The phone rings three times before I can answer. I hear a click as I answer, then some kind of garbled grunting noise and scratchy, digital buzzing. I listen as closely as I can, since I can almost hear a voice through it. Suddenly, there’s some kind of inhuman screech, making me jump. Then the line goes dead.
“Probably a pocket-dial . . .”
I put the phone in the carseat beside me, indicate and pull out. I'm already late, so I'm going to park in the Centre Carpark today. I was worried the call was Phone Guy to rouse on me for running late, so I pulled over to check - the voice almost sounded like him. Luckily, I'm not in trouble. Not yet, anyway.
I drive past the centre and turn in, heading down the ramp and I park in the first empty space I see. I switch off the lights, jump out, locking the car, and run to the elevator, pressing the button frantically, tapping like a woodpecker. The lift arrives, and I have to step back as several young girls walk out, then I run into the lift and press the button for the Terrace Level. With a metal clang, the door slams shut in front of me, startling me.
“Jeez . . . calm down, creepy, old lift.” I mutter. When the door opens, I sprint towards the secirity office and rap my knuckles against it.
“Phone Guy? Open up. It's me.” I say.. I wait a moment, but there's no answer. I remember how he was listening to loud music the other day, so I slam my fist into the door. “Come on, man . . .”
I bang my fist into it ten times, but there's no answer.
I sigh, glance around, and decide to ask one of the other guards. Omeo is usually the closest, so I head around the balcony - glancing over the railing to see several folks in fursuits, playing around downstairs - and easily spot Omeo. He speaks up before I reach him.
“Little man! ‘Sup, man? Last day, eh?”
“Last day? . . . of the week?” I ask, confused.
“No, Furries,” says Omeo. “Con’s done today.”
“Ohh, right. But hey, Om. I can't get into the security office.”
“The office? D’jer knock?”
Omeo grabs the radio on his waist.
“Bouncer to Operator. Come in, man. Over.”
I wait there awkwardly for a moment as Omeo stops someone in a puppy dog fursuit to check their lanyard, but even after a minute of that, there's no radio response. Omeo tries again. “Oi, Operator, pick up. Over.”
After a few seconds, he shakes his head.
“Must’ve stepped out. Here, man,” he says, taking a set of keys from his belt. “Take these. I'll get ‘em back later. All good?”
“Yeah, all good,” I say taking the keys. “Thank you.”
He nods, and I head back to the security office.
I stick the key in the lock and turn it. Nothing happens. Did I turn it the wrong way?
I turn the key anti-clockwise, and hear a click.
I grab the handle, but it doesn't turn.
I've just locked the door. The door was unlocked. I turn the key the other way, the lock clicks again and I turn the handle.
“Hello? Hello, hello?” I say, heading into the room. There's no answer. I step inside the room and look around, but there's no one else in here. I take the keys out of the lock, close the door and lock it behind me.
The only other thing in the office is the head of the Catsuit. It's back sitting on the lost property desk. I just shake my head at it and lean over onto the desk to check out the monitor. It’s showing Camera 04, pointing down at the carpet. I use the controller to point the camera along the hall, but just see Omeo standing there. I change the settings so that the cameras tour, then open the locker room.
As I open the door, I get hit with a waft of a hot, stinking smell. It's like the rotten B.O. smell, but with a persistent dirtiness with it, like an unflushed toilet, and I can see why. The rest of the dirty Catsuit is sitting haphazardly on the bench. I think maybe Phone Guy got changed in here, out of the Catsuit, so now the whole place reeks.
I just grab my stuff from the locker and head back into the security office to get changed away from the smell.
I wonder why he left it there. Did he want to change into it again? Or did he leave it there after yesterday?
I bundle up my clothes take a deep breath, grab the locker room door, run in, chuck my clothes in the locker, run out and breathe easy. I sit on the study chair and watch the images go past. Nothing too unusual. Although, I do notice there aren’t as many stalls in the Ballroom. I guess some of the smaller vendors have already packed up, since it’s the end of the week. But I see Peter walking around the dealer’s den, Kelly at the door, Om by the changing room. I look in the Exhibit Hall, cameras 06 and 07, and although there’s some kind of band playing and there are dozens and dozens of people in there, I can’t see any other security guards. I can’t see Phone Guy anywhere, and I know he’s not hiding in that costume, because it’s here.
I look around for a radio only to open the drawer and find it sitting there. I pick it up and speak into it.
“Hey, Central to Security. Does anyone know where Operator is? Over.”
“Uhh . . . office? Over.” says Peter
“He’s not here. I’m here, and there’s no sign of him. Over,” I say.
“Did he go to the bathroom? Over.” asks Peter.
“I didn’t see him come down. Over,” says Kelly.
“He could’ve taken the lift,” says Peter.
“I watch the lifts, Hightower. He didn’t. Come. Down,” says Kelly, sounding annoyed. “Over.”
“Can someone check the carpark?” I ask. “There’s no cameras down there, maybe he’s around. Over.”
“I’ll have a look,” says Peter. “Hightower, out.”
“Oh, Central?” says Kelly. “Did you just get here? Over.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Uh, affirmative. Over.”
“I have spotted our Mismatch again, walking around, so keep your eyes peeled. Report him if you spot him. Over and out.”
Mismatch? The kid from Tuesday?
“Roger that. Over and out.”
I don’t understand at all. Phone Guy was always making sure I knew how important it was to keep an eye on the cameras, and I know as a matter of fact that there are several spots that the cameras alone are watching over. There's no way he would just leave without telling anyone, right?
I start to feel anxious. I can only imagine the worst. If only he would just answer the radio. Or if we could call him on his mobile, but I don't even know if he has a mobile.
Wait, yes I do . . . he was listening to music yesterday, on his phone! I grab the radio again.
“Security, does anyone know Operator's mobile number? Over.”
“Yeah, I've got it. Over.” says Kelly.
“Well, can you call him? He should have his phone in his pocket. See if he's okay. Over.”
“On it. Over and out.” replies Kelly.
I sigh and sit back in my chair. We'll sort this out, figure out where he went, and move on from there.
There’s a loud twang! sound behind me that makes me jump. I glance around towards the scratchy sound, just beside the Cat head, I see a dark rectangle, vibrating. It's a mobile phone, playing a heavily bit-crushed version of an R’n’B track. I move back in my chair and pick up the phone.
“Eugh . . . sticky,” I moan, dropping the phone on the table, right-side up. The screen says: Kelly
That's when I finally realize. Kelly. Mobile. Phone Guy . . . I don't know why it took me so long to piece it together, but this is his phone.
I sigh, and realize that the Cat Head is staring at me.
“Screw you, Catsuit . . .” I say. I shove the head to slide it off the table. It slips off and hits the carpet with a heavy thunk.
The noise surprises me and I look over at the head, now facing away from me on its side, shirt-cloth type rag hanging loosely from the stump. I picked the head up, I felt it, it was light and pillowy. Why would it be so heavy?
I stand up from my chair, lean over and pick it up by one of the ears. As I lift it, I feel the extra weight, like there’s a brick inside. Then the rag suddenly bulges as something slips out of it and as it falls loose, the rag makes a swip noise and gives birth to a head that hits the ground with a wet thup, leaving a red splatter beside it.
A head. A human head. I can't see the face, but the skin is familiar bald, brown.
It's his head. It's Phone Guy’s head.
I know it's true, but it can’t be. I can't even wrap my brain around it. How could it be his head?
I start backing away. I get startled when the back of my legs kick the chair, and I drop the Cat head as I flinch violently.
This doesn't feel real. It can't be real, but it's real. Oh my god, that's his head!
What do I do? Do I call the police?
I remember Phone Guy saying to never call the police. But what the Hell do I so if I can't call the police?!
The Button! The panic button under the desk. Well, I'm certainly panicking . . .
I sit in the chair, swivel around and slam the panic button with my fist, three times. Then I slam both my hands down on the desk, making a loud bang!
Now what? What do I do? Is that all, just call the police? Do I just wait for the police here?
. . . No, I can't stay here. I can't stay in this room!
I get up without looking back, unlock the door and head out into the hall. I gasp for breath, and realize how quick and panicky I'm breathing. I lean against the wall with my arm, and lean my head on my wrist.
It was his head. His head was in the suit. Someone cut-off his head.
“Gah! . . . I gotta get out of here.” I wander down the hall, and as I do, I remember doing the same thing this morning, to talk to Omeo. “Omeo . . . Yes, hey! Omeo!”
I start jogging and head around the corner. Omeo nods towards me when he sees me. I wave both my arms when he sees me. I don't know what to say . . . I hear his radio crackle to life.
“Security, Lockdown. I repeat. All Security, Lockdown! A man-”
A loud, sharp bang echoes through the whole centre, making me instinctively duck down.
I glance all around. I can hear a dull, high-pitched ringing in my ears.
“Omeo!” I call out.
“Lockdown!” bellows Omeo, sounding dead serious, and he points at me. “Get back in there!”
Then he turns towards the people down the hall.
“Y’all head into the lounge, okay?”
I turn to head back. As I do, I hear growling and someone yell out “Get ‘em!”
I turn towards the voice to see something at the bottom of the escalator that looks like someone with a shag-pile rug over their head. In one hand, I see a wooden rifle with a sniper scope on it. The sight makes me turn and run back down the hall. I open the door, but stop when I see the head on the carpet once more. It's still there. It's really there.
I don't take my eyes off of it as I step inside, shut the door and lock the latch.
“What the hell is going on, now?” I say. I sit in the study chair and flick through to Camera 08, in the reception area. I see the man with the gun. There are half a dozen people running, scattering towards doors as he swings the gun, as usual it's perfectly silent, as it’s all images, no sound. By the desk there is someone in a sandy-brown fursuit, with a brown pitbull mauling their arm. The man in the gun approaches, and I see that it's not a rug over him, but he appears to be wearing some kind of hood made of pelts - two or three black and brown animal skins, roughly stiched together. He walks up to the fursuit, points his gun at them and pulls the trigger. There's a flash from the muzzle, and the gun is so loud, I hear the gunshot thunder through centre. The fursuit falls limp, and the furskin-wearing gunman grabs the dog by the collar, and spins him around. As he does, I see that the dog has patchy dark and light brown fur, and some kind of protective vest and collar around it’s front. There's someone in a grey dog-character fursuit struggling to run, the man sics the dog on them next.
“Tower to Security. What the hell’s going on up there?”
“There's a man with a gun!” I say into the radio, panicked. “Omeo said we're in lockdown. - uh, Bouncer said. There's a man with a gun. Over.”
“Central. Have you pressed the emergency button? Over.”
“Yes,” I say, glancing under the desk. “I already pressed it. Over.”
As I look under the desk, I see something loose that looks like a shoelace hanging from the drawer. I push the chair back and crouch down. I grab the string, and it feels like plastic but can't see, so I take my phone out of my pocket and switch it on. The light from the phone shines on the wire, and I see it hanging loosely from the panic button. I also see the other end of it.
The other end was stuck to the drawer, but at the end where it's cut, there's a scratch along the metal, cutting through the paint to where someone’s swiped a knife across the wire.
It's been cut off. There's even a sliver of red by the cut. It must be the same knife that beheaded Phone guy.
I feel a knot in my stomach as I crawl out from under the desk. The police weren't called. We're cut off.
There's another bang! as the gun fires again.
I stand up and look around, see the filing cabinet and remember the phone back there. I take a step towards it, and freeze when I lay my eyes on Phone Guy’s head once more. I can see the side of his head from this angle, his left ear.
I feel sick.
I force myself to look away and I focus on the cabinet. I grab the handset and press it to my ear. It's silent.
I pull the phone unit closer and see the cut phone line and power cord, hanging loosely behind it. They've cut all the lines.
I drop the useless phone and feel chills. We're trapped.
I step around the head, and kick the Cat suit-piece out of the way as I grab the radio.
“Operator is dead. We're cut off. Call the police. Over.” I say.
As I do, I see the monitor, Camera 08. Three collapsed fursuits are laying on the floor, the pitbull biting the leg of one pink tiger suit. But in the very middle of the downstairs reception area is Mismatch. Grey dog head, purple fox tail, ragged pants. He is looking at the gunman in the furskin, and I see that Mismatch is holding a knife in his bare, left hand.
Is he going to try to fight him?
Furskin gestures upwards with the gun, then Mismatch nods his head, and starts jogging towards the elevator.
He's not fighting him. He's helping him.
Furskin grabs the dog by the collar, and drags him towards the exhibition hall as Mismatch heads into the elevator.
I quickly speed through Cameras 07, 06, 05, 04 & 03 to see the second floor elevator on Camera 02.
I grab the radio.
“Bouncer, our mismatched attacker has a knife. He's coming to the second floor. Over.”
After what feels like ages, I see Mismatch head out of the elevator. But, he doesn't head for the headless lounge, instead he cuts across the room full of chairs and heads straight for the hallway with the security office. Straight for me.
Before I switch the camera view, I can hear the heavy, padded footsteps. The doorhandle rattles as he grabs it. I hear a muffled voice mutter something, then the familiar sound of metal scraping and the lock clicks.
As the door cracks open, I leap out of my chair and throw my body against the door. It slams shut, and I pinch the doorlatch, twisting it locked.
“Hey! What the fuck?!” yells out Mismatch, his voice muffled by his mask.
The handle jostles, then I hear him try the key again. The latch tries to twist under my fingers, but I have a firm, and determined grip. It hurts my fingers to pinch the metal so hard, but I will break my fingers before I let him through this door.
I hear another echoing bang! - Furskin is still downstairs, shooting people.
Mismatch stops turning the key and the door shudders as he kicks it in frustration, making the keys jangle in the lock.
I glance back at the monitor. I can't see just outside the hall, since it's still on Camera 02, but I don't see Mismatch walking away, so I keep holding the door locked. There's a strange thock! noise, and I hear a grunt and splintering wood. It takes me a moment to realize that he’s stabbed the knife into the door, but the wood must be too thick, it didn't break through. There's a woody crunch, then thock. Thock. Then it stops.
“Hey!” calls out Mismatch, “I can't get in the fucken door!”
There's no answer, and I hear the footsteps jogging away. I glance ar the monitor again, and see him jogging to the railing to xall downstairs. He's going to get the other guy. Furskin. The guy with the gun.
I quickly get up and without sitting down, I switch the view to Camera 01, just outside the door. The hallway is empty.
Should I run? I don't know if I'll make it, if I try to run, but I also don't know how much longer I can hold that door closed, especially if there's two of them trying to break in.
I point the camera right at the door. I Can't see much damage, it just looks like two black lines in the door; but there's something hanging from the doorknob. The keys!
I check Camera 02 again. Mismatch is still leaning over the railing.
I quickly unlock the door and open it. I peak out, and Mismatch hasn't turned around. So I reach around the door, grab the hanging ring of keys, slam the door shut and lock it with the latch.
I sit in the chair and check out at the keys. They're Phone guy’s keys. These two must have killed him.
I look at the monitor to see Mismatch running back towards the hall. He must have heard me slam the door. I hear him run back along the carpet, and the door shudders violently as he slams his fists against the other side
“Give me back the keys!” he screams.
‘No . . .’, I think to myself.
“Dad, help!” cries out Mismatch. “He's taken the keys!”
Did he say ‘Dad’? Furskin is his father?
I hear him run down the hallway, and on the monitor I see him head around and go down the escalator.
No, I can’t leave. I can’t run. I reach into my pocket, but I can’t find my phone. I left it bundled up with my clothes, so I grab Phone Guy’s phone, on the Lost Property table. I dial 000.
“Emergency response. Is this for police, fire or ambulance?” says a man on the line.
“Police. Definitely police.”
“One moment . . .” he says. After a second someone else speaks, a woman.
“This is Police Emergency. Can you tell me where you’re at?”
“Doomben Convention Centre,” I say.
“Alright. What’s the emergency?” she says .
“Yes, there’s a man with a gun, shooting people.”
“Has anyone been injured?”
“Yes, shot and killed. Maybe five people.”
“Okay. Police are already on their way, we have a few people on the line. Do you know who the shooter is?”
“No, but he’s here with his son, the same kid that was arrested here a few days ago. I think the shooter is his dad.”
“Alright. Do you know where he is?”
“No, but I can find out,” I say.
“It’s a good idea to stay where you are, if you’re safe. Are you safe? Is the door locked?”
“Yes. I’m a security guard, I’m in the office with the security cameras,” I say, and I flick through the cameras to see that Furskin is harassing people in the Exhibit Hall, and I see Mismatch run up to him.
“He’s in the exhibit hall, by the entrance. There’s a lot of people in there. His son is with him.”
“Okay,” says the lady.
“I think they also killed my boss, cut his head off. I’m sorry, I don’t know his name.”
“That’s okay. The police are on their way, just sit tight and stay on the line. You can help us sort out this situation.”
“Okay, well, there’s a guy with a rifle, his son has a knife, and there’s an attack dog. A pitbull. He’s biting people,” I say. As I speak, I see Furskin head past Mismatch, out of the hall. “He’s moving now.”
“A pitbull dog?” says the lady on the phone.
“Yes, it’s biting people. But, the gunman is heading out of the hall . . . ” I switch around the controller to see that the man is marching with purpose towards the escalators, and when he gets there, seems to jump up them two at a time with his huge lace-up army boots. “He’s heading upstairs now. I think he’s coming for me!”
“Okay, I need you to close any windows and lock the door if you can, safely. Are there any windows?”
“No, no windows,” I say.
“Okay, then just get to the back of the room, okay? Away from the door.”
“Open this door!” yells Furskin, he sounds furious. “Open this door, you perverted scum!”
That voice, I recognize it . . . it’s the same man that was ranting and raving last Monday.
“Okay . . .” I whisper into the phone as I stand up.
The door shakes violently with a bang! As he kicks it, but it doesn’t break.
“Just get as far back as-”
There’s a sound of gunshot, and I hear a loud pop by my ear, and the sound of cracking glass. I feel the warmth drain from my legs and I collapse back into the chair. As I do, I take the phone from my head and look at it. The screen is completely black, with spidery cracks all over the glass leading to a hole the size of a pea.
My ears are ringing, and everything seems muffled. My vision is going spotty. As I turn my head, I start to drift off, and I can just faintly hear the sound of sirens. Is that an ambulance? I think I need an . . . my head falls forward and hits the desk, then everything goes black
Westminster Chimes. Like a clocktower, or an old, grandfather clock. I recognize the sound of Westminster Chimes. Is it midnight already? The End of my Shift?
I open my eyes, and I’m staring at the ceiling. The light shines right in my eyes, and I have a dreadful headache. I move to sit up.
“Hey, whoa, whoa . . .” says a voice. It sounds far away. I turn to my right, but can’t see anyone. The door is open. Two hands touch my shoulder, surprising me. “Don’t move. Doctor’s comin’, little man.”
That sounds like Omeo. The voice is coming from behind me, but my left ear feels weird, I can’t hear right. It sounds muffled, like it’s underwater.
“I can’t hear right from the left side . . .” I say.
“Hey, you lucky to be alive, man,” says Om. “Shot in the head, you should be gone.”
“What happened?” I say.
“You were shot,” says Omeo.
“No no no, the police. The shooter.”
“Dead, man,” says Omeo. “When the cops came, he shot the kid, them himself.”
“Oh, hell . . .” I say, and I put a hand to my head.
“Hey, lay down, man,” says Omeo. “That went through your head - don’t know what that did to your brain, man.”
I do as I’m told, and I lie down, turning my head to the side so I don’t stare at the light. As I do, I see the Catsuit head. It’s staring at me, sitting on its side next to the open doorway.
“Is everyone okay?” I ask.
“No, man. Frank is dead. Kel’ was shot. We’re all pretty buggered, man.”
“Jeez . . .” I mutter. “I have a headache.”
“Here, I’ll hurry the doc’ up,” says Omeo. He stands up, and his huge shadow passes over me as I watch his feet step by me as he walks out of the room.
It’s just me and the Cat Head. It’s almost comforting. And to think, a week ago, I was horrified just to see it.
“You’re not so bad after all . . .” I say.
“Not so bad, yourself,” says the Cathead.
“No . . . no no no,” I say, and I try to sit up and crawl away, but my head is screaming in pain, I can't move without seeing spots. I yell out “HELP!”
“It’s okay, Jerry . . . it's me,” says the Cathead. “It’s only me.”