by Gill James
porter (good for mums-to-be)
Steve's words from the night before were still echoing round Abigail's head. "You're married to that job. Not to me. If we don't do it now, it'll be too late. Perhaps it's too late already."
Then he'd packed a bag and he was gone. She'd taken a little comfort from the fact that he'd only packed enough for overnight. But what was to stop him coming back and picking more stuff up later?
Was their marriage over? Was he right? Did she think more about her job than about him? And there was that one thing she'd never told him; she just did not want to have children.
Was it all for the best, perhaps? Should they split up permanently? Maybe. This was just things coming to a head and that was exactly what they needed to do. But it hadn't stopped her staying awake most of the night. She still loved him, actually.
The lift was taking a long time to come. Perhaps she should take the stairs instead. No, she just didn't feel like it today. Not enough caffeine yet. And her office was on the fifth floor. She squirmed when she thought of her late father who boasted that he always ran up the stairs and he used to work on the eleventh floor. But she was too tired to be virtuous today.
It arrived at last and she stepped in, relieved that nobody else was getting in with her. She just did not want to make conversation today. She'd timed it just right; she was late enough that the coffee cart round the corner was open but early enough that the office building was deserted. She pressed the button for the fifth floor and took a sip of her coffee as the lift sped toward its destination.
She had a busy day ahead. Good. It would stop her dwelling too much on the Steve problem. She ran through her schedule in her head. Yes, it was going to be a tough day but nothing she couldn't handle. She was good at what she did. She'd got all of this.
The caffeine from her Americano was beginning to kick in and she was now ready for anything. The lift was progressing towards the top of the building. The numbers of the floors whizzed by. Of course it wouldn't stop. There was hardly anyone there yet and those who had already come in were sitting at their desks checking emails or getting a brew from one of the machines installed on each floor. Nobody was travelling between floors.
The number 5 appeared on the panel but the lift still kept going. She pressed 5 again but it didn't stop.
Oh no. She was going towards the sixth floor and that was strictly out of bounds. Employees were absolutely forbidden from going there. Only a few people had the right to do that and nobody even knew who those people were.
"It's a sackable offence," her supervisor had warned when she first joined the company. "And besides, it can put your life in danger."
"What's up there?" she'd asked
"I'm afraid that's top secret and only a very few people know. Only those that need to. But don't worry. Just get on with your work and you'll find we're a very generous company."
That at least had been true. She'd done well in her time here.
From time to time there had been some speculation about what was on the mysterious floor.
"Perhaps they've hiding anthrax."
"Do you think they're keeping smallpox there? Do you remember that woman at Birmingham University?"
"Perhaps they're holding secret plans for a nuclear warhead."
All of this seemed a bit far-fetched for a firm that published books and organised courses and conferences about food and nutrition. Abigail wondered whether it was just a test of employee loyalty.
Presumably the lift would stop when it reached the sixth floor. She would then just press the button to go back down to the fifth floor and show what a compliant worker she was.
She held her breath as the lift finally came to a halt and the number 6 appeared in the panel above the door. She stabbed at the 5 on the side panel but nothing happened. There must be a fault with the lift. She pressed the alarm. There was no response. Presumably because whoever was there to answer such calls wasn't in work yet. Wasn't that a serious health and safety issue, though? Perhaps she could phone one of her colleagues and tell them what had happened. She fished her phone out of her bag. She wasn't really surprised to find that it had no signal.
What should she do now? Should she go out of the lift and see if she could find a phone? Or even a staircase? She pressed the Open Door button.
Immediately an alarm started sounding. "Danger. Do not enter. Danger. Do not enter," an electronic voice said over and over again.
What was she supposed to do?
Would the door actually open? Okay, so touching the button had triggered that warning. But what if she kept pressing it until it did open? Anything was better than being trapped in this metal box.
She pressed the button again. The alarm stopped. "Do you wish to activate the door override?" said another electronic voice. "Press the door button three times in succession."
She did. The doors swished open.
It was completely dark when she stepped out of the lift. She could hear a faint humming noise and the air was cool. Was it some sort of air conditioning? Why did they need air conditioning? It was the top of the building so probably it could get quite hot. Was there something alive up here?
Her eyes gradually adjusted and she could make out the floor and the walls. This floor was the same shape as the other six. There would be a door a few metres in front of her and that would lead to a big open space. The stairs would be over to the left. She felt along the wall but when she came to where the door to the stairs ought to have been there was nothing. So much for that idea.
Then she noticed that there was something sparkly on the floor. It looked like trails of beads. She bent down and touched it. It was slimy. She sniffed her fingers. They smelt of candy-floss. Was this some sort of sugar?
What was in the big open space? The sticky trails all seemed to be leading there. She couldn't resist taking a look.
She opened the door. There was a loud rustle and some sort of chuntering. She held her breath as she realised she was staring at an enormous spider that was in a cage only a little bigger than itself. It immediately shot one of its legs through the bars towards her and stabbed at first one side of her groin and then the other. There was a sharp pain just for a few seconds and then a feeling of euphoria. Had the creature injected her with something? It seemed to have calmed down now. The leg that had attacked her was covered in some pinkish fleshy fluid and it was busy stuffing this into ... she wasn't sure where. Did spiders have vaginas?
"So, you've discovered Bernadette. Magnificent isn't she?" The spider started making noises a bit like a cat purring. "Yes, my love, you've done well today."
Abigail turned to see who was speaking. David Shipley. Head of finance. It looked like he was one of the chosen few. Why him, though?
"Has she attacked you?"
"I guess so."
"I thought she looked content. She usually does when she's full of eggs."
"Full of eggs? What do you mean?"
"A sharp pains on both sides?" he pointed on his body to where she'd felt the pain on hers.
"Oh dear. She's taken your eggs."
"You were warned not to come up here."
"I couldn't help it. The stupid lift brought me here."
"You could have stayed put. Rung the alarm."
"I did. Nothing happened. I was feeling hemmed in in there. I was looking for the stairs. "
"Well, I suppose it's good that she's breeding with our feistier females." He sniggered. "In fact she may even have chosen you. Saw you as good breeding stock. Manipulated the lift."
"Don't men get the same treatment?"
"Oh yes. She takes their sperm as well. I've been told it's a very enjoyable experience."
"So what is she exactly?"
"She's the Mother. Bernadette."
"Yes. Only half the employees at Brisco Ltd are human. The rest are Bernadette's children. Our intention is to take over at least half of the world's population."
"Because conditions here are so much better than on our own planet. But we mean you no harm. In fact, you will all benefit. You have to admit, don't you, that Brisco Ltd are good employers?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"Good. Then we'd better get you debriefed. Do you feel all right?"
"I do actually, I feel very well indeed. And very content."
Shipley nodded. "And that will continue. Throughout the pregnancy and beyond."
Shipley smiled. "I forgot to say. She always leaves behind one egg that she fertilises immediately. May I?" he pointed toward her abdomen
Before she had had the chance to answer he had put a hand on her belly. "It's a boy. Don't worry. He will look just like any other human. Now, come with me."
Abigail followed. They went out into what looked like a normal corridor.
Shipley knocked on an office door.
"Come," said a deep female voice.
He made his way into the room. Abigail went in behind him. She was shocked to see Sandra Atkinson, the CEO, sitting at a normal-looking desk. Surely her office was on the first floor?
"Yes, I have two offices Mz Thomson."
"There's been an incident," said Shipley.
Atkinson raised her eyebrows.
Atkinson smiled and got out of her seat. "Well, then I guess congratulations are in order." She held out her hand to Abigail.
Atkinson nodded. "It must have been a bit of a shock." The CEO turned towards Shipley. "I have to admit I was rather expecting something like this. She's been on heat for the last two weeks." She turned back to Abigail. "There's no question of you being able to continue working here. We have to take care of our offspring."
Atkinson grinned. Her face contorted. Her limbs stretched. Her head was suddenly hairless and her eyes were huge. "We are from the planet Cytron, many galaxies away. We have come here to save our species and in so doing we hope to save yours as well."
Then she was chief executive Sandra Atkinson, again sitting calmly at a plush desk. "You will win the Euro Lottery this week. You will leave work today. Tomorrow we shall take you to a huge house by the sea where we can look after you. You will want for nothing. I am sure you'll like it."
Abigail didn't know what to say.
The CEO nodded to her. "Go and collect your things now. Tell your colleagues you are feeling unwell. Go home and relax. You have to take care of yourself now for the sake of the baby."
Seconds later, Abigail was making her way out of the building. She was confused, yes, but the earlier euphoria had not yet left her.
"So how did you know I was here?" She watched as Steve sipped his wine and hoped he wouldn't notice that she wasn't drinking any.
"I bumped into some of the girls from your office. They told me about your lottery win." He took another sip of his wine. "They were a bit tipsy. Then one of them told me where you were."
He shook his head. "I don't know her name. The little blond one who has the funny birth mark on her cheek."
Carol. But how did Carol know she was here? Unless she was one of them and she knew all about it? Wouldn't she be more careful, though, if that were the case?
It didn't matter. It was good that he was here. "I'm glad you've come, actually." It would be good to have a man about the place. A human man. And a man she still loved.
He looked down at his hands and started picking his nails. "I really wanted to see you again. I think that was a huge mistake, earlier. I'm sorry."
Something fluttered in her belly. Could that be the baby moving? It wasn't an unpleasant sensation. She put her hand on to her abdomen.
Steve stared at her. His eyes grew wider and he blushed. "You're not? Is that why you're not drinking?" Then he grinned.
Abigail nodded. "You can stay if you want."
"Of course I want to. When did this happen?"
"I found out just after you left."
"So, we're going to be parents?"
Abigail smiled. Well, it would be better, wouldn't it, if the baby knew a mother and a father when it came into the world?
Good work, said a voice in her head. Remember, it's for our sake but also for yours.
She walked over to Steve, pulled him into a hug and kissed him firmly on the lips.
About the author
Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown.
She edits CafeLit.
She writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation
She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing