Despite all of this, Jimmy was still something of an optimist. “Whaddya gonna do?” he was famous for saying, as he’d shrug off yet another sling or arrow. “Life’s a bear, and since it’s a protected species – it’s a tough critter to really take on without getting in trouble, ya know?”
The summer of ’05 found Jimmy in all too familiar straits. His car had broken down and he didn’t have the cash to fix it. And as luck would have it, his job required him to have a job. He got paid to haul folks with developmental disabilities around town, so the end of his car ended up meaning the end of his job.
So, as the summer wore on and the heat began to dampen the backs of people’s shirts, Jimmy was forced back onto the always tight
job market. This was the
second summer in a row that he had lost his job, so he knew how tough it would
be competing with the hordes of summer employment seeking teenagers and
returned college students. The last time around it had taken him three
whole months to find work. What a hard summer that had been! Two
meals a day of ramen noodles and the occasional can of generic soda pop to take
the edge off his hunger. Duluth
You can imagine then how big the smile on Jimmy's face was when he got a call back just two weeks into his job hunt! The call was from Saint Mary's hospital. St. Mary’s was a unionized shop, which meant good wages and benefits. Determined to nail his interview, Jimmy primped in the mirror beforehand for must have at least been two hours! Over and over again, he practiced his smile, and rattled off confident answers to every possible interview question he could imagine. Finally, borrowing a buddy’s pick-up truck, Jimmy got so nervous that he accidentally drove to and parked at the wrong hospital at the other end of town, and really had to book it to make it to St. Mary's on time!
The real life interview didn't go as easy as the one in front of the mirror had. The sweat was practically dripping from Jimmy’s ever upturned upper lip! But in the end the practiced lines more or less rolled off his tongue, and he even had a chance to tell a funny story about how he had once been totally covered in cow manure – a story he told for humorous effect, and to emphasize that there wasn’t any gory encounter that hospital could dish out that he couldn't handle. “I’m the man for this job,” Jimmy exclaimed, mustering all of the fake confidence he could squeeze out of his sweating little head.
By the end of the interview, the company man told him he had gotten the job. Jimmy was now the new full time janitor at St. Mary’s!
To celebrate Jimmy took all of his friends out to eat at the Country Kitchen Buffet! They stuffed their faces with cheap chicken, bowlfuls of cottage cheese and all the soft serve ice cream they could pack in, all while marveling at what a break this new job would be for Jimmy. “Just think,” he said, “for the first time in my life I’ll be living ABOVE the poverty line!”
The job began with two boring days of general orientation where all of the new workers had to sit through slide show after slide show about the mission statement, parking policies, the history of the company big wigs and how all around great St. Mary’s was.
With the hospital’s mission statement committed to heart, and decked out with a snazzy new haircut, on Day 3 Jimmy reported to the janitor services department. The base of operations for the hospital’s janitors was in the bowels of the building. In fact, it was quite an adventure just finding the place, since none of the elevators went down to the basement (a precaution to keep patients and visiting corporate execs from seeing dirty workers, I guess). But once there everything just seemed to fall into place. Jimmy’s new boss turned out to be a great guy, and within two days he had fully trained Jimmy in on what was expected of him.
His job was to clean an office building, adjacent to the hospital, from top to bottom every day. The building had four floors, a gazillion garbage cans that needed emptying, about 20 bathrooms that needed cleaning, a score of big finger print smudged windows and a whole lot of carpeting that demanded a daily liaison with an industrial strength vacuum cleaner.
“Bring it on!” Jimmy thought to himself. His new co-workers warned him how tough his assigned building was, but being no stranger to hard work, Jimmy tacked it in no time. On most nights he'd get done in under six hours, leaving two hours to sit in a bathroom reading magazines until the end of shift.
It was a night job – Jimmy’s shift ended at , but it was quiet, and one of those jobs that allows one plenty of time to daydream. Plus getting to clean so many offices was quite a satisfaction for the voyeuristic side of Jimmy! In the fact the only thing that Jimmy wasn’t so keen on about this new job was that he was all alone in the building. His co-workers had told him that the building used to be a home for the terminally ill, and a couple of them related ghost stories that they had heard about the place. Simple stories, like how janitors had backed into someone, but then when they turned around nobody was there.
Now Jimmy wasn’t the superstitious type. In fact our good fellow as an atheist, who thought that all claims of ghosts, aliens, Santa Clauses and other such things were just hoo-hah. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a little chilled by those stories. Growing up out in the country with a very conservative family, Jimmy had never been allowed to watch scary movies or TV programs. Being sheltered from that stuff though had resulted in Jimmy being kind of edgy about scary things. A mere commercial for a rather mediocre show like the Twilight Zone was all it took to keep him up for hours at night as a child, afraid to close his eyes for fear of what might sneak up on him.
Once in his 20s, and living on his own, Jimmy had tried to get a handle on his fears by renting a whole bunch of scary movies, trying to desensitize himself to such stuff. It had kinda of worked though.
In any event, his first two days on the job went fine, since he was accompanied by his boss the whole time. Things got a little harrier on day 3, his first day on his own. As much as he tried to think about other things, Jimmy kept thinking about the ghost stories his co-workers had told him. That old building really lent itself well to notions of ghosts! It was dark, full of dimly lit narrow hallways, and it had a bewildering staircase arrangement that made it real easy to get lost and feel like you were going in circles.
By week two Jimmy pretty much had his new work routine down pat. Unfortunately, though, that meant it was becoming harder and harder to keep his thoughts focused on the job, rather than those silly stories. Then, one night, there was more than just the thought of some scary stories to content with.
The night in question started out innocently enough. When Jimmy got to the hospital his co-workers teased him about biking to work, as usual. Next, after exchanging a few jokes and pats on the back, Jimmy went over to his office building. There was a woman working late in one of the offices. She said "hi" but barely looked up from her work. After an hour or so she left, just as it was starting to get dark outside. Having finished the first and second floor already, Jimmy started to climb the stairs to the 3rd floor. As he got to the top of the stairs, he saw that all of the ceiling lights were off except for that of an exit sign at the far end. Goosebumps ran up and down Jimmy’s back in waves as you looked down that ominously long, dark, narrow hallway.
Suddenly, there was a flash of white light, immediately followed by a loud "Bhroooommm!" The sound caused Jimmy to jump at least three inches into the air. He swallowed hard and let out a barely audible, “Huh?” That "huh" was a poor cover for the terror Jimmy was feeling though. But as he slowly turned around, he was able to see that the noise was coming from an air duct. The air conditioner had simply kicked on.
Letting out a sigh of relief, and deliberately not looking back down the hallway, Jimmy started turning on the lights and began vacuuming the offices on that end of the floor.
Eventually he came to the other end of the hallway though, where the flash of white light had come from. He nervously turned on all of the lights he could find, and opened all of the doors to the offices so that he could clean them. Coming to a bathroom, Jimmy did his usual routine of cleaning the sink, mirror and toilet.
Turning to leave the room, he noticed that there was a small closet on the far wall of the bathroom, the door to which was slightly ajar. He walked over to it and pushed it shut. To his wide eyed horror though, it opened back up – slowly creaking back to where it was before! Jimmy backed out of the room and high tailed it out of there, glad that he wasn’t one of those types who loose control of their bowels when startled!
“What the hell?!” he mouthed to himself as he quickly rolled up the vacuum cord and clumsily, but hurriedly, made for the next floor. “It’s just a stiff hinge,” he said to himself, “it’s just a stiff hinge!”
He forced himself to go on cleaning. Luckily someone had left all of the lights on up on the next floor. Halfway through cleaning it though Jimmy came across another bathroom. It was out of toilet paper. Cursing, he made his way back down to the janitor supply closet on the first floor.
Now, that supply closet had always given Jimmy the creeps. Not only were there several small metal doors along the wall, but they seemed to only open up to nothing but black empty space. They reminded him of what he imagined crematoriums were like. There was also a big rusted drain on the floor, under which you could make out standing, brackish water. The water was always about half an inch below the drain, probably the result of a decades old clog. It had an awful stench to it. And for some reason, from time to time, gurgling bubbles would come to the surface.
The first time when it happened, Jimmy had been filling up the mop bucket, and it scared him half to death! Ever since then he went into that closet only when absolutely necessary, and was sure not linger in there for long. Fortunately, there were no gurgling bubbled tonight, so Jimmy scooped up the rolls of toilet paper and was on his way.
Break time finally came, and Jimmy spent it in the hospital break room pleasantly lost in a book he was reading. The book was “Indian Country” by Peter Matthiessen. Half way through a fascinating chapter about a band of Seminole Indians in the Florida Everglades who never surrendered to the
government, the boss came by and
said, “Break time is over buddy.” “Hmmph,” Jimmy testily muttered, “alright,
I'll head back to the ole ‘salt mine’.” U.S.
When Jimmy got back to the office building, he decided to take the elevator up to the 4th floor, the one he had been working on before he went on break. The elevator went up to the 4th floor, but once it got there, the door wouldn't open. He pushed the button again and again. The elevator jerked up an inch – but that was all. The door still would not open. Not knowing what else to do, Jimmy tried pushing the button for the ground floor. Slowly the elevator descended, and once it got the bottom the door, fortunately, opened.
So it was back to the stairs. They seemed to go on forever, higher and higher, but eventually Jimmy got up to the fourth floor. Looking around, he noticed that the mop bucket and vacuum weren’t where he left them. With a furrowed brow Jimmy looked all over the floor, but there was no mop bucket, and no vacuum to be found.
Trying to retrace his steps Jimmy proceeded to walk back down through every floor. Nothing. Finally, reaching the end of the line – that stinky, creepy supply closet on the ground floor, he found them. The vacuum was upside down and the mop bucket was plum empty. Jimmy just stood there, his mouth agape. A whole minute must have gone by, but he just continued to stand there, staring at the mop and vacuum.
Then, all of a sudden, the door to the closet suddenly swung open! Luke, a co-worker of Jimmy's, stepped out with an arm full of toilet paper that he was stealing. You should have seen the look of relief of Jimmy’s face! Smiling from ear to ear he wiped the perspiration from his brow and shot the bull with Luke till their shift was over.
The next night came and went without a hitch. There were goose bumps a plenty on Jimmy’s back, but no bursts of white light or vanishing mop buckets this time around. As it turned out though, that quiet night though proved to the calm before the storm.
The next night it was raining cats and dogs. By the time Jimmy pedaled into the St. Mary’s parking ramp, he was soaked from head to foot. Embarrassingly, when Jimmy changed into his uniform the butt of his pants got wet from his water soaked boxer briefs. This triggered some ribbing from his co-workers. Red faced, he quickly made his way over to the solitary of his office building.
Upon opening the door to the building though, Jimmy tripped and fell onto the floor. He banged his elbow pretty hard in the fall, and just laid there for a minute trying to figure what in the heck had caused him to trip. He scratched his head, rubbed his elbow, but couldn’t figure out what had made him fall.
Standing back up, he walked over to the supply closet and tried to open the door. He turned the knob and tugged, but it refused to budge. He gave it a mighty jerk, causing it to suddenly fly open, which in turn caused Jimmy to fall back against the wall.
Looking inside, he saw that the closet was empty. There was no vacuum, no mop bucket, nothing – just those small metal doors and that nasty backed up brackish water.
Annoyed and confused, Jimmy started to walk around looking for his gear. He looked all over the ground floor but he couldn’t find what he was looking for. After walking over to the hospital he paged his boss. “I can’t find the mop bucket or the vacuum over at the
, have you seen it Bob?” Shoreview Building
“Nope, you’re the only guy who uses that stuff over there. Did you forget to put it away last night?”
“I don’t think so, but I’ll go double check.” Jimmy said.
For the second time he walked from one end of the ground floor to the other. Then he did the same on the 2nd floor, then the 3rd floor, and then the 4th. There, laying at the end of the hall on the top floor, was the mop bucket and vacuum. Oddly, the vacuum was upside down, and the mop bucket was plum empty, just like the night before.
A really creepy feeling came over our friend as he took the gear back downstairs and started to work. He tried humming music to himself to calm his nerves. It didn’t work.
With his nerves still frayed, Jimmy started vacuuming the carpet on the 1st floor. He looked up at the ceiling, and just as he did so the light overhead suddenly went out. Jimmy just stared, wide-eyed. He walked over by the door to look up at the burned out light from a different angle, but as he did so the light above the door suddenly went out too. Jimmy froze, fear tightening up his throat as if he were being choked. Not knowing what to do, and afraid of what might come next, he crouched down and quietly leaned back against the wall.
His thoughts were racing with possible explanations. Five, then ten minutes passed. Jimmy’s knees were getting sore from crouching, but it still took another several minutes for him to muster the courage to stand back up and try to go back to his vacuuming. He stared straight down at the carpet while he vacuumed, refusing every impulse to look up again at the ceiling.
Skipping the dusting, he hauled his gear up to the second floor, trying to think about anything and everything except what had just happened.
About a quarter of the way down the hall he stopped in front of one of the offices. It was one of a couple of offices that had button combo locks on them that Jimmy didn’t have the combination for. These were the offices of big shots, and Jimmy didn’t have clearance to enter them. When they needed their trash emptied they just set it outside their door in the hallway for him to pick up. As Jimmy stood in front of the locked door, he heard what sounded like a low humming sound coming from inside. It wasn’t a constant hum. It seemed to flicker with intensity, and sometimes it sounded like certain words, but it was too faint to make out. Pressing his ear hard against the door didn’t help. Jimmy gave the door three good knocks and yelled out “Hello, is anyone in there?” There was no reply, and at first it seemed like the humming stopped. But then it suddenly started up again.
The goose bumps pulsated up and down Jimmy’s back. Clumsily he plugged in the vacuum cord into a wall socket and hit the on button to drown out the hum. Just to make sure he started singing aloud a Guns ‘N’ Roses song as he vacuumed, singing the few lines he knew over and over again, determined to hear nothing but the sound of his own voice and the whirring of his nomadic industrial strength vacuum cleaner.
The next couple of hours were almost unbearable for Jimmy. His muscles were so tense that by half way through his shift he felt physically exhausted. His head, neck and shoulders started to ache and his body took to trembling in a sudden shudder every now and then.
It wasn’t until the 4th floor that Jimmy began to look up and around again, instead of just staring at the floor, or whatever else it was that he was cleaning. Off to his left, in one of the offices, he saw a clock flashing. It read . Looking at his watch he saw that it was only . Looking back in the direction of the clock, Jimmy’s attention was momentarily distracted by a branch that was scratching the outside of the office window. It had apparently stopped raining finally, but the wind looked to be picking up.
Jimmy closed up the office and quickly got back to vacuuming the hallway. At the end of the hall though Jimmy saw another clock, sitting on a worker’s desk. It too was flashing ! It was the same part of the building where he had earlier found the mop bucket and vacuum cleaner.
Frightened and perplexed at the same time, he walked over towards the clock and reached to turn on the light next to the desk. But nothing happened when he flipped the switch. He flipped it up and down a few more times before giving up. Turning to look at the clock he squinted to make out a little object that was laying next to it. He picked it up. It was a broken piece of bone!
Jimmy stepped back, and then grabbed the vacuum and hurried down the stairs. He threw the vacuum back in the supply closet and booked it out of the building. Rushing over to the hospital he found a one-stall bathroom, He quickly went inside, locked the door and slumped down to the floor. There he would stay until , the end of his shift.
After punching out, Jimmy quickly changed out of his uniform and trudged out of the hospital without giving any of his co-workers more than a nod. As he unchained his bike in the parking ramp Luke came over to see what he had planned for the weekend.
“Uh . . . what? Uh, yeah, nothing much Luke, nothing much,” he muttered.
“Are you okay?” Luke asked, “You look kind of pale.”
“Yeah . . . yeah I’m good. I'm just feeling a little bit under the weather,” Jimmy replied.
“Well have a nice bike ride home, I hope the wind doesn’t give you to much trouble or . . .” Luke’s voice trailed off as Jimmy biked past him onto the street, not even waiting for him to finish his sentence.
The wind was blowing pretty hard as our jittery janitor made his way through downtown
. At one intersection the wind
came howling down the alley so strong that it slowed Jimmy’s bike almost to a
halt. It felt like he was pedaling through sludge as the wind cut between
the spokes on his wheels. But Jimmy just pedaled harder, determined to
navigate the empty streets as fast as possible and get to the comforting safety
of home. Duluth
By the time he got to the bridge that would take him over the bay to
his legs were aching. He
dropped into low gear and started the long, steep ascent up the bridge.
The higher up the bridge he got, the stronger the wind became. By the
time he reached the top, the wind was so strong that it rattled the side
railing and made a piercing whistling sound. It was obvious to Jimmy that
it was the wind that doing it, but it was still indescribably unnerving to be
biking right next to a shaking railing that sounded like a screaming banshee! Wisconsin
Finally he get to the downside of the bridge. By then his legs were burning from prolonged, steady exertion. He started coasting down towards the other side of the bay.
Once there he began peddling again, as fast he could, even though his legs felt like jelly. Then, turning a corner on the bike trail he came to a screeching halt. In front of him, right on the side of the trail was a towering shadow, which was making a rustling noise. A deer darted out from behind a large bush.
Giving out a sigh of relief, Jimmy collected his shattered nerves and finally made it home around .
That weekend Jimmy spent a lot of time sitting in his beat up old easy chair pondering what to do. Part of him just wanted to quit. But then again good jobs like that don’t come along very often. This was the best job he had ever had. What kind of atheist quits a job because of a silly fear of ghosts?
It would prove easy to pooh-pooh the things that had happened the past week from the comfort and safety of his home, but as the end of the weekend rolled around Jimmy started to get a painful knot in his stomach. He knew he had to do something.
Taking a long walk Sunday evening, he thought through all of the things that had happened at St. Mary's. He thought about all of the creepy things that had happened in that cursed old office building. He thought about the paychecks he was getting.
When he got home from his walk he plopped back down in his chair and stared up at the ceiling for a good half an hour. Then he got up, petted Izzy the cat goodbye, got on his bike, and headed back over the bridge to
By the time he got to St. Mary’s it was already getting dark. There weren’t hardly any lights on at the hospital since practically nobody worked there on Sunday, not even any janitors.
Jimmy made his way to his locker, grabbed his keys and started walking towards the back door. He looked out through the door window at the
office building. There it
stood, dark, empty and ominous. It’s dull gray walls almost blending into
the mellow darkness of early nighttime. Shoreview
Swallowing hard, Jimmy opened the door and walked over to
. Shivers ran up his back as
he fumbled for the right key. It made a sharp click sound as he turned it
in the lock. Cautiously, he pulled open
the creaking door. Shoreview
Stepping carefully he walked over the threshold and stood just inside the door for a couple of minutes. Thoughts of regret raced around his head, and he realized that he hadn’t really thought through what exactly he was going to do here. “Gotta face your fears,” he had told himself back at the house, “but now here I am, and what the heck am I suppose to do?”
Jimmy sat down against the wall. He made sure that he was far enough away from the glass windowed door so that if security walked by they wouldn’t see him. He tried thinking up an excuse for it he got caught there on his off night. Not being able to come up with anything convincing, he gave up, and just sat there.
An hour went by, then second. And apart from repositioning his legs every once in a while Jimmy just sat there against the wall, holding his knees close to his chest and thinking about anything and everything. He thought about his family back on the farm, about the pattern of the carpet, about what groceries he had to get that week at the store . . . about what he would do if he really did come upon something in that building that wasn’t of this world. . .
Jimmy looked over in the direction of the supply closet. He started crawling towards it. He wasn’t sure why he was crawling, but there he was, making his way down the hall on his hands and knees. He stopped in front of the door and just stared at it. A couple minutes passed with nothing but the clicking of a distant clock and the sound of an occasional car driving by. Then he heard a gurgling noise. Taking a deep breath, he slowly stood up and opened the closet door.
A dim light was coming through the window from an outside street light, shedding just enough light into the closet to illuminate where the drain was. Jimmy stared at the drain for the longest time, waiting to see if it would make that gurgling noise again. When nothing happened, he walked into the closet and stood directly over the drain. He then slowly unzipped his pants and pulled out his penis. Lifting his head back, he put his hands on his hips and let the urine flow! Smiling, he zipped his pants back up, stepped out of the closet and closed the door. A feeling of confidence and determination welled up inside of Jimmy.
Making his way upstairs, Jimmy walked over to the office with the button combo lock. Putting his ear to the door, he could hear the humming faintly coming from inside. Pounding loudly on the door, Jimmy starting shouting for whoever was in there to open up. At one point he even shouted, “This is the police!” As angry as he was afraid, Jimmy started punching in random number sequences into the lock. 4529, 3207, 0168. The code turned out to be 1234. A small green light flashed on top of the lock and the door clicked open.
Slowly opening the door, Jimmy suddenly hesitated. Bracing himself, he forcefully swung the door wide open. He looked straight ahead into the big shot's office - but there was nothing to be seen. His hand groped for a light switch before he stopped himself. Standing there, he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. As they adjusted, he slowly began to recognize pieces of the office furniture and a computer. Standing still he listened intently for the humming. Sure enough, after a pause it began again, only now he could tell it was definitely words that were being uttered – sports scores! Walking over to the computer he nudged the mouse. The screen flickered to life. O the screen a web page for an internet sports radio station. Jimmy snorted a relieved gust of breath out of his nostrils, and started to chuckle. He flopped down on the desk chair in front of the computer, held his head in his hands, and laughed!
Wiping his face with his hands, he shook his head back and forth a couple of times, and with a smile on his face headed back out into the hallway.
Jimmy spent the next two hours walking through the halls of the 2nd and 3rd floor opening every door and closet. He went into the bathroom with the self-opening door and pushed the door shut. When it creaked back open, he shut it again. It re-opened and he pushed it shut a second time. Again it slowly re-opened. Opening the door all the way Jimmy looked into the closet. Shelves full of plates, cups and office supplies looked back at him. “Stiff hinge,” he said to himself, "it really is just a stiff hinge.”
Walking over to the two burned out lights he took the plastic covers off, unscrewed the darkened bulbs, and chucked them into the trash. Jimmy then walked back to the supply closet, curled up his nose at the smell of the brackish water mixed with urine, and got out some new light bulbs. After screwing them in, they both worked just fine.
Arms crossed, Jimmy nodded his head in smug approval. But he knew there was something else yet that he had to figure out. With some hesitation, he made his way up to the 4th floor.
Once he got there, he looked down to the far end, and slowly started walking. It felt like it was the longest walk of Jimmy’s life. No hallway ever seemed more narrow, more dark, more eerie than that hallway. When he got to the workstation that was at the end of the hall Jimmy looked at the clock that had been flashing last Friday night. The broken piece of bone was still sitting there. Only now Jimmy noticed the piece of chicken meat stuck on one end of it. It was KFC! Following another relieved snort of the nostrils, Jimmy plopped down on a chair.
Then suddenly there was a flash of white light! Yet again, confidence was replaced with fear. The flash had come from the window. Jimmy slowly got up and looked out – all the while the hair on the back of his neck was standing straight up.
There was another flash of light, and Jimmy peered out the window. There in the distance, down the hill, was the harbor lighthouse. A slowly turning white light sat on top, piercing the foggy night. As Jimmy continued looking outside though, he saw more than the source of the mysterious white light. There, down in the parking lot below a dark figure was pushing something noisily over the asphalt.
Ducking down so as not to be seen, our janitor friend peered over the ledge of the window. Down below was Chip, one of Jimmy’s co-workers. He was walking in circles, pushing a mop bucket around the parking lot.
“What the heck is he doing here tonight?” Jimmy thought. Chip wasn't suppose to be there on a Sunday night any more than Jimmy.
Jimmy didn’t know Chip that well, in fact he had avoided him after his boss warned him on his first day that Chip was a bit of an odd bird. This warning had been confirmed when one day Jimmy walked into the recycling shed and founds Chip standing there, arguing with himself.
Now, looking down at Chip walking around in circles, who had inexplicably turned around and was pushing the mop bucket the other way, back into the hospital, Jimmy smiled and understood how it was that his mop bucket and vacuum ended up in weird places some nights.
Relieved, Jimmy went and started turning off all of the lights in the building. He also sprayed some Lysol into the supply closet drain. Then he walked back over the hospital and put his keys in his locker.
Jumping on his bike, he pedaled past the
building. Looking up at it he
couldn't help but notice how less scary the old building now looked. Stopping, Jimmy got off his bike and thought
to himself how the Monday morning workers would be arriving in a few
Reaching into the bag that hung from his handle bars, Jimmy pulled out a piece of sidewalk chalk that he carried for making graffiti. He knelt down on the sidewalk in front of the building, and there, for all of the world to see, he wrote in big, bold letter: “NO GHOSTS HERE, NO GHOSTS ANYWHERE.”
Then, with a big, content smile on his face, Jimmy climbed back on his bike and pedaled off into what was left of the night. THE END!