Copyright © 2011 Frazer Lee
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
"It's the greatest job in the world."
Vera smiled as she said the words.
"All I have to do is turn on the damn lights, water the plants; a few chores…"
Static crackled in her ear — the phone line was lousy tonight.
"Are you still there?"
"Yes," came the reply, "but I can hardly hear you. There's a weird kind of… echo."
"It's Jessie's uplink," Vera chuckled, "We're not really allowed to call anyone from the island…"
"Sorry… how… calling me?"
Christ, the line was getting choppy. Vera pressed the cordless handset closer to her ear, then checked herself.
"As if that'll make any difference," she said. Probably talking to herself now.
The crackling grew louder. She could still hear her friend's voice, buried beneath layers of digital cacophony. A faint echo smothered by an avalanche of noise.
There was something else in the mix too; an ominous growling hum like the electricity pylons near her home. Berlin, so far away now. Even as she thought it, the hum grew; drowning out what little was left of her friend’s staccato tones.
And with a click, silence.
"Scheiße," she cursed, stabbing the redial button. The phone was completely dead. Hacking an outside line was a fine art, she appreciated that, but Jessie clearly needed some new software. And she'd be giving that little bag of smoke back too.
First things first. Vera put the handset in its cradle and headed for the kitchen. She walked over to the huge range in the centre of the room and ignited all four of the gas taps. Then, crouching on her haunches, she turned the oven on full blast. The expensive smoked glass oven door afforded her a look at her own reflection. Only a month on Meditrine Island and already she looked five years younger. Amazing. Gone were the dark grey shadows around her eyes - even her signature brittle dry hair had a new luster. Berlin could take care of itself, thanks very much. The island really was like a fountain of youth, she thought as she rose and crossed to the patio door.
Unclipping the latch, Vera had to use two hands to slide the glass behemoth open. Whoever owned this house had a serious heavy glass fetish. Stepping out into the night, her senses were flooded. The island's fresh air was like no other; an intoxicating blend of jasmine and ocean spray. When she went back to the city, she'd have to remember to bottle and sell it.
Her quiet moment was suddenly blasted with fifteen hundred watts of raw security lighting as she stepped in front of the infrared sensors. She cursed the light for blinding her as she picked up the watering can, blinking away the white-hot glare. The light had brought the mosquitoes a-calling too. They whizzed around her as she dashed back into the kitchen.
Vera filled the watering can with cool, clear water at the bath-sized sink. This was the least tedious of her tasks - the plants were going to drink their fill tonight. Amidst such fabulous wealth, such meticulous order, it felt good that a mere backpacker could decide the fate of items so precious to their millionaire owners.
Millionaires? Billionaires, more likely.
She remembered Jessie's sardonic voice from the first time they'd hung out together, gossiping about who owned these mansions; this island. But Vera didn't really care who the owners were. That they were paying her handsomely to do a few chores was all she cared about. And the most strenuous chore was watering the plants. Easy money. "The job's a doozy," Jessie had giggled. 'Doozy Jessie' been working on the island longer than Vera and seemed to be going a little stir crazy…
As the water rose closer to the brim of the watering can, the security lights clicked off suddenly. Like everything else on the island they ran to a tight schedule, thought Vera. As she did so, milliseconds before the light bulbs faded, Vera saw something outside.
She blinked twice, slow and firm. The ghost imprint of the blinding bulbs still there, forming crescent shaped black holes in her mind's eye. Was there someone out there?
Vera blinked again, then swore furiously as liquid spilled onto her feet. Soaked, she closed the faucet and let the watering can rest in the sink unit. Shouldn't have smoked that joint before coming up to the house, she thought, sounding for all the world like her mother. Scatterbrain, she used to call Vera whenever she lost the power to function normally; everyday tasks becoming impossibly hilarious missions. She still wondered if her mother had known her daughter was stoned, or if she simply believed her child was missing a neuron or two million.
The old clumsiness was really kicking in now, as she left little pools of water on the tiled floor on her way to the patio. Putting the can down (yet more spills) she grabbed the door handle and pulled with all her might.
The glass giant slid open easier this time. Vera bent down to pick up the can — then the smell hit her.
Something had invaded the envelope of jasmine and surf, corrupting the very night air with its presence. A hospital smell, harsh and synthetic, like the way her dentist smelled. She'd hated the dentist since she was a kid. Had he followed her here, to paradise, tracking her down after all these years to do all that work she had chickened out of? To tut and frown disapprovingly through his paper mask, noting her cannabis-stained enamel and ugly overbite?
She leaned out into the night air, her nostrils searching for the source of the stifling smell. It was mixed with something else now, like ripe leather.
He was standing right next to her, impossibly close. Vera's heart blasted into her mouth, choking her scream. The source of the smell regarded her idly, his black eyes like camera lenses. Cold. Unforgiving.
Before she could react, Vera heard a swooshing sound. The smell of rubber gloves perversely filled her nostrils, pushing all the way back into her throat as if someone really had jammed two fingers up her nose. The intruder's dark form was a monolith, burned into her eyes by the security lights.
The bulbs faded once more. Vera's senses imploded as the sliding door crushed her skull against the alloy doorframe.
Swoosh, as the door slid back again.
Vera's body jerked uselessly then fell still; her brains spattered across the cool, thick glass.