Max was the last person to leave the office that evening. He couldn’t stand the thought of returning to an empty house, and he didn’t feel up to an evening of pretending to be happy with Dan and the others in the pub. He remained behind for half an hour, trying to find things to do – sorting manifests, tidying his drawer and then just playing Free Cell.
Eventually, he couldn’t put it off any longer. He turned off the lights, locked the office door and made his way back down the stairs. There was something strange about the empty warehouse. Normally it would be full of men’s voices, the hum of the forks, sawing, hammering and a dozen other noises. Now it was still, only the echo of his footsteps broke the silence.
His footsteps? No. In amongst the echoes there was something else, another set of feet. He stopped and listened. The other footsteps stopped too, but a little bit too late. He’d heard it clearly – a soft flap, as if made by a bare foot, coming directly from behind him.
He spun round. The wide aisle was empty, the boxes in the racking on either side were stacked close together with not enough space for anyone to hide. Had the sound been in the next aisle after all? Max had just begun to walk back towards the junction when the bare feet started again, running past him towards the exit. Once again, it sounded as if they were in the same aisle as Max, though that had to be a trick of the echo.
Max hurried after them, and soon reached the wide loading bay at the end of the aisles, where he nearly ran straight into Jake.
“What’s the hurry, Max? I won’t be locking up till I’ve finished my rounds.”
Max glanced down at Jake’s boots, then looked back along the aisles on either side of the one he’d just come down.
“Did you see anyone come past here just now?”
“No, it’s just you and me. Why?”
“I thought I heard footsteps back there.”
“Perhaps it was Bert!” he joked.
Max forced a smile. Bert was an imaginary character the warehouse staff had invented to blame when things went wrong. If any tools went missing, it was Bert who had taken them. If anything was broken, it was always Bert’s fault.
“Bert? Ja, naturlich. It must be him.” But Max wasn’t convinced. Those footsteps had not been imaginary.
“I’ll take another look before I lock up. Night Max.”
“Thank you Jake. Goodnight.”
Max watched Jake walk back up the aisle, then turned to leave.
“He thinks it’s the stress getting to you.” The familiar voice had seemed to come out of the air in front of him.
“Who’s there? Is that you, Diane?”
“Well, I did say we’d meet when you least expected it.”
He looked around but didn’t see anyone. “Where are you?”
“Where does it sound like I am, darling?”
“No more games!” He started towards the door, and bumped into… something? Or nothing?
“Ow! Watch where you’re going,” her voice teased.
Max carefully reached out his hand and touched what felt like a shoulder. He inched his way along it to an unseen neck, hoping he didn’t look like a mime who couldn’t do the inside of a box. Down from the neck, was a bosom, a naked bosom, living, breathing, carved out of the very air itself. If this was some kind of a trick, he couldn’t imagine how it was being done.
“Mmm, that’s nice.”
Without realising it, he had placed his hand on one of the breasts. He felt its nipple harden under his palm. A natural and welcome reaction from a woman, but wrong from something that wasn’t there. He withdrew his hand in horror.
“You… Unsichtbare? Invisible? Scheisse!” Max was convinced. This was no trick.
He watched in shock as a clipboard lifted itself from its hook by the door and hovered in midair, tilted at an impossible angle. A pencil flew up from the trestle table and started to write.
“Here’s my address. You must drop by after work tomorrow. I’ll be waiting, darling.”
The sheet of paper tore itself off the board and was thrust into Max’s hand.
“There’s no-one back there, Max.” It was Jake returning down the aisle.
The clipboard dropped quickly to the floor.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” replied Max, shoving the piece of paper into his pocket. “Goodnight.”
He hurried away, desperate to get away from whatever – whoever – was in the warehouse.
Continue to chapter three