John retrieved a radio from the charger and settled it in the holster at his hip. Picking up his flashlight he turned to Carl and said, “Off on my rounds.”
“Don't let the coyotes get you.” Carl said around a mouth full of turkey sandwich. It wasn't fully in jest. They had both seen the pair of coyotes on the cameras skulking around the warehouse. John grunted in assent as he left the guard shack. Carl was the senior of the two, having been working for Mr. Smith for the past 15 years, compared to John's 18 months. They were supposed to share the duty of checking the perimeter fence and the doors of the warehouse, but John took up most of that burden. He joked that it was to spare the old man the effort, but it was mostly to get out of the guard shack he shared with Carl for twelve hours a day. Carl was a perfectly nice guy, but he smelled constantly of onions even though John had never seen him consume any.
He started with the perimeter fence. There was only one entrance, the gate with the guard shack sitting to one side. He walked the perimeter at a leisurely pace running the beam of his flashlight over the links of the fence, checking for breaks, and making sure that the hole the coyotes had apparently dug under the fence to gain access to the area was still filled in. It took him 15 minutes to finish his check there. Then he turned towards the warehouse.
The building was an oblong squat structure, a dull metallic gray in color. John had no idea what was inside. He had never seen any trucks entering or leaving the gate. No one ever went into the warehouse. In fact, as far as he knew there were no keys to the 2 doors or drop-down bay that allowed the only access to the building. There were a row of small windows that went around the top of the building, but they had all been covered over with sheet metal from the outside. What he was being paid to guard was an absolute mystery to him. Mr. Smith paid him good money to not bother asking.
John frowned at the building, thinking about his strange employer. He had never met the man, just knew his name was Smith of all things. He had answered a classified ad for private security thinking it was a firm, but it turned out to be a one man deal. His only contact was Ms. Walker who claimed to be Mr. Smith's assistant. He was hired after what he was told was a rigorous background check, but what he now suspected was covert surveillance of his day to day life. On the day he signed his contract he was given these rules by Ms. Walker:
“First, never ask what is in the warehouse. Second, never attempt to gain access to the building.”
That was it from the boss.
He learned his actual duties from Carl later that evening. Carl had been with Mr. Smith for a while and got the job the same way John did. John never attempted to break Ms. Walker's rules. Even if he had bothered to ask his colleague he doubted he would get an answer. Carl was just as oblivious as he was and perfectly happy to keep cashing his paycheck.
John started the check of the exterior of the warehouse. He made his route counter-clockwise. It was a superstition that Carl had that he had followed to appease the man at first, but the last time he tried to go right he felt wrong. As with the fence he swept his flashlight across the walls of the building, checking that the windows were still covered. He reached the bay door, grabbed the handle and gave it a good shake. As always it was locked down tight. He continued on to the first door which was just to the left of the bay. That door was also closed and locked tighter than Guantanamo. He reached for his radio and reported back to Carl in the guard shack, at the same time turning to the camera trained on the doors and giving a thumbs up.
“Bay and Door One secure.”
“Roger that,” Carl replied. He sounded like he was speaking around a mouthful of meat and bread.
John moved on, checking the western side of the building. This side and the eastern wall were long blank slabs of cinder with shuttered windows on the top. The sweep of his light revealed nothing out of the ordinary. He turned the corner to the north face of the building. He found the second door also locked securely. He reached for his radio and fumbled as it got caught on the latch. He looked up as he raised the walkie to his mouth. But the words died on his lips.
Before him Door 2 stood open revealing a gaping black hole. He stood, mouth agape, as he gazed into the darkness. There was a lamp right above the door, but the light didn't reach into the interior of the warehouse. John's mind grappled for what seemed forever trying to understand how a door that was previously closed and locked now stood wide open. After a moment he managed to bring himself back. He took a step closer to the opening, noticing the strange way that the light from the lamp overhead stopped immediately at the threshold. He stopped and stared. It felt like someone was just on the other side of the blackness staring back at him.
“John, you all right?” Carl's voice crackled in the silence. John screamed in shock and nearly dropped the radio. Carl came roaring back, his voice shaking with barely concealed laughter. “Got you on the screen. You been day dreaming?”
John turned towards the camera trained on Door 2. “Door 2 is open.”
“What?” There was silence for a few seconds. “I got you on the screen. Looks like the door is closed to me.”
John glanced back towards the doorway. The gaping blackness was still there. He felt more than ever that someone was watching expectantly to see what his next move would be. “Carl-” He was interrupted by furious yipping. It sounded so close that he was afraid the coyotes had found their way back in. He turned and scanned his surroundings, making broad sweeps with his flashlight. The yipping continued, but moved further away.
John dropped his beam and turned back to the door and was treated to a third shock. It now stood closed. “What the hell?”
“Man, you have to press the little button. You know the one that says talk?” Carl was starting to sound worried. “Did you say that the door was open?”
John stepped close to the door. He placed his hand on the cold metal and had the sensation that just on the other side something was copying his gesture. The surface thrummed for a split second under his touch and then lay as frigid and still as ice. He grabbed the door knob, twisted and tried to rattle it, but it seemed even more solid than before. He raised the radio to his mouth.
“It's closed.” It's closed, but it was wide open 30 seconds ago. He turned towards the camera and repeated the message. “It's closed. Door 2 is secure.”
“You said it was open.”
John paused, wondering if he should explain what he saw. But Carl was watching the feed in the guard shack and he claimed he didn't see anything. He glanced back at the door, still secure, and staring at him. Closed, then open, then closed. And I'm the only one who saw it. “Shadow. Thought it was open. Must have been a shadow. ” He gave a distracted thumbs up to the camera.
“Roger that,” Carl didn't sound like he was rogering anything.
He strolled away from Door 2, trying to keep a steady pace even though he wanted to run. The back of his neck crawled with the sensation that he was being stalked, but he didn't dare look back.