Georgie watched anxiously as the elevator door slid across, revealing the top floor of the council building. In front of her, a brightly lit stairwell disappeared down towards the lower levels. A ladder, enclosed in a metal rib cage, ran up the wall leading straight up to a hatch in the roof. Easing forwards, her senses heightened, she quickly poked her head around the entrance, looking to either side and then pulling her head rapidly back into the lift. The corridors seemed empty. The flats looked quaint, with potted plants outside and clothes left to dry in the warm summer evening draped over the balcony railings.
Breathing a sigh of relief, and wondering just what she had expected to see, Georgie stepped out of the lift, pulling the pram out gently with her. She clicked her tongue unconsciously when she saw a bright yellow Ofo bike laying discarded beside one of the doors. This is why we can’t have nice things. You were supposed to be able to rent those things from anywhere, but people had taken to making it as difficult as possible by putting them behind private gates, or in this case, on the top floor of a council block.
She was about to head down one of the corridors when someone whispered, ‘Oi!’ above her.
Looking up she saw the metal hatch in the roof had been opened, and there was an upside-down silhouette of a child’s head poking out. It looked comical, until the child motioned to her, putting a finger to her lips… quietly. Georgie nodded slowly, understood. The small figure tugged on its own ear and then pointed down the stairs. Georgie edged forwards and leant over the railing, looking down below. The lights in the council block were overly bright – those harsh blue daylights cynically designed by officials in far off plush architectural offices to combat the dark corners where drug deals and other illicit behaviour traditionally seemed to take place. She couldn’t see beyond the floor below, but she could hear a strange rustling sound that echoed its way up the stairwell.
She looked back up to the child, but the small face had vanished, the open hatch revealing a snatch of blood-red dawn sky.
Georgie looked at the girls and, not for the first time that day, wondered what on earth she was doing. She gently lifted Clio out of the pram first, expertly wrapping a shawl around her and the baby to tuck her tightly into her chest. Clio shuffled uncomfortably for a moment but then resumed her sleep. Gently tip-toeing down the first set of stairs towards the ladder, she reached upwards to grab it, but it was a couple of inches out her reach. She was so stiff from the previous day’s gym exercise that even the action of stretching her arms up felt like hard work. Was it really only yesterday? She paused as she heard a couple more pronounced scuffling sounds reverberating up the stairwell. After a moment she relaxed — it didn’t seem to be getting any closer.
Carefully walking back up to the very top flight of stairs she walked down the corridor and gently tapped on a couple of the doors, whispering a greeting, then waiting for a moment before trying the handles. They were all locked shut. As she moved back towards the stairs in the middle of the building, she glanced over the balcony edge and started as she saw a dark figure standing motionless on the ground floor below. The early morning light still made it difficult to see clearly, but there was something about the shadowy outline that made her skin crawl. As she stared at it, the shape moved subtly and it no longer looked like a figure but rather some kind of creature. Its large head hung low from broad shoulders. Georgie’s breath caught in her throat. She choked back a silent scream, staggering back as she did so. As she rested her back against the wall behind her, a potted plant was dislodged from the window ledge, and before she could grab it, it fell and hit the ground with a sharp, punctuated crack. She grimaced and looked over the balcony again. The figure had vanished. She lumbered back achingly to the stairwell, Clio still tightly wrapped to her chest. The shuffling sounds were getting louder.