Authors: Amy Cross
“Join us for a drink,” added another guest, an older man with a snow-white beard. He grabbed Katie’s arm and tried to pull her toward the booth, and although she tried to fight back, she was starting to feel as if she might collapse at any moment.
“That looks nasty,” Mr. Crutchlow said, peering at the knife poking out from her shoulder. “You want to be careful, young lady, or you’ll end up hurting yourself.”
“Just take a seat,” the white-bearded man said, shoving Katie into the booth. “This’ll all be over with in a matter of seconds.”
“No!” she shouted, pushing him away and stumbling to her feet, even as she saw Tom entering the room. Racing away from him, she tripped and fell, landing hard and scrambling for a moment in a patch of her own blood as she got to her feet and ran toward the stairs.
“You won’t get very far!” Mr. Crutchlow called after her. “It’s a special night tonight, young lady! Mr. Lanegan is being initiated into the lower reaches of the Border! He’s going to go
the seventh level!”
With tears in her eyes, Katie began to scramble up the stairs, desperately trying to get back up to the sixth level. She tripped and fell, banging her legs hard against the steps, and a moment later she felt a hand grabbing her ankle. Turning, she saw that Tom had already reached her, and she screamed as he began to drag her back down.
“Help me!” she shouted, looking up toward the door at the top of the stairs. “Somebody, please -”
Suddenly the door opened, revealing a figure at the top.
“Help me!” Katie screamed, before Tom clamped his hand over her mouth and began to pull her down. She tried again to call out, but blood loss was making it difficult for her to even stay conscious. Despite a desperate sense of fear, she knew she could no longer fight back against Tom, not even as he turned her body around and pulled the knife from her shoulder. Leaning over her, he raised the knife and -
The next few seconds were a blur. Katie felt herself being dropped, landing hard against the steps, as a gunshot rang out and part of the nearby wall exploded. Plaster dust rained down, and when she opened her eyes she saw that the figure from the top of the stairs was running down with some kind of rifle in his hands. He dropped down next to her and rolled her over, checking for a pulse as a second figure followed, a woman this time.
“Is she okay?” the woman asked.
“She needs help. You have to get her to a hospital.”
“She needs help!” the man shouted. “I almost got the man who did this to her, he was wearing that crown but he managed to run. I’ll go after him, you need to get this girl to hospital and make sure she’s okay. After that, if you really think you have the stomach for more of this, come back and find me. I’ll just keep heading down until I reach the bottom of this place.”
Katie tried to open her mouth, but instead her head tilted back as she felt herself being lifted and carried up the stairs. Finally, even as she tried to call out, she felt herself slipping away into darkness.
“Okay!” Beth shouted, hurrying down the stairs but stopping as she reached the front door. Someone was hammering against the other side, desperately trying to get inside. “Bob,” she continued, “is that you? I really think -”
“It’s me!” Jane called back. “Open the door, it’s an emergency!”
Fumbling with the latch, Beth pulled the door open only for Jane to immediately hurry through with the bloodied body of a naked woman in her arms.
“I can’t explain right now,” Jane replied, heading through to the kitchen and setting the woman down. “She’s lost too much blood and there isn’t time to drive her to the hospital.” She turned, with blood smeared all over the front of her shirt. “You’re a nurse. Beth, please, you have to at least stabilize her.”
“What happened?” Beth stammered, hurrying over to the table. “Where’s the -”
“Shoulder,” Jane explained. “Stab wound, looks like it went all the way through. I don’t see anything else, but there could be other injuries.”
“Who did this to her?” Beth asked, grabbing some towels from a nearby drawer and then starting to fill a bowl with warm water. “Why’s she naked, for God’s sake? Did someone attack her?”
“She was in the -”
Jane caught herself just in time.
“In the what?” Beth asked, hurrying over and starting to turn Katie over so she could get a better look at the shoulder wound. “Jane, what’s going on?”
“I can’t explain,” Jane replied, taking a step back. “I have to get back there. Just patch her up and then get her to a hospital. And if they ask what happened, tell them I’ll be in touch in the next few hours, okay? Tell them they just have to focus on saving her life.”
“I’m sorry,” Jane added, turning and hurrying through to the hallway. A moment later, the front door could be heard swinging shut.
Beth stood in shocked amazement for a moment, before looking down at Katie and checking her pulse. Realizing that she had to work fast, she began to examine the wound more closely, before hurrying over to the corner and grabbing her First Aid kit. She knew she had to work fast, so as she began to pack the wound, she looked around for her phone.
“Come on,” she muttered, trying to remember where she’d set the damn thing down when she was checking her email before bed, “you have to -”
Stopping suddenly, she realized she’d put the phone on the bench by the bread machine, and then she’d left Lucy alone in the room for a few minutes before taking her to bed.
“Back in ten seconds,” she whispered to Katie, before turning and hurrying out into the hallway. Racing up the stairs, she reached Lucy’s room and pushed the door open, only to see her daughter’s blank face lit by the light of the phone’s screen. “Hey,” she said with relief, hurrying over to the bed, “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I need this.”
She grabbed the phone, but before she could call for an ambulance, she saw that Lucy had opened the ‘other’ internet browser. The screen showed a photo of a man’s mashed face, with various body parts strewn around what appeared to be the site of a motorbike crash. Swiping back to see what Lucy had seen before that image, she shuddered as she recognized one of the photos that had leaked from a police investigation into a cannibal in Europe. In this particular image, a dismembered torso was resting in an open freezer, while a set of bloodied tools could be seen on a nearby counter-top along with various severed fingers.
“Honey,” Beth whispered, turning to Lucy and seeing the girl’s vacant stare, “what were you doing with my phone?”
Dropping down to her knees, she realized Lucy was trembling. A moment later, sensing a familiar smell, she pulled the duvet aside just enough to see that the sheets were wet.
And then, from the kitchen downstairs, an agonized scream rang out through the house.
“Come on, Alex,” Jane hissed as she strode along the corridor, heading back toward the office that led down to the Border, “why the hell aren’t you picking up your phone?”
As soon as she heard the voicemail message start up, she slipped her phone into her pocket and hurried into the office, and then she headed toward the door in the corner.
“He knows,” a voice said suddenly.
Turning, Jane saw Caitlin standing by the desk, next to Simon’s bloodied corpse. The dead girl had blood on her body herself, as well as a gaping hole where her heart had been ripped out, but the office’s bright lights made all the blood and injuries look a little fake, as if they’d been applied for a bad student horror movie.
“Who knows?” Jane asked. “What are you talking about? I thought I wasn’t going to see you again?”
“You weren’t, but…” Caitlin paused. “I’m scared.”
“What comes next. Now that I don’t have to be here anymore, I don’t know where to go.”
“Who knows?” Jane asked again. “What did you mean?”
“Alex Gordon,” Caitlin continued. “The cop. He finally understood that he’s been missing the Border all these years.”
“He did?” Jane paused. “Where is he now? Is he coming here?”
Caitlin shook her head.
“Then what’s he doing?”
Caitlin paused. “He suffered a severe stroke. He’s at the hospital now, but I’m not sure he’s going to make it. I guess his mind couldn’t cope with the realization that something like the Border could have slipped along unnoticed for all these years.”
“I…” Jane paused, before turning and opening the door. Immediately, she heard the sound of a gunshot from down below. “I have to get back to Ben.”
“For how long?”
“Until it’s done.”
“It’s never going to be done,” Caitlin replied. “The Border just goes on and on, deeper and deeper until…”
Jane took a deep breath, staring down into the darkness. “Until what?”
“Well that’s just the point,” Caitlin continued. “I don’t think anyone really knows.”
“We can’t stop,” Jane replied. “We have to keep going.”
“What about your sons?”
“What about them?”
“They need you.”
Jane turned to her. “They need a safe world.”
“Ben can see to that,” Caitlin pointed out. “Let Ben take the burden. He doesn’t have anyone left in his life, not really. No kids, no wife. Let him be the one who goes deeper and deeper. You can trust him with that responsibility, you know.”
She shook her head.
“Your sons need you,” Caitlin said again, more firmly this time.
“I have to -” Jane paused as she realized that Caitlin’s words made sense, but she still knew deep down that she couldn’t abandon Ben. “The stag-headed man is down there,” she continued after a moment. “He’s the man who killed my husband, the same man who killed you.”
“No,” Caitlin replied, “he killed your husband but he didn’t kill me. That was someone else, long ago, wearing the same mask. It was someone else who wanted to gain admission to the Border’s deeper levels. I’m sure my heart’s down there in one of the jars, just where he left it.”
“We’ll find him,” Jane told her. “Whoever did that to you, we’ll -”
“You can’t find him,” Caitlin continued, interrupting her. “You can’t
him. Anyone who goes below the Border’s seventh level… Well, let’s just say that even though they’re allowed to come back up, they never do. They just go deeper and deeper, where things get darker and darker, until maybe they don’t even remember what it was like up here. If you and Ben keep going deep enough, eventually you’ll run into some of them, but… Well, I wouldn’t recommend that at all.”
“So what are we supposed to do instead?” Jane asked. “Shut the door, board the place up and forget about it?”
“That’s one possibility. At least you wouldn’t have to see the horrors that are down there.” She smiled. “You’re a widowed mother and a police officer, Jane. After what’s happening to Alex tonight, you’ll probably get the top job. You can be far more use up here than you can down there, running around in the dark with Ben, shooting at shadows that are so deep underground that they’ll never return to the light of day.”
“I can’t abandon him.”
“You can, and you will. You just need to come up with the right excuse.”
Instead of replying, Jane began to make her way down the steps, while holding her rifle up in case Ben happened to have chased anyone toward the surface.
“Oh,” Caitlin whispered, alone in the office now, “and Jack says hi.”
“I clipped his goddamn arm,” Ben continued a few minutes later, as he led Jane across the seventh layer toward the door in the corner that led further down. “He was bleeding, but he ran. I think he would down to eight.”
“Did you see his face under the mask?” she asked.
“Just a pair of eyes staring at me through the holes in the front,” he explained, pulling the door open and staring down yet another set of stairs. “Mac Crutchlow tried to make a stand. He started giving me this spiel about how the Border isn’t such a bad place, and about how I should be more understanding of the way other people like to live their lives. Then he tried to rush me and I tripped him, and he caught his head on the side of a table and… Well, at least that saves anyone from having to haul him off to jail, right?”
“Crutchlow’s dead?” Jane asked, shocked by the latest news.
“Come on,” he continued, heading down the stairs, “we have to find the stag-headed man. He killed my brother.”
Following Ben down, Jane soon found herself in another dark room with just a few red lights set into the ceiling. She stepped forward with her rifle raised, but the only thing she could see was the back of Ben’s head as he looked around.
“I’m going to look in this corridor,” he said finally, turning to her. “I don’t like the idea of splitting up, but he might double-back and try to get to the surface, so one of us needs to stay here. I’ll just be a couple of minutes.”
“Sure,” she replied, feeling her heart pounding in her chest as Ben hurried toward the far end of the room. Taking a few steps forward, she kept a finger poised on the rifle’s trigger, ready in case the stag-headed man appeared at any moment. There was no music on the eighth level, at least not anymore, and any customers that had been there earlier must have fled. She took a few more steps toward the far end of the room, and after a moment she realized she could see another door in the corner, which meant that there was at least a ninth level. She was starting to feel as if the Border never ended at all.
Suddenly she was pulled back and a hand covered her mouth, and she felt the tip of a blade pressing into her back. Twisting her head, she just about caught a glimpse of the stag-headed man behind her before he forced her head back down and slammed her hard into the wall, causing the rifle to drop from her hands.
“You’re going to get me out of here,” a pained voice whispered in her ear. “Now!”
“Tom?” she stammered, recognizing his accent immediately. “Tom Lanegan?”
“There’s not going to be any debate over this!” he hissed. “I refuse to be the last -”
Before he could finish, she slammer her elbow into his gut and spun around, kicking him away before he had a chance to swing the knife at her. As he stumbled, she reached down and grabbed the rifle before raising it and aiming straight at his head.
“You can’t do that,” Tom replied from behind the mask. “You’re a cop, not an assassin.”
She pressed her finger against the trigger, desperate to fire but still holding back. She knew he was right.
“Let’s talk about this,” Tom continued, taking a step forward. “Jane -”
She pulled the trigger.
The shot hit him in the forehead, blasting the mask apart and sending him slumping back against the floor. Staring in horror, Jane saw that not only had the mask been obliterated, but most of the front of Tom’s head had also been blown away, leaving blood and bone sprayed across the floor, even reaching as far as one of the nearby tables, the surface of which was spattered red. The dead man’s left hand twitched slightly before falling still.
“Jane?” Ben shouted, hurrying through but stopping as soon as he saw what had happened. “Was it him?” he asked. “Did you get him?”
“Tom Lanegan,” she replied, too shocked to keep from staring at the corpse. “You know, the manager of that company that Bob worked for?”
Nodding, Ben looked at the mess for a moment before turning to her. “Was it self-defense?”
She shook her head.
“Good,” he continued. “I’m just sorry it was you who got him instead of me. I mean, I’m used to killing people. I crossed that line a long time ago.”
Nodding, Jane finally managed to look away from Tom’s body, but a moment later her gaze fell upon the door in the far corner.
“I guess that leads down to the ninth level,” she said finally, her voice trembling slightly as she realized she could barely hold the rifle properly. Her hands were shaking and her mind was filled with replays of the moment she’d shot Tom Lanegan, and finally she had to turn away from Ben as she felt her chest starting to tighten. “I can’t breathe,” she stammered, stepping forward and leaning against the wall. “Something’s wrong, I can’t -”