Daniel was busy designing the new customer engagement system when it happened. To be fair it was his own fault. He’d accepted the invite on the basis that while Steve droned on about optimizing paradigms Daniel could get the work done. And so he’d packed himself into a room with about seven managers and stole a scrap of tablespace. He knew none of them, which meant they were too senior to be important. Unfortunately he hadn’t gambled on it happening. He didn’t even notice until Steve said “Dan?”
Daniel glanced up from his rapid response complaints system at two rows of quizzical faces. “Sure, it’s doable.”
Steve smiled “And with the new 666 link, we should have the hard copy before lunchtime.”
The managers nodded to each other knowingly.
Daniel’s office honed instincts flared “Sorry Steven, could you restate that in laymen’s terms?”
Steve swelled with pride at the thought of being too technical for someone “We agreed we need the hard copy of the previous version’s project plan so we’re going to send you over to archives to retrieve it.”
Amelia was making coffee when she heard the scream. Round the corner she found security holding onto Daniel. A group of managers filed past, whispering to each other. Steve came last “Same time tomorrow, we’ll do a full review of today’s minutes!”
Daniel struggled to break free “Not again! Please not again!”
“Did something happen?” she asked, sipping coffee.
Steve noticed her “Don’t worry, it’s a perfectly normal reaction.”
“He’s going up to Archives tomorrow,” Steve winked “It’s on the northside.”
“My family is from Swords.”
Steve never let a bad joke slow him down “Fancy an all-expenses paid company trip?”
Amelia considered his sharklike grin. It had to be better than making coffee..
Frost clung to the bus stop. There’d been a deep freeze overnight. Amelia’s breath still fogged and she was glad she’d gone casual. It was 9:15 and neither Daniel nor the bus had appeared, despite both being promised. Lazily her gaze took in the rest of Connolly for the sixtieth time. The buses made her think of Electric Picnic and she started replaying it in her head. She’d just gotten to the good part of Blur’s set when a hand on her shoulder jerked her back to reality.
“Good morning,” said Daniel.
Before she could respond he thrust something into her hands.
“Put this on.”
“Morning. What is it?”
It looked like a necklace. There was a small bottle strung to the chain, it smelt of garlic.
“An LPA. I got them off HR. Do not ask what it cost me.”
“Seriously what’s the deal with Archives?”
Daniel grimaced “It’s… it’s on the northside.”
“That wasn’t funny when Steve said it.”
“I’m sorry but I can’t talk about it. It’s… you’ll see when we get there.”
“Well the bus hasn’t shown yet-”
Right on cue three 666s pulled up. Passengers disseminated to their preferred bus, Daniel aiming for the middle one. Its doors opened with a malevolent hiss. Three women dressed in black alighted, moving away in eerie precision. Amelia stepped on board, Daniel behind her. The bus driver leered, his face contorting.
“Destination?” he said in a voice as cold as the grave.
She ignored him, swiping her yearly ticket. Disappointed the driver tried his leer on Daniel “Destination?”
“Hell,” said Daniel unhappily.
The driver printed his ticket with an evil grin.
The busride dragged on. Small talk sporadic, they covered topics long exhausted at work. As they passed through Beaumont, Daniel only seemed to grow paler. By the time they reached their stop she regretted not dropping him off at the hospital. He stood there shaking as Amelia exchanged venomous looks with the bus driver. Then the bus pulled away and they were alone.
“Just as I remember it,” whispered Daniel, regarding the decaying industrial park before them. A fallen sign advertised desks.
“You’ve been here before?” asked Amelia.
“Years ago. Luke and I had to get old invoices.”
Daniel merely set off, walking the steps like he’d rehearsed them. Their route thread its way amongst garages and To Let signs, slowly, inexorably, finding its way to a great warehouse at its centre. Daniel stopped upon its threshold his eyes glazed, expression slack. Amelia checked the address on her phone.
“Amelia,” he croaked “You have to remember.”
“Remember the corporate policy.”
“Uh, which one?”
Daniel shuffled up to the side door. It opened as he approached. The place looked a bit old for automatic doors. She plunged into a small waiting room, occupied by crumbling furniture and old magazines. Daniel rang the bell, then slumped into a chair. Amelia cruised the room. There was a newspaper from 1897, she browsed the personals.
“Hey, a dining set only 4 and 6 pence.”
Daniel slumped forward, utterly zombified. She pulled out her phone. Ambulances were free.
The door into the warehouse opened. A pale, gaunt man stood in the doorway, holding a shining lantern. Despite its light the darkness spilled around him. The gloom of the waiting room deepened. He lidless stare disturbed, his lips betraying overlarge canines as he spoke
“What business have you in the Archives?”
Amelia flashed her card “Hi, I’m Amelia, this is Daniel. We’re from Head Office. We were hoping to pick up an old project plan from 200-,”
The man swooped upon Daniel. Amelia rushed forward only for him to recoil before she got there. He gave a disgusted groan, eyes fixed upon the amulet around Daniel’s neck. Amelia placed herself between them, armed with a rolled up newspaper. A depraved shudder ran through the man, then he straightened up.
“Of course. I am Luke. I will take you to the Master.”
He re-entered the warehouse. Amelia briefly considered leaving Daniel here. The lights flickered and she made a decision. Grabbing him by the hand she pulled him after. Darkness swallowed them both.
The lantern lit only their path ahead, not the ghoulish Luke, his footsteps silent as he led them between silent, watchful shelves. Amelia felt rather than saw the archives. Boxes of invoices, planning documents and process manuals passed her by. It had seemed large from the outside but now the warehouse felt infinite. What horrors lurked in these foul depths?
“Don’t you have a light switch?”
“Light damages the ink.”
She had other questions but caution stayed her voice. The quiet made it possible to distinguish music, coming from somewhere ahead. The candles were a relief, illuminating a small workspace. Classical music played in the background, issuing from a laptop amidst piles of brushes and cleaners. Perched over the desk was the most horrid thing Amelia had ever called human. Its skin was the texture of flaking paint, from broad shoulders stretched great arms, wrapped in bilious sleeves more like wings. It, for Amelia dared not ascribe a gender to this thing, was cleaning a policy document. Its bald head lifted as they arrived, two crimson eyes sunken in a ratlike face regarded her.
Luke bowed “Master, we have guests.”
“Enter freely, and of your own will,” it said, rustling pages.
“Hi,” said Amelia “I’m-”
“I know who you are,” interrupted the creature “And I know what you seek.”
It gestured to a file on the other side of the desk. Amelia noticed the thing’s nails, inches long and sharpened to points. The creature turned its head slightly
“Tell me, child Do you enjoy Bach?”
“The dubstep remix was alright.”
There was a pause. She felt Daniel’s hand quiver. She crept toward the desk, angling for the file. Her vantage gained her a sight line on the laptop’s screen. She saw YouTube. Bach’s Cello Suites.
“I see,” said the thing “In order for me to release the document, there must be a sacrifice.”
“I uh, I don’t remember Steve mentioning anything about a-”
The creature sneered “Your project manager has no power here. By the laws of the Archives to retrieve you must give. I have a great need for a new… employee.”
Amelia felt Daniel’s hand slipping. Luke was behind them, singing some wordless tune. Daniel strained in her grip, drawn to him somehow.
“I’d like to see where this is written down!” she said.
The creature merely tutted “Let him go child, and you may yet see another sunrise.”
The cello reached a crescendo, crashing down on her thought. Amelia wracked her brains. Policy. Policy. Then it hit her. She pulled out her phone.
The creature’s expression twisted in a cold smirk. Their amulets were ripped away by a sudden wind. Luke closed in.
Someone answered Amelia’s call.
“Hello IT? I’d like to report a violation of the Acceptable Internet Usage Policy.”
The music froze.
“I’m out on the Archives site but the policy still applies, right?”
“Put down the phone, child,” said the creature.
“Torrenting? Well they might be. The little computer symbol is flashing a lot.”
She pressed speaker phone. Matthew from IT’s voice filled the air “I swear to God if that creepy bastard is pirating on the company network I will shove a cross up his ass.”
The creature cringed backwards “Luke! See our guests safely to the door!”
Back outside, Daniel stirred from his fugue. Amelia thrust the file into his hands
“I’d kill for a bite to eat.”
He stared down at it muzzily “We'll expense lunch.”