She could easily have ordered a car to pick her up but when, after hovering outside for nearly ten minutes, Kiri did start walking she set off slowly, in no hurry to return to her apartment.
She was torn between feeling irritation and frustration with Mark for jilting her and concern in case something had happened to him. His phone went straight to voice mail. She had never got through to it before and hearing his recorded voice now shook Kiri. He had obviously recorded it years before and forgotten to change it. He sounded so different from the person she had been sitting opposite less than half an hour before.
His distant voice echoed down the line, the echo of the boy that he had once been. A little shy, a little nervous yet eager to show off. The high-pitched voice invited her to leave a message, a request travelling directly from the past. How quickly people grew up. How quickly people got old.
Again Kiri thought of his imminent unwinding. How long did Mark really have? She had heard stories of people flipping out when they felt their time was finally running out when they were getting close to unwinding. Running off on their own. Disappearing to the woods or walking into the sea.
What if he had done that, gone down to the ocean? The thought made her shiver. She had visited the ocean only once and it still terrified her. It had been a mandatory school trip near the end of middle-ager school.
Even though she had studied the dangers of the sea along with her fellow classmates the long bus journey down to the coast had been relatively light hearted. Jokes had flown up and down the coach as everyone had enjoyed the freedom of a day outing.
It was only as they approached the silent grey shores and sensed the enormous banks of water stretching outward in front of them that they were silenced.
The class had been driven down to the beach and then received audio guides that they were meant to follow as they walked along the shore. There was a visitor point several hundred metres along the beach where they would be picked up again.
Kiri had listened to the guide, intently at first, as she did with all her classes, but slowly the rushing swell of the waves grew louder in her ears and she was no longer able to concentrate. She turned off her headphones and stood motionless, staring hypnotically at the crushing waves pounding towards the shore.
Standing there she had understood instantly why they equated the sea with madness. There was something primordial, something deviant about such a space. The grey clouds joined, all but seamlessly, with the distant horizon forming a smudgy blur.
There was nothing out there and yet at the same time she had felt a drag to travel out into its depths, travel into the depths of nothingness. If that was not the pull of madness she didn’t know what was.
In the end, she had pulled herself together as the distant shouts of her classmates indicated they had already reached the visitor point. Trudging over the sand she had kept her eyes locked on her feet, keen to get back to safety and away from the grey, empty water.
It was not something anyone talked about but everyone knew that some desperate majors would try to end their own life before they faced the final descent. Why they did it was a mystery, but some people even the unwinding was too long to wait.
If someone did die unnaturally then it was always put down to an accident. Nobody seemed to ask what one major might be doing on the roof of a 30-storey building before they slipped and fell to their death. Nobody questioned why someone might go down to the beach and disappear just months before their unwinding.
She tried Mark’s number again. He wouldn’t go the ocean, would he? They had too much to do here. He never talked about his feelings but apart from the occasional look he seemed so positive, so determined to prove his theory was right, to prove that there was some hope beyond unwinding.
Kiri was approaching Stokerston the neighbourhood where her apartment was located when she spotted the darkened car approaching. It was an unusual model, low to the ground and all the windows were highly polished with some material that made it impossible to see inside.
She watched it approach with idle interest but then some subtle shift in its direction made her think that it was in fact headed for her. She felt a ball of fear rise up in her stomach. Was it empty? Or was it carrying someone or something to meet her?
Her hand clenched unconsciously as she felt herself rooted to the spot. The car crawled along all but silently slid across the road, pulling to a stop with its nose parallel to her feet. She waited unable to breath, trying to discern some shape behind the reflective gloss of the windows.
A full five seconds passed and when no-one got out she started to think the car had been sent for her remotely. There was no indication that she should step inside though. Perhaps she was mistaken. Perhaps the car had nothing to do with her and she was just being paranoid.
Eventually breaking the impasse the rear passenger door opened and a leg appeared. From behind the door a tall major, wearing a suit, emerged. He was old, at least seventeen, a fully grown man. He blinked twice in the outside light, even though by then it was only streetlamps lighting the road.
He stared at Kiri in a way she found quite rude but she was too dumbstruck to say anything.
‘Are you Kiri?’ he asked, squinting at her, keeping the car door open and positioned between them as if Kiri might pounce on him at any moment.
‘Yes,’ Kiri answered, ‘what’s it to you?’
The major simply nodded as if in agreement. He motioned inside the car and Kiri realised someone else was in there. After a moment Jed appeared, looking slightly dishevelled and even more exhausted than the last time Kiri had seen him only a couple of hours earlier.
Jed looked around confused for a moment before spotting Kiri.
‘Yes, that’s her,’ he said, a look of fear in his eyes. The man didn’t say anything and as if to emphasize his point Jed pointed at Kiri and repeated, ‘that’s her.’
The man had remained staring at Kiri all this time and now he motioned to Jed that he should leave. Jed looked even more confused and looked forlornly back into the rear of the car. The man shook his head however and Jed started walking off on his own, along the pavement in the direction from which the car had come.
‘You will need to come with me I’m afraid,’ the man said.
There was no menace in his voice and if anything he sounded anxious to be asking Kiri this.
‘Why? Where are you going to?’ Kiri asked, doing her best to sound defiant though part of her knew she had already accepted to go with this man. She felt a flash of irritation with Mark. Had he known about this? Had he bailed on her to let her deal with this alone?
‘Back to the offices, just routine,’ he smiled a weak smile.
‘The offices?’ Kiri wasn’t sure she could believe anything this man said but she felt she had to get some more information out of him before agreeing to get in his car.
‘The Civic Management building,’ the man spoke slowly as if explaining something very obvious to a five year old.
‘Did you take Mark?’
The man did not reply but suddenly Kiri understood. A wave of relief flooded over her. Whatever this was they must have picked up Mark as well, which not only meant he was safe but that he had not deserted her out of choice.
He had been taken, perhaps by this same man, perhaps in this same car. Kiri suddenly felt a desire to get back to the Civic building and meet Mark again.
‘So you will accompany me?’ the man asked, quizzically.
‘Yes of course, will this take long?’
‘No it shouldn’t take long,’ the man took a step back from the car door creating a space for Kiri to enter the rear seat.
Kiri climbed inside, followed by the man who then closed the door and pressed a button on the door. He nodded curtly to Jed who jumped out of his seat and scrambled into the street. He slammed the door behind him and ran away at full speed, leaving Kiri alone in the car with the strange man.
The car instantly set-off, gliding along the road. It took Kiri’s eyes a moment to adjust to the inside of the car. It was extremely spacious and almost entirely covered in rich leather upholstery. Her seat was exceptionally comfortable and she sank back into as if it had been sculpted to her exact measurements.
Up close she got a better look at the man and noticed for the first time how strange his face was. There was a feint plastic sheen on his skin as if it had been stretched or pulled tight. He was quite handsome but his skin looked almost unnaturally smooth, giving something of a feminine air. His teeth too were strange, exceptionally white, as if he had set his toothbrush settings to hyper clean.
‘Will this take long, could we not have just sorted it out at the cafe?’ Kiri said, wishing she could meet Mark again and get it over with as soon as possible.
The man turned her with a stern look on his face as if he was suddenly furious at her for something.
‘I think you should stay quiet until we get back to the facility,’ he snapped.
The relief that Kiri had felt at finding out that Mark was safe, quickly drained away. The man’s sudden anger made her flinch. For the first time she realised what an idiot she had been getting in this car without asking more questions. Who knew where they were going or if they even had Mark?
It was clearly something to do with Civic Management but what she couldn’t fathom out. They had done nothing wrong after all. The records they had looked at were meant to be public after all even if they had sneaked in with Jed’s pass.
Could it be because of the pass? But would anyone care that much? If anyone should be in trouble it was Jed for lending his pass but this man evidently didn’t think of Jed as anything other than a minor annoyance.
And what had happened to Mark? Was he really back in the building? Perhaps they had tried to capture him but he had thrown them off. The thought made Kiri sick, to think that Mark had escaped only for her to step meekly straight into their trap. No doubt they planned to use her as some kind of bait.
‘I’ll not tell them anything,’ she thought. “No matter if they torture me.’
Through the windows of the car the outside world looked distorted and dark. It was impossible which streets they were passing along. The tint gave everything a bluish-brown tint and the outlines of buildings they passed looked somehow monstrous.
Not only was the engine practically silent but the leather interior seemed to swallow even the smallest sound. Kiri had the feeling that even if she screamed at the top of her lungs the sound would simply disappear into the velvety seats, becoming nothing more than a tiny whisper.
After no more than ten minutes the car pulled off the road and drove down a concrete ramp leading to a below ground car park. The car stopped at a barrier and a security guard approached the window where the man sat.
‘Thank you sir,’ the guard said. He had a thick beard but to Kiri he barely looked old enough to be a major.
The car drove on wending its way down into the bowels of the underground carpark. By Kiri’s calculations they passed down a further three floors before the car stopped and reversed itself into a parking space.
‘You can get out now,’ the man said, doing his best to suppress a growl.
Kiri’s door swung open and another bearded man appeared. Reaching thick, rough hands into the car he pulled Kiri up and through the door with a firm grip on her upper arms.
‘Hey what are you doing?’ she shouted.
The bearded man didn’t say anything but simply set her down on the concrete and started guiding her towards a lift. The smooth-faced man followed several paces behind but was evidently still in charge from the way the bearded man looked over his shoulder as if checking he was doing things correctly.
The bearded man hit a button and the lift door opened. Roughly he shoved Kiri inside the small silver compartment and the smooth-faced man followed her inside. Kiri wanted to shout out in anger at this treatment but when she opened her mouth only a distorted snarl came out.
‘Quite,’ the smooth-faced man said. ‘We’ll be there soon.’
The bearded man blocked the doors as they slid closed. With a smooth swish the elevator started travelling downward at speed. For some reason Kiri had expected to go up, since they were already underground and she presumed the Civic building must be above them.
Instead they fell steadily; the smooth-faced man said nothing but straightened his jacket.
‘Where are we going?’ Kiri asked, starting to dread the answers she might receive.
‘We have some questions that’s all,’ the man replied.
‘You’ll find out, of course, when we ask you them,’ the man smiled facetiously.
Kiri noticed that instead of the usual pad, to select which floor to travel to, this lift had only one button.
When the doors opened Kiri found herself in a brightly lit space with numerous corridors and doors leading off in different directions. The smooth-faced man took her by the arm and led her into a small room with a desk and four chairs.
Indicating that Kiri should sit down he stepped back to the door.
‘Would you like anything to drink? A glass of water?’ he asked, suddenly courteous.
Kiri stared at him her head a daze.
‘Very well,’ the man nodded. ‘Just wait here, I’ll be right back.’
With that he shimmied out the door and Kiri was left alone. She didn’t know what to think. Apart from the bearded man in the carpark there had been no hint of anyone threatening her and yet she felt ill at ease. The way this man acted was not like anyone she had ever met.
Everything about him, from his plastic-looking face, to the stiff way he moved his body or the short way that he spoke seemed strange to her and yet at the back of her mind there was something familiar about it all
Kiri was sure she had never met anyone even remotely like the smooth-faced man in her whole life but then why did she have that feeling?
Alone in the room she searched her memory until finally, with a horrible awareness, she realised what it was about him that had triggered her memory. It wasn’t a person he reminded her of but the Adils in the countless vid films she had watched.