I stood at the edge of the construction site, looking and listening for Pauline.
Her note, hastily scrawled, had simply said ''HELP''. I could see the panic in those four upper-case letters. That was all I had to go on, apart from the trail of simian footprints in the mud: large simian footprints, the biggest I'd ever seen. I hesitated, for just a couple of seconds, then started to follow the indentations. As I hurried along the trail, my head said - Call the police; call the zoo, call anyone. You can't do this. You'll fail. But my heart just said – Pauline Pauline Pauline – over and over.
About half a mile down the lane I saw it – Pauline's pink scarf. I picked it up and tucked it into my pocket, after dabbing at the sweat on my moustache. It was muggy and close, tonight, but I had a feeling that I would be be losing more than sweat if I didn't hurry.
The footprints came to an abrupt end at the concrete, just beyond the site entrance. I took my cap off and wiped away more sweat from the top of my balding head, then replaced the cap and stood... listening.
''HELP'' - A frenzied cry from the base of the building. Pauline. I looked. In the darkness I could see only a very basic structure – little more than a few horizontal steel beams at the moment. I saw ladders leading up either side. The whole thing was flimsy, unsafe. As a carpenter, I was used to building sites but this one must be contravening all the regulations in the book. I wondered if there were any hard hats lying around. I'd probably need one.
I strained my eyes. Then I saw him – in the centre, clambering up the ladders,one after another, with unusual speed and agility for a creature so large and ungainly. A huge ape – a gorilla, from what I could see - with my Pauline tucked under his arm. She was wearing pink, as usual. As he climbed, the ladders fell behind him. I could hear Pauline's screams, becoming fainter, the higher he climbed.
When he reached the top, he set Pauline down beside him, on a pile of bricks, and then, I watched, horrified as he jumped, once, twice, three times, pounding his chest. He was mocking me. At each of his landings the structure shifted, the steel beams dipped. Surely the whole thing would come crashing down.
I rushed to the base of the rickety structure, and looked for a way up. There were still a few ladders, placed at various intervals. I climbed to the first floor. What was that rumbling sound? I looked up. And couldn't believe what I saw. The ape had found a stack of what looked like barrels and was throwing them all over the place. There was one rolling toward me on the beam where I stood. Without thinking, I jumped into the air. Just in time – I whipped my head round and watched as it rolled on and crashed off the end, into the dark.
Over the next few minutes I concentrated on climbing ladders and dodging barrels, and all the time I could hear Pauline screaming and screaming, and the huge ape jumping and throwing yet more barrels.
Finally I reached the top. I ran to Pauline.
But she had gone. So had the ape. I was no longer on the building. I was back on the ground again, in front of a different building. Was this a nightmare?
I heard her scream again. I looked up. There they were, at the top. And this time, there were rats.