The elevator was fairly full. Two men and three woman, two of those being nurses, waited impatiently for the elevator to reach their floor. One by one, they left him, leaving only one man remaining on the lift, intending to go to any of the floors above level five, where room 509 was located.
The man smelled really bad. He was obviously a patient, or maybe somebody who was visiting a relative, but had not left their side in… The scent indicated a lack of personal hygiene stretching for longer than a week, perhaps. Then again, some people were just unfortunate enough to get smellier than others.
Tobias was relieved to be free of the stench that had filled the elevator, finding himself in the significantly quieter fifth floor. It seemed almost empty compared to how it had been when he left. A few people walked past him, one or two nurses, a doctor, several visitors, a patient or two, but it still seemed fairly empty. Still not on the same scale as the previous day, but a lot more empty that it should have been on a Sunday.
Tobias ignored it, though, and made his way for the second time today, the third time this weekend, to room 509, expecting the full smile of Danielle greeting him once more, indicating the chair, asking him to sit down.
This way he could collect his bag, too. If Tobias had returned home without it, his parents – for all their attempts at being supportive and positive – would probably be a bit annoyed. They spent more on that bag than any bag should cost, but Tobias did take it everywhere, so they got their money’s worth.
Turning right, Tobias saw the door ajar, and wavering slightly, back and forth. He hadn’t left it open, had he? Of course not. He had slammed it. He had been really annoyed. Why was it open?
Letting the door swing open on its own, Tobias stepped into the room, instantly noticing that the window was open. That explained the door swinging with the wind. Danielle shouldn’t have got out of bed to open it. She was recovering, and needed to rest.
The bed was empty.
Tobias let his eyes divert to the duvet that was lying on the floor next to the door, and as he walked over to pick it up and put it back on the empty bed, he found his bag and the single newspaper page hidden underneath. Picking up his bag and the duvet, he was unable to catch the newspaper article as it blew up in the fluster of wind that gushed through the room.
Tobias didn’t try to stop it. It looked quite pretty, almost as if somebody was the invisible puppet master controlling the paper. It hovered in the air in the centre of the room for several seconds, before being drawn by the wind further and further towards the window, at which point it was snatched from the room by the sky’s greedy grasp. The piece of paper was sent off into the air, and Tobias lost sight of it as it curled around the building.
What had become of Danielle? Had she just popped out to see a nurse or to go to the toilet? Tobias couldn’t be sure, so as he placed the duvet back on the bed and sat himself down on the chair.
Two single words from the Voices, and Tobias couldn’t understand the meaning of either of them. Maybe they were trying to tell him that his father had arrived to pick him up. No, impossible. It was only half past. Tobias had a good fifteen minutes left before his father would be here.
Tobias saw that the door was still open to room 509, and so as he got up to shut it, he quickly scanned the corridor. It seemed that in the few minutes he had spent inside the room, the level of popularity in the hospital had risen, and now it was fairly full again. Nobody was likely to hear him over the noise, even if Tobias chose to shout in reply to the Voices. That was good.
‘What are you talking about? I thought you were going to give it to me straight from now on.’ Tobias was worried that the Voices would return to their old ways of talking to him. Confusing language that was blunt and gave little information that he could fathom.
The Dark is present. She is with him.
The Dark man was at the hospital. Surely not. And she… The Voices could only be referring to Danielle. The Dark had taken Danielle.
The Dark is present. She is with him.
‘Danielle has been taken?’
‘No, if Danielle had been taken, I’m not leaving. Where is she?’
‘With the Dark man… What’s he doing with her?!’
Tobias was already on his feet, ignoring the Voices’ protests.
Grabbing a hold of his bag, Tobias hurled the door open, letting it bang against the door, attracting more attention than he would have liked, but ignoring the confused expressions on both visitors’ and hospital staff’s faces.
Heading for the elevator, Tobias mashed his fingers against the ground floor button, desperate to reach the Dark man and Danielle before she was hurt. She was certainly in no condition to be kidnapped, and although her condition was improving, she had only just got out of surgery. She couldn’t deal with this. Her body couldn’t deal with this.
The ground floor didn’t seem close enough. Slowly the elevator descended to the lower level, and Tobias imagined the confrontation that would ensue.
For a moment, he paused, unsure of what he would actually do when the time came. He was nine-years-old, compared to the Dark man, whose age was irrelevant when he had murdered at least one person and attempted to murder and then kidnapped another. What could a young boy do against a potential serial killer?
The elevator was empty, much to Tobias surprise, and he used the opportunity to talk to the Voices.
‘How long has the Dark man been here? Why did he take Danielle?’
He needs her.
‘Then why did he try to kill her?'
He did not realise how useful she could be.
‘What does he want with her?’
Assistance. Labour. A slave.
Three questions in a row. Thinking back, Tobias realised that it was the most questions the Voices had ever asked without some lack of full information. What they had provided was actually somewhat helpful, or at least compared to what they usually shared with him.
The small bing sound alerted Tobias to his arrival at his destination, and he was out of the elevator almost before the door had opened, or so it seemed.
Barging past people lining up for their visitor sticker, Tobias burst through the automatic doors, awaiting some signal as to the location of his kidnapped friend. Either a visual guide, or some sign from the Voices in his head.
‘What? Where the hell is that?’
Tobias didn’t normally say such blasphemous things, but he was afraid, and not in an upset way, like he had been when the Voices had first found him. He was not concerned for himself, but terrified for his new best friend. Maybe the reasons for his fear were selfish – he didn’t want to lose such a friend as Danielle, and he knew that if Danielle was killed, he would likely be next – but the first and foremost reason was for Danielle’s own life. That’s the kind of thing best friends worried about.
Left, then straight on.
Following the footpath, Tobias obeyed the Voices, who were for once giving him orders for his own benefit. Maybe they had their own personal motives. Maybe they wanted Tobias to confront the Dark man, and win, in whatever way they had planned or whatever way was possible. Either way, they were helping, and for the time being, Tobias needed that.
Left, straight on… Nothing.
The back of the hospital looked odd. Absolutely nobody was here, and neither Danielle nor the unidentified Dark man, or somebody who looked like Tobias imagined he would appear, could be seen.
They are near.
‘Near? How near? Where are they? Please tell me…’ Tobias’ words were not orders as he was used to barking at the Voices, often in anger, but this time they were desperate requests. Every passing second was a second less for Danielle, and Tobias couldn’t bare to think that she was lost, alone, and in the company of such a monster as the Dark man.
A scream choked Tobias. Not a death rattle, it seemed. The person who screamed did not sound as if they were in pain, but instead sounded like they were terrified, maybe fighting for their life physically, but certainly not dying.
A woman owned the scream, but the location was unknown to Tobias.
Another scream helped him pinpoint the source, although it appeared to be muffled, like the mouth of the scream’s creator was being covered. By a certain Dark man who did not want to be seen.
How he had managed to get this far without raising suspicion was beyond Tobias. Granted, the busy hospital would make it easy for somebody to enter and leave undetected, but how could somebody force somebody out without being figured out, especially somebody who was bound to be recognised as a patient, if not by one of their nurses, but by their attire – the terrible blue dress that was standard in every hospital Tobias had ever come across.
Letting his ears point towards the now fading echo of the muffled scream, Tobias headed towards the hospital, where he was able to see several wide entrances, no doubt for various vehicles of different sizes to access the hospital. Ambulances, lorries with deliveries, and so on. And in the darkness of one of the entrances, one of the few that were open, Tobias was suddenly blinded by a bright light. Two, like eyes shining in the dark. Eyes of an untameable beast. Glowing beacons, as if to draw Tobias to them.
Slowly taking a step at a time towards the source of the light, Tobias was able to distinguish the light as what appeared to be headlights from a car. A sudden roar on the engine confirmed his suspicions, and as the dark green station wagon erupted from the garage at what seemed like a thousand miles an hour, Tobias was interested to see who was behind the steering wheel, and who was sat next to them, or maybe hidden in the backseat. Or maybe locked in the boot, rope holding their limbs together and duct tape covering their mouth.
The face was indistinguishable with the bright lights glaring into Tobias’ eyes, and even in the light of the day, they stood out like an elephant in a fridge. No hospital employee would burst from the garage with such speed. Such intent. There was no way that anybody else would be so desperate to get away, unless the driver was hiding something, which evidently he was. The Voices confirmed that.
The Dark escapes.
Tobias was unsure of the meaning of their comment. Whether they referred to what was happening in the present, or whether they were looking into the future, informing their host that no matter what he should do, the Dark man was destined to speed away in his green station wagon, taking his captive, Danielle, a Gifted girl, Tobias’ friend, with him.
But the meaning of the words meant nothing. The tone in which they were said – a tone which Tobias had previously thought the Voices were unaware of or incapable of – was enough to deter Tobias from doing anything to prevent this kidnapping.
The words of complete hopelessness were all Tobias needed to watch the car go by, giving a passive gaze into the driver’s seat, hoping to at least identify the man who would no doubt claim his life and the life of many others. The Voices were developing emotions, which would otherwise have given Tobias happiness. However, these emotions were not the ones Tobias needed to hear right now.
Letting his feet go limp, he felt his legs follow suit, crumpling under the sudden weight of his body, and falling to his knees. The green car disappeared into the background of the car park, before entering the main road and heading of in the direction that Tobias could now identify as East. One of the few positive things that the Voices had given him – a sense of direction.
The Dark escapes.
The same words in the same morose tone of despair. The Voices knew there was no hope.
The likelihood was that they were right.
Tobias rested his head against the tarmac, half hoping that the car was not that of the Dark man, half hoping that another would come by and run him over unaware, so that Tobias could be rid of the Voices in death.
He would be happy to die any way except at the hands of this kidnapping murderer. The Dark man.
The Dark escapes.