At five minutes to ten I rode my Vespa into the dark parking lot of the Soul Eater – a massive, granite, hulking, fortress of a building where I worked as a security guard. The actual name on the building was Harvester Investments Company, but for me it was the Soul Eater – a place where I traded away half of my waking day in return for barely enough money to cover rent and food.
I switched off the ignition and hurried inside with my helmet still on, sighing in relief when the heavy glass door closed behind me. I had beaten the storm after all. The weather report on the internet had predicted a heavy down pour for tonight.
Inside, Mike, my good friend and one third of the HIC’s security force along with myself and Dawn who had the shift after me, was waiting with his backpack on his shoulders.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey. Do me a favor and log in a minute early. I’m trying to get to the bus stop before it starts raining.” He peered over my shoulder and through the glass at the dark sky I had just escaped, his mouth pressing into a flat line like it always did when he was serious.
“No problem.” I slid my ID into the computer’s card reader and typed in my password.
“Anything happen this afternoon?”
“The zombies come in, the zombies go out – the usual. You should have seen this one guy this afternoon. I told him to have a nice day, and he just stared at me like a fish looking out from an aquarium – not saying anything, just blinking slowly. Somebody clapped him on the back and he started walking again. It was a total Night of the Living Dead moment.”
“Weird,” I said.
“Yeah, that was the only thing except for when I had to let some guys onto the roof to set up some equipment.”
“What kind of equipment?” I asked.
“Something for monitoring the storm, I think. Anyway, I’m gonna run.”
I gave him a casual high five, and he jogged out through the door and down the steps.
“Hi, my name is Lucas, and I’m a security guard,” I said, checking my reflection in the polished granite blocks that made up the corners where two hallways intersected. I was just over six feet tall with curly brown hair that I kept short to avoid a fro. The uniform was navy blue, and it pulled a bit at my shoulders which had always looked a bit too broad for my lanky frame.
I’m not really a security guard, I told myself. It’s just a temporary job until I figure out what the hell I want to do. Except, it was going on a year now, and I still hadn‘t figured it out. I’d gone to college and graduated with a degree in history, and now I was facing the consequences of that decision. Don’t get me wrong – I liked studying history. It’s just that I couldn’t think of a single job that I actually wanted to do that required it. Hell, I couldn’t think of a single job period, unless you counted things like comic book artist or film maker, both of which required talent that I didn’t have.
I straightened my shirt a little and rested my right hand on the cell phone at my hip like it was a six-gun. My eyes narrowed as I stared at my reflection, waiting for the mirror-me to make a move.
In truth, even the semi-mythical job of comic book artist would just be settling for something – although a really cool something. What I wanted was to be in a comic book…or a movie or a novel. It just needed to be someplace more interesting than the real world – a place with mystery and excitement and heroes.
The real world didn’t seem to need those, or at least not the part of it where I lived. Here they only wanted workers – producers of economic value – zombies, as Mike and I called them.
Outside, the storm announced its arrival with a thunderclap. I heard it as a muffled boom that made me think of a movie where everyone is underground while the city above them is being bombed. There was a little flash of light as I passed an open office with a window followed by another muffled boom.
It went on like that for the next half an hour. Every other minute there would be a boom and possibly a flash. The only change in the rough rhythm of the storm was that after the first few thunderclaps, they seemed to be getting louder.
I kept walking. That’s what security guards do here at HIC. Each time you enter a new room you have to scan your ID badge, which leaves a nice little record for management to check up on you with. Keep walking. Be alert. Call someone the second you see anything suspicious.
They didn’t actually give you a gun – just a cell phone. If there was a problem, call someone. Do not under any circumstances put yourself into a dangerous situation. Your job is to call the proper authority and provide them with the necessary information. If a security employee places himself in physical danger it will be considered insubordination, possible justification for dismissal, and any injuries you sustain will not be covered by insurance.
The flash of light and the sound of the thunder came right on top of each other. I thought for a second that I felt a vibration run through the floor. Could lightning have actually struck the building? I didn’t remember any metal antennas on the roof, but Mike had said something about storm monitoring equipment being installed. If that had been struck by lightning would the equipment still be okay? I headed in the direction of the north west stairwell. It would be just like the zombies to install something to record storm data but not protect it from lightning strikes.
When I got to the stairs, I saw cables running down from the roof. They were perfectly laid out in parallel, bending around the corner and into the second floor hallway.
I stuck my head into the corridor to see where they went. Two doors down, they ran underneath a closed door. I peered at the spot. The lighting was kept dim at night in the Soul Eater, but there was still enough for me to see without using a flashlight. In the dimness I thought I saw green light coming from under the door. I walked over for a closer look.
“Huh,” I said. The light was a glowing mixture of green and yellow. It was probably some sort of readout on whatever the cables were connected to. Green usually meant good, so maybe the storm equipment was fine afterall.
I started to turn away but stopped when movement caught my eye. A shadow had broken up the light at the bottom of the door. I went completely still, listening for the sound of someone moving, but all I heard was the hum of the building’s lights and air systems. I breathed out slowly. The shadow moved again, gone as suddenly as it had come. Still I heard no sound.
I should check this out, I thought. My hand touched the phone at my hip. No, don’t call yet, I told myself. It’s just going to be something with the equipment. Life is like that. The world of mystery and adventure exists only in my head. Strange movement and funny lights were always just the wind and a reflection or the computer’s screen saver coming on or a passing car.
I swiped my ID card and swung the door open.
Glowsticks. The green-yellow light that filled the room was coming from four of those chemical lights that glow when you snap them. It was plenty of illumination to see the tall woman in the grey cloak whirl around to stare at me.
Her skin was dark black, and her face was thin. She wore her hair back in numerous braids, and there was a metal choker covering her throat.
Her eyes narrowed. My eyes widened. Neither of us moved. I risked a glance downward. At waist level she held a katana, the Japanese long sword, with her left hand on the scabbard and her right on the hilt. The blade was extended about an inch, shiny and green in the light. Behind her, the glowsticks were clustered around some sort of circular diagram on the floor to the right of a bunch of black aluminum cases that the cables from the roof ran to.
I jerked my eyes back up to her face. She stood very still. In my head the phrase “I should have called someone” was on a perpetual loop. Five long seconds passed with no movement or sound except the Soul Eater’s constant hum.
“Hi, my name is Lucas, and, uh, I’m the security guard.”
I tried to grin but I think my eyes were still wide open, so I probably just looked like a maniac. She raised her left eyebrow at me.
“Is this your handiwork?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Did you do this?” she said, motioning with her head towards the diagram.
“Uh, ma'am, I was under the impression that, uh, you did.”
I tried not to look threatening. This is crazy, I told myself. And I should have just called someone.
“It’s yang to my yin. I’m here to stop it.”
“You don’t want to know.”
I jumped at the thunder. She didn’t move.
“Leave, and don’t come back in here,” she said.
Great, I thought. She’s given me an out. All I need to do is to get on the other side of a door from this lady, and then I can call someone like I was supposed to. Except leaving right then didn’t feel right. I wasn’t sure why, but there was an anxious feeling in my stomach at the thought of walking out.
“If you tell me what’s wrong, maybe I can help you,” I said instead.
“Alright,” she said, the left side of her mouth dimpling in a way that said I’ll show you, but you won’t like it. “When the lightning strikes the top of this building, a gate is going to open between here and another world. Something is going to be pulled through. It is called a summoning. Whoever set up this equipment and drew this diagram thinks they will call up a demon. They have obviously been reading a bunch of musty, old tomes written by ignorant wizards and priests. All they will really get is some poor soul from another world. Because the spell isn’t very good, they have to force a ton of energy into it to make it work. It’s so much that it’s going to fry the mind of whoever gets brought through the gate. All that it will remember is whatever meaning your bosses wrote into the summoning.” She glanced at the diagram on the floor. “In this case it’s a bunch of crap about power that’s taken from the blood of the weak. It might just be a metaphor, but I don’t think whatever is coming through will get that distinction.”
Wow. That was one crazy story. She seemed calm, though. Maybe I could still reason with her.
“If that was true then wouldn’t whoever set all this up be here to watch it happen? I mean I have absolutely no reason to believe any of that, but if I was in a movie or something, and I had set up this summoning then I think I would be here to watch it.”
She pointed at the ceiling over my right shoulder. I turned and looked. A security camera had been installed there – one that wasn’t on my monitors at the security office. There was something attached to it as well. It was a small black box with thin cables running to the back of the camera.
“The person who did this doesn’t know how long it will be before lightening strikes or even if it will, so they set up this camera. They can wait until they see something to come up here because whatever gets pulled through will be trapped inside the circle as long as nothing from the outside breaks it. If lightning strikes and the summoning works they’ll see it on the monitor and have plenty of time to get here. Except I looped the feed to play an image of the empty room over and over again.”
She stuck out her chin. The movement made the metal choker she wore glint in the green-yellow glow.
“So either I’m a crazy intruder with a sword, or I’m here to stop a quote demonic summoning end quote. Either way you are not going to stop me.”
Well my money was on crazy intruder with a sword, but I kept my mouth shut about it.
“Still want to stick around?” she asked.
Thunder shook the building. The aluminum cases beside the diagram erupted into noisy life. Red light spilled out almost like a fluid, flowing along the lines on the floor. Sparks shot up from parts of the diagram. The lady slid her katana all the way out in a quick half spin that ended with her facing it.
Uncertainty spread through me like cracks on a windshield. Something is happening, I thought. Get out while there is still a chance. I turned and ducked out the door, trotting several feet down the hallway before stopping to turn and look back. The anxious feeling in my stomach was ten times as strong. There was a sound like glass breaking and then a WUP like a huge speaker being turned on.
I grabbed my phone and punched in the speed dial number for emergencies. Someone picked up on the first ring.
“This is Lucas, the security guard. There is something happening here right now!” I quickly described the intruder and the noise and lights.
“Stay there. Someone will be there in less than two minutes.” He hung up before I could respond.
Two minutes? You’d have to be somewhere in the building to get here that quickly, I thought.
Something hit hard against the inside of the door. There was a sound that started like a raspy scream and ended in a roar. The walls thudded with impact noises. Then there was silence.
I stared at the door. The green-yellow of the glowsticks was still visible from underneath it. A shadow broke up the light, the door swung inward and the lady stepped out. Her sword was in its sheath again, clutched in her left hand. In her right hand she held a ring of heavy iron keys. Her clothes under the cloak were black but, in the dim light they shined faintly like they were wet.
She looked at me, and her eyes narrowed again. The keys clinked together as she tucked them under her belt.
“Are you still here?”
“Take a look for yourself.”
She stepped to the far side of the hallway. We watched each other as I walked past, and then I ducked into the room, propping open the door with its kick-stop behind me.
The aluminum cases were dark and quiet, the red light gone. In the glow from the chemical lights I could see a body crumpled on the floor. I rushed over to it. It was tall and wrapped in embroidered red cloth that was ripped and frayed at the edges. The body was face down, but its left arm was sticking out at an odd angle. I stared at it. It was brick red with a row of blue-tipped bones sticking out like spikes along one side.
I just stood there, absorbing the crazy life-like detail of it. There was some sort of bracelet made with blue and purple thread tied around its wrist. A clear fluid was forming a puddle underneath it. A little steam rose up from it, and the air smelt sour.
This was crazy.
I looked around the room. There were no other entrances and no furniture except some metal chairs in a stack in one corner. How had anything gotten in here? If this was some sort of fake monster from a special effects shop, how could she have hidden it before?
From out in the hall I heard a door slamming open and the sound of people walking. The cavalry is here, I thought, but the anxious feeling inside me didn’t go away.
I stepped out into the hall. The woman in the grey cloak was standing with her back to me, her sword drawn and held out in front of her with both hands. Just inside the doorway from the stairwell Arthur Evans, the owner of Harvester Investments Co. was standing in front of a group of five men with pale complexions and vacant expressions. All of them were wearing suits, but the one Mr. Evans was wearing looked more expensive.
“You’re an interesting one. What’s your name?” Mr. Evans said. The woman said nothing, only thrusting her chin out a little more.
“Fine,” he said. “Take her.” This time his voice was loud and commanding. The men with him began walking down the hall, their faces still without expression.
I watched from where I was frozen in shock at the strangeness of this all. An uncomfortable tingling in my bladder joined the feeling in my stomach.
When the first man got within a few feet of her, the lady stepped forward and sliced cleanly down from his chest to his stomach. A foul stink filled the air but no blood fell, and the man only halted a few seconds before continuing forward.
The woman saw this and, for a moment, worry lines creased her brow. Then she leaped forward again and planted a solid side kick that sent him falling backwards into the men behind him. They slowly picked themselves up and started forward again.
I was still staring at the gash the man in front had received. He should be bleeding, I thought. None of this makes any sense. Why hadn’t they just called the police? What should I do? Help those men? Help her? I glanced at Mr. Evans, but he was just standing there, a determined frown on his face.
I turned and looked back into the glowing room. Noises erupted from the aluminum cases. Red lights flowed out along the diagram lines. Sparks jumped into the air. In the hallway, Evans grinned below narrowed eyes. The lady turned back towards me for only a moment, but it was enough for me to see the look of horror on her face.
What if this is all real, I thought. What if this is exactly as it seems?
There was a sound like glass breaking and then a WUP like a giant speaker being turned on. When I looked back into the room there was a wavy distorted quality to the green-yellow light above the diagram.
If something really does come through, it will be trapped inside the circular part of that diagram, I thought. Unless it is broken from the outside... I looked down at the body, so tall that its legs lay right across the ring of the diagram.
“Oh no,” I said.
And then a figure was there in the middle of the wavy green-yellow light. Its skin was red and a line of blue-tipped bones ran along the edge of each arm and down the center of its wedge-shaped head. It let out a raspy scream and pressed a hand against each temple, squeezing its eyes shut.
From the hallway I heard the lady yell out. The creature opened its eyes and growled.
Run, a part of me screamed. You are not a part of this. Get out while you still have a chance to. But suddenly I understood why I hadn’t wanted to leave the woman earlier, why it had felt wrong.
Heroes didn’t run from problems – they faced them.
The person from another world, its mind driven insane by the power of the crude spell, took a step towards the door of the room, and its growl became a roar.
I thought my world didn’t want heroes, but maybe it was just waiting for someone to start acting like one.
I ran back into the room and grabbed one of the metal chairs from the stack.
But you’re not a hero, that inner voice yelled. You don’t know who or what you are supposed to be!
Or maybe I did.
“Hi, my name is Lucas…”
I slammed the chair into its face.
With each blow I drove the creature backward. It dropped to its knees, but still I pounded it with the chair. My arms began to ache. The chair deformed as it slammed into the bony ridge on its forehead.
I took a step, and my foot slipped on the puddle of clear fluid. I fell on my back, hard, and dropped the chair. The creature shook its head then reared up over me. I lifted my arms up to protect my face. And then suddenly a sword blade sliced through the air above me and took off the creature’s head. It collapsed on its side, clear fluid spraying everywhere. I wiped it from my eyes and looked up. The lady stood over me, a smile on her face. It was the first smile I had seen her make.
Later that morning I sat in a diner not far from the Soul Eater. Dina, the woman who had saved me, sat across from me, her sword bundled up in the grey cloak and on the seat beside her.
We had just gotten our coffees when I started to ask questions.
“I saw you slice open that man, but he just kept coming for you. He didn’t even bleed,” I said, taking a sip of coffee.
“He wasn’t alive anymore. He was just an animated corpse.”
“Uhhg!” I choked on my coffee.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“You mean those men were zombies?”
“I can’t believe it. Mike and Dawn, the other security guards that I called to tell not to come into work – the three of us called the people who work there zombies because they seemed so soulless and un-alive.”
“You weren’t wrong,” she said, “at least about five of them. And there might be more there.”
“How did you stop them?”
“I cut their legs out from under them. Then I went in to help you. When we came back out, Evans was gone and the corpses had stopped moving. I think he split when he realized the odds weren’t in his favor. Whatever force he was using to animate them left when he did.”
“So who are you? How did you get involved with all of this?”
“I’m part of a group called the Guardians. We specialize in this kind of thing. It is our calling.”
“Your calling, huh?” I sipped coffee while I thought about that.
“You know what?” I said. “I just realized that this means I’m out of a job. I can’t go back there. Hell, I can’t even use it as a reference.”
“It probably won’t be safe for you to go back to your apartment,” she said, sitting up straight again.
“Great! No job and no home.” I rubbed my tired eyes.
“There might be a place for you – with us.”
I looked up.
“But I don’t know what you know, and I can’t fight the way you do. I’m not really qualified.”
“You handled yourself with the summoning.”
“Not really. I would have been killed if you hadn’t stepped in.”
“Perhaps. But it felt right, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, it did.”
She reached into her bundled cloak and pulled out the ring of keys I had seen her with before.
“These keys are the mark of a Guardian,” she said. “They have power tied to them – enchantment. They push normal people away, subtly, so that they don’t notice us. Yet you found me sneaking around a closed room in a dark hallway.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“I am not sure, but it might mean that the keys recognized something in you – a kindred spirit. Come with me, and maybe we will find out.”
I scratched my chin, trying to look calm while inside I felt excited and amazed and scared all at once.
“Do you get paid?” I asked.
“Barely enough to cover rent and food.”
“Free cloak,” she said, straight-faced.
I turned and looked at my tired reflection in the window.
“Hi, my name is Lucas, and I’m a Guardian. That’s kind of like a security guard.”
posted by D @ 7:06 PM
I love stories - especially speculative fiction, and I named this blog Brief Glimpses of Somewhere Else because I think of each story as a window into another world.
If this is your first time here, I recommend "Legacies" and "The Great Puzzle", both of which were nominated for a 2006 Parsec Award. You can also find "Timmy, Jimmy, and the Beast of Tagmart" as well as "Late Shift at the Souleater" in the podcast anthology Voices: New Media Fiction available at podiobooks.com.
[The next two weeks...]
[About The Man of Adventure]
The Man of Adventure
[About Reality Hackers]
The Spirit's Dream
[A New Look]
[Some Thoughts on the Blog So Far]
A Betting Man
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