A woman is attacked by a malevolent being and must rely on her strange power to save herself.
“Locking Up” by Dominique Brown-Sampayo.
A transcript is available on the NIGHTLIGHT website.
Narrated by Tonia Ransom.
Audio production by Ron Webb.
Executive Producer and Host: Tonia Ransom
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Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week, a woman must use her strange ability to save her life, but will she succeed?
But before we get to attempted murder, I want to take a moment to say thanks to our newest patron, Carla. NIGHTLIGHT will be produced year-round thanks to the NIGHTLIGHT Legion, and now, we’d love to bring you new episodes every single week. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast. And don’t forget, NIGHTLIGHT merch is available and you can support us by sporting NIGHTLIGHT-branded gear. Just go to merch.nightlightpod.com to get your t-shirts, hoodies, notebooks, and more!
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy “Locking Up”, written by Dominique Brown-Sampayo, narrated by Tonia Ransom.
By Dominique Brown-Sampayo
It’s 4:45 on Friday afternoon and pouring outside. South Louisiana summer rains are nothing to play with, so I’m packing up my things with the Dateline podcast playing in my earbuds. The lawyers and paralegal left an hour ago so there’s nobody to make me stay and I need to get home before the streets flood. I can’t take Annie for her walk, but she eats at six and the drive takes twice as long on days like this.
I have my back to the door, thinking about how much I hate it here, when it slams. I jump and spin around, ripping my headphones out of my ears. Standing on the doormat is a pale man shaking off his wet umbrella and smiling at me.
“Can I help you?”
I say it as a reflex, but my heart is racing. Who walks into a place like that?
He has thick, blond hair combed flat against his head and the umbrella matches his dark blue suit. His pant legs and brown shoes are stained darker from the rain and his eyes are a bright, deep cobalt I know I’ve seen before. I just can’t remember where I know him from.
“Hi there,” he says, sauntering over and gently resting both long-fingered hands on my counter. I don’t like when people do that––it feels like an invasion of my space.
“I believe I have an appointment,” he goes on, in a singsong voice that puts my teeth on edge.
I frown politely and feel my jaw clench. I’d know if anybody in the office had a meeting this late. Maybe he has the wrong day, but he’s so calm and self-assured. Clearly he thinks he belongs here.
Being a Black receptionist gets exhausting when you have to deal with people like this every day, but slamming the door was a power move. He’s making me uncomfortable and a small voice in my brain tells me he knows that.
“Are you here to see one of the attorneys?”
He tilts his head to the side, watching me closely. He looks amused, like there’s some practical joke going on that only he knows about.
My phone vibrates in my hand but I don’t take my eyes off him. It’s probably another severe weather alert. The seconds drag on and he doesn’t break the silence.
“I’m about to lock up,” I tell him, “but I’m happy to have someone call you on Monday.”
“No,” he says softly, glancing around the still entryway. “That won’t be necessary.”
“Well,” I say, trying not to react, “is there something I can do for you?”
His face lights up like I just said the magic words.
“Kenya,” he says, so quietly I almost move closer. “I know you’re closing for the day, Kenya. I know that Joan is in Baton Rouge and Walter left at three, like every other Friday. I watched everybody else from this firm leave early to get ahead of the rain. But not you. You lock up.”
That’s when I realize where I know him from. He was here for the Carter deposition last month with four other lawyers. His last name is Bass and I barely spoke to him that day. How the hell did he get my name?
Leaning forward a few inches, watching me recognize him, he adds,
“I’ve been thinking about you.”
His breath smells like wintergreen and his aftershave is clean and understated. He’s got every respectable detail perfectly in place. Nobody would suspect him of anything.
“And I know you’ve been thinking about me, too.”
He slides off his suit jacket and lays it across a chair in the waiting area. Those blue eyes drift downward from my face to my chest, lingering on the gold crucifix around my neck, then to my stomach. He smirks and starts loosening his tie.
My instinct is to keep still like he’s some predator that can’t see you if you don’t move. All I can do is stare at him as he keeps talking. His lips are barely moving.
“I knew you were special from the first moment I saw you. I’ve been waiting for you to call me but you must be shy. That’s okay - I’m here now.”
At last I take a step back.
“You need to go,” I tell him, and even I can hear my voice shaking.
“Not yet,” he says, looking back to my face. “It’s time for you to run. Unless you want to give me that beautiful neck of yours now,” he adds, lifting an eyebrow. “And save me the trouble.”
I must have heard him wrong. People don’t say things like that in real life. But he holds eye contact as he gently slides that silk tie through his collar and holds it softly in one hand. This is real life.
Bass reaches over to the front door, turns the lock, and says,
“You have 15 seconds.”
He smiles bigger, his face growing and distorting to show rows of sharp, jagged, perfectly white teeth.
My mind can barely process what I’m seeing as he wraps the tie around his eyes, but when he growl s, “One,” I make for the offices as quickly and quietly as I can.
Our building is a renovated shotgun double with one long hallway down the center and doors on either side. Joan is the managing partner and she has the only office with a working lock. It’s all the way to the back, but it’s the only thing I can think of to buy me some time.
I throw myself through her door and turn the lock, dropping my phone. I snatch it up and back away from the door as he calls,
I tap my phone to wake it up and press the emergency call button. I’ve never wanted to call the police but I don’t want to use my other option, either. It’s the last resort for a reason. I’ve found that I only get one do-over in a day and if I go back to the wrong point, or even if I land back at the beginning, I might be too exhausted to fight him. My hands are shaking so badly I can barely dial 9-1-1. What can I even tell them? What is he?
I reach for my crucifix and it reminds me that I’ll do whatever it takes to get out of this alive.
I hit the call button and wait for it to ring, but nothing happens. Silence on the other end as he calls,
He’s coming for me and now I remember I have terrible service in this part of the building.
My heart is racing and my brain feels jammed.
The office door closest to the front slams shut.
The red message light on Joan’s desk phone is blinking and I dive for it right as the overhead lights flicker and die. Everything goes dark. I freeze, and I guess he does too because I can’t hear anything outside the door. It takes me a minute to realize that the storm must have knocked out the power.
“It doesn’t matter,” he shouts. “I can still smell you.”
Barely enough rainy gray light filters through the open blinds for me to see what’s around me. It must be even darker in the hallway. Without the air conditioner running, the building is deadly quiet until I hear the second door creak open, then shut again.
There are only two more offices before he gets here.
The cleaning lady doesn’t come on Fridays. Nobody knows I’m in danger and nobody’s going to come looking for me. Annie wouldn’t be found for days and I wouldn’t live to accomplish anything. I am completely on my own.
My brain latches onto that thought and I immediately start crying.
“I can smell how scared you are, Kenya, and I like my meat afraid.”
I don’t have any friends. I hate my job. Only here can you be a monster and a successful plaintiff’s attorney.
I’m the last of my family line in Damascus. This trash town took my brother, my parents, and my grandparents. I organized all their funerals at the Black Catholic church and there’s nobody to organize mine. My body’s shaking and I try to stay quiet, but I feel myself getting close to the edge as Bass calls,
“Do you know what I could do to you in the dark, Kenya?”
Trying not to think about it, I promise myself that I’m not going to die here too, that I’m getting out and going to college and I’ll never take another receptionist job again. My adrenaline picks up as I wipe my eyes and look around the office for weapons. There’s a massive glass bubble paperweight sitting on a stack of discovery requests. Snatching it up, I grab a fountain pen with my left hand and scramble to one side of the desk to wait.
Years of horror movies and true crime podcasts haven’t prepared me for this. Always lock your car doors as soon as you get in, don’t let them get you to a second location…none of that applies. All I can think is to go for his eyes above those horrible teeth.
The doorknob rattles.
The cheap rug digs into my knees but I hold still. I’m not prepared to let him win his ridiculous game, but what if I can’t pull this off?
“Open up,” he calls over the thunder, “and we can get to know each other.”
Fidgeting on the floor, I whisper,
“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the –”
“I guess we’re going to have to do this your way.”
Then I hear jingling. My keys, to all the office doors. I always lock the front door from the outside when I leave. I left them on the desk.
No sound from the hallway. I stick my head out around the desk and see a bright moving light, like the flashlight on a cell phone. He’s not saying anything, just deciding which key to try first. The silence is worse than his taunting. It would be better if he said something that made me angry. It would be better if he was laughing like the villain from some B movie. But he’s so quiet and confident. It’s sickening.
One key scrapes against the lock and doesn’t fit.
I only have three - one to the front door, one to the back door, and one to this office.
When the second doesn’t work, I draw in a deep breath, filling my lungs all the way, and a strange sense of calm and determination settles over me.
The last key slides all the way in. I imagine him smiling as it turns and the lock clicks open. The phone light goes out.
My hand on the paperweight is slick with sweat but there’s no time to wipe it off. I have to be ready to fight. In my head, I’m preparing my second option if I absolutely have to use it. Gathering my strength and concentrating all my energy in my hands, I shift my weight forward to attack.
“Kenya,” he whispers as the door creaks open, “the game is over. It’s time to play.”
I hate the way he says my name.
“You have such lovely skin, Kenya,” he sings. The old floor creaks under his dress shoes as he moves closer. “I might just take you home with me and keep you forever.”
I just have time to think, “What the fuck?” before I’m staring at his knees and he’s bringing that tie down toward my throat.
I launch myself upwards with all my strength and manage to sink the fountain pen into the inside of his thigh before he wraps it around my neck and pulls.
He screeches in pain and a small feeling of victory rushes through me. I got him, and maybe I can get away. Then he shifts his weight to his other leg and I shove myself against his abdomen as hard as I can and unbalance him.
We both crash to the floor and he loosens his grip just a little, so I gasp once for air before trying to scramble away from him. And in that second, I have a moment of hope.
But that’s a mistake. Before I can push myself up, Bass snatches the tie tight again and drags me back close to him. He’s breathing hard and I can feel his erection against my back.
I can’t reach any part of him that matters with the paperweight so I bash it into his hip over and over as his breath hits hot against my skin. I kick and thrash and try to twist backwards to claw at his hands and face, but he’s always just out of reach. He grunts, growls, pants wetly in my ear but doesn’t let go.
If I can just hold on for a few more minutes and get him to loosen his grip, I might have a chance, but the edges of my vision are going dark and I can feel the panic rising.
The crucifix chain is digging into my neck so hard that my skin has gone numb, but my throat is on fire. Small gasps of air keep getting out but I can’t breathe anything back in. He just leans back, tightens the tie, and laughs.
I’m not willing to admit that I’ve lost but then he’s above me, straddling my stomach, his red face bearing down on me and a long string of saliva dripping onto my cheek. Those teeth are inches from my face and maybe it’s my imagination but I think they’re getting longer. He still smells so sweet, though. I feel tears in the corners of my eyes but I don’t look away. I can finally reach his face so I drop the paperweight to scrape at his skin with my nails but he snaps at my fingers playfully. My eyelids flutter closed and instead, my hands fall back onto the carpet.
When he’s satisfied that I can’t fight anymore, he kneels back on his heels, gathers the ends of the tie in one hand as my eyes flicker open, and wipes the sweat off his forehead with a handkerchief he drags from his pocket. He’s pulling so hard that my head rises a little off the floor. I can feel the tears and spit hot on my face and not much else.
“Don’t worry,” he says with a grin, flashing his teeth in the dark room. “I won’t do anything else till you’re dead. You won’t feel it.”
My eyes close again and it’s harder to open them this time. It’s over for now but I’m not going to fucking die in my horrible hometown. I refuse.
My left hand, the one that had been holding the pen, still has feeling. He’s leaning down towards me and I concentrate the last of my strength into it, tap twice on the floor…and it’s 4:45 again.
I’m sitting in my desk chair, Keith Morrison’s voice back in my ears. I can still hear the storm outside and take a moment to breathe. My eyes are dry and the pain in my throat is gone, along with about half my energy. The memory of his twisted face makes me shiver. I run my tongue over my own teeth and try not to think about his.
I reach up to feel for marks on my neck and realize my necklace is gone. There’s always something a little different in every reset and the Kenya in this timeline must not have put it on for some reason. I feel so much less protected without it. My grandmother could do what I can do, but we never got to talk about it. That cross has always been a point of validation.
I did make it back to the beginning, though, and this time, I’m going to get that bastard worse than he got me.
I don’t bother packing up, but I do take my headphones out so I can listen for him before he comes in.
I sit there in silence for another 40 seconds, listening to the storm and working on a strategy. And I try to manage my breathing: in for four, hold for four, out for four. Should I go along with his games, or try to do this on my own terms? Should I just lock the door now so he can’t get in at all? Going back to this morning and just calling out from work would be the most logical thing, but I can’t live in fear that he’ll just come back another day. It’s taking a risk but this has to end now.
I watch the clock on the wall tick along, saying a quick prayer in my head, until the door opens exactly at 4:46. I’ve used my one do-over. This is it.
“Good afternoon,” I say, standing up and acting like he didn’t just try to murder and eat me. Like he’s not about to try it again. “How can I help you?”
Bass looks the same and smiles the same. My palms start sweating and I have to stare at the middle of his forehead to keep calm. I can’t look into his eyes.
But I don’t think he knows we’ve reset and I might have the upper hand this time.
“Hi there,” he says, closing his umbrella and leaning it against the wall. Even though I came back on purpose, the feeling of déjà vu sends shivers down my whole body. “I believe I have an appointment.”
“Of course,” I say, faking a smile. “I’ll go get Walter.”
Bass looks surprised but he puts both hands down hard on my counter and hisses,
“Don’t lie. I watched Walter leave two hours ago. I have an appointment with you, Kenya.”
I take a step back and watch him closely. I’d forgotten how unsettling this part of our dance is. He gives a slightly different version of his stalker speech, and all I want is to get this over with.
My brain shuts down as he starts unknotting his tie. It’s true that I don’t have any physical marks left over but remembering the feel of it against my skin is enough to make me start panicking again.
He cocks one eyebrow and says,
“Didn’t you hear me?”
Finally, I look him in his laughing eyes and my anger and determination come back in a rush.
“I’m going to start counting,” he says, and turns his back on me.
In the seconds when he’s looping his tie around his eyes, I look around my space for weapons I could beat him with now. The printer is too heavy. The three-hole punch is probably too light. There’s nothing.
Joan’s office is still my best chance. I snatch up my keys and run towards it, not caring about the noise. The lights go out when I’m about halfway down the hallway, but Bass doesn’t pause his counting. I guess he really can’t see.
There aren’t any windows in the hall and I fumble around for a moment before I find Joan’s doorknob. I slip inside as he calls,
I lock the door again to give myself a little more time and look down at my phone. The battery is on 1% and it dies as soon as I unlock it. I would try the police this time as a backup but I guess I also forgot to charge my cell. And now Joan’s desk phone is useless.
Part of me wants to start crying again, but there’s no time. Grabbing the paperweight and fountain pen that are thankfully still on the desk, I have to think about what didn’t work for me before, and fast. Last time, I waited for him to find me. Last time, he had the advantage of coming at me from above. He’s not that much taller than I am and I could probably do some damage if I hit the right spot on his head.
I can hear the office doors opening and closing in the dead quiet.
The reset tired me out but I can feel the adrenaline building back up. He was stronger than I expected but I’m not going to let him win and I’m not going to die in Damascus.
I unlock the door and position myself to the right so I’ll be behind it when it opens. Slipping out of my heels so I don’t overbalance, I’m ready to bring the paperweight down on his head as soon as he steps inside. I just have to incapacitate him before he can get that tie around my neck or those teeth in my flesh.
His dress shoes stop outside. I have to force myself to breathe.
Bass opens the door slowly, gently, but I can almost feel how excited he is. He pauses exactly where I need him to and says,
“Kenya, the game is –”
I smash the paperweight into the back of his skull and jab the pen into the side of his neck with my other hand. He staggers and doesn’t fall, but his hand lets go of the tie to come up to his neck.
For one small moment I hesitate, shocked at myself. There’s blood on the pen and on my hand and streaming down onto his bright white shirt, but then he turns toward me with a roar and I see the rage in his eyes.
I swing the paperweight upwards into his chin and slash at the other side of his neck. He cries out and falls backwards into the desk.
I rush at him and stab the pen into his eye as deep as it’ll go. It’s disgusting and he’s yelling, gnashing his teeth and desperately snatching at his face and my hand, blood and fluid gushing over both of us. But my heart is racing as much from leftover fear as it is from the thrill.
Bass slides to the floor. I’m panting, he’s still screaming, so I yank the pen back and stab it into his throat instead. The bright blue eye he has left is open wide with pain and shock. And then I start hitting him, bashing the paperweight into his face and the side of his skull. I don’t stop for a long time.
When my arm is aching and I need to catch my breath and he’s stopped twitching, I sit back and look at him. His face is a bloody mass of brain matter, pieces of bone, and loose skin. I start laughing and crying at the same time, because of how outrageous the situation is, or because I’ve actually won, or because that was so much fun.
I’m sure I’ll feel bad later - this was self-defense, not premeditated murder - but the heat of winning lingers and I can’t help myself. Breathing hard, I smile down at his motionless body and mutilated face and those teeth that are so still now. But it’s different this time. I’ve never felt so in control.
I stand up and move to Joan’s desk chair to look out the window. The storm isn’t showing any signs of slowing down and the street flooding will probably get worse before it gets better. I won’t stand a chance driving home in this.
I’m not sure if I should try to call the police now. Nobody would believe me and I’d probably end up in prison for life. They’ll probably figure out that I was the last one here, but I’ll just have to come in like normal on Monday, pretend I’m as freaked out as everybody else, say I’ve decided to move and quit a couple days later, and act as innocent as possible. I’ll need to take the pen and the paperweight with me, wipe the fingerprints off, and bury them somewhere they’ll never look, like the McDonald’s parking lot.
I look down at Bass again. He hasn’t moved, so I guess I did it right. Maybe I’ll play with him a little more, just for fun. Maybe I’m horrible too and this rush is what I’ve been missing in my life. Maybe I belong here after all.
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Audio production for this episode by Ron Webb.
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