*Short story originally written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge in which no more than 48 hours and 1000 words could be used to write a story involving the following elements : a ghost story, a martini glass, an oil refinery.
This was my first time experimenting with a “ghost story”. I would have liked to have gone deeper into some aspects but alas, there were too few words and very little time.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this! Please let me know what you think in the comments – I welcome any and all feedback!
Tom Sheffield stood in front of the mirror, assessed his uniform, and looked at his watch. Twenty minutes until his third shift as the night security guard at the Sinclair Oil Refinery. Well, it was almost an oil refinery. Construction was delayed and the million-dollar project sat unfinished.
Tom got the gig from his older brother Eric – Mr. Big Shot, always trying to fix his little brother. Tom wanted to tell Eric to shove off – he didn’t need any favors and he didn’t need fixing. But the truth was, money was tight and he was glad for the opportunity.
After deciding that he did, in fact, look like a legitimate security guard he turned the lights out and headed to the door. One glance toward the fridge slowed him.
If tonight is anything like last night, a drink might do me good.
Tom walked to the freezer and pulled a bottle of gin from the icy shelves. He opened the cupboard, reached past the martini glasses left by his ex-girlfriend and grabbed a small flask tucked back in the corner. He filled the metal container to the brim before screwing the small cap on. He took a swig straight from the bottle of gin and returned it to the freezer.
Tom told himself that he wasn’t going to drink the whole flask. He might not need it at all, really. But the refinery gave him the creeps. He didn’t want to be in there all night, alone with his anxiety and fear. He hoped the gin would help to calm him down a little.
He wasn’t sure what it was about the place the bothered him so much. There was just something about it – the unexplained sounds, the faulty lighting, the acrid smell of metal and something else he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Tom took a deep breath, grabbed the flask and walked out the door.
The sun was setting and dark rain clouds were moving in over the horizon. He fiddled with the radio, agitated by the static filling the cab of his old pickup truck. His eyes were off the road for only a second when he heard a loud thud crack against his windshield. He swerved slightly, heart pounding as he watched the bird bounce off the windshield.
Tom took a few steadying breaths, tunneled his hands through his hair, and started back down the road toward the refinery.
When he pulled up, the daytime guard was standing outside. Hector seemed like a nice guy the two other times Tom had spoken to him. He looked relieved now to see Tom and began walking away from the building.
Tom put the truck in park, grabbed his jacket, checked the pocket for the flask.
“Hey man. How’d the day go?” he called
Hector looked back towards the building, his expression hard to read. “I don’t know man, I don’t really like this place. I don’t know how you do it here at night. Gives me the creeps.”
Tom gave a nervous laugh, “That’s why you have the easy day job, my man.” He shook Hector’s hand, putting on a cool face but inside Tom was feeling the anxiety well up again.
“Just be careful in there, man. Vaya con Dios.” Hector said with a wave.
Well, at least I’m not crazy for thinking this place feels weird. But is that really any better?
Tom spent the first hour making his routine rounds, checking walls for graffiti, looking for signs of entry. The walls were clean, but the atmosphere felt anything but. He had never been in a finished refinery; we wondered what they felt like, how they operated – if they had the same feeling of danger and doom.
Outside he could hear a low roll of thunder and the hint of rain on the metal roof. Maybe it would be a quiet night – he couldn’t imagine anyone would be out looking to cause trouble in this weather.
Not a second after the thought passed there was a loud crack on the east end of the building. Tom picked up his pace, jogging toward the sound. Left hand on his taser, ready in the event of a break in.
He slowed scanned the room and the windows, his eyes catching a cracked pane above a door. He tried the handle. Locked. When he stepped back and looked at the window once more he saw a bird fly into the pain with the same crack he’d heard before.
Jesus. What is with the birds today?
Tom shook his head, ran his shaking fingers through his hair, and grabbed the flask in his jacket pocket. He turned the cap as he turned his body around, scanning the room once more. As he lifted the small metal container to his lips he saw movement from the corner of his eye.
“Hey!” Tom shouted, his voice barely audible over the rain. “Damnit.” He muttered to himself this time. he didn’t need this. He had plans, plans that didn’t involve being a glorified babysitter at a damn oil refinery.
Sure, the money was good, but Tom couldn’t shake the unnerving feeling this place gave him. Something was wrong. And it didn’t feel worth it to him. He was definitely looking for a new job in the morning.
Another flash of lightning, thunder cracked overhead. There it was again; movement on his left side. When he moved to go after it he was stopped, dead in his tracks. A woman, shadowy, flowy, incandescent was hovering just through the doorway. Suddenly all the eeriness was lifted and he had an overwhelming sense of calm, understanding.
She was lonely, regretful. Tom could feel her pain radiating off her like a heat wave. She was an unfinished life, wandering around an unfinished place. Agonizing and alone.
He understood the emotion but it didn’t negate the fear. He dropped the flask and ran to the door. He’d update his resume in the morning.
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