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Jerry sat in Jack’s office staring at the lines in the middle of his coworker’s brow. That was always Jack’s expression anytime he even so much as said hello to the man. It was past six p.m. on a Friday. Most of the office building employees had already left for the day.
“Jerry, you mean to tell me that this company is basically robbing us all blind. And you think I can do something about that?”
“No Jack,” Jerry said, “I meant to tell you that when I walked in here and so I did. It’s already done.”
Jack sighed, lowered his head for a moment, then looked back up at Jerry. “You’re an asshole, Jerry.”
Jerry couldn’t help but chuckle. “Your opinion of me is none of my business. Fact is, I trust you.”
“Jerry, I hate you.”
Again Jerry chuckled. “Doesn’t mean I don’t still trust you though, Jack.”
For a moment, Jack said nothing. Jerry watched as the man finally raised his left eyebrow and then leaned back in his chair.
“All right,” Jack said, “what is it that you think I can do, exactly?”
Jerry smiled. “Let’s go to Dave’s,” he said.
Jack sighed. “All right, then.”
Jerry could fake small talk with just about anyone if he had to. But not Jack. At six feet and five inches tall, Jerry was eight inches taller, yet the smaller man intimidated him all the same. Few things were more disconcerting than the person who could let small talk die without so much as a hint of bother about letting it fall flat. There were certain questions Jack just wouldn’t respond to. But at his core, Jack was the sort who would do the right thing, even if he hated doing it, and that was what Jerry needed. Having Jack like him had nothing to do with any of it.
So Jerry just let the silence remain as they walked to the elevator.
He pressed the down button and they heard the familiar ding sound as the doors opened.
It was going to be a long ride down.
Jerry watched the numbers count down to pass the time. It seemed to be the longest elevator ride of his entire life. He wondered if it was paranoia, or if Jack really was staring at the back of his head.
He didn’t turn around.
It all began with the lights dimming twice, then nearly going out, then fading back to normal. Shortly after, the elevator began to shake violently–almost like it was vibrating. It lurched several times, then both men had to cover their ears when the sound blasted through the steel and concrete. The boom was louder than anything either man had ever heard. Ceiling tiles fell from the top of the elevator, then the lights died, the elevator stopped, and the emergency light came on.
“Holy shit,” Jack said.
“Exactly. I wonder what the hell just happened, a nuclear attack?”
Jack reached into his pocket, pulled out his smart phone. “Dead. As a dead can be, this thing won’t even power up.”
Jerry had left his in the truck parked in the garage that morning and hadn’t even thought to get it during the day. But he figured his was dead, too, then.
“Very well could have been a nuke then, Jack.”
The smaller man looked up at Jerry but said nothing.
“Well,” Jerry said, “only one thing to do now.”
Jerry began to remove the remaining ceiling tiles. “In the movies,” he said, “there always seems to be a way out of the top of these things.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
Jerry simply removed more tiles, then began searching the top of the car.
“Well now,” he said. There was the sound of a latch turning and then Jerry pushed a section of the roof up and away. “How about that?”
Jerry leaned down and clasped his hands.
“Why me?” Jack asked.
“I’m tall enough to get out of here on my own. You’re not.”
Jack frowned and stepped into Jerry’s hands and was lifted.
Jerry yelled out in pain.
“That’s my ear, Jack.”
“Like hell. Just get up there!”
Jack climbed out of the hole onto the top of the car. Jerry could hear him shift his position, then stand.
“What do you see?”
Jack finally answered. “We’re between floors. Looks like we could make it the same way we did out of the car. But we’ll have to figure out some way to pry those doors open.”
Jerry reached up and began to pull himself out of the elevator. He couldn’t believe the terrible shape he was in. It took all his strength to get himself out.
“Need help, son?” Jack’s tone was pure sarcasm.
“Shut up, Jack.”
Jerry stood and both men walked to the closed door. Jerry gave Jack a lift and then pulled himself up. They both pried their fingers into the gap of the door and began to pull. Eventually, the doors began to open, slowly, inches at a time, until the opening was large enough that they could slide through.
A few emergency lights blinked down the hallway. There was glass everywhere and the night air was warm and foul as it blew through the building, now unimpaired by windows. Neither man could make out the smell. There was certainly death within the odor, that they both knew.
Jerry walked across the open conference room area. The windows had been floor to ceiling before being shattered, and when he stepped close to the edge, Jerry felt his toes tingle as he looked down.
“Looks to be we’re about five stories up, still,” he said. “No lights, no cars, no power anywhere.”
Jack’s feet crunched over glass as he walked toward Jerry. As he got close, however, Jack froze.
“Yeah?” Jerry didn’t turn around.
“Can you… You might want to… Jerry, walk over to me. Do it slow.”
Immediately, Jerry felt his heart race. His first instinct was to look up. Above him, its back legs attached to the ceiling and its front half leaning down to grasp him, was a spider the size of a coconut crab. He hated himself for it immediately, but Jerry let out a wail and fell right onto his rump. In seconds, he felt hands pulling at the shoulders of his shirt. Jerry began to back away very quickly, then he managed to stand, and both men ran toward a door marked, ‘Stairs.’
They threw the door open and slammed it shut behind them.
“Spiders,” Jerry said, in a higher than normal pitch. “We’re being invaded by spiders? My God.”
“Spiders,” Jack shot back. “Is there something wrong with your eye sight? It was a bat as big as a dog, with serious teeth, about to sink them into your neck.”
“It was a massive bat, Jerry. Not a spider Maybe it was the panic.”
Jerry shook his head back and forth, just to make sure he didn’t hear something rattling inside of it. A bat? he thought to himself. It was then that he noticed that all the emergency lights in the concrete and steel stairway were working.
Down a few feet was a case with a glass front. Inside it was an axe. Jerry had never taken the stairs and had no idea such a thing could ever make it past OSHA at that point. He removed his left boot and used it to break the glass. After he’d put the boot back on he took the axe down.
“I’m not sure I trust you with that,” Jack said.
“Too bad. Next one we find is yours.”
The men began walking down the stairs, both hearing strange sounds above and below them.
After one flight, Jerry paused.
“So you say you saw a bat trying to attack me?”
“Look around me. Tell me what you see now.”
Jack did so and sucked in a breath. “A few stairs down, I see a centipede the size of a giant python. But it isn’t quite that, either. It’s… Well, it’s damn hideous.”
As terrified as he was at that moment, Jerry was fascinated. A few stairs below him, he saw another spider, this one all the more frightening to him because he was getting a good look at it.
The monstrosity was not only large but malformed; wrong and twisted. The thought that came to Jerry was: nightmarish. Jerry noticed as well that it was not merely meeting them in the stairwell—it was hunting them.
“It looks like… Like it’s thinking,” Jack said.
“At least we agree on something, then,” Jerry said. He felt the axe in his hand, knew he could at least hurt the thing–whatever it really was–and yet he found he’d simply forgotten how to swing.
His mind was trying to conjure too many ways to hurt the thing, trying to get ahead of itself before something went wrong.
Jerry tried to slow his brain down and focused on just swinging the axe.
The clank of the axe striking the steel front of the stair step caused the thing to launch at them. Jerry swung again and the thing clamped onto the axe. As he noticed it, he adjusted and swung both into the wall, thing first.
It made a horrible howling sound as it died. It took three tries before Jerry was able to get the axe out of the creature and the wall. He let it hit the floor and stood for a moment, trying to catch his breath. He realized he was shaking from head to toe.
“Nice job,” Jack said.
“Thanks,” Jerry panted out.
A few minutes later, Jerry said, “I think I know why we’re seeing different things.”
“Yeah, me too,” Jack said. “It’s playing on our fears, isn’t it?”
Jerry admitted to himself at that moment that he was glad it was Jack he’d gotten stuck with, after all. For all his faults, the man could understand and allow reality to be what it was.
“So what did you see?” Jack asked.
“You don’t like spiders, do you, Jerry?”
“Bats and centipedes, Jack? Sheesh, man. Step on one, shoo the other away.”
This time, Jack actually laughed.
Two more flights down and they found another axe. Jack took it and it seemed to help his spirits some.
“What do you think it is, Jerry?”
“What, you mean like do I think it’s aliens or something?”
The men took a few more steps before Jerry answered. “No idea,” he said.
“Yeah. Me either.”
They continued making their way down the stairs and met no more strange apparitions. When they reached the ground floor, both men stopped at the door.
“I’m not sure I want to see whatever’s out there.”
Jerry nodded his head. “I know I don’t. But I’m only a couple of blocks from here. I’ve got some guns, ammo, and some supplies. Water, too. Without power, we’re going to need all of that.”
Jack shook his head in agreement. Jerry turned and pushed down on the door latch and opened it slowly. They stepped out into the night.
The moon had come out from the clouds and lit the streets with dim light. They could see the bodies on the ground. Cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles, all there, none working, their previous owners being dead or having abandoned them all.
Jerry heard a sound to his left and turned. The thing was already almost on them.
“What do you see, Jack?”
“Your left. What do you see?”
Jack turned. “A four foot tall praying mantis. Black. Big, big teeth.”
Jerry had already raised his axe to strike. He lowered it slightly as he heard the words. “Praying mantises, Jack? You’re afraid of praying mantises.”
Jack raised his axe. “Have you ever looked at one up close, man?”
They both swung.
There was a satisfying crunching sound and a subsequent howl into the night. Both men knew they’d likely just declared war to whatever had invaded.
“Why,” Jack asked. “What did you see?”
“You ever read King’s Dark Tower series?”
“Roland called the thing a, ‘lobstrosity,’ and that thing scared the hell out of me.”
Jack chuckled. “Jerry, at least praying mantises exist.”
“Shut up, Jack.”