I stop and flick up my screen so it’s right in front of my face. It’s not six o’clock yet, I’m making great time. Suddenly the screen goes black, there’s no power left. I drop the screen and look around.
“What? No no no . . .” I try to bring up the screen again, but it’s useless It’s eerily silent this late at night, until I hear a thumping sound in the darkness, of nearby footsteps. I go silent and look out the open door to my left. I can’t see the feet, but suddenly, I see a face. The rest of the body is in darkness, but the eyes and mouth are lit up, and I swear I hear a familiar, childish jingle, it sounds like a music box.
The pedestrian walks past, and I let out a sigh of relief. They didn’t even notice me as they’re busy playing a game on their phone. I think that’s the Candy Crush music, but I’m not sure. I hold down the power button on my phone hoping it will finally work, but it’s pointless. The battery is out of charge, and I don’t have my charger on me. I need to buy a phone charger for my car . . .
I put the phone in my pocket and head out anyway, locking the car door behind me and head to work, just around the corner. I’m fifteen minutes early today, and I don’t want to waste that extra time, I’m here hoping for answers. After yesterday, although I know that kid was just misguided, I still don’t really understand the whole furry thing. I mean, is it a sex thing? If not, why would people go to so much effort to dress up in those costumes? Is it just a very enthusiastic kind of cosplay? I thought about it myself, and I honestly don’t know . . . but, rather than just guess, I figured I might as well ask. I mean, I’m visiting a building full of furries every night, so if I have questions, why would I ask them to anyone else?
I get to the front of the building and run up the stairs, feeling a little nervous since I’m not really sure how to word my question, but I decide to ignore that for now, and I run up the stairs and . . .
“Where the hell is everyone?” I say.
Last night there were costumes everywhere, but tonight, the first floor is completely empty.
“FurWalk,” says an voice beside me, making me jump. I turn and see Kelly, the short security guard, standing with her arms crossed.
“Yeesh, warn a guy before . . . did you say ‘for a walk’? Like, everyone just went for a walk?”
“No, I said FurWalk,” she says.
“Fur. Walk. What’s that?” I ask.
“From what I’ve seen, they all dress up in costume t’ go for walk by the river,” says Kelly. Since this is the first time I’ve heard her speak, I’m surprised to learn that she has a naturally husky voice as well as her Irish accent, so it sounds like she has a mild cold, “I overhead some people talk about getting dinner and drinks too.”
“Do you know when they’re coming back?” I ask.
“Several hours . . . if that.” says Kelly with a nonchalant tip of the head. “We’re not licensed, so drinkin’s not allowed, and I won’t let drunks in here, no. So if you’re lucky, maybe you can go home early. Pete already left.”
“Yay . . . (!)” I say in a monotone. “Uh, hey, by the way . . . do you know the Phone guy’s real name?”
“Phone . . . guy?” says Kelly, raising an eyebrow.
“Uh, sorry, no . . . I just call him ‘phone guy’ because I don’t know his name, but he’s the guy who I spoke to on the phone when I first called here. Uh . . . the guy in the office . . . uh, operator? I don’t know what else to call him.”
“Are you talkin’ about Will?” says Kelly.
“Yes!” I say, clicking my fingers. “That must be it, Will, finally . . . thank you.”
“Don’t mention it . . .” says Kelly.
I head up the escalators to the next floor, and head around, towards the security office. But, it’s so weird walking alongside the chairs outside the elevator. I’m so used to hearing people chattering away downstairs, but it’s eerily quiet now. I head up to the Security Office door, and knock.
The door is instantly unlocked, and I open it to see the phone guy, “Will” sitting in the chair facing me.
“Hey, you’re early,” he says.
“Yeah, I was hoping to talk to some of the furries before work.”
“Y’know . . .” I say, gesturing vaguely, “to figure ‘em out.”
“There’s nothing to figure, kid. They’re adults that never grew up.”
“Well, yeah, but you know . . .” I shrug.
“Look, you don’t have to overthink this,” he says, standing up from the chair, and he gestures to make his point. “People are people. We look different, we dress different, sound different . . . but in my experience in this job, at the end of the day, we all run with two legs & cheat with hands behind our back.”
“Okay . . .” I say, not really understanding. “But, why do they do it in fursuits?”
He snorts with derision.
“You don’t need to know why, it doesn’t matter. So long as you know who, when and where, we can do our job,” he says, sitting down and slowly turning back to the monitors.
“Okay, Will,” I say, rubbing the back of my head, nervously.
“Hmm?” he says, glancing back. “What was that?”
“I said ‘okay . . . Will’?”
“And why would you call me that?” asks Phone guy, sounding confused.
“Uhhh . . . Kelly said she knew you as ‘Will’,” I say, feeling stupid. “Is that not . . . you?”
“Ohh, okay, no. Look, Kelly’s messing with you,” says Phone guy, smiling as he looks back to the monitors. “Nobody calls me ‘Will’. She acts all straight-laced when she’s on duty, but she’s a bloody prankster. Keep an eye on that one.”
“So, your name isn’t . . .” I mutter. I groan softly to myself, feeling embarrassed, and just head into the locker room to change, and to hide from judging eyes.
When I’m in uniform, I step out and Phone guy - not Will - turns right to me.
“Oh, hey, did I tell you that Peter - the tall New Zealander guy - went home early?”
“Yeah, Kelly told me.”
“Right, right, well just so you know, we have some procedures when we’re understaffed,” says Phone guy, standing up. “You’re here early, but I’ll get you on the monitors so I can head down, here, sit . . .”
I do as I’m told, and Phone guy stands by the door.
“Okay, look, we really need at least four people on the floor. It shouldn’t be an issue, but I don’t want to leave you in the dark like I did on Monday. Now, since Pete’s gone home, we only have three people on the floor, so if there’s a major incident, we may need you to head down and help out.”
“What . . .” I say, feeling my stomach drop.
“Hey, no, it’s fine - like I said, with this place mostly empty, it shouldn’t be an issue - but, technically, if we need you on the floor, you just set the monitors to tour, lock the door, and head down. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what to do, just listen to any of us experienced guards and we will tell you exactly what to do.”
“Okay . . .” I say, but I must sound terrified, because Phone guy steps forward and lays a hand on my shoulder.
“Hey, it’s cool, Jerry. Like I said, you should be fine. I’m just telling you this because it’s procedure, and last Monday, you were thrown in the deep end because I didn’t tell you basic procedure. So, if - and I strain, this is a rare 'if' - but if we need you, it will be as a deterrent. Next week, we don’t have any cons, we’ll train you up in some of the basics of patrolling and maneouvres, but for now, think of yourself as a . . . a stop sign. You know, you won’t do anything but stand there, but your uniform means they’ll stop. Right?”
“Okay . . . stop sign. I can be a stop sign . . .” I say, feeling a little better. Phone guy nods and heads for the door again
“Okay, I’m heading down . . . and hey, I know it’s boring when there’s no one to watch. But, on quiet days, if you want to order a pizza or something, feel free - Kelly sends them right up. Listen to music, read a book, - wait, no.” Phone guy smacks his forehead. “Sorry, not read a book, you need to watch those screens. But, y’know . . . relax. So long as you’re watching the radio and the monitors, you’re all good.”
He gives me a thumbs-up and heads out the door. I lock it behind him, and turn to the monitors.
†I thought that a quiet night would be easier, but I was dead wrong. Sure, watching people wander around in costumes, buy stuff and watch panels about writing and suit maintenance may not seem all that exciting, but it’s a million times easier than watching empty rooms.
Even that group who were always playing board games in the corner of the dealer’s den aren’t here. The only person in the Ballroom is Omeo; since there’s no point guarding the changing rooms, he’s slowly patrolling back and forth between the two doors leading into the Ballroom. Since he’s so big and heavy, I thought he might waddle or trudge, but he marches like a mountain on a mission - I think there’s more muscle than fat hidden within his size, so I can see why he makes a great security guard.
Phone guy has a huge patrol route, though. He goes from the middle of reception, then he walks through the door to Exhibit Hall 2. The partitioning wall between the two Halls has been retracted, so Phone guy walks towards the middle of the room, crosses between the two rooms, then heads out the door of Exhibit Hall 1, and back to reception. It takes over a minute to complete the full circuit, and every now and then he pauses in reception to talk to Kelly, or one of the two staff members behind reception.
Meanwhile Kelly herself, like usual, is by the door; but, rather than her usual firm and fierce, cross-armed pose, now she’s leaning against the door, and every now and then - but only when Phone guy is in one of the Exhibit Halls - she appears to be texting on her mobile phone.
But that’s it. There’s no convention attendants, no speakers, no stall salespeople, no costumes. We’re just a big, empty centre. It’s like watching the most boring and repetitive reality show ever made, and the only reason I’m bothered to do it is because I’m getting paid to do so.
I check on the upstairs, and see that there’s actually a lot of open, cardboard boxes left in the middle of the room, but I don’t know why and don’t really care. As for the second floor, where I am, there’s nothing to see at all. Chairs in the waiting room section, empty hall in front of the conference rooms and converted changing room & even the wind is barely blowing on the image of the empty terrace outside.
I glance around the security office. The first thing I notice is that the head in Lost Property is gone. Whoever owned the cat fursuit must have claimed it, and there’s just a folded up, grey denim jacket sitting on the table in its place.
I check on the monitors again, then stand up and look around the room. I find a corded phone sitting on top of the filing cabinet in the corner, hidden behind three large appointment diaries. I open the first one to the page marked with the attached bound bookmark ribbon, and see “FurzCon - Fur is Murder” written on the page. I put the book back and check in the filing cabinet. The first drawer is half-empty, with just a few suspended sleeves filled with folders. I flick through to see it’s mostly incident reports. At the back, there’s also a few printed out e-mails. I don’t know what they’re about, so close the first drawer. It’s then I realize there’s a label on the front that says 'Incidents/Correspondence'. The next drawer down is labelled 'Radios'. I open it up and, sure enough, there’s three spare radios, as well as some cables and what looks like little charging docks and spare battery packs. In the back, there’s also an old, blue mobile phone, just a cheap one with a green-tinted screen. I close the drawer and check the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, labelled 'Finance'. There are five more appointment diaries inside, and I see they’re labelled for several years ago, as well as a No Smoking sign and a rusty, old flathead screwdriver just rolling around in the bottom. So much for ‘Finance’ . . .
I close the drawer and stand up, then head over and grab the handle of the top drawer of the other filing cabinet, but when I pull on it it barely shifts, making a metal clunk. It’s locked.
I try the next drawer down, but it’s locked as well. The filing cabinet just has one small keyhole that locks every drawer at once. The top drawer is labelled 'Keys' and the middle drawer hasn’t been labeled at all. But the bottom drawer on the cabinet says 'Staff/Blacklist'.
“Damn it . . .” I mutter. I try to open the drawer, but of course it’s useless. Sure, I know it has keys in it, but we didn’t lock the cabinet that has spare radios in it and I’m sure you could make some money if you stole them. Besides, I just want to look at one file, just to see if I can find Phone Guy’s real name. Is that so much to ask?
I get up and head to the desk again, sitting in the chair to open the drawer in there. There’s the red logbook and three pens in the drawer, as well as a stapler, but no keys. Then I look on the desk, and see my keyring sitting there. I pick it up, and fiddle with the jangling keys. There’s nine different keys on the thing, so I scoot back in my chair and try them one by one, even testing them upside-down, but it’s useless. All of these keys are about same size, but the lock on the filing cabinet is a bit smaller.
I groan, annoyed, then set myself back in front of the desk and drop the keys on top. Resting my chin on my hands, I look at the screen.
Slowly, the screen passes through Cameras 09 and 10, within the presentation rooms upstairs. Then Camera 01, the hallway outside the security office. When the monitor switches to Camera 02, I’m surprised to see someone standing there on the floor. The camera can see that room full of chairs and the top of the escalators, but further behind the escalators, there’s someone in a dark black fursuit with short, pointed ears just standing there. The monitor then flicks to Camera 03, on the terrace outside. On the far side of the monitor, through the glass door, I can still see that dark fursuit on the edge of frame.
I stop the cameras from touring by switching to the previous view. Back on Camera 02, sure enough, someone in a cat fursuit is just standing there, perfectly still, staring.
“Wait a minute . . .”
I twist the joystick to zoom in on the face, as the camera focuses I see the distinct patches of neon green, and slit-like eyes. It looks like the same cat head that was in Lost Property earlier. It looks like it’s staring directly at the camera, but I’m sure that’s just an illusion from those follow-me eyes . . . I pick up the radio.
“Central to Operator, do you read? Over.”
I zoom back out of the face, not only is there some loss of clarity from the extent of the zoom, but it’s creepy how still it’s just standing there, staring. There’s no response on the radio.
“This is Central to Operator, please respond. Over.”
“Doorman to Central. I believe Operator has gone to the bathroom,” says Kelly. “What’s the problem? Over.”
“Hey, uh, Doorman . . . this is Central. It looks like there’s someone in a fursuit up here . . .” suddenly, the fursuit on the monitor turns around and heads towards the terrace. I switch to Camera 03 to follow them. “They’re just wandering around, I was hoping you could handle it . . . Over.”
“Central, I can’t leave my position,” says Kelly. “They’re probably just lost. Can’t you handle it? Over.”
The fursuit wanders towards the terrace camera and stares at it, the light nearby shining bright off the plastic whiskers as it cocks its head to one side and stares. I don’t really want to, but we’re understaffed and I guess this is part of my job. Phone guy did say, if in doubt, I should listen to the more experienced guards. And they’re right outside, this shouldn’t take too long.
“Sure, I’ve got this, Doorman,” I say. “Over and out.”
I put the radio on the desk and pick up the keyring. I head for the door, then remembering what Phone Guy said, I hit ‘Pre’ then ‘Tour’ on the keyboard before unlocking the door. I close the door behind me, then try the different keys, the ring jangling like Christmas bells as I sort through and try each one. On the fifth try, I identify the gold-coloured key with a lot of scratches on the head to be for the security office. I lock the door and head through the room full of chairs, turning round the corner. It’s so eerily quiet, the only sound is the soft humm of the escalator motor. I look over the balcony and see Kelly standing by the door.
“Hey, did you see them come up here?” I ask.
Kelly just glances up and slowly shakes her head.
“Great . . .” I mutter to myself, and I walk towards the glass terrace door, past a steep staircase with glass panels for railings, that leads upstairs. As I approach the door, I can’t see the fursuit standing in the light, but figure they may be around the corner, wandering around the camera’s blind spot. As soon as I open the door, I can hear the sounds of traffic outside. Honking, revving, the occasional beeping of pedestrian signals and the dying echoes of footsteps and yelling. It sounds alive, but so far away.
I step out, and glance up where I know the camera is. I’ve never actually had a good look at them. It looks like a black glass dome, and if I peer at the glass, I can see a little, red light on a large articulated lens. Because this one is outside and not attached to the ceiling, it’s set up from a tall, beige-coloured post so it looks like an alien streetlight.
I turn right, but I can’t see the fursuit anywhere.
“Hello?!” I call out, as I walk past the glass walls towards the corner, with the blindspot. “Ma’m - or, sir - do you need some help?”
As I stand just before the corner, I take a deep breath and step out.
Just a potted fern, and a No Smoking sign. Where did they go? I head back towards the glass door, but when I do, I see the black, furry form standing beside the bottom of the staircase, one hand resting on the glass panel railing inside. It looks like they’re staring at the camera again, facing away from me, and I see that they have a tail that touches the ground . “There you are . . .” I say to myself. I push open the door.
“Excuse me, can I help you?” I say, heading inside. I stand three metres from them and stop, so I don’t intrude on their personal space. I know they can’t see me standing behind them with that mask on. “Are you lost, sir . . . or ma’m? Everyone else is gone.”
The person doesn’t react. As the glass door closes behind me, the sounds of life outside disappear, replaced by the dull humm of the escalator, and silence.
“They’re on a ‘FurWalk’, and won’t be back for hours . . . do you need some help finding them? Hello?”
I assume the person can’t hear me, so I step forward to tap them on the shoulder. But, as I do, I catch a sniff of that rotten smell. Like a dead rat, drowned in garbage and body odour. It makes me take a step back and cover my mouth with my hand.
“Help me . . .?” says the thing, speaking in a thick, wet, raspy, voice. It begins to turn to face me, those eyes staring at me as it turns to face me. As it speaks, the jaw flaps mechanically up and down with each syllable. “You can’t . . .”
It takes a step towards me, and as it does, I hear a scratching, ripping and crackling sound that sends chills down my spine.
“It’s me . . .” says the creature in that decrepit voice. But as it speaks, I can only see blackness inside its mouth as though it were empty . . . but that’s impossible, right? It raises both hands out as it takes a step towards me, reaching out like a zombie. As it does, I smell that rotten stink from its mouth, and back away.
“Stay back, okay?” I say, but it ignores me, taking another step forward, the black tail dragging on the carpet behind it, and I start to panic “I said Stay BACK!”
“You can’t . . . save them . . .” rasps the creature. It raises its green claws towards my face. I feel the cold, glass door as I bump into it, and whimper, terrified. The creature gets closer.
“NO! GET BACK!” I shriek, and I grab at the nearest claw, squeezing it. The creature groans and steps back. As it does, I feel that the inside of glove, but I can’t feel a hand inside, instead there’s just something thin and sharp, like a bone, and as the creature backs away I hear a ripping sound, and see thin, shiny red strands like tendons and veins, stretching out from the dark stump of the arm, and hear them popping and snapping.
I scream, jump forward to shove the thing, and it crumples backwards, the head hitting the ground with another sharp, ripping sound. I stand there, frozen, staring at the collapsed body, the torn hand hanging from its stump and head sitting crooked and still. But, after a few seconds, it begins to shift. As it sits up, the head sits lop-sided on the neck, those eyes staring at me.
“Help me . . .” groans the beast in a deep voice.
Whining pitifully, I quickly run, jumping over the legs of the fallen fursuit, and race around the corner, towards the security office. I grab the doorhandle, but it’s locked, so I slam my fist on the door.
“Open, damn it!” I yell. After standing there, panicking, I remember the ring of keys in my pocket. I grab them out and find the golden key with the scratches. It takes a few tries with my shaking hands to insert the key, but I unlock the door, run in, slam it shut and lock it.
“Central, come in,” says the radio, angrily. It sounds like Phone guy. “Answer your damn radio! Over.”
I grab the radio and speak into it.
“This is Central, Over.”
“Central, for goodness sake . . . where the hell are you?!” he yells.
“Sorry. I went to check out something, and I left the radio here,” I say. “But, uh . . . there was something in a fursuit. It attacked me. I need you to check out the balcony, there’s something there. Over.”
“Something . . . on the balcony? . . . Over.” says Phone guy.
“Yeah. They were in a fursuit, but I don’t know what it was. Over.” I flick through the cameras on the monitor, to Camera 02. But, there’s nothing there. The suit, and whatever was inside it, is gone.
“Look, I’m in the carpark at the moment,” says Phone guy. “Meet me on the balcony. And BRING your RADIO this time. Over and Out.”
I pick up the radio, all the while staring at the empty floor on the monitor, and I head out the door of the security office, locking it. As I walk out to the balcony where I was, I hear a deep, heavy voice call to me.
“Little man!” I turn to the escalator to see Omeo, the big security guard, heading up the steps. “Y’good, man?”
“Yeah, just shaken,” I say.
“Kell told me to check you up. Heard you yellin’ out, man. Thought you were in trouble and all that,” says Omeo, stepping off the escalator, just in front of me.
“Central. Do you have your radio on you? Over.” says Phone guy, on the radio.
“Someone in a fursuit attacked me, but I’m okay now,” I say. Then I grab the radio. “Yeah, Operator, I have my radio. Over.”
“Are you on the balcony? Over,” asks Phone guy.
“Yeah, we’re waiting for you. Over.”
“Alright. Wait just there, Over and out.”
After about a minute, I hear the elevator door open, and glance back to see Phone guy stepping out, shaking his head.
“There was a suit-”
“-not yet . . .” interrupts Phone guy, “Om, why are you here?”
“Kell called. Said the kid was screaming and in trouble, so . . .”
“You’re done here. Head back to patrol, okay?”
“Okay, man,” says Omeo with a shrug, heading down the escalator. Phone guy sighs, then jogs to the top of the escalator that Om was heading down. “But you did the right thing, y’know? Coming to help out, that’s great stuff!”
“Yeah, yeah yeah . . .” says Omeo, waving his hand behind him.
“Right . . . okay, what happened here?” says Phone guy.
“I saw someone on the monitor, and went to check it out. I thought you or someone else could do it, but Kelly told me to do it myself.”
“That’s fine, I told her to let you have some time on the floor, if something came up,” says Phone guy, dismissively.
“Where were you when I called?” I ask.
“I was in the carpark,” he replies. “The guy on reception, Will, said there was a car down there that wasn’t meant to be, so I went to check it out. Anyway, why were you screaming and yelling?”
“They attacked me,” I say.
“Attacked you?” says Phone guy. “So, they punched you? Grabbed you?”
“Yeah, I . . . I mean, no. They just kinda reached out.”
“So, you attacked them?” says Phone guy.
“Yeah, but . . .” I try to say the words, but they’re caught in my throat. It sounds so wrong to say, but it’s the truth. “. . . I think it was a monster!”
Phone guy snorts, and starts to chuckle.
“It’s not funny, I’m serious!” I say.
“A monster? So that’s why you were yelling and screaming? You think a monster attacked the convention centre?”
“Yeah! I mean, they were wearing a suit to hide their-”
“Everyone is wearing a suit!” says Phone guy, but he’s not angry, he’s smiling. He thinks I’m being crazy. “Why would you think this one is a monster?”
“Because it had tendons or something that ripped out of its hand!” I say. “It made weird sounds when it moved, and I couldn’t see anyone inside of it, it was like it was just an empty suit walking around, or maybe something died inside of it.”
“That’s ridiculous, kid,” says Phone guy, shaking his head.
“Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but where did it come from? And where did it go?” I say.
“Hmm?” he says.
“Yeah, where did it get to? It was right here . . .” I say, walking towards the bottom of the steep staircase. As I walk past the escalator and get close to the spot, I can still faintly smell that rotten odour lingering in the air. “And where did it come from?”
“Kid, look, it’s late. You’ve been staring at blank screens for hours . . . that kind of thing can get to you.”
“Hey, I wasn’t imagining it!” I say, getting annoyed. “I saw it, it had the same green cat head from lost property, and a black suit with green claws. It must have got in here, but how did it get back . . . the blind spot. Come with me!”
I start heading towards the Terrace door.
“What is it?” said Phone guy.
“We never saw it leave, right? It might still be here!” I say, pushing through the door, into the sound of life and traffic
“Look, kid, calm down. You’re getting all worked up,” says Phone guy, walking behind me.
I stand far back, close to the railing, and I run around the corner.
Potted fern. No Smoking. Nothing else.
“Where is it?” I say, looking around. “Wait . . . that car. Didn’t you say there was a car in the carpark?”
“Yeah,” says Phone guy, looking confused.
“What did it look like?” I ask.
“ . . . uh, purple.” he says, with a shrug. “I dunno, I didn’t get a good look at it.”
“Where is it now?!” I say.
“Hey, no, look look look . . . calm down. I’m sorry, alright, I didn’t know this would freak you out so much. Things got a bit real tonight, huh? But I think it’s time you went home.”
“Go home?” I ask, confused.
“Yeah. let’s call it a short shift. Clearly, you need some time to wind down.”
“But what about the suit?!” I yell.
“This is what I’m talking about,” says Phone guy. “Look, there’s no such thing as monsters. Calm down, go home, get some sleep and then come back tomorrow night, cool, calm and collected. Okay?”
“Okay . . .” I say, with a heavy sigh.
“And hey, next time you see any monsters, try playing dead. Y’know, go limp. That’s what you’re meant to do when you see a bear . . .”
“. . . what.”
“Sorry, never mind, it was a joke. I was trying to lighten the mood, so you’ll stop freaking out. It’s best just not to see monsters in the first place, okay? Come on, we'll sort this out; you pack up, you’re done for the night.”
†I pack up, get changed into my regular clothes and head out, saying goodnight to Kelly. Then, I walk back towards my car, through the dimly lit streets. I parked just three blocks from the Doomben Convention Centre, but in the near-midnight darkness, every car on the street looks dark purple.