They Came in Pairs

When I opened the door there was two of them. One of them I had never seen before, but the other I knew. Or had known once. He didn’t acknowledge me, his lips were downturned and his jaw was tense, as though he was scared that if he so much as smiled everyone would know what had passed between us. Know what I was, and what kind of man he really was beneath his uniform.

I wasn’t the only one getting a visit. I could see, over the wall, two men in the blue uniform were scoring a neighbour’s garden, while he stood in the doorway clenching and unclenching his fist. I kept looking over at him, as the two at my door rattled through their introduction. My eyes would move from The One I Did Not Know, to the chin of The One I Did Know, to the Neighbour’s fist. Clenching and unclenching. Everyone clenching and unclenching.

Are you following?

It was The One I Did Not Know who talked the most. His badge was bigger and shinier and reflected in his high, greasy forehead.

You want to see my tag.

Wrist first, then tag. If you’d be so kind. 

He smiled and I noticed his mouth was full of long thin teeth.

I stretched my left arm out and pulled up the sleeve of my jumper. The One I Did Not Know pulled out his handbook to work out what the symbols that snaked up my arm meant. So they were new to the job. There was nothing worse than dealing with a uniform wearing a baton that he hadn’t had a chance to use yet.

The One I Did Know cracked momentarily. I could almost see the cogs turning as his eyes drifted from my wrist to my hand. I wasn’t wearing my engagement ring anymore. And if I wasn’t wearing that then-

Like I said, it was momentary. His eyes went from my wrist to my hands to my eyes and then to the wall behind me so quickly, I don’t think he even realised he’d done it. I only noticed because moments like this always pass by slower for me. You have to be slow and careful. One mistake and-

Well. It seems we’re going to have to come inside.

I blinked slowly as he closed his handbook.

We believe you may be at risk of radicalization, given your…unique position. May we?

I don’t really have a choice, do I?

Of course, you do. We could either do this the easy way or-

He smiled again and I could see that his thin teeth stretched on infinitely.

The longer way.

He didn’t elaborate. He didn’t need to. We all know what the long way is. I glanced at the neighbour one last time. He was staring right back me. I stepped aside as he began to mouth something to me. But The One I Know closed the door before I could catch the rest of it.

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The Visitor, Part III

The first thing I noticed about the post room was that it was the only part of the office without any natural light. The wall lamps were dim and not far reaching. Parts of the room were completely dark.

‘Watch your step.’ Ward said, leading the way.

Parcels were neatly stacked in tottering piles. Despite his warning, I still managed to knock one over.

‘I’m sorry.’ I said, kneeling down to pick up one of many ASOS packages. My hands were shaking.

‘Leave it. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.’

So I stood up again, squinting to make him out across the room.

‘You can take Fletch’s chair.’ He muttered, sitting down at his desk.

I pulled the chair from the desk I was standing next to and pushed it towards Ward, taking care to avoid the stacks. I knocked at least 3 over.

‘Are you trying to make a mess?’

‘I can’t see anything!’ I snapped, frustrated. ‘And you’re no bloody help.’

Ward looked up in surprise.

‘I’m sorry.’ He said eventually. ‘I didn’t mean to snap at you. I guess I’m a bit…on edge.’

He helped me wheel the chair the beside him.

‘And you get used to the dark. We call each other moles in here, for jokes.’ Ward shrugged, suddenly embarrassed, ‘It’s stupid.’

An awkward silence followed. I was still annoyed at Ward for being so short with me. I didn’t want to be around him anymore. I just wanted to go home and, well, forget. As if that wasn’t already the source of my problems.

Ward logged into his account, drumming his fingers on the table as he waited.

‘I’m going to need you to close your eyes for this part.’

‘What?’

‘Hazel,’ He said, firmly. ‘I need you to trust me.’

I just stared at him.

‘This is really important. I could get in a lot of trouble. The less you know about it the better.’

‘What is it?’

‘I can’t tell you. To protect me and you both. Please. Just do this for me.’

His eyes pleaded with mine. I didn’t have the energy to fight him, and in a day of strange occurances, what was one more, really?

‘And this will help us get the CCTV footage?’ I asked, defeated.

‘Yes. This is how we get it.’

I closed my eyes. Soon after, I could hear furious tapping.

‘Okay. You can open them.’

On Ward’s computer was a live feed of a couple of the security cameras on our floor. Ward switched on his second monitor. More camera feeds.

‘Holy shit.’ I said in amazement.

‘Yeah.’

I had several questions. How and when and why did he have access to them, things like that. But I also knew Ward would flip his lid if I said even one of them.

‘That’s the foyer!’ I said, pointing at the second monitor.

Ward clicked on the camera and went through the log.

‘3 pm.’ He announced, when he found it. His finger hovered nervously over the button.

‘Play it.’ I urged, my voice wavering a little.

He clicked and I braced myself.

There was nothing but static.

‘Fast forward.’ I said, a little relieved.

More static. Static at 3:30. Static at 4. Static 5.

‘Go back to just before 3’

Ward rewound the footage. At 2:45, I was clearly visible, sat at the reception desk, typing at my computer. At 2:50, the same. At 2:55, I put my hair up in a ponytail and fanned myself. At 2:58 I looked towards the lifts. At 2:59, the picture gave way to static.

‘What the fuck?’ I said, almost in a whimper, mostly in a whisper.

Ward went back to 11 am, to 9 am, to the day before, to the week before. Everything was above board. The camera was working fine. Ward returned to 3 pm that day again. Static.

‘I’m going to be sick.’ I said.

Ward skipped ahead to 6. There was static for a few seconds and then the image cut to us. Looking at each other. After a short exchange, Ward typed on my computer and then-

‘Look,’ Ward said, pointing at the screen ‘I’m about to realise the time.’

‘And there’s me getting up to check the TV.’ I replied.

We turned to each, just as our past selves turned to each other on the screen.

‘So…we can’t remember the hours of 3-6. No one else can tell us that they saw us. The CCTV is fucked during that time period in particular and…we’re no closer to an explanation. I think we need to stop looking.’ Ward said.

‘What?’

‘We are going down a weird and baffling road and I don’t think either of us is equipped to.’

He stood up and hastily pulled on his jacket.

‘So- What? We’re just supposed to act like nothing happened?’

‘Well, how do we know something happened? We don’t actually know anything.’

‘We know we can’t remember the time passing and we know that no one, and nothing, has any proof of us even being around during that time! So the only logical explanation-

‘There is no logical explanation!’

‘What if something happened to us? Ward! What if something bad happened to us?’

‘Something like what?’

‘I don’t know. But don’t you want to find out?’

Ward picked up his satchel.

‘Ward, please.’ I pleaded, ‘Let’s just look at the other cameras.’

Ward looked around the room, shook his head and then sat back down.

‘We’re going to regret this.’ He said, ‘There is no way this ends well.’

He clicked on the post room camera. Everything seemed to be working order. It was mostly Ward eating alone.

‘We can fast forward through this.’ He said, embarrassed.

‘Is that an entire box of Krispy Kremes that you bought for yourself?’ I asked, even more puzzled.

‘I- My girlfriend is on a diet. This is the only- I don’t have to explain myself to you.’

He sped through. At 3 pm, the camera was working fine.

‘So maybe it’s just the Foyer.’ Ward mumbled.

He skipped to 3:10, to 3:20. Then at 3:30-

‘No. Please, no.’

Static. For the duration of 5 minutes. Then the camera cut back to an empty post room.

‘Maybe it’s a glitch.’ I said, a little reassured. But Ward has his hand to his mouth, holding his breath.

‘I collect the post at 3:30.’ He whispered, ‘I come back in at about-’

3:40. The camera jolted slightly this time and then the picture was replaced by static. Ward shook his head.

‘It’s us. We’re making the cameras glitch.’

The static lasted for another 20 minutes and then the camera cut back to an empty post room. Ward hurriedly clicked on the camera on the far side of the office. He skipped to 3:30. We held our breaths.

Nothing happened. The camera was fine. We watched our colleagues mill about.

‘You’re wrong.’ I said. ‘You must have-’

Static. Ward buried his face in his hands. After about five minutes, the camera cut back to the office. Nothing was noticeably different. Other than the fact all the post trays were all empty.

So, we had been there. Or at least, something had been there, doing our jobs. But we had no idea who, we had no idea why, and it felt like someone or something was deliberately trying to keep us in the dark.