My name is Jimmy McCall, and I sweep the floors at St. Christopher’s. It’s a hospital with all kinds of things. There’s a ward for people who are off in the noggin (not like me, like people who talk to Jesus), and there’s a hospital for folks who are sick with colds and broken bones and the like, and they also have a wing where they research things. Honest to goodness, people in white lab coats, and microscopes, and stuff like that. They’ve got all that and cages with rats and monkeys, mostly. Sometimes I get to feed them.
You probably won’t be interested in hearin’ about me, but lots of people ask about St. Christopher’s. It’s a very important place, and it’s an honor to work there. They only take the best scientists, and the man who hired me (his name is Allen Moss) said they can only hire special people to be staff. (He smiled when he said that, so I know he wasn’t makin’ fun.) Just like that, I worked at St. Christopher’s! On their staff! I take their trust very seriously. I never tell anyone about what I see or hear. That’s very important, said Mr. Moss. So I keep real quiet, never a peep out of me.
They like for me to work at night. That way, I don’t bother anyone who is resting or researching. Mr. Moss was so nice; he gave me an iPod. He said it can get lonely workin’ at night, and music gladdens the heart.
When I get to the gate I show a man in a booth my card, and he waves me in. I pull into my very own parking spot. There’s another man who waits at the door, and he looks at my ID card, too. Even though they’re nice, they make me nervous because they both have guns. I know guns are dangerous.
Once I’m inside I put in my headphones and walk to the closet where I have all my cleaning supplies. Well, it says “Closet” on the door, but it’s pretty big for a closet. Anyway, it’s got a locker for my stuff, and of course, brooms and mops and a fun swisher machine that buffs the floors. There’s a lot more to keeping the hospital clean than you think.
The first thing I do is sign into a real old computer and check the Maintenance mailbox. Sometimes there’s a note in there for me to vacuum an office, or make sure a garbage bag from a room is put in the incinerator downstairs. Oh, the incinerator! It’s spooky in that room. The lights never work so it’s just lit by the fire that’s always burning in the furnace. It’s real hot and muggy, and they told me to never clean the floor in there because it has to be treated special.
The only thing I’ve seen special in there is a red star painted on the floor.
Anyway, I always start the night with some happy music, so I click my iPod over to “Walkin’ on Sunshine” and get my dust mop. You have to sweep first, to get up all the dust bunnies and small bits of dirt. I try hard not to dance or whistle as I sweep the floors, because it might disturb a patient, or a scientist who is concentrating. Sometimes I can’t help it, but most everyone is real nice about it. They’ll smile at me, and I wave, and try to be quiet. Some of the scientists work with delicate things, and it wouldn’t do to startle one.
Even with the cheery music, it’s hard not to be nervous some nights. The lights are mostly switched off, and the other people I see are either working late or patients who are wandering the halls. Tonight I wasn’t nervous so much as annoyed. I kept stopping because I had to shake off all these shiny green flies from my mop. Most were dead, but some of them clung on and crawled around in circles. I had the devil’s own time getting them all cleaned up. I bet you wouldn’t believe me if I told you I filled up a whole garbage bag with the little guys, but I did. I almost felt sad, but they were just flies, after all.
After I got all those flies cleaned up, I was behind on my schedule. Tonight was going to be a doozy! After I swept and mopped the halls, it was time for me to start on laboratory maintenance. I clean a different lab every week. Despite the weird start with the flies, I was excited because I got to clean the animal labs this week. All those critters are nice to meet, and I think they appreciate a clean lab as much as the people do.
I carted my supplies into the animal lab. It’s got a key card reader on the door, like all the other labs. It also has a little room you have to wait in while a cool mist sprays on you. One time I stuck out my tongue. It was a funny feeling, like dancing ants, but it didn’t taste good at all. Once I was inside I smiled at all the animals, many of which were sleeping. I was surprised to see one of the scientists was working still. It was real late, after midnight.
The scientist was Anne Wheeler. She’s always nice to me, and we both like the animals. She’s pretty, too, with short brown hair and blue eyes. When she saw me come in she smiled.
“Hey, Jimmy! Come to clean the cages?”
“Yes ma’am, that’s right. You’re workin’ awful late.”
“I know. I’ve been working hard these past couple of days because the animals have been acting out of character.”
“How are they actin’?”
She stood and motioned for me to follow her. We walked over to a neat stack of rat cages. Normally rats are very clean animals, but the cages stank. I noticed a lot more rats than normal, and just as we stepped up I felt something soft under my foot. More of those green flies.
“Why’s there so many?”
“They’re breeding out of control. We’ve never seen anything like it. Their gestation period is dramatically lower, too. Days, sometimes hours it seems like.”
“It’s impossible! Or it should be. I don’t know, sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s really that they’re mating and birthing that fast or if we’re just overwhelmed by the numbers.”
I waved my hand at the cage. All those green flies were covering it, too.
“That’s another thing,” she said. “We’re getting a bad fly infestation. Can you spray something?”
I nodded. “I’ve got something that should sort them out okay.”
“I don’t even know how they got in here. This is a sealed environment.”
“They probably hitched a ride,” I said. I was eager to get started. I guess it didn’t bother Anne, but the rats were really giving off a stench, and the way they writhed and squirmed over each other made me think of worms in a box at the bait shop.
We talked a little more as I swept and mopped, but she was back at her microscope for most of that time. I wanted to ask what she was looking at, but I probably wouldn’t understand it. When it was time to clean the cages, she was nice enough to help. I think it’s because the animal scientists are protective of their critters; or maybe their experiments, anyhow.
Most went just fine, but when we got to the rats it was awful. I mentioned before that they stank. The smell of poop and urine mixed up was almost unbearable, but add to that the smell of rotten little bodies, blood, and sickness, and you might be close to describing it. Lab rats are usually white, but these were pink and splotchy. A lot of them had angry red sores and scabs. We were both queasy of stomach, but when I tried to grab a group up with my gloves, their skin came off in bloody patches, like cheese off the top of lasagna.
I felt horrible. The rats squealed with pain and squirmed to get away. Anne ran to my garbage can and vomited. The first time the rats squeaked at me I dropped them, but they became frantic and started clawing and biting at one another. It seemed like in just a few seconds the whole cage was just a mess of blood and guts and squealing rats. I almost lost my own dinner then.
I stood there stupefied. The writhing mess of blood and parts made me think that Hell must look this way. Anne regained her composure and came back over. She was holding a hand over her mouth, and her eyes were wide. I saw blood dripping from the corner of her mouth.
“Just . . . oh God. Throw all of it into a garbage bag and incinerate the whole thing.”
“There’s some that’s still alive,” I said.
“Burning will probably be a blessing.”
I didn’t argue with her. She was probably right, and I wanted to do something — anything — to get out of there. I grabbed a heavy-duty bag and dropped the cage in. I gagged because some of the rats fell out as I did this, and I had to pick them up and put them in, too. They were slick with blood and pus. They were still squirming. I got them all up and into the garbage can. It looked like there was some blood in there, but from Anne’s vomit or the rats I couldn’t tell.
As I hurried out of the room I saw Anne wiping at her mouth and looking at her hands. The mist came down, and then I was out in the corridor. I headed for the incinerator. As I walked, I started hearing an awful buzzing. I got to the service elevator and hit the button. The buzzing got worse. I thought the garbage bag started squirming. I pushed the elevator button again. I saw a shiny green mass writhing in the garbage can. The buzzing really cut into my head; it was giving me an awful headache.
I unwrapped another garbage bag and stuffed it into the top of the can. It wriggled and buzzed under my hands and made my stomach turn over. The blessed doors finally opened, and on the slow ride down I was near frantic. When the doors opened, I rushed to the incinerator. It was burning away like it always was.
As I crossed the big red star I tripped on something and knocked the can over as I fell. A huge mass of those flies poured out, swarming around the room. I was horrified because so many of them landed on me. I felt like I was wearing wool that could crawl. I gagged, and then snapped my mouth shut to keep them out. I crawled and pushed the can towards the incinerator.
Flies landed on it in droves, and fell to the floor as the intense heat killed them. Their little bodies pattered like rain. I forced the door open, and the fire in the incinerator roared at me. The heat felt like it was peeling the skin off my face. I closed my eyes and tossed in the garbage bags. I thought I heard screams, but it was probably my imagination. I slammed the grate shut.
All of an instant passed and everything was back to normal. All the flies were gone. The garbage can was still on its side, but it was empty. My headache was gone. I climbed to my feet. My heart was pounding. I looked around the room, and you wouldn’t believe it was just the way it always was. It was dark as usual, lit only by the fire. I picked up the can, now more bewildered than scared. I saw what I’d tripped on and went to pick it up. I recognized it now. A few days ago the local police brought in a guy who was raving mad. One of my nurse friends told me all about it. The guy they brought in spoke in tongues, was real strong and violent, and had a book he kept talking about. The knicker-something.
The cover was thick, and leathery. I flipped it open, and came up with a page with a piece of paper stuck in it. The book was all in red and black writing and had strange pictures. I thought I heard the buzzing of flies again. The piece of paper had English on it, a little phrase. I sounded it out, but it was all gibberish. The buzzing stopped, and I set the book back on the floor. I’m always careful not to disturb anything.
I went back upstairs, and got a shock when the doors opened. A man was standing outside, like he was waiting for the elevator. He was a small guy, and his hair was wild. He was wearing a gown.
“Heya! You startled me. You okay, buddy?” I said. He didn’t say anything.
“Need help finding your room or anything?”
“The book. It calls.”
“Which book is that, fella?”
“Show me your hands,” he said. I was starting to get nervous. I held out my right hand. I thought he might want to shake, or something. He took my hand and looked at it, like an old-fashioned fortune teller.
“You’ve touched it.”
“The book.” He looked like he was in pain.
“Hey, guy, maybe you should go back to your room, okay? Let me call someone.” I took the radio off my belt and turned it on. The static was strange. It seemed to cut through my head. I pressed the button and called for the nurse’s station, but no one answered. There was just that strange static, like someone walking through broken glass.
“You touched the book.”
“Sure, guy, sure. Hold on.” I tried the nurse’s station again. I heard voices calling. They sounded distant, far away. I felt like I was vibrating, I was so nervous now. My heart thundered in my chest.
“He’ll come,” said the guy.
“Who?” I couldn’t help starin’. His eyes rolled up into his head and he started talking again, but it just sounded like crazy talk. I tried the radio again.
“Help! Help! There’s a patient at the service elevator and he’s really out of it. He needs help.”
The radio crackled and I thought I heard a nurse’s voice through the noise. The guy fell to the floor, his skull hitting the tile with a sick crack, like someone dropping a watermelon. Foam started coming out of his mouth. I didn’t know what else to do, so I backed up until my shoulders hit the elevator doors. I closed my eyes and tried not to listen to him talking in that strange, rambling language. The buzzing sound of flies filled my ears. I put my hands over my ears and sank to the floor, hoping someone would come soon. I don’t know how much time passed like that, with me on the floor, the guy talking and shuddering on the floor.
I jumped when someone put their hand on my shoulder. It was one of the nurses! They finally came.
“Oh, thank goodness! Thanks for coming to help.” The nurse helped me to my feet. There were some other nurses and orderlies getting the guy into a gurney, to take back to his room. He was quiet now.
“He started talking, but he didn’t make any sense. I hope he’s okay,” I said. The nurse turned to me. The whites of her eyes were very red.
“He’s fine. We gave him something to calm him down.”
“Oh, good,” I said. I watched them take the guy away.
I was much relieved to have that strange mess sorted out. I checked to make sure all of my cleaning was done for the evening. I ran back by the animal labs to check on Anne, but she was gone. I decided it was high time to get home, too.
That night I had awful dreams. I couldn’t get the visions of those squirming, decaying rats out of my head. I saw monsters with many mouths and eyes, rotting, dead animals, and I kept seeing one rat in my dream over and over. It was like the rats I saw yesterday, though it had fur like normal. The big difference was it had no eyes. Where they should have been there was only slick, white fur.
When I woke up before work, my heart was very heavy. I got dinner ready and watched a funny movie, but it just didn’t tickle my bones. After a few hours it was time for me to go in. I dreaded it. When I pulled up to the gate, things were different. The man who checked my ID was gone, and the gate was open. I pulled into my spot, and saw there were more cars than normal in the lot, like everyone was still at work. The man who checks my ID outside the door was gone, too. There was a dark stain on the wall behind where he usually stood.
Inside St. Christopher’s was even more eerie. The air seemed different, heavy somehow. And it was very hot. I noticed right away more of those damn green flies, more numerous than before. I made right for my closet to get some spray. When I opened the door, I was struck by the appearance of the rat from my dreams. It was sitting, proud as you please, on my garbage can. It had no eyes.
My heart thudded and raced, but I couldn’t run. The flies swarmed into the room in a dark cloud. The buzzing filled my ears, filled my head. I began to cry.
At that moment, however, I felt a need. A . . . strong desire. The buzzing seemed distant. I picked up the eyeless rat, and held it as I walked the halls of St. Christopher’s. I saw patients out in the halls, but they did not talk to me. I didn’t call the nurses, though many of the patients were bloody.
I came to a conference room, and went inside. It was full of the big guys, the bosses. The administrators. They were all dead. The flies were as thick as fog in here, crawling in and out of mouths and bloody, gaping holes where many of the suited bodies had shot themselves or each other. The rat grew hot in my hands. I set it on the table in the center of the room, and it climbed onto a body. I grabbed him under the arms. I think it was Mr. Moss. I dragged him down to the incinerator room. When the elevator doors opened, a flood of dark liquid poured over my boots. I think it was blood.
I stepped through the doors with Mr. Moss, and laid him down in front of the incinerator. The rat climbed off of the body and swam through the blood to me, climbing my leg and leaving an awful red trail behind. I opened the grate and shoved the body in. The blood on the floor rippled and writhed, and dozens, thousands of rats with no eyes were born.
I noticed then what sounded like screaming. Lots of people, all at once. I looked in the incinerator, and then I knew what it was. I put on my headphones and clicked over to “Walkin’ on Sunshine,” a good song to start the night. My rat from my dream was on my shoulder. Time to clean up all this mess. I was back upstairs dragging the next body to the elevator, and something occurred to me.
It had been a long time since I cleaned the microorganism lab. That was next.
JEFF HEWITT is an independent author based out of North Georgia, where he is also a police dispatcher by day. When not working or writing, he enjoys brewing beer, playing wargames, and spending time with his wife Megan. (Not necessarily in that order.) Megan is a nurse, and they live together with their three dogs: Sophie, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi; Beasley, a terrier; and Penny, a handful. You can find more information about Jeff and his works at his website, www.jeffhewitt.net.