Author: Andrew Smith
Amanda Kramer was excited yet apprehensive about her new job. She was good at what she did. As a business analyst and extreme perfectionist Amanda wanted nothing more than to make sure she exceeded every goal that was laid before her.
The building that she was working in was one that hit the papers over and over. It was a modernized wonder made from an antique wonder. Once a massive power generation station the company she now worked for had stripped it, gutted it, then rebuilt it into an ultra-modern workplace. It wasn’t just that they had built this masterpiece, it was that in the process they had kept multiple areas in near perfect historic shape.
Walking into the building she looked up to see impenetrable girders framing a modern set of doors. As she made her way inside and approach the attentive security desk staffed with almost intimidating professionals, she saw the walls in the reception area were of historic brick and those walls set off the modern aspects making it a palace of brick, steel, and glass.
Looking around, the entire area was encased in glass as though she and the security guards talking to her were in a giant fishbowl waiting for a shark to be dropped in with them. She almost felt self-conscious in her black skirt, white cotton shirt with the floral sweater, and her glossy black Prada shoes. She felt overdressed, or maybe under dressed. She just didn’t know.
Her morning flew by. She visited HR and was walked around to dozens and dozens of people. Amanda knew she might remember faces but doubted she would remember names. She was walked to a lush office on one of the higher floors that overlooked a city that was being rebuilt and modernized like the building she was in. She could not help but be distracted as the executive explained to her a vision for making technology architecture more resilient. The subtle winding river below her seemed to beckon her to watch and the crisp skyline of the city was not only stunning it kept her mind in a fantastic place that she never knew existed.
As the executive outlined his approach, she gained clarity and realized that she was perfect for this job. Her work in cloud architecture, business continuity, disaster recovery, and highly resilient systems suddenly had her engaged with a passion few in her field could understand. She explained Information Technology approaches on moving to a hybrid cloud and in doing so reducing cost while virtually eliminating the risk that the executive had explained. She was in her element, she was happy. More importantly, the executive was happy.
At the end of her meeting her new supervisor escorted her to the cube that she had been assigned and nodded as Amanda talked. Her supervisor explained to her that she was very impressed with Amanda’s resume and her first day interaction was even more impressive.
“We’re looking forward to seeing your ideas. When do you think you can have a little something to show us?” her supervisor asked.
“Why don’t I put together some preliminary items and we can discuss them tomorrow?” Amanda said.
“You know tonight is Halloween, maybe we should wait and give you a couple of days to get settled in,” her supervisor replied.
“That’s okay,” Amanda said, “I live alone and just moved to the area. No plans for me and nothing that I’m going to do. I’ll just stay for a while and get things done.”
“We don’t want to overwork you on your first day,” her supervisor replied with an inviting smile, “but you know you better than any of us what you would like to do. Just let me know how I can help.”
Amanda was impressed. None of her previous positions had been as friendly or as excited about her let alone as engaged with her as this one. Most of her previous supervisors had been intimidated by her rapid understanding of situations and then the resolution that she could put together in very short order. Usually her supervisors we’re afraid of her, worried that she was going to try to take their jobs and as such treated her less than favorably, sometimes passively aggressive, sometimes simply aggressive. Today was so different. Everyone she had met was engaged and excited for her to be there.
Amanda worked hard and the day melted away like a chocolate bar in the July sun. Amanda’s designs and ideas flowed onto paper and since she hadn’t set up her computer at home she continued to work until she noted the sun slowly setting in the western sky.
Amanda stood up and walked to the gigantic western window glancing at the other windows that stood on every wall. The sun was blood red and the walls danced with color from the soon to be night sky. She smiled and watched the sun wink at her as it slowly set. Amanda felt excited and happy and mostly Amanda felt at home.
Darkness fell like a 2-ton weight in an old Monty Python show and soon she was bathed in the light only from the overheads. Amanda went back to her seat and continued to work. She was passionate about sharing some ideas, and just kept going, reveling in the feeling of getting things done.
She had no idea when she was finally ready to be done for the evening, she just started to feel a little weary and decided it was time. She didn’t think it was late by any means but as she stood up and stretched and looked around, she realized the view below her was no less than desolate. Even though she was on the second floor and could not see far it looked as though the city had just stopped. She remembered that it was Halloween and guessed the trick-or-treaters were scattered around the suburbs in search of candy and occasional awesome tricks on unsuspecting homeowners. She remembered as a child loving the thrill of Halloween and of course the scary stories and being scared by a holiday. Being scared always felt good and she enjoyed it more than a little.
A noise behind Amanda startled her and she jumped like a cat in an old Loony Tunes cartoon. Turning she found a giant man behind her in overalls and a white shirt. He was almost out of place. His arms looked like bridge cables and his overalls looked faded and worn as though overworked as much as he. His chiseled features were rugged but soft in their own way and his receding hairline had become a ring of hair around a soft balding area at the top of his head. Amanda felt at ease even though she should be intimidated.
“Who are you,” she asked.
“Stoker ma’am, John Stoker.”
“I’m sorry I’m so late I didn’t realize how time had flown by. It’s my first day and well, I was just trying to make a good impression and get things done,” Amanda said.
“No problem ma’am,” John said, “I was just walking around making sure everything was safe.”
“What time is it” Amanda asked realizing she hadn’t looked at either her watch nor the computer time for hours. “Oh, and I am Amanda.”
“It’s almost midnight ma’am and that’s when I do my walk around. You never know what’s going to happen on Halloween.”
“Well I was getting ready to leave,” Amanda said, “I could walk with you.”
“Sure ma’am,” Stoker said, “I will happily walk you to the door.”
Amanda gathered her items and put them in a leather tote that she carried with her. It looked almost like a large purse, but it was actually a business satchel where she carried all the things she felt she might have needed for her new job. She left her laptop knowing that she would be back in just a few hours and then she would present those ideas she had completed this evening.
“May we walk through the old area,” John Stoker asked.
Amanda wasn’t sure what he was saying but she had noticed the staircase behind the row of desks where she sat and John walked to the staircase with her following closely behind. She held her satchel and began down the red and tile stairs into another world.
The room at the bottom of the stairs was like a step back in time. The walls were made of the same brick that were by the security desk up front. Across the walls were various displays showing the power plant in different phases of its life. Four bright white lights hung from the ceiling suspended by small cables that gave them a very rugged industrial look. The doors on several walls were different than anywhere else in the building.
The doors were stainless steel or at least looked like stainless steel with brass or bronze fittings making them look inviting and techno like many of the steampunk themes she had seen lately. They were out of place from the glass and steel constructs all over the building and instead these doors looked like portals into time or at least portals to another world.
“These doors are beautiful,” Amanda said, “I can’t believe they didn’t show me these on the tour.”
“They usually show them to you on your second or third day, but everyone always finds their way here.”
On several sides of the room old brass steam gauges hung showing a slice of the past and how power used to come to be. On one wall newspaper articles were gathered in a large mural and Amanda glanced at those from the distance.
Amanda’s watch vibrated. She looked down and realized that it was now midnight. On queue there was suddenly a buzzing and as she moved towards John, she observed that the one set of doors was glowing. The stainless-steel door seemed to have a life of its own and pulsed red and gold and powerful yellowish hews. Amanda could feel the heat emanating from the door as John stepped in front of her.
“I need to get you out of here,” John said and started backing away from the doors.
The doors began to swell and Amanda looked on in astonished horror as the lock melted and the door swung wide. Behind the double doors figures started emerging. These were not figures of men but instead human-like figures made of molten flame. Where eyes and a mouth should have been was bright yellow and the flaming creatures lifted their arms and pointed towards John and Amanda.
“Ma’am we need to leave,” John Stoker said, “we need to leave right now.”
Amanda was stunned but John’s massive body pushed her backwards as he began backing up from the fiery figures. A short hallway was to their side and John guided her towards a set of double doors. They both bolted through the double doors but they could still see the flames on the other side.
“What are those things,” Amanda gasped.
“Ma’am it is midnight on Halloween. Those are the ghosts of the people who put their heart and soul into this building, literally.”
“What do they want?” Amanda asked with an incredulous tone.
“Well ma’am that’s hard to say. After all they are ghosts, but I would say they just are drawn to the light on these few minutes of this special day, specifically to the light of the living.”
John went around the corner and it was like a small winding maze for a moment. Behind them they felt the heat and the doors suddenly flung open and the molten men came into view.
Another set of doors allowed John and Amanda to move into a long hallway. Amanda remembered this hallway from a tour earlier in the day. It went all the way down to the cafeteria area and the main entrance and exit. As Amanda looked down the hallway with doors and offices on one side and panes of glass on the other John began to hurry her along.
The flaming men came into view walking in no particular hurry behind them. Amanda noticed as they walked each step left a fiery footprint in the carpet. Listening she could hear the sizzle of the plastic or fiber that was in that carpet as it was melting to the floor.
“We have to hurry ma’am,” John said, “we don’t have much time.”
Amanda began jogging with John down the hallway which seemed much much longer than earlier in the day.
“Damnit,” Amanda said as she struggled back to her feet. “Even in the heat of the moment I am still a klutz.”
John reached down and helped her up as one of the fiery men reached for her. He did not grab her but was close enough and she grabbed her arm as the hair and skin darkened and burnt. The two began a run again as the flaming pursuit resumed and lumbered towards them.
John and Amanda reached the glass doors to the security reception area and she fumbled with the door, her arm smarting with the burn. The flaming men were now on tile and each seemed to sink into the tile with each step. John pushed the door open as they closed in and Amanda screamed. She could feel the heat from them like some bad fire pit was closing in on her and John threw her into the lobby and closed the door behind her. She turned and saw John grab the fiery men and hold them from the door even as he too burst into flames. John held them fast and the doors glowed white hot, the glass bowing in the heat.
Amanda turned onto her stomach then glanced back and closed her eyes screaming. As she lifted her body up, she felt sheets beneath her. The room was in her new apartment, she was still dressed in her black skirt and white cotton shirt with the floral sweater. She lay atop of her bed which was still made. Looking to the side she saw her leather bag on a small divan, the leather contrasting with the crisp silk fabric.
The room was lit by a small lamp, and there were no flaming men, no John, just her and her new apartment.
She looked at her watch, it was 1:00 AM. She looked down at her arm, it was not burnt, but it did tingle with some type of residual energy. Amanda wondered if she had just been part of a bad dream but did not remember getting home or turning on the light. She thought of John, and wondered if he was ok, then chided herself at thinking of a figment of her imagination. Amanda rolled over and fell fast asleep.
The next morning, she came into the office and walked by the security desk. She showed her blue badge to the guard and they smiled at her. She walked to the door that had blown up in her dream, scanned her badge and walked in. The hall was intact, no fiery footprints or scorched tile was there. The hall was long, but not insurmountable and she walked down it wondering if the small museum area was a dream as well. She navigated through the winding hallway and it was there, like last night, the doors stood like silent sentinels, steel and brass protecting the room. Hiding nothing but the other side of the door.
She looked at the walls, and near the stairs she now knew would lead her to her desk she saw the picture. Men who had supported this building in the before time, and there he was, unmistakable. Near the back row stood a mountain of a man from some 70 years prior, she studied the picture, fascinated and smiled to herself for a moment. Halloween had new meaning for her as there on the back row it was unmistakable. There was John Stoker.