It was another day at the print shop, or so Haideh thought. A country-wide epidemic is broadcasted on TV, causing panic. The workers of the shop have little time to react and become a part of the chaos.
Listen To Me – Part One is January’s flash fiction that’ll bring readers into an end-of-the-world themed thriller. Experience the story in written word, audio, artwork and soundscape.
Business as Usual
Clicking keyboards, ringing phones, and working machinery filled the room with noise. Stacks of paper and large commercial printers were housed in the backroom behind the lobby. Beeping from the front door came every quarter of an hour or so as customers entered and left the shop. The busy season, summer, had begun. Every individual was looking to get their posters made, wedding invitations prepared, or some other side project done. The giant corporate cheeses were looking for trade show displays, brochures, and booklets. It was a lot for everyone to keep up with at the shop. It also didn’t help that they were understaffed, and their boss didn’t want to hire anyone.
A lady let out a sigh while staring at the computer screen. There was a graphics software open with a business card photo and some basic shapes overtop of it.
“Still tracing that logo?” called a man from the other end of the room. His puffy, frizzy black hair bounced as he turned to face the lady.
She put on a closed smile. She knew the man, Ceagan. He liked to start small talk, something she was not too fond of. She just wanted to get the job done and go home. The man sipped on his coffee, creating elongated slurping noises. Then there was silence. She didn’t want to do this mundane tracing task, but seeing that business card holder with cards neatly angled upward was flattering. It made her look like some sort of professional. At the same time, the card design itself was hideous, making her feel incompetent at her profession.
I would love to fix up that typeface—that colouring, awful. The logo needs work, too, she thought, eyeing the Mega Speed Print logo just above her full name: Haideh Harkovitch. Her title, Graphic Designer, was just below her name. Perhaps one day, she could convince the boss that their whole visual communication needed improvement. Then, she could have a decent portfolio piece and get out of this dead-end print job. Haideh could apply to a design studio and take on some actual challenging projects. Until then, she knew she’d be stuck tracing other designers’ work. Like today. And tracing it from a photo of a business card, no less. A monkey’s job.
High heels clicked as a shorter, middle-aged woman came into the office from the front lobby. It was Candice, owner of Mega Speed Print. She looked up at the mounted TV in the far corner of the room. “You getting a look at this?” came her croaky voice.
“What do you mean, on the telly?” asked Ceagan, adjusting his thick-framed glasses.
“That’s what I am saying,” Candice said. “It’s completely bonkers, look!”
The TV showcased the news, where a reporter and a cameraman riding on a helicopter overlooked the streets below. Crashed cars and civilians lay on the ground, and debris covered the pavement. The people that could move were running in all directions. Closed captions typed out as the reporter talked on the muted TV, saying:
“THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE MOVING IN A PANIC HERE IN DOWNTOWN LONDON . . .”
“My God,” Haideh said, wide-eyed. “It’s like it is out of a movie or something.”
“What is happening?” Ceagan asked.
Candice pointed at the TV. “That!”
Several people walked calmly down the road as civilians hurried away from them, like fish trying to escape a whale. There were a man and two women. All were wearing ordinary clothes: jeans, T-shirts, blouses—nothing obscure. The three each had one hand extended outwards, palms facing the crowd; blood ran from their fingertips, drizzling down their skin and onto the pavement. They had blank stares on their faces, eyes completely white.
“Where are their pupils?” Ceagan asked.
“WE CONTINUE TO FOLLOW THE THREE FIGURES THAT WERE REPORTED MERELY MINUTES AGO. THEY SEEM TO BE FOLLOWING THE CROWDS, CAUSING DISORDER FROM THEIR PRESENCE . . .”
“What are they? Terrorists?” Ceagan asked.
“I don’t think so,” Candice said. “They just seem to be walking down the street.”
A man on the TV dashed out from behind a wrecked car, holding the hand of a lady, trying to get by the three blood-fingered people who were slowly approaching. As a single unit, the three stopped walking and moved their hands, palms upward, towards the man and woman. Their target stopped dead in his tracks, and his hands began to shake, then his head. The lady tugged on the man’s arm, trying to get him to move with her. She shook her head, crying and pulling on him with all her might. The man didn’t budge, like he was glued to the ground.
“What is wrong with him?” Haideh asked, watching in disbelief. This isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen, she thought. She blinked twice, checking if she was still in control of the situation. She’d had pretty realistic dreams in the past and wanted to be sure she was awake. Yes, she was.
“THE POLICE ARE ATTEMPTING TO CONTROL THE SITUATION . . . WAIT, WE’RE NOW WITNESSING WHAT THESE THREE ARE CAPABLE OF.”
The cameraman adjusted the lens, zooming in on the five people. The closer view revealed the blood from the fingers seeping endlessly out from the cuticles of the three beings. It was an unnatural amount of blood. Their lips were moving, yet it wasn’t clear what they were saying from the helicopter’s height. As they talked, the targeted man began to shout erratically, looking up in the sky, arms coiling into fists. Red liquid oozed from his clenched hands, drizzling onto the road. The lady gently grabbed his arm, face drenched in tears. He relaxed his hands, shoulders lowering. His face released all tension while glaring at her with wide eyes, gently touching her face. She smiled at him and held his hand.
The three blood-fingered figures each took a step closer to the man and woman, reaching their hands out as far as they could. The motion caused the man’s eyes to twitch. He clutched the lady’s face with force, and she screamed. She tried to pull away with no luck. With his free hand, the man forged a fist. Letting out a roar, he slammed it into her face.
“Christ,” Haideh said, looking away from the TV. She couldn’t dare witness the intense violence. She never did handle it well and preferred to watch some reality TV for a few chuckles, or spend the night at the pub, maybe get lucky with a man. To her, violence was just disgusting—especially real violence like this.
“He won’t stop hitting her!” Ceagan exclaimed. “Does the prime minister have anything to say about this?”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t looked,” Candice said. “I saw this and came here to ask if you two had seen anything about it.”
Haideh looked up at the TV again, watching as the man continued to assault the lady, her face now unrecognizable.
“IT IS UNEXPLAINABLE, MAT. WE ARE SIMPLY REPORTING INFORMATION AS IT COMES IN. THE POLICE ARE BELIEVED TO BE ON THEIR WAY . . .”
Remorse for the Unknown
The blood-fingered three directed their hands away from the man. Their lips stopped moving, and they returned to their calm walking.
“OUR RESPECTS GO OUT TO THIS TRAGIC LADY’S FAMILY,” the reporter said.
“Now, why’d he go and do that for? Running out in front of those three?” Ceagan asked.
“They didn’t even touch him,” Haideh said. “He went completely looney. Are they using some nanotechnology?”
Ceagan snorted. “Nanotechnology? Lay off the TV, Haideh. It could be some sound-based hypnosis.”
“Why are their hands bleeding?” Haideh asked. “Can we switch the channel, at least? This is making me uncomfortable.”
“Sure,” Candice said with a sigh. “The remote is around here somewhere. With all this commotion, business is sure to slow down.”
“That don’t matter much, I think. Look at what is going on!” Ceagan said.
“We rely on the busy season, Ceagan. As you should know, that keeps you employed. You should be worried.”
“I’m sure I will be tomorrow. Today, I want to know what the hell is going on here.” He took a sip of his coffee and said, “Can we change the channel to see if there are any other reports on this?”
“Look for the remote!” Candice said.
“Candice!” came a young man’s voice from the front desk.
“Yes, Mark?” Candice replied with a groan. Haideh knew that Candice was testy with questions. Mark was the new guy, and he didn’t know Candice’s wrath yet. He was brave in his naivety.
“This invoicing software is being funny. Can you come take a look?” Mark asked.
“On my way,” Candice said. “You two keep working—don’t let that rubbish on the telly distract you,” she said before leaving the room.
Another beep came from the front entrance—the front door was pulled open. More customers. Perhaps Candice was wrong about the day quieting down.
Ceagan watched as Candice left the room, waiting until she was gone. Then he spun his chair around to face Haideh, saying, “Funny, ain’t it?”
“What?” Haideh asked.
“The boss can come by and chit-chat with us, but when she’s gone, it’s back to work. This is some history-in-the-making stuff the news is reporting!” He stared at the TV, watching the chaos.
Haideh looked up for a moment to see that the cameraman had shifted the view to the news reporter. She gripped the microphone tightly.
“WE’RE GETTING INSIGHT THAT THIS IS NOT THE FIRST CASE. THERE ARE MULTIPLE REPORTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY JUST LIKE THE THREE WE ARE WITNESSING BELOW . . .”
“Across the country? Are we under attack?” Ceagan asked, now fiddling with a pencil against his lip.
“We should get back to work,” Haideh said, spinning her chair around to look at the graphics software again.
A scream erupted from the front entrance. The sound of fumbling and crashing followed. Grunts. Another crash, and a prolonged gurgle. Haideh stood up, mouth open, looking at the doorway. It was impossible to see anything other than the walls and the entrance door.
“Candice?” Ceagan called out while getting up from his chair. He looked over at Haideh as he walked towards the front entrance. “Stay here,” he whispered.
Ceagan crept up to the wall, getting closer to the entrance as more fumbling came from the front lobby. He took another step, glancing back at Haideh, then at the entrance.
“Help!” came a worker’s shout from the backroom where the printers were. “Somebody, please help! Mark . . . wait . . . what? Mar—!”
A thumping sound came from beyond the office, silencing the worker. Another beep from the front door came. The door was pulled open.
Ceagan swallowed heavily before leaning forward, peeking around the corner, then bringing his head back.
“What do you see?’ Haideh asked.
“Nothing. No one is there,” Ceagan said.
Haideh hurried over to Ceagan and whispered, “Who was calling for help? Dan?”
A scream came from the other room.
“Maybe?” Ceagan whispered. “Or Daniel. It’s hard to tell.”
“Think this has anything to do with what we heard on the telly?” Haideh asked. She knew it was a stupid question. From what they’d heard, it was. She just wanted reassurance from someone.
“I’m going to guess so. Come, let’s call the police,” Ceagan said while getting up.
He quietly walked over to Haideh’s desk—the closest to the entrance—and picked up the phone. He punched in the numbers and brought the receiver to his ear. Haideh crept over to Ceagan, keeping her eyes on the entrance, just in case someone was to come into the room. She couldn’t help but wonder what had happened out there.
“The line is busy,” Ceagan said coldly.
“What do you mean?” Haideh asked.
“I can’t get ahold of them. There’s nothing there,” Ceagan said. “We’re on our own.”
Haideh felt her heart race. Who had yelled from the back room? Who else was in the print shop? There were no answers, and no rescue from the police in sight. Ceagan and Haideh would have to fend for themselves.
Leave a Reply