Always in the Alley

Are you ready for this one? Here we go with the next installment of the strange story we have been working our way through. Funny thing, I haven’t come up with a title for the whole, if you have some ideas feel free to pitch them in the comments.

This portion will be the end of the second section of story. As always if you want to refresh your memory or catch up to where we are now follow the links below.

Section 1

Section 2

Aftermath
Always in the Alley

Section 3

Section 4

Section 5

Always in the Alley

The hallway beyond the building’s front doors was empty. Abel’s place was on the third floor. Stan had used the elevator coming and going yesterday but he chose the stairs today. He couldn’t explain why but he needed a bigger picture, the larger view of the situation; he needed to see the space around him. Something wasn’t right but he couldn’t explain it at all.

Always in the Alley

flickr creative commons via DC John
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The creaks and groans of the building around him echoed in the silent halls. Energy saving lights flicked on to his presence in the halls. At first he thought he encountered another person but it had been the building going on like he belonged there.

Abel’s door had taken a sickly glow in the light of day. Shadows from the windows in the hallway and the halogen bulbs flickered and fought at the doorway. He waited with his finger at the doorbell but couldn’t bring himself to push it. A voice in his head insisted he open the door as only a concerned friend would but at the same time he felt a distance between him and the door, an imposing distance that he couldn’t bring himself to violate. In the end he pushed the doorbell.

Within seconds a shadow passed over the peephole and the door opened. “Stan,” Ema said. “Everything okay?” She motioned for him to come inside. “Abel, Stan’s here. Pour him a coffee. Was there a problem at the store? Did we forget something?”

Stan scanned the room without focusing on anything in particular. When Abel stepped into the living room the words fell from his mouth. “When did Ema come back? How are you healed? What happened here after I left you last night?”

“Woah, Stan, what’s going on?” Abel said. “Ema has been home the past couple days with a fever. I’ve been taking care of her and giving her soup.”

“You came to my apartment yesterday, beaten and bloody. Ema had been taken by the Comfort Inspectors…”

“I think I would have remembered if something like that happened.”

“It’s true. Abel has been home with me treating me like a princess.”

Stan glanced back and forth between the two of them. He couldn’t focus, couldn’t see them as they were in front of him as his mind raced through the images of Abel’s face bruised and battered. It wasn’t right, this wasn’t right at all.

Abel laid a hand on Stan’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes. “I think maybe, you’ve been working too hard lately. You need a break sometimes. Why don’t you close up the shop, let Bernie take over for a couple days.”

“I know what I saw. You and I spent hours at the Health and Comfort offices waiting in line.”

“What are you talking about? Stan, we have been friends five years now,” Abel said. “This is some kind of joke? Take some time off. Go home and spend time with your wife. Tell you what, I’ll call Charlotte for you now. The both of you can walk home together and discuss your vacation.” He picked up the phone on an end table and hit the buttons.

Stan pulled away from them, moved closer to the door. “I know what I saw, know what happened.”

“Hi, it’s Abel. No he’s over here.” His gaze followed Stan as he inched closer to the doorway. “I’ll keep him safe. No, don’t worry. He’s with friends.”

Ema slipped behind Stan, closed the door, and locked it. “Sit down Stan, you’ve had a rough time of it.”

The click of the lock echoed in Stan’s mind. The snap of a wild synapse woke him to his situation. He couldn’t stay here. He should have known something was wrong. Abel had healed so quickly, much too quickly. The world around him melted as the walls of the apartment closed around him. Ema and Abel stepped closer to him, pushing through his bubble of personal space.

“Enough!” His outburst stopped them short. In the free second he had won he pushed against both of them and knocked them away. In that moment he charged the door and twisted the lock. He slammed the door open and shot out into the hallway, then down the stairs.

At the bottom of the stairs his heart slammed against his ribs as his lungs screamed for air, but he didn’t stop. He pushed himself through the main doors of the building and back out onto the street. He didn’t look back, didn’t check for pursuit. His only chance was to build a lead and get as far from them as possible. When he finally stopped in an alley several blocks from Abel’s building he ducked down behind a dumpster and pressed himself into the shadows.

The fwap fwap fwap of rubber soles on pavement rushed past the mouth of his alley. They had run past him, he was sure of that. Though he held tight to his position in case they circled back. The alley was a dead end. His only way out was the way he came.

He looked around in surprise after a rock smacked into his arm. A small rock, slightly bigger than a pebble but it hit with thrown force. It hadn’t fallen from the roof of the building he sat under. When the second rock hit him he caught the movement from a doorway a bit further down the alley. A slim hand had snaked through a doorway cracked open and whipped another rock at him. Stan looked back toward the mouth of the alley and then sprinted to the open door.

As he crossed the threshold a hand reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder, slammed him against the wall and another covered his mouth. The room was dark and he didn’t have a chance to see the face of his assailant before the door closed tight and the little light it offered disappeared.

“Keep quiet, keep still.” The words slithered to his ear, spoken close but from a lower position than he expected. The hands relaxed, though they didn’t move away from his body. “One word and I snap your neck.”

The attack, such force and speed, didn’t register at first, as the hands pulled away Stan realized they were smaller than he expected. They dropped down, away from him. His assailant was shorter and slighter than him. “Who–”

He never saw the movement in the darkness but the back of the hand hit him like a club. Stan’s head flew back and knocked against the wall behind him. “I said don’t speak.”

As his eyes adjusted, he searched the darkness. A flicker of light emanated from the far side of the room, a thin strip under a door. The glow outlined his assailant, though not enough to discern the assailant’s features. The man was definitely shorter than him and had a smaller build. He didn’t need light to make note of the man’s intensity.

“I saw you.” The voice, still whispered, had become more distinct. A soft, feminine voice that matched the frame of his attacker. “You put it in my alley.”

“What are you talking about?” Stan whispered. The sounds felt like a scream in the room’s darkness. “Who are you?”

“You left one of their bodies in my alley. Dropped it in the trash.”

Stan’s heart hammered against his ribs. He fought against the urge to bolt or to strike out at this person in front of him. There had been no one around him, no one had seen what he did. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t play,” she said. “I saw the body.” The ‘s’ came out like a hiss. She circled back to the door and turned the lock and slid the deadbolt in place. “They have taken your home already.”

Charlotte. “I didn’t do anything,” Stan said. His mind raced through the attack, and his trip home. He hadn’t seen anyone through the entire exchange.

She grabbed his hand and rubbed rough, scratchy fingers over the knuckles, still bruised from the murder. Stan tried to pull his hand away but she held it tight at the wrist. “This is from nothing?”

“Who the hell are you?” he said.
She let his hand fall, and then stepped away from him. “I am concerned,” she said.

***

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