Sunday, 22 October 2017

Five Nights at Furries, Night 4

THURSDAY, 5:43 ᴘᴍ
Local Furry Convention threatened with “Toxic smell” - Attacker Not Found
In December of 2014, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the occupants of Room 963 complained of sickness and nausea after reporting a foul odor coming from the hotel, which was hosting the Midwest Furfest, a convention where attenders dress as anthropomorphic animal mascots.
Initially, five people were transported to Lutheran General Hospital due to breathing the toxic smell. Police and paramadics responded by 12:47 am, and by 1:00 am, firefighters discovered a broken glass bottle containing an unknown, white powder, inside the ninth floor stairwell - which was believed to be chlorine powder.
Symptoms of chlorine exposure includes burning of the eyes and mouth, choking, coughing, chest pain, headache, nausea, vomiting & trouble breathing.
Whilst officers investigated several suspects, the attacker was never found.
  “That’s just crazy . . .” I mutter to myself, scrolling through the phone as I read through the articles. “Why would anyone do that?”
I flick through three more similar articles as I walk from my car to the Doomben Convention Centre. I was trying to figure out more about that green cat fursuit and why it smelled so bad, so I looked up ‘furry convention’ and ‘smell’ online, but then found a lot of articles about a chemical attack. After a few minutes of reading, I realize that I’ve been standing at the pedestrian crossing for a full traffic light cycle, so I force myself to close the browser on my phone and put it back in my pocket.
I jog towards the convention centre, and can’t help but glance at the terrace as I approach, to make sure there’s nothing standing in that blind spot. When I head up the steps, I’m both glad and anxious to see that the furries are back tonight, so I can finally ask them what I couldn’t last night. Random internet searches have let me down, and kind of disturbed me, but I’m still nervous about approaching people to ask personal questions about their hobbies and smells . . . it seems rude, and it kind of is, but I can’t help but feel like it’s more rude to just assume they’re all weird for weirdness’ sake.
I head towards a group standing outside the centre, on the steps. There were six people, three girls in colourful shirts, one short girl with a tail around her waist and a hairband with ears, a young man in a leather jacket and two people in fursuits, a yellow mouse and a blue and red fox with rabbit ears.
One of the girls, with glasses, was telling an anecdote about a local burger place. I stand back for a moment to let her finish before intruding.
  “So, I just said ‘sure, just give me a vegan burger with cheese’,” she said, as some of the friends laughed. “I didn’t want halal, but my fursona eats cheese! What else could I say?!”
  “You could have just eaten vegan,” said her friend with the tail.
  “But I hadn’t eaten all day! I needed protein!”
  “Excuse me?” I say, stepping forward, having the group turn to look at me. “You guys are all attending the convention?”
  “Yeah,” says the girl with the glasses, “Are you lost?”
  “You can get a lanyard at the front desk,” interjects the guy.
  “No, I work here,” I say. “I’m just curious, y’know. I don’t really get . . . why you dress up as animals. I mean, I don’t want to be rude or anything, I just don’t really get it. I was wondering if you . . .”
  “It’s just for fun,” says the glasses girl, with a shrug.
  “Yeah, some people like Star Trek or comic books or Harry Potter,” says the girl with the tail, and she swings her hips to make her tail swish, “but, we like fluffy animals, because they’re cute!”
  “And for the cool books and art and other stuff, y’know . . .” says the glasses girl.
  “Yeah, but, the suits . . .” I stumble over the words.
  “Look, not all of us do the sex thing,” says the guy, sounding annoyed.
  “Hey, some people do it, that’s their thing, y’know, there’s no need to judge people for liking that. Love is love, after all, that’s not just a gay marriage thing,” says the other girl, wearing a bright shirt with Disney characters on it.
  “Yeah, but nobody here does it,” says the guy.
  “Some of them might,” argues the girl. “Just because they also like the family-friendly cons doesn’t mean they’re not into it. You don’t know.”
  “I know for a fact they wouldn’t,” says the guy. I can see I’ve resurrected an old argument, so I interrupt him before he continues..
  “No no no,I wasn’t asking about that. I mean, the smell. The other day there was a head, part of a fursuit, in Lost Property, and it smelled rancid. I mean . . .” I gesture towards the mouse. “Doesn’t it smell in there?”
  “No, not at all!” says the mouse, in a voice that is appropriately high-pitched and squeaky, and barely even sounds muffled by the headpiece. She even gestures animatedly as she speaks. “You have to wash, silly . . . but there’s also a really cool - Cass, can you hand me my bag?”
The girl with the tail bends down and picks up a large gym bag and hands it to the mouse. Cass kindly opens the bag, and the mouse rummages around before finding a small spray bottle. It looks like bug spray, but with a colourful label.
  “Here, look!” says the mouse, carefully stepping towards me down the steps. She holds up the bottle, and I see that it says “Citrusss - orange + lemon scented spray”, and it has a picture of a yellow and orange snake on the bottle, with ingredients below, mostly alcohol and some fragrance oils.
  “What is that?” I ask.
  “Suit cleaner!” says the mouse. “You spray it on your suit to stop it from smelling. I usually just use rubbing alcohol and water, that kills any germs, but I bought this today so I can smell lemony fresh as well, see?”
Sure enough, I can faintly smell oranges around the mouse fursuit.
  “Fursuiting is no different than cosplay, dressing like Batman or Master Chief” says the girl with the tail. “I only do ears and tail, but I love anyone that puts in the effort!”
She grabs the red and green cat-rabbit fursuit in a hug.
  “So, suits don’t usually smell?” I ask, rubbing the back of my neck.
  “No, duhh . . .” says the mouse, shaking her head, exaggeratedly. “We’re not crazy, nobody likes to be smelly, right? People in the community share stuff about keeping suits clean and healthy. There was a talk just on Tuesday all about fursuiting.”
  “Then, what would make a suit smell rotten?” I ask.
  “Well, if someone isn’t part of the community, they might not know yet,”  offers glasses girl, “like, maybe they’re new or something?”
  “Or fake,” says the guy, “and they use their suit for something other than cons.”
  “Ugh, you’re gross,” says the girl with the tail, giving the guy a playful shove.
  “Okay, thanks,” I say. “Uhh, keep on . . . trucking.”
I wave awkwardly, and peel away from the group, then head inside the front door. I feel a bit anxious, since I’m still not totally comfortable around the costumes - they’re cute and fluffy, but the eyes still creep me out. But, I feel better now than the other night, at least it all kind of makes sense to me. Well, everything except what was inside that black and green cat fursuit the other night . . . and where it got to.
As I head up the escalator, I see that there are a lot of people, more than usual hanging around the reception area and chatting. I head around through the room full of chairs and knock on the security door. I wait for a few seconds, but the door doesn’t open. I knock four more times, a bit more slowly. Is anyone inside? I think to call out, but Phone Guy is usually inside, and I don’t really know what his name is. And I’m not going to call out “phone guy”, so I just knock again four times.
  “Come on . . .” I say. I bang on the door with my fist. There’s still no response, and I groan, loudly “How am I supposed to get-”
Suddenly, there’s a click and the door opens. Phone guy is standing there.
  “Hey, wow, Jerry? I didn’t expect you to be here so early,” he says.
  “Okay . . .” I say.
  “No, it’s all good. I’m kinda glad you came when you did. Come in, come in,” he says, waving me in. He steps aside and I head into the little office. As I do, I can faintly hear a soft, scratchy sound like a distant radio.
  “Did you not hear me knocking?” I ask.
  “No, sorry, it’s uh . . . it’s been a long night here for me,” he says, and he picks up a phone from the desk, attached to a set of hearphones. I realize the tinny, screeching sound is rap music, playing loudly through the little speakers. “After a week of staring at these monitors, it drives me crazy, so I listen to music.”
He switches the sound off and puts the phone in his pocket, then sits down in the study chair.
  “Hey, do me a favour. Could you check inside those crates in the back room?”
  “What’s the back room?”
  “Oh, just storage. We have extra chairs, tables, urns and stuff. It’s at the end of the hall, just outside,” says Phone guy. He hands me the set of keys and turns back towards the monitors again.
  “Okay . . . why do you want me to check inside the crates?”
  “Someone in administration was wondering what was inside the empty boxes back there,” he says, waving a hand to gesture vaguely behind himself. “I’d check myself, but we have a full house tonight. I can’t leave here.”
  “No, I mean, why do you want me to check the crates? What am I looking for?”
  “I think they’re looking for paper. Just tell me what you find, I’ll hold out here until you check.”
I head out of the security office, turn left and head towards the storage room. There's  a window looking upon the street outside, pure black from the tint and night sky.
I unlock the door and step into a somewhat cluttered storage room, switching on the light by the door. There are shelves to the left side, all along the wall and lined up in heavily-stocked rows; four whiteboards on wheels stored together as though to create a makeshift barricade down the middle, then stacked tables and chairs on the right side.
I see several blue, plastic crates at the bottom of the furthest shelf to the left, so I pull three of them out and open the lid of the first one. It's entirely filled with paper cups. I put the lid back, slide it away and open the next box. Inside, there are several plastic sheets for laminating, as well as a laminator and an extension cord. I put the lid on and open the next box full of teatowels, then I catch the hint of a smell hits me that makes me cough. The sour, musty smell of rotting meat. I stand up and get some fresh air, but the smell lingers in the air. I step back, take a breath, then kneel down again.
  “What is that?” I mutter, turning the box. I reach in and lift up some towels. As I do, I see something dark just under the edge of a towel and flinch, dropping them, thinking it's a cockroach. I peer down the side of the crate, but it doesn't move and there are no thin legs peeking out, so I lift the towels again. I stare into the box as I flip the teatowels over and put them on the ground beside me. In the box, there is a dead, grey mouse. It's shriveled up and its legs and tail seem crooked on its thin, rotten body, but there are still tufted clumps of hair on the thing.
I stand up to get some more fresh air, and I see that the towel sitting on it has a rusty-brown patch where the mouse had been.
Poor little thing must have gotten sealed in and died. I take a breath and kneel down, then carefully pick up the mouse by the tail. It feels dry and thin in my fingers. I place it on one side of the stained towel, then carefully fold it over, to cover it. I stand up and head back to the security office, knocking on the door. Phone guy unlocks it  and as I step inside and lean against the open door, he glances at me from the chair.
  “Any luck?” he says.
  “No. No paper. But, there was a dead mouse in one of the boxes.”
  “What? Did you say ‘dead mouse’?”
  “Yeah, under some teatowels. I should probably wash my hands.”
“Whoa . . .” Phone guy scoots the chair to the far side of the room from me. “you touched it? Definitely, yes, go wash your hands, man.”
  “Well, yeah, I mean, I was going to anyway. But I figured I should let someone know first, so they can handle th-”
  “-Uh uh, now!” he says as he stands up and picks up the phone on the filing cabinet. “I'll deal with that, but you go wash your hands in the bathroom. don't get any mouse guts in here. Go. Now.”
  “Okay,” I say. I turn and head out the open door, towards the elevator, to head down to the toilet.

I wash my hands twice, just to be thorough, then pass a crowd of furries on the first floor to come back up the elevator.
I head into the security office, where Phone guy is, somewhat aptly, on the phone to reception.
  “Yeah, no paper though,” he says. He glances at me and puts a hand over the mouthpiece. “Can you watch the monitors for a bit?”
I nod and he returns to the phone.
I sit and quickly flick through the screens. I see that both of the exhibit halls are packed. There are two presentations on tonight.
  “If it's easier, transfer me to Alex, I can explain it all. Thank you,” says Phone Guy.
I check the ballroom and see that the dealer’s den is packed as well. Mostly regular people, but with dozens and dozens of fursuits peppered through the crowds.
  “Hey, Alex! Not too busy? . . . Okay, my new guy just found a dead mouse in our storage room. I asked Will, and apparently all the cleaners have gone home . . . yes, I laid eyes on it, it was in a box of towels, they'll need cleaning as well . . . In my opinion? We can't wait overnight. That rotten smell could spread through the whole room and- . . . okay, thank you.”
I hear him hang up the phone.
  “Hey, Jerry. Can you hold up here until I get this sorted?” he asks.
  “Uh . . . well, I'm not in uniform, but if that's okay, yeah.”
  “Oh, yeah yeah, sure,” he says,  waving his hand lazily. “You just lock the door and get changed quickly. I've got to deal with this. Who'd have thought a freaking mouse would be such a big deal, right?”
I just shrug and Phone Guy heads out the door. I lock the doors behind him, then look back at the monitors.  Things seem calm. At least, as calm as they can be with a full convention centre. So, I quickly slip into the locker room, throw my shirt off and change into the light-blue short-sleeved shirt. I head out as I do up the buttons to check on the monitors, then run back and slip into my black trousers.
I return to the office, sit in the chair after zipping up my fly and I tie up my shoes as I watch the monitors.
Everything is still calm. The audience in the exhibit hall are getting a bit rowdy and laughing, but I think they're just enthusiastically enjoying the show. I tighten my belt, then sit up in the chair, prepared for a long haul.

The main halls of the exhibition centre start to become less crowded, returning to their usual peppering of attendees. I soon realize that the majority of the crowd is here specifically for the show going on in the conjoined exhibit halls. It surprises me, because rather than a stageshow, music or play like earlier this week, it's just a kind-looking old man wearing overalls telling a story, yet everyone is flocking to it. I thought it was a comedian at first, but some of the signs in the main hall advertise the event as: Furrytales - as told by Old Man Horsecollar
He is very animated when he speaks, but I still don't know why he got the biggest crowd. Maybe it's just a furry thing . . .
The monitor tours through several of the cameras. Camera 09, in the ballroom, where there are still quite a few people shopping in the dealer’s den. Several of the sellers have even hung around, for the huge crowds. Over to Camera 10, and I see the gamers are back in their corner, although there are less of them, and they appear to be playing a card game. The view switches automatically to Camera 11 upstairs, a packed up room for briefings with a whiteboard in the corner.
A dark figure enters the room. The monitor switches over to Camera 12, a nearly identical briefing room.
  “What was that?” I say, and I flip the monitor back to Camera 11. In the middle of the room, staring up at the cameras, is the Catsuit. Those neon green claws, ears, eyes and teeth are unmistakeable. It is looking straight up at the camera, standing perfectly still. Almost like it's staring at me.
I find myself staring right back at it. I wonder what is underneath that fur. I think I let my fear get the better of me the other night, I am not sure what I saw. But, I still can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong under that mask. I find myself taking short, shallow breaths, and I feel frozen. I don’t want to move or look away, in case it would see me flinch.
After what feels like a minute, the Catsuit actually looks away, and walks out of the room. I find myself sighing heavily, my throat dry. I take another quick breath and exhale when my breath gets caught in my throat.
  “Where did it go?”
I swallow to try to get rid of the dryness in my throat and I check through the cameras, frantically stabbing the ‘Next’ key with my finger like some kind of panicked Morse Code. I don’t see the Catsuit on any of the twelve cameras. I look on the left and right monitor and I see the thing on the upstairs camera, standing in front of the elevator. I scold myself for forgetting the upstairs fixed camera and watch as the creature waits there, back to the camera. As I watch the strange  thing on the camera, I remember something Phone Guy told me about the top floor, three nights ago:
“ . . . it should be empty. Of course, if anyone IS up there, radio immediately . . .”
I grab the radio from the desk.
  “Central to Security, we have an intruder upstairs. I repeat, we have an intruder upstairs, on the top floor. Over.”
The elevator opens and the creature steps inside. The doors slide shut.
  “Central, this is Doorman. What’s the situation? Over.” says Kelly over the radio.
  “Doorman, the suit that attacked me yesterday is back! Black cat, green eyes and ears,” I say. I quickly change the central monitor to Camera 02 with my free hand, to show the viwe just outside the Level 2 elevator, and I switch between watching it, and the fixed camera watching the ground elevator on the leftmost monitor. “It’s heading down now, over.”
  “Central, please repeat. I don’t understand what you’re asking. Over.” says Peter in his familiar accent.
  “Suspicious individual, wearing a black cat suit. Green eyes. Over,” says Kelly.
On the left monitor, I see the elevator door open, and the Catsuit walks out. It seems to walk in a slow but steady shuffle, barely lifting its feet.
  “On the first floor,” I say into the radio, “Keep your eyes on it. Over.”
The Catsuit walks off-camera, so I  press ‘Next’ on the controller to flick through the cameras on the centre monitor. 03 and 04 are upstairs, with nothing to see. 05 shows people wandering around the entrance, but I don’t see the black fursuit. 06 is inside the exhibit hall, as is 07.
Camera 08, showing the reception and just in front of the elevators, has several more people wandering around, but, I still can’t see the Catsuit.
  “Where did you go . . .” I mutter to myself. I press ‘Prev’ to flick back through the cameras. On Camera 05, I see it. I get a flash of green eyes just before the cat turns around and the dark figure heads up the escalator.
  “Kel- uh, Doorman!” I say into the radio. “On the escalator, nearest to you, over.”
  “Are you saying the target is still on the elevator? Over” asks Kelly.
  “No, escalator. I repeat es-ca-later. Should be right in front of you. Over.” I say.
  “I can’t see anything. Over.” says Kelly.
  “Can’t . . . see it?” I mutter to myself. I flick back to Camera 02 again, and I watch as the Catsuit heads up the escalator.
I feel a slight tightness in my chest, like a cold, dark hand is taking a firm grasp of my heart, and I can feel its every thump.
  “Hightower? Bouncer?” I say into the radio, “Can someone come here, please? It’s on the second floor now. Over.”
The Cat trudges past the water fountain towards the Hallway.
  “Guys. Now, please?” I say into the radio. I quickly jab the controller to switch to Camera 01, outside the door. I see the Catsuit as it heads down the hall, and I slowly turn to the door as I hear the thump, thump, thump of heavy, padded feet on the carpet outside. The latch is vertical, the door is locked. It can’t get in here. The sound stops. I glance at the monitor. The Catsuit appears to just be standing there.
I look back at the door. Outside, I hear the familiar, ripping sound from yesterday. Then a very soft, metal scratching sound that I don’t recognize at first.
With a clunk, the door latch turns and the door unlocks. My blood turns cold.
The door opens, soundlessly, as the Catsuit pushes open the door, its limbs scratching and ripping as it moves. Those green, neon eyes stare down at me from its height.
I can’t move.
  “ . . . Do you remember . . .” says the Catsuit, in a raspy, slightly muffled voice.
As I stare, I let out a soft, wordless exhale that sounds like a meek groan. My hands feel so empty. I just have the radio in my hand, grasped tightly between my desperately clenched fingers.
The Catsuit leans forward, reaching out its neon-green claws once more.
  “GET AWAY!” I screech. I jump up from the chair and smack it in the side of the face with the radio. It makes a dull thup noise, like punching a pillow.
  “ . . . hey!” says the Catsuit. And suddenly it grabs me by both arms, and stares directly into my eyes, barely inches between our faces. So close that I can smell the familiar, sour rot from before. “Remember, Jerry. Costume is not consent . . .
  “ . . . What.” I say. I grab the head and tear it from the body of the Catsuit. “Phone Guy?!”
Underneath the mask is Phone guy’s sweaty, bald, black head. He has a cheeky grin on his face.
  “What the- what. What? Whuh-why?”  glance at the head in my hands, then put it on the study chair. Phone guy snorts and starts laughing.
  “Woo! Oh, man . . . the look on your face . . .” he says, then starts cackling some more..
  “What the hell, man!” I say, and I give him a shove. He just shrugs it off and keeps laughing “Wh- . . . what the . . . What the the actual Hell, man! You scared the crap out of me!”
That just makes him laugh harder.
  “Ohh, man . . . oh, despite wearing this thing, it was worth it,” he says, and he grunts as he pulls off the glove. There’s a sharp ripping sound as he does, then he detatches a wire inside and he drops it on the floor. When he does, I see the velcro around the wrist, and a red electrical wire.
  “Why is there wire in the glove?!” I say, a little louder than I meant to.
  “Oh, yeah yeah, it lights up,” says Phone guy. He reaches into the sleeve behind the other glove to press a switch. When he does, the neon-claws glow from little lights inside. “Cool, huh?”
  “Why the Hell are you wearing that? Isn’t that from lost property?” I ask.
  “Oh, no no,” he says. “Here, can you help me out of this thing?”
  “ . . . No,” I say.
  “Whatever,” says Phone guy, and after dropping the other glove, he pulls the collar of the suit forward, and more velcro opens with a ripping sound. He pulls his arms out of the sleeves, leaving the black body hanging in front of himself, and I am forced to step back from the overpowering smell of body odour.
  “Ugh . . . you smell,” I say.
  “Yeah, usually I just go for something less conspicuous,” says Phone Guy. “But I got this from a stall downstairs, so you wouldn’t recognize me.”
  “You bought that thing?” I ask. “But why? Why didn’t you want me to recognize you?”
  “Oh, just a standard test,” says Phone Guy. “You’re new to all this, and we need to test you out on the floor. I wanted to know how you’d act under pressure. I can’t put any of our patrons at risk, so usually, I just wear sunglasses and a hood, try to look like any other patron. Just my luck we hire a new guy when there’s a furry convention on, right? But, hey, you couldn’t tell it was me, could you?”
  “So . . . this was all a test?”
  “Oh, no no . . . “ he says, waving his hand dismissively, “Yesterday I was testing how you’d act on the floor, face-to-face. You were doing okay, then you freaked out and attacked me. I was a bit worried, but I figured it was probably because you were terrified. y’know, because of the whole mascot costume thing. So, rather than let the suit go to waste, I couldn’t resist scaring you.”
  “Couldn’t resist? You’re a jerk. I thought I was going to have a heart attack . . .”
  “Hey, it’s all good . . .” he says. “No disrespect. I’m just playin’.”
  “Whatever,”  I say. “And, you do know that furries clean their suits, right? They have perfumes and stuff.”
  “Huh, right . . .” says Phone guy, slipping off the suit and the paws on his feet. I have to admit, seeing how uncomfortable and hot he was in that suit does make me feel better about him scaring me. “Anyway, got to get back to work. We’ll save more field training for next week, alright?”
  “Okay, then.” I say.
Phone guy collects up the gloves, feet and suit from the ground and heads into the small locker room.
I go to sit down, then jump up immediately when I feel the lump in my chair. I grab the head and smack it onto the short coffee table by the wall, then slump into the chair.
  “Good grief . . .” I mutter.
I settle into my chair once more, take a calming, deep breath, and set the monitor to tour.
I jump at the sound of the phone in my pocket. I’d been staring at the screen, yawning, when the sound of Westminster Chimes brought me back to reality. I take the phone out of my pocket and glance at the screen:
12:00 ᴀᴍ -  End of Shift
I close the alarm, rub my eyes and stand up from my chair. Tonight was a long night, and Phone Guy creeping up on me in the suit got me so worked up, it tired me out.

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