Jack looked down at the people below, there were so many of them all going about their daily lives. He turned from the window, the usual office space had been changed, the desks had all been pushed against the walls creating a large open space in the centre of the room. In the middle of the open space was a pile of glass jars, each one filled with blood donated by the workers, fifty litres in all. The thin gray carpet was covered in strange chalk symbols, people in business attire stood together in clumps, talking in hushed tones. Jack always hated this part, waiting around until things got underway was always stressful, he looked over his own work and double checked that it was correct, he had never made a mistake before but he didn’t want to get careless. Not after what happened in the American office the month before, they were still trying to figure out who screwed up and how, the only thing that was known for certain was that none of the three hundred employees had been seen since the building apparently collapsed.
Brian, the most recent addition to the team was moving around the room lighting candles, Jack felt that familiar thrill of nerves, it would be starting soon. People began to move into a large circle, Brian finished lighting the last of the candles. Angie, from HR, clapped her hands together, “All right everyone, we’re about to get underway. Everyone get to their place, if you’ve any questions now’s the time to ask, there is only one rule, do not break the circle, everyone keep your hands linked at all times. Now, any questions? No? Good.”
Jack linked hands with Jerry, whose hand was warm and clammy, and Celine, whose hands were startlingly cold. Jack took a deep breath and released it, hoping his own hands felt ok. Angie joined the circle and closed her eyes, she took three deep breaths then started chanting. Jack could feel it, that thickness of the air, the strange electricity that filled the room and made the hair on his arms stand on end, there was a low rumble, like an approaching train and suddenly there was a tear in the centre of the room. Jack tried not to look at it, it always made him feel nauseous, the edges of the tear were ragged, he knew from experience that the tear itself looked like that to everyone, you could never view it from the side, everyone in the room was looking at it head on. The tear itself was pitch black and the darkness in it seemed to infect the rest of the room, giving everything a washed out look. He felt his stomach clench as something reached through the tear, he could just make out greasy, mottled skin on the other side, but where it entered the office was a normal arm, covered by the sleeve of a business suit. Jack closed his eyes as it stepped fully through, when he opened them again a man was standing in the centre of the circle. He had cold hard eyes and thick black hair combed to one side. He looked around, turning slowly, taking everyone in. Finally he looked at Angie, he gave her a slight nod, “Why have you called me here?”
“We seek good fortune for the year to come.”
“And have you brought the payment?”
“Of course, 50 litres of blood, as usual.”
“Good.” The man reached out and picked up a jar, he opened it and sniffed, then he took a sip, he rolled the blood around his mouth for a moment then smiled, his teeth were startlingly white, Jack felt a faint twinge in his arm, the man looked at him, “You’ve good blood, strong.” Jack felt a wave of nausea roll over him. He didn’t want to talk to the man, he took a breath and forced the words out, “Thank you.” They sounded weak and feeble to his own ears. The man nodded again and closed the jar. Something slithered from the tear, it looked like a cat, Jack hadn’t seen what it was like before it slipped through, the cat rubbed against the mans legs. “I find your payment acceptable. I will do as you ask.” The cat rubbed against the glass jars of blood and suddenly they were gone, Jack felt a faint spike of pain in the back of his mind, he felt like he could almost see what the cat truly was, he looked down at the grey carpet. He had heard stories of peoples who had seen the creatures as they were and had developed tumours shortly afterwards, there’d even been rumours of one or two peoples heads exploding. When Jack looked up the man was standing before one of the women, he wasn’t sure of her name, it began with a F, Fiona? Frances? The man reached out and gently stroked her cheek, Jack could see her flinching slightly, “What would you be willing to trade for this beautiful specimen?”
“Nothing. We have concluded our business you will find no more trade with us.”
His hand dropped to his side, “Pity. We could have had such…fun…” He licked his lips slowly, almost obscenely so. “Are you sure there’s nothing I could tempt you with? If she is too valuable perhaps one of the others.”
He reached out and stroked the arm of the man beside her, “There will be no more trades, our business is concluded.”
The man sighed, “That’s all you’re going to say, isn’t it?
Angie repeated herself again. “Fine. I know when I’m not wanted. Think over my offer though, that goes for all of you, I’ll be back next year, I’m always willing to work out a fair trade.”
The man turned and walked back to the tear, he paused and looked around the room, his head spinning slowly around his shoulders as he made eye contact with each. When Jack met his eyes he couldn’t breath, the mans eyes were all consuming, blocking out everything else in the room, it felt like he was falling into an endless black pit, then the mans gaze moved on and he could breathe again. The man stepped through, Angie began to speak again, complicated, harsh sounds. The tear was gone just as suddenly as it appeared. Everyone stayed still for a moment, “All right everyone, it’s gone, you can let go now.” There were a few nervous chuckles, Jack wasn’t sure how he looked, but judging by how grey and sweaty everyone else appeared he guessed he didn’t look much better. After a minute everyone started to clean up the room, blowing out candles and moving the desks back in place, the writing, as always, had vanished. Jack couldn’t wait to get home, his skin felt dirty, wrong, and he wanted a shower more than anything, he felt as though the smell of the man was stuck to his skin, though he could recall no particular scent nor actually smell anything.
Angie stood on a chair, “All right everyone, good job, as usual you get the rest of the day off, we’ll see you all tomorrow at noon. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Jack left the office with everyone else, most had their heads down, Jack felt exhausted though he had done very little, mostly he was just thankful that it would be another year before he had to go through it again.