Dave Rainier clocked in for his evening shift, placed his time card back in the allotted slot, then made his way down the long corridor towards the security desk where he would be stationed for the night, the clicking of his heels against the tile echoing off the acoustical walls in the basement of the county building.
“Evening, Mac,” he said, greeting the elderly gentleman who had worked the prior shift. “How’s it going?”
“Quiet,” Mac replied with a slight grin.
“I certainly hope so,” Dave said, taking delivery of the keyring that Mac unclipped from his belt. “Let’s pray it stays that way.”
“Have a good one,” Mac waved as he turned the corner, heading for the exit.
It wasn’t a bad job and there was certainly no danger involved like there would be if he were a police officer or firefighter. The hours were satisfactory and the pay was comparable to that of any daytime position, maybe even slightly higher when the shift differential was factored in.
There had been a few times that he’d gotten spooked being alone in such a large, quiet building. And on the rare occasions that he’d allowed himself to dwell on where he was, he forced himself to think happy thoughts, reminding himself that he was safe behind locked doors, and if the need arose where help was required, it was only a phone call away.
Not that he was complaining because God knows he needed the job, but sometimes he wondered why security was needed there at all. It wasn’t like any of his charges were going anywhere, and the only time anyone came calling in the wee hours of the night or early morning was to make a delivery. It could be said with certainty that not everyone was cut out to do his job, and it definitely wasn’t for the faint-hearted. Nor was his job the type of security seen in places like banks and malls. He didn’t carry a gun, and the only items on his belt that could be considered weapons were his night stick and flashlight, either of which could cause great harm to a person if he struck them hard enough. So far, he’d never been in a situation where he’d had to use either, not as a defense, anyway. He considered his position more of a night watchman, someone to keep an eye on things and answer the phone and the door. Most nights, he was able to get in a couple of cat naps when sleepiness took over because it wasn’t easy staying awake all night long with nothing to do except sit.
Dave turned on the small black and white portable television that sat on the corner of his desk, adjusted the antenna until a clear picture came into view, and leaned back in the chair, propping his feet up on the desk as he glanced through a muscle car magazine, fantasizing about the day he’d be the owner of one of the beauties. His daydreaming was promptly interrupted when the telephone rang.
“County Morgue, Dave speaking.”
The loud crackling and sizzling noises emitting through the handset were so fierce that the sound forced Dave to pull the receiver away and hold it at a distance. When he no longer heard the static, he slowly returned the handset to his ear. “Hello? This is Dave, is anyone there?”
Several moments of silence, then a man’s voice. “Tick tock, watch the clock.”
“Excuse me? Who is this?”
No answer. The only sound that could be heard was the constant buzzing of the dial tone.
“Damn kids,” he said, hanging up the phone.
Dave glanced up at the corner security mirror, positioned in a way that allowed him to see down the hallway and into the area of the holding and autopsy rooms, but saw no movement or shadows that would indicate that anyone else was inside the building.
The large clock on the wall behind his desk read eleven-fifteen p.m.
When the phone rang again several minutes later, he was hesitant to answer, staring at the phone as the shrillness of the rings filled the room.
“County Morgue, Dave speaking.”
“When midnight has fallen, the dead will come calling.” It was the same voice as before but he had no idea who it was. It didn’t sound familiar to him at all.
“Who the hell is this?” Dave shouted. “Carl, is this you and your idea of a practical joke? If so, it’s not funny!”
Dave slammed the phone down, glanced up at the mirror again, then headed in the direction of the examining rooms to inspect the area and make sure that everything was as it should be. He considered the possibility that a co-worker might be hiding inside one of the rooms or a closet and was using their cell phone to place the prank calls. Dave quickly dismissed the notion because if someone else had been there, surely Mac would have alerted him. Unless he was in on the joke, too, and was also hiding somewhere laughing his ass off.
Both autopsy tables were unoccupied and all the storage freezer doors were closed in the autopsy room. There was no way in hell he was going to open any of them to inspect the inside, because if he slid one of the steel holding beds out and a body happened to sit up or fall off the slab, he’d drop dead of a heart attack for sure! In the holding room where bodies were stored until autopsies could be performed, there were three gurneys with sheet-covered bodies, their toe tags exposed. Other than that, nothing else appeared to be out of the ordinary.
It wasn’t often that the need arose for him to have to enter either of the rooms, but every time he’d had to, the experience had been quite unsettling. This time seemed eerier than usual, most likely because of the phone calls he’d received. Eager to leave the area, he hurried down the corridor and back to his desk, nervously glancing over his shoulder the entire way.
“Get a grip, man,” he said aloud, his voice sounding deep and hollow inside the small reception area. “It’s nothing but a prank, dumbass kids thinking they’re being funny.”
The second hands of the wall clock ticked away the time, keeping rhythm with the beat of his pounding heart.
Tick tock, watch the clock.
When midnight has fallen, the dead will come calling.
Only fifteen minutes left until the stroke of midnight. What was going to happen when the clock struck twelve? “Nothing, that’s what,” he said, refusing to let his imagination run wild inside of a morgue because there was no telling what his mind would dream up if he did. “Stop being so paranoid.”
The buzzer at the back door sounded, startling Dave and causing him to jump. Paramedics were the only ones who used that entrance, and only did so whenever they were delivering a body to the morgue.
“Shit!” he breathed, glancing first at the clock then the mirror before disappearing down the opposite hallway to answer the door.
“Got a present for you,” the EMT said as he wheeled in a stretcher carrying a black body bag. “Adult male. Drug overdose. Sign here, please,” he said, passing Dave a clipboard.
“You know where to put him,” Dave said, forgoing a courtesy escort to the holding room.
“You okay, Buddy?”
“You look a little spooked, kind of pale.”
“I’m fine,” he said, his nervous tone telling a different story.
Dave watched as the EMT wheeled the stretcher away, turning right at the end of the hallway into the holding room. Within minutes, he reemerged with an empty bed, closing the door behind him.
“Have a good one,” the EMT said as he exited, leaving Dave all alone in the vault of death.
Eleven fifty-five and no other phone calls had come through. Dave shook his head, disappointed for allowing himself to be so alarmed over a situation that was nothing more than a practical joke. Probably some kid who found it hilarious to call a morgue and scare the living daylights out of whoever happened to be working. If he found out it was his friend Carl, he’d give him a good tongue lashing the next time he saw him.
Dave looked up at the clock when the phone rang at midnight. With a feeling somewhere between fear and trepidation, he snatched the receiver from the cradle. “Look here, you little punk,” he shouted. “I’ve had about enough of your games and if you don’t stop calling, I’m phoning the police!”
“Go take a look, they’re all awake. It’s your soul they’re going to take.” Those words, followed by the evilest laugh he’d ever heard, sent chills down Dave’s spine, reigniting his angst.
From the corner of his eye, he thought he saw the movement of a dark shadow in the hallway near the autopsy room, yet when he snapped his head around to look, no one was there.
He swallowed the golf ball sized lump that’d risen in his throat, removed the night stick from its loop, and slowly began making his way down the corridor, tip-toeing as quietly as he could so as not to alert whoever might be hiding in one of the rooms.
Gently turning the knob of the holding room door, he cracked it slightly open and put his ear up to the crack and froze in horror when he was greeted by the distinct sound of a zipper being unfastened.
In one swift move, he threw the door open and flipped on the light, gasping when he discovered that all of the gurneys were now empty, the sheets once covering dead bodies lying in heaps on the floor. The zipper fly on the black body bag was halfway down and as Dave watched in shock, an ashen-colored hand poked through the opening while the zipper continued to descend.
From inside the autopsy room, he heard the sound of shuffling, grunts and moaning, and the unmistakable clinking sound of metal against metal, like dropping a bullet onto a tin platter.
His heart was now a jackhammer inside his chest, his legs shaky and as heavy as lead. He wanted to run away, but his feet were glued to the floor with an invisible adhesive that prevented him from being able to make a dash for the exit.
The doors to the holding and autopsy rooms both opened simultaneously, and as Dave stood frozen in place by the force and depth of a fear he’d never experienced before, he gaped in horror at the naked woman holding the door, a Y-shaped, black-stitched incision running the entire length of her abdomen. From behind, both of Dave’s arms were gripped tightly and pinned to his sides as he was forcefully shoved towards the autopsy room. He did not need to see who his captor was. He knew.
Freezer doors that had been closed before now stood open and empty, their former occupants encircling the silver examination table that now had a rubber headrest at one end that wasn’t there previously.
Dave opened his mouth to scream but produced nothing more than the pitiful mewl of a newborn kitten. Even if he could’ve screamed, there was no one there to hear him, no one to help him.
He was all alone in a basement filled with bodies of the dead.
He struggled against the multitude of hands grasping at him, stripping off his clothes and forcing him onto the table, holding him down by his arms and legs so that he couldn’t move.
When he saw the shiny silver blade of the scalpel poised above his chest, the scream that had been trapped inside his throat finally found its way out.
At the security desk, the ringing telephone went unanswered.