Tammy had the good fortune of working for one of the most prestigious law firms in the county, Clarke, Hawkins and Richardson. She was only a secretary to one of the minor partners, but she allowed herself to feel pride at rising this far when she had barely left school with any qualifications to her name.
The law firm was based in one of the oldest buildings in town, the floors below street level dating back all the way to the fifteenth century. Not that anyone went down there, unless they were searching through the firms archives, but even most of them had been ccomputerizedby now.
Tammy had only had one occasion to venture down to the cellars, as they were called, and that was on the day of her induction. It was part of a tour of the building. She had been in a group of five other new employees, and even in company, she hated it down there. More than once, a cold shiver had run up her spine as she got the distinct feeling that someone orsomething was watching her from the shadows. Since that day, she had refused point blank to go down the stairs.
One Halloween, however, that was set to change. James, a man from accounting, spent the day playing pranks on nearly everyone who had come in to work that day.
As the day drew to a close, Tammy thought, by some miracle, she must have gone unnoticed by him. That was until it was time to leave. She had been forced to stay late to rectify a clerical error a temp had made, so by the time she was ready to go home there couldn’t have been more than a handful of people left in the building. She went to grab her bag from her desk, only to find that it was missing. She needed her bag; it not only had her house key in it, but also the key to her car. She searched everywhere she could think of, but no bag materialised. Without her bag, she couldn’t go home. Without it she couldn’t get home.
As she patted down the pockets of her jacket, hoping against hope that for some reason that morning she had put her keys there instead of where they belonged, she found a note. Her heart sank. She had seen others receive the same missives from James all day. Her heart sank further when she read what it said:
If you want to go home, first your will need to make a little detour. Your handbag is awaiting collection in the cellar. It’s sitting atop the main desk in Archives. Of course, if you are too scared to go down there, give me a call and you can come home with me. James.
‘Like hell I will,’ Tammy said, sounding much more confident than she felt. It was no secret that she hated the cellars, but neither could she give in to James. She would never live it down.
Tammy switched off her computer and desk light and closed her office door behind her, before making her way towards the lifts. Once inside, she pressed the button for the ground floor. It was the lowest floor the lift had access to. After that she was going to have to take the stairs.
Nerves began fluttering in her stomach before she even reached the bottom of the staircase, but she forced herself to go on. No doubt James would check first thing in the morning whether she had managed to get her bag back, and she simply couldn’t face the humiliation of being teased. It would be like high school all over again. That thought alone drove her onwards.
She moved across the half a dozen paces between the final step and the door to the corridor beyond as fast as she could. Her heart was racing. She felt sick. She could never remember feeling like this before. As she touched the door handle, and pulled it towards her, she felt like she could pass out at any moment, but she stepped through all the same.
As the door swung closed behind her, a high-pitched squeaking told her that the hinges hadn’t been oiled for sometime. The sound set her even further on edge, if such a thing were possible, before she registered something far worse, something familiar: it was the same feeling she had recognised on her induction. Someone or something was watching her. She tried to strike the realisation from her mind before she became paralysed with fear, but it was an almost insurmountable task. Almost.
The main desk was only twenty feet in front of her. She could see her handbag sitting on it. At that moment it represented so much more than simply a purse; it symbolised safety. She wanted to run over grab and then run all the way out of the building, never stopping until she was safely locked in her car, but her feet were heavy like lead and didn’t want to move.
She swallowed hard, and tried to convince herself to go on. Twenty steps, she silently chanted. That’s all it is. Twenty steps. With all the strength she could muster she took one step forward. Tammy trained her eyes on the ground, terrified that if she should look up she might see something that she really didn’t want.
A noise, sounding like one of the boxes moving on a shelf just out of her sight, stopped her in her tracks.
‘Hello?’ she called out. ‘Is there anyone down here?’ But the echo of her words only served to tense her further.
‘James, if that’s you…’ she said, trying to hold back the tears that were forming in her eyes, before the words slowly trailed off into the suffocating silence. She knew it wasn’t James down there with her, but she desperately wished it was.
All of a sudden she felt a cold breath on the back of her neck, and she couldn’t help but let out a gasp, but it was all the motivation she needed to move. She charged across the room, clutched her bag before attempting to make good her escape.
But she tried the door and it wouldn’t open; she knew there was no other way out. A noise that sounded like a hiss or perhaps an indecipherable whisper came from somewhere deeper in the room. Tammy started screaming.
A moment, no more, passed and the lights overhead began flickering. Then they went out altogether, and Tammy was plunged into darkness.