemeat for them.”
“Okay.” She croaked as she took his hand and let him lead her into the dark tunnel following only his torchlight.
“I’m getting tired.” She said softly.
“Sorry.” He muttered. “But we have to go at this pace to get where we must. Hold my hand, but don’t trip, you’ll end up in worse condition than you are now.”
“Okay.” She nodded forgetting that he may not of seen the gesture, “I just don’t want to lose sight of you, not here.”
“I understand that.” His voice was kind in the dark as they continued on without another word. Raymond suddenly stopped and pulled her close, “Shade your eyes, Chrissy.”
“It’s going to be bright out there.”
Chrissy turned off her torch and held it tightly, then shaded her eyes with her left hand. Raymond took her by the right wrist gently and led her through a doorway. The light of the outdoors was a shock. She nearly panicked when silvers of it got through her fingers. Her heartbeat quickened as she felt Raymond’s arm slip around her shoulder. He knew what she was feeling; and how she was going to react. She wished he would tell her it was going to be all right. Tell her where she was going. Tell her anything right now to settle the nerves down. Chrissy then felt a few sets of hands help her along. One hand tried to take the torch from her, but her grip on it tightened, and they gave up. Raymond’s presence never left her side. Then, she was guided into a seat and she heard a large door roll and slam shut.
“You can uncover your eyes now.” His voice whispered. When she had done so and looked around an interior light came on and he continued. “Guys this is Chrissy. She was tipped off by an insider and so she got away. Really, though, she didn’t panic and ran.”
“Actually, I did… then I had to control that.” She muttered.
“Don’t worry; it’s nothing out of the ordinary when that happens.” He patted her shoulder. “We’re getting a drink ready for you. It’ll help you sleep and re-hydrate you slowly.”
“Good.” She smiled, “I’m tired anyway.”
“Did you hit your head?” an older lady’s voice asked from a darker corner.
“Yes. When I pulled out of their grip.” She nodded. “The floor was slate, it hurt.”
“It may be concussion.” The voice replied. “Drink this juice anyway. And we’ll have a look at you while you sleep.”
Taking the plastic cup with a lid on it and a slit in the side, she took a couple of mouthfuls. It tasted like mangos and passionfruit. The sharp, sweet taste was pleasant. “Where are we going?”
“To your new home.” Raymond said. His voice began to sound like they were back in the tunnel again, but there was more of an echo to it. Just before she dropped the container, he caught it and her head that had lolled to one side. “Sleep well, Chrissy. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.”
“Cool.” She smiled, then looked up at the full-length mirror she hadn’t noticed until now. The memories came rushing back. The shopping centre. The creatures taking her moisture. The running. The panic she felt. Raymond. Then, she pulled the covers back and slid her feet to the floor and pulled up the nightie they had changed her into. It was then, Chrissy realised that what had happened to her face, also happened to the rest of her body. She looked like a white prune! “I’m hideous! Ugly! Oh, my god!” turning away from the mirror, she grabbed the first thing within reach and pegged it at the mirror; which happened to be an all metal alarm clock. It shattered into large shards as the alarm clock clanged against it and broke itself into a million pieces itself. She turned from the mirror and covered her face as the door opened quickly and Raymond took a step inside.
“Chrissy, are you all right?” he asked carefully as he looked at the mess.
“No.” she sobbed. “I’m not, Raymond.” She turned and looked at him. “I’m ugly. Why did you put that thing in my room?”
He glanced at what remained of the mirror and sighed: “Well it’s so you get used to seeing yourself in the mirror again. It’s part of your therapy.”
“You changed me into my nighties?” she frowned.
Blushing he looked to his hands: “Well, the girls did that. I waited outside.”
“How long have you been out there?” she asked.
“Three days.” He answered as he walked to her side and guided her to sit on the bed again. “May I join you?”
“Yes.” She nodded. Her voice was still shaky. “Why did you hang about my room for that long?”
“You were very sick. You had a bad concussion and we didn’t know.” He half-smiled. “You’re a survivor, and you used your strength to get away, that’s good. I admire that in a woman.”
“How did all my stuff get here?”
“We found your driver’s license in your back pocket and followed the addresses around until we found your place. But we had to extend your room a little.” He smiled. “You’ve got some wicked stuff.”
“Thank you.” She muttered. “How long do I have to be here?”
“Forever; you can’t go back to your old life, ever. What’s happened to you isn’t ordinary. It’s not something you can explain to everyday people. So, we have to kind of hide.” He said.
“I don’t understand.” She shook her head. “Can’t we just tell somebody about it?”
“Who would understand? Who would believe us?” he asked touching her shoulder gently.
Nodding, she pulled herself up onto the bed again. “Three days. My head still hurts.”
“No wonder.” He said. “You must have hit it pretty hard.”
“I stunned myself.” She said.
“I should have looked at you closer when we first met, but I didn’t have time.”
“They were after us.”
Raymond let out a sigh that sounded more like a moan. “Yeah.” He glanced at the remains of the mirror and the alarm clock and chuckled: “You sure made a fine mess of those things.”
Looking at the mess, she smiled a little. “Yeah, I did.”
“Listen, why don’t I get somebody to clean this up and help you dress and I’ll show you around?”
“Sounds like a good idea. I would like to know where I’ll be going for my next adventure.” She brightened a little.
Patting her hand, he laughed, “Slow down. You’ve still got a lot of ground to cover with your voice, hair, eyes, skin and mind. Chrissy, there’s a lot for you to work on.”
“Months of work, right?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “And I’ll be your social worker, but I still have other work to cover as well… so I sometimes won’t be here.”
“In those times, you’ll be expected to keep a journal so I can have a look at how you’re coping.” He said. “It’ll be all on a database that only I look at and so there’s nobody else reading it.”
“I’d rather hand-write it, if you don’t mind.” She said. “It’s easier for me to keep track of.”
“Whatever suits you.” He smiled. “So, it looks like we’ll get a whole lot of notebooks for you.”
“All different ones if you can.” She said. “I’m not one for normalcy.”
“Yes, I noticed that in your other journals.” He said.
“You read them?”
“I had to find out what you were like before this happened.” He said, “So I’d know how to talk to you after it did.”
“Were you always a social worker?”
“Yes.” He nodded smiling. “When I had it happened to me, and I was brought here, I was asked my trade. Mother was very pleased to hear to that I was social worker because we were badly lacking in them.”
Chrissy smiled a little.
He awkwardly reached out and touched her shoulder, then pulled his arm back quickly. “Well, I best be going and let you get dressed so you can get yourself familiar with your surrounds.”
“Thank you.” She nodded as he walked to the door, “But what about this mess?”
“I’ll get somebody to come in and clean it up.” He smiled before leaving. She turned and looked at the mess of the alarm clock and wished she hadn’t thrown it. The mirror reminded her that she now had seven years of back luck to come her way; unless something happened to her now that was life-changing… or so she heard.
A knock sounded at the door and before she could answer, it opened and a girl’s face popped in, “Hi. I’m Kerry. I’m here to clean up…oh there it is. Wow, you really did freak out.”
“Sorry.” She whispered.
“Don’t be. It’s nothing out of the ordinary.” She as she patted Chrissy’s shoulder and gave her a warm smile. “Come on, sit down and I’ll clean this up. Then we can have a chat while we pick out something for you to wear.”
“I’m not ready to go out yet.”
“Yes you are.” Kerry nodded. “I’m not taking no for an answer. Besides, somebody in our group is really concerned about you.” She walked to the door again and pulled it open wider to wheel in a cleaner’s trolley. Straight away, she went to work but talked as well, “He’s impressed that you survived and wants you on the team, but still you need a fair bit of work.”
“That happens all the time?” Chrissy asked.
Kerry looked at her with kind green eyes: “No.”
Raymond looked at her from his computer keyboard: “We don’t normally have that kind of request.”
“But you must know what it’s like to miss your family.” She sat down, “I want to tell them I’m okay and to stop worrying for me.”
He groaned and leaned back, stretching then pushed his chair back and stood: “Okay, we’ll get them in, but if they freak out, I can’t do anything about that.”
“Right, but I can.” She nodded.
“Not here, though.” He said, “We can’t give away this location. You have no idea what it’s like to have to move so many times and then just as we settle again, a new person brings in a peachy from the outside and we have to move again.”
He touched her cheek, “Their skin is peachy and smooth, ours is not. It’s a nickname that bounced around here for a long time before we made it proper word to use.”
“I see. Sounds kind of cruel.”
“I know.” He sat in the chair next to her, “I wish I had met you before we were attacked. To see what your hair looked like before…”
Raymond swallowed thickly and looked away: “Nothing.”
“Let’s go for a walk.” She stood, “I think you need a break.”
The two walked around the large underground complex with its artificial light and garden and community. Even though it felt very open, Chrissy felt like she was in a prison; and she got that feeling from Raymond too.
“You don’t like it here.” She said as they came to a seat in a man-made park.
“No.” he sat with her, “I know we’ve been here the longest, but it still feels like a prison. Even though we go out and kill those things.”
“What are they?” she frowned, “They were terrifying.”
He looked at her and realised she still dreamt of that day. How far she had to run; her lungs burning, her looks changed forever because she wouldn’t give up and die like the rest of them, “I wish I knew. But they took my family at the very first shopping centre.”
“This is not supposed to happen.”
“I know but we don’t know how to stop them.” He leaned his elbows on his knees and looked down, “But I don’t know how to stop them.”
Chrissy reached out and touched his shoulder: “It’s not up to you. The team is here to work on it as well.”
He frowned and nodded: “I don’t miss anyone and nobody misses me because my whole family was slaughtered by those things.”
Chrissy moved closer and put her arm around his shoulder: “I didn’t know that.”
Quickly, Raymond stood and turned on her: “Why would you know? It’s none of your soddin’ business!” tears blurred his vision and he sniffed as he tried to control his emotions and was clearly failing. A strangled sob escaped his throat and he covered his mouth in an attempt to stop it.
Chrissy stood and hugged him. He struggled, but she held him tightly until he collapsed in tears on her shoulder, “That’s it, Raymond.” She soothed, “You don’t have to hold all that in to be brave.”
His knees gave out and the two collapsed onto the grass where he sobbed his mourning of his family, “Oh, Chrissy, it’s not just that. I lost my wife too. Everyone! Everyone who means anything to me; they’re all gone!”
She stroked his head for a moment until he settled and then she looked at him as tears streamed from his eyes silently. Chrissy wished she could help him with his pain, but she knew Raymond had to sort it out for himself. She knew it was something he had to work on; not her. She had enough to figure out with a new life and being away from everyone she loved. For him there was nobody but himself to lean on.
He pulled away gently and sniffed, “Thank you. I’m not saying I needed that, but it was good to… you know.” He stood and helped her up as well, “I’ll take you to Mother and she can start you on your speech therapy if you’re going to be anything nearly as good as we need you to be in the field.”
“Okay.” She smiled standing up, “I’d like to do something like that.”
“Good.” He looked to his shoes for a moment then led the way.
“I don’t think it’d be a good idea.” He shook his head.
“Well I do. It would get her out of here.” Mother said, “Besides, you have to remember, she got herself out of the shopping centre… she got away from them.”
He looked up at her from the laser gun he was working on, “I know.”
She put a hand on his shoulder, “Chrissy isn’t anything like your late wife. She’s tough and wants to kill them.”
He looked down at the screwdriver he held, “I know.”
“Consider it. See what she says.” She turned and walked out of his workshop. At the door, she paused, “Besides, I think Chrissy has a thing for you.”
“I was wondering if you’d like to work in the field with me one day?” he asked.
She looked at him, not believing what she was hearing: “You serious?”
“Yes.” He nodded, “Absolutely. But you follow every order I give.”
“I’d love to.” She jumped up and hugged him, “Oh, Raymond, I was wondering when you were going to let me out onto the field!”
“Right, everything’s in your manuals if you didn’t catch it from
Raymond leaned back on the desk and sighed. He felt like he wasn’t getting through to anyone anymore. Chrissy walked up to him and grinned, “I’ll be there if you spot me.”
“Your voice is a lot better than that sugary sound you were making a few weeks back.” He smiled, “And your hair is looking good too.”
“I know I’m ready.” She nodded, “The rest of them are; they just need time to get it through their minds that’s all.”
“Good.” He packed up his gear as the two began to walk out the door, “I have to talk to you. So, we have to talk and walk.”
“Yeah, I have to study up and go to the gardening section. I have to check on my vegetables and succulents.” She smiled.
“Right.” He nodded. They walked toward the residential quarters for a few moments in silence. Raymond didn’t know how to approach what he wanted to say, so he just thought it would be better to be honest, “I need to know something about you.”
“That would be?”
“Have you begun dating anyone here?”
Chrissy blushed, “No. I’ve been working so hard to get myself back to anything looking like a normal person that I haven’t had time to do anything like that.” She paused, “I’ve seen you a lot; but I don’t class anything we do as dates.”
“Well, of course not. It’s all been work.” He grinned, “I was wondering if you’d like to go on a date with me.”
She stopped, “Well, I haven’t dated in while. So, yeah, it’d be lovely.”
“You may think there’s not much to do when it comes to dating. But I was thinking of an evening out; to get away from here and prying eyes.” He suggested.
They had come to her door and stopped outside it, “Well, Friday night at around sunset?”
“Sure. Should I dress for good or adventure?”
He laughed: “A little of both.”
Chrissy raised her eyebrows up for a moment, “Now you’ve got me curious.”
“I’ll pick you up at sunset.”
“I’ll be ready.”
“So, you like me as well.” He sipped from a hot coffee at a Southbank café he had chosen as an after-dinner place. “And we both asked Mother for advice… how ironic.”
She grinned, “Yep. She’s one smart cookie that woman.”
“Either that or she’s cupid incarnate.” He smiled, “Mother has lined up almost everyone in that place rather successfully.”
“I didn’t think you’d bring me into the city.”
“Well, I thought you were ready to get yourself out in public after so long underground.” Raymond touched her hand gently, “And I also thought it would be a good idea if I was here in case you had a panic attack and needed somebody to lean on.”
His hand was soft against her skin. She looked at him and nodded: “I understand. But people are still staring at us.”
“I know. I’m still not used to it.” He looked around the place where the party at the next table were turning around and looking at the two of them every now and again, “But if you ignore them long enough, they really do feel stupid.”
“I hope so.”
“I know so. Are you finished with your coffee? I’d like to take you somewhere.”
“Yes.” She stood and put on her coat as she picked up her bag. Raymond went inside to pay for the coffees and Chrissy waited to him outside. It was then somebody at the next table rose and came over to her.
She turned, “Can I help you?”
“Sis, it’s Renee.” The brunette touched her shoulder, “Where have you been?”
“It’s a long complicated story.”
“What happened to you? You look horrible.”
She glanced inside to where Raymond was watching her, “You know how
“Yeah, I’m going to take this lot to the opening.”
“Don’t. Please.” She shook her head, “Just stay away from it on opening day.”
“I’m helping battle something that did this to me and many others like me.” She grabbed her sister’s arm tightly, “Just keep away from there on opening day.”
“Ow, you’re hurting
“Do I have your word?”
Renee put up a closed fist with her little finger poking out, “Pinkie Promise.”
Chrissy rolled her eyes, “I mean it.”
“So do I.” Renee looked over at Raymond as he came out of the café, “Who’s that? He’s hot.”
“Ready?” he looked at Chrissy after glancing at Renee.
“Yes.” She nodded, “This is my sister, Renee.”
Raymond put his hand out and the brunette shook it, “Stay away from
“Chrissy already warned me.”
“Yes, well, she’s not kidding.” He held her eyes for a moment and then turned to Chrissy, taking her hand, “Come on then. We have another place to be.”
The couple left Renee standing there considering what had just been said to her. But she had already made up her mind; if Chrissy had to shun sunlight because something had gone horribly wrong on the day her sister had gone to one of the grand re-openings, she sure as hell wasn’t going. She looked over at her gabbling group of friends and thought it would be hard to get them away from the place; too hard. This was a decision she had just made now. She looked into the night and found Chrissy and Raymond gone; knowing that if anything, her sister would never lie or lead her astray, Renee knew she was going to stay as far from that place as possible in a week’s time.
“I’m worried about your sister.” He said.
The looked up at him and closed the book, “She won’t go. Not after getting an eyeful of you and me.”
He nodded as he put his arm around her shoulders, “Renee cares about you?”
“More than you know." She leaned on him, “She knows that you like me and thought you were hot. While you were in inside paying for our coffee, she told me that I looked horrible; I guess that’s what scared her the most.”
He smiled a little, “I’m glad she’s not going then. But what about her friends?”
Chrissy sighed: “She’ll find out if they’re real ones or just hangers-on.”
They arrived back at the compound and he walked her to her door. Chrissy invited him in and as he entered the room, she glanced around the place and found the corridor empty.
She locked the door and turned to him, “This was a lovely evening.”
He looked at her as he smiled, “Yeah.”
“I didn’t want to kiss you in the corridor with all those little spies watching-but-not-watching us.”
Raymond sighed, “Thank god.” He walked to her, wrapped an arm around her waist and touched her neck and cheek with the other. Leaning down, he kissed her softly, carefully on the mouth. Chrissy sighed as she felt him relax with her. As the kiss broke off, he smiled, “You are beautiful.”
“Please stay.” She whispered, then blushed, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” She pulled out of his arms, “I’ve just ruined a moment… a good one.”
She looked at him as tears welled in her eyes, “What?”
“I’ll stay. I’ve wanted to be with you for so long. And now it’s the first time we’ve had time to be alone; so why not?” Raymond touched her hand, “I want to stay. I was waiting for you to ask.”
She squeezed his hand then held him close, “Good.”
“And I want to stay because I’m falling for you.” He whispered as he nuzzled her neck, “Not because of anything else.”
“I thought you were pretty hot-looking the moment I saw you.” She sighed.
He looked at her, “When you were manically running from those aliens and I offered to help you?”
She smiled, “Yeah… I guess it was the adrenaline.”
“If it was, you’d have changed your mind.” He kissed her again.
Over the next week, Raymond and Chrissy were seen together a lot; they were in almost inseparable. He spent a lot of time at her place and often spent the night with her. The more time he spent with her, the more he loved her and knew he would soon feel that he would want more than what they had going at the compound. But he wanted to wait until this business was over that was going on about the aliens. Chrissy knew this was something that had been a part of his life before she came on the scene; and she knew their relationship was still in its infancy.
The inside of the shopping centre was dark, but the security lighting was being used; so there were little bits and pieces of corridors and shops that were visible. As planned, Raymond and Chrissy were to go upstairs to the executive suites and destroy the leader. The rest of them were to get in and destroy as many as possible with liquid nitrogen or fire.
The two took the stairs by two and stayed in the shadows as much as possible as they approached the double door of the management suite. Raymond pulled out the set of keys Chrissy had handed over and tried out one key after another while she stayed guard until he found the key and opened the doors. He closed the doors again once they were inside and flipped the handle of the doors up so they didn’t open automatically, then continued down the hall.
Once to the main office at the end of the corridor, Chrissy and Raymond both tried a door handle each and were surprised to find that it was unlocked.
“Shit.” He muttered.
“We’re expected.” She whispered.
He looked at her and noticed she was sweating, “Play it cool.”
They pushed the doors open and stayed down low. But there was nothing there. The room was large and oval with a huge dome roof that showed a rising moon overhead. A massive desk was at the far end of the room near floor to ceiling curtains that lined the whole room where the windows would normally be; otherwise, the room was bare. There was no other seating, no mini-bar, no manager’s bathroom… basically, this place didn’t look like a typical manager’s office.
“This is an alien’s office.” Raymond said, “It’s…”
He looked at her, “Yeah.”
“It’s not the office. It’s the headquarters.” She whispered, “This looks like the oval office in the States; but
He snorted, “You have a way with words, Chrissy.”
“That’s why you love me.”
Glancing at her, he realised that he did. But he didn’t have time to put his heart out there; besides this wasn’t the place to do that. This was business. Raymond suddenly felt like he wasn’t alone, “We’re not alone here.”
“Nope.” Her voice shook in the darkness, “I’m getting the feeling we’re being watched. Like it was on the re-opening day; like this is a farce.”
He nodded, “Yeah. This is a trap.”
As they turned, the doors locked and the two of them rattled at the handles; not realising that the real danger was coming up behind them. Chrissy turned and raised her gun, switching off the safety, “Keep you rubbery mitts to yourself! You’re not getting me this time!” a shot rang out and the creature exploded in a mess of black goop and brains.
“Oh, crap, Chrissy!” Raymond swore as he turned, “You killed one.”
“Blew its head clean off… well not clean… it’s dead.”
“There’s gotta be more around here.” He smiled, “Come on.”
Stepping over the body, the pair turned on their torches and searched the room, but didn’t find another. They felt a little like something wasn’t right. Raymond shot the locks off the door and they swung open as a massively tall alien strode in and the pair hid behind one of the doors holding onto each other.
The creature looked down at the dead one on the floor and knew it wasn’t alone. Quickly, it looked around and finally looked at the door where they hid. Standing tall, it pulled the door closed and found them there.
A hollow sound came from its cavernous, toothless mouth, “So,” it whispered like the wind, “You return to us, Raymond.”
Chrissy looked at him, “How does he know your name?”
He shook with fear as his eyes stayed on the creature, “I think they keep a list.”
“Yes. We do. We list the survivors.” The tall creature whispered, “And you are both on that list. Christina, you’re there and so are you Raymond.”
“You lot killed my family.” He gritted.
“Your family were the first in a long line of families we took.” The alien said, “You’re what we called: an orphan. You have no family left; no wife, children or parents.”
Raymond lunged toward the creature but Chrissy held him back, whispering, “No, it’s exactly what it wants you to do.”
The creature turned on her, “And you, Christina. You just wouldn’t die. You dropped, but …” it shrugged, “You got back up again and ran away.”
“That’s how I am. I don’t get told when to die by some moisture-sucking shit like you.” She said, “So, I’m not an orphan. What do you class me?”
The alien’s ink pool eyes stared at her: “Dangerous.”
“You are stronger than anyone we have ever come across.”
Raymond looked from Chrissy to the alien and back, “You want her?”
The eyes looked at him: “Yes… she could run this place.”
“Well, can I say something about this?” she asked. Both of them looked at her, “I don’t want to work here or with your sick group of ‘Scream’ mask look-alikes. All I want to do is kill the lot of you.” She pulled a grenade from her belt, pulled the pin and threw it.
The alien bumped it from its course and it clattered across the floor to the other side of the office and bumped against the windows where it exploded. Shards of glass flew everywhere. The desk was moved across the room by the force of the blow and Raymond and Chrissy huddled together to keep from being hurt. The alien stood there appearing as though nothing could hurt it. It reached down and took Chrissy’s wrist tightly, pulling at her. Raymond held her down with his body weight; and she held onto him just as hard. Tears welled in her eyes as the massively tall alien yanked hard and heard her yelp in pain.
“Chrissy!” Raymond reached out his hand to grab her as she reached out hers then he pulled back. He felt paralysed by fear. He was going to lose another woman he loved. He stood quickly with his weapon at the ready, “I’m not losing her again!”
The alien had pulled her into the centre of the room with her fighting hard. When it heard Raymond yell, it turned and looked at him, put up a three-fingered hand and the blond-haired man was thrown across the room.
Putting down his gun, Raymond realised, he had to use a part of him these things didn’t know he had; didn’t know they had given him. He walked to the alien and pushed it as Chrissy screamed and kicked. It turned and put its hand up again. This time, Raymond did the same as he closed his eyes an unlocked the part of his mind that he had closed down years before. He knew this could possibly kill him. But he had to kill it before he lost Chrissy. The creature felt the shock of the telekinesis and recoil in pain. But Raymond kept going. Sweat poured off him as he put out his right hand and almost immediately, the large black creature exploded.
As it did, Raymond collapsed with a blank stare on his face.
He awoke. Chrissy was by his bed knitting a Dr Who scarf. Raymond felt like he had been beaten up by a world class boxer, but he also felt the most normal in years. He wondered where he was.
“You’re in the compound’s best hospital.” Chrissy smiled as she put a cork on the end of her needle to keep the stitches from slipping, “Once that big on was dead, the rest of them pretty much up and self-destructed. There was black goop all over the place.”
“That’s great.” He whispered, “My head’s so sore, Chrissy.”
“You used a gift they gave you when your family died.” She touched his arm, “They just forgot you had it.”
“Do I still look the same?”
“What do you mean?”
“Blond hair, pale skin, English?”
“Here.” She handed him a shaving mirror.
He looked in the reflection and grinned, “Oh, don’t look too pale anymore. What happened?”
“Well, once they’re dead, the rest of us extremely pale ones could go back to normal. Like vampires; but more weird.” She touched his face, “And I gotta say you’re really good-looking.”
“Your hair is like honey.” He smiled.
“Oh, you’re just saying that.”
Raymond’s smile faded, “What about the compound? What about the people who lived in it?”
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen there. We’re happy, but the public have looked upon us like a cult. They don’t understand how it’s been for the past few years.” Chrissy began to cry, “I’m hoping to get this nightmare behind me once you and I are out of here for good.”
He kissed her hand and held it close to his chest, “Do you still want to be with me?”
“Yeah.” Standing, she leaned over and looked at him, “We can be together.”
He touched her face, “Good.”
“Oh, guess what?”
“Once that place got ruined, within the last week, the other shopping complexes went broke and changed hands.” She giggled.
“All over the nation?”
“Now, that is cool.” He pulled her close and kissed her. He was happy. With the woman he loved. The aliens that ruined his life once couldn’t get to him again. As he watched her leave and his dinner arrive, he decided to watch some television. The remote control was a little out of reach. So with his hand, he leaned forward and the television control slid across the bed to him. At the same time, the channel changed to the one he was thinking of.
Maybe, things weren’t as peachy as he thought they were going to be. He still had the telekinesis.