I don't normally write continuation of flash stories as I prefer the tales to be 'self-contained', but this is a companion piece to last week's Third in the Polls.
* * *
Footsteps echoed along the wood-panelled corridor. Running the length of the east wing, the corridor's walls groaned beneath the weight of valuable paintings and tapestries. Raymond paid them no attention as he strode past. He'd spent years studying their symbolism and metaphors as a younger man - they'd long since ceased to hold any fascination for him.
"Sir? Sir, where are we going?"
The young man at Raymond's side stared at the canvases as he passed, struggling to appreciate them in a single glance. He made a mental note to come back and study them when Raymond finally allowed him to leave.
"We're going to get some help for our polling problem," replied Raymond.
Dai stifled a groan. Mariette warned him that Raymond wouldn't take the news well. He'd never liked losing, but dropping to third in the polls was even more of an insult. Still, Dai hadn't anticipated being dragged into Raymond's personal crusade.
"We're going to see the Spin Doctor."
Dai shuddered. Everyone in admin told their own horror stories about the Spin Doctor, a somewhat shadowy figure within the Organisation.
"Can he help?"
"She. And if she can't, then no one can."
The corridor opened into the central atrium of the building, a huge square space surrounded by a vast staircase and galleries on each floor. A glass skylight served as the ceiling, and Dai watched the reflection of the clouds outside in the polished marble floor.
"Come on, Dai. Up."
Raymond took the stairs two at a time, and Dai ran to keep up. They passed others on the way upstairs, each of whom gave Dai a quizzical look, and Raymond a wide berth. Dai shrugged at them all.
The staircase led up to the third floor. Raymond strode away down the corridor, pausing at a doorway beside a narrow window. He opened the door and disappeared up a steep flight of wooden steps into the gloom above. Dai bit his lip - he'd give anything not to go any further.
"Come on, Dai. I haven't got all day."
Raymond's baritone floated down the stairs, and Dai forced himself up the steps into the daytime murk of the attics. The roof banked in a steep line, forcing Dai to walk bent over as he followed Raymond between the low rafters. A dull grey light infused everything with a sickly glow. Something sticky brushed his face, and Dai wiped away a length of what looked like white silk.
“Greetings, Raymond. This is quite a surprise.”
A rasping voice floated from the shadows in the corner of the attic. Dai winced – it sounded like the syllables were drawn across sandpaper. His eyes widened as a spider scuttled forward into the cold light – a spider so large it dwarfed Raymond’s tall frame.
“We need your help,” said Raymond. He looked up at the spider, his face reflected millions of times in the spider’s black eyes.
“So I hear. Third in the polls, are you?” The spider rubbed her front two legs together. Dai took two quiet steps backwards.
“Yes. I don’t know why, but the opposition just seem to be more attractive to the public.”
“I know why. It’s your PR department. Why don’t you just let me handle it?”
“I should have done. I will do. But will you help us right now?”
“I will. But you know what I need.”
Raymond turned to Dai and beckoned him forward. The hair on the back of Dai’s neck stood up and he shook his head.
“The youngster is an arachnophobe,” said the spider.
“Dai, don’t be a fool. We all need to contribute to the cause. Besides, we don’t need much, just a drop of your blood.”
Raymond grabbed Dai’s arm and pulled him forward. Dai struggled, but the spider knocked his legs out from under him. Dai landed on the floor with a thump, and the spider pinned him down with her front legs. Raymond produced a penknife from his pocket and ran its blade across Dai’s thumb. Dai yelped.
“Sssh, Dai. The Spin Doctor needs your blood to transfer into the pen of a writer. The essence of a werewolf is the surest way to get our kind back into fiction. All it takes is one successful book, and more will follow – and our position in the hierarchy will improve,” said Raymond. He squeezed the cut, and caught the dripping blood in a glass jar.
The spider released Dai when the jar was full. Raymond put away the penknife and helped Dai to his feet. Dai stuck his thumb into his mouth to suck the cut, hoping his preternatural healing would kick in soon. His legs trembled but all things considered, that wasn’t so bad.
“Very good, thank you. I will let you know when the transfer has been made,” said the spider.
Raymond nodded and headed towards the stairs. Dai turned to follow, but Raymond shook his head.
“No, Dai. You must stay here.”
“The Spin Doctor might need more blood.”
“You said you’d only need a drop?”
“You can never predict how these things will go,” said the spider.
Raymond disappeared down the staircase. Dai heard the door close downstairs, and the spider scuttled away into the darkness.
Dai sat down and pressed his back against the wall. All he could do was hope that his blood was enough to inspire the next great werewolf story...and buy his freedom.