by Kirt Stark
Sue fumbled nervously with her broom, working quickly. The urgency in her movements was sharp and jerky. Her dark brown, almost black hair hung in strings that fell about her face and clung to her shoulders. Her face was certainly pale, but not with her fear. She simply had pale skin, and it looked spooky, almost ghastly even, in the dim lights. But the fear was still evident in her darting, dark eyes.
She was the only custodian that cleaned the small office building at nights, with the sole exception of Marilyn, but she didn't come in to work until the very early morning hours. Marilyn was somewhat younger than Sue, although still in her early thirties, and looked considerably older than that. Sue worked from 9:00 PM until 5:00 AM, most of that time being spent by herself in the huge building. There was, of course, a security system, but no guards were posted in the building. She was very much alone the majority of the night.
Sue watched the clock closely as it dragged time forward with a painfully slow motion. Marilyn would be arriving soon, and then Sue could relax, at least a little.
In the quiet of the night Sue could hear the warning cries in the early autumn wind outside. She rushed through her duties, clambering awkwardly to avoid being near the windows too long. She could feel the eyes peering in at her, the haunting, dead eyes, anxious to see Sue lying lifeless on the floor. She could feel them so strong that she couldn't bear to look for fear that she would see them looking back at her. More than once she darted away from a window after catching a glimpse of her own eerie reflection in the dark windows.
Hurriedly Sue fell to her knees and began to sweep the dirt she had collected into her dust pan, when the door swung open with a loud bang.
"Marilyn!" Sue gasped and sprang to her feet. "You scared the living daylights out of me!"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Marilyn apologized. "I didn't mean to. Maybe I'll be a little noisier coming down the hall next time." She turned and slipped off her coat and started to pull her apron on.
"Marilyn?" Sue choked.
"They followed me here."
"Who followed you here?" Marilyn asked, still fussing with her apron.
Sue said nothing, and puzzled, Marilyn turned toward her. It took only a glance, and Marilyn knew what Sue was talking about.
"The oogies?" Marilyn scrunched her face.
Sue nodded in total, horrified silence.
Marilyn sighed heavily, and finished tying her apron strings. "I thought we'd seen the last of those, Sue. What happened?"
Sue caught a warm tear with the back of her hand and went back to sweeping. "They never really went away, Marilyn," Sue said in a low voice.
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Marilyn asked, turning her ear to hear better.
Sue set her broom against the wall and covered her eyes, her shoulders shaking slightly from her crying. Marilyn stopped and watched for a minute, almost shocked, before she stepped over and put her arm around Sue, comforting her calmly. The two sat in silence for a minute, huddled alone in the vacant, otherwise empty building.
"Would you like to take off early, Sue?" Marilyn offered kindly. "I can finish up here tonight. It doesn't look too messy to me."
Sue wiped her eyes, looking like a little girl with a hurt knee. "I only have an hour left, and I don't know that I'd be safe going home before sunrise anyway. In fact, if it's alright, maybe I'll work late with you."
Marilyn smiled and opened the closet door to get her equipment. "Of course you can; I could use the extra company myself."
Sue went reluctantly back to work, trying hard to see through her reddened eyes. After she had several minutes to calm down, she noticed Marilyn sweeping the other room. Stopping abruptly, Sue poked her head in the door. "What's up?" she asked, puzzled, "aren't you going to start in the bathrooms first?"
Marilyn smiled sheepishly. "I was just worried about you, I'm sorry," she shrugged. "It scares me to see you like this, and I'm not sure how to help you, or if I can. I don't even know what the problem is, to be honest with you."
Sue walked in quietly and sat down. "I know you don't believe in them, Marilyn, but I can't deny them. I feel them brushing up against my face when the wind blows, I can hear them talking in the tall grass in the empty field next to my house. I can even see them sometimes, staring at me, watching me." She stopped and muffled her sobs in her hands again. "They're coming after me, Marilyn, I just know it."
Marilyn sat next to Sue, her hands set neatly in her lap. "I don't think I can . . . ."
Both women jumped nervously when the office phone rang. Taking a deep breath, Marilyn sat back in her chair. "Stupid phone," she muttered. Looking over, she could see that Sue was still terrified, glaring at the phone with wide, tortured eyes. "What's the matter?" Marilyn asked, taking Sue's hand in her own.
Sue shuddered, but her stare never left the phone, ringing persistently on the desk. "It's them, Marilyn, I can feel it. This is the third time it's rang tonight, but I never have the nerve to answer it. They're calling to let me know I don't have long to live, they plan to kill me, very soon."
Marilyn shook her head and waited until the phone stopped ringing. "This is going too far, Sue," she insisted. "You don't need to answer the phone, in fact, I wouldn't. It's probably some prank call. But, to be perfectly honest, everyone feels the wind, everyone hears things sometimes, but it doesn't mean it's ghosts! Besides, even if it were, and there were ghosts all over, why would they want to kill you and not anyone else? Why wouldn't they kill me, for instance? Or why wouldn't they have just killed you years ago?"
Sue stared down at her feet in silence, then finally looked back up and into Marilyn's confused eyes. "I don't know all the answers, I guess. I don't suppose anyone does." She took in a deep sigh, letting the air out slowly. "I think they feel like they need to kill me because I can sense them, I can see them, and other people can't. I know this sounds nuts, but the other day I saw a strange, horrible man standing in the subway tunnel, just watching me. No one else noticed he was there. Some business man walked right toward him, and I thought he was just going to bump right into the stranger. But he didn't, Marilyn, he walked right through him, I swear it! I was so frightened I could barely walk!"
The two women sat back comfortably in the office chairs, both trying not to look at each other. Finally Sue went on. "I don't think they can just kill me any time because they're not that strong. They're not alive, they don't have bodies to use to hurt me with, but I sense that they can get strength from my fear. And, to be perfectly honest, they have me more and more frightened every day. It can't be too much longer before they finally have the strength they need to reach into our world and pull me out."
"That's ludicrous, Sue!" Marilyn didn't sound too certain herself. "If they're just ghosts, they'd have no reason to come after you. What good would it do if they did? Even if the whole world knew they were here, what would they care? Frankly, I think you've just been working the graveyard shift too many years!"
Sue shook her head determinedly. "I started working graveyard shift so that I'd be awake all night. I feel too vulnerable when I sleep. And besides, I don't think they're really ghosts, not like we understand them. I don't think they're supposed to be here. It's like they've escaped from somewhere, and don't want to be discovered."
A sudden noise in the hall made both women sit straight up, silent, and listening.
"It's footsteps!" Marilyn whispered harshly. "It's still way too early for anyone to be here!" After another second of listening, Marilyn looked over at a very frightened Sue. "Great," she whispered a little quieter now, but in a very serious tone, "now you have me spooked."
Quickly Marilyn grabbed a sharp envelope opener from the desk and stepped timidly out into the foyer. Sue followed close behind, huddled tightly to Marilyn.
"What can I use as a weapon?" Sue asked, her voice quivering wildly. Marilyn studied out her face carefully.
"I think you'd better not use anything, Sue. We don't know who it is yet, and I don't want anyone getting hurt if we can avoid it."
Sue nodded in fateful submission. "I know who it is, and a weapon won't help anyway."
Marilyn gave Sue a quick, warning glance, then turned to the main door to the office. "It sounded like it came from the hall. I'm going to check."
Not another sound was heard while Marilyn walked, now alone, to the glaring door. With a deep breath, she carefully turned the knob, without a single sound. Slowly she pulled the door open a crack and peered through. After a minute of waiting, watching, listening, she opened the door wide and stepped cautiously out into the hall. Finally she turned around and stepped back into the office, looking back at Sue who was shivering in terror.
"There's nothing there," Marilyn stated, more stunned than anything else.
Sue swallowed hard and nodded in disagreement. "There's something there, alright. It's just that you can't see it. It's there, I can feel it!! It's there, I tell you!!!"
The shouting was interrupted by the telephone once again demanding attention. Sue stared, and shaking like a leaf in a storm she walked to the desk and stared down at the phone. Marilyn stepped silently to the doorway, envelope opener still clenched tightly in one hand.
With only a slight hesitation Sue picked up the receiver, and slowly raised it to her ear. "Hello?" she asked, voice breaking, resigning herself to the inevitable.
Sue's eyes grew suddenly wide at the voice on the other end of the line. "Sue," the sullen voice chimed, obviously relieved. "It's Marilyn. Look, I'm terribly sorry, I've been trying to call you all morning. Someone slashed all four tires on my car, and I can't get a cab at this hour. I'm sorry I couldn't get in earlier, but I'll be there as soon as possible. Is that alright, Sue? Sue, are you there? Sue?!"
Sue set the receiver down quietly, then turned to see the woman at the door, the jagged envelope opener still held in one hand. Sue knew as her knees gave out and she fell limply to the floor, that the fear was finally strong enough.
Story © copyright 1999 by Kirt Stark <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Artwork "The Hallway" © copyright 1999 by Sam Crowe of Liquid Digital Illustrations <email@example.com>
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