In the dead of the night Petor, a consummate computer expert, finds the home of a hacker who broke in to one of Petor’s systems and, after snapping a photo through a basement window, has seen both himself and an unknown woman hanging dead. Frantic and confused at what he has just seen and knowing he can’t go home, he drives to work to use the computers there in an attempt to figure out what is happening to him. Just after he manages to gather some clues, however, he realises he is not alone in the otherwise vacant office building, and before he is quite certain of what is happening, he decides to run for it.
I scampered to the break room door, which was open, slid in, and snaked across the room to the back door. You’ve never seen anyone work so damn hard to open and close a door quietly, but it worked. I hit the button and waited.
I could see the lights dancing closer to me. I had tried not to look around too much as I was making my way. I heard a male voice, with an accent I couldn’t place, say “His door is open.”
“He must still be in the building,” came the reply.
That killed the little hope I had kept in the back of my mind, that maybe I was just paranoid and making all this up — that, somehow, all that had happened that night was a nasty bit of Toxic Hell taco having its way with me. On some level, I was like old Ebenezer Scrooge scoffing at his first ghost: “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
Whatever they were, whoever they were, they knew I was there, and they were after me. I didn’t know what they wanted, but based upon what I had seen in that basement, I really didn’t want find out.
The elevator door opened loudly. I jumped in and punched both the basement and the close door buttons simultaneously. Still, the doors seemed to take forever to close.
While waiting to reach the level, I took some comfort in the fact that there was no easy way to get to the basement elevator entrance without running through another series of mazes, this time comprised of storage lockers instead of cubes. Unless someone knew the building well, I had a good chance of getting out the door before they found me. Nonetheless, I prepared to rush the door. As the elevator was huge, I could get a decent running start, sprint down that storage maze and out the exit by shipping and receiving. That door would put me damn near my car.
At least I would have a fighting chance.
The door opened. Blackness, deeper than upstairs, and silence. I was either alone, or meant to think so.
I took a deep breath and sprinted. I didn’t look back; I didn’t listen. I ran like hell for the exit, hit the center release bar, hard, threw the door open and kept on running. The building alarm tripped as I pushed the door open, and a siren echoed across the lot. I hoped to hell that the alarm would catch whoever was after me unaware – and get them to bug out — but knew, somehow, it wouldn’t be so.
Once outside, I made it most of the way to my car before I heard the footsteps behind me. Though I didn’t think it possible, I ran still faster, jumped around the hood, ripped open the door, started that son-of-a-bitch, threw it in drive and peeled rubber from the parking space clear to the auxiliary exit gate. The main gate had been closer, but just then I remembered the cars that had come in while I was sucking on that Salem. They had used main gate.
When I got to the gate, going about forty, I could see it wasn’t going to open fast enough, so I ran it. It cracked the windshield and sent the wooden gate plank flying off to the right.
Secretly, I’d always wanted to do that. Just at that moment, though, I couldn’t really enjoy it.
I floored it and headed for the interstate, whipping down Ninth Avenue, and making all the lights until Harris Boulevard, where I had to wait for a train. Two semis were in both lanes behind me, so I couldn’t see if anyone were directly following. I hoped that they couldn’t see me past the trucks if they were. On the left was some loud bar, complete with stumbling drunks. On the right was Murray’s Book Store, where I’d wander in every couple of weeks.
And standing out in front of the store with a book in her hand and her back leaning on a lamppost, she was looking at me. I gasped and shuddered at the sight of her. Same beautiful face, same shoulder length blond hair, but clothed, this time, in a carefully careless manner, a light blue blouse covered by a caramel sweater buttoned only across the chest, a dark crinkled skirt finished off with low brown boots, and not a bruise to be seen on her sweet, pale skin and high, pink cheeks. Tightly about her neck was that distinctive black and gold choker. This time, I could see what had been obscured by her chin the first time I had seen her: the center of the necklace bore a cluster of what looked like emeralds in a star pattern surrounding a ruby. She was perfection.
She walked over to me, and I perfunctorily rolled down the passenger window, still staring at the necklace. “Didn’t think I’d be seeing you so soon, cutie,” she said, and flashed me an amazing smile.
About James Bottino
James R. Bottino’s life-long interests mix esoteric and disparate fields of study. By day, his foremost influences have been the study of literature and the art of writing. Following these pursuits led him to read anything he could in these areas and to complete every under-graduate and graduate course available to him in the field of creative writing. Following this line, he taught high school English throughout the 1990’s, focusing on the teaching of writing.
By night, when no one was looking, he studied computer systems / networks, computer languages, and operating systems, learning anything he could in these areas, first as a hobby, and, finally, as a career. This mixture of literature and technology served as the inspiration for the The Canker Death’s protagonist, Petor.
James currently lives in a suburb of Chicago, with his wife, daughter, two Australian cattle dogs and far, far too many books and abstruse computers.
You can visit his website at TheCankerDeath.com