(Disclaimer- this version may or may not be exactly the same in the final verison of the novel)
Ned wakes up and is surprised to find that he’s not tied up this time. In fact, he seems to have full range of movement. Somehow that fails to bring him comfort, however, especially when he realizes where he is.
That realization fills him with a disconcerting certainty that this is intended as the end of his road.
“Sick sons of bitches,” he mutters.
He walks deeper into the pervasive darkness, carefully avoiding debris as he locates the old desk. Oddly, obscenely, much of the work he’d left on it that Friday has managed to survive the melee of the following week. To his right, a gigantic hole in the side of the building shows him the beautiful, star-filled sky outside. It almost seems like a tease.
But the sky can wait until he finds Ernie.
I’m no help. For this moment, I am no more than a reader my only consolation is the presence of the man in the gray trench coat.
Ned stumbles over a pile of rubble as his eyes try to adjust to the darkness. He refuses to allow the waiting barrage of questions in his mind into the forefront of his consciousness. His whole life has been spent asking questions with no answers. The fact that he hasn’t gone stark raving mad is a testament to his incredible willpower.
It is this very willpower that carries him through the dark room, around the various holes in the floor, and to the exit.
The hallway is just as dark as what remains of the Complete Maintenance office. He calls out for Ernie, fully aware that he’s probably being heard by the two freaks that brought them here before.
I turn to the man in the gray trench coat to ask him if he can find Ernie and, without a word, he vanishes from my sight. I’m glad he’s here to help me. I need to stay with Ned. If Faceless shows up, I’m the only one who can do anything substantial against him.
Ned heads instinctively toward the elevators. They don’t work anymore, of course, but there’s no other way off the third floor. The other side of the building, where the emergency staircase was, took the brunt of the explosion since that that’s where the boiler was located.
Two escape strategies occur to him:
1. Pry the elevator doors open and shimmy down the cable a la Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard movie, or
2. Take his chances with the ready-to-collapse-any-minute staircase.
As I mentioned earlier, Ned weighs less than me, so for him option number two sounds more appealing and possible. He turns away from the elevator doors and heads toward the staircase. He makes it to within two paces of his destinations when, amazingly, the elevator doors start opening.
Ned doesn’t need an explosion of purple neon in the sky to tell him who it is.
Neither do I, which is why I “stand guard.”
Sure enough, Faceless emerges from the supposedly non-working elevator. He pauses as if frozen. It’s impossible to tell what’s on this thing’s mind-if it even has one-but I get the feeling it senses me in the vicinity.
Ned musters up some bravado. “You again, huh?”
Faceless turns toward the sound of his voice.
“I guess we might as well settle this man-to-mannequin,” Ned says.
He places himself in a defense posture, or at least my idea of what one looks like. Faceless tenses, fists clenches at his sides. I notice the look on Ned’s face and catch onto his plan. Maybe I can help him out.
Tensing my spectral muscles, I prepare for what comes next.
“What are you waiting for?” Ned taunts. “There’s a hole down there with my name on it!”
Ned makes a move toward the staircase. Faceless springs into action with me right on his ass.
Ned side-steps the creature’s advance and, for an instant, it looks as though Faceless might
actually maintain his balance. Then I plow into the back of him and he goes flying onto the staircase.
Ned doesn’t hesitate to kick at one of the loosened bolts, each blow reinforcing the rage and hatred in his eyes. The staircase whines its final resistance to the repeated kicks as the entire thing starts breaking free of the pole and wall to which it is attached. Faceless grabs onto the edge of the floor mere inches from Ned’s feet. One more second and he might pull himself back up.
But Ned doesn’t give him that chance. He kicks his hardest one final time and the staircase breaks loose with a screeching, grinding explosion of sound.
But I hear another sound, too. One I don’t think Ned can hear. It is a high-pitched, non-stop noise that I’m pretty sure is the Faceless Man screaming.
I lean over and watch as the staircase crashes to the floor and tips over so that the top most part falls right into the hole in the lobby. Faceless goes in first, quickly followed by the rest of the staircase as gravity forces it into the hole. When the dust clears, I can see that it has become entirely covered.
Ned lets out a victory howl that scares the shit out of me.
“Didn’t think ol’ Neddy had it in him did you?” he yells.
He doesn’t notice the weakened floor beneath his feet. When it gives out, my hand passes right though him. I watch, helpless, as Ned falls toward the third floor lobby...