Monday, February 29, 2016

Short Story: Graveyard Shift by SpookyLady InSanDiego

Ted Barnes leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms above his head. He hated working night shift because it was always the least exciting. But he had the least seniority so he was stuck with it. Playing cards with Alan Foster helped a little. He and Alan were both the most recent hires and Alan was placed on nights as well. Alan played a mean hand of poker and he knew it. Ted would win the occasional game but usually ended up being the one who had to buy dinner from the all-night diner across the street.

After winning his third hand since their shift started, Ted threw down his cards. “All right, you win again. You’re going to make me go broke feeding you.” Alan laughed and stacked the cards neatly. “You should’ve kept that jack and you might have had a chance.” Ted picked up his wallet from the table“I’m outta here. The usual?” Alan nodded. “Sure.” He rattled some loose change in his pocket. “I’ve got enough for sodas,” he said. “Great,” Ted replied. “See you in a few.” Ted walked out the door and it closed softly behind him.

Alan stood up, shook himself like a dog, and headed for the soda machine standing against the wall. He dropped in some coins and pushed the Coke button. The machine made a whirring noise and dropped the first can. He put more money in and the second dropped. Grape soda, Ted’s favorite. Ted drinks so much grape soda if you’d cut him he’d bleed purple, Alan thought. Usually on one shift he’d have five or six cans. “You’re going to rot your teeth out,” he’d told Ted once. Ted just laughed. “I only have two fillings,” he replied.

The air conditioner kicked on with a thump and cool air began to blow into the small room. Alan turned his chair around backward and sat down. He began tossing cards into the janitor’s mop bucket, bending them slightly and flipping them with his middle finger toward the bucket. Now and then one would neatly drop in.

Alan’s stomach began to rumble. He hoped Ted would be back soon with his roast beef sandwich. He looked at the clock and sighed. It was 2 AM. Only 7 more hours to go, he thought. As he flipped another card into the bucket, he heard the soda machine whirr and a can drop into the dispenser. “That’s odd,” Alan said to himself, and got up. He walked over to the soda machine and squatted down to look in the dispenser. There wasn’t a can of soda in it. He reached up into the machine to see if it had gotten stuck. He didn’t feel anything. He looked on the floor and under the machine to see if the can had rolled away but found nothing. Alan scratched his head and shrugged it off, walked back to his chair and began flipping cards again.

A few minutes later the soda machine thump again. This time he was annoyed. He gave the machine a thorough once-over. Nothing out of the ordinary; no soda cans on the floor or under the machine. “This’ll do you,” he said to the machine, and unplugged the cord from the wall. The machine fell silent. As he left the room he heard the machine dispense a can. Alan whirled around, surprised. He picked up the can and muttered “Stupid thing,” giving the machine a kick. As he left the room he heard the machine make an odd clicking noise. When he turned around the noise stopped. A little unsettled, Alan scratched his head, thinking maybe it was just the condenser cooling off.

Ted stumbled in the door, arms full of white paper bags. He spread them out on the table in front of Alan. “Coke machine’s on the fritz,” said Alan, digging into the bags. “What’s wrong with it?” asked Ted as he sat down at the table. “Sounds like it’s dropping cans, even after I unplugged it,” Alan said through a mouthful of sandwich. Ted went to the machine and pressed the buttons, checking the dispenser just in case another can decided to appear.

Alan had polished off his first sandwich and started on his second one when Ted returned and plopped down in his chair. He picked up his sandwich and saw a huge bite had been taken out. “Hey!” he yelled, holding up the sandwich. Alan looked up, surprised. “What?” he asked. “If you wanted tuna salad all you had to do was say so!” he barked. “Nuh uh, no bite,” Alan said while chewing. “Then how did this happen?” Ted demanded, shaking the sandwich at Alan. “Dude, I swear I didn’t eat it,” Alan protested. “I hate tuna!” Ted glared at him. “I didn’t even touch it!” Alan wailed. Ted took a plastic knife out of one of the bags and cut out the bitten part of the sandwich. He began eating, all the while keeping a wary eye on his coworker.

A knock on the door temporarily interrupted the feeding frenzy. Both men got up as a delivery driver shuffled in. Ted took the box from the man. “What up, Holmes?” Alan asked the driver, giving him a high five. “You are, man,” said the driver. Alan signed for the package and clapped the driver on the back as he went out the door. He dropped the box on an empty desk. Alan picked up his can of Coke and discovered it was empty. “Did I drink this already?” he asked Ted. “Dunno,” Ted said. “The way you eat it’s a wonder you haven’t ingested silverware.” Alan shook the can. “This is crazy,” he said and opened another can.

After cleaning up the table Ted put on his jacket. “Cold in here,” he remarked. “I’ll turn down the air,” Alan said, and adjusted the thermostat. Ted turned on the television and settled in to watch Law & Order. Alan went back to flipping cards into the janitor’s bucket.

Both men looked at each other with surprised expressions when they hear one of the drawers in the morgue open. Alan grabbed the mop from its bucket and followed Ted into the morgue. Occasionally a group of teenagers would break in to take pictures of their friends with the corpses as a Halloween prank. Depending who was on duty they might get to take a picture if the corpse’s face and any distinguishable markings were covered.

Ted flipped on the lights. The room was empty. Alan walked into the center of the room and stood still, listening for any sounds. The only sound was a car commercial on the television in the other room. Ted and Alan looked at each other. Ted shrugged and walked out. Alan took one last look around, then walked slowly back into the office. Must be a full moon, he thought to himself.

Five minutes later Ted was completely engrossed in his show when they heard the sound of another drawer opened in the morgue. This one was much louder. “What the hell…” Alan said. He got up from his chair and started toward the morgue. Ted, angry for having his television show disrupted again, got up and this grabbed the mop again. Both men stood in the doorway and peered into the room. All of the drawers were closed. “Alan,” Ted said quietly, “that was the sound of a drawer opening. We didn’t hear the sound of a drawer closing.” Alan looked wide-eyed at Ted. “There’s something going on,” he whispered. “You think?” came Ted’s sarcastic reply.

They walked slowly to the doorway, straining to hear or see anything out of place. Sam Watterston was delivering his final remarks to the jury on Law & Order. The air conditioner kicked off. Just as they turned their backs they heard a slam and a click: it was the sound of a drawer being closed.

Ted and Alan looked at each other in horror. “Shit,” Ted said softly. Then they heard the sound of the soda machine dispensing a can. Alan raced into the other room and looked at the machine. The dispenser was empty. “Dude, this is not funny,” Alan said. “You’re telling me,” Ted said, gripping the mop with both hands. He stormed toward the morgue, jaw set. Alan turned off the television and hurried after him.

“Come out of there!” Ted roared as he flipped on the lights. Alan slid along the wall and flung open the door to the janitor’s closet. Brooms, mops, buckets and bottles of window cleaner sat just where they belonged. Ted moved through the room, pointing the mop like it was a rifle. They stood still momentarily and looked around the still, clinical coolness of the room. Alan jumped and Ted whipped around when they heard the television blaring from the other room. “I turned that off!” Alan yelled above the din. They rushed into the office only to find the television set dark.

“Somebody’s messing with us,” Ted growled through his teeth. He opened the door and looked outside. The parking lot was empty except for his and Alan’s cars. “Dude, there’s nobody else here but us,” Alan said. Ted looked at him accusingly. “It’s not me, man!” Alan shouted. “I’m just as scared as you are!” “I’m not scared,” Ted spat. “This is some kind of a joke.” Alan’s face turned ashen. “Maybe it’s a ghost. A ghost of one of those stiffs,” he breathed, looking warily in the direction of the morgue. Ted snorted. “Ghost stories are for kids. Don’t be stupid.” Suddenly the sound of several drawers opening at once came from the morgue. Ted and Alan raced to the doorway. “Mother of God,” Alan said slowly. He and Ted stood staring into room. Each drawer was open all the way.

“That’s it,” Ted said, determination in his voice. He walked up to the drawers and began slamming them shut. Alan began helping him, gingerly touching the drawers as though one might bite him like an angry dog. The he heard Ted say, “Dude, look at this.” Alan walked over to one of the open drawers. “This is Phil Dupree, the stand-up comic,” Ted said, looking at the card on the front of the drawer. Alan looked at the paper. “He just died yesterday,” Alan said. “Bummer,” Ted replied. They looked at the body of the dead comedian. “He was pretty funny,” Alan said. “I took my girl to see him back in February. He was great.” Ted nodded thoughtfully. “He was only 47,” he read from the card. “Man, that’s tragic,” Alan said, rubbing the back of his neck. Ted slowly shut the drawer and turned around. “Let’s get this done with, this place gives me the creeps,” he said.

As they walked toward the office they heard the sound of the soda machine dispensing. “Not again,” Alan moaned. Ted held the mop in front of him in a show of bravado. The room was empty. In the center of the table were two soda cans: one Coke and one grape soda. Ted looked at Alan. “Where did those come from?” he asked. “Don’t ask me,” replied Alan, eyeing the cans suspiciously.

Once again Alan and Ted heard a drawer opening in the morgue. Almost drudgingly they walked to the morgue door. They watched as Phil Dupree’s drawer slowly slid shut and stopped with a soft click. Ted and Alan stared in disbelief. “Well,” Alan said, “maybe this was Phil Dupree’s last joke.” He looked at Ted, who raised his hand and somberly blessed himself.

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