Al paused, gooseflesh rippling over his arms as an eerie tingling convulsed it’s way down his spine. He shook his head and fitted the wrench onto the pipe, grunting in satisfaction as he moved the fitting back into place and sealed the two pipes together again.
“Alright, you.” He said to no one in particular, “let’s see if that did the trick.”
Placing the wrench back into his toolbox, Al reached up and clasped the valve on the pipe above his head; easing it slowly to the open position. After waiting a moment to make sure there were no leaks, he grunted again and packed up his toolbox.
“There we go,” he muttered to himself, “who says I can’t fix a broken geothermal alone?”
All around him on the catwalk heat pumps hummed to life, their motors responding to the sudden increase in water flow. Al rubbed at his eyes, peering over to the clock mounted on the other side of the boiler room.
That meant that instead of his boss paying overtime hours for a contractor to come in and fix the late-night leak, Al had been cheated of four hours of sleep.
“Urg, it’ll take around forty minutes to get home.” He complained to himself, placing his toolbox in the sling beside the catwalk ladder and releasing the latch that held the pulley in place. “That means I’ll only have…”
Al’s sentence trailed off as another bout of the strange feeling seized him. He felt like his insides had twisted into burning knots, the hairs on his arms and neck standing straight up.
“What was that?” He said aloud, the sound comforting in his solitude. The boiler room was brightly lit and noisy, but something made him feel uneasy.
“You’ve done it again.” He scoffed at himself, watching as the toolbox drifted gracefully down to the base of the ladder. “You’re just spooked cause it’s 3am and there’s no one else here.”
A flash of light caught his attention, causing Al to pause at the top of the ladder. The screen monitor on his desk had begun to flicker, the geothermal system control program winking in and out of existence.
“Oh no.” He moaned out loud. “Is the computer on the fritz? That’s probably why we keep blowing junctions.”
As he lowered himself onto the first rung of the ladder the speakers of the computer let out an ear-splitting electronic yowl, the screen flashing on and off wildly.
“What the…” Al began, but stopped as the computer fell silent. The screen turned back on, the control program blinking into existence as if nothing had happened. Al dropped down another rung, pausing as another bout of shivers rushed over him.
“What’s going on?” He wondered, his eyes drawn to movement on the monitor again. The screen was now replaced by a picture of the parking lot, the white letters at the bottom telling him it was one of the outside camera feeds. He could easily make out his truck, it’s solitude illuminated by a single street lamp.
The drivers’ side door was open, and Al could just barely see a figure standing beside it.
He hopped down another rung, the shivering feeling racing back and forth underneath his skin. Was there someone messing with his truck? The screen flickered again, but this time the figure was halfway across the parking lot, it’s rotund body stock still despite the distance.
“Who the hell is that?” Al placed a foot on either side of the ladder, sliding down it quickly. The moment his boots hit the floor the lights of the boiler room began to flicker on and off wildly. Al gasped involuntarily, his eyes flying back to the monitor; but the figure was gone from the screen.
The main door to the boiler room suddenly slammed shut behind him, making Al spin around in fright. His eyes caught sight of something smooth behind the lines of pipes, but it was hard to see. Wet slapping noises sounded out over the hum of the pumps, like someone was walking across the concrete in bare feet. Al’s insides felt like they had twisted into a single knot of buring fear, his heart hammering against his chest.
Al bolted in the opposite direction, rushing to the door beside his desk. The computer speakers suddenly let out a squeal of deafening static. He clutched at the handle and jiggled it, staring over his shoulder in terror.
A naked obese figure stood at the bottom of the catwalk ladder, it’s bald head and pudgy limbs illuminated in fits by the lights. Long ropey strands of what looked like slime dripped off of it, it’s feet making wet slapping noises as it slowly shambled towards him.
Finally the doorknob turned, Al surging through blindly. He threw the thick steel shut behind himself, reaching over and hauling on a heavy file cabinet until it fell against the door. He had no idea what was following him, but something deep within the primal part of his soul told him that he did not want it to catch him.
He turned and ran, knocking over chairs as he blindly rushed down a row of cubicles. Al tripped over his own foot, the lights going out the moment his body hit the ground. The silence felt absolutely deafening, Al’s panicked breathing the only sound as moonlight streamed through the windows.
Tears ran freely down Al’s face as wet footsteps broke the silence, the frightened man scrambling quietly on all fours into the cubicle next to him and under the desk. Before long the noises became louder, moonlight illuminating the hallway beside Al in a pale glow.
The creature appeared suddenly, almost like it moved in spastic fits. It’s skin was a sickening pale green, with patches of yellow and white mottled over the rolls of fat. The creature’s face looked like a clay doll that had not been given any details yet, glistening skin stretched over features that looked like they were trying to be human, but failed. Al felt the hairs on his neck and arms stand on end as the creature paused and began to look around, making a strange low panting noise almost like a breathy laugh.
After a gut-wrenching moment more the creature shambled away from him, it’s wet footsteps and quiet laughter fading into the murky darkness. After what felt like an eternity, Al shifted so that he was on his hands and knees; pausing again for what felt like too long before finally straightening enough to see over the low cubicles.
Al took a moment to breathe, placing a hand against his chest in relief.
A quiet noise made him jump, Al turning to see the creature emerge from the cubicle wall beside him with a pudgy hand stretched towards his face. An inhuman shriek escaped Al’s lips, the panicked maintenance worker slipping in the slime and falling onto his backside.
Faster than he could react the creature dislodged itself from the wall and fell upon him, Al kicking and screaming as he fought with the slimy mound of flesh. The creature forced its hand into his mouth, setting Al’s chest ablaze as the mucus filled his nose and throat; violently choking the life from him.
- - -
Constable Nunez led the sobbing woman down the hallway, trying her best to comfort her while on the way towards the morgue.
“He never came home. I thought he was at work, but they haven’t seen him. Then you called…” The woman was holding the wallet Nunez had just handed her, Al’s driver license visible in the clear pouch.
“I know this is difficult for you, Ms. Knotts.” Nunez brought the crying woman up to a window and raised the curtain. “But we need you to positively identify Albert’s body for us.”
The woman peered through the window for a moment, then sighed.
“Oh thank goodness.” She said, “that’s not my husband.”
“Are you sure?” The constable looked through the window, confused. “That’s the wallet we found on his body.”
“My husband isn’t obese, he’s fit.” Mrs Knotts gestured to the mound of pink flesh on the other side of the window. “And he has a full head of hair, see? Here, on his license.”
“I’m sorry we bothered you then. We’ll call once we find your husband.”
Mrs Knotts nodded in response, turning and walking away from the constable.
“Mrs. Knotts?” Nunez called after her, making the tall woman turn around. “Do you know if Albert had any dealings with the mentally ill? I mean, we found this man at your husband’s work with his wallet, wearing clothing that had burst every single seam.”
“No, he didn’t.” Mrs Knotts replied. “Please let me know when you find him.”
Nunez nodded, turning back to the window.
Her guts suddenly twisted up in burning knots, making the hairs on her arms and neck stand up straight.
That’s weird. She thought, and quietly returned to her work.