Jake’s phone died with a feeble buzz. Jake tore his ear buds out from his ears and stuffed both his phone and the headphones into the front pocket of his scrubs. Just his luck. Stuck on the night shift with no music.
He looked out over the quiet of the care facility. The silence of the place was starting to get to him. He wished he’d kept his job at McDonald’s. Sure, the pay was better here. But the hours certainly weren’t.
He’d been stuck with the graveyard shift at Blue Acre Care Facility. It was his job to serve as security between the hours of 11 PM and 7 AM the next morning. He was a knight in scrub armor for a building of old people who couldn’t care less about him being there. The only other employees in the building were some catty nurses at the front desk, another security guard in the East Wing, and his buddy Darrell working laundry downstairs.
Five days ago, Jake had been on the Laundry Crew as well. Then it started happening. Old people began dying. Not the normal way they do in facilities like this. This was the fishy sort of death, sometimes multiple in one night. The night shift nurses’ (during their rounds) would find them, mouths open wide and their dry eyeballs bulging. Maybe. Jake suspected that was an exaggeration.
You know what wasn’t an exaggeration? The corpses in the basement. The biggest snowstorm in southwest Michigan had struck earlier in the week. The heavy ice and snow had pulled down power lines and trapped people in their homes. Most of Allegan had lost power, including the morgue up the road. They couldn’t get the bodies. No power to keep them cool. So they were being kept in the service hallway in the basement. Covered in sheets with the doors locked up, a portable cooling system running overtime to keep the bodies cold. Darrell said that the hum of the thing was driving him crazy down in the laundry room.
The owners of Blue Acres had lost it. They couldn’t figure out why their patients were dying. Was it disease? Something more sinister? Jake had been pulled from laundry and stuck at a security desk until an investigation could be completed. His job was to watch the hallway. That’s it. The nurses did everything else.
Everything had been quiet though. Not that Jake minded that. What could he possibly do if someone came strolling down that hallway anyway? Some tall fella, reaching for a door handle, smiling at Jake as he–
It’s so cold
Jake startled and nearly fell from his chair. Someone had just spoke! It had been clear enough that he felt like it was coming from directly behind him. Jake jerked his head around. No one in the hallway except for him. Nothing. You need sleep. You need to get on the day shift. He settled back in, alert for a few minutes. After a while, the complete and utter silence wore on him.
Jake felt his eyes growing heavy. He let them close, just for a second. Behind his eyes, tinged at the edges with darkness, the hallway stretched out. Bad art and maps of the facility dotted the walls. Ice crept up from the floor, frost turning hard as it reached ever higher. Something was walking down the center of the hallway. Impossibly tall. Spindly arms tipped with thin fingers. Fear blossomed in Jake’s chest, red-hot. He got a quick glance at the figure before he averted his eyes. It was maggot-grey, its wrinkled torso shot through with cerulean veins. It walked in a jerky movement that made Jake’s head swim. The ice was creeping higher and higher, consuming wall lights like black mold in a rotting house. The Maggot-Thing turned its head and stretched its neck out, the loose skin pulling ever tighter at the base of its squashed head.
It’s so cold please Lord it’s so cold
Metal crashed against something hard and Jake screamed awake, his hands lashing out at his desk. He stood up, his heart thudding. Midway down the hallway in front of him, the basement door had been thrown open. Muffled footsteps echoed down his desolate hallway, growing distant as the metal door closed. Someone is breaking in!
Without thinking, Jake ran around his desk and charged toward the closing door. He’d fallen asleep and someone had taken the opportunity to rush down the stairs! No. Not today. He was going to put an end to this.
Jake reached the door right before it latched. He yanked hard and threw himself through.
He took the stairs two at a time, his chest heaving. His heart was threatening to beat through his ribcage. He had no plan. No way to fight an intruder. What are you doing!?
Jake stiff-armed the basement door and found himself on the other side. He looked right, facing the laundry and boiler room. Empty. He turned left, his eyes scanning up from the floor. When he saw it, he felt his stomach churn.
Blood covered every inch of floor. A severed hand lay off to the side, coated in red-tinged frost. Its deceased owner lay in the center, torn asunder. Organs gleamed pink. Dark skin was coated crimson. Darrell. His only friend. Dead.
Jake fell into the wall, stifling a scream. He was barely holding on. At the end, just beyond Darrell’s mutilated corpse, the utility hallway double doors were thrown wide. Cold air rolled through into the main hall. The sound of the industrial cooling machine droned on, the hum of a thousand mechanical wasps. Jake could see everything.
It’s cold please save us please
He saw two rows of gurneys on each side of the utility hallway. Twelve sheets covering twelve cold bodies.
The intruder must still be down here. He’d unlocked the utility door. He’d killed Darrell. Fear and rage melded inside of him. He knew, in the rational part of his brain, that he should flee. Call the police and let them hunt this murderer down. But Jake didn’t want that. He wanted to hurt this monster. Break his bones. Inflict on him what he had on Darrell.
His tennis shoes crunched on the frosty floor. His breath misted. Claustrophobia clamped an icy hand around Jake’s throat. The utility hallway was a small space. Only a few closets with extra supplies or old furniture. The corpses took up every other square inch. Jake looked around, his fists clenched. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting. But–
Voices seared through his brain. Jake howled and clamped his hands to his ears. It did nothing to stop them. It was a pandemonium of wails and howls, punctuated with whispered threats. The sound was coming from inside his head.
Ice was creeping up the walls. A pipe suddenly burst, the sound blowing Jake’s eardrums out. He reeled, his hands thrown out for balance. His fingers found the cold resistance of a corpse. He cried out and hugged his arms back to his body. He was beginning to blubber now. He felt helpless.
The double doors slammed shut.
Jake stopped and stared. You’re trapped. He heard the door lock engage with a final click. The air was ice now. It was getting colder.
Jake rushed the doors and threw his shoulder into them. They rattled, but did not give. He did it again and again, the shock of it traveling through his body. He could feel his face and fingers going numb.
The voices raised in pitch, laughter keening through. The corpses were laughing at him. They’d sprung a trap. He was a victim now. But for what purpose!? Why!?
From behind him, Jake heard the silky rustle of sheets moving. Jake paused his attack on the door. The voices had gone silent. He wanted to turn around. He wanted to see what he’d heard.
Jake did, tears forming in his eyes. All twelve corpses were sitting up. Wrinkled skin and dry, bulging eyes. Pale flesh gone loose with age. One by one each corpse smiled, lips pulling up into a rigid mockery of a human smile.
Tears rolled down Jake’s cheeks. He was frozen, his back pressed hard into the unyielding door. Then, from the corner of the hall where darkness gathered, the figure from his nightmare emerged. It’s real. Its fat, heavy head brushed at the ceiling. It’s nearly translucent skin quivered in unholy anticipation, long fingers curling and uncurling. The Maggot-Thing walked toward Jake, its gait long and unnatural. It was a hulking horror unlike anything else that Jake could have ever dreamed of. Cold emanated from it. He could see the air twist, an aura of sheer rime.
The corpses swung their legs around and set their feet on the frozen floor. Sheets slithered down in unison, the sound nearly lost under the roar of the portable cooler. They began to close in, each lurching body still grinning. The Maggot-Thing’s head twisted like a towel in a wringer. The skin split in several places, the blue wounds bloodless and gaping. It hunched over, pressing its gargantuan hands on the nearest gurney. The metal twisted under its weight.
They planned to claim him. As they had so many before. The first corpse grabbed at Jake. Jake fought, but it was no use. They were too strong. There was too many of them. They had him by the arms, by the legs, by the neck. He thrashed uselessly. The Maggot-Thing turned its head skyward in vile ecstasy. Its skin twitched, the veins inside squirming.
The voices in his head had gone silent. They had nothing more to say.