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The Users, Chapter One

November 28, 2009

Author’s Note: This is the beginning of longer story although I’m not sure how long or what direction it will eventually take. It is an introductory chapter with none of the action that will soon follow. It introduces us to the main character and describes how she gets where she is in subsequent chapters.

Allison Boyce hated working late. It wasn’t the volume or nature of the job itself that distressed her but the fact that the area of the city she worked in came to a virtual standstill after 7pm. Once the office buildings emptied, the shops and restaurants in the area also closed for business. Taxicabs became a rarity on the avenue and Allison was often forced to walk two long blocks east to reach a more populated area. The walk was bad enough without having to be done at night. The deserted streets always made her nervous and she often walked briskly with her hand thrust in her bag clutching a small can of pepper spray. She had never used it but had occasionally felt uncomfortable enough to increase her pace to a near run to get past the warehouses and garages with their recessed and darkened doorways.

The Friday before a long holiday weekend was often hectic having to process an extra days worth of orders before she could go home. Allison looked at the clock and realized she would not be out on time and resigned herself to one more late night. If she did not allow herself distractions, she thought, she could mitigate the extra hours to just one or two. As her fingers clacked on the computer keyboard and her neck stiffened from being held in one position for two long, she wondered again why she did not leave her job and look for something else. Allison had been promised raises and promotions within six months to a year of accepting the position; raises and promotions that had not materialized nearly two years later. She shook off the anger as a distraction and continued working. It was nearly eight o’clock in the evening when she shut down her computer, gathered her things and took the elevator down to the lobby. She waved goodbye to the night watchman and stepped through the revolving door into the dark street.

She didn’t see the box truck until she was halfway down the long street. A distant car horn made her turn her head in time to see the vehicle begin to slowly roll down the street with its headlights dimmed. She had mistaken it for a mail truck when she walked passed it since the post office loading dock sat on that block but now was less sure of that assessment. Allison turned her head to look directly at it, hoping her scrutiny would deter whoever was driving; it did not. The truck kept its pace with its headlights off and interior darkened. Allison debated whether she should run into the first building with a doorman on call but the long street was filled with loading docks and shuttered storefronts, the few remaining buildings locked up tight, their cost-cutting having long ago made a night security person redundant. With no other option, Allison picked up her pace and started to jog towards the next intersection.

The sidewalk was slick and Allison cursed her luck for not having changed into sneakers before leaving work. Her leather soles did not grip the concrete well and she had to correct her balance every ten steps to avoid stumbling into a fall. She risked a glance over her shoulder to see if the truck was continuing its pursuit. Did it seem closer, she asked herself. She could not tell if it had sped up or not but she was not taking the risk, she began running as fast as she dared towards the corner. The sounds of a revving engine behind her made her look again. The truck had begun rolling towards her quickly, it’s lights still off but it seemed to her that it was headed directly for her. She panicked but kept running. Her toe caught a raised section of the sidewalk and she faltered but caught herself and kept going.

The intersection was deserted but a line of lights a few blocks to her left gave her some sense of relief that the occupants of the truck would not have a deserted street to do – what? She was not sure what it was they wanted. Were they merely muggers, she thought to herself, or something worse? The prospect did not alleviate the dread she was feeling as she attempted to cross the street against the light. The cars that she had seen at a distance had already reached her position and were moving at too fast a pace for her to navigate. Allison was forced back to the corner even as the truck moved within twenty feet. She turned to face them if a confrontation was unavoidable. The truck came to a stop and the passenger side door opened. A man dressed in dark blue overalls stepped out, his head covered in a cap whose brim was pulled down to cover his eyes. Allison reached into her bag and put her hand around the canister of pepper spray. She took it out and held it at her side, ready to bring it up when the man got close enough for a direct shot to his face. He walked slowly and deliberately towards her, his pace steady and mechanical.

“What do you want”, yelled Allison as loud as she could. “Help. I’m being attacked”.

She continued to yell as she readied herself for a fight. A car came to a stop behind her and she turned for a moment to see that it was black limousine. The passenger side window rolled down.

“Is everything all right”, asked the driver. “Are you in trouble?”

Allison did not hesitate. She reached for the right rear door handle and after several pulls, heard it unlock. She jumped in and slammed the door shut behind her. The overall wearing man was still walking towards her with his odd monotonous stride. If he was chasing her, she thought, it was the strangest and most relaxed pursuit she had ever seen. There was had been nothing urgent about it even as her escape seemed imminent.

“Get out of here”, she said to the driver. “Uptown to Northgate Station as fast as possible”.

The limousine reached the corner and made a quick left across two lanes of the avenue and sped east.

“Everything OK back there”, asked the driver. “It seemed you were rather distressed”.

Allison laughed to herself at his choice of words but relieved to be away from whoever they had been.

“Yes, you can say that I was distressed. Did you see that guy following me?”

“I didn’t see anyone”, he said. “I just noticed you on the corner and it seemed you were agitated so I stopped”.

“I’m glad you did. I was ready to fight that guy off”.

The car went two blocks and made a left to head north. Allison was gratified that the traffic lights were cooperating and estimated that she’d be at the train station in five or six minutes. She sat back in her seat and looked around her. Unlike the average city cabs, there was no blaring television monitor with nonstop news and commercials. She did see a small panel with LED readout and buttons. Out of curiosity, she pressed the button she guessed turned on the power and immediately heard droning synthesized music. The screen simply displayed the number “1” with no other identification. She pressed the series of buttons underneath the readout but found each to be similar in sound, new age music that she knew some people used for meditation. Allison found it quite dull and even felt herself falling asleep listening to it. She turned the radio off.

As the car continued its lucky trip through a succession of green traffic lights, Allison looked into the drivers seat to get a look at her driver. She looked for a license on display but it was too dark to see it. She glanced at the driver but all she could make out was a man wearing a dark blue suit with a cap on his head pulled down nearly to his eyes.

A shiver went through her but she sat back in the seat and dismissed it as paranoia. They were approaching Northgate and she would soon be out of limo and on her way home. The lights continued to cooperate and the car picked up speed. Allison was about to tell the driver to pull over when a sudden acceleration pushed her back into her seat. The train station was being passed on the right and Allison started to yell for him to stop. She entertained the thought of jumping but knew that at this speed she would never be able to avoid serious injury in the attempt. As she screamed at the unresponsive driver, the music came back on, this time louder than ever. Allison felt herself suddenly drained of energy, her mental focus drifting into sleep. She tried to reach for the button to turn it off but could not lift herself up. As the cab sped forward, Allison slipped into unconsciousness, the small can of pepper spray falling from her hand and rolling underneath the seat.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jon permalink
    December 2, 2009 10:34 am

    Great story! Very exciting, keep up the fantastic posts :)

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