It was another day at the print shop, or so Janet 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.
Listen to Me – Part One
Business as Per Usual
Clicking of keyboards, ringing phones, and working machinery filled the room. Stacks of paper and large commercial printers were 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 other small side projects done. The bigger 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.
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, black-frizzy hair bounced as he turned to face the lady.
The lady looked behind her and put on a closed smile. She knew the man, Craig. He liked to start small chat, something that she was not too fond of. She just wanted to get the job done and go home.
The man sipped on his coffee, creating slurping noises. Then there was silence.
The lady turned back to her desk and eyed her business card holder, keeping her cards neatly angled upward. Having cards 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.
How 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: Janet 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 the dead-end print job. Janet could apply to a design studio and take on some actual challenging projects. Until then, she was stuck tracing another designer’s work. Tracing it from a photo none-the-less. A monkey’s job.
Real World Stuff
High heels clicked as a shorter, middle-aged, woman came into the office from the front lobby. Candice, part owner of Mega Speed Print. She looked up at the mounted TV at the far corner of the room. “You getting a look at this?” came her raspy voice.
“What do you mean, on the telly?” asked Craig, adjusting his thick-framed glasses.
“That’s what I am saying,” Candice said. “It’s completely bonkers, look!”
Janet and Craig gazed up at the TV to see the news channel had a reporter and cameraman riding on a helicopter, overlooking the streets below. Cars were crashed into one another on the road, civilians lay on the ground, the pavement was littered with random debris. The people that were able to move were running in all directions. The TV was muted, but subtext was typed out as the reporter talked, saying:
“THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE MOVING IN A PANIC HERE IN DOWNTOWN LONDON…”
“My God,” Janet said, wide-eyed. “It’s like it is out of a movie or something.”
“What is happening?” Craig asked.
Candice pointed at the TV, saying, “that!”
Several people walked calmly down the road as civilians hurried away from them, like fish trying to escape a whale. There was a man and two women. All were wearing common clothes: jeans, t-shirts, blouses, nothing obscure. The three had single hands extended outwards, pointing at the general crowd, blood ran from their fingers, drizzling down their skin and onto the pavement. They had blank stares on their faces, eyes completely white.
“Where are their pupils?” Craig asked.
“WE CONTINUE TO FOLLOW THE THREE FIGURES THAT WERE REPORTED MERELY MINUTES AGO. THEY SEEM TO BE FOLLOWING THE MASS CROWDS, CAUSING CHAOS FROM THEIR PRESENCE….”
“What are they? Terrorists?” Craig 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 that were slowly approaching. As a single unit, the three stood still while moving their extended hands, palms upward, out towards the man until their hands aligned with him. The man stopped dead in his tracks, 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 as she cried, tugging on him with all her might. The man didn’t budge, it was as if he were glued to the ground.
“What is wrong with him?” Janet asked, watching in disbelief. This isn’t like anything natural, she thought. She blinked twice, seeing if she was still in control of the situation. She had pretty realistic dreams in the past and wanted to be sure she was actually awake. She was.
“WE’RE GETTING A CLOSER LOOK AT AN EXAMPLE OF THE CHAOS THAT THEY ARE CAUSING….”
The cameraman adjusted the lens, zooming in on the four people. With the closer view, it was clear to see that the blood from the fingers continually seeped out of the cuticles of the three figures. Their lips were moving, but due to the height of the helicopter it was impossible for the subtext to interpret what they were saying. As they talked, the targeted man began to shout, 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, shaking her head as tears rolled down her face. The man stood tall, looking at her, fists still shaking. He relaxed his hands. His shoulders lowered and his face released all tension. He looked at her with wide-eyes as he gently touched her face. She smiled at him and held his hand with her own.
The three figures took a step closer to the two of them, reaching their hands as far as they could towards the man, causing him to twitch. Their closer presence made him clutch the lady’s face with force, causing her to scream. She tried to pull away from him but was unable to break free. With his free hand, the man curled his hand into a fist, letting out a roar, and slammed it into her face.
“Christ,” Janet said, looking away from the TV. She couldn’t dare look at the intense violence, she never did handle it well. She preferred to watch some reality TV for a few chuckles, or spend the night at the pub, maybe get lucky with a man. Violence was just disgusting.
“He won’t stop hitting her!” Craig exclaimed. “The Prime Minister have anything to say about this?”
“I’m not sure, I haven’t looked,” Candice said. “I saw all the chaos and went here to ask if you two had seen anything about it.”
Janet looked up at the TV again, watching as the man continued to beat the lady who was now on the ground.
“IT REALLY 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 three people on the TV re-directed their extended hands away from the man as their lips stopped moving and continued to move down the street.
“OUR RESPECTS GO OUT TO THIS TRAGIC LADY’S FAMILY….”
“Now why’d he go and do that for? Running out in front of those three?” Craig asked.
“They didn’t even touch him,” Janet said. “Are they using some nanotechnology?”
Craig snorted. “Nanotechnology? This isn’t some sort of sci-fi story, Janet. It could be some sound based hypnosis.”
“Why are their hands bleeding?” Janet asked. “Can we switch the channel at least? This is making me unconformable.”
“Sure, whatever,” Candice said with a sigh. “The remote is around here somewhere. With all this ruckus, business is sure to slow down today after this.”
“That don’t matter much I think, look at what is going on!” Craig said.
“We rely on the busy season, Craig. As you should know, that is what keeps you employed during the dry seasons. 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’s 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 said with a groan. Janet knew that Candice was testy with questions. Mark was the new guy. 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.
Craig watched as Candice left the room, waiting until she was gone. He spun his char around to face Janet, saying, “funny, ain’t it?”
“What?” Janet asked, while turning to face him.
“The boss can come by and chit chat with us but when she is gone it is back to work. That is some history-in-the-making stuff the news is reporting!” he stared at the TV and continued to watch the chaos.
Janet looked up for a moment, to see that the cameraman had shifted the camera to look at the news reporter.
“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?” Craig asked, now fiddling with a pencil against his lip.
“We should get back to work,” Janet said, spinning her chair around to look at the graphics software again.
A scream erupted from the front entrance, catching both of their attention. The sound of fumbling and toppling items erupted as more grunts, a crash, and then gurgling. Janet stood up, mouth open, while looking at the doorway. It was impossible to see anything other than the walls and the entrance door to the building.
“Candice?” Craig called out while getting up from his chair. He looked over at Janet as he walked towards the front entrance. “Stay here,” he whispered.
Craig crept up to the wall, getting closer to the entrance as more fumbling came from the front lobby. He took another step closer, looking back at Janet, then forward, ready to take peek at the entrance.
“Help!” came a man’s shout from a worker – possibly 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, indicating the door was pulled open.
Craig swallowed heavily before leaning forward, peeking around the corner, then bringing his head back.
“What do you see?’ Janet asked.
“Nothing. No one is there,” Craig said.
Janet hurried over to Craig and whispered, “who was calling for help? Dan?”
A scream came from the other room.
“Maybe?” Craig whispered. “Or Daniel. It’s hard to tell.”
“Think this has anything to do with what we heard on the telly?” Janet asked. She knew it was a stupid question. From what they heard, it was. She just wanted reassurance from someone.
“I’m going to guess so. Come, let’s call the police.” Craig said while getting up. He quietly walked over to Janet’s desk – the closest to the entrance – and picked up the phone. He punched in the numbers and brought the speaker to his ear.
Janet hurried over to Craig, keeping her eyes on the entrance, just in case someone was to come into the room. She couldn’t help but wonder what happened out there.
“The line is busy,” Craig said coldly.
“What do you mean?” Janet asked.
“I can’t get a hold of them, there’s nothing there,” Craig said. “We’re on our own.”
Janet felt her heart race. Who yelled from the back room? Who else was in the print shop still? Her answers weren’t going to be given to her with the rescue of the police, Craig and Janet had to fend for themselves.