By Daphne

42 stories up in New York City…

“No! I already said No!” barked a very annoyed gruff voice.

“But you haven’t even given me a chance to show you my work,” replied a desperate female tone.

“I don’t care. You’re barking up the wrong tree this time. He’s the principal financial supporter of this publication for goodness sake!”

“So that’s it? He pays the heating bill, so he gets a free ride on ethics and the law?”

“Watch it, you’re on thin ice with that tone,” warned the gruff man as he thumbed through a stack of binders on top of his filing cabinet.

The young woman folded her arms across her chest and huffed defiantly, not saying another word.

“Look, Dawn. I know you have one of your ‘feelings’ on this story, but I just can’t let you pursue this one. Not Joel Connors.”

“But Mr. O’Neil! That’s precisely why I need to pursue this story, because it is Joel Connors!” the young woman jumped back in with renewed enthusiasm.

“Dawn. Enough, get back to your desk and find another headline. You’re not shutting down this publication while I’m still editor,” ordered Mr. O’Neil firmly, indicating the conversation was over.

Dawn huffed again seemed to pause for a thought, then thought better of it, and spun on her heel, stomping her way back to her desk.

Turning the heads of a few of her coworkers as she stormed past, Dawn plopped down in her swivel desk chair angrily kicking off her pinching black heels and curling her slender legs up beside her. She vigorously rubbed her stocking clad toes in attempts to get some warmth flowing to them as she reproachfully gazed out at the frigid winter skyline of the 42nd floor, home to the Rose Tribune. While they couldn’t seem to keep the air conditioners working in the brutally humid summers, it was a polar opposite in the winter. Dawn wondered if the heat were on at all as she shivered in her chair. It didn’t help much that she wasn’t really dressed for the winter weather to begin with. Today like most days she sported a smart and sexy blue skirt suit. Her long legs were afforded the luxury of a pair of sheer barely black pantyhose that were laughable in the icy winds that cut between the city’s tall buildings. Though wanting to feel as sexy as the next girl, Dawn would have sought more survival minded attire if it weren’t for Mr. O’Neil’s rigid dress code for female employees. The standards were impeccable and instant termination was in store for any ladies wishing to push her luck. So with a sigh, Dawn dealt with the goose bumps under her pantyhose by vigorously rubbing them in hopes of keeping her poor legs from becoming popsicles!

Just the thought of the unfair dress code made her think of policies which made her think of Mr. O’Neil creating such a cruel policy which made her think of the money and politics at the Rose Tribune which made her think of Joel Connors again, and she growled. Joel Connors was probably responsible for the perils beset upon the female staff at the Tribune! With her emotions running hot, Dawn decided to take some action, so she picked up her desk phone and clicked away with the delicate red nails of one hand while sorting through some clippings with her other.

“Danny?” she asked sweetly. “Yeah, hi, it’s Dawn. Listen, you remember that story I was talking to you about on Friday? Yeah, that one. Well, I’ve got some new information but I’m having a little trouble putting it all together, and I was wondering if I could pick your brain a bit in Conference Room C? Yeah, like 5 minutes, oh and bring your laptop. Thanks!” Click.

Dawn shuffled together a short stack of papers and slipped them into a manila envelope. She had to think out her next actions carefully. What she was about to do, was go against direct orders of Mr. O’Neil and that in itself was dangerous. But she was also about to enlist the help of her coworker, Danny Breslin which further complicated matters, as their personal relationship had been an ongoing topic of discussion. This simply referred to the fact that Danny was enamored greatly by Dawn and her leggy demeanor. Unfortunately Dawn did not have reciprocal feelings on the matter. This often led to feelings of guilt that Danny was always more than willing to help Dawn in her many dilemmas with never so much as a date in return. With a frown, Dawn finished her personal revels and touching up her makeup at the same time. Standing up, she slipped her stocking feet back into the confines of her heels and smoothed out her jacket and skirt. Grabbing up her files, she made a determined stride toward Conference Room C.

Upon arriving, she found Danny already inside clicking away at the keys of his laptop. Looking up to greet Dawn, he smiled and closed the monitor down with a click.

“Dawn, how’s it going?” he beamed.

“Fine, Danny, thanks for meeting me on such short notice, but I figured I didn’t have much time,” she answered while closing the blinds that overlooked the main office floor.

Danny narrowed his eyes and scratched his chin over the oddness of Dawn’s secretive demeanor. “What’s going on here, Dawn? Are you in to something here?”

“Take a look at these,” she replied, slipping the files out of the manila envelope she had been hugging close to her slender body, and spreading them out on the table with a nervous glance back at the closed door.

“Okay,” said Danny with a pause. He took several silent moments to review the documents provided by his beautiful but peculiar acting coworker. “Okay, so I’m looking at a lot of financial documents, a charter from a ship called the “Terra Firma”, some resumes of medical students, a bunch of news clippings on Joel Connors, and this one in particular in reference to him firing an accountant previously of his long term employ? I’ll bite, what’s the connection here?”

Dawn seemed ready to explode for him to get to that question. “That’s just it, Danny. I need to figure out what the connection is! I mean what is the financier of the Rose Tribune doing involved with the contents of that ship, and those medical students, did you read over the applications? They were all expelled due to ‘unethical experimentation’. What the hell does that mean? And the accountant: why was he fired after nearly 20 years of service?” Dawn panted, nearly out of breath.

Danny raised his eyebrows, and then quickly got himself under control seeing that the coworker of his affections genuinely needed his help. “Well, it seems a good start would be to research the traffic and cargo manifest that the Terra Firma uses, and with these bank records, perhaps trace some amounts and identities of persons involved. With that, hopefully it will shed some light on why a financier would need to employee rogue doctors. Let me see what I can come up with here,” finished Danny as he opened the monitor on his laptop and began furiously typing.

Dawn took this time to sit down on the leather couch within the conference room and rub her temples. So much had been going through her mind lately that she hadn’t taken the time to realize how exhausted she was. The frustration of Mr. O’Neil essentially gagging her on a story that might involve the financier of the Rose finally took its toll as she unknowingly slumped over on her side, her body forcing upon her the sleep she had lately been deprived. Danny continued to work his information magic on the laptop, but not without casting the occasional long glance at Dawn’s serenity. She lay there in her blue skirt suit, blonde hair cascaded against the black leather of the couch. The way she had slumped over forced her already short skirt, embarrassingly further up to reveal generous portions of her sheer black stocking clad thighs right down to the red painted toenails beneath where she had kicked aside her troublesome heels.

As if startled by a dream, Dawn bolted up with a head of tousled blonde hair, and a skirt that had rebelliously ridden too high. Pinkness filled her cheeks as she fought the recalcitrant garment. Rubbing her green eyes of the sands of slumber, Dawn’s blurry vision focused in on Danny who sat at the conference table with his hands folded behind his head, a cocky smile on his face. “I would have figured you for a thigh high kind of girl, Dawn,” smiled Danny with a hint of sarcasm.

“Talk to Mr. O’Neil about his dress code,” replied Dawn more than a little uncomfortable by the comment, unconsciously rubbing her legs protectively, and pulling at the hem of her skirt as she wondered how much of a look he got as she foolishly slept. Not wishing to discuss the corporate punishment of her pantyhose any more than she had to with a male coworker, Dawn urged the conversation along by clearing her sleepy throat.

“Ah yes, while you got some much needed beauty sleep, I found out some very interesting things about our friend, Joel Connors. To start with, I got the info about the Terra Firma. Seems it’s a cargo ship that makes its living transporting ‘exotic animals’ from Africa to the United States and according to the papers you provided, it links a recent shipment paid for by none other than Mr. Connors. Now, next we have the mysterious employment of the ex medical students by Mr. Connors. Further research yielded that not only were they expelled, but criminal charges were brought against the team for unethical experimentation with the human brain. It’s worth noting that the criminal charges were dismissed resulting in only the expulsion. The legal bill, picked up by once again, Mr. Connors. Well, that just left us with the mystery of the firing of the long term accountant. I managed to track him down in a forum of his colleagues’ and secured a private chat with him posing as a fellow bitter accountant. Well to spare you the boring details, seems his questions into the business ethics of Mr. Connors led to his dismissal, but not before he left a ‘back door’ into the financial records should he ever need one. After some sympathetic chat about nobody respecting the ethical complexity of the industry, I got him to lead me to this said ‘back door.’ That’s when I hit the jack pot. I found over 20 deposits in Connors’ private accounts that left a paper trail leading to several key city politicians, as well as unauthorized use of shareholder profits from the Rose Tribune.” Danny paused for breath and watched Dawn’s green pool eyes take it all in.

“In other words… Joel Connors is swiping tax dollars to import strange animals into this country and bankroll a gaggle of mad scientists for creations God knows what?” inquired Dawn with foggy comprehension.

“Um… pretty much,” replied Danny with a sardonic smile.

“Well, the question is, what exactly are they doing?” thought Dawn aloud.

“That I do not have an answer for. The information trail really ends there. All I do know is that Connors this mystery science team set up in a basement lab at his estate.”

“Then I need to do a little detective work, and find out just what illegal doings are going on down there.”

“Whoa, whoa, Dawn. You’re not talking about breaking in there are you? That sounds a bit on the dangerous side,” warned Danny.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Danny. I need more information, more evidence, and the only way to get it at this point is first hand, visual.”

“But what about all these financial statements, the stolen tax dollars?”

“It’s not enough without proof of their work. I need to tie it all together in order to bring a suitable case against him. A man as powerful as Connors is going to require an airtight case against him if I’m hoping to blow this whole scandal open and bring him down. That being said, it’ll be dark soon, and I can’t waste another minute without risking this story getting away from me.”

“I can’t say that I agree with this plan, Dawn,” aired Danny with concern as he watched the slender coworker he was enamored by collect her files and prepare to leave. “I mean, you could get killed!”

Pausing on the tone of that last work, she turned on her heel and gave Danny a sarcastic wink and smile, “well, good thing I decided to go with support hose today,” gingerly ushering a slender hand at her stocking clad legs.

On the way out of the conference room, she passed Mandy Miller, a rather frumpy and grumpy rival reporter that had disliked Dawn the moment she started at the Rose Tribune. Mandy sat at her desk chewing on a pencil while chatting away on her phone. She cast Dawn an unsettling look as the beautiful blonde rival shimmied past her desk in slender arrogance. Mandy’s voice lowered to a whisper as Dawn passed her by that gave Dawn an uncomfortable feeling in her gut, that caused her to shoot a glance over toward Mr. O’Neil’s office. Through the blind she could see him on the phone, and it looked as though he were staring directly at her from the distance. With a shudder, Dawn glanced back over her shoulder at the conference room. Though the blinds were still drawn, she had left the door open and could see a sliver of Danny, enough to see that he was now talking on the desk phone. Dawn gave a scared little laugh at her ridiculous imagination as she rode the elevator 42 floors down to her waiting green Jaguar.


“Yes, it’s confirmed, she’s on her way. Yes I understand… by all means leave the welcome mat out for her.” A mysterious veiled voice spoke into the phone to an unknown listener. 

Somewhere outside the city…

Dawn approached the giant estate of Joel Connors with an impressive whistle at the size of his home. She had parked a short distance down the road, approaching with her headlights off to ensure her arrival was not detected. As she approached the western tower of the castle she found to her astonishment the door was ajar and a flickering light poured from within. Cautiously approaching the door from the side, she looked down at her heeled feet with an unsettling feeling. She found herself standing on a welcome mat. The oddity of the situation gave her a healthy dose of butterflies in her stomach, but after taking a deep breath, Dawn peered inside the open door. The flickering light inside came from a torch that burned with a crackle mounted within a wall sconce. Appraising her surroundings revealed a spiraling staircase that lead deep underground into inky blackness below.

Taking a deep breath, Dawn stepped inside but the echoing clicks of her heels caused her to grit her teeth and hold her breath in silence, listening for security and an unknown fate. When her life did not come to an end, Dawn unbuckled the ankle straps on her heels, and slipped them off, holding them gingerly in her right hand. The stone steps of the tower were freezing and the chill cut viciously through the thin gossamer stockings that offered her poor feet so little protection in winter. As she tiptoed her way down the spiraling staircase, she came upon something that froze her in her tracks and got her heart beating fast. Inside the wall was a small alcove where there rested a human skull with a candle burning low, wax dripping down in streaks mingling with the white of bone. Dawn grabbed the wall for support with her left hand. Forcing herself to breath, she reappraised her situation. Fearing an untimely end to her short life, Dawn contemplated turning and running out of the tower, but calmed herself by telling herself that she was doing the right thing in the name of justice.

The candle topped skull proved to be the last source of light, and with each step further down the spiral, Dawn found the golden glow of light fainter and fainter until she found herself immersed in total darkness. The good news was that she had reached the bottom of the stairs; the bad news was that she couldn’t see anything around her. Cautiously reaching out into the darkness with her slender arms, Dawn felt about for a wall and hopefully a light switch. In her blind expedition, her search yielded no walls but her hand did contact something in the inky darkness. It was some sort of string that first a panicked Dawn feared was a spider’s web causing her to whimper, but when she finally found it again her fears were extinguished as it turned out to be a thin piece of string with a small round piece of metal anchored at the bottom.

Pulling at the string vanquished the darkness as a ceiling lamp came ablaze with a cone of light. Blinking her eyes to adjust to the sudden change, Dawn was not prepared for her surprise. She was standing in a snake pit! But not just any snake pit. These snakes had the tops of their heads split open and glass domes attached with brains floating within a blue glowing chemical. Completely dumbfounded by what she just discovered, Dawn absentmindedly let her heels slip from her hand with a clatter to the floor.

Whether it was the startling sound of Dawn’s heels hitting the floor or the snakes getting over their own surprise at this new guest, the immediately narrowed their eyes and revealed long wicked fangs. It took about this long for Dawn to realize that she had just blindly wandered down into a snake pit barefoot in a miniskirt, and the only thing between the soft skin of her legs and the venom-dripping fangs of a bunch of exotic snakes was a run filled pair of pantyhose. “Geez I wish I had of changed into a clean pair this morning,” thought Dawn stupidly.

With a girlish scream, she hopped up on one foot and pulled down on the hem of her skirt, trying in futility to cover up her exposed vulnerable legs. The snakes bared their fangs with a hiss and lunged at Dawn’s slender gossamer coated legs. Completely surrounded with nowhere to go, Dawn watched in horror as the snakes coiled around her legs, feeding off the fear of the young woman’s fears. In the chaos of her peril, Dawn watched as a snake bearing a red cape and a brain larger than the rest, slithered into the light. He frowned at Dawn’s trembling form as she whimpered from all the hissing from his henchmen. They seemed almost as if they were awaiting his command. Dawn’s thoughts were swimming. What the hell was going on here? Is this what those rogue scientists were working on? Deadly intelligent snakes? Would she ever know why Connors was doing this? And most pertinent to her peril… even run filled… would support hose save her precious little life this time?

“Dawn Meadows… it is I… Ratter the Remorseless. I am speaking directly to your brain, something your frilly blonde head may find hard to comprehend,” the voice was deep and malevolent, but it was certainly wasn’t being spoken aloud. It was seemingly echoed in her head. Ratter continued, “You have the unfortunate stupidity of breaking and entering and discovering our kind before the time is right. The ‘rogue scientists’ in which you speak are visionaries cast from their field for taking the human brain further than anyone has ever imagined. As with any research, money is needed and there will be money to be made. That our cause owes deeply to Mr. Connors. And as to your last question… Mr. Connors was prepared to spare your life had you chosen not to lazily brush off the company’s professional dress standards. Failing to change into a fresh pair of stockings this morning has just cost you your life.” The telekinetic transmission ended and the world seemed to speed up again.

With a hiss, the henchmen snakes that were coiled around Dawn’s slender frame began to sink their fangs into her soft body with vicious attack. Tiny pin pricks opened up all along her long legs with tiny streaks of blood that began to heat up like a maddening fever. Other snakes leapt at her wrists, her arms, even her long exposed neck. The pain of the many bites was white hot bordering on delusional as Dawn slumped down to her stocking clad knees. She turned her brow in fear realizing the stupidity of coming here, and worst of all, her laziness this morning when dressing. The words, “Nice going Dawn, NOW you’ve done it,” came to mind as she wobbled on uneasy knees before slumping forward. As she lay there dying, flat on her face, Dawn felt one last snake bite painfully into her tender backside. She had just enough energy to feel embarrassed by the situation as she helplessly drooled from the effects of the deadly venom that corrupted her precious blood.


Weeks Later…

Down in the darkness of the snake pit, a kneeling skeleton with its butt up in the air and face flat on the ground, arms outstretched sat quietly. Tattered remnants of a once nice blue skirt suit adorned the bones, with a pair of sagging black pantyhose fitted loosely over long boney legs. The skull’s mouth was open, long greasy blonde hair matted and unkempt lay messily over the head while a venomous snake slithered out from an empty eye socket…

The End for Dawn Meadows…

Art by Kent Holle

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