This is the second installment of lpstribling’s and my collaboration of “The Hub” – Darkness.
LP – “Lock it down!” The man standing over Rory belted out the words as he straightened up and twirled an index finger in the air, giving some signal to a larger group of people.
Everything stopped. Everything. The music, the lights, the clinking of the glasses, the dancing. The occupants of the Hub now followed some strange automatic call and moved from wherever they were to huddle around a still-frantic Jacinta and her not-so-conscious birthday boy. The only sound holding in Jacinta’s ears was the ringing from what sounded like Duster, the band she was hoping to see with Rory, yet under slightly more normal circumstances.
She watched them crowd around and a strange chill scurried down her spine, almost to the steady buzz of the fading ringing from the now non-existant music.
As she knelt over Rory they were looking down at her – all of them. She turned her head, looking at each of them in the eye, and then moving on to the next one.
“This is the girl?” The tall bearded man asked. Jacinta had seen him before in the Hub. He hadn’t been there all that long, but he wasn’t a newbie, either. He worked behind the bar and, from what she had heard from people, he was pretty good at what he did. She didn’t have any complaints. After all, she usually managed to leave the place drunk, so he must have been doing something right. But she didn’t know his name. Worst of all, she didn’t know why he was asking about her, especially now, here in the middle of the Hub with the doors locked and the sound off. What exactly was happening?
Jacinta’s head snapped around to the girl who answered – a short redhead dressed in black. Her creamy white face looked all-business above two arms crossed at her front.
“I don’t really know. He said he was waiting for some girl named J. I don’ know; I’ve never seen her before.”
“You J?” The bartender’s finger dropped down to Jacinta with a stern lock.
Jacinta’s eyes fell from the bartender’s and drifted again around the room of all the Hub-goers. They were all there, all the regulars. The bartender’s staff (how many times had she seen these people there) the cocktail servers, the bussers and the band. And then there was everyone else. Everyone. The patrons, the guests, the daily drunks, and business men, the hookers and the first-timers. It was just a regular crowd. Just regular people.
Then a slow smile grew across Jacinta’s lips. “Oh ha, I get it. Right? Right? I get it. This is a joke, right?” She stood slowly as she looked around more. “Like this, all of this is a joke..Ha ha!” She clapped twice and walked around slapping a couple of shoulders and pinching cheeks. “Even you Rory, you sick fuck.” With her foot she nudged the quiet tip of one of her heels into his ribs, waiting for him to laugh. “Right? I can’t believe you fucked me like that.”
Rory’s eyes were glazed over, glaring in a vague wide loose grasp at whatever the view from the ceiling brought him. His lungs still rose and fell in a calm rhythmic repitition.
“C’mon birthday boy! it’s over. I’m done. I got it. Let’s go. No more.”
No one moved. Not an eye, not a smile, not a subtle reach for a cigarette.
The clear drinks on the bar still held their shape within the glasses they’d been given. What happened to the Tongan bouncers?
It was frighteningly quiet.
“Lights,” the bartender said.
Everything went dark.
RB – Why wasn’t anyone speaking, other than the bartender and the ginger haired girl? Surely this was some sort of stitch up. People all playing along to make the prank seem so real. Jacinta practically fell for it that was until Rory didn’t yell out “Surprise!” He just lay there. HIs eyes had this glassy look about them. Had he been drugged? This wasn’t funny anymore. “Heh..” A nervous half hearted chuckle escaped Jacinta’s lips, but no one cracked a smile, let alone moved. After the experience of being chased down, then having the homeless man tries to attack her; this was now the icing on the cake of what was a dreadful night out. Why wasn’t the band playing? Why was everyone staring at her? She had tried to get the stains out of her dress. No, that can’t have been it. Where was Trevor? Why were the doors closed?
Jacinta swallowed hard as a wave of shock raced through her system.
“This isn’t funny anymore.” A light waiver in her voice as her courage all but left her. Eyes turned to that of the bartender, but he stared at her coldly then simply said…”Lights.” The club then fell into darkness, which made the whole situation all the more terrifying.
“Rory? Please…get up. Say…something.” Jacinta could no longer see any of the faces of the patrons and staff. All they were was shadows. Hovering. Close. Too close. Jacinta backed up just a step and felt something or someone big in behind her. She suspected it was a male, by the feeling of their body in behind her. But what she hadn’t anticipated was how cold his flesh was. There was the chilling touch of his breath on her shoulder, that made her jump in surprise. Without warning, a large set of hands seized Jacinta by the arms, locking her in place.
“Let me go!” Jacinta screamed in protest, kicking and struggling from her captor’s grip – trying in vain to wrestle herself free. But the harder that she struggled, the tighter the man’s fingers bore into her flesh. All she could do was lash out and kick with her feet, one foot accidentally kicking Rory who was still on the ground.
“Ahaha, she is feisty.” The Cinamon haired girl let out a twisted laugh at Jacinta’s expense, like she was actually enjoying the show that the frightened girl was putting on. Jacinta’s hair was now partially covering her face, but she could just make the outline of the girl that spoke. Jacinta heard her when she first found Rory on the floor. Why was she laughing? Jacinta had never seen her before in her life.
“You think this is funny, bitch?” Some of Jacinta’s spark had returned as she fumed at the treatment she was receiving. None of this made any sense. It was supposed to be a night out to celebrate Rory’s birthday, but everyone was acting like extras from a horror movie. Jacinta snapped her head towards the bartender and screamed “Turn on the lights!” It was amazing what adrenalin could do. Her eyes darted towards all the shadows that were standing there, silently.
“Rory did say that I’d like you, J.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jacinta hissed back. She looked down to where Rory lay on the floor. Had Rory been drinking and socializing with this bitch before she got there? How did she even know who she was?
“You drugged him!?” This was the first thing to come to mind. It was the only reason as to why he would be on the floor like this. Kim stepped over Rory and came to stand right in front of Jacinta, cocking her head to the right slightly. “Maybe..” A cruel smile was forming upon her lips. For some reason, she was easier to see in the darkness. Why that was however was a mystery. A slender hand, again cool to the touch graced the right side of Jacinta’s face causing her to inhale sharply. She tried to draw her head back but it hit the man’s chest behind her. That was enough for her to jerk forward again.
One of the bar staff handed Kim a champagne glass that was filled with a clear liquid. She placed her finger in it and gave it a swirl before glancing up through her long eyelashes at the well restrained Jacinta. “You can join him, you know J.”
Without warning, Kim gripped Jacinta’s jaw and tried to make her drink from the champagne glass. Her nails cutting deep into Jacinta’s flesh. There was a burning hatred in her eyes.
“Rory!” A garbled cry coming from the poor girl who was being forced against her will.
LP- As scattered as they were, Rory forgot his dreams as soon as his eyes blinked open. Things blurred for him. A deep heavy blur. There was consciousness and sound, and there was a mix of dreamy memories.
He remembered screaming, something with struggle. There were solid voices, stable, those which spoke of confidence and promise. They mixed with the fearful, the unsure, and the timid. Something was wrong with the second set of voices – they were unstable, although they were few. Or was it just one. He heard J’s voice. It sounded good. And he saw her too. She was running. She was running to him and it was outside. But she was running not because she wanted. She wore walking clothes, business clothes, clothes she wouldn’t use to run. And it was dark, and it was outside. Her eyes showed her to be afraid. Rory tried to look behind her in the blur of his dream, but there was a point at which his vision dropped off – low beams in the woods at midnight.
“…sure no one knows. Not one bit of what….”
That girl was there then. He smiled when he saw her. Something in his heart felt bad when the thought of J while he was still with her. But what she gave him was good – it felt so good. There was her color, her smile, her wit. There was the way she walked right in and moved his social borders to the side, as though they had no purpose whatsoever. It was as if she said, ‘We don’t need these here, do we?’
“…the two of them. I don’t need another Shastin brothers incident. As soon as he wakes up, I want you to…”
The cinnamon girl was there too. She smiled with her big bright teeth, clean teeth, and her laugh…her lips were just so natural and she knew it, didn’t she? She wore black, and Rory was helpless. In his warm slumber a gurgle escaped his mouth.
The sound and quick rumble of his own vocal chords brought him back into a state of fuller waking. He let the weight of his head drop to one side and saw another form there. J was sleeping in the quiet dull of a rusty yellow ceiling lamp, the wires of which were lost in the dark above it. Her body lay recumbent on a table, a white blanket covering her. ‘That’s good,’ Rory thought. ‘There’s a lot of scary things happening in this place. Sleeping’s best.’
The incoming footsteps brought Rory closer to full consciousness.
“Mornin’, Sunshine.” The man’s voice was gruff; it matched his stature and color of his blurred form as Rory’s eyes made blinking struggle to give his body clarity. His stature loomed in the dim room, his head almost brushing the hanging light as he and a shorter girl crowded in on J’s resting form. The blur of Rory’s eyes eased into a slow clarity and the man’s dirty trench coat and worn boots gave him the away – a street man, someone who lived outside, survived on the concrete. And from his beard, unkempt and frayed, there was something worrisome about him, something that showed he wasn’t concerned with how others perceived him, moreso how others felt in general.
“Mmm?” J stirred as the two stopped over her.
“She’s still out for a bit. We can still get some work done, enough for starters anyway.” The large man’s form was blocking the body of the girl who spoke, but Rory recognized it without having to see her. “You sure this is the girl, though? The one you chased?”
“Yeah,” grunted the man. “‘At’s her. A real runner, too. I would have had to chase her more, but when I realized she was still headed here, I figured I’d save the energy.” He bent down to J’s face. “Probably got all your runnin’ for the week tonight, didn’ yeh?”
Rory listened and looked. The voices inside him were too scared to make a sound. He wanted to yell at J, tell her to look out and to find someway to get her out of there. Things were too scary. He wanted to get out of the scary parts of the night. They could talk about it later, but right now his dreams and things he was seeing weren’t very…where was this place? Things were wrong, but Rory didn’t quite know where.
I hear you, he thought. I hear you when you tell me this is bad. Every one of the voices in his heard were pounding. They told him, screamed at him to do something. I know, he thought. I’m trying.
And he was trying – he was trying to move his body, but all he had to himself were his eyes, his mouth, this throat and the automatic breathing of his lungs. Yet his arms weren’t working, neither were his legs. Not his toes, his fingers or his torso. In several instances, he made a full body trial. ‘Where am I not working?’ was the thought. Nothing moved.
Frustrated, he began to sniffle. Tears formed in the ducts of his eyes, and one rolled over his cheek and dropped to the surface. He sniffled again and murmured through a pair of semi-functioning lips, “J-j-Jacin-ttaa.”
Another sniffle, and the tall man turned from J’s quiet form to face him. In the background, the girl behind was visible as well. It confirmed what he already knew.
Again, he tried to speak. “Simmen grrl.”
RB – “Hello……Hello?” A room without windows, without doors. The walls were like glass – black glass. Shiny and smooth to touch. Jacinta ran from wall to wall – pressing her hands up to the glass surface but she could only just make out her own reflection. She was still dressed in the same clothes as the night of Rory’s birthday. A strangled cry came from the very pit of her stomach as she continued to smack her palms to the glass walls. There was nothing to grip onto. No handles, no latches. Just the cool smooth glass that formed the four walls, ceiling and floor of what was a prison. Surely this was a dream A dream from which Jacinta had no way of knowing how to wake. This was one of Jacinta’s fears. Being trapped in a glass box with no way out. Her heart started racing as the wave of panic started all over again. “Why is this happening?” The girl brought her curled fists up to the glass and beat at it repeatedly, till her hands were swollen and bruised. The glass remained unaffected by her efforts however, and soon the girl turned and pressed her back to the glass – sliding down slowly into a crumpled heap. Her head soon resting on her knees with her arms curling around her legs as she rocked back and forth.
The reality was far different from being trapped in a glass box. Jacinta was laying still on an observation table beneath a rusting yellow ceiling lamp, much like the kind you would have seen in an old World war two movie, like old war bunkers. It was a far cry from the strobe lights of the Hub. Whatever happened after Jacinta had been forced to drink from the champagne glass was all but a haze. The last thing Jacinta remembered was the room spinning as she was consumed by a terrible darkness.
An assortment of coloured wires that were from several monitoring machines, were fed up and under the white blanket that covered most of her body up to her neck. Her head was resting on a small u shaped support. Jacinta’s face looked calm, serene almost. How looks can be so deceiving. Though the scruffy bearded man enjoyed seeing her like this. Different from how she was when she was practically sprinting down the main street to get away. Fast and in such serious footwear. Jacinata made a sound, like she was rousing. Perhaps it was due to the scent of his breath as he leered over her.
“Yeah, this is the one.” A certainty in his voice when he looked over at Rory, who was now mumbling what sounded to be Jacinta’s name. The trail of a single tear down his face indicated that he was starting to come around, and knew that his friend J was there. It was the other name he said, that got Kim’s attention.
“Simmen grrl.” That was what he called her. Almost like a pet name, a nick name. It was almost cute. His quiet sniffle brought Kim from her place at Jacinta’s side to walk over and caress the forehead of the incapacitated Rory. “Shhhh. You’ll only wear yourself out. Don’t worry about J, she’s in good hands.” A light head tilt and Kimmy assumed a more caring expression. “You’ll thank me later. I know you will.” The corners of Kim’s mouth curled ever slightly as she continued to stroke the top of Rory’s head, before leaning in to plant a soft kiss on his lips.
“Miss Lloyd? I thought I told you to bring me the Kenner file.”
The sheer glass walls warped and changed into that of her boss, Mister Hinkley’s office. Jacinta had gone from being curled up near one of the glass walls, to standing in front of her boss’s desk. She couldn’t remember why she was suddenly there, and why he was looking at her so oddly.
“Miss Lloyd? Are you alright?”
“I…uhm. I…” Wide eyed, the young secretary looked at her reflection in the mirror, and she looked just as she had before she’d left the office the night of Rory’s birthday. Why was this like experiencing a repeat of the same day? Jacinta was completely lost. Clueless as to what was happening. Where were the glass walls? Her breathing became shallow, as she fumbled with a folder that she was now clutching in her hand. It was marked “Kenner Inc – Classified.”
“Jacinta…this is highly unprofessional. I really did expect more from you.” Her boss rose from his chair, and made his way slowly around his desk. Raising his hand to button his jacket as though taking on a more formal appearance. Jacinta was ready to hand over the file that was until the body outline of Mister Hinkley flickered. Much like the way a television screen does with bad reception.
“Hand it over, Miss Lloyd and and then you can make a start on those presentations.”
“J-j-Jacin-ttaa.” It was another voice and not just any voice. It was Rory.
“Rory?” She could not help but answer him. Why did he sound like he was crying? Better yet, where was he? Jacinta clutched the file closer to her chest and took a step back from Mister Hinkley, who was now scowling at her angrily.
“Hand it over, Jacinta.” His voice had a gravel like consistency, which was nothing like how she knew him to be. Her boss went to snatch the files, but it was at that moment his face changed to that of the man that had chased her through the streets. That horrid man.
“Probably got all your runnin’ for the week tonight, didn’ yeh?” The smell of his breath made her want to be sick. The room started to swirl and break away, as a bright light shone from above. Jacinta could feel the grip of a man’s hand upon her and though she tried to pull away, she was incapable of moving.
It was like she had no control over what was happening, but instead of going back into the glass walled room, she found herself lying flat on what must have been a table. The steady hum of machines that blinked rapidly, along with an array of lights and stats started to come into focus. Her eyes were opening, ever slowly. Jacinta’s pupils changed to try and adjust to the light of the room that was directed down upon her. There were tubes in her arms, IV’s and all across her chest and abdomen; small sensor pads that were stuck to her with a special tape. Only when the face of the hooded man came into view did the true horror start to set in. Had she been operated on?
Jacinta turned her head towards the sound of what was Rory’s voice and what she saw made her physically sick. It was the girl from the club and she was leaning over Rory, kissing his lips. Was this another nightmare like in her boss’s office? A surreal kind of dream? Jacinta struggled within a body that simply would not obey her commands. All she could do was turn her head. Turn her head and watch the cruel display of Kim being affectionate to what she thought to be her man.
“J’s awake. Just enough time for one last test.” Again the bearded man spoke, and what he said made Jacinta’s blood run cold. ~Test…what test?~ Kim glanced up from Rory, who was still unable to move or respond to what was happening to him. She took in the terrified look on the young girl’s face and smiled in triumph. All she did to respond to the bearded man was nod…..and only once.
A quiet whimper was all that Jacinta could muster, as the bearded man was handed a needle from an unseen accomplice. He forced the tip into the saline drip and started to press down to release the clear liquid that ran down the tubing and into Jacinta’s arm. There was a sharp stinging sensation, before Jacinta’s eyes rolled into the back of her head. If only she knew what they were doing. Why she replayed her day before the party. Who was this evil man and the cinnamon haired bitch?
As Jacinta once again lost consciousness, a door opened and a well dressed man in a grey suit entered the room. He looked like a banker, or lawyer. Clean cut, perfect hair and chiseled chin. Steel blue eyes coldly surveyed the room and then the two that were layed out on the tables.
“Good work.” His words were curt as he closed the door behind him, only to face Kim who had stopped preening Rory’s hair. This man in the suit. He must have had some authority, since Kim backed away from the tables for him to inspect.
In the crook of his arm were some files, and on the one that faced outward was a snap shot, similar to a government photo. The woman in the photo had much lighter hair, but the eyes were unmistakable.
It was Jacinta.