Larissa was polite. As a marketing manager working with external suppliers, she needed open body language. An even, patient tone. Allowing Marcus to put forward his ideas. The marketing manager was perfectly cordial when she shot down those ideas and suggested her own. By insisting, even after he offered his adverse opinion, that “Maybe we should give it a try anyway?” she was making sure the firm got what it needed. Larissa was surprised when, after the fifth idea she’d neatly cast aside, the architect snapped back.
“Look, I really don’t understand why you’re here,” Marcus frowned, shifting away from the plans on the table so he was facing her fully. “You’ve clearly got an idea in your head. What’s the point having this conversation?”
The marketing manager looked shocked, eyebrows raised, mouth slightly open, feigning emotion. “There’s no need for that,” she explained, patiently, politely, “This is a collaborative process, isn’t it?”
Marcus’s eyes narrowed. He’d heard that phrase from his client so many times it lost meaning. He was terrible at hiding his reactions. “It’s supposed to be, yes.”
She could read his every shift. Ignoring the sarcasm, she pushed on, “Then we just want to make sure we’re getting what we need. We’re making a large investment in this.”
“Sure, but I’d rather the thing be…” he held back, thought about his words. “I’d rather we be in sync with what you need and what my expertise is telling me.”
As if someone might be eavesdropping, Larissa leaned in to her supplier. “Look, I know,” she agreed. “I have to keep my boss happy. You know what it’s like. He doesn’t always get this sort of stuff straight away. We have to walk him through it.”
The architect’s frown deepened. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it, looking down at the papers. “OK,” he lifted one of the plans. “What would your boss do here?”
She glanced at the contentious section of blueprint and reinforced what she’d been seeking the whole time. “I’ve already said – sorry, my boss has already said we need it bigger and wider.”
Marcus’s body suddenly loosened. The tension melted into the booth. He took a sip of his drink, then smiled at her, looking directly into her eyes. “Sure,” his voice was lower, soothing. “Your boss is right. Bigger and wider. Let’s do that.”
As she proceeded to divulge all the ideas she’d had for this new building, Larissa marvelled at how being polite always worked for her, eventually.
* * *
When they’d finished, the sun was setting. The marketing manager rolled up her files and plans, and enquired why the architect wasn’t doing the same. “I’ll have another drink and take some notes,” he smiled, that same relaxed smile. Was he tipsy? As she stood and left, Larissa heard him calling the waiter. Numbing his wounds.
Creatives could be so weak. This was just business. A transaction.
She exited the restaurant. In the lobby waiting for the lift, she opened a corner of the plans and peeked in at the features she’d added. She allowed a small thrill up her spine. This was going to be her masterpiece. Getting some of it over the line with her boss was the next challenge, but she could use Marcus’s intransigence there. Pluck complaints he’d made about her suggestions and reconfigure them to baffle the boss into submission. The ding of the lift broke her out of her reverie.
* * *
In the restaurant, the waitress returned with a 24 year-old scotch. A note on her customer’s post-it note said ‘Leave it here, Shirley. Doing some maintenance.’ The note had a watermark of the building this restaurant operated out of, and Marcus had drawn love hearts on either side. She grinned. So the architect who’d designed this place did know it looked like a slightly curved… she’d have to tell Chef. He owed her a hundred bucks.
* * *
Larissa waited as a young, scruffy person got out of the lift. Another classless creative sauntering to work late. Larissa couldn’t wait to be out of this building. Marcus was a talented enough architect to have designed the place from the ground up to accommodate his business, but it lacked something she thought crucial: exclusivity. Larissa stepped into the lift daydreaming about all the riff raff they could deny entry to their new headquarters. First being Marcus, once he’d done all they asked of him.
The lift neared garage parking, giving Larissa a sense of urgency to get to her BMW and get out of here. B1…B2… then down further. The last button on the panel said B4, and still the lift kept going down. Larissa looked at the lit numbers above the door, then tapped the open button, tapped her level again. Confused and angry, she moved her hand over the emergency stop when suddenly the lift bobbed to a standstill and the doors slid open. The marketing manager lifted her plans and poked her head out. It was a parking level, but completely empty. Thick concrete columns stood in rows, holding the grey ceiling above parking bays. Fluorescent strips, like every other carpark, saturated the yawning space in sickly light. There was no one or thing to be lit.
Larissa pulled back into the lift and pressed the button for her level. Nothing happened. She stabbed frantically, impotently. She stormed out of the lift to find the stairs that would take her back up. On the roadway she looked left and right, trying to identify the exits and feeling foolish. She heard the grinding of the lift doors, then the soft groan as it hoisted itself back up. The manager clicked her heels around the broad lift-shaft to see if the stairs were behind. All she found was more carpark with empty bays stretching back so far she struggled to make out the perimeters. A few presses of the call button did nothing.
Her stomach felt empty, sweat prickled the back of her neck. She dabbed with her sleeve and determined she should find those emergency stairs. Her heels echoed around the empty space as she strode. “His precious little building’s broken,” she muttered, louder than necessary, her words giving her comfort in the bright loneliness. She scanned constantly, hoping to see the walls, confused by the breadth of the place, far exceeding the tower above. A movement, something fluttering behind a column. “Thank Christ… HELLO?”
No response. Walking at a clip now, she closed on the column and rounded to find more road. Frowning, Larissa called out again, softer than before.
A heavy bang caused her to jolt. She turned to the sound. In the far distance, light after light switched off. One by one, each row of lights died with a heavy thud as great channels of power were suddenly cut. A thick black sped towards her in angry surges. Though it was only darkness, panic took hold. The marketing manager turned and ran. Each thud came closer as she fled, awkward on her heels until she kicked them off, glancing behind to see the grip of night choke another row of columns. It was closing in on her. On bare feet she sprinted, oblivious of what broken and slicing things might be strewn on the roadway. Her throat was dry, her temples hot, her lungs struggling to take in as much as they expelled. The beat of dying lights gained. Her body’s failure to keep her racing forward brought a fresh wave of panic. Then the thuds stopped and the light over her head held, humming gently.
Larissa stopped and leaned on a column, bent over, gasping for air at the edge of darkness. The cessation of rhythm, the sudden silence made the car park even more eerie than before. Suddenly, her gasps turned to high pitched laughter. Coupled with her exhaustion and the adrenaline dump, Larissa’s legs lost strength and she slumped down against the column, holding the back of her neck against the cool, painted concrete. What a ridiculous thing! Running from the dark like a little girl! She realised she’d crushed the plans in her fists, so let them fall to the ground. She looked at her shaking hands and felt embarrassed.
A skittering noise whipped her eyes back to the halted dark. Just beyond the remaining lights was sharp, enveloping black. The marketer squinted into that absence of light.
A low, deep growl bubbled out. It sounded like a dog, but deeper, from something… bigger.
Larissa hid behind her column. She realised she’d left her paperwork in plain sight. Hiding would be useless when folders and papers sat in an otherwise desolate carpark. Quickly, she reached out and scraped everything toward her. For a brief moment she stole a glance at the darkness. Something emerged. It was taller than a man, on two legs that looked odd, bent the wrong way, and branched up to a broad, powerful torso. She pulled away from the terror that padded out of shadows, her heart racing. Where was she!? What was happening!? She began to cry, softly, terrified she’d give herself away but struggling to control herself.
Its footfalls were soft, but in the silence of the space, all too audible. A scrape followed each step. The sounds came closer, and she made out a soft panting. She looked down at her own feet, realised the rows of lights cast multi-directional shadows on the concrete. A much larger collection of shadows engulfed her own, two clear points atop the hulking shape. It paused, sniffed, then pulled back.
Silence. She let a breath escape.
Had she imagined it? This whole scenario, the exhaustion from sprinting, the lateness of the hour: was she so disoriented she was seeing things? She peeked around the column. Nothing. She felt sick, tired, mentally tortured. That architect would receive complaint in every form applicable for getting her trapped down here. She felt a rush of warm air on her arm and turned to the other side of the column.
The wolf’s face, fangs bared, eyes a bright yellow, hung over her. It growled, “Run.”
She spun around and fled. No path, no plan, just blind sub-human fear. Columns flew past in her periphery, her feet caught stray pieces of road, ripping her tights, puncturing her soles. She felt none of it. All she knew was a predator chasing its prey. That primal realisation that she was losing energy and likely to die rebooted her mind. She started weaving between columns, hoping to… something. Anything.
Her predator loped around the obstacles. A set of claws screeched across the painted steel. It pounced, but Larissa ducked around another column. She heard a heavy thud and heard a yelp. She sprinted off, turned back, hopeful, and lost her footing, tumbling into another damn column. Warmth burst out of her face, the last of her breath was knocked out. She fell to the ground like a rag doll. Everything went fuzzy.
She forgot why she was scared. A sweet sensation flashed through her veins. Everything went dark. She was being rocked, jiggled, she felt a pressure on her stomach and smiled at the word ‘jiggle’. The pressure in her stomach grew greater. Then she understood what it was. And she screamed.
The screams bounced around the cavernous carpark, shaped by the low ceiling and wide space. No one could hear the suffering of the marketing manager as she was eaten. Soon, there was just tearing and crunching, with no human to hear it.
* * *
In the restaurant, Shirley looked over to the architect’s table. It’d been more than an hour. She walked over and collected his scotch. The waitress wasn’t sure what to do with it. Not being a scotch drinker, and never of anything so expensive, was it OK to be left out for so long? Just as she turned to ask Chef, Marcus bumped into her. She gasped, and he held her waist to help balance her.
“Woah! Sorry, Shirley, caught you off guard, aye?”
She indicated the drink, “I wasn’t sure what to…”
He swiped it and took a gulp, closed his eyes and stood there savouring it. Shirley waited awkwardly. Finally, he slid into the booth. The architect ordered another drink, asked her to grab a “cheeky one for herself and Chef.”
Shirley looked at the collection on the wall, “Something top shelf, too?”
The architect grinned a toothy grin, “Go for it.” The waitress winked and turned, but Marcus caught her one last time. He handed her all the files and notes from the table. “And put these in the bin, would you please?”
“Sure,” Shirley frowned for a moment, thinking them too important to rubbish, but not questioning the man plying expensive booze. “Did you want anything for dinner?”
“No thank you,” the architect replied, leaning back in his booth. “I’m full.”