Life in the software industry is fraught with deadlines and marked with high expectations from the supervisors. Plans for project's execution are made well in advance and deadlines are skewed in order to maintain rigorous cost-budget equilibrium. In brief, a lot of work in very short a time span.
That fateful Friday night, I was busy coding at my desk on the second floor of my office to meet a tight delivery schedule. I was so absorbed in my work that I completely lost track of time. A sudden and a sharp pang of hunger churned my stomach and forced me to look at my wrist-watch.
"Gosh, it's twelve past one", I muttered to myself exasperated and shot up from my chair, stupefied. "How in Harry's name it's past one already", I thought aloud. "My watch might be playing tricks on me; I must google the local time".
Google confirmed that my watch was not lying and it was indeed one in the morning. I stretched myself and shot a cursory glance across the hall and found all cubicles empty. Not a soul in sight. Even the celebrated workaholic, my friend, nick-named 'Hippo' for obvious reasons, was not to be seen anywhere in the vicinity. He was always the last one to leave and that too after a half-hour persuasion from me trying to convince him that he did indeed has a life beyond work and fresh air was very necessary for the smooth functioning of his innards.
I hated the very idea of having my meals alone - if there would be any meals at one in the morning. But I had to oblige my stomach and had to hush up the churning bile juices. Unwillingly, I dragged myself towards the pantry. On the way, I passed the dimly lit conference hall. It was eerily silent. All the cubicles and cabins looked ominously abandoned and not a soul stirred. Except for the faint rustle of the leaves outside and the intermittent low popping sound of a macaw, everything else was dead silent. I had a premonition that with every step forward, I was walking right into something very sinister and supernatural.
I trudged on. As I passed the recreation room, the television, which I hitherto perceived was switched off, suddenly sprang to life. I froze in the middle of my steps. The channels began to flip automatically. I rested my nose against the glass wall of the recreation room and gaped at the drama that unfolded itself in front of my eyes, aghast, stupefied, and bewildered. The room was silent except for the noise from the television set. I endeavored a trying gulp, but the saliva in my mouth seemed to have dried up. My lips were parched and facial muscles tensed. I passed a nervous tongue on my trembling lips in order to lubricate the latter, but the former felt like corrugated rubber.
Then suddenly, the game controls of the PlayStation in the recreation room started floating in the air out of their own volition. The television switched itself to game mode and Level One of Diablo commenced. The game play was manual, as if someone was actually maneuvering the game controls; but the controls were still suspended midair and were unmanned.
At this point, the corridor rang with a shrill giggle followed by a sudden silence. My heart leapt in fear and perched itself somewhere in my throat. I was too scared to move even a muscle. I felt a drop of perspiration meander its way down my spine. The office was undoubtedly haunted. The giggle had proceeded from the direction of the pantry. My first reaction was to retract my steps and rush towards the exit. But I checked my impulses and decided to stand resolute against whoever it was. In the meantime, the television had switched itself off and the game controls now rested silently in the cabinet. Everything was still once again.
As I tip-toed my way towards the pantry, the wooden floor creaked and moaned beneath my feet. I could hear muffled voices now, growing louder and louder as I neared the door. I reached the pantry door trembling to the core and turned the knob with shaking fingers.
The door opened noiselessly and revealed a deserted room. The refrigerator hummed silently in the corner. The two vending machines stood in attention along with the refrigerator like sentries guarding a treasure trove. The tranquility of the room comforted my ruffled spirits and I realized that the tidal wave of fear which had leapt like lava in me, was beginning to ebb. I blamed the resulting hallucinations to long hours at my desk. I tried to convince myself that what just happened was nothing but a tired mind playing tricks on me. I sniggered at my own idiocy and walked towards one of the vending machines to slake my thirst.
Before I could key in the beverage of my choice, a can of Diet Coke deposited itself in the dispenser. I stood shell-shocked. It was as if the machine had read my mind. In the meantime, the second vending machine automatically dispensed a bag of Cheetos and a pack of M&Ms. All of a sudden, the music player in the pantry began to play â€œHappy Birthdayâ€ by Marilyn Monroe. The soothing voice engulfed me like conflagration and scorched my already shattered spirits as the realization dawned upon me that it was indeed my birthday.
â€œWho is there? I know this is a practical joke! Itâ€™s not funny. Do you hear me, it is not funny at all?â€, I shouted at the top of my voice, timorously. There was no response. The music still played in the background.
â€œWho is there?â€, I shouted again, this time with iron in my voice.
No response again.
The music stopped playing abruptly, the lights of the vending machines began to flicker and the refrigerator door began to open and shut vigorously. The room was filled with giggles emanating from unseen beings. I knew there was something indeed amiss and there was no time to lose. With all my might, I ran towards the pantry exit. Before the door shut itself close, I sprang out just in time and avoided a crushing blow on my legs. In the heat of the moment, I lost my balance, tumbled forward and banged my head against the wooden floor. All was silent once again. I took to my heels, regardless. I ran past the recreation room, the deserted conference hall, the abandoned cubicles and towards the exit. With shaking numb hands I twisted and turned the doorknob again and again, but it did not budge. The door was locked.
I tried the windows but they too were bolted up. However hard I tried to pull the bolts open, they did not give in. It was as if an external force was working to keep them in place. I knew that I was trapped. I picked a chair and hurled it towards one of the windows. To my relief, the window gave in, the hall rang with the sound of shattering glass and the splintered fragments scattered all over the place.
I planned to jump over the window sill and into the swimming pool below. I fell back a couple of steps from the window and assumed a sprinterâ€™s position. I took a deep breath, lunged forward and bounded towards the window. As I neared it, I summoned up all my reserved strength and tookoff the floor. While I was midair and was rapidly approaching the broken window, the latter, to my horror, mended abruptly and restored itself to its original state. I smashed into it headlong with brute force, rebounded and fell on the floor, unconscious.
When I regained consciousness, I saw a short, stout man bent over my limp frame and saying something in a husky voice.
â€œWhat?â€, I asked him as I endeavored to comprehend his words.
â€œI said wake up, signorâ€, he replied.
â€œWhere am I?â€, I asked dryly, still reeling.
â€œIn janitor room. I am janitorâ€
â€œHow did I get in here?â€, I ventured to ask him, my temples throbbing with pain.
â€œI cannot sayâ€, replied the janitor. I could sense something very strange about this man.
â€œWhat time is it?â€
â€œEight ten. Saturday morningâ€, he answered abruptly with an uncanny twinkle in his eyes.
â€œMay I get some water?â€, I requested.
â€œI get you some, signorâ€, he volunteered. He stood to leave and proceeded towards the door. He flicked it open with a jerk and precipitously turned towards me.
â€œHappy Birthday, signorâ€, he sang with a sinister grin playing on his lips.
Before I could ask him how in the world he knew that it was my birthday today, he vanished into thin air right in front of my very eyes. The door shut behind him with a bang and the room sank into darkness.
Disclaimer: All characters and places appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
(c) All rights reserved, 2012 by Ratandeep Satwant Singh. Please visit me at DeadwoodEdition.com.