Working alone at the office late at night can be unnerving.
Things go bump. Doors open and close unexpectedly. The lights suddenly go out - dousing you into darkness.
You tell yourself it is the janitor, so you call out and no one answers.
In such moments you feel uneasy, exposed and vulnerable.
The experience is tough enough in a modern office setting but when you work in an old Gothic structure that reeks of damp stone, rotting wood and the funk of things living in the walls, the creep factor goes right off the scale.
That is what it was like in Minneapolis City Hall late at night.
For a while I occupied what is known as the swing space. A large cavernous room in the bowels of City Hall where whole departments can be shifted while their offices are being renovated. The space can accommodate hundreds of people but while I worked in that very large room, there was only me.
I didn't mind it at first because I was under a great deal of time pressure and the space allowed me to put in long hours undisturbed. But alone in the wee hours of one Sunday morning that changed.
I guess I just got tired and lost my concentration. Without work to focus on, I began to notice things about my surroundings I hadn't noticed before.
There was not much to see because I was allowed only a single pool of light directly over my desk to save energy, everywhere else in the room rested in darkness.
But I could hear things.
Pipes snapped and pinged in the walls and the ceiling ducts rumbled softly as the building breathed. The usual stuff. But then the building moaned, even though the granite walls were three feet thick, the entire structure moaned.
That was unnerving.
Then, you guessed it, a clammy chill caressed the back of my neck.
I would have freaked out but my rational self stepped in. It told me that in a wind, it is only reasonable the building should moan and drafts waft through open spaces. So I checked the local weather conditions with my computer
Nope, dead calm.
Crap. I'd seen this movie before and it did not turn out well.
My irrational self then elbowed my rational self aside. Think about what else is in this building, it told me.
In the dark, alone with only a vivid imagination to keep me company, I thought about it.
Way down below, in a musty granite vault behind massive steel doors was the evidence locker.
It is where some very nasty stuff is kept. Evil stuff. Stuff beyond even the depraved mind of a slasher film writer.
If the murder scene in Psycho had happened in Minneapolis, our crime scene investigators would have calmly taken their chain saws and cut the shower out of the Bates Hotel then tossed it into the locker below me.
Along with other things, worse things.
It is bad enough to let your imagination spin out of control, it is worse to let your memory do it. I knew all the things that were down there and I knew all the stories. It gives new meaning to things that go bump in the night.
That's when something went bump.
In the dark far end of the room, a coat-rack toppled over. I didn't even know we had a coat-rack, in fact I was sure we didn't until I heard it hit the floor.
Then something scurried through the dark across the carpet. A rat I guess but I only heard two feet.
I had no intention of testing my courage so I fled City Hall.
The next day, I informed my Lieutenant that I would only work normal hours in the future. She asked why, so I told her what happened.
Her reaction surprised me. She clasped her hand in glee and exclaimed, “Oh! You ran into John!”
“Who's John?” I asked.
“You haven't heard of John Moshik?”
“Nope.” I said.
“He was the last person to be executed in Minneapolis. I think they hung him in 1898. I believe in same room you are working in. They botched the execution; so he still hangs around (nudge, nudge) Get it?”
I groaned. “A ghost?”
“Cool huh? You're so lucky,” she gushed.
This week’s writing challenge: tell a workplace tale.
"Hey honey, how did it go at work today?"
"You wouldn't believe what happened?"
Scott Adams made a fortune doing this with his Dilbert cartoons.
I'd venture to guess that story for story, there are probably more tales told about work than any other subject. They are so prevalent we fail to notice them. But when we do notice them, they become a rich source for writing.
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