By Chef WriterJosh/Josh Parker
It has been nineteen hours since it began. I have to write this. I pray no one reads it, but still I write. It won’t stop unless I do. It might not even stop then.
I work in customer service, for starters. The job is shit but it pays the bills. If you hate having to call customer service, don’t worry. They hate talking to you, too.
The company I worked at doesn’t matter. What does matter is they advertized twenty-four hour service that doesn’t stop for anything. That means somebody has to pull the night shift. And this week, that sorry sucker has been me.
My building is old; like 70’s old. I think it was originally a factory office building. It’s on the outskirts of town, buried within an industrial area. At night they turn off all the lights except the ones in the production floor to save energy. There’s a single security guard, myself and two other service reps. Calls are few. We don’t work in close quarters. I’m surrounded by rows and rows of half-cubes. We’re not important enough to warrant full cubicles. My two colleagues are on the other side of the room from where I sit. I don’t see them much, unless one of them gets up to go to the bathroom or some such. We’re all half-asleep; we don’t really see or acknowledge one another.
I usually play solitaire. Not on the computer, I prefer the cards. But I’m sure you don’t care about that. My name is Samuel Roper-Jaukhin. Weird name, I know. I’m 39. This job is all I know how to do. I get daily calls from my mother, even though I hate her and I think she knows it. I live in a tiny apartment. I don’t have a girlfriend. I haven’t had one in years. Not that it matters anymore.
These late night shifts have been getting to me. I try not to go to the bathroom myself because the hallways are literally so dark you can’t see a damn thing. I know that I shouldn’t care about stupid kid shit like that, but it’s unnerving. The end of the hallway is so black it may as well not be there. Once I was in that hallway when the air conditioner kicked in. From the blackness at the end of the hallway came a groan like something years dead now finally able to express its misery. I immediately turned around and went back to the production floor. I stayed there till the end of my shift, ignoring how much I needed to take a piss.
My colleagues shuffle around like zombies. They don’t talk to me. I don’t talk to them. I probably look as bad as they do.
As I said, calls are few. Those who do call in are…different. An odd kind of person calls in at night. People who think we’re a porn line, or at least treat us like we are. People who are drunk, stoned, or both. People who are clearly masturbating to the sound of my voice.
But this caller was not that way. His name was Howard, and he seemed like a nice older gentleman. He’d bought our product a few months ago, and, as products like the ones my company makes are wont to do, it had mysteriously quit working just a few days after his 90-day warranty expired. But he was strangely cool with it.
“I mean, it’s not really the end of the world,” he explained, again. “But to be honest I really feel like somebody knew it was going to break. Otherwise why wouldn’t the warranty have been a full year?”
Because you paid all of thirty dollars for it, you twit.
“I understand, Howard. Really, I do. And I want to help you. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to ignore company policy. I wish there was something I could do for free, but service will now cost the price of a new model, plus shipping.”
Howard sighed audibly. “Okay. I guess I’m gonna have to live with that.” He sounded oddly like he didn’t really care. Or at least care enough to actually call.
“Is there anything else I can help you with tonight, Howard?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Okay, thank you for calling [NAME OF COMPANY REDACTED]. Have a good evening.”
“You, too. They wait, and watch, and we do not see.”
“I’m sorry, Howard, what did you say?”
But he was gone.
After that call the room seemed that much quieter. I couldn’t even hear keys clacking as my colleagues mindlessly surfed the net. The lights in the room were lower than I was used to. Maybe it was another energy-saving move, or maybe something else; I don’t know. The AC was off. The room was still. I felt the need to go to the bathroom.
By this time months had passed since my last time I had ventured into that black abyss outside. I had been on days mostly this year, and I wasn’t used to the thick dark anymore. This room was dimly lit, but it had light. The hallway had none.
For some reason my conversation with Howard came to mind, but at the same time, it didn’t. What had he said, just at the end there? I couldn’t recall. Something about not seeing. For some reason that thought made the ideas of a trip into the hallway seem even worse than the last time. I stood up, placed my phone in “unplanned break” status, determined that I was being silly and reminded myself that I was going to see forty years before the year was up. A dark hallway was not something a forty-year-old man was afraid of.
I headed for the hallway, dimly aware that both my colleagues were sleeping at their desks. One of them was going to get a rude awakening if there was a call, because I planned on taking my time. I opened the door that led through the coat room and into the hallway. It was easily as black as the hallway itself and immediately my fear returned. I stopped, and stood as still as I could. My breathing seemed too loud in the stillness. I reminded myself that there had been no reports of anyone going mysteriously missing or found dead in this building, and started walking again, more quickly.
There were footsteps coming down the hallway. I know they weren’t mine, because they were slower. Much slower. I stopped. The footsteps continued for a few seconds after my own feet were still, then they stopped as well. I heard something else then.
Something like a low breeze, with trees rustling. Whispers. And some whispers back.
They wait, and watch, and we do not see.
I turned and went back to the production floor. I calmly sat down, placing my phone back into “ready” status. I was absolutely not going to panic. I had not heard footsteps or whispers. I had heard echoes of my footsteps, and the sound of the AC kicking in. That was all.
My phone rang almost immediately. I stifled a scream and pressed call answer.
“Thank you for calling [NAME REDACTED]. This is Samuel. How can I help you?” My voice sounded totally calm.
“Samuel.” The voice that answered was equally calm, almost flat. It was also familiar.
“Listen. I am sorry to call again. But I need to know if there is someone else. Someone else I can talk to. About my product. I can’t believe there is nothing to be done.”
His voice sounded…stilted and somewhat odd. Like he was reading from a script he’d never read before, and wasn’t much of an actor. The genial tone from his previous call was gone. I wondered if I’d really upset him that much.
“Well, Howard, it’s late,” I began. “There’s no one here but me and two other colleagues, both of whom have the same level of authority as I.” This is to say, none. “So, at present the best I can do is put your ticket in my manager’s queue, and he’ll call you back in the morning.”
“This can’t wait,” was his immediate reply. “The world is thin. It is shifting. They are watching, and they will come soon.”
This was a whole new level of weird. Howard’s words from the last call came back to me in a flash, and instantly I knew that however normal he had sounded on the last call, Howard was definitely one of the late-calling crazies.
“Look Howard, I…don’t know what to tell you. I’ve already done all I…”
“From behind reality they see, and they know. They who lie behind sight, those who hide in shadow and make no shadow. They have no name. They have all names. You will not see them, until you do. And when you do, do not let them see.”
With that, Howard hung up again.
My pulse was pounding. Howard’s voice had sounded deadly serious, and even through his monotone I sensed his fear. My colleagues still slept soundly at the other end of the room. I had not noticed until now that Howard’s call should have gone to one of them, but instead it came to me.
I sat still for a long time after. This time I didn’t forget Howard’s words. I couldn’t if I’d tried. Those who hide in shadow and make no shadow. I sat and stared at my phone. Howard’s ticket was still open on my screen, and there was his phone number. I stared at it for a moment. Then before I knew what I was doing, I called it.
It rang forever. Howard apparently had no answering service. After a while, with a violent squeal, I heard what sounded like Howard kicking the handset off the phone base. It clattered to his floor with a loud thud in my ear. Then there was silence.
“Howard, it’s Samuel from the service desk. Are you al-“
“They are coming.”
The same flat voice.
“Who’s coming, Howard?”
“They know our world now. The world is thin. The barriers are not in place that once were. They see. They are coming.”
“Howard, I need to know who you’re talking about. Please, what is going on? Who’s coming?”
“We do not know them. We thought we did; we even wrote stories about them. But the truth is far worse than the fiction. They are here. They are real. They are watching. I am so sorry, my friend. I should not have told you. If I had not, perhaps they would not notice you. But now…now…” His voice trailed off.
“Howard, you still haven’t told me who they are!” I practically yelled into the phone.
“I must not. Perhaps if I do not tell you, you will continue not seeing them. And if you do not see them, they may spare you. I shall not be so fortunate.”
Now I was panicking. The room was definitely growing darker, and the sound of footsteps from the hallway flooded back into my memory. I could swear I heard them again, this time closer.
“You can’t start telling me and not finish!” I shouted. “Why mention it at all if you refuse to say anything else?”
He said nothing for a moment, and then:
“What? Howard, what!?”
More silence from his end, this time much longer. Finally:
“They are HERE.” And his line went dead.
I sat and stared at my screen with rising panic. Howard’s voice had changed on that last note; becoming deeper and hoarser at the same time. It was a voice that was so totally the opposite of that genial man who had called not that long ago that it might as well have been something totally different.
The lights brightened once, briefly, brilliantly. In my monitor screen, the shadows in the room swelled and shimmered, moving independently. The light dimmed again to near darkness. Something moved in the corner of my eye. It made a skittering noise. A long shadow in the reflection on my monitor screen stretched and began growing extra arms of shadow. Something walked down the row of half-cubes in front of mine, and in the corner of my vision I could sense that it was looking at me.
I sat. I stared at my monitor. The shadows continued to flicker and dance. I didn’t look up. I focused on the glow of my monitor. Something big was behind me. Its shadow filled the room, and its shape was reflected in almost the whole of my monitor. I felt its hot breath on my neck, and I refused to look at it.
Instead I typed into Howard’s still-open ticket “Why? Why, Howard? Why are they here?”
Beyond all reason, words began to appear below mine. Howard’s calm script said: “They have always been here. But now you know them. You can see them. And they can see you.”
I closed his ticket without saving it. I opened WordPad and began to type. I typed on into the night, heedless of the skittering, whispering shapes about me, of the horrible faces that looked over my shoulder. I continued to type, and when I was done, I somehow knew that it would be read. By many. By you.
I am very sorry that I did this to you. I couldn’t help myself, you see. There is something about knowing that compels me to share. That’s probably what compelled Howard, for that matter. All I can do is offer the following advice.
Do not look up. Do not turn around. Keep your eyes on these words. Read them again from the beginning, and then again, if you have to. Do not check the corners of your eyes. If you see movement there, pretend you don’t.
They are watching. They see you, and they are waiting to see if you notice them. If you give them any sign, any at all, that you know they are there, they will come for you. They will remove you.