I swear, when I get my hands on Steve, I’m going to kill him. It was his crazy idea to have the party at the offices, his idea to create the haunted house for the kids – or, to be fair, it was Jessie’s idea and Steve just ran with it.
Jessie is the office mum, a lovely old soul who minds the front desk and has a cheery smile for everyone who works here. Everyone loves her, and the smell of her Magnolia talcum powder is always present. She loves organising treats for the staff and their families – and this Halloween party was just the latest of her run. When she told us about it, we all said we’d pitch in, and then Steve said he'd sort out the “Haunted House” for the kids to go round. I should have heard the warning bells, but no, not me.
So when earlier today, he came up to me at my desk and asked if I’d come early, just to do a “teensy, tiny favour for him,” like a complete idiot I said yes. So here I am now, the star attraction of the tour, and absolutely no way of knowing what’s coming.
I arrived here at 6, to see that the caterers had arrived and the decorations were going up. I’d come in costume, as Catwoman, but when Steve saw him he said “I’ve got a much better idea for you.” He picked up a costume bag, handed it to me and told me to go and get changed.
When I opened it, I saw a bridal dress inside, complete with veil and high heels. I stripped off the, frankly rather hot, PVC suit and stepped into the dress, pulling it over my chest before slipping into the heels and the elbow length gloves, and fixing the veil over my head.
When I went out, Steve gave a low whistle and took me by the hand. I got a personal guided tour of the “house” – just several of the rooms done up with orange and black paper with various dares in – before he led me into the last room. It was bare, except for a wooden chair in the centre of the room, and a large duffle bag on the floor.
“You,” he said as he turned to me, “are going to be the star attraction.”
“Oh yes,” I said with one eye on him, “and what is that?”
“The bride that the dastardly villain has kidnapped and is holding hostage. The kids are going to get the fright of their lives when they see you.”
“What do you expect me to do – scream at them?”
“No silly – you’re going to be gagged!”
I looked at him as he opened the bag and took out a long length of rope. “Didn’t you tell me once your brothers tied you up.”
“They were my brothers,2 I said quietly, “and what makes you think I’ll let you do it to me?”
“It’s for the kids,” he said as I heard Belinda walk past the door with some of the younger ones. I stood there for a moment, before saying “You owe me – big time” and sitting myself down.
I soon discovered Steve was a Boy Scout in his youth, as he quickly tied a length of rope around my left wrists, holding it to the side of the chair, passed it round my waist and the chair back and then secured my other wrist in place. A second length went around my stomach and the chair back, holding me firmly to it. He then bound my ankles together, and my lap to the seat.
I shot him a look and stuck my tongue out at him, which just seemed to make him laugh all the more. I could hear the music starting and the families arriving down the corridor, as he took out a long white scarf and folded it into a strip.
“Open wide,” he said.
“Has Jessie arrived yet?” I said looking up at him. “I thought she would be her early.”
“No – I’ll go and see in a minute,” Steve said with a smile. “Now, open up.”
“C,mndtlm,” I mumbled as the scarf was pulled into my mouth and wrapped around twice before it was tied at the back of my neck. Steve put his finger to his lips, leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead, and then tied a second scarf over my eyes.
And so here I am, listening to the party sounds down the corridor and wondering how long it’s; going to be before the first batch of kids turn up. It’s a strangely relaxing feeling, been left on your own and unable to move.
Ah – I can hear some of the kids screaming now. I guess it won’t be long before they come my way, so I may as well get as comfortable as I can. I just wish it wasn’t so cold in here – part of the atmosphere, I guess, but still.
There’s the sound of little feet and not so little feet running past, so they must be on the way. I can hear the music has stopped as well – and there doesn’t seem to be any noise from the parents. I guess they’re just standing around talking while the kids are entertained.
There are more footsteps – just how many kids are there anyway? I can hear some talking, but with this blindfold I can’t see a blessed thing – and I’m starting to get a cramp.
Hang on a sec – the room’s just got warmer. I guess Steve must have taken some pity on me and decided to have a warm reception for the kids when they get here. It’s also starting to smell very pleasant in here, a sweet flowery smell, a smell I know all the well.
“Jse,” I say through the gag, and I feel her hand press lightly on my shoulder as she always does when she walks past me. “I’m sorry I’m late, dear,” I hear her whisper in my ear, “but there was something I had to take care of first. Do you mind if I stay here a little while with you – I know the kids are coming soon, and I want to enjoy the quiet.”
Well, I can hear them moving around the office outside, so I just nod and listen to her humming to herself, that lovely smell filling the air. IT seems to last forever, even as I hear them apparently tearing up the rooms trying to complete the challenges Steve had set up. At last, I hear a door open, and sit myself up, expecting to hear a kid scream.
What I hear instead is a voice I don’t recognise saying “Just a store cupboard” and the door closing again. Well, I know I’m not in a store cupboard, and more to the point who was that. One of the fathers? I feel Jessie’s hand on my shoulder again as she whispers “I’m going to go and see what’s holding the kids up,” As soon as she finishes, the smell of her talc starts to fade, and the temperature starts to drop down again.
As I sit alone again, I can hear several sets of footsteps running past, and then nothing. Then there is silence – no music, no sound of parents talking, and most of all no kids screaming in the room. I sit, wondering what is going on, has something stopped them coming, and where the others are, when I hear the door slowly open.
“Oh thank god,” I hear Steve say, and the pressure over my eyes begins to ease as he removes the scarf that has been acting as a blindfold. When I look at him, however, my eyes widen as I say “Whtthfk” through the cloth in my mouth. His shirt has been pulled open, and there’s a great huge bruise starting to form over his left eye that even I can see in the dark.
“Whhpndtu” I mumble as he starts to untie me, his hands shaking all the time. “We...” he says as he releases me from the chair, “We’ve been robbed. Ten men, very heavily armed. They took all the kids off somewhere with Belinda, made all the woman go off to another room, and then when I tried to challenge them I got a black eye and half an hour unconscious for my trouble. When I came to, I was alone – the men had gone as well, and I don’t know where.”
“You are joking,” I finally said as he removed the saliva soaked cloth, but a look into his face tells me he was telling the truth. A she helped me up, we both walked out and saw through other doors all the papers strewn across the floor.
“Why didn’t they touch you?” Steve said a she looked at me.
“I don’t know – maybe they saw I couldn’t stop them. Although...”
“Why didn’t they take Jessie?”
Steve looked at me in a strange way and said “Jessie?”
“She was in the room with me – they didn’t even see her, if they even looked in.”
“Did anyone open the door.”
“Someone did, but they said it was a store cupboard – listen!”
We both stopped as we heard the sound of feet coming down the corridor, and then saw Belinda leading the kids back along the floor. I could see some of them had been crying, the makeup on their faces running down their cheeks, but they all seemed happy.
“Thank god,” Belinda said as she came up to us. “Steve, what happened?”
“I don’t know – what happened to you?”
“The two gunmen forced us into a room and locked the door. It was all I could do to keep the kids calm, and then some help arrived.”
“Jessie – I don’t know how she got in, but she told all the children this was part of the Halloween surprise, and their parents knew what was happening. She led them in a few games, and then opened the door and waved us all out.”
Steve gave Belinda the same look he had given me, before saying “Take the children outside – there’s a MacDonalds you can go to. Make sure they all get something to eat, and then get the manager there to call the police. We’ll stay here.”
“Come on kids – MacDonalds,” Belinda called out, and the cheer they gave as they trooped out was tremendous. As the last one left and the door closed behind them, I could hear some muffled groans from one of the other offices.
“We’d better look in here – but Steve?”
“Why did you give us a funny look when we said Jessie had joined us?”
Steve slumped against the wall, his face white as he looked at me. “The reason I never came back is I had to take a phone call.
“The police were called out to Jessie’s flat tonight after a neighbour saw the front door open. She was just inside – from what they could tell me, she had a massive heart attack as she walked in.
“Jessie died earlier tonight – so how did she come here?”
I stepped back, my hands against the wall as I remembered what she had said to me.
“I’m sorry I’m late, dear, but there was something I had to take care of first. Do you mind if I stay here a little while with you – I know the kids are coming soon, and I want to enjoy the quiet.”
I stood up and grabbed Steve, hugging him tightly before we went to see who was in the other room.