It was my first day on the job, and I couldn't help but feel nervous as I stared at the solid steel door embedded in a wall of concrete. I pushed the button on the intercom next to the handle. I waited and watched the cloud of my breath dissipate in the cool night air. It didn't take long for an answer."This is Control Officer Thompson. State your business." "Um, yes sir. Officer Brian McGowan reporting for duty." I tried to sound official, but I'm sure it came off clumsy. "Hold your I.D. card to the camera above the door please." I did as I was instructed, and after a moment there was a loud buzz followed by a click. "Go through the sally-port. Head strait and stay on the sidewalk as you cross the yard. I'll let you into the Shift Commander's office when you get there." "Yes sir." The door was heavy but surprisingly easy to open. One of the fluorescent bulbs in the high ceiling flickered, and added a sense of foreboding to the empty gray room. I quickly crossed to the next door. Another buzz, and a click, I was in. My heart began to pound as the door I came through slammed shut, locking me in with two hundred inmates. Who cares if they were all teenagers, they were still drug dealers, rapists, and murderers. Now I'm locked in here with them, I must be out of my mind. I took a few steps and ran my fingers over the soft stubbles of my brown hair. They made us buzz cut it at the Academy, and over the last six-weeks I had started rubbing my head when I got nervous. I'm not sure why--I just liked the way it felt I guess. For some reason it seemed colder on the inside of the wall, so I stuffed my hands into the pockets of my dark blue coat. It was eerily quiet, there weren't even any crickets chirping in the grass bordering the sidewalk. The lights glowing around the top of the wall, and on the few buildings around the yard, made it hard to see the stars. It made me feel claustrophobic. I ran to the small building marked Shift Commander's Office. It couldn't have been more than fifty-yards but I was out of breath when I got there. I heard the now familiar buzz and click of the door unlocking. I pulled on the handle, and took some deep breaths before going in. I didn't want my new co-workers to know I had gotten scared. "Get it together Brian; it's all in your head," I whispered to myself. I have to make it at least a year here if I'm going to save up enough money to get my own place. Living with my parents at twenty-four wasn't exactly sexy to the ladies. With my goal in mind, and my confidence bolstered, I walked into a small room with an empty desk. I could hear voices coming from down a short narrow hallway, and started toward them. As I stepped into the Shift Commander's office an older man with snowy hair and icy eyes glared at me. "You're late!" he growled. "Can it Richards." Said a plain looking woman with red hair behind the desk. "You'll have to excuse the Sergeant. He has the personality of a teased badger." Richards stuck his tongue out at her and she raised a thin eyebrow. "You must be McGowan," she said, turning her attention towards me. I nodded a little unsure of myself. "I'm the graveyard Shift Commander, Lieutenant Roe Peterson. Why don't you come in and have a seat so that we can get through shift change and relieve the officers on the units." I nodded again and headed for a seat next to a middle aged portly African American man, and as far away from Sergeant Richards as possible. As I sat down he extended his hand. "Hi, Officer Don Sheppard." I took it and he smiled clear up to his eyes. "Brian, Brian McGowan." The lieutenant cleared her throat to get our attention and the office went silent. "All right, according to the last shift it was a pretty quiet night." She said flipping through some papers on a clipboard. "Andrews you'll be in the boy's housing unit tonight," she said to a young man a little older than me who I hadn't met yet. "There was a shouting match between a couple of kids down there over the basketball game, but Officer Lopez shut it down and there were no more issues." "McGowan." "Ma'am?" I said. "Since you and Sheppard seem to be getting along so well why don't you head to the girl's unit with him this evening. Nothing major reported from them at all." Sheppard smiled at me again "Yes Ma'am," he said. "I'll show you the ropes kid." I nodded and smiled back, thankful that I wasn't going to have to sit with the sergeant who the Shift Commander assigned to control. "I'll be wandering around, if you need anything, call me on the radio. Now, let's get the swing shifters home," she said standing up behind her desk. 11:12 PM We all filed out and headed to control to get radios and keys before going to our assigned posts. Once on the unit we got another brief from the officer we relieved. Sheppard went into the office and sat down at the computer. "So what brings you to the facility?" he asked as he logged into his email. "I was tired of dead-end jobs paying minimum wage." I said plopping down into a chair next to him. The office was well lit, a sharp contrast to the unit's darkened common room. There were perhaps forty metal doors on two tiers surrounding the perimeter of the unit. Each one had a paper nametag or two taped above a tiny window. "Is this unit really full of girls?" I asked. "Yep, and we better do a check really quick too." Sheppard answered, jumping up and heading out the door. "You hit up top, and I'll get down here," he added as I followed him to the base of the metal stairs. I watched him for a second as he flipped up the thin curtains covering the window of each door. He hesitated a second peeking in on the inmate and let the curtain drop as he moved on to the next door. I climbed the stairs and followed his example, looking in, the girl looked like a little brown heap curled up under her blankets. After a moment I saw it move as the girl breathed and continued around the upper tier. "CODE RED! Boy's unit." Screamed out from the radio on my hip. What the hell does that mean? "Stay here!" Sheppard shouted running out the door. It slammed shut behind him echoing through the eerily quiet unit. This can't be good. I finished checking on the girls around the upper tier, and then picked up where Sheppard left off. Done, I sat at the desk looking around the darkened unit, and ran my hands over my stubble hair again wondering what was happening. "Shit!" I yelled and jumped when the phone range, scaring me half to death. "Hello?" "Who is this?" came the rough reply. "McGowan." I said with trepidation as I recognized Sergeant Richards' voice. "Damn it son, you always answer the phone with your name and location. Try again!" He hung up. What an asshole I thought as the phone rang again almost immediately, "McGowan, Girls Unit." "Well, he can be taught." Came the sarcastic reply. I just kept my mouth shut and waited for him to get to what he wanted. "I was calling to let you know that one of the boys that got in a fight earlier tonight was beating on his door and waking up that whole unit. They've got him cuffed and are bringing him to the MCU. So Sheppard will be back in a few minutes." Gee maybe he isn't such a bad guy. "Thanks. What's an MCU?" "Management Control Unit. It's attached to control so I can watch him and he can make all the noise he wants without bothering anyone else. And, don't thank me. I just didn't want you getting scared and pissing yourself in that haunted unit over there." He laughed and hung up. Yeah, he's definitely a dick. Haunted unit, whatever, I'm not going to fall for that shit. Then it started. Quiet at first, a low rattling. I couldn't tell where it was coming from. I walked out of the office, following the sound. My mouth was dry, and my hand unconsciously found its way to the top of my head. I can't believe I was letting his stupid comment about the unit being haunted get to me. There's no such thing as ghosts. But what the hell was that sound? It was getting louder, becoming a popping noise. The popping suddenly stopped and a quiet hum took over. The tension building in my shoulders eased. It was just the air conditioning kicking on. I shook my head, and my face flushed with embarrassment as Sheppard walked back onto the unit. "You all right man?" he asked. "You look like you've seen a ghost." I couldn't help but wonder if this was some sort of set up that was being organized for my benefit. "Yeah. Yeah I'm fine. Why? Did Richards talk to you?" Sheppard smiled innocently, "About what?" "Nothing, forget about it. I thought maybe you guys were trying to mess with me or something. He told me this unit was haunted." I laughed, trying to sound nonchalant. Sheppard's smile vanished, "It is." "Shut Up," I said. "I'm not falling for that. Tell Richards he's an ass." I stomped towards the office. Sheppard followed close behind me and grabbed my elbow. "It's not a joke man. A girl killed herself on this unit a year ago today actually." I spun around to meet him. The set of his jaw and the look in his eye stopped my sarcastic reply. "It's a damn shame too, she'd be getting out tomorrow if she hadn't. Now she'll haunt this unit forever." "Really?" "Yes." I swallowed hard. He laughed. "Man don't be so gullible." "What? You're as bad as that sergeant; you mean a girl didn't commit suicide?" He shook his head, "No, she did. Wrapped a sheet around her neck and threw herself off that tier." He pointed to the railing on the second level. "But that doesn't mean this place is haunted." He laughed and passed me going into the office. I ran my hand over the top of my head; this was going to be a long night. Sheppard and I spent the next few hours making small talk in the office. Every fifteen minutes or so we would get up and check on the inmates. I usually took the upper tier because climbing the stairs hurt Sheppard's knees. They probably wouldn't hurt so much if he climbed a few more stairs I thought, but I didn't say anything. No point in being vindictive. 3:45 AM As I came down from a check the lieutenant got on the radio. "McGowan report to the boys unit," she said. "Yes ma'am." I nodded at Sheppard and headed out into the cool night air. I looked over at the control tower. The upper third had a large window looking out over the yard, and Sergeant Richards could be easily seen in the light. He put a book down and took of his glasses when he noticed me heading from one unit to the other. I waived. He flipped me off. What an ass. The boy's unit was virtually identical to the girl's. I found the Lieutenant and Officer Andrews in the office. She told me that he was going to show me how to do a security check on the kitchen while she watched the unit and took care of some paperwork. Andrews was nice enough; he didn't tease me about the girl's unit being haunted at least. Actually he seemed uncomfortable with the whole conversation about the girl committing suicide. I could tell he was relieved that it didn't take long to get to the kitchen and our conversation switched to what doors needed to be checked and where to find and count the utensils. "Now they make it easy when it comes to checking the knives." Andrews said. He stepped in front of an exit sign and he was haloed in green as he unlocked a metal cabinet secured to the wall. "There's a shadow board so all you--have such pretty eyes..." "Excuse me?" I said taking a step back. It sounded as though his voice went up an octave mid sentence. "What did you just say to me?" Andrews appeared to ignore me as he reached into the knife cabinet, and his voice continued to change. "Eyes, there's nothing sexier than eyes." No longer did he sound like a man in his late twenties. He was beginning to sound like a little girl. "They are the gateway into the soul. You have such a pretty soul honey." I continued to slowly back away. "Andrews you're starting to freak me out a little bit bud. What the fuck?" I could feel my heart pounding in my temples as I watched him pull out a small paring knife and turn towards me. "That's what he used to say to me," Andrews said. A crooked grin spit his face. "He was right. I used to have such pretty eyes-pretty, pretty eyes." He took a few steps towards me. A green glow--which I st first thought came from the exit sign--emanated from him. I tripped over my own feet backing away. I landed hard on my ass. Andrews stood over me the knife dancing in his hands. "Stop it you crazy fuck!" I tried to crawl away backwards but bumped up against the dishwasher. Andrews slowly shook his head. "Do you think my eyes are pretty?" His voice rose to a screech. "Well Do you?!" He plunged the knife into his eye sending warm blood squirting across my face and chest. "What the fuck? You're crazy." I scrambled to my feet, as he laughed and twisted the knife in his eye before pulling it out and stabbing his other one. I ran from the kitchen. Andrews' voice could be heard as the door closed behind me. "Pretty eyes, such pretty eyes..." I headed for the shift commander, my breath tore at my lungs and my legs ached. I was blind to everything around me but the front door of the Boy's Unit. My hand shook as I tried to put the key in. "What the fuck!" I shouted as I dropped my keys. I felt something cold kiss the base of my neck and spun around keeping my back to the concrete. Nothing there, it must have been the breeze. I tried to breath as I squatted down and grabbed my keys. Once I had them I stood back up and spun around. I used both hands to try and keep the keys steady and felt a rush of relief as the key went into the lock. "Andrews is fucking crazy!" I yelled as I ran towards the open office door on the other side of the unit. "Keep your voice down you'll wake up the whole unit." The shift commander said as she came out of the office with a stern look. "Fuck the unit! I just watched a man stab out both of his own eyes" "What are you talking about?" she demanded. I ran my hand across the now cold blood on my face and showed it to her. "That's Andrews', he stabbed himself. He stabbed his fucking eyes out!" She focused on the blood for half a heartbeat before pushing past me. "Stay here and watch the unit," she said. "Fuck you. I'm not staying in this crazy place another minute. Not alone." I started after her. She pulled her radio out and spun around stopping me with a look. She put the radio up to her thin lips, "Control, contact EMS. Andrews had an accident." There was no reply. She cocked an eyebrow. "Richards, did you copy?" Still no answer. I shook my head. "He said this place is fucking haunted. I thought he was just messing with me. You know, new guy stuff . . ." I didn't think it was possible, but her gaze turned even harsher. "Sheppard, are you there?" she called on the radio. Silence. She holstered her radio, "If this is some sort of joke he's cooked up it's not funny." "Would Andrews and Sheppard be in on it?" I asked, my fear turning to anger. She slowly started walking around the unit, "I'm not sure let's do a quick check on the boys, and we'll go see what we can find out." I ran upstairs while she did the lower tier. 4:15 AM As we walked out of the unit we could see the lights off in the control tower. "That mother fucker," Lieutenant Roe said shaking her head. "He's taking this joke too far if that's what it is. And, yes the others could be in on it. They've worked together for years. I was a sergeant on the day shift. I got this promotion about three months ago. Richards wasn't happy that I passed him up." "I see . . ." She started towards the Girl's Unit. "Let's go see if we can find Sheppard. Then I want you to show me where you saw Andrews last." "Yes Ma'am." I stopped rubbing my head and stuffed my hands into my coat pockets as we stepped into the girl's unit. It was bitter cold, even more than it was outside. The lieutenant swore under her breath, "Someone's cut the heat off. I'll have them all fired if this is a fucking joke" As we approached the open office door a soft mewling sound could be heard. We found a resident hiding under the desk, crying. She couldn't have been more than fourteen or fifteen years old. Her bare knees pulled up to her chest stuck out from under her sleeping gown. "What are you doing out of your room?" Lieutenant Roe demanded. "Where's Officer Sheppard?" The girl shook her head and pulled away as the shift commander and I reached for her. "Leave me alone!" she screamed. "I didn't do anything. He came to my room, he had a green light around him and he was singing like a little girl." The hair on the back of my neck stood up when she said that. The green glow and the fact that he sounded like a little girl. It was the same as Andrews. I need to get out of this place. The lieutenant squatted down to the girl's level. "It's allright. We're not going to hurt you. Who came to your room? What was he singing about?" "Bad things ma'am." I knelt too. "What sort of bad things?" The sooner we got to the bottom of this the sooner I could resign. Better to be alive in my parent's basement, than possessed and made to kill myself by some crazy girl who committed suicide a year ago. The girl's eyes widened, as I got closer and she shook her head so violently that the strands of her brown hair hit her in the face. "Back off McGowen!" Lieutenant Roe said. I leapt up and took a step back. "Sorry." I was clearly making the girl uncomfortable. The shift commander never took her eyes off the girl, "Is that better?" The girl nodded slowly. "Now, was it Officer Sheppard who came to your room?" She nodded again. "What was he singing?" The girl's eyes darted towards me, and she shook her head no. "What if he left the room? Then could you tell me?" She nodded again. I stepped out before the lieutenant had to say anything but I could still hear the conversation. The girl started singing, quietly at first, but then with more gusto as she became comfortable with the shift commander. "That sweet sweet ass, I'm gonna get in that sweet sweet ass. There's no time to miss that sweet sweet ass." After hearing the song the Lieutenant managed to convince the girl to come out of the office and she was put in with another girl who could have a roommate. We went up to the second tier where the girl's room had been and found Sheppard laying face down on her bed. His pants were around his ankles and blood had soaked the bed and was still dripping on the floor. The top of a two foot long flashlight could barley be seen sticking out of his torn and bloodied rectum. The Lieutenant's resolve broke. She put her hand to her mouth and started crying. We aren't going to get out of here alive. I wasn't sure what to say or do, "Looks like you won't need to fire them after all," is what came out and I regretted it the second I said it. The shift commander turned towards me, her face, hardened. She pushed past me and ran to the office. I followed unwilling so stay with Sheppard's corpse. She grabbed the phone. " Shit!" "What now?" I asked as I nervously stepped into the office. She slammed the receiver to the phone down. "The fucking phones are dead." "What do we do?" She pointed at me, tears of fury brimming in her eyes. "Go check on all of the kids in both units. Make sure that they're all okay." I was scared shitless, but I felt terrible for what I said earlier so I didn't complain. "Yes ma'am. Then what?" "Then--I don't know. I'm going to go find Andrews. You said he was still alive in the kitchen?" I nodded. "At least he was when I took off." "Alright, then that's where I'm headed. After you check on the kids meet me there." She headed out the door and I ran through and checked on all of the girls, side stepping the door where Sheppard still lay. I spared a glance at the control tower as I sprinted back to the boy's unit. I thought I saw a faint green glow coming from inside the darkened windows. 5:20 AM As I left the boy's unit I noticed that whatever green glow I had seen, it was no longer illuminating the control center. I ran towards the kitchen, Lieutenant Roe was already on her way out as I approached. Her face was ashen, and her voice shook "Andrews is dead too." I didn't ask if he had suffered any more injuries other than his eyes "I have a feeling that the Sergeant is probably already dead too." "Why?" I explained about the green glowing light, and how it had been around Andrews and that the girl mentioned it was around Sheppard too. "I'm almost positive I saw the same glow in the control center as I ran by." I pointed towards the blacked out windows, "Now it's gone." The lieutenant slowly shook her head. "We've got to get in there." "Are you fucking nuts?" Her eyes cut through me like a pale blue knife, "Like it or not I'm still your commanding officer!" "I'm just really freaked out. This isn't what I signed up for. I just want to go home." I couldn't keep the tears from my eyes. I was too terrified to be ashamed. "I understand. I'm scared too, okay. But we've got to get in there. First there's a phone that is on a separate line from the others in the facility just in case of an emergency. Second we have to know exactly what happened to Richards, and third, the day shift will be here soon. We've got to warn them and figure out what the hell to do next> We can only do that from in there. Okay?" "Okay." "Are you with me?" I nodded, "Yes I'm with you. How do we get in?" "Follow me." She led me to the warden's office. Under his desk was a yellow lockbox; in it was a huge ring of keys. She quickly flipped through them looking at each of the larger ones. "This one opens the control tower," she said. 6:00 AM We stood at the foot of a narrow spiral staircase, flashlights in hand. The wrought iron clanging under our boots and our heavy breath the only sounds I could hear. After climbing four stories we came to a heavy metal door with no window. The Lieutenant unlocked it, her white knuckled hand squeezing the key ring as if it were the most precious object in the world. As the door swung in, lieutenant Roe took a sharp breath. I put my hand on her shoulder. In the small circles of light our flashlights provided I could see Richards hanging from a rail above a small landing over the Management Control Unit, his belt cutting into his neck, his face purple and bloated. We moved in slowly, and the Lieutenant headed for an old style rotary phone. She picked it up, "Fuck!" and slammed it down. "It's not working either." We both jumped and turned as the control center door banged shut. "What the fuck is that?" Roe whispered. A green glowing mist hovered between the door and us. I shook my head; not wanting to believe what my gut told me must be real. She had killed everyone else now she'd come for us. "It must be the ghost of the girl who committed suicide." As soon as I said it the essence encapsulated us, and then darkness. Her name was Annabel Lee, and I saw the world through her eyes. I was with her as she was brutally raped and murdered by Richards, Sheppard, and Andrews. I experienced her as a spirit forced to watch as they reported her as a suicide, and the unfair treatment her brother received after her death. He was the boy now locked up in the Management Control Unit for acting out on the anniversary of his sister's death. Finally I felt the relief of freedom as she left me. Her soul ready for eternity on the day she was supposed to be released from her sentence at the facility. 6:45 AM I woke up to a loud buzzing sound, Lieutenant Roe laying next to me tears streaming down her face. "Did you see it?" I asked. She squeezed her eyes shut and nodded her head. The buzz stopped, and then started again. "What's that sound?" She pointed to the control panel. I got up, a red light by a silvery button around a big square was flashing. On the monitor above the control panel I could see a man in uniform staring up. I touched the button by the light and could suddenly hear him cussing about the lazy graveyard staff. "Who are you?" I asked tentatively. "Captain Johnson, dayshift Shift Commander. You must be the new officer." Relief washed over me, and suddenly Lieutenant Roe was up and by my side. "We're glad you're here Captain," she said. "Roe? Is that you? What the hell are you doing in control?" "There's a lot to report. Come on in Captain." She touched the red light that had been flashing and I watched as he opened the door and entered the facility. That was my last night on the job.
x x x
Ordinarily I would have rejected this horrific tale. The author consistently confused "then" for "than" as well making as other grammatical and stylistic errors. It's quirky terror, though, gripped me and I couldn't suppress a shudder several times. I remembered working as a security guard in my youth and walking lonely vigils in deserted facilities. Those spooky memories saved this tale and I relaxed my snap-judgment nature a bit. Let me know if you think this story was worth it on our BBS. -GM