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Late Hours

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It's late.

A lot later than he should be there, for sure.

Everyone else had gone home for the night, but young intern Matthew was behind on his work, so he'd opted to stay after hours to catch up, since he couldn't see any other free time he'd have to do it. His schedule is swamped, between his internship, extracurricular activities, and finals coming up. So here he is, kneeling down in one of the recording booths, sorting through manila folders.

He hears the low hum of Management from up the hallway and glances up in time to watch a shadowy form pass behind the frosted glass. He shudders lightly, throwing a quick prayer up to the Elder Gods that they stay inside their office, and reaches out for a stapled packet. The paper is goldenrod in coloration, indicative that it's a Tuesday report. That goes in file for the 8th, then. A weird fucking filing system, one he'd been meaning to talk to somebody about. Files went into folders based on the days of the month the reports had gone out, then by the days of the week within the drawers. It'd make far more sense to just sort them by date, he thinks.

A sudden movement in his peripheral vision causes him to freeze for a second, then relax again as his mind works to dismiss the sight.

'Probably the Faceless Old Woman...'

Several more minutes of silence pass, and he begins to wonder why he's been sitting here in the quiet for so long, briefly considering fishing his ear buds out of his back pocket, when something causes the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. Goose flesh travels in a wave down his arms, and his heart rate spikes at a sound from somewhere to his left and rear. It's not an all together obtrusive sound, very soft, something like a pencil being rolled across a desk, or papers sliding over each other. The fact that it existed, that it had been produced at all, this fact alone, though, was what sent thrills of alarm into dear Matthew's core.

“... Think. Think I'll pick this up tomorrow,” he murmurs to nobody in particular, half-rising, bent over at the waist to gather the rest of the papers from the floor to his arms.

He straightens slowly, arranging them into a neat pile and tucking them into a loose folder. As he does so, he catches sight of something in the corner, up on the ceiling.

It moves.

Very fast, oh, so very fast. Dioxazine purple, ragged and crusted over cloth, the rustle of dried leaves in the autumn. It makes an incongruously soft gurgling sound as it springs soundlessly towards him. He's unable to identify it, has never seen anything like it, except perhaps in some especially bad dreams half remembered from childhood.

In that moment, he would gratefully have sought comfort in his worst nightmares. The files go scattering to the floor, body reacting before his mind does, twisting around and bolting for the open doorway, Vans pounding the slick tile below. His chest heaves as he scrambles for the front entrance, fishing a pocket knife from his waistband and frantically jerking it across his palm as he races for the bloodstone doors.

Matthew is nearly there, his fingertips just barely graze the smooth cold surface of the stone when, unexpectedly, his sole slides on a slick spot on the floor, legs jerking out from under him and sending him sprawling down onto his right side. He lands, hard, knife still in his hand, sinking up to the hilt into the yielding flesh of his abdomen. He wheezes, as much from pain as shock, tears springing to his eyes, and coughs, swiping erratically at the entrance to the station. After a few moments, he makes contact, and the doors spring open, weightless as though they'd been transmutated into cardboard.

He goes to push himself onto his arms, intent on dragging himself out through sheer force of will, when an indescribable wailing fills his ears, blocking out everything else until it becomes his entire world. The noise is beyond recognition, beyond anything he's ever experienced before, and he collapses again, hands pressed firmly to bleeding ears. He's thrashing around without being aware that he's even moving, dislodging the knife and sending it careening across the hallway somewhere.

The scream draws on, but he falls still, balled up tightly, palms still clamped to either side of his head, hard enough to produce an ominous cracking sound that he detects above the all-consuming noise. He stares up the hallway as the shape from before materializes around the corner, and lets out a helpless groan of pure unadulterated fear.

The thing moves brokenly, staggering towards him on tottering, uneven steps, like a drunken ballerina's waltz. Its upper torso dangles off of it at an angle too unnatural, the trauma too great for anything alive to still be capable of movement. He can't even bring himself to look at its face, a grotesque mask of unfiltered, raw rage. The teeth are drawn into a macabre grin, too pointed, too wide. Its arms reach out for him, one bent backwards at the elbow, fingers ending in gnarled, twiglike claws, to rend flesh from bone.

His own voice has now risen to join the sourceless one, a cacophony of blood-rotting shrieks, interspersed with broken sobbing. The thing in the building with him is now upon him, crouching over to lift his body, cradling him to its chest in a gristly mockery of a tender embrace.

Off in the distance, a few citizens out late pick up the sound of Matthew's scream on the breeze. Horribly, the scream does not cut off sharply, but instead fades away slowly and gradually like a high-pitched whistle receding into the distance.

Finally finished with its fun, the being allows his limp form to fall to the floor. Softly, disastrously, half-conscious sobs still rise from the mangled lump of meat formerly known as intern Matthew. Hands larger than his face come down, gently brushing hair from his forehead and blood from his cheeks, before wrapping around the skull. With an abrupt, convulsive twist, the dried burlap horror jerks Matthew's head right off his shoulders, as cleanly as one would remove a loose bolt from its screw. But not nearly as neatly. Blood fountains from the headless torso, splattering the creature, his own body, and the walls and ceiling.

At last satisfied that its job was done, it grabs Matthew under the armpits, dragging the corpse off up the hallway, a rust-colored stain marking its path. The screaming stops as well, and silence falls, silver and shimmering in the hot desert air. The front doors swing shut of their own accord, concealing the scene within and giving no outward sign that anything had taken place at all.