by Renee L.Tennis-McKinley and Stacy Overby
Gloria hustled to grab her jacket from the locker room, then ran for the time clock. She’d gotten a late start this evening; her keys managing to not be where she’d expected. Ten minutes wasted searching for them left her rushing to be at her post on time. As she rounded the corner she slammed into Harvey.
“Pushing the time limits tonight, Glo?” he asked.
Gloria muttered about the missing keys as she attempted to side-step the assistant supervisor. He anticipated the move and blocked her escape. “Don’t forget to check in on your break tonight. I need a word with you.”
“Yeah, sure.” Gloria made another attempt to pass him.
Harvey grabbed her arm, his eyes bored into hers, “Seriously, Gloria, you need to show up this time.”
She wrenched her arm from his grasp, “Fine, Harvey, I’ll find you.” She stared at him until he stepped aside and let her pass. As she hurried away, she could feel him watching her. Shivers rippled up her back telling her to turn and make certain he hadn’t followed her. She resisted the urge; this time. She supposed she’d better make the meeting, Harvey would make the paranoia worse if she kept defying him.
Gloria punched her card with one minute to spare. The sense of relief she’d gotten from being on time faded as she walked the long hall to her cubicle. At this hour no one else was on duty. The dim night-lights cast eerie shadows along the way.
She hated the night shift. The old building seemed intent on letting her know she was alone in this section. Random thumps and groans echoed down the hallway. When she reached her department, the only light came from her desk. At least someone had left it on for her. She shuffled to the space as quietly as she could. The rap of her heels only accentuated the empty desks she passed on the way.
Gloria dropped into her chair with a sigh. The screen in front of her was already filling with tasks to be attended. She opened the large drawer in the desk and cringed as it uttered a metallic shriek. Shuddering, she dropped her handbag inside and kicked it shut. She gingerly tested the next drawer, relieved with its hushed compliance. She shuffled through its interior until she located her wand and candles.
After printing out the list of problems to fix, she pulled up a map of the city and zoomed in on her sector.
Gloria stopped to stretch out the kinks that had formed in her neck and shoulders from hunching over her desk for so long. Rolling her neck, she noticed the candles were mere stubs. She checked her watch. Not break time yet. She scanned down her list and realized she’d gotten most of it done already.
Gloria double checked the queue in the computer. As usual, there were several additions. She printed off the new list and decided to grab some new candles from the supply closet. That way, she was all set to tackle the rest of the list after break. Hopefully that would see her through the end of her shift. Except for Harvey.
She carefully secured her desk against accidental castings while she was gone and dug out the ancient key for the supply closet. Making her way down the rows of empty cubicles, Gloria thought she heard voices.
“That’s unusual,” she said to herself, “There shouldn’t be anyone else in this department right now. Hell, there’s only a few other people in the entire building at the moment.”
Gloria stopped at the supply closet and jiggled the decrepit lock open. She always loved coming here with the neat rows of ingredients in quantities she could only dream of in her personal supply cupboard. There were some rather special ingredients kept here as well, ones she knew she’d never have of her own. Gloria made her way to the candles and selected the necessary colors and sizes. As she approached the door, she heard the voices again, only much clearer this time.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” A deep male voice asked.
“There’s no one here to stop us,” a second, medium toned man answered.
“What about Gloria? She’s in this section tonight.”
“Harvey’s taking care of here. By the time we’re ready, we’ll be just fine.”
The voices faded to unintelligible garble.
“There’s no bloody way I’m meeting with Harvey tonight,” she whispered waiting to be sure the two men were really gone, “How am I going to get out of it this time?”
Gloria headed back to her desk. Four rows away from her cubicle she spotted Harvey waiting there for her. His back was to her so he hadn’t realized she was there yet.
Really! For the love of all, can’t I catch a break? Now what am I going to do?
Gloria backed out of the room never taking her eyes off Harvey’s back. With nowhere else to go, she returned to the supply closet. She ducked inside and pulled the door shut.
She kept one ear to the door as she lit one of the candles she’d just collected. “I don’t know what’s going on,” she whispered to the flickering taper, “but if Harvey thinks he can ‘take care’ of me, he’s got another thing coming.!”
Squinting in the restless light, Gloria scanned the overflowing shelves. “Ah ha!” she grabbed a small pouch tucked neatly between two jars.
“Won’t be quite as powerful without my wand, but it’ll have to do.”
She poured just a pinch of silver powder from the pouch into the palm of her hand. After reciting a short incantation, Gloria blew the shimmering dust into the air; then walked beneath it.
She exited the closet again, shutting the door with a firm hand. Gloria walked back to the office to see Harvey expectantly awaiting her, having heard the door close.
“There you are, Glo.” Harvey smiled, “I thought I’d catch you before you went on break, get this over with.”
Gloria smiled back, the candles clutched in her hand. “Sure, Harvey. What’s this meeting about anyhow?”
“Oh, just some security measures we need to go over.”
Gloria kept smiling. “Okay, your office?”
“Yeah, that’s perfect!” Harvey grinned as he gestured for her to precede him.
Harvey and his companion exited the office and strolled down the narrow hallway past the supply closet and turned the next corner.
A few minutes after they passed, the closet door opened a sliver; then wider as Gloria stepped out. She ran quickly to her desk and snatched her wand and a book of basic spells. Her pocket bulged with what she hoped would be the most useful ingredients to find out what the two men and her sleazy supervisor were up to.
She also carried a shimmering invisibility shawl. Before she left the office again, she threw it over her shoulders. As soon as Harvey figured out the ‘Gloria’ he was escorting to his office was actually the janitor’s dust mop, he’d be back.
Gloria crept down the hallway in the direction the two intruders had gone. She’d been thrilled to find the invisibility shawl still folded in its original plastic packing. Once beneath its cover she noticed the light was a bit dimmer, and the sound of her footsteps seemed muffled. She hoped that effect would help her get close enough to her quarry to perform the spells she’d decided on.
Working her way through the maze of hallways, Gloria checked each door she passed. So far all had been locked. She had a pretty good idea where the men had been headed. The main security office; it handled the incoming calls as well as keeping the non-witch personnel from accidentally stumbling upon the work that went on after hours. If people found out exactly how the city’s infrastructure was really kept together…well, it would not be good.
Gloria rounded the next corner and nearly ran into the pair of scoundrels she’d been hunting.
“Come on Tom! We won’t have all night.” The deep voice came from a tall, dark haired man wearing a long, black cloak. He wielded an ivory wand carved with symbols that made Gloria’s stomach heave.
The other man was a foot and a half shorter and dressed in faded jeans and a dirty pocket t-shirt. “This is an art Manny, if you’re in a hurry just use that twig you’re waving around instead.” He never looked up from the knob he was working with a lock pick.
Manny just scowled at the other man’s back. Gloria knew he couldn’t use the wand to force the door without causing several alarm wards to sound. The designers hadn’t counted on a simple thieves’ trick in this part of the building.
Under the cover of the shawl, Gloria lit a yellow candle and pulled one of the packets and a small marble bowl from her pocket. After measuring the proper amount for a stasis spell she drew a breath and opened her mouth to recite the paralysis incantation.
But, when she formed the words, no sound came from her throat. Not only was she hidden visibly, she evidently couldn’t be heard either. And if she couldn’t recite the spell, her wand, the candle and powder were useless.
Gloria silently cursed herself for not reading the packaging completely. She hadn’t grabbed an invisibility shawl, she was wearing a solitude shield.
Now what? Gloria thought. She surveyed the items she’d grabbed from storage, wracking her brain for any possible options. With the solitude shield, though, there weren’t many.
Come on, Glo! Think outside the box!
She watched Tom get a self-satisfied grin on his face. He pushed the door open and ushered Manny through. She slipped through the closing door behind the men just in time, feeling the solitude shield catch in the door a little before sliding free. Gloria followed Manny and Tom down the corridor. Just as she’d predicted, they stopped at the locked Security Office door.
Gloria knew she had a little time now. That door was protected by spells and conventional locks. She thought about just throwing off the shield and casting the paralysis spell. The saner part of her reminded the part that thought that was a good idea Manny would beat her to the punch. And he wouldn’t be nice about it either.
Faster than she’d expected, they got the door open. Once again, she trailed behind them just close enough to get through without them noticing. They started to rummage through the office. Gloria thought it was odd that the office wasn’t staffed. That was a twenty-four-hour position.
Harvey! That rat!
Then it came to her. Don’t use magic. At least not how she’d been thinking about it. She made her way to the recycling bin next to the fax machine and crouched down, making sure to drape the solitude shield over the can. Then she crumpled up several sheets of paper from the can into balls. One by one she lit them on fire and tossed them into the room.
With their backs to where Gloria was hidden, the men didn’t see the slight movements that revealed her. All they saw was balls of fire come flying out of nowhere at them. Manny started a stunning spell as he scanned the room for the attacker. Tom hid behind Manny.
Just before Manny finished his spell, the smoke from the burning paper set of the building’s sprinkler system. Gloria prayed the solitude shield was waterproof so it wouldn’t give her away.
The door flew open. Harvey and Mike, the security officer burst into the room. Harvey threw a powder at Manny with a final flourish. Manny went down hard. Mike did the same for Tom.
“Come out Gloria. You’re safe now,” Harvey said.
Afteword: This story is the property of the authors listed above. I made some formatting changes and typo corrections. Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest – looking forward to future stories! Be sure to tell the authors they’re awesome and keep a look-out for future prompts.
As always, think happy thoughts!