- 27 -

35.5K 2.2K 347

James Beauford sat in his cubicle with his back to the gadget strewn desk as he stared at the wall clock, lower lip caught between his teeth.

He didn't want to be here.

Of course, nobody else wanted to be there either. Not after the grisly sight that had greeted the first employees through the doors the other morning. James saw it. He saw the blood, black and waxy, painting the floor and darkening the pond water. He saw Robert half-slumped upon one of the benches with the fetid air thick about his bloated form, his chest open like a sprung cage while his heart was shriveled and congealed in the donation basket.

Mary mother of God, James thought as he remembered the sight. He drew a tissue from the pocket of his lab coat and dabbed at the perspiration beading his upper lip. His hand trembled, the tissue shredding uselessly between his fingers. Other technicians lingered in their cubicles as they fidgeted with their work, eyes always returning to the clock on the wall.

James couldn't leave. Not yet. He could stare at the clock and watch its golden arms waver closer and closer toward the day's end, but he couldn't leave. None of them could leave until their shift ended. James didn't understand why. He only knew that though the muscles of his scrawny legs were coiled tight and ready to propel him from his rolling chair, he could not rise. Not until those sweeping golden clock arms reached their destination.

Oh God, Robert. Was this my fault? James clutched his leather satchel to his chest, hearing the subtle crinkle of paper being compressed inside. He raked bony fingers through his mussed hair and rubbed the stubble growing on his chin. The skin of his face felt loose, the muscles beneath taut with stress. His leg bounced, creating a rapid succession of squeaks arising from his chair. The others didn't notice, so intent on ignoring the creeping passage of time. The dismal weather brought the night early, darkening the busy city streets waiting beyond the narrow windows. Headlights occasional whipped over the opaque glass and the sharp light blossomed on the misted panes.

When the clock hands aligned and it was six o'clock, an audible sigh rustled through the technicians' floor. James didn't wait a moment longer. He lurched from his chair and sprinted for the double doors with his briefcase smashed to his chest, white coat billowing behind him. He had to leave. Had to escape.

His shoulder struck the left door and it swept open, knocking aside an incoming tech. James ran into a pretty, raven-haired sylph of a woman, throwing her to the floor. She had been staring at that bulbous chandelier—the one James knew was wrong, in the same way he knew he couldn't leave before his shift ended. He told others there was something wrong with the enormous light fixture, something sinister about the large, jaggedly cut crystals swinging from its proffered branches like sweet, poisonous fruits—and yet no one listened. The more he told others that there was something wrong with this place, the more they mocked him. His colleagues thought he was cracked.

The woman's male companion—boyfriend? Husband?—stepped out of the reception line and looked as though he was going to flay James alive if he got his hands on the scurrying technician, but James was already rushing from the building, bumping into more oblivious people on his way out, earning a sharp rebuke from Jervis, one of the guards on duty at this hour.

When he reached the shared parking garage and found his on the third level, James threw his satchel into the backseat and jumped behind the wheel. He shook so profusely, starting the car proved impossible. James forced a breath through himself and concentrated on the finer muscle movements of inserting his key into the ignition. Sweat trickled from his hairline into his collar, staining the fabric. The skin of his neck was clammy and his face was numb from hyperventilating.

Jesus, Robert. What the hell happened to you? Who could do that to you? Was it them? Who did you tell?

The engine came on with a low rumble of well-tuned machinery. The tires screamed on the concrete when James gunned the motor too quickly, the sound echoing deep into the shadowed recesses of the structure, turning heads of tired workers meandering to their cars jerked upright as James' sedan raced by. He didn't slow for turns or pedestrians, and the undercarriage banged every speed bump.

BereftWhere stories live. Discover now