It was an endless night of rain. Wait! Scratch that. It was a sunny, blissful day. The birds were… Okay, okay, let’s start this right. Get a steaming cup of hot chocolate, cozy with a warm blanket, and settle in for a story to ease your day. Let’s set the scene first. We have our protagonist in a small, stained-covered, ten-by-ten office. A steel door encapsulates his retreat. As soon as you enter his space to the right is a wall covered, from the ceiling to his desk height, with screens showing every corner of the department store he works for; on the desk is a simple landline with a notepad and pencil. The opposite wall has a small fridge with a microwave and a Keurig. The fridge is filled with complimentary water and Gatorade, while the small freezer is filled with hot pockets. Next to it is an air filter, and above that is an air conditioner. The wall directly across the door has a layout of the department store. If the guard sees a problem by any chance, he is to pin the area on the layout and then call another guard on the floor to check it out. The floors are concrete floors with various stains and cracks; right near a corner is a suspicious-looking brown stain that takes up too much space.
Our guard watching the cameras is called Henry; tonight is his first night on the job. Henry is a widower who decided to take on a night job to keep his mind off his recently deceased wife of fifty-plus years of marriage. He is seventy-five and has six living children and six deceased children. Henry also has fifteen grandchildren, four dead grandchildren, and twenty-two great-grandchildren. His life has had many downs but also plenty of ups.
Now on with our story, Henry walked in at eleven P.M., set his lunch box down on his desk, and proceeded to open the box and remove the contents to place them in the fridge. He saw someone walk across the screen from the corner of his eye. He paid no mind since he knew that another guard would be on the floor of the department store. Henry filled the small fridge with his things, noticing that the sign on the wall said the drinks in the fridge were free and the hot pockets were on the house, but to Henry’s dismay, there weren’t any hot pockets or drinks. Nonetheless, he was ok because he had been ready, or so his daughter had made him ready.
Lauren, one of Henry’s middle children, moved in with Henry when Carla (Lauren’s mother) suddenly died, leaving Henry sad and lonely. Lauren’s children, already grown and married, thought the idea spectacular since Lauren’s husband had died by suicide less than a month before. Lauren is a fifty-one-year-old teacher at a high school. She has three daughters and one son, along with two grandchildren.
Now, back to Henry. At this point, our main character has made himself comfortable in a chair with wheels, all his food stored away for later, and the door securely locked -our protagonist fears unlocked doors. Henry sits back in his chair, mounts his legs on the table, puts his head back, and stares at the ceiling. He notices some gum and mounds of paper on the ceiling, which seem to Henry to be spitballs. He brings his head down and starts looking at the screens. Henry sees the floor guard walking past one screen and into the next, making his rounds. As he stares intently, expecting something to happen, the screens become blurry, a sign of our main character becoming sleepy. Henry decides to close his eyes for just a minute. The minute turned into hours when suddenly the phone startles Henry awake.
“Hello,” said a sleepy Henry.
“Hey, is this the new hired,” said an unfamiliar voice.
“Yes,” replied Henry, now trying to reach the Keurig to make himself some coffee.
“Hi, this is John. I work for the human resources department. I tried to reach you from your cell but didn’t get an answer.”
“Oh, sorry, I must’ve left it in my car.”
“No problem. I just wanted to inform you that the night guard had an accident. It was tragic. He was pronounced dead at the scene.”
“The night guard that was supposed to work with you tonight. He’s dead.”
“So a different guard was sent to replace him?”
“No, no. I was just informed of this. A colleague of mine is trying to reach another guard for tonight.”
“So, he died when he left here?”
“What? No, he never made it to work. Look, I still need to make some calls. I’ll let you know if we find someone to replace him. For now, just make sure everything is okay from your end of the job. If you see anything suspicious, just go out and check things, then return to the security room, Okay!”
“Sure,” said a puzzled Henry, then hung up the phone.
The Keurig was on and ready to make a hot cup of coffee. Lauren always bought the exotic coffees, thought Henry. This brew was a hazelnut brand from an Amazon ad she’d seen and ordered. Henry liked the smell, but he felt it wasn’t strong like the coffees his Carla made him. He grabbed his coffee from the Keurig and then sat back down, focusing intently on the screens. One screen switched off, then back on, but the view was blurry. Henry smacked it on the side, and the screen returned to normal. Back to watching each screen, Henry again sees the guard walking down a hallway. Henry thought this can’t be perhaps John was mistaken. Henry stood, looked closer into the screen, and saw as the guard turned and signaled for Henry to come.
“I’m going crazy,” said Henry to an empty room.
He stood back, rubbed his eyes, and then looked back at the screen. Sure enough, the guard was signaling Henry. Henry sat, looked down at his feet, then at the door, then back to the screen. As he watched, he saw a lady with long hair like his Carla, dressed in a flowery dress, walking down a corridor. Henry immediately stood and looked intently at the lady. It was his Carla. He bolted out the door and ran towards the corridor, screaming for his Carla. But to no avail. He stopped running to rest his racing heart and tried to listen for any sounds, voices or movements when suddenly he saw a shadow. He raced towards the shadow and almost tumbled onto a crying child.
“Oh,” said Henry, “Um, what are you doing here?”.
“I can’t find my mommy,” said the child, looking down at her bunny.
“Wao, look here, um, this place is closed…”
“There’s mommy,” said the little girl smiling. And off she went running; Henry looked back and saw what he never thought he would see. Carla.
“Baby, I told you to stay close to me,” Carla told the child. She looked at Henry and said, “I’ve missed you.”
Henry couldn’t speak; he just looked from the child to Carla.
“Cats got your mouth?”
“Cats got your tongue?” said Henry. Carla would always get every cliche wrong, and Henry would always correct her.
“This is our daughter. The first one we lost. And she still walks away from me,” said Carla, then bent over and spoke to the child, “I told you not to walk away from me.”
“I just wanted to see Daddy,” said the little girl as she reached up to grab Henry’s hand.
The little girl named Jean was Henry and Carla’s first daughter. On a trip to that same department store, Carla lost Jean. Jean had walked away because she wanted to see the toy store. Several months later, her head was found in a pond a few miles from the department store.
“Henry, I have come to get you. It’s time,” Carla said, reaching out to grab Henry.
“Actually, no. I found out about your demons, to say the least.”
“Oh, Henry,” said Carla, smiling and grabbing Jean.
He looked at poor little Jean. So many mysteries surrounded her disappearance. Witnesses never saw Carla enter the mall with Jean, but there weren’t any security cameras back then. Then, one baby was born, and then one baby died. All so suspicious to Henry. His dear Carla suffered more than anyone, but Henry had his doubts.
“Henry, you can’t stay.”
“And why not?”
“Do you not know your so-called sleeps? Last time you “fell asleep,” I died.”
Henry looked puzzled; his thoughts jumbled in his head. Pieces of memory started to fall slowly into his brain. He saw Jean’s lifeless body on his workbench as he sawed away. Henry rubbed his eyes, then rubbed his head, causing his hair to be messy. He looked at Carla and suddenly saw her foaming at the mouth. Henry closed his eyes, but behind his lids, he saw baby Tom suffocating by his hands. He opened his eyes.
“No! It was you; you killed all those babies and then committed suicide, you, not I.”
“Daddy, why did you kill me?”
Henry backed away as different shadows approached him, bringing eerie noises from beyond the grave and hell's doors. He tried to outrun his memories, his fate, but he couldn’t. Sweat blinded his path as he searched for a way out; the shadows became engrossed in his being, tearing his soul to shreds.
By morning, Henry was found dead in his chair. Coroners later determined his death was caused by poison found in his coffee.