Fundraiser. Short Story.

Samantha was trying not to cry. She was shaking, but she couldn’t stop that, her body wouldn’t listen, so instead, she was trying to stop the tears. The man she was huddled against, Tom? Travis? She never quite caught his name, was shaking too. That made her feel a little better in a weird way. Of course she wasn’t the only one that was terrified, but the fact that it was confirmed helped. She hadn’t even wanted to go to the stupid fundraiser in the first place. It was all Alice’s fault. She had been so insistent. It would be fun, they’d have a few drinks, dress all fancy, maybe even meet some nice guys. Samantha didn’t really care about the guys, but the thought of a few free drinks cheered her up. After all, she wasn’t paying for the tickets, Alice was, so it was practically a free night out. Samantha had decided she’d go for one or two drinks, then as soon as Alice found what ever guy she was going home with Samantha would bail. Alice would be all right by herself and if Samantha stayed she would just be sitting by herself at one of the tables, waiting for the night to end. Her plan had been to find out where a few other friends were and, if she was up for it, head out to a club, if not, go home, change into pyjamas and watch the latest episodes of all the TV shows she had to catch up with. That had been the plan, that was what was supposed to happen, instead she found herself huddled in a closet with some guy, hoping, praying that she would live through the night.

It had started off as she expected, They had arrived and grabbed some glasses of champagne from a passing waiter, then they started to mingle. Well, more accurately, Alice started to mingle while Samantha was pulled after her. Samantha had been introduced to dozens of people, most of whom she forgot as soon as they moved onto the next one. Alice was always a social butterfly, flitting from one group to the next with ease. Samantha however was not. She tended to stick to her friends, or, if at an event like this, find a group of people and stick with them. It worked well for her and tonight she was feeling off balance from the constant stream of people. She was on her third and last glass of champagne when she knew Alice had found her guy for the night. He was tall and handsome, tanned, light enough that it could be from outside rather than a booth, he was muscular but not obscenely so. His grin was light, easy and contagious. Alice was immediately smitten and would remain so for maybe a week or two before she knew him and found out his flaws. Samantha chastised herself for thinking it. Perhaps this guy would be different, and Alice deserved to have some fun. Being honest with herself, she knew it was just a smidge of jealousy. Samantha wished she could connect with people as easily as Alice, that she could even get a date in the first place. She was shy at heart and found it difficult to open up to people. She had been told that she came off as cold to those who didn’t know her. Samantha didn’t know how to change it, but she was trying. Someday she’d find someone and when she did she wanted to be in a good place. There was no point in meeting the love of your life if you were unable to reciprocate. She took a sip of her drink, it was starting to taste a little bitter, it always happened after she had a few glasses. She put it down on a nearby table and went to the small bar, she’d get herself a water, maybe a Coke to wash out the taste, then head home. Alice had already dissapeared into the crowd with what’s-his-face a few minutes before. She didn’t feel like going out anymore and she knew that if she did she wouldn’t enjoy it. Nights like tonight were for the television and maybe some ice cream.

The first scream was loud and high, full of terror. Samantha froze, the sound had been followed by the smashing of a glass and a few seconds of silence. Her first thought was robbery, someone had come to rob people of jewellery and money, but there were no shouts or demands. The entire room had gone still, the music had stopped. There was a gristly, tearing sound and something flew over her shoulder. She felt hot, wet drips land on her shoulder, then a woman’s head hit the back of the bar, the bottles tipped, fell and shattered. The noise broke the silence and the whole room was filled with shrieks and screams.

People were running from the doors, Samantha couldn’t see what they were running from, but she could hear screams of pain and saw people tripping. She was still standing at the bar, the bartender had ducked down soon after the first scream. She watched as one woman fell, tripping over her high heels, and the others around her trampled over her, the woman stopped moving. A few feet away a man was shoved out of the way, a woman storming past him, he fell, his head smacking the table with a meaty thud. The sound was horrible, but it broke the spell that was over Samantha, she couldn’t see who was attacking, she looked around for Alice, but there was no sign of her. Blood was covering the floor, people tracking it all around the room. Someone grabbed her arm, she tried to pull away but they were too strong, someone shouted at her, “move!” and suddenly she was running, the hand still holding her arm, dragging her away from the carnage.

They had ran, people crowding around them, pushing and shoving. Occasionally there would be another shriek or scream and an insistent, shoving hand that had been urging her to move faster the entire time would stop. They were lost in the building, no idea where they were or how to get to the exits. There was a group of them, maybe twenty. They had slowed slightly, moving at a fast walk rather than a run, most panting and out of breath. The man who had grabbed her arm still hadn’t let go, but Samantha was fine with that. Someone would show her where to go and what to do and she would be fine. Besides, if someone was holding her it made it harder for whoever was chasing them to grab her or separate her from the group. They rounded a corner and she saw it. What ever it was. It looked like a giant bug, large pincers in front of an open maw, multiple, black eyes staring at them, fluid dripping from its mouth. It made an angry, hissing noise, then it launched itself at the group. The man pulled her to the left, the others separated out to the right. The creature, what ever it was, didn’t seem to notice that they had been separated from the group, that they were now easy prey. It launched itself at the group again and while it was distracted, he pulled her into the closet. At least, Samantha thought it was a closet.

Outside people were screaming, she heard running and the screams faded, occasionally there would be more. The room was small and dark, but she was afraid to turn on the light in case it saw or heard them. Her mobile phone had been in her purse which had long since been dropped. He was trying to make calls on his mobile phone to the police, but it didn’t seem to be working. They huddled together, trying to remain calm. Police would arrive, they’d attack the bugs, kill what ever it was and it would be safe again. The building itself hadn’t looked large from the front, but it was deceiving, it stretched far back and twisted around itself. It was no wonder they had gotten lost and no doubt all the windows were in the offices. They hadn’t thought of hiding, they had just thought of escape. How many doors had they passed by? How many of those doors had offices and of those offices, how many had windows? They were still on the ground floor, there would have been no jump, no long fall. They could be outside and getting as far away from here as possible. Samantha wrapped her arms around herself and felt the tacky blood on her skin. She frantically wiped her hand across the floor, trying to scrape it off. Her feet were sore but at some point her high heels had come off. She didn’t know when, she couldn’t remember stumbling. There had been a few points where they had stopped to catch their breath, she must have done it then. She didn’t want to think about what those things were, that was a luxury she couldn’t afford, if she thought about it too long she might go crazy and she couldn’t let that happen if she wanted to live. She pushed the thoughts of Alice out of her mind, Alice was strong, she’d be able to look after herself.

“what should we do?”
“Wait here, keep quiet, we’re safe.”
“What if no one comes?”
“Then we have bigger problems.”
“I can’t ring anyone. My phone doesn’t seem to be working.”
Samantha didn’t want to think about what, if anything, that meant.
“Someone inside would have called the police, if not someone outside would have noticed what happened and called the police. There’s going to be a response to it.”
“What if those things are everywhere?”
We’ll wait a little longer, then we can reassess, ok?”
“Ok.”

They sat in silence. Samantha wondered how long they should wait. After all, if no one came it could only be a matter of time before one of those things found them. If someone did come, would they know? Of course they would, they’d do a sweep of the building, they’d have to, then they’d find survivors and kill off the rest of the things.

“Do…do you smell smoke?”
Samantha sniffed at the air, it was there, faint but getting steadily stronger.
“Yeah, shit. Something must have caught fire. We’re going to have to run.”
“We need to be careful though, we could get caught in the fire.”
“Ok, we’ll find one of the offices and break a window, then try to get out.”
“Ok. Hang on.”
She felt him move passed her and heard something clang against the metal. He winced. “Sorry, my wedding ring. The door and doorknob feel cool, we should be safe from fire.”
He cracked the door slowly and peered out, squinting in the light. “I don’t see any of them.”
He stepped outside, Samantha held her breath. He helped her to her feet and together they set off, ignoring the blood slicked floors and the bodies. They tested the doorknobs of the rooms they passed, but so far all of them were locked. In the hallways they didn’t talk, they didn’t dare. Neither tried to force the doors, afraid of what the noises might bring. Smoke was filling the air and making it hard to breath. After a few minutes they crouched down. What ever had started the fire it had taken hold quickly.

The tenth door they tried was unlocked. Samantha stood guard in the hall as he had a quick look inside, he tapped her once on the shoulder and she stepped into the office, closing the door behind her. There was a window in here, but it was dark and hard to see.
“I think it’s a courtyard.”
“Shit. What do we do?”
“I don’t know, we could suffocate out there if the fire gets big enough and we’ll both get burned pretty badly I think.”
“So, do we go back out there?”
“I don’t think we have a choice. We know which direction is outside though, we can skip doors on this side of the hall and we’ll know which way to turn at any junctions.”

They stepped back out into the halls, in the few minutes they were inside the office the halls had filled with thick, black smoke. Both started coughing almost immediately. Crouched as low as they could and still move quickly, they moved along the doors. Neither kept an eye out for the creatures, if they weren’t fast enough the smoke inhalation would kill them first.

They found another office, they didn’t bother searching it, just ducked in. It was almost impossible to breathe and they resorted to crawling on the ground. There was a window. Samantha closed the door to try and keep some of the smoke out while he grabbed a chair and used it to smash the window. They got outside, coughing and gasping, they barely had time to get their bearings when bright lights were shining on them and someone was telling them not to move. They both froze, “It’s all right, it isn’t them. Lower your weapons.” Someone was at her side and lead them both from the window.

Samantha was sitting on the ground, an oxygen mask on her face. He was sitting beside her. A cop came over, “You were both lucky to escape that blaze. Whole building went up pretty fast. Only a few people made it out.”
“What about those things?”
“What things?”
“There were creatures inside, they attacked us.”
The cop shrugged, “there weren’t any creatures, just the fire.”
“No, we saw them, we both did. They attacked people, they killed people!”
He looked at her, his eyes firm and slightly widened.
“There was only a fire. You’re in shock. You don’t know what you’re saying after inhaling all those fumes. People will think you’re crazy if you go around talking about giant bugs. You might get locked up.”
“I…”
Samantha wondered if maybe he was right. Maybe it had just been a fire, delusions from the toxic fumes, maybe gas.

She nodded and the cop turned and walked away quickly.

“Do you think maybe it was a hallucination?”
He shook his head. “No. We never said what they looked like, why did he call them bugs? Only people who saw them would say that, and it couldn’t have been a group hallucination. I saw them tearing people apart. Besides, if they weren’t there why did we hide?”
Samantha remembered the woman’s head, sailing over her shoulder and shuddered, she glanced over and saw that there were still splotches of blood there.

“You’re right. I wonder what started the fire.”

They looked at each other for a second, then dismissed the thought. It couldn’t have been set intentionally, could it? But the police had surrounded them as soon as they got outside, like they were expecting something else to escape.

“Should we tell someone?”
“Who’d believe us? No. I’m not going to say anything to anyone. They’re serious. One of them went through my phone. I think he was checking to see if I recorded any of it. Look. I have a wife. She stayed home because she’s pregnant. I have enough stress in my life as it is. I’m sorry but if you do say anything, I’m not going to be able to back you up.”
Samantha nodded, “It’s ok. I understand.” She didn’t bother mentioning that she couldn’t even remember his name anyway.

Samantha stumbled into the apartment. She was tired and reeked of smoke. Before she had left her and the guy had been warned by another policeman that it would be better for them both if they didn’t speak to the media or anyone else about what happened. On the trip home she decided that it was good advice.

Samantha shrieked as something barrelled into her, wrapping itself around her. It took a second before she realised it was a person. Alice.
“Are you ok? I saw it on the news about the fire I was so worried and I tried calling you but there was no answer and the police were no help, they just kept telling me to go home and then threatened the arrest me for interfering if I didn’t leave. Oh and it’s all over the news. I’m so sorry, I’m so so sorry, I shouldn’t have left you there by yourself. It’s all my fault, I should have said I was leaving and …”
Samantha had tuned out Alice’s babbling until she finally wound down, she just relaxed into the hug, holding Alice tightly, relieved that she was still alive.

“What happened to you?”
“I left with Ben. I tried to find you but I couldn’t and well, I had been a bit distracted. I figured you’d headed off so I sent you a text just in case. We heard about the fire when we were in his place. There was a bunch of helicopters so we turned on the news. It’s so awful, I’m so glad you’re ok.”

“Me too.”

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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