As promised, here's the first day's chapter. Enjoy!
~ Chapter I ~
The whole of Queensbridge was closed by nine. Eight, on Sundays. That was why Sara Wallace couldn’t understand why her manager had decided that La Café Grande
would do well to become a twenty-four hour establishment, nor could she work out what she had done to deserve the rather dubious ‘honour’ of supervising the night shift. She had long ago resigned herself to the idea of spending the bulk of the prime of her life in a dusty coffee shop, but now having to give up what little social life she had in order to stare at the tile floors for hours on end each night stung deep. “And they’re not even paying me extra for it...” she thought darkly.
“What time is it now?”
Sara rolled her eyes as she looked up from her book and glanced at her watch. “About ten minutes later than the last time you asked,” she answered wearily, returning her attention to the novel in her hands.
“Are you serious?” asked Camryn, her eyes bulging from their sockets. She rubbed her eyes frantically with the palms of her hands and gave a half groan, half growl. “We’ll never be out of here,” she whined.
“It’s only a few more hours,” muttered Sara, not taking her eyes off the page in front of her. Not that she had taken in a word of it in at least a half hour. Her brain felt like mush, and her eyes scanned over the words without retaining a single letter - she had read the same paragraph a dozen times now. “But in about an hour and a half, we’ll start getting the early risers and night shift workers. Sit tight, have another coffee.”
“If I have one more coffee, I’ll start bouncing off the walls...” she complained, turning to gaze out the bay windows at the front - not that there was much to see. The dark street outside was lit by only two streetlights; one was out, and the other stood a good ten feet to the right of the door. The most either of them would see until dawn would be their own reflections - and if there was one thing worse than the lack of pay-rise her new ‘managerial’ position offered, it was having to stare at her depressed, exhausted reflection all night.
They were both silent for a few moments. Then, “What would you think if I got highlights?” Camryn asked suddenly, shifting her head slightly to better view the back of it in her ghostly, slightly distorted reflection.
Sara sighed, absently marking her place as she looked up at the window, tossing the book aside. “I don’t know,” she said non-commitally, glancing unseeingly at her coworker’s reflection. She caught sight of her own, and cringed to herself at the sight of the mid-sized bags forming under her watery blue eyes, still visible beneath the thin layer of makeup she’d applied just hours ago - though it seemed like far longer.
“I’m thinking red...” muttered Camryn, more to herself than anything, lifting great strands of her bright, shoulder-length blonde hair and holding them within an inch of her face. “Or maybe purple. What do you think?”
Sara stifled a giggle, breaking eye contact with her ghostly-pale reflection to stare at Camryn evenly. She forced an expression kindly optimism, but it came out more like one of ever-so-slight amusement. “I think you would look ridiculous with either,” she said, shaking her head.
The girl sighed, tucking her hair back behind her ear, eyeing Sara’s as she did so. “I’d kill to have your hair...” she said enviously. “How do you get it so soft?” she asked, reaching out and fingering Sara’s raven coloured locks.
Sara pulled back as a few strands of her hair were pulled painfully out of their pony-tail and fell into her face. “Just lucky, I guess,” she replied evenly, pushing it out of the way again. She glanced back at her watch again. “I’m going to bring garbages to the back,” she said, more to avoid continuing their embarrassingly girly conversation than out of actual necessity.
“Alright,” Camryn yawned. She stretched her arm across the counter and rest her head on it, her eyes drifting shut.
“Don’t work too hard, now...” muttered Sara as she rose from her stool and lifted the thick black plastic bag out of the trash can between them. Camryn didn’t seem to hear her. Pushing her hair out of her face again, Sara tied a knot in the bag, hoisted it over her shoulder, and carefully navigated around the curved counter towards the doorway at the other end of the small area in the back. The management optimistically called it a ‘kitchen’, but it was really just a large stainless steel sink surrounded by shelves of sugar packets, paper coffee cups with their plastic lids, and a large fridge where they kept the cream and milk. She pushed through the narrow room to the hallway beyond, sighing in frustration when the bag caught itself on the corner of the sink and tore open slightly.
The back hallway itself was lit well enough, but the store room directly off of it, where the evening and night shifts stored their garbage overnight, had only a single dim bulb, hanging from the centre of the room. The darkness was oppressive as Sara stepped into the room, coughing slightly as the stench of the previous shift’s trash assaulted her aural sense. She fumbled for the thin chain hanging off the bulb, finally getting a hold of it only a few inches in front of her face. She tugged on it hard, and the bulb flared into life - only to flicker out a fraction of a second later, hissing softly.
“****...” she muttered, a small bluish-white blur now floating before her. She blinked hard, trying to clear it, stumbling slightly over the sack of garbage at her feet. She reached into her pocket, struggling to get a hold of her cell phone for some semblance of light. A harsh white beam illuminated about a square foot of the floor at her feet, but beyond that all was dark. She hoisted the bag at her feet to the side of the room, then turned to the yellowing sheet of paper taped to the wall beside the door. She fumbled in the dark again, this time for the pen tied haphazardly to a hook on the wall beside her. She hastily scrawled the time and her name near the bottom of the page, then felt her way back towards the door.
A noise, like a crash, sounded from the alleyway outside, beside the shop. Sara stopped, standing stalk still in the pitch darkness as she listened hard. “Probably those damned skunks again,” she said out loud, resuming her blind attempts to find the door.
The air was rent by a terrible, heart-stopping scream from the alley, followed by more crashes and cries that sounded as if they were almost right outside the shop’s back door. Sara froze, her heart in her throat and pumping so hard she could feel it in her eyes, fear scratching at her chest as what sounded like a vicious struggle carried on just metres away. Her mind finally caught up with her senses, and she quickly punched at her phone’s illuminated keyboard: 9-1-1; her phone beeped at her, and wouldn’t dial out - she had no signal.
She swore. She turned the display towards the wall, hastily searching for the door, and found it about a foot away from her hand. She put her weight against it and pushed. The hallway was uncomfortably bright after the total darkness of the storeroom, and she had to squint to keep them open as she moved quickly and stealthily to the back door. She was too short to comfortably see through the peep-hole installed in the thick metal door, so she had to stretch slightly. She couldn’t see a thing, either because it was too dark or the outside end of the peephole was so gummed up with grime and dirt. She pressed her ear against it instead. The struggle seemed to be over already, for she could hear nothing now but the buzzing hum of the fluorescent bulbs over her head. She backed away from the door slowly, distractedly tucking her hair behind her ear again, her mind racing. Should she go into the alley and see if someone needed help? She shuddered in fear at the thought, and dismissed it instantly. She should go back to the front of the store, lock the door, and call the police, she decided. She turned on her heel and marched steadily through the kitchen and into the front.
“Camryn, lock the door, quickly. I’m going t--“
She stopped dead, bile flooding into her mouth and shock hitting her like a blow to the stomach.
Where Camryn had been sitting lay her stool, on it’s side; the counter on which she had been resting was streaked with blood, and on the floor on the other side lay a twisted, mangled, bloody lump of flesh. The stench of blood overwhelmed her, and she spat a mouthful of bile and vomit onto the floor at her feet. Terror pushed its way into her thoughts, sending tears pouring down her face. She stumbled towards the counter, collapsing as she reached the cordless phone. Her fingers felt numb as she dialled haphazardly; she put the phone to her ear, but it wasn’t ringing. It wasn’t doing anything. She reset it, and put it to her ear again. Nothing. She couldn’t get a dial tone. Tears of frustration and panic intermingled with those of fear as she pounded again on the keypad.
A drop of moisture dripped onto her hand from above. The adrenaline pumping through her veins made it feel like a knife wound, and when she looked down at it there was indeed blood running down the back of her hand. She brushed it away in a panic, but nothing swelled up to take its place - and she realised with a jolt that the blood wasn’t hers. Her head snapped up so quickly she felt her neck crack painfully, but the pain was washed away a second later by a flood of terror running through her. A man, the dirtiest, ugliest man she had ever seen, loomed over her, standing on the counter with his legs spread apart and his shoulders hunched over. Blood dripped down his chin in torrents from a set of horribly yellow teeth, stained with blood along with Lord knew what else. Vomit rose in her throat again, but this time a scream beat it to her mouth. She dove sideways, scrambling across the cold tile floor towards the dining room and desperately trying to rise to her feet as she went.
The man hopped down onto the floor behind the counter, his muddy brown eyes fixed hungrily on her. He gave a guttural growl that sent a shiver down her spine. He took a step towards her, shuffling slightly and groaning softly with each step.
Acting on instinct, Sara threw the cordless phone at him as hard as she could. It hit him square in the face, but he hardly seemed to notice. She scrambled behind her, and her hand found the base of her stool. She wrapped her hand awkwardly around the leg and threw it forward; the throw was lousy, and came short - she had been aiming for his head again, but it hardly made it off the ground and instead impacted with his shins. He tripped over it and threw his arm out to catch himself on the counter. Sara kicked out with her left foot, making a weak impact against his knee but still weakening his stance. She scrambled to her feet as he managed to find his own again, and she turned to run through the kitchen and towards the back door.
She didn’t make it past the stainless steel sink. Another man, this one significantly cleaner and younger, came barrelling towards her - a very large, very dark, and very real gun held in front of him and pointed right at her chest. She screamed. He cannoned into her, pushing her back into the dining room and into the path of the path of her pursuer. She tried to cling onto him and push him in front of her, but he wore a thick leather jacket that was difficult to grab a hold of. He pushed her to the floor, where she hit her head against the tile. The man reached out with his foot to tip over the table under which she had landed. The table fell forwards, barely missing her as it crashed into the tile floor.
Gunfire shattered her eardrums, but was over before she’d even thought to cover her ears - the edges of her vision were beginning to blur, and she couldn’t lift her head much more than an inch or two from the floor. A terrible scream sent a searing pain through her head, which felt as if it were close to splitting in two. The next thing she knew, she saw the outline of the dirty, hairy old man burst out into the street, stumbling and limping down the sidewalk at a speed she couldn’t believe a man in his state could have achieved.
The man in the leather jacket followed him to the door, his weapon still held before him. He ran through the door himself, as if to follow, but after a moment turned back into the shop, cursing. When he spoke it was into his wrist, in an oddly slurred voice that seemed to became worse the harder she tried to listen. “Alain, it’s gotten away, heading north on Acrewood. It’s really moving, I can’t keep up with it.”
She didn’t hear this Alain’s response, but a moment later the man had nodded. He turned to her, and looked at her for a moment in a way that suggested he had forgotten she was there. “We have another problem,” he said, his voice growing distant. “There’s been a witness. She’s not seriously hurt, but if she--“.
He was cut short by the person on the other end of the call. She couldn’t see him anymore - she couldn’t hold her head up. It was beginning to ache more than ever, and she thought she must have a concussion. The man loomed over her, a blurring silhouette whose voice echoed to the point that she couldn’t make out the words. The last thing she remembered was the man’s face hovering over her, the pain in her head, and a gentle bell tinkling off in the distance.
A vehicle pull up abruptly outside, hopping up onto the sidewalk itself in the process. “Ma’am, are you alright?” the man asked. She grumbled softly in response, but couldn’t answer. She was on the edge of consciousness, he knew. Car doors slammed shut just outside, and a moment later the door burst open and two other men filed inside, flanking the one knelt on the floor. One was tall, his hair still thick and rich despite being heavily grey both on the top of his head and on his face. The other was shorter than his fellow by about a head, and wore his hair dark hair long in the back. He wore an ugly expression as he approached the man on the floor, the one in the leather jacket.
“Nice work, Wright,” he said, every syllable dripping with sarcasm. “Real nice. You sure you don’t want to empty a few more clips? The walls still look intact to me.”
“Go to hell, Falk,” said Wright, glaring as he rose to his feet.
“That’s enough,” said the oldest man calmly. He put a hand on Falk’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Greg: we’ll need to do a quick clean-up operation. Call Conrad in, to give you a hand.”
“There’s a body in the alley out back, too,” interjected Wright. “Homeless, by the look of him, but he may be of some use still.”
“Right,” said Falk. He gave the woman on the floor a brief appraising look before moving off towards the back room, speaking into his wrist as he went.
The older man watched him go for a moment, then sighed heavily as he surveyed the room around him. Wright watched him for a moment, running his hand through his hair. “Alain, I’m sorry,” he said suddenly, before Alain could begin. “I didn’t mean for...”
Alain nodded calmly. “I know, Joshua,” he said gently. “But you were ordered to stand down. You acted alone, without backup. That was reckless.”
Josh nodded, but his face showed resolute stubbornness. “I blocked all communication lines into and out of the store first, so the police wouldn’t stumble in” he said defensively. “I saw a chance, and I took it.”
“And ended up getting one young lady killed, and another very close,” replied Alain pointedly. He clapped him on the shoulder once. “Take the survivor back to the Sanctuary - Xander will want to question her before we wipe her memory. I’ll be back to look her over shortly.”
Joshua nodded. As Alain moved to follow Falk out the back, Joshua bent over, scooped the woman into his arms, and carried her to the waiting vehicle outside.