The Mysterious Night

Christopher Johnson’s heavy overcoat billowed out behind him like a cape. The wind on the cold, blustery street carried along anything not tied down, from newspapers to empty and some not-so-empty coffee cups. People scurried along running toward their destinations, wanting to spend as little time in the freezing weather as possible. Many moved toward a formidable building in the center of the street, Metro Bank.

Nick Bradley walked a few steps behind Johnson as he strode down the wintry wind whipped boulevard. Johnson was seemingly matched step-for-step by Bradley in his well-used short coat, zipped up to his neck and jeans. He bent his head into the wind as he walked.

Johnson entered through the twirling doors, followed by Bradley.

The temperature was warmer but the room was still cold. This impressive building was built in an era when banks were substantial. There had been a panic then a rebound. The bank wanted to assure people this building was secure. It was a time when money was spent so the customer would know immediately that their dollars were safe within these walls. There was a lot of open room, wasted space by today’s definitions. Marble predominated: the floors in black and white checkers, the walls where white, even the counters where the customers do their paperwork had green marble tops. Three walls were lined with those green marble-topped tables for customers to fill out their paper work. The teller cages lined up along the center of the other wall. In the center of the room, a line of customers snaked around designated poles as people waited their turn to deal.

“Good morning, Mr. Johnson.”

Gregory Richardson beamed at the tall Englishman as he entered. The guard offered at least a modicum of warmth. Richardson took great pride in his job. He probably should have been retired years ago, but despite his age, he still filled out his security uniform just fine, thank you. No beer belly for him. If he tried, he probably could still fit into his police patrol uniform, even though he’d not used it for twenty-five years. He was a fixture of this building. Solid. Like the bank.

“Hello, Mr. Richardson.”

Christopher Johnson smiled briefly at the elderly guard. His British accent offered an air of breeding, a man who knows that everyone deserves to be recognized. He displayed what the Americans thought would be the epitome of the British gentleman.

Richardson ignored Bradley. It seemed everyone ignored Bradley. Bradley was one of the legions of nondescript, transient customers who passed through the bank daily. Richardson didn’t give him a second glance. He should have.

As he opened his long, cape-like jacket, Johnson looked around the bank. He spotted an open spot on a table in the rear of the room and strode there, his long legs quickly covering the area. Pulling prepared paperwork from pockets within the recesses of his great coat, he set his material on his designated spot standing apart from the other customers.

Bradley also scanned the room when he entered. But the layout of the bank was already etched firmly in his mind, Bradley took three steps toward the center of the cavernous area and pulled a gun from his pocket. With four quick pulls on the trigger, Bradley hit the three automatic cameras near the ceiling. In a flash of sparks, they all sputtered out.

For the longest moments everyone in the room froze. They were unsure where the gunfire was coming from. A woman screamed and pointed at Bradley. The crowd was on the verge of stampede. Bradley fired another shot into the ceiling then pointed his gun at the crowd.

“Everyone get on the floor,” Bradley commanded. “Now!”

Nobody moved. Bradley fired another bullet into a light fixture.

“I said, get on the floor! Heads down!”

This time everyone dropped quickly. Johnson scooped up his papers as he fell to the floor like everyone else. On his way down, he returned all his papers to his inner-coat pocket. He pushed up his sleeve and checked his wristwatch, stabbing three times at the black rectangle front of his large, black-screened face on his wrist.

Bradley pointed his gun at the guard Richardson.

“Old man. Give me your gun. Slowly slide it to me.”

While lying on his stomach, Richardson slowly extracted his gun, turned the handle away from him, slipped it to the floor and pushed it to Bradley who picked it up and released the safety. Now with a gun in each hand, Bradley turned to the tellers. He walked toward the teller cages, stepping over the customers on the floor.

But Bradley stopped short and stood up straight before reaching his goal. Bradley alone heard a voice, laughing in his head. His eyes surveyed the room but he found no one laughing. Taking a step backward, he moved his head around to look into all the corners, but came up empty. The laugh was starting to annoy him.

There was something strange about that laugh. It was sadistic, a demented scientist toying with his creations. The laughter was disembodied, chilling, sinister, slightly insane. In Bradley’s mind. it filled the room, echoing off the smooth walls and cavernous ceilings, rolling around and surrounding Bradley in its grasp. As it got louder and louder, Bradley spun around, desperately trying his hardest to find the source of that laughter. He had to stop it, or the sound would make him insane.

“Who’s that?” Bradley shouted.

Customers lifted their heads toward him, a new type of fear in them.

Bradley was sweating now. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. He looked around for the source of the voice as the laughter grew bigger and bigger.

“Stop that!” He was screaming now.

Bradley randomly fired off two bullets, one from each gun, hitting nothing.

As abruptly as it started, the laughter stopped.

The silence was almost as bad for Bradley. In a moment, the quiet was filled by something much worse. The Night’s voice was cold, slow, deliberate. It chilled Bradley. Distinctly middle American, Midwestern flat, the voice felt slightly un-human, ethereal, unidentifiable as anyone’s specific voice. It registered as eternal, immortal, unbending, deep within the soul. Most of all, it was the voice of all nightmares, the one you wake to get away from. Each syllable was spat out and distinctly pronounced. The voice had a smooth clarity, yet somehow sounded like it was distilled through water.

“You’ve made a big mistake,” the voice said.

Bradley was picking up speed in his whirling circles. Maybe, just maybe, if he spun fast enough he would find this guy.

“Where are you?” Bradley demanded.

He stopped, panting. No one said anything. No one moved. The customers were now convinced this was a madman. They were watching him descend into insanity right before their eyes. This may have frightened them more than the guns Bradley was now waving around frenetically. Bradley thought that maybe the voice was gone. Then, next to his left ear, there was almost a whisper.

“I’m right here, next to you.”

Bradley whirled left. But no one was there. His sweat was soaking through his jacket. His shirt was so wet, it was plastered to his body. His face was slick. He ran his sleeve along his forehead. His heart was pounding. He felt it might beat right out of his chest.

Then the voice taunted him in his right ear.

“I’m over here, now.”

Bradley spun and fired both guns He raised one, stuck it out and shot it, then pulled it back and raised the other, pushed it forward and fired it then jerked it back. He repeated this four times. The laughter again filled the air in his head, louder and louder. The response to each bullet was an increase in volume of that mad, high-pitched, now completely inhuman laugh.

It stopped.

Bradley pulled back his weapons, dropping the barrel sights slightly. Nothing was happening. Maybe he killed it. He prayed to God he had killed that voice. After a moment, he chuckled. He was alone. He was ready. He was back in control.

Then the voice spoke.

“What were you shooting at?”

This sent Bradley to the very edge of his reason. Almost childlike he pleaded with the unseen voice, “Come out in the open and face me like a man!”

He looked around bug-eyed, a tick in his left eye becoming prominent, the gun in his right hand very unsteady.

“Who are you?” Bradley’s voice echoed off the high ceiling.

The voice chuckled softly. The voice was very quiet.

“Can’t you see? I’m right here.”

Bradley’s eyes were like saucers in his head, flop sweat poured down, both hands shook, sending droplets off into the air. His head might as well as been on a swivel stick, left-right-left. The laughter again grew and grew. Bradley spun left and aimed at a corner but did not fire. He spun again, stepping backward, stumbling over a pole designating the customer queue. Trying to hold his balance, he nearly fell into the teller’s cage. He used an outstretched arm to steady himself, one hand on the front of the teller cage, next to the attached ballpoint pen.

Now everyone in the bank heard the voice.

“The price of crime is high,” it proclaimed.

With a sickening crack, Bradley’s arm was broken against the counter, and he slumped, the gun in his hand dropping to the floor. Richardson’s gun was ripped from Bradley’s other hand. It flew through the air, landing at Richardson’s hand. The first gun slid across the floor to a customer who grabbed it.

Bradley’s head snapped back twice and he fell to the floor flat on his back, out cold.

For a long moment, nothing happened. Then the customers slowly began to rise and gathered around Bradley’s prone figure. In the gathering quiet, the Night’s voice bounced around the room.

“I am The Night, and The Night will fall!”

The customers looked around the room trying to find the source. They didn’t know what to make of the situation. The Night’s laugh filled the room as, in the distance, the sound of police sirens cut through the thick walls of the bank.

Leave a Reply