It Begins In Darkness
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Darkness descends upon Lockwood Towers — also, the lights go out, and a couple of the inhabitants are set on edge in the middle of the night.

Lockwood Towers — 3rd Floor

Oct. 19/12

"The mysterious writer says as he sends the lady off into the dark."


Silence courses through the narrow hallways of Lockwood Towers, filling every main artery from the black-and-white tiled lobby up every floor, branching into every row of brass-plate numbered doors. The only interruption to the silence is the rare but reliable sounds of life; the quiet shuffle of the residents locked away behind those closed doors. Music; a voice; then nothing, until another routine beat of apartment life.

The hour is late. Too much noise past ten o'clock in the evening is an evict-worthy offense in Lockwood Towers. It's long past that now. The rental office has long since closed. The flow of people in through the doors has dwindled to nothing. Most lights are off. A dim bulb still burns under the hunter green glass of an antequated office lamp in the security office, but it's vacant. The only thing moving on any of the dull grey security screens is steady static. Nothing living graces them. Only the visual equivalent of silence.

Taktaktiktakkitytiktak

All is not silent in No. 310. This is the hour of creativity. Surrounded by a haze of cigarette smoke, the remains of several spent butts smouldering in the ashtray, Roland Carmichael sits hunched over his typewriter. His spectacles sit precariously on his thin nose, and his eyes strain in the dim lamp light to see the words his fingers birth on the page. The bodies of three contentedly dozing cats lay draped about on the sparse pieces of furniture; the fourth has curled herself up in his lap. Oblivious to all else, the hitman forges on in his storytelling.

Taktaktak

The air in the building is usually dead, owing to its old thick walls, its aging ventilation system, its inescapable dust, the unshakable aura of a grand old structure past its prime but painted over with a thick coat one too many times. Smoke drifts without hardly moving at all inside 310.

For one, brief second, the air seems to come alive, vibrating, the way it gets charged before a lightning storm, prickling at the skin: danger, it says, there's a storm coming. For most people, it's easy to ignore. Their sense of instinct is dulled. They don't listen to their lizard brains. For creatures attuned to danger, however — those who need their senses honed — cats, and killers…

Every cat eye in the apartment opens. Fur rises. Lazy muscles shift. Gentle snores turn to uncertain growls. Paws tense. Roland's lamp dims to but a faint ember glow and goes back to its normal eye-straining light.

Taktaktakti—

Fingers hover over keys as each (functioning) sense goes on alert. It could be just a hiccup in the power, this being such an old building, but Roland knows better than to ignore that tingling feeling along his spine. "Shhh, shh," he murmurs absently to his feline companions, but it's not much of an assurance. Glancing about the place, he slowly pushes his chair away from the desk and starts to rise, depositing the cat on the floor in the process. Maybe he's been writing alone in the dark too long, but maybe

He picks up a paperweight from off the desk — fist-sized, with the words "World's Greatest Dad" laser-etched inside — and then … stands there. Listening.

The apartment, predictably, seems as empty as it ever was aside from Roland and his small roommates; nothing so much as shuffles outside his door. Every shadow that moves in the place are his own doing, or from the flick of a cat's tail.

The feeling fades.

With an electric crackle, the light goes off.

"Damn it." In his present state, the sudden snap of electricity is a little more startling than it should be, and far more upsetting than suddenly being bathed in darkness. Roland sighs and begins the arduous process of shuffling carefully toward the wall nearest the door, where the light switch for the overhead lights in the small studio is located. He doesn't think to put down the paperweight.

The faint glow from the already dim light in the apartment corridor is gone, obvious the closer he shuffles toward it in the near pitch, but he has only to reach the light switch before the lamplight comes back on by itself.

Everything as it was. And yet — it's while the light is on that the oppressive gut feeling of being watched spreads into every nook and cranny of the apartment.

Not a burnt-out bulb, then, but Roland doesn't get much time to celebrate, because then there's that feeling again. Not one to run when faced with danger, he stands there by the door, paperweight gripped firmly in hand, waiting for — something. But even he isn't impervious to fear; his pulse rushes in the face of this unknown terror. When the lights snap off again, he tenses — and then he starts to feel a touch light-headed. Gas. That has to be it. His free hand fumbles behind him to find the doorknob, to let in some sort of fresh air in this closed space.

Off again. On again as he touches the doorknob. Humming irregularly with volatile, faulty electricity, the slights spasm.

Off.

On.

Off.

On— BANG, BANG.

Something pounds the other side of the very door he's about to open.

He doesn't even get time to really think. Whatever is going on in this apartment, Roland does not want to be in it right now. Furious at what he can't understand of the situation, he doesn't bother to check the peephole; his hand twists the knob and he yanks the door open, whirling to face whatever-it-is with the paperweight raised above his head to strike and a savage yell in his throat.

What stands before Roland is a hooded figure — shouting in the voice of an extremely surprised female suddenly fearing-for-her-life — and is angry about it. "Jesus mother of fuck!" The visitor scrambles backwards until she bumps the opposite wall, the hood of her army green fall raincoat falling down over dark hair. Dimly illuminated by the hall lights — that now stay on — the face of Lockwood's most regular security guard stares with eyes wide with adrenaline, slightly deeply set by insomnia, and harboring a gleam of paranoia — perhaps the same kind that compelled Roland to hold the paperweight so aggressively above his head. She's a frequent sight in the little box of a security office, and that's where she usually is; she has a friendly hello in the elevator for the other residents, she lives here too, but mostly keeps to her business (of watching everybody else's); she doesn't exactly make home visits a typical priority. "What the Christ," her hands, half-caught in the loose arms of her jacket, flail as expressive as her face. "I knocked!"

The cry from Roland almost just as quickly cuts off once he sees who is on the other side. His arm drops and he sucks in a breath, gripping the doorknob tightly in his free hand. Well. This is awkward.

"Christ. You scared the— // why are you// " There's just really no good way to recover from this. Taking another deep breath, the tall man seems to deflate a little. He swallows, tries again: "Sorry. Everything just you startled me. What do you want?"

He gets a similar response from his impromptu visitor, overlapping the end of his words, "Startled you, you were about to slam me with a goddamn— what is that, a paperweight?! I was trying to— I just thought I'd— " Taking a deep breath in an attempt to iron out herself and tamp down her adrenaline, Sarah's shoulders start to relax — only to spring up again as she battles frustration over trying to explain why she's here. Roland's door seemed like the right choice for both of them at the time, but now two strangers are left staring at each other from threshold to hallway. "I was watching the monitors and I thought I — you know what, never mind," she decides with a wave of her fingers, starting to turn, "obviously everything's alright." But a quick, feral shot of a glance ricochets from the right to left down the hallway before her head tips sideways to try to sneak an conspicuous peek into Roland's abode, pinching her brow with concern.

There's that feeling

"…are you alone in there, sir?"

The apartment over Roland's shoulder has what some might call a "lived-in feel" and what others would call "a lack of tidiness". It's certainly not unlivable, but with the occasional unwashed dish on the coffee table, a pair of pants strewn over the easy chair, and a few pizza boxes stacked by the garbage, it definitely could use a little work. The occupant himself blends in perfectly, jaw stubbled, hair mussed, and with a bathrobe haphazardly thrown over his T-shirt and sweats. Either he's alone, or his roommates aren't very picky.

"Of course— I— well, the cats, but— " Roland's brow furrows now, and he clears his throat roughly. "The lights keep going off." Like that answers her question.

"Yeah… old buildings, right. The whole building had some kinda power surge as far's I can tell…" Sarah is fixated on the sliver of Roland's apartment that she can see somewhere between his bathrobe and the doorframe. "This might be— a bit of an overstep of my job description and I know it's really just horrendously late right now, but would you— ?" Her voice goes up a notch as she looks back up, brows raised with more determination than hope or even question. "Let me just look around in there for a second?"

The lights flicker so feebly it could easily be a trick of the eye.

One would think that a man with Roland's job description wouldn't be keen on security guards wandering around their apartments, but Roland isn't stupid enough to leave obvious things like dead bodies and pickaxes lying around. There is, however, just the faintest flicker of hesitation in the hermit's demeanor. It is his apartment, after all. Finally he opens the door a little wider and shuffles aside. "Sure, why not?" he sighs. It's not like his night could get much worse.

Sarah takes as wide a berth around the robed man as possible and crosses the threshold, casting an uneasy look over her shoulder that she promptly tries to cover by ducking her head down in passing. They're both hesitant. What could she even think she'll find. The smoky apartment feels too quiet as she picks her way through it. She's methodical; any more procedural and she'd be better suited to holding a gun and flashlight and shouting clear. She walks around the perimeter, casting her gaze this way and that all over Roland's personnel effects without particular care for what they are; so long as they don't harbour an invader. Until she blurts out— "Who still uses a typewriter?"

For his part, Roland doesn't hold himself with any hint of guilt, just a certain disdain for the fact that someone else is in his apartment. Which probably doesn't make his impromptu guest feel any more at ease. He remains hovering uncertainly by the door, idly rolling the paperweight around in his palm, more fidgety than threatening. At the mention of his precious, precious typewriter, however, he stiffens. "I do," he grunts, doing very poorly at hiding his self-consciousness, especially when he strides toward the desk and quickly throws the green velveteen coverlet over the machine. "Is that illegal or something?"

"No, jeez," Sarah replies quickly, stepping back — slightly theatrically, with her hands up — when the typewriter is covered up. "I like it, it has a certain style." Which, glancing around, she doesn't quite find in the rest of his apartment… "What, were you writing a romance novel on there," she says of the typewriter being cast into velveteen modesty. "Too steamy for prying eyes?" she throws back at him as she avoids a cat mid-search, a flash of an amused smile brightening through the odd atmosphere; not meaning any harm, it's humour while she lurks through his apartment in the middle of the night fuelled by— what, paranoia? Turnig her back entirely to Roland, she slides to his window, glancing out; no easy access in from the third floor…

"No, I just don't like people reading my stuff." Frowning, realizing that might sound weird, he adds, "Not until it's finished." Roland finally sees fit to put the paperweight back in its place, seeing as he's not got a reason to go bludgeoning anyone to death, and then he clicks his tongue at the cat — a large fluffy calico — getting all up in the search business. "Duchess, no." The cat pays no mind, she being a cat and all.

The resident is shot a briefly odd look over his cat's name, rather than his explanation, before Sarah moves on, Duchess swirling about her legs. Even his bathroom and his bedroom area gets a look, though not a thorough one — she only looks. It seems clear that there's nothing out of sorts; that ought to set her mind at ease, but instead leaves the well-meaning security guard frustrated. Heaving a sigh (half of which is cursing under her breath), she starts to spin toward Roland. "Sorry for bothering you, Three-Ten, there must've just… just been a screw-up or something, a glitch on the screen before the power went— "

Off, like it does now, thrusting them into an encompassing, dizzying blackness that blurs the line between what the floor is, and what the wall is.

Shuffle of feet— the pitter-patter of a cat fleeing— slap of Sarah's hand on what seems like the wall but what might be the floor, since she's falling in the disorienting black.

The abruptness has Roland scrambling to find something to grab hold of. His hands grip the back of his desk chair, which helps him stay upright for just long enough to slump against the desk rather than onto the floor. "Fuck." Straining to focus on something — anything — in the black, he clings desperately to the furniture.

There's nothing — nothing, nothing… except a hint of another building or glow of a distant streetlight outside the window, a hint of the outside world. The floor, walls, and even the furniture seems to tremble under their touch. As if the room itself is shivering ever-so-slightly; or is it them who shake in their disorientation. The faint shaking of every loose item in the apartment tells the mind otherwise — everything jarred for several moments as if a train is passing too close or mild earthquake has rumbled up beneath Hickoryville.

When everything stills, it stills; the only sounds are that of breathing. Sarah's has quickened, became louder, harried on the verge of cursing the darkness … darkness that doesn't leave this time, even as the world seems to right itself. Wall feels like wall, floor like floor. She reaches under her coat with a slick rustle. There's a click. "My flashlight doesn't work."

Stunned, having never experienced an earthquake before, Roland is hesitant to let go of the desk for several long moments, as though the world will spin out beneath him if he does. It isn't until Sara speaks that he comes out of it, but once he does, his mind focuses sharply. They've just been in an earthquake, the lights are out, and her flashlight doesn't work. Great. "I have a lighter— " There's the quiet rattling as he runs his hands blindly over the implements on the desk, seeking the lighter, trying to spark it to flame.

Let there be light. The tiny flame casts Roland in an orange glow, touching on vague outlines of furniture here and there. "Jesus," Sarah breathes out in complaint of the darkness eve now that it's ever-so-slightly illuminated. The typical moth-to-flame, she pushes to her feet — she'd tumbled to her knees — and starts to stride toward him. "I'm coming over, don't hit me because you're afraid of the dark," she says — fair warning, even somewhat well-meaning (and slightly worried for herself), it's not just a jab. Only half of her features are soon lit by the flickering lighter, the other shadowed her hood hanging over her head once more from gravity when she became acquainted with Roland's floor. He only gets the faint downturn of her mouth. Not only does she go where the light is, she doesn't seem set on stopping anywhere outside of personal space.

"Very funny." Dry. Roland clears his throat and squints at the vague shadows of furniture in his pitch-black apartment, frowning. "We should probably get to the fuse box. Maybe a breaker was thrown." He says to building security, like she isn't trained to deal with crises.

"Oh, we, huh?" She chooses to sit on his desk like it's furniture and she's a more welcome guest. Though the unease of darkness and unsettling disorientation may linger, the room is starting to just feel like a room again — were it not for the determined blackness. "Heroic," Sarah commends — there's amusement in the smile that just quirks under the hang of her hood, however. "You know, I bet half've the building hasn't even noticed? They're still sleeping, like you should be. Or writing porn, or whatever. I'll take care've it and leave you alone."

… right. Roland clears his throat again, like it's gone dry. "You sure? By yourself, without any light?" He, after all, is the one holding the lighter. "What if it starts shaking again?" The more normal the place seems, the more relaxed he becomes. Darkness doesn't scare him so much as earthquakes.

Sarah shimmies back down off of the desk and stands in front of Roland. The miniature firelight reaches up into the shadows of her face, brightening her eyebrows as they lift up at him. "Are you sure it's not you who doesn't wanna be alone?" She counters, lingering with a bit of challenge before she takes a few steps back into the dark apartment, far more easygoing than her initial stalk inside. "I'll be fine. That was fucking weird, but what're the chances we're going to have another freak— whatever that was, earthquake— in Hickoryville? Besides," she reaches into her coat pocket; a few seconds later, Roland's flickering light has a companion. "I forgot. Trying to quit."

A quiet snort that sends the tiny flame in Roland's hand dancing. Once it's evident the security guard has her own illumination, he seems more inclined to let her go off alone. Not that he could have stopped her really. "Good luck," he grunts, "with earthquakes and god knows what else going on." He'll stick with his lung-killing ways; keeps him sane. Ish. "Have a good night."

"Good luck and goodnight, the mysterious writer says as he sends the lady off into the dark," Sarah says, not quite hitting the graceful theatrical air she aims for. Never mind that she's the one insisting on going it alone. She slips through the dark to the door, guided by that little light of her lingering vice. "I do believe you're trying to jinx me, Three-Ten," she says as she swings the door past her. The corridor is almost indiscernible from the apartment until the light hits it. She steps out, Lockwood Towers ready to swallow her up again.

"I'm going to make the building shake again as soon as you're gone," Roland assures her wryly. "That's how I get my kicks, y'see." Writing porn and causing earthquakes, that's him. And speaking of cigarettes, he manages to find the vastly depleted pack he left on his desk, and the lighter dims as he uses it for its intended purpose, namely generating smoke for him to suck down.

The door closes, she vanishes, and the room doesn't tremble. Roland's left in relative peace with his smoke and Sarah is left to traverse the old twists and turns of the building with but a tiny light to guide her; at least she knows them well, maybe better than anyone, and the dark halls are just dark halls, silent as can be and harboring nothing but dead air.

Ten minutes later, the power surges back on.

The corridor lights shine as lackluster as they always do. Roland's desk light returns to dimly illuminate his typewriter, as calm as it was before the outage.

The night flows onward, later and later, as normal as it ever was.

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