Monday, October 29, 2012

The Ghost of the AXMB

During my time as a BYU custodian I worked mostly in the Auxiliary Services Maintenance Building (AXMB).[1] One evening the other student custodian for the AXMB had to go home early, so after the 7 pm break I was finishing up by myself. I heard a loud crash out in the automotive repair shop, so I went out there to investigate. The lights were all off except one and it was a little spooky in there.  One of the other custodians, a girl named Janelle, finished the University Press Building early, so our boss sent her over to help me finish. She came into the repair shop behind me without me hearing, so when she started talking to me I was quiet startled. I used that experience to write another horror story for the BYU 38th Ward Book Club.[2] Read on if you dare! Happy Hallowe'en!

NOTE: I've annotated this story, but I recommend you read it all the way through before reading the notes.

Jake was eating a bowl of oatmeal in the kitchen when Marty burst through the front door.

“Hey, Jake.”

“What’s up?”

“Oh, not much. I got a job, today.”

“Oh, really? Where at?”

“I’m going to be a custodian. They’re going to have me cleaning the AXMB.”

“The what?” asked Jake.

“The Auxiliary Maintenance Building.”

“Where’s that?”

“North of DT fields, by the Laundry Building.”

“Oh, really,” said Jake. “I heard that that building was haunted.”

“What?” asked Marty, suspecting a joke.

“No, really. There’s supposed to be a ghost in that building.”

Marty stared at Jake for a moment and then said, “Yeah, right.” He turned to the cupboard and began trying to decide what to have for dinner.

“Anything exciting happen to you, today, Jake?” he asked.

“Not much. I bought some new shoes,” Jake responded.

“Hmm,” said Marty, not listening.

After eating some canned beef stew, Marty went over to Angela’s house. Marty would often describe Angela as “the most beautifulest girl at BYU”—a statement which usually made Jake grind his teeth. Everyone agreed that Angela was stunningly beautiful, but Marty’s syntax and humor were atrocious.

The next day, after classes were over, Marty drove to the north end of BYU campus. Unlike most campus custodial jobs, he would work from 5 to 9 at night, instead of in the early morning, when only delinquent engaged couples and BYU custodians were awake. Marty’s new boss, Ken Westerling [3], gave him a tour of the AXMB, showing him the proper manner in which to perform his janitorial duties. Then Ken introduced him to the other AXMB janitor, Adam. They spent the rest of the evening (except for a short, ten-minute break) washing toilets, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, dusting, emptying garbage cans, and so on. Marty quickly realized that the work was less than glamorous.

When he got home, Jake was watching The Simpsons on TV. Jake paused in the middle of eating a burrito. “See any ghosts?” he asked.

Marty shook his head. “No. I don’t think anything exciting has ever happened there.”

Jake smiled. “No. You’re probably right.”

“Hey, do you mind if I have Angela over to watch a movie, tonight,” Marty asked.

“No, I don’t mind. Just wait until after Seinfeld, okay?”

“Sure thing,” said Marty.

Marty and Angela watched The Count of Monte Cristo on Jake’s widescreen, plasma TV—with the lights off. Jake sat in the kitchen, watching, too. Even though he didn’t really care for Marty, he liked having Angela around. Like most of the guys in the ward, he was enraptured by her blonde beauty.

But of all the guys in the ward, Marty seemed to be the only one making any headway with her. This frustrated Jake more than any of the others, though, because one, he knew what a loser Marty really was, and two, he had to see it in greater detail than anyone else. Jake forced himself to watch the movie.

A week later, Marty found himself cleaning the AXMB by himself. Adam had called in sick an hour earlier, so Marty was left alone. Before the break, Marty picked up the garbage, emptied the recycling bins, dusted the offices, and swept the woodshop. After the break, he swept and mopped the mechanic shop and began turning out the lights. In the dark, the silence of the building became ominous. A shiver traveled down Marty’s spine.

Just then there was a crash that made Marty jump. He ran and turned on a few of the lights and began looking around, his heart thumping wildly in his chest. There was nothing there. Finally, he found a mirror that had fallen off of one of the shelves. Marty cleaned up the shards of the mirror and threw them away. He turned off the lights and went back to the offices to vacuum and to clean the bathrooms. He decided not to tell Ken about the mirror.

But when Marty got home, he told Jake all about it.

“That’s kind of creepy,” said Jake. “Maybe there is a ghost after all.”

“Bah,” Marty scoffed. But his voice had no heart in it. That night he went to bed without going to see Angela, first. Something about that experience hadn’t seemed right.

The next morning, while he was walking up to campus with Jake, Angela caught up with them. “Marty, why didn’t you come over last night?”

“Oh…uh…I was really tired,” he muttered.

“Yeah, right,” laughed Jake. “You’re a night owl. I’ve never seen you go to bed before midnight. Were you feeling sick, or something?”

“Something like that.”

Angela wrapped her hands around Marty’s arm. “I missed you.”

“I’m sorry, baby,” he said.

Jake began walking faster. He didn’t want to have to listen to them. Since he had a lot of homework to do, Jake stayed on campus after classes and didn’t come home until late. He didn’t see Marty again until he came home from work.

When Marty walked through the front door of the apartment, his face was ashen. He closed the door softly behind him and sagged back against it. Jake hit the mute button on the remote and the TV chirped into silence.

“What’s the matter? You look like you saw a ghost!” said Jake.

Marty shot him a terrified glance. “No…I didn’t see anything,” Marty whispered.

Jake cocked an eyebrow at him—he wasn’t making any sense.

“Well, then, what’s the matter?”

“I heard it!”

“What?!” Jake dropped the remote—Marty wasn’t smart enough to fake something like this.

“Adam was gone again tonight. I was cleaning the women’s bathroom when I thought I heard someone walking around in the machine shop. I thought it was Ken, so I went out there because I needed to ask him something. But when I got out to the machine shop I saw that all the lights were off. I called out Ken’s name to see if he was there, but no one answered. So I walked out into the hop and yelled, ‘Is anyone there?’ And still no one answered. And then I started hearing this moaning. At first I was freaked out, but then I started trying to find it. I walked over by the shelves and then I heard someone whispering. I looked all over, but I see anybody. I ran and turned on the lights and looked again, but nobody was there.”

“But you heard somebody?”

“Yeah…”

“Could you tell what it was saying?”

“Yeah…”

“Well?” asked Jake.

Marty looked at him.

“What did it say?” demanded Jake.

Marty shivered.

“It said, ‘See, I am dead. My soul rots in this dismal place. But there must be a way out. Surely there is someone who can help me. Ahhhh. It’s been so very long.’” Marty whispered as though he were the ghost.

“That’s it?”

“Yeah…”

Jake stood up and took Marty by the arm. He guided him to the couch. “You need to sit down, man. You’re a wreck.”

“Yeah…”

Jake went to the phone and dialed Angela. Her roommate, Jean, picked up.

“Hi, may I speak with Angela?” Jake asked.

“Who’s calling,” asked Jean in a nasally voice.

“Jake Holland,” he said.

“Who are you?” Jean asked. “You ain’t never called before.”

“No, I haven’t. I’m Marty’s roommate.”

“Oooooh!” Jean drew it out longer than it needed to be. “Just a minute, I’ll get her.”

After a few seconds Angela came on. “Hello?”

“Hey, Angela. This is Jake. I think you should come down here. Marty’s kind of shook up about something and I think it’d help if you were here.”

“Sure thing, Jake. You sure are a good roommate,” Angela said brightly.

“Yeah, right,” Jake muttered away from the phone.

“I’ll be right over,” said Angela.

“See you in a minute, then,” said Jake.

When Angela knocked, Jake let her in and then went to his room. He’d initiated it, this time, but he still didn’t want to have to watch it. But even from the confines of his room, he could hear their voices in hushed conversation. Jake did homework until he dozed off around midnight.

A couple hours later, Jake awoke to find himself sprawled out over the bed and the lights still on. The pages of his chemistry book were wet with drool. Groggily, he rose to his feet and began undressing. He slid his shoes off his feet and tossed them into the closet. His shirt and pants soon followed after. Through half-closed eyes, Jake flipped the light switch off and went back to bed.

The next morning, Jake got up and got ready for school. When he left Marty was still in bed. Jake knew Marty had class in ten minutes, but didn’t feel like waking him up, so he left. As he was walking to campus he caught up with Angela.

“Oh. Hi, Jake,” she said.

“Hi, Angela.”

“By the way, thanks for calling me last night. Marty really needed someone to talk to. You’re a really good roommate.”[4]

“Not really,” said Jake, thinking of how he hadn’t woken Marty up.

“No, you really are. I know most people in the ward don’t like him much. But you tried to help him. That means a lot to me.”

Marty kept an uncomfortable silence.

“Isn’t that scary what he heard last night?” Angela went on when she saw he wasn’t going to answer.

“Yeah, pretty scary,” said Jake.

“Do you think it’s real?”

“A real ghost? Naw.”

“Then what do you think it was? Marty heard something.”

Jake just shook his head. By this time they’d reached campus. “Well, I’ll see you later,” said Jake. “Why don’t you come by again tonight?”

“See?” Angela smiled. “You are a good roommate.”

Jake returned the smile, weakly, and walked to class.

That night Angela complied with Jake’s request and came over to visit Marty again. Marty was a lot calmer since nothing unusual had happened at work that night. Like the night before, Jake fled to his room to avoid the horrible scene that he knew would ensue.

The next morning, much to Jake’s chagrin, Marty woke up on time. While they getting ready, Marty seemed unusually energetic. Eventually this got on Jake’s nerves.

“What’s up with you, man?”

A huge grin spread across Marty’s face. Then his head popped. Or, at least, Jake wished it had.

“I kissed her, man!”

Jake groaned. Marty went on.

“I kissed her last night. It was awesome!”

“Please, don’t tell me about it.”

But Marty ignored Jake’s plea. He went on to describe the events that led up to the kiss. Jake wasn’t spared any of the gory details. Even if Marty had been smart enough to realize that Jake liked Angela, too, he still probably wouldn’t have let up. Jake’s anger began to simmer. The doorbell rang. Jake ran to get it, hoping to escape from Marty’s monologue. It was Angela.

“Hi, Jake! How are you this morning?”

“Don’t ask,” Jake moaned. “Maybe I’ll see you later.”

Jake grabbed his backpack off the floor and fled out the door. Angela watched him go, then shut the door, behind him.

That night, after they’d finished cleaning the AXMB, Marty and Adam sat in one of the offices. They were eating pretzels and butter mints from the dishes on the desk to kill time until they could go home. Marty chose this moment to brag to Adam about his first kiss with Angela. Adam, who’d never been as successful with women, was all praise and bright-eyed jealousy. Marty basked in Adam’s fawning adoration.

Just as Marty was shoving several butter mints into his mouth, to counteract the saltiness of the pretzels, they heard a loud crash in the machine shop. They both jumped up and ran to see what it was.

When they got there, all the lights were off except for two which stayed on at all times. A low hum seemed to permeate the air. They slowly walked out into the center of the shop. Adam walked a little too close for comfort. Jake began walking towards the shelving where he’d heard the voice two nights before. As before, he began to make out a whisper.

Dead. Dead. No way out. But I will find a way. There is someone here who I can—

Suddenly a voice rang out loudly across the shop. “What are you boys doing?”

Marty’s heart shot up through his throat, bounced off the top of his skull, and then dropped back down where it belonged. Adam jumped, crashing into Marty and knocking him down. Both of them looked to the end of the shop. Their boss, Ken Westerling, was walking towards them.

“Oh. Hi, Ken. We just heard a noise out here and came to see what it was.”

“Did you find it?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s kind of hard to do with the lights off,” Ken said. As he walked past one of the sets of light switches, he flicked them on. Bright light filled half the shop. Marty glanced over towards the shelves; nothing was there.

“What brings you out here, Ken?” asked Adam.

“I’ve just been noticing that the dirt at the edges of the carpet in the offices has been building up. I just wanted to ask you to take some time tonight and vacuum that up with the corner tool.”[5]

“Sure thing, Ken,” Marty said.

They both watched as Ken nodded, satisfied, and walked away. As soon as he was gone, Marty grabbed Adam by the shirt.

“Did you hear something?” he demanded.

“I…I didn’t hear nothing!” stammered Adam.

“Nothing?” Marty asked, incredulously.

“No!” Adam said, shaking his head.

Visibly upset, Marty stalked away to look for the corner tool for the vacuum cleaner. After a second, Adam followed after him.

When Marty got home, he told Jake all about it.

“There must be a ghost,” Jake said.

“No, there can’t be! Why would there be a ghost in the AXMB?”

“I don’t know! But I can’t think of any other explanation.”

Marty put his hands on his head. “There can’t be a ghost. There just can’t be.”

Then Marty walked to the phone and dialed Angela. Knowing what was to follow, Jake went for a walk. When he got back Marty had already gone to bed.

The next day, after classes got out, Jake decided to do a little investigating. He went to the periodicals section of the Harold B. Lee Library and began perusing old editions of the Daily Universe. After several hours, he hit pay dirt. He found an article in the October 12, 1979 edition with the headline: Student Custodian Found Dead in AXMB.

Jake took the article to a Xerox machine, swiped his Signature Card, and made a copy of the article. After returning the newspaper to its proper location, Jake stuffed the copy he’d made into his backpack and ran home. When he got there, he showed the article to Marty.

Marty scanned through it and then threw it to the floor. “So what? That doesn’t mean there’s a ghost,” he scoffed.

“But Marty, today’s October 12th. Maybe you shouldn’t go to work tonight—just in case.”

“Nonsense.” Marty walked to the coffee table and picked up a small, black object.

“What’s this?”

“That? It’s just a wireless speaker.”

“Oh.” Marty set it back on the coffee table. “Look. I’m not skipping work just because of a few funny noises.”

“But the newspaper article—”

“That article doesn’t mean anything.”

“Sure it does. It explains how there could be a ghost in the AXMB. He died 26 years ago tonight.”

“So what? That doesn’t mean anything’s going to happen to me.”

“I have a bad feeling, Marty. Why don’t you just call in sick and spend the night with Angela,” Jake tried.

But Marty wouldn’t listen. And in the end he left for work.

Marty and Adam picked up the garbage and dusted the offices. They took out the recycling—white paper, colored paper, and aluminum cans. Adam swept the woodshop while Marty vacuumed the sawdust off the machines with a central vacuum system. Then they went back to the University Press Building for their ten-minute break. After the break they swept and mopped the machine shop and the vending machine area near the offices. They cleaned the toilets, sinks, mirrors, and floors in the bathrooms. And they vacuumed the offices and shut all the doors, locking them. Except for the office with butter mints and pretzels, where they went, as they had the night before, to wait for nine-o’clock to roll around.

Marty was in the middle of telling Adam about the article Jake had looked up when a crash sounded out in the machine shop. Marty leaped to his feet.

“I’m getting sick of this. Wait here, Adam. I’m going to go find out what this is.”

And with that he marched out into the darkened machine shop. Without hesitating, he went straight to the shelves where he’d heard the voice before. As he neared, its familiar whisper reached his ears.

I am dead. But tonight I will be free. Ahhh. I can taste it.

Marty rushed to where the noise was coming from. He leaped into the darkness, landing near the shelving.

“Aha!” he cried, but no one was there.

A high-pitched whine reached his ears. Confused he turned around, trying to find the source of the noise. The phantasmal whisper continued.

It is painful. The darkness comes. Please! Don’t leave me here forever!

Just then Marty saw the origin of the whining noise. A washing machine, propped precariously atop the shelves was scooting forward. Before he had a chance to react, it tipped and came crashing down on top of him. A scream ripped from his throat. The last thing he saw before the blackness took him was a pair of black skate shoes with white laces.

By the time Adam got there, Marty was already dead.

*          *          *          *          *

Two days later, amid sniffling and sobs, Marty was laid to rest in the Spanish Fork graveyard where his grandparents were buried. Besides Marty’s family, many of the ward members were there—not because they were his friends. Rather, it was because of a sense of Christian duty and a small degree of guilt incurred by an especially passionate Jake Holland who had gone door to door asking people to attend the funeral services.

As the final words were pronounced over the grave by their bishop, Jake moved to stand near Angela. Tear stains streaked her face and she stared dully at the hole in the ground over which the white oak coffin was suspended. As Jake came near, she turned her head. Jake slowly put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a comforting hug.

“How are you doing?” he asked in a concerned tone.

Angela wiped a tear out of her eyes and replied, “I’m doing okay, I suppose.”

Jake squeezed her harder. “You’ll be okay.”

“I know,” she said. “You’re so good to me.”

Jake eased out of the hug and began rubbing her back. Angela glanced down. “I like your shoes,” she said, sniffling at her tears.

“Thank you,” Jake said and smiled down at his white-laced skater shoes. “I like them, too.”


Notes:

[1] See my post Found Treasures VII: Custodial Photographs.

[2] Read my first horror story from that year at my post Lightbearer and my second story from that year at my post Boo.

[3] The head custodian over the AXMB (as well as the nearby UPB, AXLB, and SASB), who I worked for, had a highly similar name. It has been changed to protect his identity, but if you're persistent you could probably figure it out. He had bushy black tufts of hair growing out of his ears. So, for fun (and without animosity), whenever we found a burned-out light bulb in the trash we'd use a black marker to draw his face on it, including his ear hair, and then smash it to pieces in the dumpster.

[4] If you're annoyed or disgusted by how cloying and gushy Angela is, then I've done my job. That's precisely how I meant to write her. But I felt I should explain myself since, as I reread this before posting it, I was annoyed and disgusted by Angela.

[5] The real "Ken Westerling" really did have this conversation with me.

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