9. Beneath The Trees, Where Nobody Sees

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Geoff squeezed Naomi's hand

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Geoff squeezed Naomi's hand. It was shaking.

The overseer pushed a loud breath through his tiny nostril bone.

"This is the record for Bernie," the overseer swung the monitor around so the three of them could see it. It showed, in hues of matrix green and black, a photo of a skeleton, and a computer-generated image of a cat that looked pretty much exactly like real-life Bernie.

"We scan the bones. The technology predates this office. It's infallible. If the computer says Bernie is checked out, then Bernie is checked out."

He swung the screen back around.

"And I can click through here to the recipient record. Miss Nomi Hoops from New Carrington. And..."

The overseer's smug expression froze in place.

"Are you sure your pet did not go by the name of Susan?" The Overseer's voice trailed off.

Naomi didn't say anything. Jamieson sat himself down on the corner of the Overseer's desk.

"It appears there may have been a... err... glitch in the system."

"I thought it was infallible," Jamieson said.

"It is," the Overseer snapped "at least, it was. This is very unusual. Very rarely do we get... err... unforeseen system errors. Was Bernie a large ginger tomcat?"

"No, she was tiny and she's a girl and she has grey splotches. She's the colour of a rainy day and she was the best thing to cuddle when it was cold," Naomi said, wiping her eye with the back of her hand.

"I'll need to inspect the holding facility to check the record manually," said the overseer. "You can come if you want, or you can wait here"

"We'll come," Jamieson said.

The leather-skinned family arrived in the overseer's office just as Geoff and Naomi left. The overseer told them to wait by the window. They sat with their back to it and stared dutifully at the wall opposite. Jamieson, Geoff and Naomi followed the overseer down the three flights of stairs back to the ground floor.

They walked past the reception desk, where the old lady was still resting, napping on her wheelie walker.

"Go home, Enid. Your Eric didn't arrive today" the overseer said as they passed.

Enid didn't wake up.

"Not long for this world that one." Said the overseer.

"How long do people live down here," asked Geoff.

"As long as their bones last, or as long as they can be fixed up." the Overseer glanced at Jamieson's reconstructed knee. "I'm guessing you've had the misfortune to meet some of our less civilised residents."

Geoff didn't like the word civilised used in that way. It reminded him of old racist, colonial tropes. The civilised invaders and the wild savage.

"I don't know about civilised or uncivilised," Geoff said. "Maybe they were just violent because they didn't know what else to be. Maybe they were angry."

"A good sewing eye and a nice piece of bone yarn are going to get you a lot further down here than philosophy," Jamieson said.

"Some of your handiwork I take it." The overseer motioned to Geoff's knee.

"Not my finest. But you work with what you've got," Jamieson said.

They reached the end of the room, the remains of a children's play area. There was a giant one-eyed teddy bear propped in the corner. It still had all its skin and fur. Only a patch of mould creeping out from its stomach to show it's age. Its one shiny bear eye stared at Geoff as they stood next to the overseer. A freight elevator was set into the wall near the bear.

 A freight elevator was set into the wall near the bear

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A small intercom above their heads beeped. The overseer cleared his throat.

"If you go down in the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today
You'd better go in disguise"

The doors of the freight elevator creaked open and the three skeletons stepped inside.

"Its voice activated," explained the overseer. "perfectly tuned to my voice. Won't open to any other."

The elevator dropped sharply. A clicking noise repeated slowly at first and then began to click faster and faster until it became a thrum of noise. The lightbulb that hung from the ceiling swung and flickered as the carriage bumped its way down the shaft.

Geoff stared in anticipation at the thin line where the elevator doors met.

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