Michael approached the front doors of Douglas Security, ready to begin his first day on the job. It had been a long job search, jumping from industry to industry, lowering pay expectations and finally, just looking for anyone who would take him on. Security was certainly the last place he had thought to look, but his friend, Nathan, had suggested it, even said he could get Mike into his firm. Michael was a big guy, and he had gotten into trouble more than a handful of times. It’s part of what made finding a job so difficult, even with experience and a good CV, few people could see past the words felony charge or aggravated assault. Nathan assured him that privatized security wouldn’t bat an eye, so long as he wasn’t a thief.
Mike had sat through two phone interviews, a psych, and combat evaluation to determine if he would be a good and capable fit to their team. Of course, he had suggested he would prefer to do sales, but that isn’t what they needed. They needed physically powerful individuals who could stand near important things and make sure they remained unmolested.
Just inside, Michael was greeted by an extremely attractive young woman, whose skin seemed to have been carved from perfect marble, her eyes and hair were a piercing black like moonless nights out in the countryside. As she came around the front desk, she introduced herself as Veronica and began leading Mike down hallways, each corner they turned getting Mike more and more disoriented, sure that he had walked more hallway than there was room inside the building. Not that he minded terribly, his eyes had been glued to the sway of her hips since she started leading him. Being without a job for several months had not done much for his love life, and he found himself particularly distracted now.
“. . . a break for lunch, does that sound alright?” Mike blinked, his eyes coming back up to Veronica’s face before she could finish turning around and catch him in the act of ogling. She smiled at him, oblivious to his thoughts and held out her hand, palm up waiting for something.
“Uh, yeah.” He quickly ran through the speech she had just given him, trying to parse together what she could possibly want now.
“Your phone, Mr. Brooke. . .” the veneer of patience in her smile slowly faded as she continued to wait. “We ask that you leave your phone with me during the training videos, to ensure there are no distractions. The videos will cover a wide range of topics, details about the company and” she paused just long enough to allow a knife edge to her smile. “the sexual harassment policy.” Busted, but he could play it off, he reached into his pocket and put his phone in her hand before shrugging.
“Sounds good to me, I mean, you’ve seen one training video you’ve seen em all, right?” Veronica’s smile did not move.
“I believe you will find that we employ a rather unique style here at Douglas Security.” Pocketing his phone, she opened the door for him and led him into the training room.
# # #
Inside the room, there was one chair, and sitting in front of that, a cart with a TV and DVD player sitting on it. In one corner of the room, near the ceiling there was a small camera, otherwise, the room was nearly overwhelmingly empty. Mike could make out the slight smell of paint and chemicals, and would guess that the room had been repainted and cleaned fairly recently. Standing next to the TV were three DVD cases. Veronica at Mike and turned the TV before grabbing the DVDs and flipping through them to find the first.
“Ok, so we’ll start with this” she opened the case and pulled out a DVD with the number one emblazoned on it. “When you finish this one, go ahead and switch it out for the second, and then the third.” She raised an eyebrow, and Mike looked away, still a bit embarrassed that he had been caught checking her out. “Any questions?”
“Uh no.” Mike took the DVD from her and leaned down to open the player and get this training program over with. He was a bit startled to hear the door close behind Veronica, she had left without so much as an ‘I’ll check in on you later’. Mike shrugged a little, it was obvious, was on thin ice, he would need to make sure he did better, he definitely needed the job. Hitting play, he sat back.
The screen focused on a handsome man, probably in his late twenties standing next to a counter, reading a heavy looking book. The book seemed incongruous to the rest of the scene, everything else looked modern and maintained, the book itself looked like it belonged in a museum. It was large enough to need both hands to hold comfortably, and bound in a dark brown leather, the lettering, which was unreadable at this resolution seemed to be tarnished gold, all in all, the book gave off the impression of being extremely old. The man closed the book and looked up at the camera, smiling the friendly unworried smile of an actor that has never had a day of actual work in his life. Mike rolled his eyes, settling back into the supplied chair, ready to be bored out of his mind for the next several hours.
“Right now, you’re probably thinking, wait, I’m working security, what do I need safety and human resource videos for, am I right?” The actor let out an easy laugh, making Mike’s stomach roll, he had always despised fakeness, and the man on the screen obviously had no interest in his own words. His eyes looked dull and lifeless. “There is a lot that goes into private security that you need to know and understand, for your safety, and for the safety of Douglas Security.” As the man spoke, introducing himself as Scott and explaining the agenda of each video Mike would be watching, he walked through an office building, presumably the same one Mike was in right now. Something in the video caught his eye, and Mike jumped up to rewind the DVD, sure he had to be wrong, rewinding just a few moments and replayed it. There, in the window as Scott passed by, there was a silhouette, it looked like someone hanging from a rope.
Mike paused the video, staring at the silhouette, it was fuzzy enough, out of focus enough that it could just be a trick of the light, certainly, this wasn’t like that Wizard of Oz story, surely there wasn’t someone hanging in the background of a corporate training video. Mike continued to stare at the still frame before hitting play again, unsettled but convinced it had to just be a trick of the light.
The video went on, Scott continued to talk about the ins and outs of the legal ramifications of security work and the firm’s dedication to operating for the best of the client. Fairly standard stuff, but Mike was hardly listening. He continued to scan the screen for any sign of something amiss. It had been an hour of watching when he suddenly became aware of the fact that every actor seemed just like Scott, hollow-eyed and listless, and while Scott had continued to hold onto that strange book for the entirety of the video, the other actors and actresses that he interacted with seemed to put as much space as possible between themselves and the book. He didn’t know why Douglas Security would choose to shoot the video like this, but it was beginning to make him uncomfortable with how subtly unnatural everyone in the film was acting.
# # #
Finally, the DVD prompted him to insert the second video in the series, Mike spent a few moments stretching his arms and legs, just to get feeling back into his limbs. Mike glanced at the tv screen, still demanding the second video. It made him feel slightly nauseous, and he realized he needed to stretch his legs, use the restroom, and get a drink of water, anything he could to delay starting that second video. Maybe getting out of this cramped room and seeing the rest of the offices and maybe some co-workers would get his mind recentered. Hell, he could see if Nathan was here, a friendly face would certainly help.
When Mike tried the door he found it wouldn’t budge, the doorknob wouldn’t even wiggle, the door wasn’t stuck, it had been locked from the outside. A moment of panic struck him, flashbacks to being in prison, but he quelled those quickly, panic didn’t help anyone. He knocked on the door and waited for a few seconds before knocking again louder. Still no answer.
“Hello?” He slammed his fist on the door, starting to get angry, was that receptionist really so incompetent to lock a new employee in a room with no way to get out. “Hey!” he started shouting and kicking the door, aiming his kicks for where the hinges should be on the other side, but the door didn’t budge. It had to be reinforced by something, but why would anyone reinforce a door to a small training room like this.
Mike stepped back from the door, his foot starting to ache from kicking the door as hard as he had been. He glared at the camera in the corner, hoping that maybe this was a practical joke that they played on the new guy and that Nathan was watching on the other side of the camera laughing his ass off. That, at least, was a comforting thought. He glared at the camera for what felt like hours, but in reality, was only a few moments.
Finally, feeling foolish he sat back down in front of the TV, it was one thing to play a prank on him, it was another thing entirely to leave him locked in here, how would he go to the bathroom, for one. Unsure what else to do, Mike reached over and grabbed the DVD cases, flipping through them. Each one was a simple black case with no cover or art, only a single number in the top right corner, marking which order to watch them in, and a small symbol, that looked a bit like the Douglas Security logo inside a warped star. He leaned forward and pushed the eject button, he may as well get the second DVD started while he waited for whatever jack ass locked him in the room to let him out, and switched out the first DVD for the second. He was irritated, but his discomfort with the first video had nearly been forgotten when he hit play on the second.
# # #
The TV screen flashed a few times, showing images of people getting into costumes and preparing backstage, though, for the life of him, Mike couldn’t figure out why actors for the training video would be putting on costumes at all. When Nathan had described the job it had sounded mostly like babysitting rich assholes and celebrities. Finally, the title screen flashed, and there was Scott, still smiling his smile that never reached his eyes, still holding onto that old book.
“Weird costumes, right?” Scott was sitting at a table, one hand on the book, the other resting next to it, like a student that had been told both hands had to stay above the desk. “Sometimes in security work, we deal with some strange characters, in this video, we will go over protocol when interacting with clients, both mundane and strange.” He laughed like he was trying not to cry.
“There are two kinds of people we interact with on a daily basis here at Douglas Security, those we protect” Scott gestured to a group of people, some in those weird robes, embroidered with symbols that actually hurt to look at, and some in suits and ties. “and those that are trying to hurt or steal from those we protect.” To Scott’s other side was another group dressed mostly the same way, though he could see that the robes in this group were a greenish tint, and all of the suits on this side wore sunglasses.
“Sometimes we find our clients beliefs or attitudes counter to that we espouse here at Douglas Security, management tries to screen all of our clients as carefully as possible, to ensure that they are in line with our core mission statement, but sometimes mistakes are made. What would you do if you found yourself going against Douglas’ interests while defending a client who, well quite frankly, didn’t deserve protection?” Mark rolled his eyes, the answer, just like in the military, was do the job whether you agree with it or not.
“That’s right, sabotage the client” Mike’s eyes widened as he listened to Scott continue. “Douglas Security, has a very clear plan, one that does not include letting anyone get in the way, should you come into a circumstance where in the course of your duties you find yourself at odds with your training and mission statement from Douglas, disregard any and all orders, or instructions from the client, if possible apprehend them and bring them back to the nearest Douglas Security office.”
Mike got out of the chair again, that was insane, he wasn’t going to kidnap clients if they didn’t agree with the company mission, whatever the fuck that meant. He moved to the door again, pounding on it with his fist. To his side, the video continued, Scott’s words falling into a cadence that felt like it was droning into Mike’s skull. Mike couldn’t even understand the words any longer, just a buzzing sound with syllables that sounded like they came out of the mouth of something not human. Mike slumped down in the corner of the room, his head pounding, feeling like it was splintering with each word. On the screen, Scott, walked, or floated, through a city of wrong angles and towering monoliths.
Finally, after what felt like hours of sitting there, covering his ears against the sounds, the video ended, prompting him to change over to the last DVD.
# # #
The door handle turned. Mike’s eyes, now wide panicked watched as the door opened, and a familiar face walked in.
“Nate!” Mike stood and made towards Nathan, equally wanting to strangle him and hug him in relief. “What the hell is this? Why was I locked in here? What the fuck?” Nathan raised a hand stopping Mike short, his smile was calm, and a little cruel, while it didn’t reach his eyes, Nathan’s eyes were far from lifeless, they reflected enjoyment at what was happening.
“Michael, pull yourself to-fucking-gether.” Nathan stood there waiting for his words to sink in, he knew better than most, that after the second video, it could take a while for the world to come into focus. “You’re doing fine so far Mike, it’s going to be fine, but you did . . . well shit and piss yourself, so I brought you some fresh clothes and a towel.” Mike’s eyes narrowed as Nathan tossed the pile of clothes onto the floor in front of him.
“The fuck is going on Nate? I’m not staying, you can’t keep me here.” Mike was getting more confident as he spoke, Nathan might be a good fighter, but Mike was bigger, stronger and better trained. He could overpower his friend if he had to, and judging from Nathan’s cruel laugh at his statement, he would need to. Mike surged forward. But Nathan had been ready, and deftly took Mike down, twisting his arm and knocking him to the floor with ease.
“It seems to me that we can very easily keep you here Mike. Now listen to me” Nathan twisted his arm painfully, Mike could feel the bones straining against each other, and the pain was blinding. “Listen carefully, I vouched for you, I put my good name on the line to get you in here, and if you pull any fucking stunts and disappoint Mr. Douglas, I am going to have to, very personally and very painfully kill you.” Nathan watched Mike’s face for a moment, making sure his words had sunk in before releasing him. “Now get yourself cleaned up. You have one more video to watch.” Nathan stood and moved to the TV to set up the next DVD.
Mike watched him, horrified, but just one more video and then they would let him leave, he could get out of here and disappear. It was clear that if he didn’t comply with what they wanted they would kill him, and it was likely that if he just didn’t come back but stayed in his current life they would kill him anyway. Calling the cops didn’t even cross his mind, who would they believe, an ex-con or a security company in good standing? After a moment he moved to the corner to change out of his soiled clothes, cleaning himself as best he could with the towel before slipping on the sweatpants that Nathan had brought him.
“We were friends Nathan.” Mikie couldn’t believe how weak his own voice sounded, how broken he felt.
“We are friends Mike, this is tough love, I’m here, making sure you don’t fuck up your chance to be a part of something great, something bigger than yourself.” He hit play on the DVD player and grinned at Mike. “Now, have a seat, this last video, well I won’t lie it’s a doozy, but, at the end of it, I think you’ll have a new appreciation for the world and your place in the cosmos.”
Mike slowly sat down in the chair, just one more video and then he would be able to leave this terrible place. Nathan watched him carefully before nodding, as much to himself as anything and moved out of the room, closing the door behind him. This time, Mike heard the click and the sound of a deadbolt sliding into place.
# # #
Static again, and then a scene appeared, it was the same studio that the other videos had been shot in, but it looked mostly broken down, as though this was shot a couple days after they had finished shooting the rest of the videos. Mike leaned back in the chair, feeling like he was finally regaining some composure. Finally, a light came on and an older man walked onto the screen, he looked regal, in a dark suit with a purple tie and trimmed beard. When he smiled, it reached his eyes.
“Hello, I am Lysander Douglas, founder, and owner of Douglas Security. I know, that so far, you’ve likely had some issue with the second video, found it hard to swallow or distasteful, and I wanted to thank you for sticking through with Scott. You see, we require a certain steel in our employees, a knowledge that they will be able to handle anything that is thrown at them.” He stopped and stooped over, the camera following his movement.
On the floor, that had been out of sight before, were the bodies of all the actors from the first two videos, twisted at horrible angles, their faces screaming in horror now frozen in rictus. Sigils, the same ones that had hurt his eyes when embroidered on robes, were carved in bloody scratches over the naked bodies of the actors and actresses. Mike retched, dry heaving until bile and stomach acid came up, he swore he could smell the bodies through the screen. From Scott’s dead and lifeless fingers, Lysander Douglas pulled that ancient and terrible book. The camera followed his movements again, hiding the scene of carnage once more. Mike watched, he didn’t want to, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the scene.
“This is our chief concern, the item we protect above all else, while we do have clients and we do take more, mundane jobs, our first client, the reason I founded Douglas Security, is to protect the Buch Der Kinders.” He held the book aloft for a moment and then offered it to someone offscreen. Once the book was gone he turned back to Mike, seeming to look through the camera and into his own soul. hollow-eyed “I will reveal the universe to you.”
The video and audio went haywire, images impossible to understand flashed across the screen and white noise and shrill screaming issued from the tv, blasting into his eyes and mind, stripping away all sense of self. Mike felt himself retch again, he could feel tears streaming from his eyes, and he was sure he had emptied his bladder and bowels again. But more importantly, he saw the door to the room open, now was his chance. Mike dashed for the door, rushing through hallways, trying to remember the path, but even as he ran the walls swirled and distorted, impossible things half emerging to snap at him.
He barreled on, swiping with his hands trying to break free of those things grabbing at him, using everything at his disposal to claw his way towards freedom. He felt something crunch into his back and cold spread from that point of impact. Slowly, he sank to his knees, watching all manner of inhuman monsters gather around him as he lost consciousness.
# # #
Nathan stood above the mangled body of Veronica, mike had torn out her throat with his teeth, abusing her body like a ragdoll. If it had not been so gruesome it would have been impressive the way he slung her around the claustrophobic hallway, breaking her as easily as a child might break a toy doll. He shook his head, looking over at Mike’s prone body, the tranquilizer had worked quickly, not quickly enough to save Veronica, but that was a secondary concern anyway.
“I am less than impressed with how well he took to the training, Nathan.” Nathan turned sharply and bowed his head to Lysander Douglas. He had worked for Douglas since he had discovered the truth of the world and its place in the order of things. He had brought many people over the years into that small room and watched their transformations both mental, physical, and spiritual.
“I understand sir, but give him a chance to walk with himself in dreams, when he wakes up, I’m sure he’ll be one of us.” Douglas nodded and walked away, leaving Nathan to clean up another day’s work.