The Prophet Cometh

By Johnny Apocalypse
BSchin2188@aol.com

I hate graveyard shifts.  Even just the first half.

You would think that since I'm a night owl, I wouldn't mind working until three in the morning.  This would be wrong.  It's not just that I'm running on four hours sleep.  It's not just because I'd already worked eight hours.  But since Skip had to call off of work and Beth had to avoid her cell phone like the plague, I got fucked into another half shift.  And driving around aimlessly for twelve hours can make anyone tired.

There were some benefits, though. I could have all the free coffee I wanted.  Once my time clock rolled over forty hours, I was banking good money.  And, occasionally, I got to do battle with all sorts of super-natural evil-doers.

I could only hope for an evil-free night tonight.  I was in no shape to take on whatever could possibly cross my path.  Vampires?  Go ahead, drain me.  Leprechauns?  Keep your damn gold, and I'm in no mood for your shenanigans.  Terrorists?  Fine, take the place over.  I'm gonna go take a nap.

I was just thinking that the prospects of taking a nap sounded pretty good when my radio burst into a frenzy of static, followed by the ever-so-monotone voice of Ray.

"Mobile one, this is dispatch."

"Send it."

"Please come down to the dispatch office."

I knew that asking why would just get Ray to repeat the message.  I radioed my acknowledgement and swung my truck around.

I parked outside of building two, which holds both of the security offices.  On the main floor is the management office, where the big wigs do their thing.  A quick stairway down will lead you to the dispatching room, a small office full of expensive computers and video recording equipment that would probably break if I looked too closely at it.

Strolling leisurely into the radio chamber, I gave Ray my best Doctor Who smile.

"Hello everybody," I said, as cheerfully as possible.

Ray jumped out of his chair and started walking to the door.

"Stay here," he said, "I need to run to the john."

As he brushed past me, I feared that I would have a heart attack.  In the three years I had been working security, I had never seen Ray leave the dispatch office unless he was off duty.  It would probably be better if e didn't have to step over my twitching body to call an ambulance, so I stumbled my way over to a chair and waited for my chest to seize.

I was still waiting for imminent death when he came back.  My confusion must have been pretty bad obvious, as Ray laughed.

"Yes, Justin, even though you may think I'm a God, I have to go to the bathroom sometimes."

My premature heart attack had been averted, but I now felt a Grand Mal seizure coming on.  For the first time, ever, Ray had tried to crack a joke.

"Hey," he said, grabbing the office coffee pot, "Fill this up for me, would you?"

Thankfully, any serious medical emergencies were cancelled as I realized that Ray was trying to turn me into his errand boy.

"Why didn't you do it when you left?" I asked.

"I forgot that I was out of coffee.  I had to go pretty bad."

"Well, you're still standing up.  Why can't you do it now?"

"Because you're not qualified to work dispatch."

I rolled my eyes.  "Oh, come on.  It's the middle of the night, what's gonna happen?"

Ray paused for a moment, balancing his options.  "Okay, but don't write anything on the activity log.  Use the scratch paper."

He pointed towards the desk.  Next to the alarm computer system lay a lined piece of paper, and beside that was a scrap of blank paper.

"No problem," I said.

Seemingly happy with his decision, Ray turned and left the dispatch center.

I eased back in the chair and relaxed.  A good, quiet night like this, nothing was going to happen.

The phone started ringing.

Panic can be a strange master.  After the first ring, a jumble of thoughts started pouring through my head.  Maybe I just wouldn't answer it.  I could start screaming for Ray to come back.  If I was polite enough, maybe I could convince the caller to try again in ten minutes.  Then I figured that I'd watched Ray do his job for long enough, it can't be that hard.

On the second ring, I picked up the receiver.

"Security, this is Justin."

So far, so good.

"Hi, Justin, this is Carole Bauer in building four," said a hesitant female voice.

I grabbed a pen and scribbled her name and the time on the blank paper.

"I just noticed something strange on the eastern side of the building," she continued.  "I was just going to call janitorial and have them clean it, but I thought that it might be graffiti.  Would you send someone over to take a look?"

"Yes, ma'am," I answered, writing down everything that seemed important.  "Our officer is a little tied up at the moment, but once he's free, he will be right over."

Carole gave her thanks and hung up.  I finished my notes and waited for Ray to return.

He came back six minutes later with a full pot of coffee.

"Ray, something happened."

Judging by the look on his face, it was probably taking every fiber of his being to stop from shitting himself.

"Oh, Christ," he said, running over, "How bad did you screw up?"

I shrugged.  "I don't know, take a look."

He started reading my notes over.  After a few moments, the look of terror in his eyes changed to one of surprise.

"Wow," he said.  "You did pretty good."

I was as amazed as he was.  "Really?"

"Yeah.  The only thing you should have gotten was a call-back number for her, but not bad at all."

Standing up from Ray's chair, I felt sleep trying to invade my eyelids.  I forced them back open and poured myself a cup of coffee.  Ray handed me a digital camera we keep on hand for acts of vandalism and car accidents on property.

"You know, Justin, if you'd be at all interested in training for dispatch, I could talk to Tony."

"Screw that," I said.  "If I had to sit in this room for more then an hour, I'd pass out."

All five buildings on campus are connected by hallways.  For reasons only to be found in the artwork of Leonard DaVinci, buildings two and four are placed next to each other on one side instead of in numerical order.  It was a pretty short walk, so I decided to hoof it.

When I stepped outside and reached the eastern side of the building, I saw a lady in her mid-thirties wave me over.

"Good evening," I greeted her.  "Are you Carole?"

"Yes," she shook my hand.  "The graffiti is over here."

She pointed about two feet away from the corner.  Next to a window a dark mess had been left on the bricks.  It was a strange shape, almost like a 'W', but narrowing into a 'V' on the bottom half.  It was entirely in black.

"What do you think?" she asked.

I squinted and leaned in.  "I don't know.  Strange."  I got closer until my nose was an inch away from the marking.  A coarse, burnt smell invaded my nostrils.  "It smells like it's been scorched into the brick."

I pulled the camera from its pouch, snapped it on and waited for the flash to ready itself.  I took two pictures, one of the overall marking and another close-up, trying to show as much detail as I could.

***

After getting all the necessary information from Carole, I left the scene and walked back down to the dispatch office.  Ray was back to his normal self, chugging coffee and writing notes.  God knows what he had to write about in the middle of the night.

"Well, boss man," I said.  "That's a hell of a scene up there."

Ray didn't bother looking up.  "What, did someone spray paint the entire building red?"

"No, but I don't think it's spray paint either.  I think that it got burnt into the bricks."

While I started digging a blank report form out of the file cabinet, Ray's trance finally broke.

"What?  Are you kidding me?"

"No.  First, it doesn't exactly look like spray paint when you're close enough, and second, I smelled it and it reeks of smoke.

"Let me see the camera."

I forked the digital over and started filling out the report.  Once he started reviewing the pictures I had taken, he said "What the hell did this?"

"I don't know, nothing else was burnt.  No plants, no rocks.  The window was clean too.  You want me to call janitorial?"

"No, the bosses are going to want to take a look at this."

Ray began loading the pictures into the computer and I wrapped up my report, signed it and slid it in front of him.  I poured us each a final cup of coffee and held up the empty pot.

"Want me to get a refill?" I asked.

"No, I'll do it, now that you can be trusted."  Ray stood up and took the pot from me.  "It's kind of nice to get out of this room."

While he carried the coffee pot out of the room, I slid my chair into his space.  I sipped my coffee.  I thought about the markings on the wall.

As luck would have it, the phone rang.

I figured that it was probably another employee calling to report the burn marks.  Or maybe the whole wall had burst into flames.  I answered the line and readied my pen.

"Security, this is Justin."

At first, I heard nothing but a dry hiss.  I was about to repeat the greeting when the hiss got louder, grew into an ugly croak and finally a raspy voice.

"You will awake to screeching metal.  Three will be injured.  None will die."

My hand turned to autopilot and started writing the message down.

"What?" I asked.  "Who is this?  Is this some kind of joke?"

The line went dead.

Ray came back a minute later.  I still had the pen in hand and I was staring at the note.

"What happened this time?" he asked.

"I just got the strangest phone call."

"Oh yeah?"  Ray walked over to me and read the note.  "That's pretty strange, all right.  It's also another report."

I set the pen down and started rubbing my eyes.  "Oh, come on.  My shift is almost over."

"Well, then you'd better hurry up and write it."

***

The last thing I remember from that night was getting in my car.  I don't remember driving home.  I don't remember coming in the house.  I don't remember crawling upstairs, getting undressed or going to bed.

The first thing I saw when I woke up the next morning was the alarm clock, just turning to seven.  The first thing I heard were squealing tires, a car horn and two big chunks of metal crashing into each other.

For the first time in nearly a year, I didn't need coffee to feel fully alert.  I bounced out of bed, bolted down the stairs and ran out the front door, wearing only my boxers and a pair of socks.  It was no time for modesty, even if I had any.

Two sedans had collided head-on in front of my house.  Steam was escaping both radiators.  I ran to the nearest car and opened the passenger side door.

I faced a young man in his late twenties.  His face was a contorted grimace of pain and he was gripping his left hand.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I think I broke my wrist," he moaned.  "I'll be okay, check on the other car."

I left his door open and crossed to the second vehicle.  I could see two people through the windshield.

I opened the driver's door.  "Are you okay?"

A lady in her late thirties was behind the wheel, holding her nose.  She nodded but kept her eyes closed.  "I just bumped my nose.  I don't think it's broken."

I asked her passenger, a preteen girl, probably the driver's daughter, if she was okay.  I got no answer.

Pulling away from the driver, I raced around the car.  The rocks on the ground bit at my feet through my socks.  I yanked the passenger door open.

The little girl was slumped forward in the seat, her head dropped to her chest.  I saw a small splash of blood on the dash board in front of her.

My fingers fumbled on her neck until I felt a pulse.  It was strong and steady, and she seemed to be breathing fine.  I was damned certain she had a concussion, and I knew that she could have a neck injury.

This is where being a security guard has the advantage over being a cook for McDonald's.  My security firm was generous enough to put us through an excellent first-aid course, where I learned a life-saving measure called c-spine.

I reached past the front seat to unlock the back door.  I clambered into the back of the car behind the girl and leaned forward as far as I could, bracing the girl's jaw line and head with my hands and fingers.  My position could be a detriment to the girl's health, I realized as I felt my legs wanting to cramp.

Thankfully, I could already hear the sirens in the distance.

***

It was half an hour before my part in everything was wrapped up.  The paramedics arrived quickly and took over for me.  Once the police had the area secured they took my statement.  I was allowed to run inside my house and get dressed during all of this, but I decided to grab a jacket from the hall closet.  Dignity is just a status symbol.

I wrote out a brief report, and my lack of eye-witness information left the police with few questions.  Before they left, the paramedics told me that the girl would be fine.

When all was said and done, I came back inside to find Chris sitting at the kitchen table.

"Hey, bro, what's going on?" he greeted me.

I hung the jacket back up in the closet.  "Just got done dealing with a car wreck.  How'd you get in here?"

"The cops wouldn't let me drive up, so I parked on the other side of the block and jumped a few fences. I made coffee."

Raising my arms in triumph, I took a victory lap to the coffee pot.  As I came away with a fresh cup, I saw that Chris was smiling at my fashion statement.

"Nice boxers, bro."

"Damn straight," I said, sitting across from my friend.  "How's the book coming?"

In his everlasting quest to score a bigger stash, Chris has decided that writing a book would be the easiest way to make some money.  All of his fiction ideas were rip-offs of cult films, so he chose to compile a tome of all his knowledge, and sell it to the highest bidder.

"It's going good.  I just reached seventy pages."

Seventy pages of stoner proverbs.  God help us all.

"You working tonight?" he asked.

"Nope, I'm off.  Thank god, I need a break.  What are we going to do tonight?"

"How does Phantom of the Paradise sound?"

"Sounds great."

"You going to get dressed?"

I thought for a moment.  "Nah, I'm comfortable like this."

While pouring myself another cup of coffee, the phone rang.

"Justin, it's Tony," my boss said.

"I can't work today, I have plans."

"That's not why I'm calling, it's about your report from last night?"

"The burn mark?"

"No, but we're looking into that too.  This is about the phone call.  Can you come down here, just so we can review everything?"

I checked the clock. "Give me an hour."

"Sure."

"Am I in trouble?"

Tony was quiet.  "We're not sure."

I said good-bye and hung up.  Turning to Chris, I advised him of the situation.

"Okay.  Mind if I stay here?"

"That's fine, just don't burn the house down."

"No problem."

I jogged upstairs to jump in the shower.  I considered heading down to the office in my boxers.  It would serve them right for calling me in on a day off.  But, sadly, common sense came around and I decided to go in properly dressed.

GO TO PART II





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