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The Man Who Could See Ghosts

 

 

 

As he looked up at the twenty building and compared his fears with the ad in his hand, he realized he had hit rock bottom in his job search.  He was applying for something he knew nothing about just so he could go home and tell his wife that he had been looking today.  She was tired of his excuses and so was he.  Enough time had elapsed since his burnout.  Now that his unemployment pay had been used up from the state, it was time to rejoin the work force.

            He had tried several other avenues only to discover his age as a barrier.  Also hampering him was the difficulty in explaining the long period of absence between his interview and his last job.  Since his last job was a disaster, he could not put that on an application or resume, so he had to lie to his prospective employers, which meant he had to deliberately doctor up his resume and falsify his application.  Each time he sent a resume off for a likely position, he was sending a fictionalized account of himself that might eventually catch up with him.  At times, he would be called in for an interview and, when asked to fill out an application beforehand, began sweating.  Each time he sat down to fill out such a document, he was forced to insert bogus dates and information on the form that the interviewer could challenge or, at a later date, after attempting to verify the information, find inconsistent with the truth.  But the truth, not the fiction, he believed, would have been far worse.  If he told them that he had a nervous breakdown and had been unable to do the type of work he had done before, a company would likely not have hired him, especially if the interviewer talked to his last employer.  So, as he attempted, in frustration, to try his hand at technical writing again, an act of desperation, he had several uneventful interviews, undoubtedly due to what interviewers uncovered, but at least no one discovered what had caused the discrepancies nor found out what he had really been doing for an entire year: writing a novel.

            Unfortunately, but to no surprise to him, he didn’t get hired by any of the companies he applied to, and his novel didn’t sell.  His wife, who at this stage could care less about his creative surge, was alarmed that he couldn’t land a job.  Perhaps, she suggested, they thought he was too old.  It was more likely, however, that they had checked his background out and found those inconsistencies he had tried to hide.  It was apparent to her that he must give up trying to get a white-collar job and just settle for a job—any job.  He felt frustrated and was wracked with guilt.  He had never done blue-collar, menial, or low-paying work.  After awhile of being rejected by every place he applied for, he gave up for awhile and tried working at home, trying his hand at online sales, but it proved to be a half-hearted effort.  The temptation was strong to return to his writing or sit there at his desk staring wistfully out of the window, hoping fleetingly for a breakthrough of some kind.  His online effort was therefore no more successful than his interviews.  When his wife told him once again he was dragging his feet and dodging the obvious remedy to his employment woes, he decided it was time to try something different…. But what?  

His wife’s income from the bank was no longer enough.  He had to make some headway.   He interviewed for a few sales positions, cringing at the prospects of actually being hired, and was secretly gratified they turned him down.  He applied for positions totally unrelated to his educational and employment background in which he was unqualified for in management, public relations, and even a human resource position, knowing full well he wouldn’t get the job.  More timidly he approached the avenue of manual labor and even checked a few well-known security guard services to find out what they paid.  Fortunately, or unfortunately (as he told his wife), the security agencies had no vacancies.  For that matter no one would hire an ex-technical writer with an MA in history who was ‘over the hill’ for those more interesting jobs.  He called a place offering a trainee position for a counselor, only to find out that they wanted someone who could speak Spanish.  At another time for an apprentice position in a museum, that carried a level of respectability, he was told flatly that he was too old.  Then one bleak day, after trying to get a position with the school district, his interviewer grew suspicious of his motives for such a menial job and was told he was overqualified.  If he had lied properly on the application and left out all that garbage about degrees and his experience technical writing he would have being a full time crossing guard now.  The pay was much higher than what he would get as a clerk in a department store or apprentice in a museum.  He might also have been working as a restaurant host if he could have given them a better reason for applying for the job.  He couldn’t convince the young man interviewing him at that he really wanted the job, which was true.  He had never been a good actor.  The only reason that the host and crossing guard jobs were more desirable, in fact, was that they paid more than minimum wage, which was more than what a deliveryman or security guard made.  When he said he wanted a career change for such a job, they would look at his middle-aged face, glance at his “over-qualified resume” and know that it was a lie.

            He was tired of lying and just wanted to be himself, and yet he began camouflaging his background, deleting information on his education and even lying about his age, just to get his foot in the door, but when companies looked at his employment history and saw the gaps and inconsistencies, these omissions made no difference in the end.  He was, if he took the positions, only fit for minimum wage at fast food restaurants or telemarketing jobs.  It seemed that, as he approached his sixties, he would have to compete with retired seniors and high school students, …until one day, as he walked up to the assistant manager at MacDonald’s with a hastily filled out application the very same moment that his cell phone rang.  

            In a lackluster voice, he muttered, “Hello.”

            “Is this Eugene Woodruff?” a gravelly voice asked.

            “None other,” he replied with a tinge of sarcasm. “Who is this?”

            “Waverly,” he croaked. “You were referred to us by Quick Start Temporary Agency.”

            “Good grief,” Eugene muttered.

            That moment, as he handed the assistant manager at MacDonald’s his application, she glared at it a moment, looked up at him in disbelief, and heaved a sigh.

            “You’re a bit overdressed,” she said, eying his suit. “We normally hire high school and college students.  You look like you should be working in a bank.”

            “Mister Woodruff,” Waverly broke in.

            “Yes, I’m here,” Eugene grumbled. “I apologize for that.” “You’re a very impertinent young lady,” he snapped at the woman. “What kind of work is this?” he exhaled wearily into his phone, as he pivoted and walked away. “

            “Security,” replied Waverly frothily.

            “Oh, that’s just perfect!” Eugene muttered to himself.

            “Sir, sir,” the manager called irritably, “are you applying for this position or not?”

            “Not!” he called over his shoulder, the cell phone still on his ear.  One of the jobs he had been avoiding now seemed to be staring him in the face.

“Can you come in for an interview?” Waverly inquired, unruffled by Eugene’s rudeness.

“…When?” Eugene asked after a pause, filled with dread.

“How about tomorrow night?” snorted Waverly snorted. “Six o’clock sharp.”

“Okay,” Eugene replied, as he unlocked his car. “Thanks Mister Waverly,” he said in a deadpan voice. “Where’s it at?”

            Waverly gave him the directions, which he punched into his iphone, almost in rote.  He didn’t remember even thanking the man or saying goodbye.  In fact, he tried not thinking about his upcoming interview.  The grim resignation that he might become a security guard filled him with gloom.

 

*****

            When he told his wife about the scheduled interview, she smiled faintly, nodded, and gave him a blank look.

 “Are you serious this time?” She raised an eyebrow. “The last time you applied for a security guard job you panicked.  I think they picked up on that.  You’ve gotta change your attitude Eugene.  This time go with a positive attitude, like you did for that counselor job.”

            “Well, a positive attitude didn’t help me then,” he grumbled petulantly. “It’s either my age or being overqualified.  It’s always something.  I find this very strange, Nancy.  At those temp agencies, I put down manager and trainee jobs on my application, that’s all.  I never mentioned security guard.  I don’t even remember the name of the person at the agency I talked to—some lady with a lisp and overbite.  She treated me like I was retarded.  I’m not going back to that place.”

            “Tsk-tsk,” she cooed, “maybe you should take the medicine the psychiatrist gave you.  You’ve got that look.  Stop clenching your fists.”

            “Not a chance,” he made a face. “That stuff makes me dopey.  The last time I took it, I ran a red light and almost hit a pedestrian.”

            It was plain to his family that Eugene was showing signs of his manic-depressive disorder.  The problem usually occurred if he failed to take his medicine and was exacerbated by the pressures of applying for undesirable jobs.  This time, though, his wife was growing desperate.  They were running out of money.  His excuses for not finding work had likewise run their course.  That evening as they sat down to dinner, his son Bruce, who still lived at home, also searching for his path in life, tried cheering him up.

            “It’s an easy job dad,” he said shoveling in a mouthful of food. “My friend Ben guarded a parking lot once.  He said it was easy money.  They let him sit in his car, as long as he made his rounds every hour.”

            “Lord,” Eugene groaned, “I hope I don’t have to do that?  Did that make him wear a uniform?”

            “Yeah,” Bruce snickered behind his hand, “a real sporty outfit.  He carried a big flashlight—must’ve been a thousand amps.  But most of the time, he stayed out of sight and hid his car.”

            “How much did they pay him?” Eugene grumbled. “Most of those kind’ve jobs are minimum wage.”

            “Twelve bucks an hour,” chirped Bruce, “more than I got at Wendy’s.”

            “Why don’t you apply for the job?” Eugene frowned. “You’ve been out of work longer than me.

            “Where’s this interview at?” Helen interrupted. “Is it close to home?”

            Eugene fished in his shirt pocket. “Here’s the address.  It’s a high rise.  I drove passed that place before—tallest building in the county.  My interviews on the seventeenth floor.”

            “Well, that’s a good sign,” she beamed. “High rise security is the up and coming thing.”

            “Hah,” Eugene scoffed. “It’s probably where the security agency’s located.  With my luck, I’ll wind up guarding a construction site.  It’s just an interview, Helen.  He might take one look at my application and give me the bum’s rush.”

 

******

            That night Eugene lie awake staring at the ceiling, wondering how things had gotten so bad that he was forced into security guard work.  After his burnout at Thermal Dynamics, everything had gotten progressively worse.  Those months on disability, in which he began writing his book, tried half-heartedly to find work, and was finally encouraged by the psychiatrist to get back to work, had brought him only heartache and mental stress.  The medicine prescribed by the doctor had made him feel so dopey and uninspired during his efforts as an author he stopped taking it.  With a modicum of success, he had been able to function without Prozac, but lately his depression had returned full force.  Never a drinking man, he was nevertheless tempted to find that fifty-year old scotch his father gave to him several years ago…. Perhaps, he might even take a few pills again to bring down his mood.

            When he awakened the next day, with a full day ahead of him until his new job started, he returned to work on his second novel.  Now that he had a job, his conscience was clear.  He decided to give his publishing career another chance.  His wife was at work, and his son was still asleep.  His last novel, that received zero acceptances after hundreds of submissions, had received little or no attention.  Of the few comments he received, “No one wants to read young adult science fiction anymore,” and “This is an overused theme,” didn’t bother him as much as the fact that over nine-five percent of the publishers didn’t respond at all.  Most of the small number returning a reply, sent form letter emails, briefly stated, such as “Thank you for submitting your novel, but we’ve decided to pass.”  On a mental backburner, he placed his first book.  Today, however, was a new beginning for him.  He would write something that would sell this time…. The question was, he asked himself as he stared at his laptop screen,… what?

            After an hour of struggling with a theme, Eugene began researching online for ideas.  Judging by their book lists, most publishers were interested in romance, mystery, horror, and young adult fiction.  Fictionalized feel-good stories about people overcoming illness and calamity was also popular.  Since most publishers required authors to have agents and only a few publishers even read new submissions, these overriding factors of course trumped all other factors, but he must at least get on the right track.  Though it rankled him to consider the possibility, he narrowed his selection of salable topics to horror or mystery, unless he could spin his personal trials and tribulations into a tale.  The question again was “What?”

The next day found Eugene restless and out of sorts as he waited for the appointed time.  Though his anxiety had been high, he arrived at the high rise with low expectations.  It was good thing he allowed himself enough time.   The workday traffic had been particularly congested, and there was road construction near the high rise.  When he arrived in the lobby where he expected to meet the agent, Waverly was nowhere in sight.  The day guard, who might be making his rounds, was also absent.  For a moment, he almost did an about face.  What kind of operation was this?  He wondered.   What stopped him cold, were his wife’s final words when he left this evening, “Don’t let me down, Eugene.  Give this job a chance!

Then he spotted a sign over the door next to the lobby counter that read Building Office. When he entered the office, he found it empty too.  The lights weren’t even on in this room, and because the blinds were drawn, left him in almost total darkness.  Another red flag popped up in his mind and he was tempted to leave, until, out of nowhere it seemed, the lights came on, and a strange looking man appeared.  Startled by his sudden appearance, Eugene gasped and gripped his forehead. 

“Damn,” he muttered.

“You, Eugene Woodruff?” he asked gruffly.

“Yes.” He nodded faintly.

The sound of toilet running in the next room told him where the man had been.  When he shook Eugene’s hand it was still moist.  One more red flag rose in his brain, as the man waited for an answer. 

“I’m not going to lie to you,” Eugene answered. “I know nothing about security work.  I need a job—end of subject.”

Cocking a bushy eyebrow, Waverly looked Eugene up and down, and, with a wave of his hand, replied, “Okay, fair enough.”

As he studied the man a moment, he wasn’t impressed.  As usual, he wore a suit and tie and polished shoes, whereas Waverly wore a gray sweatshirt, contrasting black slacks, and tennis shoes.  He looked like he had just been jogging.  He was unshaven and looked as though he hadn’t had a haircut in many months.  Was this supposed interview for real?  He wondered.  He wasn’t clear what Waverly meant by “Okay, fair enough,” and he was afraid to ask.  Was he offering him a job of simply acknowledging the statement he just made?

With misgivings now, Eugene asked, “Do I need to fill out an application?”

Waverly shook his head impatiently, running a hand through his stringy hair. “I know everything I need to know, Mister Woodruff.  The agency sent over a copy of your application.”

When Eugene glanced around the room, which had been filled with a building manager and office personnel during working hours, he was filled with disquiet.  The casualness of the interview, if it could even be called that, and man’s demeanor and attire, caused yet another red flag to surface in his mind.  Apparently, Waverly didn’t care about his background or the lame reason he gave him for wanting this job.  What he did do, however, was question Eugene on his frame of mind.

“Are you superstitious, Mister Woodruff?” he inquired, folding his arms. 

“I believe in God, but I’m not superstitious,” answered Eugene.

“Fair enough,” he pursed his lips. “The question is, “do you mind working the graveyard shift?’”

“Yes, of course,” Eugene responded forthrightly, “but I’ll do it.  I need the money.”

“Your honest, Mister Woodruff.  I like that.” He set his jaw. “No one in their right mind likes working the graveyard shift.  If he says he does, he’s lying.”

“One more question,” he said, scratching his chin. “You’ll be working with eccentric people?  Will that be a problem for you?”

 “Not at all,” Eugene replied in cavalier voice. “I’ve worked with some real assholes.”

“Well, that’s good enough for me.”

They were strange questions, thought Eugene, but Waverly, after all, was a strange man.  When Eugene asked him about the pay, he was greatly surprised when he was told him the pay was twenty-five dollars an hour.  Though apprehensive, his mood changed from being totally uninspired to immediately interested in the position.  The next question from his disbelieving lips was, “are you making me an offer?” 

Waverly nodded obliquely and shoved a sheet of paper toward him.  It was a very brief contract, handwritten with almost perfect calligraphic form.  It read simply: ‘You must arrive promptly at the hour (not a moment before or after) and make an hourly check of each of the twenty-five floors, from 12 am to 8 am.  At the end of your shift, you will leave at exactly 8 am.  It was so simple, Eugene giggled foolishly as he signed his name.  Bluntly now, he asked when he would be paid.  Waverly told him just as bluntly that he would be paid each week, payment being made to the address shown on his previous application.  Though he had received several mental red flags, which had worried him, Eugene’s sloppy signature was on the contract.  When Waverly told him that the contract was binding, he uttered a hysterical laugh.  It was just too absurd to believe.  Nevertheless, another red flag—this one a banner warning, was raised in his mind.

            Waverly gave him the red sports jacket, matching tie, and dark blue slacks—the uniform worn in the Chevington Plaza Business Building.  Wishing him good luck, he signaled that he was dismissed by motioning to the door.  It was as simple as that.  When he told his wife about his meeting, she was concerned at first.  What tempered her concern, as they debated the issue, was the hourly rate Eugene would be paid.  Both of them agreed that it was a high rate for such a simple job.  Despite her blessing, he knew she was worried, too, and he slept fitfully that night.

  

******

            Several before midnight, after a long, restless day of working on his book and anticipating his new job, he arrived at Chevington Plaza in his red sports coat and tie.  For several moments he had to wait at the entrance for the swing shift guard to arrive.  Finally, a shadowy figure emerged on the other side of the door.  There was subdued lighting in the lobby.  Through the glass, it was difficult to discern the image.  The sound of keys rattling, followed by the lock clicking, was an eerie sound.  When the door opened to allow entry, he slipped in, expecting a greeting, but found the lobby empty.  With the specter disappearing so suddenly, it felt as if he had just entered an inner sanctum.  Popping up like a jack-o-lantern from the lobby desk, clipboard in hand, the guard looked across the floor at him but said nothing. 

            “Oh, there you are!” Eugene said airily.

            Motioning rudely at him and grumbling, “Your early!” the elderly woman waited impatiently behind the counter.  As he approached, he remembered Waverly’s question, “Do you have a problem with eccentric people?”  She shoved a nametag across the counter.  Fastening it to his lapel, he took time to read her tag: Madelyn Le Blanc.  Inclining her head, as would a crone, she studied him a moment before shaking his hand.  Though she mumbled, “Glad to meet you,” the look in her hawk-like eyes wasn’t friendly.  Her handshake, reminded him uncooked fowl. 

            “Here’s the log,” she snorted. “Check all twenty-five floors each hour.  Carry this clipboard with you.  Check off each floor as you make your rounds.”

On that note, as she made her exit, Eugene called out politely, “Have a nice evening!” Madelyn, moving swiftly for her age, called back sarcastically, “The evenings gone!”

 

******

At midnight as he began checking doors, he heard strange night sounds on the seventeenth floor.  They weren't anything spectacular at first, just a few high-pitched giggles and a muffled conversation, which he couldn't make out.  They were coming out of suite seventeen b, which, according to his clipboard notes, was unoccupied and under renovation.  At first, he decided that there must after hour workers in this suite.  As he continued his rounds, he called his wife to report in.  She promised to wait up until 12:30 for his first night on the job.  He told her about the cranky night guard and her exaggerated emphasis on his security duties in the building, and she was encouraged by his resignation and attempt at humor.  When he told her about the noises in suite seventeen b, she agreed that it must be workers inside the suite.  As he continued up the building, however, he encountered a janitor, who insisted that there were no workers here at this hour.

The old man, who identified himself as Ed Greebs, related a chilling tale that moment.

            “It happened last year.  Stuart Rosenfeldt massacred his entire staff.  No one knows what motivated him to murder them and turn the gun on himself.  After the murders, other tenants on seventeen claimed to hear noises in that suite—real spooky sounds, like talking, laughter, and such.  Because of the gossip, it’s been impossible to rent it out.  The word was Chevington Plaza’s been doing renovation, but it’s taken to long for something like that.  The rumor is sir, that, after the massacre, the previous occupants, now deceased, return to the scene of the crime.  They gather at the stroke of midnight as they had that last day.  Rosenfeldt, himself, can be heard trekking up the stairwell until reaching his firm.  Occasionally, I hear a door slam on seventeen, but just as I reach that floor, the door to the suite will be shut.  Sometimes, when I listened to the strange goings on there, it seems like they’re having a party…. To tell the truth, sir, most of the time I avoid seventeen altogether.  Take my advice, you avoid it too.”

“Well, that’s quite a story,” snickered Eugene. “You ever meet Rosenfeldt on the stairs?”

“Of course not!” he shuddered. “I don’t take the stairs.  I take the elevator.  I don’t think anyone’s met him!” “You stay away from that suite!” he warned, moving on. “Something horrible happened in that room!”

Because he had heard nothing about this from the swing shift guard, he decided that Ned must be addled.  Despite this conclusion, the janitor’s squinty eyes and leprechaun demeanor had given him the creeps.  He couldn’t imagine a more perfect person to deliver such as tale.  Perhaps, Ned, for some quirky reason, just wanted to scare him.  He couldn’t very well avoid the seventeenth floor, as he suggested. 

That night as he made his rounds a second time, he decided to investigate and, hopefully, put to rest this tall tale.  Finding the door locked, he sighed with relief, satisfied that his instincts were correct.  Most of the other suites in the building were secured too, the exceptions being a few firms and offices that carelessly forgot to lock their doors.  Locked doors made his job easier, he reasoned.  It would a hassle for him to check each suite.   Because Eugene had started his shift on the hour Old Man Rosenfeldt had supposedly visited his suite, he wouldn’t have to test out the janitor’s claim.  Nevertheless, as 2 am drew near, he grew bored of his hourly rounds, and was drawn back to suite seventeen b.  He had only checked the door once; that should have been sufficient.  When he turned to knob this time and heard it open, he gasped loudly, recoiling from the door.  His first thought was that an employee or worker had returned; for what reason he couldn’t imagine.  When he stepped into the room, he was immediately greeted by a beaming young woman sitting behind the receptionist desk at the entrance of the suite.  Judging by her flushed face and silly grin, she appeared to be inebriated.  A cacophony of laughter and loud outbursts typical of drunken revelry, which he hadn’t heard in the hall, assailed his ears.  He recalled Ned telling him about such noises.  Beyond the receptionist’s desk, he could see men and women in a party mode.  In the center of the main room, stood the corpulent figure of a fellow, Eugene suspected was none other than Stuart Rosenfeldt, himself.

            “Holy shit!” he cried, backing away toward the door. “ Ned was telling the truth!”

            “Yes-yes, Ned knows,” giggled the receptionist. “He’s afraid of us now.  He knows the truth!”

            “Truth, what truth?” Eugene asked, studying the scene. “…. Is this some kind of stunt?  Are you supposed to be ghosts?” “I’m going nuts,” he muttered to himself. “That has to be it.  I should’ve taken my meds!”

            “Lighten up.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Look around you sir.  Do we look like ghosts?”

            Scanning the suite, he could see men and women cavorting together with drinks in their hands.  From a distance, in fact, they looked like typical merrymakers… with one important exception at first glance: Rosenfeldt.  Unlike the others, who wore conservative business appropriate for a business office, Rosenfeldt was dressed garishly in a herringbone jacket, striped vest, and bow tie.  Moreover, his features seemed exaggerated, almost clown like.  Against his audience, he loomed large in the crowded room: a loud, uncouth specter of a man, grossly overweight.  Even from afar, the details stood out.  His nose was red and cheeks were splotchy. Though his head was starkly bald, whiskers stuck out shaggily on each side of his face.  The most unsettling aspect of this man, Eugene noted, was his expression.  Two dark coals for pupils, set in wide bloodshot eyes, stared unblinkingly at his employees.   As he stepped forward a few paces, he got a closer look at the receptionist as well as others in the room, which seemed even more unsettling.  Upon closer inspection, the woman’s face was tastelessly painted and her blond hair glistened like the synthetic hair on mannequins.  Her cold blue eyes had, the thought struck him cold, a dead fish look.  The faces of her co-workers, he realized with horror, seemed like death masks.  Unlike Rosenfeldt and his receptionist, who had clown-like expressions, their mouths moved jerkily, as would puppets and their gaze, similar to Rosenfeldt’s eyes, were unblinking orbs, looking this way and that, as they swiveled their necks, an action reminiscent of zombies Eugene had seen in movies.  

Suddenly, as they became aware of their visitor, the men and women turned simultaneously toward him, Rosenfeldt at the forefront.  Looking askance at her, the looming presence of the receptionist completed the scenario of horror in his mind.

“Awe, we have a guest,” Rosenfeldt bellowed.

“Welcome,” the men and women drawled, “join the party!”

            “He knows,” exclaimed the receptionist. “Ned told him.  He thinks we’re ghosts!”

            “This is insane!” cried Eugene. 

Reeling around frantically, he charged the door, struggled with the doorknob a moment, then, after the great door opened, fled down the hall.  He heard laughter as the door slammed shut behind him, but, as he climbed into the elevator, he looked out to an empty corridor.  No one had followed him.  To hell with Madelyn, the thought, as the elevator doors opened.  He planned now to spend the remaining of his shift in the lobby.  If anyone from the security agency came to check on him, he would be able to see them approach in a lobby camera and, after scurrying into the stairwell pretend he was just coming off his rounds.  This had been his plain, but, as it turned out, no one came to check on him during his shift.  In the building office, he made himself a pot of coffee, and then, with a brimming mug in his hand, sat down behind the lobby desk, half convinced he had gone mad…. The other half, which had never experienced a hallucination before, was not so sure.  Everything he saw in suite seventeen was bizarre but not dream-like.  It looked and smelled real.  The images remained steady and unchanging.  The odor of perfume, alcohol, and food wafted in the air.  From what he had read of hallucinations, they were more transient and surreal…. So, he reasoned, if this hadn’t been a hallucination and he wasn’t insane, had there been ghosts in suite seventeen b?   What had happened in that room?   If not spirits of the dead, were they the walking dead—zombies returning to the scene of some unspeakable crime?

He felt as if he had escaped a horrible fate, and yet no one had pursued him.  This made him wonder again if it had not all been a hallucination.  He had learned about this room only from Ned, the janitor.  Had he been a hallucination too…or was he just another ghost?  The thought occurred to him, as he recalled Madelyn’s cranky face, that she might also have been an apparition.  And what if Waverly, the personnel agent who gave him the job, was an hallucination?  Could all of this be one continuous figment of his imagination, the result of ignoring his medications and slipping finally over the edge?  At the very least, he reasoned, ghosts or not, Madelyn might have known about this phenomenon, but had kept this information to herself.  Would he admit to seeing and hearing something like this?  Who would believe such a story, unless the experienced it themselves? 

As he sipped his coffee, he was tempted to flee the building entirely and put these questions behind him.  After all, he reasoned, he could find another job.  On the other hand, such an action would appear indefensible.  How could explain this to anyone without them thinking he was insane?   After his breakdown, months of therapy, and receiving Medicaid instead of the salary he and his wife had depended on to pay bills, how would it sound if he told her about tonight?  She might threaten to divorce him.  If he ran away from his post, he would have to go searching for another job.  Considering the discrepancies on his patchy resume, he had been lucky to find this position.  Who would hire him this time?  He had but two alternatives, neither of them desirable: remain a security guard in this spooky building or quit this very night and try to find something else.

 

******

            When morning came, the day guard, a crotchety old man with a limp, arrived right before the employees streamed into the building.  Eugene had spent a difficult eight-hour shift.  After discovering the crowd in seventeen b, he had no desire to test his senses.  He went on a few rounds, using the elevator, avoiding the seventeenth floor entirely, falsifying the graveyard log with entries showing hourly rounds for each hour he never made.  His relief, who introduced himself simply as Buck, struck Eugene as slightly senile.  For a few moments, as Buck settled into the lobby, pouring himself coffee, glancing a the log, and commenting on the rear end of a female employee, after she flashed him her badge, Eugene wondered if he should tell him about what he saw.  Perhaps, he told himself, as Buck stood there muttering to himself, this was the perfect person to break the news to.  He might have seen the folks in seventeen B, himself.  After broaching the topic, however, he realized how ridiculous he sounded.

            “Late at night,” he began carefully, “I met a janitor on the seventeenth floor—a peculiar ol’ fellow named Ed Greebs.  He told me something very strange.”

            “Wait a minute sonny,” Buck interrupted rudely, “there ain’t no janitors on the graveyard shift—not that I know of.”

“Well,” Eugene frowned with irritation. “I met him.  He might’ve been working overtime—I dunno, but he was there with his cart on the seventeenth floor, as I made my rounds.”

“You sure, eh?” Buck replied, sipping his coffee. “That floors almost empty.  Suite Seventeen b and c also vacated after that incident.  Folks were really shaken up—all over the building.”

“What incident?” Eugene, who already knew the answer, caught his breath. “What happened up there?”

Buck looked at him in disbelief. “Didn’t they tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Eugene feigned ignorance. “All I heard was that they were renovating seventeen b.”

“Well, I wasn’t here then.  I work days… Story goes that Marvin Rosenfeldt, head of Rosenfeldt and Rossi, went berserk and killed several of his employees—lawyers, law clerks, and what, before blowing out his brains.  What the survivors told was a real nightmare.  It was in the news.  Where you been for the last several years?”

“…I heard something like this awhile back,” Eugene searched his memory, “but I never associated it with this building. With all the terrorism and general mayhem in the media, I never made the connection.” “Holy shit!” he sighed. “Of all the places to work!”

“It ain’t so bad.  You got it easy on your shift.  Days can be hell.  Roger and I have to put with a lot of crap.” By the way,” he muttered querulously, “where is Roger?  He’s always late.”

Buck’s story had been almost the same as Ned’s.  Why hadn’t Buck ever heard of this man?  Greatly irritated by the tardiness of his partner, the crotchety old man drifted off the subject.  If he returned to the topic, Eugene decided not to tell him what he saw, only what Ned told him.  For some reason, Buck’s corroboration of what the janitor knew and what he, himself, saw shook him up.  It reminded him of a horror movie he once saw.  The more he thought about it, the more he hoped Buck stayed off the subject.  There might be grisly details even Ned was unaware of.   For several more moments, as he delayed his departure, he chatted with him, adding his own comments about Roger’s tardiness.  Making up a fictitious job, he tried sounding annoyed.

“It’s happened to me too,” he said, glancing at his watch. “At my last job, I had to wait for the night guy to show up.  Sometimes that clown was an hour late!”

“Well, I wouldn’t stand for that!” Buck stomped his foot. “This time I’m reporting that bastard.  This is the day shift.  One of us has to watch the lobby, while the other makes his rounds.  He knows that.  He doesn’t take this job seriously.  He’s just a kid.  They shouldn’t hire kids for this kind’ve position.  I worked all my life as a tool and die specialist, following the rules.  Kids don’t listen to you these days.  All they think about is sex and drugs!  They don’t have any respect!”

Buck was red the face as he clinched his fist and pounded the desk.  Late arriving employees eyed him with amusement or alarm as he carried on.  One young man, wearing the same blazer that Buck and he wore, was laughing as he walked into the lobby.  A pretty brunette in a business suite had been chatting with him, as they entered the door.  Their conversation indicated how immature Roger was.   The woman told him with annoyance that she didn’t date employees.  His cocky reply, “I’m not an employee, I’m a security guards” sounded inane to Eugene, but for Buck, it was the last straw.

“You little prick!” he stormed. “This is the last time you pull this on me!”

“Oh, dear me!” the woman recoiled.

“Chill, pops,” snarled Roger. “Traffics heavy this time of the morning.  You gotta beef, report me.  I don’t give a shit!”

Roger, though he had to be at least eighteen for this position, looked no more than sixteen years old.  Drawing on some of his own inner rage, Eugene poked him in the chest with his forefinger, giving him his fiercest look.

“Show some respect,” he growled. “You’d better give a shit.  If I was him, I’d kick your ass!”

Roger gave him a shocked look.  Buck was taken back.  Fortunately, no one else appeared to have heard this exchange, as Eugene exited the scene.

“You’re crazy.” Roger muttered.

“Oh, you don’t know how crazy I am,” he called back.

On that note, he saluted Buck and departed the building, more troubled than ever after his outburst.  Why had he lost his temper?  Would Roger report him to management?   Buck had also looked frightened; perhaps he would make the call.  In a strange, unsettling way, though, Eugene didn’t care.  The worst that could happen to him, would be to lose his job, but, after thinking about it a moment, he didn’t think that would happen.  The security agency must be fairly hard up to hire old men, kids, and applicants with questionable pasts.  His resume had been so doctored up, they couldn’t have checked his job history…or they just didn’t care.  On the way to his car, a sudden inspiration struck him that caused him to freeze in his tracks.  Trotting back to the building, he slipped into the lobby in time to see Roger exit in the elevator and Buck return from the office, a donut in his hand.

“What the hell you want?” he snapped at Eugene. “You’re shifts over—go home!”

“Buck,” Eugene came straight to the point. “This year, how many guards have had the graveyard shift?”

“I dunno.” He scratched his baldhead. “It’s quite a few, especially after the murders.  I can’t believe all that stuff about spirits and ghosts, but I heard it’s pretty spooky up there at night.”

Eugene sighed deeply, thinking If I’m nuts, I’m in good company!

“You saw’em didn’t you?” he asked cagily. “I didn’t hear there was a janitor on graveyard; that’s a new detail.  You’d think this building is haunted!”

“Yes…Thanks for leveling with me,” Eugene said, shaking his hand. “I was in seventeen b.  I saw them—Old Man Rosenfeldt and his employees.  I talked to a janitor, who must be a spook, too.”

“Don’t tell them that!” Buck said, pointing at the log. “Keep this under your hat… And stay out of seventeen b.  Better yet avoid that floor.”

Ned had told him the same thing.  It was good advice.  After leaving the building, climbing into his car finally and heading home, Eugene felt relieved.  Because there had been other sightings, he decided to tell his wife.  He would, he also decided, bring his camera next time, and get proof.  All of a sudden, a new meaning was given to Eugene Woodruff’s life.  He was a man, who saw ghosts… Unlike, the other security guards, however, he would make the case to the agency.  He would prove to them that there were spooks in seventeen b.

 

******

That morning, soon after greeting his wife and before she left for work, he told her about his discovery in suite seventeen b.  Her immediate reaction was expected.  Even when he told her about the other security guards that had quit his post before him, who must have made the same discovery as him, she waved her hands irritably, scoffing at the notion of ghosts. 

“You should never have gone off your meds.” She shook her head with dismay. “You convinced Doctor Rajeed you didn’t need them, but he was wrong.  You’re hallucinating now.”

“Come one Nancy,” implored Eugene. “Several people saw it, not just me.  How do you explain that?”

“I don’t know, Eugene,” she called over her shoulder after snatching up the keys, “but you can’t lose another job.  Don’t repeat this to anyone else—you hear me?  I’ve been patient.  I need help with the bills!”

While watching his wife depart, Eugene’s spirits crashed down to earth.  What kept him from falling back into depression was the information Buck imparted to him.  The knowledge that this time she was wrong, in fact, buoyed his spirits.  He would prove her wrong too.  He would show the agency and employees of the building that there were ghosts in seventeen b.  But he would do it later, he thought, looking ahead to a quick breakfast and long nap.  This would require planning.  Until he had proof, he would take Buck’s advice and keep this under his hat.

 

******

That very day, after several hours sleep, Eugene spent his time researching his laptop for information on the incident in the building.  The crux of what he found: Rosenfeldt went berserk and killed many of his employees, seriously injuring the remainder of them with a spray of bullets.  His motive remains a mystery, though it was hinted that he was embittered over efforts by his partners to vote him off the board.  The survivors of this massacre have kept a low profile ever since.  Until recently, Chevington Plaza suffered greatly.  According to building management, the suite in which the firm resided was still vacant, and, considering the lapse of time, the so-called renovation hadn’t fooled an investigative reporter, who called suite seventeen b the ‘Chamber of Death.’ During his Internet search, Nancy called from work to check up on him.  When he told her what he was doing, she scoffed at him.  Because she didn’t believe him in the first place, she thought it was a waste of time.  “She still doesn’t trust me,” he grumbled, returning to his screen. “She’d probably thinks I’m looking up porn!”  Eugene found the original news story about the massacre and follow-up stories but he could find very little on the survivors.  There was, because of privacy laws, no information whatsoever on their addresses or phone numbers.   That evening when his wife returned, Eugene had cleaned the house and done a little gardening—all to get on her good side.  He said nothing about the ghosts or his research that day.  If necessary, he might use the lobby computer if necessary.  Carting his laptop along with him would be a red flag to his wife.  With his digital camera in his coat pocket, he was prepared to photograph ghosts.

Small as it might seem, he now had a mission in life.  When he pulled into the parking lot, the sparsely lighted outline of the building loomed darkly against the starlit sky.  As he approached the shadowy lobby, Madelyn, the swing shift guard, was nowhere in sight.  After meeting the senile Buck and Roger, his adolescent relief, he wondered what was in store for him.  After calling her on his cell phone, receiving her answering machine, and leaving a curt message, he swore aloud, paced back and forth, until the ill-tempered woman unlocked the door.

“You’re early,” she snapped. “You’re supposed to be arrive ten minutes before the hour, not twenty.”

Eugene looked at her in disbelief. “Are you serious?”

“Yes, of course,” she said testily. “I warned you about this, Woodruff.  I like things prim and proper.  You interrupted my rounds.  I hadn’t finished my last floor!” 

He grew indignant this time. “Prim and proper?  What a crock!  I’m here Madelyn.  Get over it!  What’s the matter with you?  You should be thankful to get relieved early!”

“Well, I’m not!” she snorted, storming ahead of him.  “Next time, show up on time and not so damn early!”

Eugene actually had two senior citizens to deal with, Buck and Madelyn, both of them suffering from dementia, Madelyn apparently the worst of the two.  Without the required briefing she was supposed to give him before departing, she grabbed her purse, gave him a curt nod, and ambled away from the desk.

“Wait a minute,” he shouted through cupped hands. “I have a few questions for you Madelyn.  Did you see anything strange on the seventeenth floor?  Did you meet a janitor named Ned during your rounds?”

“Check the log,” she called over her shoulder.  “There ain’t no janitor named Ned, and there’s no spooks in seventeen b.  Buck warned me about you.  The last fellow who made that claim got fired.  Damn fool posted his photos on YouTube.  This building has a bad enough reputation without being haunted.” 

A thrill ran through Eugene.  As he charged after her, he reached out excitedly to grab her elbow.  “Wait, please wait.  You say he took photos.  I never saw them on YouTube.  Are you certain?  Do we have his phone number on file?”

“Get your hands off me!” she spat, jerking away.  “I never saw the video.  I don’t own a computer.  His phone number should be in the log.  Take my advice, forget about seventeen b.  You best keep your suspicions to yourself!” 

“Suspicions?” he mumbled as she crossed the parking lot. “You heard about it, didn’t you?” he called after her. “You heard the ghosts in seventeen b.”

“I didn’t hear nuthin,” she hollered back. “That room’s empty.  Has been for over a year.  Forget it, man.  It’s not worth losing your job!”

Returning quickly to the desk, Eugene brought up the Internet on the lobby computer and typed in massacre on seventeenth floor.   As before, all he got was the information about the murders.  When he typed in ghosts in seventeenth b, however, several entries immediately popped up.  Most of the articles were from various media outlets, including the local station and papers, but only two YouTube entries popped up.  First appeared the crime scene, itself, showing an empty room.  In the background, a voice droned on about the ongoing case, which was information he had already read.  The second YouTube video presented by the onetime security guard was a blurred scene of ghostly image against the same office setting.  Typical of spectral imagery he had seen, the images were indistinct, white willowy, disembodied, faceless, incorporeal static, without personality or human form.  Eugene’s heart sank in his chest as he pondered the video.  Is this what Madelyn meant when she mentioned a YouTube photo?

 

******

That night, as Eugene made his rounds, he skipped past the first sixteen floors, went straight to suite seventeen b with his camera ready, and found the door once more locked.   On the eighteenth floor, he ran into Ned Greebs, the janitor, who supposedly doesn’t exist, but Ned was reluctant to unlock the door.

“Uh uh.” He rotated his head.  “You don’t need to go in there.  Orders are orders.  That room stays locked, sonny, until they clean it up.”  Ned’s response was, of course, inconsistent with the facts.  When Eugene asks him who ordered him, he made a gesture hard for him to define: he rolled his eyes upward, a gesture he had seen his wife do when she was disgusted with something he did.  Was he implying irritation or, by the direction, was he pointing to heaven?

“What does that mean?” Eugene pointed upwards. 

“Purgatory,” he replied cryptically. “… Are you a Catholic, Eugene?  Look it up.” 

“Shouldn’t you be looking down?” Eugene frowned. “I’m not a Catholic, sir, but I felt unvarnished evil in that room.  Who are those people in seventeen supposed to be—demons?”

“There isn’t one purgatory, Eugene,” he answered directly.  “…. There are millions.  Most folks can’t see them.  You certainly can’t take pictures of them.” 

“What?” Eugene’s eyes popped wide. “You’re telling me suite seventeen b is part of hell?”

“Not hell—purgatory.” He frowned irritably. “That room will exist for Rosenfeldt for a very long time, as he contemplates his crime—long after it’s demolished to make way for a new building, freeway, or mall.  It’s where the crime was committed—the murders by Stuart Rosenfeldt, who played both judge and jury.  Unlike Rosenfeldt, who must pay his debt, those people you saw, like all ghosts, haven’t crossed over.  One day all of them will find the light.  Until then they’re trapped in time and space.” “…You have a gift, sir,” he added dreamily. “You can see spirits of the dead…”

 

******

Eugene Woodruff had never believed in spirits of the dead.  Where all “bad”ghosts caught up in their own purgatories?  This wasn’t explained to him by Ned, whom, Eugene made the connection, fancied himself as the gatekeeper.  Purgatory was a Catholic concept.  He wasn’t even Catholic.  He had heard about ghosts from childhood on, but he had never believed in them.  Had Ned been talking only about specific places, such as rooms or dark corners?  Where there private purgatories, as he said, everywhere?  This sounded quite insane.  Looking ahead, as he finished his shift, he wondered if he would see more ghosts.  Ned told him he had a gift, but had a previous guard.  In spite of what Ned said, Eugene wasn’t sure he wanted to see more ‘spooks.’  Most folks didn’t believe in them. They evidently didn’t register on video…. With his psychological profile, it made him look even crazier… And yet, despite his failure to gather proof, he no longer doubted his sanity.  He had no intention of visiting that room again, but he had seen ghosts in suite seventeen b.  He had met a gate keeper to purgatory and been reaffirmed in what he had seen—secret knowledge he would tell no one else but carry the rest of his life.