The sky is patchy with sparse, moonlit clouds. The pavement, wet from showers earlier in the day, glistens with the reflections of orange lamps and the locks on bay doors shining either red or green. At two in the morning on a weeknight, most of the city is dormant; but on the outskirts, far from any residential grids or common businesses, the warehouse yards are alight and churning out their goods like machines. Not every warehouse is required by its company’s customer demand to run through the night, but Henry’s does; and if it’s meant to be a machine, it’s one that desperately needs some maintenance.
There are three things Henry wants you to know about the night shift at Beischel Appliance Co. One, the day shift crew is full of assholes. So often, so many issues that are meant to be resolved by the end of the day, be they items that can’t be scanned to their outgoing orders or weekly forklift maintenance tasks, are left with a colourful little sticky note saying something like, “X ISSUE NEEDS TO BE FIXED BY MORNING, THANKS,” with an annoying smiley face. If it happened one or two times a week, Henry wouldn’t mind so much, but the constancy and the fact that these tasks should be effortless for the day crew irks like an itch he can’t get rid of. They’re also terrible at housekeeping; Henry is always finding loose papers and bits of packaging on the ground or hiding in corners, garbage bins filled well past the point of containing waste and dirty dishes in the break room sink. He’s beginning to think they’re just lazy.
Two, the night shift crew is full of assholes. The warehouse supervisor has very clear favourites who he’s willing to protect from any minor infractions they commit, while bringing down his authority like a hammer on the rest of the team. The safety officer is on sick leave almost more often than not, which sounds like it should be funny. There’s a guy that’s almost always late by half an hour or more in the evening, when everyone else has been threatened with termination over too many tardy clock-ins. There are admittedly a few guys that Henry respects for their work ethic, and the lady at the front desk is nice, but he’s not going to get too comfortable any time soon.
Three––and it’s not specific to Beischel, but it belongs in the discussion––the night shift kind of estranges you from the world you’re used to. If your life is centred in the time zone you live in, working while everyone else is asleep and sleeping when everyone else is awake radically changes your social life. Gatherings may be entirely impossible to manage, and contact with friends and family diminishes to the smallest corners of the day when your waking hours overlap. Your workplace essentially becomes your new social life––and Henry can confirm that it is, indeed, hell.
Does the night shift at Beischel have any upsides? Well, it has one pretty sizeable one: it pays better than the day shift. Since making the switch from early bird to night owl is a big commitment for many, employers incentivize new hires with a little padding in the paycheck. That’s speaking Henry’s language. He couldn’t care less about his company or his crew, if he’s honest with himself; having a secure job (and an easy job, at that) with good pay is the chief of his concerns. As soon as he saves up enough, he’s moving to the coast to pursue his real goal: a self-made career in music. He mixes lofi and EDM beats on his computer, publishing under the pseudonym, “Kairos.” He hopes to begin adding live recordings of guitar and piano, maybe even the occasional vocal track, to keep his tunes feeling authentic and fresh. But music is a side-gig at the moment; his free time is limited and his equipment is cheap. For now, warehouse work is a humble but steady way to reach the checkpoint he’s aiming for.
Henry crosses the threshold from the dusty, brightly-lit warehouse dock to the cool dark of the outdoors. His steps on the metal stairs ring through the lot. There are no trailers coming or going right now; it’s one of those blessed lulls in business, when the whole team can breathe a little. On the topic of breathing, Henry’s come out to do just that, though not of the fresh night air.
He reaches into his pocket to withdraw a cigarette and a lighter. His face glows for a moment, then he pockets the lighter and exhales his first puff, the cloud of grey dissipating in the darkness.
The breathing continues, the smoke flows in and out, the thoughts clear. The sounds of machinery and beeping scanners become background noise through the concrete walls and metal doors. It’s just Henry and the night.
Henry’s body jolts and he skitters away from the stairs, raising his hands against the whispering assailant. His eyes take a moment to adjust, but the shadowy figure emerging from under the steps takes on a familiar shape: his younger brother, Harley.
“Thought you didn’t scare easily,” Harley says with a half-grin as he straightens from his crouched stance.
“Harley? What are you doing here?” Henry hisses, fiercely adjusting his high-vis vest. “How did you get here? It’s the middle of the night!”
Harley holds up his hands in placation. “I know, I know. I’ll be up for school tomorrow, don’t worry. It’s just…”
As Harley pauses, no longer with that easy grin, Henry notices his brother’s posture is off; he’s supporting most of his weight on one foot in a lopsided limp. And though his face is mostly shadow, what isn’t is a streak of dark red near his temple, trailing down to his neck. The same colour patterns his unsteady hands.
“...I didn’t feel like heading home,” Harley finishes. “That’s all.”
“What happened to you?” Henry asks, his anger and confusion giving way to concern and more confusion. He walks closer, turning his brother to the light to see him better. “Are you alright?”
Harley winces and recoils slightly when his shoulder is touched. “I… got roughed up a little. Some guys from my school. I guess I was talking smack, got what I deserved.”
“What were you doing out so late? And how did you get here?” Henry asks again, looking around the lot as if expecting to find a car, even though Harley doesn’t own one.
“I biked here,” Harley answers, pointing to the stairs, whereunder Henry can see the dark outline of a bicycle. “I borrowed Dad’s. It looks nicer than mine.”
“You biked all the way out here? It’s a forty minute drive!”
Harley shrugs in a nonchalant way, as if it had been a leisurely trail ride and not an hour and a half of grueling offroads and highway shoulders, while substantially injured.
Henry crosses his arms. “Why didn’t you just go home?”
“Ah, you know… I’d probably wake up Mom and Dad. Don’t want Dad mad that I scuffed his bike up when I rode into a mailbox. Also…” He scratches his head, looking unsure of how to go on. “I technically wasn’t supposed to be out, because of my final exam tomorrow. And they’d probably ask me about all this––” He gestured to his battered self. “Don’t want to stress them out further.”
“It couldn’t be more trouble than biking all this way,” Henry says. He’s having a hard time picturing what Harley’s difficulty would be. “I think it would have been best to go home.”
Harley lets out a tense sigh, eyes trained on the ground. “It’s a different kind of trouble. You know… I don’t really talk to Mom and Dad. Like, talk talk. It’s always weird.”
Henry almost opens his mouth to say, Well, it’s not like we talk very much, either, but the instant it comes to his mind, it feels too real. To voice it would be to admit the cruel reality that they as brothers have become very distant––and not for Harley’s lack of trying.
Henry always had ambitions. He wanted to strive for bigger and greater things, and to do that, he needed to be older. So he grew up. But the brotherhood that he and Harley shared as children, the camaraderie and joy, quickly became too childish; it was beneath Henry, and Harley himself became a reminder of the juvenile life Henry wanted to leave behind. They grew distant over the years; Harley’s attempts to appeal to his interests and find some common ground were fruitless, and Henry had been blind to the hurt he was causing in his neglect. He took for granted his little brother who idolized him; and in this moment of clarity, seeing that brother before him, injured and exhausted and pleading with his young eyes, he feels remorse.
“I just figured you would understand better. Between us… bros.” Harley makes eye contact for a moment before dropping his gaze again, and Henry detects a fluid shimmer in his brother’s eyes.
Henry hesitates for a moment, then steps forward and puts his arms around Harley. The teenager is shaking, and his grip is tight. The two embrace, alone in the empty night, but together.
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Not happy with this one. It was meant to go on longer and end a little differently, but just like my last story, I didn't give myself enough time to finish it properly. I'm new to these weekly contests, and the challenge is inviting; I'm pretty bad at economizing my time, however, so in the future I'm going to set more time aside for planning and writing, and hopefully my full vision can shine through. Thanks for reading anyway; see you soon.
I'm so lucky. Nothing like a brother that cares.