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Friday short story time: "Semaphore"

Hello. Welcome to another amazing Friday story. I would type more but I woke up late and panic is beginning to set in. However, I should mention that I am going to be attempting some kind of disciplined push on The Novel in the month of August, so Friday stories might be scarce (or non-existent) in the coming weeks.

But, as ever, you can always pick through the archives for past efforts you haven’t read if you miss them badly.


By Nick Bryan

It was ten o’clock in East London, and everything was dark. Lorna had turned off her computer, powered down the coffee machine, hit the lights and then remembered to close the blinds. Everyone else had gone home or to the pub long ago, which meant it fell to her to ensure the office was switched off and secured against burglers and tramps.

Speaking of the homeless, it was so bleakly late that Lorna was starting to consider sleeping on the slightly pliable chairs in the corner rather than going home, but that was so depressing. Determined to make it to bed, if only for six hours, she reached for the cord to rattle the blinds across, when she saw a lit window.

It comforted her to know she wasn’t the only person still in the office, but she wasn’t going to dwell on it, until she realised the guy in the window wasn’t exactly working. In fact, he had seen her and was gesturing furiously.

Lorna let her fingers drop from the cord, narrowed her eyes and tried to make out what the hell was going on. The man, in his mid-forties and with thinning dark hair, was jumping around, pointing off away from the window and staring.

As her eyes narrowed to focus on him, his only widened. The jabbing finger kept going, and Lorna moved a little across her window for a better view, but nothing came. It was an office, plain and simple, divided into cubicles whereas her own was more open plan, but nothing scary about it. His computer didn’t even seem to have crashed.

But that didn’t stop him from pressing a palm against the window, still thrusting the other to his right, closer to punching than pointing. Utterly lost, Lorna could only shrug her shoulders cartoonishly, hoping her regret came across too.

And he seemed to get her point, since his flattened hand drew back, clenched and thumped the window. Lorna didn’t get it at all. Was this some ill-conceived attempt to flirt with her? Or was there a serial killer in there with him? Maybe an alligator?

Whatever the hell he was so panicked about, why didn’t he run away from it? Lorna glanced at the rest of that building, looking for clues, but the rest was dark. Every window, pitch black, only the faint shadow of rustling blinds to give away that anyone ever used it at all.

Just that guy. Was he locked in? Maybe he wanted her to come to his building and let him out? Did she want to get involved? She could just call the police?

A second before she reached for her phone, the guy leapt aside from the window and appeared to take cover under his desk. Whatever he was hiding from, it was nearby.

She managed to dial the emergency services by the time it moved into her tiny viewing area. It was a man, he didn’t seem to be carrying any weapon, at least, not that she could make out, but nor did he seem like he should be there. He was wearing a black hoodie and t-shirt, hat tugged down over his eyes.

Entirely out of cowardice, Lorna ducked to one side. She didn’t know why, there was no way he’d have recognised her even if he had seen her. The darkness of her office would have covered her nicely, and she couldn’t make out the face of the guy across the way either.

And suddenly the police operator was on the line. As she stammered out a vague description of the location, Lorna chanced another look around the edge of the window frame, out across the way. Her directions really were terrible, she didn’t know the address of the building.

And now, she discovered, the windows had been closed, or the lights had been turned out. Anyway, everything was dark, so her useful contribution to the police call had ended. Hopefully she wouldn’t feel guilty later about taking so long to make it.

Lorna glanced at the clock again, fantasising briefly about her bed, but she knew that had been the last straw. With a groan, she finally closed the blinds, went over to the plastic chairs and made herself as comfortable as she could.

Copyright Nick Bryan 2011, no stealing or using as toilet paper please. Email me first if you want to do either of the above.


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