Author's Note: Been working on this for a bit. Decided to get some stuff done involving Karl because Karl is cool like that. Umm...yeah, not much else to say. Obviously pre-movie and stuff. Enjoy.
Karl didn't mind his job at the front desk. It wasn't exciting or anything, but it was constant and it helped pay the bills and keep his daughters and wife fed and happy. Occasionally though he had to admit that it was rather dull sitting around all night. Sometimes people would walk by and wave at him as they walked past the great, glass, doors, and he'd wave back figuring that anyone roaming at that time was either drunk or weary to the point of placidness. Possibly both. There really wasn't any harm in humoring them. Besides, it wasn't like any of them were going to get through locked doors. Yes, things were fairly constant and even, and that was how Karl liked it a good deal of the time.
However, it always was interesting when someone new came onto the scene. Just recently the old parking attendant had left without any notice. Just stopped showing up, and they'd had a sub in for some time whose name Karl couldn't remember for the life of him. Still, Ernie, the superior, had informed him that they'd just hired a permanent guy, or at least they'd said a permanent guy. Karl never really believed those guys to be the permanent type. Not like him. He was constant like the work, and all these young guys they hired always seemed to move on fairly quickly. They couldn't handle the sameness.
In all fairness, Karl knew he hadn't taken the time to get to know this new guy either and that judging him was likely to be impolite this early in the game, but he couldn't bring himself to go introduce himself to the new employee. It wasn't out of dislike, for it was hard to hate someone you knew next to nothing about. He simply wasn't interested. If they guy wanted to make himself known he would, and that was good enough for the front deskman.
The night was creeping on by as it usually did, and Karl had set himself up to push through it, flipping through newspapers and magazines, occasionally doing a quick round before going back to entertaining himself. He was about to toss The Post out when he heard the opening and closing of one of the doors to the garage, and instinctively he tensed and turned, hand ready on the button to call the police, paper placed down on the desk. However, he found himself not face to face with an intruder but with a familiar uniform, though its wearer was foreign to him.
Speak of the devil.
Young, a kid, though not really. Just one of those 20-somethings Karl had seen come and go before with their unusual energy and anxiousness. They all had it. Must have been the new night guy they'd hired for the parking garage since he couldn't think of anyone else that'd still be around at this hour, and he certainly wasn't one of the office dwellers. The office dwellers had an entirely different air about them. Always one step higher than the security even if they weren't trying to be. That was just how the hierarchy worked.
Perhaps it was harsh, but Karl's first thought was that the guy seemed quite adapted for the work for which he was hired. His skin looked like it hadn't seen the sun properly his entire life, and he had an alert though not quite all there look about him. Nostrils flared a bit as if he was taking in a scent and eyes the size of dinner plates, colored like one of the bright blue crayons his daughters had used to color the sky when they were little. Skinny, pasty, eyes that took in everything, and long fingers attached to hands that stuck out of the sleeves of his uniform. Good for switching lights on and off.
He hardly looked imposing enough to be a guard, but looks could always deceive. Heaven knows those young guys are far more dangerous than they let on. I watch the news. In fact, Karl could have sworn he looked a bit like someone he'd seen on the news, but he figured it was nothing.
"You looking for something, kid?" Karl asked, his tone not unfriendly but still hinting at patronizing. The new guy shifted back a bit, and Karl could see the beginnings of a grimace and decided to reword his question to be safe. "You need something?"
"Uh, yeah," the guy began, taking eager steps forward. Karl's grin faded slightly. This new guy had a different kind of energy, and he hadn't prepared himself for energy of any kind tonight. The guy didn't look much different up close, but the details were clearer. His eyes looking more focused and sharp teeth poking out slightly from a nervous smile. Karl found the sight mildly off-putting, but he kept the observations to himself. He was polite if nothing else. "It's about the video system. Camera's work fine and all, but I just…I don't know. Normally, I'm really good with that kind of stuff, but I uh, think I messed something up. Pressed some button or something. I didn't mean to, but uh…now things are all messed up, and I was wondering if maybe you'd know how to fix it."
God, this boy talked forever, using as many words possible it would seem to get across a simple problem. Could you try being a bit more vague? The guy clearly didn't understand the system completely and had pressed something he shouldn't have. It was a mistake Karl had encountered in the past and was growing quite tired of correcting, but this new guy's apparent tendency to ramble was particularly grating this evening. He was one of the wordy types, and Karl could feel his patience already starting to fray.
"Hmm…" Karl interrupted, cutting through the stream of words that continued to come out of the rookie's mouth. "I'll take a look at it." There was a brief pause as the new guy analyzed the more experienced man's words. Finally, he nodded and turned to head back down the stairs, which was a bit bizarre given that there was a perfectly good elevator. Whatever, Karl didn't feel the need to follow him. He knew where he was going, and either way they were getting to the same place. On the trip down as the elevator beeped, he allowed his mind to wander until he reached level P2 and stepped out into the brightly lit entrance. He was a bit surprised to see the new guy already waiting by the door for him. Guy must have sped down the stairs.
"I thought you'd never get here," the young man laughed as Karl opened the door and walked out into the garage itself. The man's words came off a bit strange, but the joke was there, and Karl humored him with a pleasant smile even if the joke had been done to death. "I always make a point of taking the stairs. Don't really like elevators, you know? Not afraid or anything…just, I don't know. I like actually making an effort to do things. My legs work perfectly fine. Why not use them?"
"Yeah, I can see that," Karl said not even taking the time to look back at the other.
"Not every one does," Tom nodded, following close behind his co-worker. "Sorry about all this," he added, voice dropping a note. Karl simply waved his hand as he accepted his position as line-leader, walking toward the parking attendant office, ignoring the uncomfortable dampness of the garage and the footsteps that sounded like those in a cheap horror movie behind him. He could have sworn the place leaked its own strange liquid. It was always dripping somewhere.
The office was still standing when he got to it, so Karl figured that whatever this guy had done that it couldn't be all that bad. No explosions. Not bad at all. It was a bit cluttered, but it always was. Nothing was on fire. That was a plus. Still, something didn't seem quite right, and he couldn't put his finger on it. That is until he heard a whimper that came from the other side of the office. Turning his head he spied a dog sitting on a blanket, panting and whining anxiously. Well, it was a puppy more so than a dog, but it was by no means small.
"Oh, sorry, that's my dog. You're not allergic are ya?"
"No, but you shouldn't have pets here," Karl frowned, putting on his 'adult voice'. The guy frowned and scooped up the dog, holding it to him protectively.
"Well, I only got him a little bit ago, and well…I didn't feel right leaving him in my apartment all night by himself." Karl had to do a double take. New guy and his dog were making the same, pardon the expression, hangdog look. It was almost sickeningly endearing, and he had to look away.
"Alright, fair enough," Karl nodded. It was a valid enough point, and he couldn't see the harm in it. Sounded like something out of those 'caring for your pet' infomercials that occasionally came on TV. "Just don't make it a habit or anything."
"I won't," the guy nodded, placing the puppy back down on the ground. It sniffed around the ground a bit before curling up on the blanket. "Just until he gets a bit older. Promise."
"Good," Karl said, continuing the tone. "Though, next time I suggest you keep him in a crate. The supervisor's not gonna be too keen on you keeping him here." He thought that would be the end of it, but an unfamiliar guttural sound caused him to turn back to the new guy, who was looking thoroughly beside himself. Karl wanted to roll his eyes, but something in the guy's stare made him think better of it.
"You want me to put him in a cage?" Karl arched his brow, unsure of what to make of the sudden sharpness in the new guy's voice. "I couldn't do that. No way…I couldn't do that. It'd be like a cell. That sort of thing drives animals crazy. He'd be so unhappy. Animals don't deserve stuff like that."
"Fine, fine, but he's not gonna crap everywhere is he? He house broken yet?"
"Not exactly?" Karl asked sounding more than a little patronizing.
"Well, no, that's not what I meant. He's not going to, but I mean…he'll go if I take him out for a walk. Just…trust me. He does what I tell him. He's a good dog like that." He turned to the dog, the animal picking up its head. "You'll be a good boy, won't you Rocky?" The dog whined and yipped as if in response to the man's words, wiggling excitedly.
The senior employee furrowed his brow. Whatever, Tarzan. He wasn't up for figuring out the exact workings of Dr. Dolittle's logic, so he turned back to the switchboard to tinker with it. Besides, if anything bad happened then it wasn't his problem. The supervisor would get pissed and then fire the guy. No skin off his nose. "So, you're the new guy around here?" he asked sounding the minimal amount of interested as he frowned, as a switch didn't do what it was supposed to. New guy hadn't been kidding. He really had done something. Usually that worked.
"Uh, yeah, uh huh. My name's Tom."
"Karl? Oh...you mean that's your name. Sorry," Tom laughed nervously, and Karl could feel those damn eyes watching him, taking in everything he did. He was his own security camera. He could see that the guy's dog, Rocky, was watching him too, panting and looking just as wide eyed and eager as his owner. "So, what's that one do?" Tom asked pointing a bony finger at the board.
"Switches from camera number 14 to camera 15," Karl explained flatly. This was stuff he should have been taught already. It wasn't his job to hold his hand and walk him through it all. You'd better believe I'm not going to hold your hand. This guy wasn't going to last long if he kept going at this pace. Karl felt briefly guilty at the passing thought that he wouldn't mind Tom getting fired going through his mind once more, but of course he didn't know him all that well, and it still seemed a bit…harsh.
"Oh, right…" The other sounded deflated, likely feeling the same childhood disappointment of realizing you know the answer after you've handed in the test. So close. "I knew that." He took a few steps closer, looming over the other, which shouldn't have been possible given their minimal difference in height. Karl could have sworn he could here his damn heartbeat or something like that. Something was beating quickly, and he realized his own heartbeat had quickened slightly. This guy was too close. Back it up. I'm not your friend just yet.
"Yeah, I know," he replied, moving closer to the desk and shoving some clutter to the side as he continued to flip switches and press buttons, but the system continued to be stubborn and uncooperative. He recognized a few familiar titles amongst a stack of books sitting on the other side of the desk. Stuff by the likes of Hemingway, Proust, and a few names he'd never seen before.
"I like to read," Tom said suddenly, obviously noticing Karl examining the pile of books. He sounded almost defensive. "It's nice to imagine better…well, maybe not better, but…more interesting things, you know?"
"Yeah, I suppose," Karl shrugged. Please don't get all 'philosophical' on me. I don't think I've got the attention span for it tonight. The silence persisted for a minute or two as Karl continued to mess with the system in hopes of messing in just the right way. Tom was still watching intently, and Karl heard the beginnings of words fade away as soon as the guy started. Despite himself, Karl was a bit curious as to what it was he had to say this time.
"You suppose?" Tom finally asked with a sort of defeated hopefulness. "I hate supposing. Seems kinda half-assed. If I'm gonna think something I might as well think it fully until proven otherwise," he concluded with what felt like firm conviction. Unwavering. Karl turned to look at his co-worker, frowning a bit at the sharky grin that had come over Tom's face. You smile like a damn psycho. Anyone ever tell you that?
"Makes sense," he replied evenly. Whatever had brought on that grin was something he not only was not in the mood to deal with, but something about it seemed dangerous. Something about it was suspect, and Tom didn't appear to have any intention of trying to cover it up.
"It does, doesn't it?" Tom's face brightened suddenly, and Karl nodded again. Yeah, whatever you want. "You know," Tom began again, his voice taking on a new confidence Karl hadn't expected to come out of what appeared to be the typical, shy, new guy. A holier than thou tone that made the hairs on the back of his neck stick up. "It's nice to have someone who 'gets it' occasionally. Not everyone seems to get it…"
Karl hardly heard him, his mind focused on the system. What on Earth was up with it?
"I think I have an idea," Tom continued as he stepped over to the switchboard, his presence causing Karl to move out of the way without being told. Somehow he ended up standing next to the dog who had at some point decided to sit back up, eyes trained forward, watching. Tom looked irritated as he scanned the switchboard, looking up at the monitors periodically. Carefully, Karl reached over to pat Rocky's head, but the pup didn't even flinch as he focused on his owner who looked equally focused. Spooky. Eventually, Tom moved back from the board looking devoid of emotion. "All fixed," he finally grinned. "Should be anyway." Karl gave the system a quick once over, and sure enough everything was back to its normal functional level. Funny, it was almost like Rookie knew exactly what the problem had been, but…nah, he was just being a bit paranoid. Really, who would mess up the system on purpose and then tell someone? Kinda defeated the purpose of a prank.
"Huh, guess you are pretty good with that stuff," Karl mused, his voice trailing off as he did. If you're so good, how come you didn't fix it before, smart-ass? He still couldn't shake his suspicion, but he knew better than to make them obvious. It was that danger aspect. New guy was just so…he didn't even know the word for it. What's another word for unsettling?
"Yeah, I guess so," Tom replied, voice flat and making the hairs on the back of Karl's neck stand up on end. However, as suddenly as the iciness had occurred it disappeared, and Tom was all smiles once more. "Thanks a lot though," he laughed. "I must seem like a real dunce, yeah?"
Karl shrugged. "It happens. I'll let you off this time, newbie," he replied with forced jocularity that he hoped the other couldn't pick up on.
"Thanks," Tom nodded, his good humor remaining intact, and Karl felt unexpected nerves settle. "So uh…I guess that's it then."
"You don't sound so sure."
"Nah, it's nothing. Say, I noticed you were reading The Post…I was wondering if when you're done with it I could see it? I mean, if you don't want to I get it, but I just was thinking instead of having to go out and get one I could just…read yours?"
Karl arched a skeptical brow. What good would it do you by then? He'd already forgotten the paper, and he hadn't even expected Tom to have noticed it in the first place. Well, he certainly had the observant part of the job down. "Yeah, sure…" he replied as he tried to drop the skepticism.
"Thanks!" Tom grinned, tone peppier than Karl thought possible. He just nodded again and headed out of the office ignoring the whimpering of the dog on the floor and trying not to feel Tom's eyes scrutinizing the back of his head. Walking across the lot he tried to empty his mind of the complete and utter strangeness of the young man he was leaving as far behind as he could.
Back up at his desk, Karl still couldn't get the feeling of being watched out of his head. He knew cameras were placed strategically about the building, but cameras couldn't do anything to you. It was the people who watched what the cameras captured that decided what to do, and though Karl knew he was just being paranoid, there was something about being watched by Tom that he just didn't like. There's just something about that boy…Still, it wasn't like the guy had even done anything apart from be mildly off putting and a bit too forward. What reason was there to be wary of him? There was none.
Shaking his head, he decided a thorough round would get his mind off of things, of people, but instead whenever he passed a camera he felt the need to stare up at it even though he knew the cameras weren't even in the new guy's domain. If anyone was watching he wanted them to know he was watching back. Just in case.
The night plodded on, and he completely forgot about the newspaper until he was getting ready to head home when his eyes fell on the folded up journal right where he'd left it hours before. Picking it up, Karl ran his fingers over the crease and wondered which would be worse. Giving Tom the paper now that his shift was over and risk his sure to be creepy brand of annoyance face to face or to just throw away the damn thing and lie to his face if he ever confronted him about it and have that judging stare on him…neither sounded preferable, especially with his mind messing with him. Maybe this all just meant he needed a vacation really badly. Very badly. New guys didn't bite. They were just new, and new meant only that. New. Not unfriendly. Hell, if anything they tended to be too friendly. Tom certainly fit into that category. Big smiles and bigger teeth.
Karl decided to just suck it up and give the damn paper to his co-worker. If he was going to be annoyed he'd be annoyed. Karl's ability to care was waning, and he just wanted to go home. He was already halfway down the stairs by the time he realized he was taking them. Whatever, the stairs didn't belong to Tom. He could use them all he wanted.
The lighting of the garage was still the same despite the early morning light that had started to creep in the lobby. It was almost like time stood still, completely cut off from the motion of the rest of the world. Karl supposed all garages were like this, but something about the idea of having to work in it suddenly struck him with a weird, unsettling, feeling. No wonder no one lasts down here very long. Karl gripped the newspaper in his hand, and continued on. It was just a stupid parking garage. Just cars and dampness. No mole people or other monsters. The worst thing one would find would be a rat. That was all.
And maybe one "off" security guard.
Karl shook his head. He was just dropping off a stupid newspaper. It was one of the least threatening things one could do.
Up ahead he spied the office. The lights were on, but he couldn't see any signs of movement. Either Tom was out doing rounds or he'd decided to check out early. If Karl remembered correctly, the parking attendant shift ran a little longer than his own, maybe an hour or so more. He came upon the door and hesitated briefly before entering the space. However, despite the empty office he'd been expected his eyes rested on a dead asleep parking attendant slumped in his chair with a dog taking up his torso.
The deskman tilted his head at the sight, a half smile causing one half of his face to scrunch up on one side. This was hardly an image that would confirm the suspicions he'd been having all evening. A monster? Hardly. Tom looked harmless, and so did his mutt. Karl walked over to the chair quietly and nudged the young man's shoulder with the folded newspaper, causing him to slowly come to.
"Hm?" Tom mumbled, opening one eye and then the other.
"Napping on the job?" Karl asked. For half a second worry flashed on Tom's face, but Karl shook his head. "Don't worry about it. I won't tell."
"Thanks," Tom nodded, though his voice was still low and subdued from sleep. He moved a hand to the top of his dog's head, rubbing it idly. "Rocky's not a very good alarm." The pup whined softly in his sleep as if in response.
"I see," Karl replied. "This is for you," he continued, pushing the newspaper forward until Tom took it in his hand. He seemed to stare at it for a minute before remembering what it was.
"Oh, wow, I'd almost forgot…" he said with some surprise. "Thanks. I kinda thought you weren't gonna give it to me. I mean…not that you're not nice. It's just I…never mind. Thanks," Tom smiled, becoming more awake as he spoke. No annoyance, only gratitude could be heard in his voice.
"No problem." Karl had felt guilt prod his sides as the other spoke. New guy had been expecting to be forgotten. Even if he hardly knew him Karl couldn't help the all too human need to sympathize. "Look, I gotta go. Try not to get into anymore trouble."
"I won't. You can trust me."
"Sure you'll be alright down here?"
There was a brief pause before Tom answered. "Yeah, I'll be good. Promise. No more falling asleep."
"You'd better not be lying," Karl chided.
"I'm not," Tom replied, furrowing his brow, suddenly serious. At least he's confident.
"Good, because I don't want to have to cover your ass."
"You won't have to." Tom paused, straightening up as best he could without disturbing his dog who continued to sleep on. "I'll be fine."
Karl smiled as he turned to leave, but the farther he got away from the office the more his mind began to wander. The dark walls and the buzz of the lights. The complete and utter sameness of it all. The constant nature that he valued did not seem nearly as enticing down in the depths. This is what they subjected the new guy's too. Unchanging darkness. Tom had promised that he'd be fine, but somehow Karl felt inclined to doubt.