Her apartment building was three blocks from the pub, a somewhat large building that took up half its block on its own. Once, it had been a hotel, but had been turned into apartments during the 60s. Meliah loved the charm of the building, enough so that she wasn’t much bothered by the radiators that only sometimes worked. There was a doorman during the night, which is one of the reasons she picked this building, and they exchanged pleasant greetings as he held the door open for her. Her apartment was eight flights up. Meliah contemplated the stairwell, decided it was too late at night, and headed for the elevator instead.
Her apartment was down the hall and around a corner from the elevator. Meliah fished her keys out from her pocked as she reached the bend in the corner, already thinking about her bed with longing. She only half noticed her apartment door knocked off its top hinge before the hand clamped down over her mouth. An arm — a huge, huge arm — crossed her body, pinned both her arms to her sides, and yanked her hard against a broad chest. Lips pressed against the side of her head, just above her ear. “Shhh, don’t,” the voice whispered with urgency. “Shh, shh.”
She was pulled back down the hallway, away from her apartment with its door half askew. She caught a glimpse of light flashing from within her apartment. As they reached the corner there was a roar that shook the whole floor, another flash of light, and then her captor — savior? — pulled them both around the corner. He dragged her into the stairwell, closed the door behind him, and pressed himself against it. His arm still crushed her against him. His hand was still a vise on her mouth, trapping her screams within her body. He sagged, breathing heavy, but otherwise did not move. Meliah counted her breaths. Her heart beat wildly within her chest, and tears of frustration burned her eyes, but as they stood, both of them shaking with the lingering affects of adrenaline, she began to wonder if he’d forgotten about her entirely.
She planted her shaking feet on the ground and strained against his hold.
He started, already tense muscles growing more taut, and she made a noise as his hand crushed her wrist.
His fingers unfurled as if she’d burned him. He released her, and she as far away from him as the landing allowed.
“Quiet,” he urged in a whisper. “We can’t stay here. Come on.”
Funny — he looked at her like she was the crazy one when she made no move to follow him down the stairs.
The floor shook again. Meliah whirled toward the door he was no longer blocking. If the building was coming down, she had to get Othello. She couldn’t just leave the cockatiel —
The man grabbed her again as a crack traced the wall in the stairwell. “The bird’s already gone,” he said. He didn’t pin her this time, he just took hold of her by the upper arm and dragged her after him. “Come on.”
Meliah didn’t know how wild-eyed she looked as they passed the doorman. She expected him to stop them. She expected . . . She didn’t know what. Police filling the streets, with the sort of commotion that was going on, up on her floor. Firetrucks, maybe. Something.
The doorman held the door open for them without looking up from the ground, and the street was filled with the usual sort of traffic.
The night was normal. Completely normal.
She let him drag her down the block and around a corner before she pulled away for a second time. “What the hell?” she finally demanded.
The man released her again. Outside, with traffic lights and the street light and the light from the store they were in front of illuminating his features, Meliah recognized the man from the bar. Meliah took a step away from him, then a second, before locking her knees to face him. “What is this? Did you follow me?”
The man grimaced. “Not intentionally,” he admitted. His smile was tentative. “I know your neighbor,” he offered. “I didn’t know he had company, but I’m glad I followed you.” His eyes lifted to look over her head. “You could have warned me he’d be stopping by.”
Movement alerted Meliah to the newcomer a hair too late for her to hide her flinch. Two people moved past her in silence, despite the amount of jewellery hanging around necks and arms, dangling from ears and noses and lips. The one the man from the bar had spoken to didn’t glance her way, but the other one caught her eye and flared his nostrils. He paused on the way past her, half-turning as if he would confront her. His eyes glittered with what she could only call contempt.
“Leave off.” The man from the bar did not raise his voice. He barely glanced at the third man, but the contemptuous expression dropped so completely that Meliah found herself wondering if she’d imagined it.
“We could have given you fair warning if you’d keep your phone on you,” the second man retorted.
“Phones.” The man from the bar wrinkled his nose minutely. “It’s my night off.”
“Well, then I can hardly be blamed . . .”
Meliah tuned their words out as the three men bantered back and forth. There was no heat in their exchange, no true recrimination. She watched them while watching the street around her. They were in public. The night was still early enough that other people were around. If she slipped away, would they chase her? If she caused a commotion, would anyone come to her aid? Meliah chewed on her lip, glanced at her captor one last time, and took one step to the side.
As one, the three men broke off their conversation to turn and pin her with their eyes.
“Look, I really don’t want any trouble,” she said, aiming for a concillatory tone. “I’m just going head back to the bar and —”
They did not move. They didn’t speak. They just looked at her, three sets of eyes that caught her as surely has his hand had seized her arm. She licked her lips, and dared another step. This was stupid. Eyes could not hold you captivated, not really. It was a poetic turn of phrase, not something that truly happened.
Except Meliah could not get herself to take that third step . . .
(copyright in mine! Mine!!)