Jason saw the trail of blood smeared across the peeling linoleum floor and his first thought was “someone’s gonna have to clean that up”. He then said as much, aloud, and the air in the hallway swallowed the words, pummeled them down, buried them under dust. There were footprints in the blood. Someone had tracked it away around the corner. That trail swept in a neat arc as well, the bend hiding whatever gruesome treasure waited at the end of that monochromatic bow.

To his right he noted a door marked JANITORIAL on a green metal plate that might have once been brass but had long ago succumbed to oxidation through neglect. He wanted to polish the plate, just like his father had done with the brass numbers that marked their home address. Every weekend the old man had been out at the end of the driveway, with a stained rag in one hand and a little metal flask of Brasso in the other. “People these days,” he would say with his usual tone of authority, “just let stuff fall to shit. They’d rather throw something out, let it rot, than put in a little elbow grease. The laziness of this society will be our undoing, mark my words.” Jason had marked them, and once the old man died, he had gone out to the end of the driveway every Sunday and rubbed that chalky white paste into the four fat numbers until they gleamed. Then he lost the house and could only wonder if the new owners bothered with the ritual.

“Probably not,” Jason muttered, again surprised at how the atmosphere suppressed the sound of his voice. He had taken a few extra steps in his reverie, and now looked down in dumb surprise to find that he had managed to put one boot in the beginning of the blood trail. He pulled his foot back as though he had put it into an open fire, and it came away with a sticky snap. He tapped the toe against the floor, and it made a tacky sound. “Well, shit.”

He looked up at the bend in the hallway. A pair of swinging double doors hung there, under a hand-painted plate marked MESS. He looked at the blood and made a joke, then laughed at himself. That was when he noticed the spiderwebbed cracks in the wall opposite the mess doors, and he could no longer pretend that what he was seeing was a fantasy. His legs propelled his body forward, stiff with terror, and he rounded the corner to confront the horror he had witnessed on the security monitors.

2015.03.13 – 2023.10.06

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