Standing in the entrance hall of Severnside train station Hannah Davies watched the rain blatter against the automated doors. Late running commuters came and went, bringing the rain in with them. Rather than try to fight the rain for control of her phone, she studied the screen and tried to memorise the directions it was giving her. She extended her umbrella, stepped out into the rain and it was enough to keep her suit dry.
Hannah was just passing under the medieval ruins of one of the city gates when she saw something in the corner of her eye. This stopped her mental interview preparation. She dreaded what it might be and tried to ignore. She failed. Slowly she turned to face the disturbance. About ten meters away, In amongst the crowds milling about the pavement was a figure that stood well over two metres tall but for its stooped posture. It or he, for he seemed male to Hannah and reality probably was, had leathery grey-green skin, a heavy set face and wore a black polo shirt with Hannah figured had to have been bought from a specialist store. The “man’s” eyes lacked irises and only his tiny pupils suggested where he was looking. Her heart began thumping and suddenly she didn’t notice the rain, focused as she was on the creature in front of her. She studied him as he in turn smiled and spoke to someone seemingly oblivious of the creature chatting with them. “It’s just a man,” Hannah began to think to herself, “just some tall guy who hits the gym, who you’re projecting this image onto. It’s probably just stress, you have an interview” she said, unconvinced,
She checked her watch and considered if she could take a detour around the man without being late for her interview. She took a deep breath, steeled herself and quickly walked past him. She stole glances at him as she walked. The “man” didn’t notice her and carried on conversing with his friend. His enormous leathery hand dwarfing his takeaway coffee. “He’s not real” she repeated in her head. He looked real. He sounded real. As she passed she sniffed the air and her nose was filled with the smell of set off fireworks and rain on mud. He smelled real.
Hannah hated coming to Severnside. Something about this city just brought the monsters out of the woodwork. Maybe it was just the crowds. Crowds always seemed to make her hallucinate more. Maybe it was a subconscious expression of a fear of crowds. She wasn’t sure and she hadn’t dared speak to a professional about it.
Ten minutes later she sat in the reception of Burroughs-Leary Pensions awaiting her interview. While she was still mentally preparing for the interview, she found her mind kept turning to the “man” she saw on the way here. She’d never got that close to one of these monsters before and never close enough to smell him. She looked at her reflection in the glass receptionist’s desk. She wore far more makeup than she usually liked to and thought she still looked tired. Her hair was wet but tidy, her once-blue undercut now redyed brown and grown out in hopes of getting a new job. A door opened and she and sharply dressed young man stepped out. He had an obviously forced smile on his face. “Ok Tim thanks for coming we’ll be in touch soon,” said a woman’s voice from behind him. Hannah tried to assess how well her interview competitor had done by his demeanour and expression. He walked past with his well pressed, dry suit, good haircut and sense of confidence. She formed an unintentional sneer form on her face but her expression quickly vanished as the voice spoke again. “Hannah Davies?” She turned to see a smartly dressed woman and nodded, before finally managing “yes, that’s me,”
“Hi, I’m Sarah, we spoke on the phone,” the woman said, looking to her with a pre-prepared smile “If you’d like to come with me,”. Hannah picked up her belongings and followed. Her thoughts of the monster in the polo shirt drifted away as she began to focus on the interview. She was lead through the door and across the open plan office which if it weren’t for the Burroughs-Leary signage would look like half a dozen other offices Hannah had been in while unemployed. She stole a glance out the office’s floor to ceiling windows. The office was on the seventh floor of the city’s only modern office building. Hannah thought it stood out like a sore thumb from the exterior but from inside she had to admit it gave a wonderful view of the city centre with its uneven slate roofs, tiny streets and imposing gothic spires.
Sarah turned to Hannah “I hope you don’t mind, I’ve invited Steve to sit in on the interview. He’d be your team manager if you were successful in your application.” Hannah nodded
“Sure, of course,” she smiled convincingly.
“As much as skills, we like to know how each candidate would fit into the feel and personality of the team,”
“Absolutely,” she smiled professionally.
Sarah went into the interview room first, followed by Hannah. Hannah noticed there was a strange smell of damp in the air as she walked in and her gaze immediately went to the other interviewer. Hannah stopped walking for a second. Steve was a goblin. That was the only word she could think of. Save for the pink fitted shirt and sky blue tie he looked for all the world like a goblin, last seen hunting Frodo Baggins through the pages of a Tolkien novel. “Hi,” said Steve the Goblin.
“Hello,” Hannah forced out. She sat quickly and looked across the conference table to Steve and Sarah, or more accurately, to Steve. His skin was a deep green and seemed permanently wet and greasy. His ears were long and each one tapered to a point long behind his small, rounded skull. He had professionally styled black hair. His teeth were jagged and each ended in a slightly rounded point and interlocked as he smiled at Hannah and leant forwards, offering her a hand. “Hi Hannah,” he said, his voice screeching and nasal and yet undeniably amiable and polite. It took a second for this to register with Hannah before she returned his greeting and shook his hand. It felt as wet as it looked.
She desperately tried to focus on the situation at hand. Surely, she thought, he was just some bloke who probably had greasy skin and bad teeth and her stress about the interview had morphed him into the creature before her. She hoped her reaction came across as simple interview stress. Which it was. It was, she insisted to herself. “Thanks for coming in Hannah,” Sarah said with the same practiced and well-worn smile.
“No problem, thanks for inviting me in,” Hannah said with similar practice. Although given she hadn’t been successful in finding a job she considered she should perhaps change up her replies. “The role seems very interesting, and the view from your office is amazing,” She continued as she held one hand in another, knuckles white in her lap. Sarah glanced over her shoulder out the window. “Yes, we’re quite lucky in that respect,”
“I’m from a small town, so being this high up is still very novel in that respect,” Hannah commented and the other two laughed.
“You went to University in Bristol though, that’s much bigger than Severnside,” Sarah replied.
“University of West of England,” Hannah said, “so I wasn’t exactly in the city centre, and living with my parents for three months makes you forget how big cities can be” This was going needlessly off topic, Hannah thought and she stopped there in an act of damage control.
“Right,” Steve began “What attracted you to this role?” Hannah could see his tongue, long and pointed like his ears, whipping around inside his mouth, visibly affecting his speech pattern. She could even see a slight reflection of Sarah on the right side of his slimy face. “Well,” Hannah began before realising she’d forgotten the rest of the sentence. She tried again. “I’ve got, I have,” another pause. She could feel her heart in her chest .. “I’ve got the range of skills as requested in the job advert.” she said, desperately trying to string together an answer.
“We asked for someone with at least a year’s experience in the office, all your roles to date have been in retail” Sarah replied. Hannah had expected this.
“I believe I have the relevant experience one would gain with a year in an office environment,” she said, her eyes flitting from Sarah to the Goblin. Hannah’s mind skidded to a halt as the goblin raised an eyebrow or would have if he had any. The bridge that overhung one of his sunken eyes raised in scrutiny and his tongue smacked around his teeth, stretching a good inch beyond his mouth. The smell of damp was obviously coming from him and Hannah found it was overpowering. “You know what,” Hannah suddenly said and she stood. She found her face stretching in a nervous grin. “I don’t think this role is for me, and you’re right.” she continued “I don’t have a year’s experience in an office environment,” she said as she gathered things. “My apologies for wasting your time,” and she left before the woman, or the goblin, could get over their stunned silence and reply. She crossed the office, signed out at reception like a good guest and took the lift back down to the rain covered streets.
She ignored the rain as she pounded the pavement back towards the train station. Her knuckles were white as she gripped her umbrella like a sword. She just wanted to be as far away from this city as possible. Maybe there were jobs in Ledworth? Who was she kidding, Ledworth was practically two streets, five pubs and a church. Hannah looked up to see where she was going and let out an audible curse as she saw what was ahead of her. Hannah had often mused on why her brain picked such clichés or easily categorizable creatures when she saw these monsters. She figured her subconscious was clinging to archetypes of fiction, drawn from childhood stories or creatures from films or telly. Like the goblin not ten minutes before there was no other way of describing the woman ahead of her than as a demon. The Demon seemed to be defiant against the rain in a sleeveless top and Capri jeans as she chatted idly to a friend. The first thing Hannah noticed was her eyes which seemed like lumps of coal burning from her eye sockets. They gave off flames that rose gently for several inches into the air, somehow leaving her eyebrows and hair alone. As the demon talked, Hannah could see she had interlocking pointed teeth. Behind her she had a long tail which ended in a vicious, horn like barb and whipped around behind her like a cat that had just spotted its prey. The light from the flaming eyes danced over her dark brown skin as well reflecting in the glasses of her companion. Two long bone white horns curled back over her head.
Hannah cursed again as she noted the woman stood in her way back to the station. She considered going around but she was gripped by a feeling of defiance. She wasn’t going to let these hallucinations dominate her life. She kept walking forwards past the demon woman and again stole glances as she went. Hannah walked close enough she could feel the heat from the flames of her eyes against the cold autumn day.
Hannah thought for a moment that without the hallucinations, the woman would be really cute when she stepped out into the road and collided with an oncoming car. Hannah didn’t remember a lot else after that. She remembered a brief moment where somebody dressed in green shone a torch into her eye and pinched her ear. The figure had fiery red hair which weaved about like something underwater. Someone picked her up, she looked at him. This was a figure with grey skin and huge tusks that caught the light of something flashing blue. There was a green flash of light and then nothing.