An important order was late to arrive, so Ms Shan spent her morning the Trade section, assuring a local builder that his framing pine would be arriving soon. When it did turn up, the builder kept complaining about how long he'd been kept waiting, effectively adding another hour to his departure time after the half hour that the late delivery had cost him.
"It's a bloody outrage," he said at last, grabbing his bored apprentice by the shirtsleeve and pulling him away. "I'm on a deadline, you know. Come on, Gavin, let's get some lunch."
Ms Shan rubbed her weary eyes. At least it was normal. At least an idiot complaining was a normal, mundane thing. Nothing weird, nothing spooky. Just an everyday jackass was almost a treat.
She turned, and her almost-happiness dissolved. There, lounging awkwardly against a pile of cement sacks was Mr Smith from the DIY Barn. "Hello, Ms Shan," he said.
"Mr Smith," she said. She thought of asking what she could do for him, and decided that she didn't even have the energy to pretend to care.
"Sorry for dropping in at such a busy time," he said, looking pointedly around at the tiny number of customers. Ms Shan was not a violent person, but there was something about Smith that made her knuckles itch. She'd heard the term 'punchable face' before, but she'd never understood it until she'd met the man.
She didn't know quite why that was, exactly. He was a wholly unremarkable looking fellow. White, slightly red faced, average height, slightly overweight, short black hair, slightly receding. If you asked an unimaginative artist to draw an office manager, Smith was what he'd come up with. She knew that her staff suspected Smith and his DIY Barn of all sorts of misdeeds, but she'd never seen a scrap of proof that Smith's bastardry was anything but mundane and perfectly legal.
Ms Shan wondered how hard you had to hit a man to break his nose.
"Don't mention it." She smiled a brittle smile. Hmm… She'd ruled out asking what she could do for him. Straight up asking why he was there was too rude. Ah! That's it.
"What brings you to the Handy Pavilion?" There. Professional, at least.
"Well, it's a funny thing," he said. "There have been some problems at the Barn. Some trouble caused by water leakage last week, and this week we found that a drain had been blocked with concrete."
Seriously? That was Marlon's idea of escalation? Ms Shan looked at her watch. The builder had been right, after all. It was lunchtime. She started walking towards the exit, and Smith followed along.
"We had a run of strange events here, too," she said. "People blamed it on a mysterious 'Phantasm of the Pavilion'."
There was a crashing noise to her left. She looked left and saw… What was his name? That young guy in power tools. He'd dropped that creepy glass skull he used as a paperweight. Unfortunately, it hadn't broken.
"But there haven't been any Phantasm sightings lately," she said, glowering at the lad. "Perhaps they went over to the DIY Barn?"
Smith smiled a joyless, thin lipped smile. You're lucky you didn't show any teeth, Ms Shen thought. I'd whack you with a newspaper.
"Perhaps," he said. "But that's not the main reason I'm here. I'm here to talk about the Local High School Fete."
Ms Shan stopped short, just by a cleaning display. She couldn't move forward. Every ounce of self-control was needed to keep herself from picking up a broom-handle and beating Smith to within an inch of his life. She knew what he was going to say. She knew it.
"I know that, up until now, the Handy Pavilion has been one of the Fete's major sponsors," he said. "But since things aren't going well for you… It seemed the kindest thing we could do was talk to the school about taking over."
Ms Shan said nothing. She willed her jaw shut so she wouldn't scream. The School Fete… it was surprising how such a small thing hurt so much.
It wasn't so much the Fete itself, which Ms Shan always found rather dull. It was the standing. Sponsoring the Fete meant that the Pavilion had standing in the community. That it was as much a part of the neighborhood as the school. Now… Now the Pavilion was just as she had always feared. A transient thing. A column on a database that could be deleted with the press of a key.
"I see," she said. "Well thank you for the thought."
"Not at all," Smith said, smiling his non-smile. "Well, don't let me detain you. I can see that you're busy."
Smith exited through the front of the store. Ms Shan decided that she'd lost her appetite. She turned, not quite certain where she was going. The young man in power tools was polishing the glass skull. Karl thingamy who ran the Centre newsletter was watching him, thoughtfully. She barely took this in.
She passed by whatshisname, the cowboy guy, slowly giving directions to an impatient customer. She passed the hipster girl from the coffee shop, who was looking at the DIY decorations and her ape-man boyfriend who was just looking bewildered.
But it wasn't the familiar faces that bothered her. It was the everyday customers. The citizens of the local community, the community she now felt cut off from. It seemed like some sort of wall had sprung up around her, and she wasn't part of anything anymore. Just a corporate asset, ready to be redeployed.
That had been what she'd wanted. Now it seemed to be coming true…
She didn't cry. Crying wasn't her sort of thing. She was passing a range of internal doors mounted on hinges for display. She stepped into the display and stood between two of them, shutting them on herself, making a little triangular room in which to scream silently and stamp her foot.
The door was flung open. Ms Shan stood, mortified, a senior manager caught throwing a tantrum like a toddler. She sought some sort of excuse. None was forthcoming.
The interloper was Sadie MacGregor from Lighting. Somehow she always remembered her name, and never mistook her for her twin sister. Sadie's ginger-lashed eyes were kind but stern.
"Hiding is beneath you," Sadie said.
"I…" Ms Shan began. "I want to hurt them. The Barn. I want to hurt them so badly."
"It may come to that," Sadie said. "But I think it would be better to drag them into the light."
Ms Shan shook her head. "We looked. They're squeaky clean."
"Who do you know who has an in with Smith?" Sadie said. "And who is adept at seeing what no one else does?"
"Karl thingummy?" Ms Shan said. "Yes he sees what no one else does, but that's because he's delusional."
"Karl struggles to bring that which is hidden into the light," Sadie said. She grimaced before continuing, "Granted, he's extremely bad at that. But perhaps if someone put him on the right track?"
Ms Shan shook her head. "But I could just get Marlon to escalate a little more…"
"You can fight them with secrets in the darkness," Sadie said. "But secrets are their weapon. Night is their battlefield. Think it over."
She walked away, closing the doors as she did. Ms Shan stood between the doors in the display, lost in thought. Yes, it was all very metaphorical wasn't it. Two doors. Two paths. And Sadie had been right, hadn't she? It was better to take the high road. Follow the light...
The door opened again. This time, it was Sadie's sister, Angela.
"Or you could just burn the DIY Barn to the ground," Angela said. "Just sayin'."