The Monster in the Mist Online - Andrew Mayne

Chapter 1

April Malone pulled the set of brass keys from her coat pocket and unlocked the door to the building with no name. Same as she had done six days a week for the past two years.

The streets were covered in a thick fog and she felt uncomfortable being out there in it with all the strange stories about people missing. When she’d got off the trolley car a few blocks back, a withered old woman dressed in black had tried to offer her a protective amulet. The crone said it was a gift, but April had read enough to know how gypsies operated their scams. She’d politely declined and kept walking. Young paperboys approached her with sensational headlines, each one more sinister than the last, about people missing in the fog.

She shut the door behind her, bolted the three locks on the door and placed her coat on the rack. As per the instructions given to her by the previous woman who held the job, she started brewing a pot of coffee that would never get touched, placed next to the pot a paper bakery sack that would get thrown out, too, and made sure that fresh copies of the London Times, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle as well as various mail-order catalogs and scientific journals were placed on the desk that sat at the opposite end of the room from hers.

In the pneumatic mail slot that mysteriously delivered things during the night, she found a thick envelope filled with long pieces of cardstock with various notches in them. These cards were blue colored. Interesting. She didn’t get as many of them as the red, yellow or greens ones.

She sat at her desk and turned a crank on the side as she fed the blue cards into the card slot. A minute after she entered the last card, she heard a bell ring, telling her she could stop turning the crank.

It was just one more mystery. On her desk sat a mechanical calendar reminding her when to go to the back end of the building and have the coal man pour coal down the shoot or when to have the man with the oil cans refill a tank built into the back wall.

Periodically, a letter written on a typewriter would arrive with new instructions. They would be simply signed Mr. S.

She looked forward to these letters. They were deviations from the normal routine. They might have instruction like, “Pick five of the New York Times fiction best sellers and read them,” or they might ask her to attend a public lecture at Boston College or MIT.

Although she didn’t have a formal education, April had a quick mind and loved to read. The frustration with the secrecy and mysteries was offset by the unpredictable nature of the job and the opportunities to spend long hours reading or meeting interesting people at lectures. She’d attended lectures on topics as varied as Egyptology and human anatomy. When she asked her predecessor the purpose of the reading and the lectures, she simply shrugged and said you never know when you might get quizzed. Quizzed by whom, she’d wondered?

On more than one occasion she’d been instructed to tell lecturers that she was there as a guest of Mr. S. The lecturers, usually professors or other scholars, sometimes had special manuscripts or in some cases envelopes of punch cards for April to feed into her desk. Some gave her chemical samples to be deposited into a safe.

When family and friends asked her about her job, she just told them that she worked for a private actuary. If they pressed on, she described her job as doing “actuarial things” and left it at that.

Her most recent letter from Mr. S was to learn how to use a velocipede. That had been an interesting experience. It sat in the corner waiting for her next practice session.

The office, as she referred to it, had a front door, several bookcases filled with reference materials she kept updated, a closet, two desks and three doors at the back. One door led to the water closet. Another to a storeroom, and the third, a large metal door with three incandescent lights above it, led to where god only knows. She half suspected it was a vault of some kind. Her predecessor only told her that she’d be told if she needed to worry about it. Told by whom?

Unbeknownst to April, twenty feet below her desk the