Suddenly there came a tapping—as if someone gently rapping at my chamber door…—E.A. Poe
It had been a good many years since I’d pulled an all-nighter. Over time I’ve developed a firm policy of maintaining a solid wall between my professional and personal lives. I consider a marathon effort in front of the computer an egregious intrusion into that policy. Besides, I am getting a little long in the tooth to go sleepless for 30-some-odd hours without feeling the detrimental effects.
Nevertheless, I found myself with a deadline that was more rigid than my self-imposed rules, and I was compelled me to work through the night in my little office. The job was for a friendly GC: a fair-sized community college building in a somewhat remote area, so it was a hard bid—no extensions. I’d been occupied with other tasks and the deadline sneaked up on me. I considered passing, but the GC called and begged for coverage. I owed him a favor, so I reluctantly resigned myself to work around the clock.
The interior of our suite of offices is pretty upscale, but it’s located in an area of questionable reputation, so I parked my car in our gated yard, and after bidding good evening to my colleagues, I locked myself in. It was a few minutes before sunset when my ordeal began.
The project was actually pretty sophisticated. My scope included exterior and interior framing, drywall and acoustical ceilings. It was a handful. I worked feverishly on the takeoff and lost track of the time until I heard a clatter—a burst of noise that seemed to originate from the general direction of the reception area. I looked up from my work and peered into the darkness. My boss had apparently switched off all the lights in the building as he customarily did upon leaving. I hadn’t noticed until then how eerie the once-familiar halls and offices seemed now draped in utter darkness. I remained seated and strained to listen for any further disturbance in the silence.
There it was again! It was an unnerving rattling sound that arose quite distinctly but yielded to the deafening quiet again almost immediately. Various petrifying scenarios raced through my fearful mind as I tried to wage a response to this alarming intrusion. Lamenting my lack of personal armament, I decided to call 911. I turned on my cellphone, and it went dark. Dead battery! I picked up the receiver on the hard-wired phone. No dial tone—switched to night mode. Dammit! The only way to get a call out would be to get to the switchboard, which was located “out there.”
Gathering all of the courage I could muster without the help of libation, I felt my way along darkened passages, directing my tip-toeing path by memory until I reached the lobby. Under the cover of darkness, I found the switchboard at the receptionist’s desk and began quietly fumbling with some buttons whose function I hadn’t a clue.
That rattling burst of noise suddenly arose again quite loudly through the darkness, this time issuing only a few feet from my position. I steeled myself for an onslaught from some hell-bent intruder, when the print/copy/fax machine instantly lit up like a Christmas tree. It rattled that same spine-tingling clatter, spit out a couple of pages, and went dark. My boogeyman was a paper-pushing automaton receiving incoming faxes after hours.
I’d returned to my estimating drudgery and was another hour into the project when I was disturbed again by yet another alien sound. It was a muffled sort of rustling or slithering sound issuing from right outside my office doorway. Bolstered by my earlier folly, I strode confidently to the portal and stuck my head out. I heard the sound again and followed it to glimpse of movement on the tile floor. I switched on the corridor light and beheld the laborious advance of a cockroach the size of a Chihuahua! It was so fat that its serrated legs were skittering at full speed, but barely thrusting the corpulent body along at a snail’s pace—thus, the fluttering sound on the tile floor. Feeling squeamish at the thought of stomping the creature, I headed for the supply closet for some bug spray. That’s when the lights went out.
I don’t know what caused the power failure—there was no storm—but the moment the place went dark, there came a tapping at the glass door of the entrance to the suite. Opening up, I saw it was the clown from hell—the one from “American Horror Story: Freak Show.” I nearly threw up on myself before I recognized his voice. It was my boss, fresh from a costume party. Great costume.
“Just checking on you, Vince. Why don’t you call it a night? Can’t work without power.”
No kidding. So, did I mention that I’m not real big on all-nighters? Small wonder.
Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.