Underground
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The way above ground becomes very inhospitable.

Underground Parking Level 2, Lockwood Towers

May 20th, 2013

"I've never liked the garage. Always gave me the heebie-jeebies."

Regardless of what time of day it is, the underground parking always feels like the dead of night.

Cold, still air hangs between distant, grey walls, smelling of tires, exhaust, and something faintly unnerving and earthy, an old, ancient basement smell. The heavy-duty ceilings are outfitted with lights choked in metal cages, shining a bit too yellow to give the parking area clear light; as a result, it's half-dark, half a sickly hue that casts the stone walls an ugly underwater green. The shadows of rows and rows of vehicles cast irregular shadows up upon it like reaching reeds.

To residents and employees of Lockwood Towers, it's the same old, same old two levels of underground parking.

Still … no one tends to linger.

With the slam of a car door, Lucy steps out of her car. It's quite old and has seen better days, but the shopkeep likes her trusted mint green vehicle and, besides, can't really afford to get another one. She rests her grocery bag against the hood of the car for a moment in order to get a better handle on the paper bottom. The last thing she wants is to drop a carton of milk and a dozen eggs onto the concrete floor.

As she doesn't like the small parking garage, she takes a quick look about and then hustles toward the stairs - she had to park on the lowest level today.

The door to the secure stairwell, across the lot, is half-open, already admitting someone in; just a glimpse of denim and leather and grocery bags just like Lucy's before the door shuts and she's alone. Why, then, does it feel like she isn't? That there's the creeping feeling that someone's eyes are pinned to the back of her neck?

An early spring-time fly banging dumbly against one of the light fixtures above her head goes berserk, creating a chaotic buzzing that seems to increase the electric hum of the old lights themselves. It's the kind of sound that feels almost itchy, buzzing at the back of one's brain as much as in the physical realm.

Rapidly, it becomes louder and louder. Between her foot-steps are other sounds, trapped in the constant buzzing; it sounds like voices just underneath the hum of a hundred flies, murmuring words, or what sounds like words, except they're always just slightly too garbled and overlapping to understand. Louder. Louder.

Lucy makes for the stairwell. "Wait—!" she calls out to the person stepping through, picking up her pace to hopefully beat the closing of the door. She doesn't make it in time. Her walks slows and she sighs, already attempting to figure out how to shift her grocery bag to her hip in order to pry the heavy door open.

The buzzing behind her catches her attention and as she reaches the door, she slows to a stop and looks behind her.

A split second before Lucy comes to a halt, it becomes so loud, voices multiplying, genderless, wordless chatter that's almost unbearable, buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz and—

Silence.

Relative silence. Nothing but the dull, steady, quiet electric hum of the lights that's always there in the big, echoing space.

Then thud behind the door.

As the buzzing gets louder, Lucy leans up against the stairwell door. Bringing the paper bag up and her head down, she presses her hands against her ears in an attempt to block out the horrible noise. She's not quite willing to drop her groceries just yet. Those eggs are precious.

Distrusting of the silence, she waits a few moments and then slowly lowers her hands and raises her head. "Hello?" she calls out, assuming this must me some sort of electrical malfunction. Those lights are always making static noises, somehow their wattage must have been amped up. What she doesn't hear is the thud behind the door, as she was blocking the noise. Now wanting to get out of the garage quite quickly before a light explodes, she balances her grocery bag and pulls open the door to the stairwell.

The stairwell, bright by comparison, welcomes Lucy in with truer silence, padded by its dull, half-white, half-green hospital-like walls reminiscent of the building's history dating back to the 1930s. The only out-of-place visual inside is the body sprawled upon the stairs. Denim: legs askew. Leather: a jacket, arms reaching for grocery bags that fell to the last stair, the man out laid in awkward display.

He jolts.

"I'm sorry!" He sits up; his right dress shoe drags heavily on the step, as though weighed down; he winces. Perhaps Lucy's age, the fellow is fair-skinned, blue-eyed and has a dark head of curls and light facial hair; a face that would be boyish if it weren't steeled and slightly refined. No local, he speaks with a British, London accent. "I heard you call out, but … well, this is a bit embarrassing, isn't it…" A perfect orange tumbles from the bag closest to him, rolling forlornly toward Lucy.

Lucy gasps when she firsts sees the tableau laid out in front of her. Convinced the man fell to his death, she puts a hand to her mouth in surprise - frozen in her spot. Then, he moves and jumps. He's a zombie! No, wait, he just fell and is getting up. Carefully, she sets her bag to the floor. While bent over, she picks up the orange. She straightens and hands the orange back as well as holds a hand out to help him up.

"Are you alright? I thought…" she drifts off, realizes it might not be polite to say she thought he was dead and then attempts to move on. "I hope nothing's broken."

"No, no, I… thank you," the man manages, taking the orange in a bit of a daze. "I was in a bit of a … hurry …" He slaps a hand on the wall to help himself up, but the effort gets lost somewhere in the twist of his ankle, and he succumbs to accepting the assistance from the kind soul. With her help, he does a fair job of not tumbling into her, although it's close. "To tell the truth, now that you've seen me sprawled out on the stairs, losing my orange, anyway," he says, smiling, sheepish, "I couldn't get out of the car park fast enough." In for a penny… "Is it always that terrifying? Ah— " He winces as he reaches down to retrieve one of his grocery bags.

Lucy steps forward when the man wobbles, ready to catch him. If she would be able to carry his entire weight is another question. "Of course." She sees his wince and reaches out to make sure he won't tumble again. "I've never liked the garage," she admits. "Always gave me the heebie-jeebies." For the moment, she doesn't move back to retrieve her own bag. With a glance over her shoulder she adds, "It felt particularly creepy today." Then, she looks back at him and smiles. "I take it you're new to the Towers? Can I help you with that?" She gestures at his fallen grocery bags.

"I am, and — yes, sure, thank you," he says, managing to retrieve one bag but not the other, as well as successfully not falling on Lucy. "I'm glad to see … chivalry… isn't… dead." He seems a bit discomfited that he isn't the one being chivalrous, in this situation, but he's good-natured about it, smiling through his awkward shuffle upon the step. "Just here a week. First time I've fell on the stairs. Glad to get it out of the way." Dropping his orange decisively in the bag, he turns, slowly making his way up the stairs, favouring one foot.

The light flickers on and off in a split-second strobe. The electrical buzz scratches at the memory of voices.

"Do they always do that, the lights…"

With a dip, Lucy scoops up her own bag and then balances that one on her hip as she retrieves her new neighbor's. She lets a soft laugh escape as she follows behind him. "I'll even hold the door for you." She doesn't necessarily see her actions as chivalry as simple politeness. "It's good to get those things out of the way early," she agrees. "I'm Lucy Carroll, by the way. Nice to meet you. I'm on the fourth floor." Slowly, she follows a step or two behind him, there to try and steady him should he fall again. Of course, she hopes he won't as she's unsure whether she'd actually be able to stop his fall. It's just as likely that they'll both tumble downward together.

She glances up at the lights now that her attention is brought to them again. She shakes her head, as if attempting to get a tickling hair off the back of her neck without using her occupied hands. "It's an old building," she offers as explanation. As she's lived in the building for a few years, she's used to pushing aside the creepy things that sometimes happen. "They're not normally this finicky, though."

"It's a beautiful old building," the man concedes, as if apologizing to the Towers — as well as making light of the fact that he was spooked. "I suppose it'll take some getting used to, is all." when they reach the small landing for the other level of the parking garage, he looks back to offer convivially, "I'm Drew — Drew Friendly, though I like to forget the last part — not that I'm not friendly, but, well, it's a lot to live up to twenty-four seven. It's nice to meet you, Lucy Carroll— "

The lights abruptly go off as soon as the words are out of his mouth.

With the advent of darkness comes the feeling of being watched, stronger; of being trapped in a small space with shadows that can see you while you can't see them; every common human fear of the dark, heightened beyond the norm. With instinctive fright comes the "oh," of the new resident, a faint nervous chuckling on the tail-end, and a strong grip on Lucy's wrist.

"It is, isn't it?" That's almost a sigh in her voice. Lucy is certainly one of those people who love old things and objects with history. It comes from being raised by parents in love with Victorian novels and Alice in Wonderland. "If your lights ever go out, or if you have an issue with the building, just call Maevis. She's the building manager. Overworked, but very sweet." She takes the last step and then pauses by Drew on the landing, smiling at his introduction.

Then, the lights go out. With the sudden grip on her wrist, bag she was holding tumbles out of her grasp. Forgetting which one it was, she hopes it was not the one holding her eggs. She starts and stays still. The last thing she wants to do is now kick the bag she just dropped. "L-like I said," her own voice is shaky at the sudden scare, "it's an o-old building."

"Whoops," Drew voices on hearing the bag tumble, casual stretched over the higher pitch of nerves. "Not a good day to be groceries…" He pauses where there should be laughter instead, waiting for lights that don't come back on. "They'll come back on— ? I can't say I trust myself to walk up one flight of stairs in the dark at this point, given my track record when I can see perfectly fine… ah, here we are— " A rustle of plastic in the dark, a scrape of fabric. A dim bluish light strikes the stairs ahead, emanating from the rectangle that is Drew's phone.

Not only is the stairwell faintly, dimly illuminated; his hands are. One holding the phone, the other, his bag of groceries.

The grip on Lucy's wrist is still strong.

The sensation starts as Drew starts to rustle through his pockets. He has a grocery bag in one hand. And one hand is holding onto her wrist. How is he going through his pockets? The dread grows and grows, making the hairs stand on the back of Lucy's neck until it reaches its pinnacle when her fears are confirmed.

She shrieks, the second grocery bag spills out of her arm. With a yank, she attempts to pull her wrist out of whatever is gripping her.

This vice on her wrist doesn't let up, yet she moves through it as though forcing her way through thick sludge or fighting against a current of water. It clings and clings until the last second of the slow-motion escape attempt and then, abruptly, when she's free, she's free.

To run for the stairs, crawling with shadows.

The jerky motion of Drew's phone accounts for most of them. A huff of shock emits from the new resident when he finds himself stumbling forward in a panic. "There's something— !" He shouts, making a mad dash up the stairs. " — behind me!" His phone light is far too weak to penetrate far enough to see the door to the basement level of the Towers, or to the stairs that keep on going to the first floor. It's only strong enough to pick up the faint, inky impression of movement at the top of these stairs.

Desperate, Lucy pulls. Once she's out of the strange tug of the shadowy grip, she backpedals. Not even caring about her grocery bags, she almost runs right into Drew. "It! It! It had my wrist!" Her voice is high pitched and terrified. Can whatever it is be in two places at once? What should they do? Go toward the stairs where someone or something is moving? Or head further into the garage where it is darker? Grabbing Drew's hand, she holds a steading arm out to help him. Then, she makes for the first floor. There's at least an escape possible from there. "Run!" She decides.

Just ahead of them, the shadows seem to come alive, but as they run, every shadow they meet is just a shadow, and every shadow is nothing but darkness … unless that ominous, tickling feeling upon the backs of their necks is the shadows chasing them from behind with their invisible, reaching fingers.

Drew seems to be ignoring the pain in his ankle — he bolts straight for the first floor along with Lucy. He grabs the door and flings it open, stopping himself from barrelling right into the hall so that he can hold the door open for Lucy. It's heavy, and old, and has an automatic desire to shut. The signature checkerboard tile, the distant gold gleam of the old-fashioned elevator, and the more mundane whiff of floor polish beckons.

Lucy is not far behind Drew. She's kept a grip on him and only lets go so that he can grab for the door. Tossing herself through into hallway and the comforting checkerboard tile, she whips around. A wild eyed stare meets Drew. "What was that?" she gasps, a hand rubbing the wrist that was gripped by shadows. It still feels like something is crawling on it, though that might just be her imagination running wild with fear. Then, she steps forward again, remembering his ankle. He just ran on it; it must hurt. "Are you okay?"

He's right behind her, he's eager to rush through the door, the anxious panicked words hurrying to tumble out of his mouth in the camaraderie of confusion, but the door shuts. He didn't shut it, didn't move it, but it slams all the same, barricading him from Lucy and nearly taking his fingers off in the process.

Lucy's side seems too quiet. The other side thuds, a fist banging from the dark.

"My Lord," tuts a feminine voice behind Lucy, preceded only by a few heel clicks and the skitter-scatter of tiny dog toenails on the floor. The Lockwood Towers darling Victoria Whitely pauses on her way to the elevator to regard Lucy with astute blue eyes. "What's the matter, honey?" The teacup dog at the end of a long blue diamond-encrusted leash hides in an uncoordinated fit of nerves, almost disappearing behind one thin ankle.

With another yelp, Lucy flings herself at the door in an attempt to tug it open. The clicking heels and tiny dog doesn't reach through the baker's panic. Whatever it was that grabbed her wrist locked Drew on the opposite side of the door. Victoria's question receives a puzzling response. "S-something…in…in the garage…has Drew!" She doesn't even look back toward the woman. She doesn't even wonder if she's met the newest resident at Lockwood Towers. This could all be gibberish to her. "Drew?!" she cries louder, hoping he'll hear her.

"Oh dear," Victoria replies, several notches down from the clear distress of the resident baker, too bewildered by the concept to become truly alarmed. She blinks dumbfounded eyes. "Should I call security?" The last syllable of her query is overwhelmed by the sudden, incessant, high-pitched yapping of her dog.

It's peeked around its tall owner, flitting about on its mouse-like paws, trembling with fragile ferocity and the sheer force of its warning barks, all directed at the door. Or at Lucy.

Not even a word from behind the door. Not even a bang.

The door swings open without warning. The dog's yapping is abruptly cut off, diminishing into a choked squeak.

The lights are back on in the stairwell. They illuminate the pallid, sweating face of Drew Friendly, staring shell-shocked at Lucy as though he's looking straight through her, and through Victoria too, staring at some distant, nonexistent point. He's the definition of stricken.

"Security?" The thought hadn't crossed Lucy's mind. Perhaps it should have, but in her panic her world pinpointed to the door handle. Tumbling backward as the door suddenly swings open, Lucy lands with her back against the wall and slightly tilted. She straightens when she sees Drew. Ignoring Victoria, she moves straight for him. "Drew? Are you okay? What happened?" He looks horrible and vacant. She looks behind him to see if there are any more of those horrible shadows. Just to be sure, she gently raises an arm to put on his elbow and guide him out of the stairwell.

He jolts at the contact. The grocery bag he'd managed to carry for a time is now on the floor, and a reflexive twitch of his foot sends that orange rolling on back out again in out-of-place whimsy, past the cell phone he must have dropped, and onward to stop at Lucy's shoe.

It's hard to tell, at first, if Drew has registered words at all. Certainly, he answers no questions. He seems even incapable of blinking until a shiver runs through him and forces his eyelids to react. "I…" he says hoarsely. He takes one unsteady but decisive step out of the stairwell, guided by Lucy but hardly seeming to notice. "Would very much like… to go home now." Limping, not looking at anybody, he bumps past her, past Victoria whose bewildered stare matches that of her dog, toward the lobby and the first floor corridor of apartments.

Lucy gives a distracted look at the orange that taps against her shoe. However, the bright spot of color doesn't hold her attention for long. Instead, it snaps right back up to Drew. "Of course…" she breathes, disconcerted. He doesn't take his groceries with him, but she's not about to go back into the garage for her own, either. It's only when he's in the lobby that she picks up the orange nestled by her foot with a frown. Then, she glances toward the stairwell door and at Victoria. Her hands are still shaking from the adrenaline as well as the fear that hasn't quite left her system just yet. "I should probably go upstairs, too," she says softly, unsure of what to do with herself. "And call Maevis…"

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