The sky was overcast, which helped make it an especially dark and quiet night. The air was thick, it hung like a warm blanket on Tim’s back. He couldn't tell if the sweat that drenched his body was due to the heat, or his nerves. hhmmm HHMMM HHMmm hhmmm, he hummed as he stepped out of the suffocating night and into the cool, air conditioned lobby of the data center. The stark temperature change raised goose pimples across every inch of his skin.
Or was it the memory of the last time he was in that room full of machines that raised his hair?
He looked down at his phone, and at the email his co-worker Jonathan had just sent him. At lunch, Tim had told him about getting spooked in the new data building. He should have just kept it to himself. Because now, Jonathan’s email about what allegedly happened on this former farmland before their bank bought it and built on it, was only making things worse.
He had to go in. He couldn’t let some stupid story about a psycho farmer murdering his family keep him from doing his job. If he didn't go in and install the new software, he would be fired. But he was afraid that if he did go in, that he might never make it out. As he looked up at the building, he wondered why tonight, of all nights, Nikki had canceled on him. It would have been far less spooky if he had her there with him. For no other reason than to just hear something other than that incessant hum those massive computers radiated. She could have at least provided him with conversation to help keep his mind off of what happened last night. Off the story he had just read. He was acting like such a pussy, and he knew it. But at the same time, he knew he heard—and maybe saw—something. Something had been watching him; lurking around him. He could hardly bear the thought of it being in there now…waiting.
Tim walked into the lobby, then over to the entrance of the data room. He slid his identification card along the electronic reader and watched the red ‘locked’ light turn green. He steadied himself, took a long deep breath and grabbed the stainless steel door handle. The door handle that seemed colder than usual. His mind was really playing tricks on him, and he knew he needed to get a grip.
“Hell with it," he said aloud as he pushed his way in. His voice echoed in the wide-open, and virtually empty lobby behind him.
With a new baby and the bills piling up, he couldn’t let his paranoia get in the way of keeping his job. Immediately after walking into the roomful of machines, the relentless hum of the terminals sent a shiver down his spine. It was the hum that had rattled him last night. However, it wasn’t the hum of the machines. As annoying as they were, he could handle that hum. It was the hum he knows he heard over top of the computers that was freaking him out.
The cold, bright-white tile on the floor of the lobby continued into the data room. Above him was a checkerboard of white ceiling tiles and rectangular florescent lights. In front of him stood row after row of data terminals, all sitting side-by-side, all standing at around seven feet tall. He pulled his black-leather computer bag from his shoulder, hid his eyes by covering them with his right hand, desperately trying to keep form seeing the spot where he knew he saw something the night before. He managed to do so, then began to settle into his work station.
hhmmm HHMMM HHMmm hhmmm, Tim continued to hum as he plopped down in the cheap black swivel chair. Only the finest for Ameri-Bank employees, he thought, sarcastically. He pulled the necessary discs from his bag and began to install the new software. Once he was connected and the information began to transfer, he was unfortunately left only to his thoughts. Left to the emptiness of the room. To the hum of the machines. Already bored, he opened a different compartment in his bag and pulled out a Swiss Cake Roll. He snapped open the plastic wrapper and the sugary goodness––a mix of cocoa and artery-clogging high fructose corn syrup––filled his senses. The worry of the room faded as he sank his teeth into the soft, cream-filled cake. The saliva in his jowls swelled as he chewed the insanely delicious treat. He took a second bite as he checked the progress of the software update.
"Two more hours?" He whined aloud.
This was going to be like watching paint dry. He took out his phone and opened the Words With Friends app.
Tim heard something move to his left and in the direction of the door. The hair raised on the back of his neck as he jerked his head in the direction of the sound. His ears keenly pricked, his senses heightened, he waited, unknowingly holding his breath for any other sound or sign of movement. Cool air from the AC vent above him blew onto the back of his neck and escalated the hairs there to their fullest extension. This was last night all over again. Mercifully, however, he had yet to hear the other humming that sent him running from the room for good.
There it was again. This time it was more of a sliding sound followed by a thud. He searched the area around him and noticed a broom propped against the wall in front of him. He jumped to his feet and took the red broom handle in his hands, just above the light brown head.
"Hello," he spoke into the seemingly empty room. "Is someone there?”
All that returned to his ears was the hum of those machines.
Those God-awful machines!
He began a slow walk in the direction of the noises. Heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe. Every step he took toward the noise hurried his pulse to an even faster and more feverish pace. He came to the edge of the aisle of terminals and steeled himself before looking around the corner. Most of him knew nothing would be there, but it was that little nag in the back of his over imaginative brain that some hideous monster would be there waiting that kept his blood-pump in overdrive. With a deep breath he tightened his grip around the broom handle and readied himself for a peek around the corner.
Tim swung the broom handle on instinct and it thrashed against the metal locker that protected the expensive computer hardware. Luckily, Nikki was able to duck just before her head ended up the victim of Tim’s violent swing.
“Hey!” She gasped. “Jesus! What the hell?” Nikki winced from her seat on the cold tile floor, her face scrunched in shock.
“Christ Nikki, I could have killed you,” Tim huffed. “What the hell are you doing?” He reached out his hand and helped her up.
“Good God, I’m supposed to be here,” she began to laugh. “A little jumpy are we?”
“Well, what do you expect? I’m in this creepy room all by myself and I didn’t think anyone else was in here. I didn’t even hear you come in.”
“I was already in here. I thought it would be fun to scare you,” Nikki gave a devilish grin. Her hazel eyes a twinkle.
Tim sucked in some more air. His heart was pounding. “I didn’t see your car.”
“I parked around back.” She smirked.
“How long have you been planning this?”
“Since you called me in a tizzy last night after you left here. Looks like you’re still a little scaredy cat, huh?” She gave him a playful poke in the ribs.
His face blushed with embarrassment. “Ha. Ha. You would be too if you were here last night.”
“Whatever you say stud,” she winked. “You ready to get this thing rollin’?”
Tim started back toward the workstation. “It’s already rollin’.”
“Really? You work fast! Hmm…” She paused for a second until he looked up at her. The smile she wore revealed her desire to play. “So, now what are we supposed to do?”
“Now, we wait.” He smiled and pulled another chair over to the desk that held the data room computer and his bag.
Nikki gave the chair a sour look, “They don’t even spring for the chairs with arms?”
“We’re lucky the damn things even have backs.” They both shared a laugh.
For some reason, the age old and timeless sport of ragging on the man just never got old.
hhmmm HHMMM HHMmm hhmmm, Tim unknowingly hummed again. Nikki took a seat beside him and waited for him to finish.
“What,” he asked.
“Nothing. What are you humming?”
“You know… I don’t really know. It’s been stuck in my head since last night. Anyway, I thought you said you weren’t coming tonight.”
“Yeah, but that was ‘cause I really wanted to scare you.”
Tim rolled his eyes. “Yeah? Well, it worked. Congratufuckinglations.”
“What, you don’t like being stuck in a room all alone with me?” Nikki’s eyes turned sultry as she pouted her lip.
If she only knew. Tim had had his eye on her since the first day she walked––sashayed––into that conference room. The way her long dark hair fell over the shoulder of that tight and sexy, royal blue knee-length dress. He must have ogled those long, tan legs as they moved methodically back and forth the entire way around that, thankfully extremely long, conference table. He remembered actually being sad when she made it her to her seat. He also remembered perking right back up when her deep brown eyes met his and her smile lit up the entire room.
“Does your lack of a response mean you don’t want to be in here with me?” She smiled, breaking him from his trance.
“No, I mean, yes. Yes of course I like being trapped in here with you,” he fumbled. She looked no less gorgeous tonight than she had that day. He loved it when she wore her hair in a ponytail. It was so sexy to watch her tuck those runaway strands of hair back behind her ear.
“I was hoping you might say that,” she grinned. Then she scrunched her nose.
God he loved it when she did that.
“You are adorable,” he told her.
“Adorable? Is that a good thing?”
“Of course it is.”
“Why wouldn’t you just call me sexy? That’s what Jonathan says you call me whenever I walk out of the room.”
“What?” A wry smile grew across Tim’s face. “That asshole…At least he speaks the truth.”
Reading her signals he reached out his hand. She took it, and he pulled her over to his chair. She took advantage of the fact that the chairs didn’t have arms and straddled him, looking deep into his eyes.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while now,” she told him.
Tim said nothing. Instead, he placed a hand on her left hip and clasped his other hand along her cheek. Nikki bit her bottom lip in anticipation and he pulled her lips into his. It was everything he had fantasized it would be, and more. She pressed her lips firmly against his. They were soft, but relentless at the same time. He dropped his hand from her face and placed both of them around bottom. He squeezed and pulled her closer. A slight moan of pleasure escaped her lips as she rocked into him. Then she sat back and pulled her purple silk, sleeveless blouse over her head. Every move she made was intoxicating. She dove back in for another round of passionate kisses, and her hand moved for his belt buckle. She sat back again and gave him a lust induced smile as she undid his belt. Just as she unbuttoned his jeans and started for his underwear, the desktop computer flickered and made a popping sound.
“What the hell?” Nikki gasped as she stood up and both of them turned their attention to the computer screen.
Tim let out an uncontrollable gasp himself. Nikki quickly pulled her shirt back over her head. The weirdest part about it was that she watched herself doing so on the screen.
“Were you recording this, Tim?”
“What? How the hell would I do that?” He stood up, also watching himself on the screen. “I didn’t even know you were going to be here, remember?”
She shook the scowl from her face when she realized what he was saying was true. “That’s right. Sorry,” she grimaced.
Tim waved his hand in front of himself and watched the screen mirror his movement. It made no sense––
“It doesn’t make sense that it would snap to that. I didn’t even know these PC’s came with a camera on them,” said Nikki.
“I was about to say the same thing. So weird.”
Tim grabbed the mouse and moved the cursor to the button that closed the camera. However, when he clicked it, the window didn’t close. He pressed the button several more times in frustration but it didn’t yield a different result. He looked over to Nikki, “It’s like it’s frozen on here. Like the computer wants the camera to stay on.”
“Don’t,” Nikki demanded.
“Don’t? Don’t what?” Tim let go of the mouse and looked up at her, confused.
“Don’t start that shit.”
“That shit that you called all frazzled about last night.”
Tim took offense. “What do you mean? It happened, Nikki. I’m telling you, I heard––saw––something in here last night.”
“Well which was it? Cause last night you couldn’t make up your mind if you ‘heard’ it, or ‘saw’ it, either.” She actually used air quotes.
Just as he was about to protest, something dark moved behind them on the screen. Tim turned to try to see it in person but when he did, nothing was there.
“What?” Nikki stepped back from his quick turn.
“You didn’t see that?”
“See what, Tim? Is this you trying to get back at me for scaring you earlier?”
“I wish it was, but I saw something dark, like a big shadow move behind us on the screen.” Tim explained as he took a seat in front of the computer.
“Stop it Tim, this isn’t funny.”
“Here, I’ll show you if the computer will let me access the rewind function.”
He moved the cursor around the menu and brought up the video control panel. He moved to the rewind button and when he pressed it, it started to move. They both watched, unaware that the both of them were also holding their breath.
“THERE!” Nikki shouted. “I saw something behind us! I don’t want to watch this Tim, let’s just get the hell out of here!” She began to panic. “I believe you about last night, now can we just go?”
But Tim wasn’t listening. He wanted––had—to see what was moving on that screen.
“I think it was about riiight here––”
“What the hell?!” Nikki screamed in horror as they watched a large shadow pass behind them. She would have tried to explain it off as a flickering light, or possibly a glitch in the camera, but this…thing, had a shape.
A very distinct shape.
Tim hit fast forward and stood up from his seat. “You saw that right?”
“Oh, I saw it, now let’s get the hell out of here. Seriously.”
Tim agreed and without hesitation he grabbed his bag, then Nikki’s hand, and they started for the door. About halfway to the door they heard a click at the door. Everything else was silent. Tim knew exactly what the clicking sound was.
“What?” Nikki shrieked.
The hum in the room continued while Tim tried to find words.
“Oh no, what, Tim? Oh no, WHAT?
“That was the lock,” he said, dismayed.
“What? But there’s no way, that’s controlled by comput…” Even as she said it, the realization that something was controlling the computers hit her like a freight train, freezing her in her tracks.
Tim continued toward the door and much to his chagrin, when he swiped his security card, the red light didn’t turn green. He swiped again, nothing. Then again.
“Were stuck,” he said, defeated.
Nikki started to cry. The fear began to overwhelm her. But just as soon as her sobs became audible, so did something else.
“Ssshhh, listen!” Tim held his index finger to his lips. Nikki stifled a sob and nodded her head, not moving a muscle. She could hear it too. That sound. The sound he heard last night just as shit started getting weird. It grew louder and louder and louder.
“It sounds like it’s coming from the computer,” Tim said.
He took a couple of steps back in the direction of the desk.
Nikki grabbed his arm and tugged him backward. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I have to see what it is. I have to find a way out of here.”
Nikki didn’t speak, she simply nodded. She had no clue what to say, even if she weren’t too afraid to form words. She released Tim’s arm and fell in behind him as they walked back to the computer. The sound grew louder the closer they moved toward the workstation.
Nikki pulled up just before the computer and took Tim by the arm again, stopping him. “Tim, seriously. Is this a joke? This is, isn’t it?”
“I swear to God if this is a joke I’m going to kill you.”
“What? Why are you saying that?”
“You don’t hear that?”
“Yeah, I hear the noise, I am trying to figure out what the hell it is.” Tim moved in front of the computer screen and Nikki chased after him. The camera was back to real time as they could see themselves moving in front of it.
The fear had left Nikki’s face. “Oh, you’re good. Who’s doing that anyway?”
Tim looked confused. “Doing what, Nikki?”
“The humming. The same tune you were humming earlier you goofball. Is it Jonathan? Where’s he hiding?”
As the words left her mouth the humming was hot on their necks and loud in their ears. Just as the last note came out much louder than the others, on the computer screen, they saw the ghostly shadow of an abnormally tall man in suspenders, dressed like he was just off the farm, holding a sickle, and bending down behind them, humming in their ears.
His eyes were as black as coals.
Nikki screamed at the top of her lungs, full fright. And then the lights flickered off.
Tim’s legs were swept out from under him and he felt something hot and wet splash against his face. Nikki’s scream had stopped, just as quickly as it had started.
“Nikki! Nikki!” Tim shouted.
He moved his hands in the darkness in front of him, but they found nothing.
“Nikki! Where are you?”
She didn’t respond.
Tim jumped when the lights momentarily flickered on, then back off.
The lights flickered back on. Luckily, the man, or whatever that thing was, was gone. He shielded his eyes from the bright florescent light, then as they adjusted, he saw why Nikki wasn’t answering him when he shouted for her. She was passed out on the floor. From his vantage point on the floor, he couldn’t tell if she was breathing, because he couldn’t see over her shoes. Then he sat up, and a whole new kind of fear squeezed at his heart. Nikki was lying motionless, not even movement from her chest. and the man was gone. At first he thought Nikki was too.
And she was lying in a pool of blood.
Had she hit her head when she fell?
Did something cut her on the desk? He heard her knock against it when the lights went out.
Tim slid the rolling chair out of the way and crawled over to her. He slid her body up on his knees to get a better look, but her head didn’t come with it. It was still attached to her neck, but only by a few frayed muscle fibers on the back side. Blood was everywhere. Before he could even have a reaction, from the far end of the room, opposite the doorway, faintly he heard:
hhmmm HHMMM HHMmm hhmmm.
He immediately let go of Nikki’s lifeless body and scooted backwards, away from the sound using his hands as paddles.
hhmmm HHMMM HHMmm hhmmm.
It was louder this time. He began using his feet to help him scurry back toward the door even faster.
hhmmm HHMMM HHMmm hhmmm.
Louder still. He realized he wasn’t breathing and began desperately heaving for air. The image of Nikki, mostly headless, blood everywhere, the image of the farmer with the sickle, eyes black as coals.
“The farmer?” He said aloud as he worked his way to the back of the room.
The story Jonathan emailed him was true? So now it was after him? Tim’s brain couldn’t process the situation. It didn’t make sense. He never believed in ghosts. At least not ghosts that could murder your friend.
Or murder you!
hhmmm HHMMM HHMmm hhmmm.
The sound was so close now he could almost feel the man’s hot breath in his face. The man’s empty and soulless black eyes flashed once again in his mind’s eye. Where was he? Who was he? WHAT was he––it? Tim had to see. He couldn’t stand that thing coming toward him and not knowing where it was. Then it hit him. The only way he had been able to see him before was in the computer screen. He needed a screen. He needed his––
Tim quickly dug his right hand in the pocket of his jeans and pulled out his iPhone. He unlocked it, tapped the camera app. With one eye closed and the other squinting, he slowly raised the camera out in front of him.
First the screen showed his on feet.
Then it showed the white tile just beyond them.
Then he nearly passed out when the camera revealed a dirty pair of work boots walking right for him. No sound, just the image of them on the screen of his phone. He continued to raise the camera, finding black pant-covered legs that then turned into black suspenders over a white shirt. Tim could feel the blood draining from his face, and his hands were shaking uncontrollably. There, on the screen of his phone he could clearly see a man walking toward him. However, when he looked up from the screen at the hallway in front of him, there was nothing there. He looked back to the screen and right in front of him, staring at him, was a pale and angry looking man. The man with those cavernous black eyes.
hhmmm HHMMM HHMmm hhmmm!!!
The farmer pulled his sickle back over his head and began to thrust it forward, right toward Tim’s head. Tim dove to his left and a loud bang came through the speaker of his phone. He quickly got back to his feet, raised his phone, and the farmer was once again stalking toward him. Eyeless, expressionless, emotionless.
Something happened in that moment. Suddenly, a kaleidoscope of colors burst in front of Tim’s eyes and he lost control of his phone. His brain was trying to shut off, trying to keep him from witnessing this horrible event. He regained his wits for a brief moment, long enough to watch his phone as it dropped to the floor. The last thing he saw on the screen was the farmer beginning to swing his weapon again. When the phone hit the floor, it landed on the side button and the last thing Tim heard before everything went black and he passed out, was the electronic clicking noise the camera makes when it snaps a picture.
“Tim. Tim! Wake up, man! What the hell is going on?”
Tim heard a voice but it sounded as if it were under water. Then he felt a smack against his face.
“Tim! Wake up! Nikki’s dead! Wake up!” Like surfacing from a pool, the words Nikki is dead became clear and brought Tim back to consciousness. His co-worker, Jonathan, was standing over him, a look of horror on his face.
They were moving. Tim looked down, saw he was on a gurney, and the siren of the ambulance finally found his ears.
“Tim, what the hell happened in there? We all got an alert that the data center was failing and when I got here we found you on the floor unconscious, and Nikki dead. She’s dead man! What the hell happened? Did you do this? Did you kill her!?”
Tim looked down at his hands. They were still covered in her now dried blood. He shot up to a sitting position and frantically searched all around him. “Where is he? Where is the man?”
“The man? What the hell are you talking about?” Jonathan scowled.
“There’s a man in there! A ghost! He killed Nikki! You have to get everyone out of there! Just wait, you’ll hear the hum! If you do, RUN!” Tim screamed. He sounded insane and he knew it. But he wasn’t insane. Was he?
Jonathan was outraged. “The hum? A ghost? Did you do this? Are you making shit up to cover your––”
“Look, he’s in shock honey,” the EMT interrupted. “It’s hard telling what he’ll say right now. No sense talking it out now, you won’t get anywhere.”
Jonathan nodded. Took one last look at Tim, then walked back toward the data center.
“Wait! Jon, WAIT!” Tim screamed.
The EMT leaned over top of him, “It’s okay baby, we’re gonna take good care of you. Don’t worry about him. Whatever you saw in there, it’s gone now.”
Another EMT took the other side of the gurney and they hoisted Tim up inside the back of the ambulance. He was going to profess further, but he knew how it must sound to them. He decided to save his breath. They shut the ambulance door behind them and the sweet, heavy-set black lady took a seat beside him.
She could still see the worry on his face. “It’s okay now, sugar. You can relax. Say, what did you say you saw in there? You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. I’ve just always been curious about the spirits.”
Tim remembered that he had his phone before he passed out. He remembered the click it made when it snapped a picture. If he was lucky enough to get a picture of that monster back there, they would believe him. He shoved his hand down in his pocket but his fingers came up empty.
“My phone, have you seen my phone?”
“Sure baby, I have it right here.” She handed it to him. “I’ll make a call for you if you need me too.”
Tim took the phone from her and unlocked it. He could have sworn before he went unconscious that he saw the shutter close on the screen. He tapped on the photo app and opened the photos tab. Sure enough there was a new picture. He tapped on it to blow it up but all he could see was a black blur.
“Awe, sugar, you look so sad. What did you expect to find,” the EMT asked.
“I thought I got a picture of it.”
“Of what sweetheart? Of the boogey man?”
“Well honey, there ain’t no such thing as the boogey man,” she smiled.
That’s when the lights in the back of the ambulance flickered over their head.
The look on the EMT’s face brought Tim right back to a panic.
“Well, that was strange,” the EMT said as she shuffled in her seat.
Tim’s heart dropped to his stomach, and the hair once again was raised on the back of his neck. He backed out of the photos app on his phone and tapped on the camera app. But he didn’t need to open it to know that the man with the sickle would be standing there at the back of that ambulance. He must have captured him in that picture after all. And it must have been all the farmer needed to travel right along with him.
The lights flickered again.
Tim felt tired. Nikki was dead. And his heart was broken.
Feeling defeated, he lowered his arms back down to his lap. He knew what was coming next.
“You okay, honey?” She asked him.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he handed her the phone, the camera app still open, then closed his eyes.
And he waited.
hhmmm HHMMM HHMmm hhmmm.