The Cooridor

This story is in response to the November Speculative Fiction Prompt found here.

The sound of an incessant drip continued to echo throughout the underground corridor as I continued forward, backpack strapped to my shoulders and my high heals in hand. I stopped caring long ago that the stiletto snapped in half as I ran from the Chimera-or what I thought was a Chimera. I wasn’t about to stick around to find out…its three heads seemed enough for me to pass on that invitation.

If Max were alive, he would have reminded me of my ignorance in leaving the quarter tonight, meeting or not. His words would have seeped from his lips in that eloquently infallible way, leaving me transfixed at his every phrasing as he so often did.  

Shaking off the fading memories of my past, I continued to trudge through the dark passageway, glad to be alone. The meeting I left was almost too much, I was glad for the interruption.

I paused for a moment, the drip drip dripping slowly diminishing behind me, a beacon of my progress forward. I knew the underground tunnels well enough near my quarter, but further towards Mission headquarters I was rusty. Luckily, the cement columns held ancient runes within their construction and if you had any ounce of magic in your blood could reveal them- although at times that could be difficult.

Upon analyzing the columns, I noted one donning a small crack in its surface, placed in a manner I knew well. To an innocent bystander, the visual would lend no extra scrutinizing. For me, it was no crack, but rather an indicator of something more. What that was, I would soon find out.

Placing my hand on its surface and facing what I believed to be east, I cleared my mind of all chatter, thoughts and strategy. I opened to the possibility of learning something new-and being vulnerable to it- which wasn’t easy to do. Especially if a Chimera was potentially creeping behind you, dark flames erupting out of its ugly heads.

I placed my hand across the crack and knew instantly I was correct: it was a polar rune. My fingers felt a hot crackle vibrate beneath them as the rune infiltrated my mind, my body temporarily paralyzed as it revealed the information it held. The imagery wavered, my concentration not what it should be given my current situation.

I took a breath.

Suddenly, a map was uncovered, as if cellophane delicately placed over the corridor. I stood perched, a sleek shimmer illuminating my future path. Before I could memorize the pathway to the exit, a loud sound erupted from behind me, the map subsequently dissolving before my mind’s eye.

As I stood alert, waiting for my body to readjust, I continued to assess the noise- was it the three headed beast? That I doubted, I was able to sneak out through the basement faster than most who were fleeing around me, and most didn’t know this hidden escape that Max once showed me. As far as I knew, no one else followed me…what was here, so close?

As the Runes affects wore off, I turned towards the noise, but nothing appeared. It sounded like a large footprint in water, but I was unsure as my heartbeat rang throughout my ear drums in a deep throb. As I let my heart settle, I slowly pulled out my hunting knife, holding it ready at my side. Before I could react in a timely fashion, a figure appeared towards my front.

“Cassidy.” A low resonating voice echoed. The person was standing approximately thirty feet from my stance, but I could see little in the dim lighting.

“Who are you?” Before the creature, or person, could answer, he stepped out of the shadow and revealed himself. “Felix? Is that you?” I lowered my weapon.

He replied, “I’m so glad to see you!” We embraced in a warm hug.

“I didn’t see you at the meeting today, it’s been almost a year, I think.” I said, relieved that he wasn’t a beast hell bent on eating me for supper.

“I’m on Oliver’s radar, I’ve been forced into hiding.” His physique looked older, the skin on his face wilted, holding years of strain from those running in the quarters. But there was a spark in his eye, his brown hair still shaved and his feet still adorned by the same tattered army boot. “And I was there, just in the shadows, if you will. I tried to catch you after the mayhem started but man do you run fast.”

I laughed, “I thought you were the Chimera.”

“Can you believe a Chimera showed? I think they handled it. But if I worked directly for Mission, I would watch my back. Oliver has never sent anything so viscous before. I think he has troops building or he wouldn’t have been so blunt.”

“I was wondering if he was sent or working alone. Either way, that’s not a good sign.”

“Not in the least, and luckily no one died. I think that may be a first for a Chimera attack, at least this far in the city.” He replied.

“You think it is Oliver?”

“Oh, I know. He had that awful silver medallion hanging from his middle neck. God, I hope no one ever says I have a middle neck.”

I laughed. “So, how did you find this cooridor?” I asked looking around, suddenly wary that others may be lurking if he found me so promptly.

He paused a moment, his voice low. “Max showed me, some time ago.”

I nodded, nothing more to be said on that subject. “So, I was just exposing a Polar Rune, I couldn’t remember the exit from here. But someone distracted me, so I didn’t get the details.”

“Polars are the worst. And no worries, I remember the way. I used this tunnel as escape a few months back- Max really saved me with that one.”

I smiled as we began walking, the pillars surrounding us continued their redundancy.

“So…” he broke the silence, “how are you?” It was the question I got asked the most. It had been six months since Max’s death, but it felt like a lifetime. I didn’t fault those who asked, they meant well.

I replied, “I’m alright.”

“You know, you can tell me the truth. We grew up together.”

“I don’t know what to say, really. It’ll be awhile, I think, until things feel normal again.”

“Of course. I think that even though he is gone, his death spurred a lot. More than you know.”

“What do you mean?” Max died while working for Mission, an organization formed to help those inflicted by bad magic, and to fight those using their powers for the depraved. This day in age, Oliver had his hands in almost anyone who met that criteria, which was unfortunate given his history in our nation’s government.  

“More protocols. Just last week, ten would have been dead if it wasn’t for what Max unearthed that night. It took time to get them passed, but it was necessary. People shouldn’t be going into buildings manned by Oliver’s men without prior sweeping for new-age magical beasts.”

“Strange a Chimera should show up today, then.”

“I don’t think that was an accident, but now, Oliver knows we have the technology. We saved ten men last week, but next time we may not be that lucky.”

I replied, “it does help, hearing that his death meant something.”

“I know.” He placed his hand on my shoulder. “I was glad to see you made it tonight, regardless.”

“It was my first time being back. I almost couldn’t bring myself to step through those doors- so many memories.”

“People noticed you there, though. It will be good; it reminds Mission of what can happen if they aren’t careful. Sometimes they get to big for their britches.” Felix led us through more tunnels and we slowly began to incline towards the streets surface.

I asked, “where are you living, now that you’re in hiding?”

“I bounce around, afraid to stay anywhere too long, especially since most homes aren’t dredlocked.” It was rare to find homes in the older quarters that were dredlocked- most that were able to don that protection were mansions and large houses owned by the rich. It typically consisted of a warlock performing a sweep and cloaking the home in a protective spell- all of which were not cheap, but there were other, more off the book ways to achieve the same result- although sometimes things wouldn’t go as planned. With Oliver’s rise in power, it decreased our chances of veiling our magic from the rest of the country. And if that got out, it would be much worse than a lone Chimera attack.

After almost an hour of walking, we finally approached a ladder leading to a rusted metal grate. Felix climbed first, placed his hands on the metal and muttered “procedamus”. The gate peeled itself back and we clambered through, revealing a small disheveled office.

I asked, “where are we?”

“Pete’s office, believe it or not.”

“I haven’t seen Pete in ages.

“Probably because he’s in Vincula.” Vincula was the largest prison cell for those of magical significance. The prisons existence was highly debated, and Oliver worked tirelessly to accuse Mission leaders of maleficence to have them locked up there. Vincula prided itself in its neutrality within city politics- if they caught someone wrongdoing, they would catch you, one way or another. And their criteria for admittance seemed to depend on the day, although those in power would categorically disagree. We suspected them of working with Oliver for years, but no one has been able to prove it.

“That breaks my heart, he was so sweet.”

“Unfortunately, Oliver cares little about the demeaner of his targets.”

I looked around the small room as it appeared untouched by anyone but Pete himself. Tall stacks of paperwork, books and herbs were strewn about haphazardly. He was one of the most well versed herbologists in the quarters, creating remedies and potions that no one would dare attempt. “This looks exactly how I would expect his office to look.”

“I stay here sometimes, when I’m this far into the city. I try to keep everything just so; it seems to be some form of organized chaos. If only I knew what these plants could do… and had the ability to use it. Speaking of, are you still at the college?”

“I took a short break and just went back last week, actually.”

“Good for you.” He smiled as we discussed next steps.

“Well, I’m still in the home Max and I bought a couple years back- it has more rooms than I’d like to look at, to be honest. If you’d like, you can always hide out there. I don’t think many know where I live, he was pretty good at placing a veil.”

He looked surprised. “Are you serious? You would let me stay?”

“Of course, why not?”

He laughed, “I don’t know, I just expected you to be out of that home.”

“You and me both. But it’s better protected than most, and I enjoy being out of the city.”

“I have to deliver this package tonight,” he leaned over and picked up a box next to Pete’s desk, “but I didn’t have plans on where to stay after.”

“Where are you taking it?”

“To the Norman.”

“On West Quarter?” West Quarter was an older part of the magical region. It seemed to be more secluded than the others and filled with more mystery, yet not a lot appeared to happen there either. This combination lead most to avoid the area, there was nothing that needed to be seen there, anyway.

“Yep, one in the same.”

We continued to stand in Pete’s small office, and I surprised myself by asking, “can I come with you?”

“You want to come with me to the Norman?”

“I’ve been feeling cagey lately. Plus, it’s nice to get out of the house. My adrenaline is still spiked from that damn Chimera.”

“More the merrier. Shouldn’t take me long.” As he gathered what he needed from Pete’s small office I stood by the door, looking out the front window. For the first time in a while, I felt like I was getting my life back. Perhaps there was more to live after Max’s death after all.

Sarah’s Victorian

“Monika, I told you. I entered the contest last week and I just heard back.” I wrapped the hair band around my ponytail extra tight so we could finish our run through Old Mead’s Park. The wind suddenly seemed more volatile as it produced a low humming moan that whispered through the dying fall leaves.

“Yes, but it seems odd, don’t you think? No one has ever heard of Sarah’s Victorian before. This town is small. You think someone would have heard of an old mansion just minutes from town. And being one hundred years old?”

“And that is precisely why I entered the contest. One night every decade they open it to the public and a costume contest? Count me in.”

“It sounds sketchy. How come I have never heard of this contest? No one else is talking about it.”

I winked, “I’m just more diligent. It’s not my fault I keep track of the goings on of this town. And how convenient that it’s on my birthday! Now you have to come.” We started to cooldown, stretching our legs against an old park bench, wood splintering from its corners. “So, will you be my guest?”

“Can’t say no to a terrifying experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

“Now that’s the spirit!” I said.

“Speaking of spirits, do you think it’s haunted?”

“It is on Halloween night, if any spirits were going to be haunting around…but I doubt it. If it was, we definitely would have heard of it.”

“Unless everyone that goes there doesn’t make it back.” Monika said wide eyed.

“Better bring your mace, then.” I smiled.

The rest of the week flew by until suddenly, it was Thursday morning. Halloween day brought with it a crisp chill and stark cloud cover leaving the day feeling grey and frigid.

“I hope they’ve upgraded this mansion to have heat and running water.” Monika stated as she loaded her weekender into my truck.

I replied, “this isn’t the 1800’s.”

“I’m dropping a pin and sending it to Mike when I get there.”

“It is kind of weird that Google maps doesn’t have it listed…” I said.

“You’re not helping.” We both jumped into the front cab and took off toward Mainstreet, my gears creaking as we drove through a wall of thick fog. “The directions say to head east.”

“When?”

Monika exclaimed, “now!” I slammed on my breaks and I turned the wheel left as we skidded unto a small gravel road.

I asked, “are you sure this is right?”

“Miller road…” she checked the email on her phone again. “It says to continue four more miles.”

“This road goes on for four more miles? I thought this was protected forest.”

“Not protected from haunted mansions, apparently.”

The road continued to meander through thick forest until suddenly a large stone gate was before us, carefully guarded by two men flanking each side.

One man approached our car. “What is your business ma’am?”

“We are here for the Victorian contest. My name is April.”

The man walked back to his small stone shelter to check his computer then nodded. The gate began to open slowly as they waved us through. The road began to feel more manicured with expertly cut shrubbery and a hefty gate to protect the acreage. The beautiful scenery followed us up to the main entrance.

“Holy crap April are you seeing this?” Enormous columns were holding up a large tan mansion that looked well maintained despite its rustic age.

I said, “who knew this was sitting here, all this time?”

“Not me. Who owns it anyways?” Monika asked with her mouth agape.

“It really didn’t say, just some older couple. Apparently, it’s one of the oldest in the state.”

“Huh. You sure don’t know a lot about this for trudging both of us up here.”

“What can I say, I like adventure.”

As we pulled up to the front entrance a man took our keys and valeted our old truck. The sight of the blue Toyota against the Victorian looked rather misplaced. After the valet drove off, we were perched in front of the behemoth, taking in the sight.

“Where do we go now?” I asked as we both looked around. “There are other cars here, where are all of the people?”

“Dead?” Monika replied.

“Oh, stop. You know you’re excited.”

“I did bring some spirits of my own I’m ready to get into.”

I laughed as we approached the building, holding our belongings for the night. As we entered the front foyer we were met with a dazzling chandelier and large mirrors lining the sides of the entrance. The interior was mostly decorated in an older dark wood, and just twenty paces to our front stood a large spiral staircase.

Monika said, “this looks like the scene from Titanic when Jack’s ghost meets Rose.”

“Could be worse, yeah? It’s not like they haunted anyone.”

“How do you know? The movie straight up ended after that.” I rolled my eyes as we began to walk towards the staircase, hesitant since no one had approached. Suddenly, a man popped out of a room to the right, startling us.

“Ladies! So glad you arrived safe. Let me be the first to welcome you to Sarah’s Victorian.” He was wearing a tuxedo and looked like something out of an old black and white film. He held out his hand to shake ours. “Follow me and I will lead you to your room. The other guests have already arrived and are getting settled.”

We both followed, wide-eyed, as the mansion seemed to continue for in indeterminate amount of time. The man gestured to the different rooms as he led us forward. “It has 70 total rooms, two tennis courts and a swimming pool, which of course has been closed for the approaching snowstorm tonight.”

Monika gave me a look and whispered, “are you serious?”

“But it’s been upgraded, there’s heat!” I whispered back and smirked.

He continued to give us a small tour. “And on your right is the kitchen. Downstairs is where the servant’s quarters were, now they are mostly used as storage.” As we walked past the main kitchen entrance, a cool breeze brushed across our legs bringing goose bumps to the surface.

“And here, on the second floor, is room 217. Dinner and costumes will be at 8pm, enjoy.” He shut the door and backed out slowly.

“Did that seem overly dramatic?” I said as I turned around, taking in the room.

Monika popped her head out from inside the restroom. “This bathroom is huge! I love clawed tubs-” before she could finish her sentence a piercing scream was heard from upstairs.

What was that!?” I said as Monika ran over.

“Sounded like someone screaming bloody murder to me. Not bloody-good-time, bloody murder.”

“Your suspicions are starting to grow on me…that sounded loud.”

“Good a time as any to break out the martinis. I even brought plastic glasses for your birthday. Because we’re classy ladies.”

As they tried to ignore the scream, they finished their martini olives with a fervor. Then suddenly, a loud knock erupted from the front door of their sweet.

I said, “good gosh everything is so sensational here.”

“Check the peep hole first.” Said Monika.

“Guess I’ll be answering it-” I glared in her direction. As I peered outside through the peep hole, I said, “no one is there.”

“Are we starting to hear things?”

The knock sounded loudly again making both of us jump. I ran over to check again, “I don’t see anything. I’m opening it.” As I slowly opened the door and Monika backed towards the rear window, I exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, Monika…

What??”

“There’s nothing here but some liquid on the ground. Like drops of something.”

“Stop.”

“I’m serious, come look…”

As both women leaned down towards the ground, Monika said, “it looks like blood.”

“You can’t be serious…” It was me who backed away this time. “ It looks like it drips away from our door…and doesn’t it seem eerily quiet in here for having a house full of people?”

“It has to be theatrics, it’s Halloween, ya know?” Monika said with fake smile as we shut the door. “Let’s finish those martini’s before getting dressed.”

“Good call.” As we painted our faces white and sickly, a ring came from inside our room.

“Hello?” Monika said tediously as she picked up the old black rotary phone. “Hello?” She said again, then hung up with a strange look on her face.

“What on earth was that?”

“No one was there but I think I could hear breathing?”

“This place just keeps getting weirder and weirder.” As we started to get dressed as the Shining sisters, another knock came to the door.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” We said in unison.

This time, it was the man in a tuxedo that stood on the other side.

“Ladies, I regret to inform you that someone has gone missing. Have you seen a woman with long black hair come this way?”

“I haven’t. You Monika?”

“Nope, sorry. What happened? We thought we heard a scream.”

The man smiled a twisted smile, one that took longer than it should have to fold its way across his face. “That is nothing of your concern. I almost forgot; this box was left for you up front.” He laid the box at his feet and disappeared quickly down the hall.

“He could have handed it to me.”

“That’s weird about the woman, right? After that scream?” Monika said as she picked up the box for me. “Let’s see what’s inside.”

Upon opening the small package, a note fell to the floor reading:

“Dear Monika and April. This serves as your warning- if you are not present in the ballroom in ten minutes, action will be taken.”

“Ten minutes??? What kind of action are they on about? We’re not even completely ready yet!”

Monika replied, “is there anything else in the package?”

I unfurled a picture, “it’s an image of a woman, she looks like she’s in our hallway.” I handed it over. “Is that a bloody handprint on the outside of the package?”

“April, she has long black hair.” We both stared at each other with our mouths agape.

I asked, “should we go? To the ballroom? Or are we safer staying here?”

“We’ve already burned at least three minutes.”

Without another word we grabbed our purses and phones and ran out into the hallway.

“He never showed us the ballroom, Mon. Where do we go?”

She said, “I’m guessing it’s downstairs?”

As we turned left to the stairway, we both stopped in our tracks as a man in all black, face covered, stood just at the top of the stairwell. His long dark hair was matted and greasy and fell just over his dark eyes. Screaming, we turned on our heals to the emergency side stairway that ran the opposite direction.

Looking behind as we ran, I thought I could see dark movement just seconds away. We kicked it in high gear as hotel doors blurred by in a fog. No one else seemed to be present. As we pushed open the metal door and ran down the stairwell, we appeared in another, darker and with a musty aged feel to it.

Fortunately, on the wall there was a gold paneled sign that directed us towards the ballroom. Following its direction, we ran headfirst into a large room.

“SURPRISE!” I looked around the room, confused, then noted Monika laughing hysterically behind me.

“What on earth?” I said as my mother approached me in a hug.

“We’re you surprised? Happy birthday honey!”

I turned to Monika, “I’m about to murder you! You knew all along!”

“I almost lost it when I saw your brother at the top of the stairs” she turned to Steve, “nice touch!”

I couldn’t believe my eyes as an entire ballroom was filled with family and friends, balloons and streamers. I said, “I can’t believe it! What is this place? What about the contest I entered?”

“I had that inserted into your morning paper, good thing you bit! And I can’t believe you’ve never been here before.”

“I had no idea!”

Monika said, “I realized you didn’t know what this place was a few months ago when someone mentioned having a party here. My wheels started to turn…”

“I should’ve known better; you love scary things! You wouldn’t have been so scared to come along.”

She smiled. “Well, since we’re here, time for a Martini?”