“Is someone out there?”
His meaty palms began to sweat. Few times he’d felt fear in his life. This left him unable to cope with the unknown.
“Now don’t you try playing no tricks on me, guys.” He stretched his thick neck out as far as it would go to get a better view. “Gus? Charlie?”
A sudden crash burst forth from the shadows, sending Gord sprawling backward onto the floor.
“Lord in Heaven help me!”
He hurried to his feet and grabbed an empty paint can from the nearby stack, holding it overhead like a heavy rock he intended to throw.
“Just you come out now ‘fore I gotta do something bad,” he pleaded with a dry throat and shaky knees.
Other than the furious thumping of his heart, silence had returned to the factory. This was the first time after everyone else had left that Gord thought about the rest of the factory beyond his small area. Up until then, nothing existed beyond the yellow lines. It was like a whole world—a scary, evil world—lurked in the shadows. Did monsters come out once the lights went out? Was that why Gus always reminded him never to leave the safety of Gord’s Spot? The spot with the warm orange light illuminating the darkness in the shape of a perfect rectangle? These thoughts were too much for Gord and caused a numb throbbing just behind his eyes.
He slowly lowered the paint can as he stared into the quiet factory. A bitter cold draft rushed over him. “Hello?” he pleaded once more. “I don’t want no trouble.”
The faint tapping sound answered his call. But this time it sounded more natural, more familiar.
“Please say something.” Gord lifted the can back over his head, but he didn’t have the same eagerness or adrenaline driving the motion this time.
Something stirred from the darkness and began to sashay across the blackness of the factory floor. The light taps were uniform now. Familiar footfalls of a four-legged animal. And just as Gord’s nerves were getting the best of him, into the orange light stepped an even more orange tomcat.
“Why, how’d you get in here, little one.”
Gord set the paint can to the side and got down to one knee. He called the cat over with a series of tongue clicks and whistles, but the cat stopped a few feet behind the yellow line where the light barely reached. Its eyes glowed with an almost nuclear green hue.
“It’s okay boy. I won’t hurt you.”
Gord pleaded with the friendliest tone he could manage, but the cat was a statue. It refused to take another step in any direction and instead stared at him with its neon eyes.
“Now, just you come here.” Gord stretched his arm across the yellow line, making sure his knees were cemented in place on his side. “It’ll be alright—”
With a squeal, Gord’s left knee slid backward on the hard concrete floor, sending him crashing to the ground.
No sooner had he fallen, he was back to his feet after pushing himself off the ground with a mighty thrust. “Son of a pink-bellied pig!” He stuck his fingers in the newly formed hole in his jeans and rubbed the raw skin on his kneecap. “Sheesh,” he blurted out.
When he looked up, he was disappointed to see that the cat had vanished. There was little doubt it had run away when the giant man suddenly slammed the ground. But this disappointment gave way to fear when Gord realized he was standing on the wrong side of the yellow line. He was now standing on the dark factory floor.
“Oh, no,” he whispered.
Even though every part of his being demanded he cross back to his side, something caught his attention. There, lying next to one of the machines, was the broom he’d accidentally tossed aside earlier.
“Hey.” Gord perked up, forgetting all about the cat, Gord’s Spot, or Gus’ warning about staying off the factory floor. “There you are.”
Gord walked right over as if he were taking a casual morning stroll to his mailbox. And as he stepped away from the reassuring orange light of Gord’s Spot, he found himself swathed in the unfamiliar darkness of the factory. Even during daylight hours, he’d never dared go near any of the machines. What with their loud clattering and clunking and steaming, there was always a brutal sense of danger to them. But now, in the silence of the night, they seemed as harmless as the empty paint cans. This contradiction between day and night caused Gord do think something he never thought before. What if Gus was wrong? What if it was safe to walk around the factory at night?
As with most of his ideas, these thoughts came and went like a passing breeze, leaving Gord fixated upon the very next thing that popped into his head; which was the broom handle at his feet.
Gord reached down to pick it up, but as soon as his fat fingers touched the wooden handle an intense stinging sensation shot through his fingertips and up his arm.
“Yeowww!” The broom bounced off the concrete with a hollow rattle as Gord jumped back in alarm. “What the heck?”
Like a child, he shoved his dirty fingertips into his mouth to cool the burning pain. What followed was an intense bitterness experienced only by an unlucky few in all of human history. Gord pulled his fingers from his mouth as fast as he could but the damage was done. He did his best to stifle the violent retching brought on by the bitter taste in his mouth, but it took only a few seconds before he doubled over in agony.
His mouth began to overflow with saliva which made it impossible to speak. Long ropes of drool hung from his lips and nostrils like globs of clear tree sap. Gord had gotten himself in plenty of bizarre situations in his life, but never before had something so completely incapacitated him like this. He was practically drowning on his own spit.
“Lord in Heaven help me!”
Streams of tears flowed down his face and he wiped his eyes with the back of his hands in a desperate attempt to restore his sight. Several minutes of agony passed, then the strange symptoms finally began to subside. Once his vision returned to normal, confusion set in.
He stood tall and coughed up the excess phlegm, spitting on the floor without regard for any rules he might break by doing so. What was that, he wondered.
Gord brought his hand close to his face to inspect the substance on his fingers, but in the dark, it was impossible to tell what it was. Tiny bubbles started forming on his fingertips and they appeared slightly darker than the rest of his skin. Being more cautious than before, he eased his hand to his nostrils and inhaled, pulling away immediately. The bubbles gave off a faint scent of almonds and there wasn’t anything offensive about the odor, but Gord was scared of having a repeat of what had just happened, so he kept his hand out to the side until he could look at it more thoroughly in the light.
Leaning down but keeping a safe distance, he examined the broom. A dark substance had pooled underneath it and a smattering of spots ran down the side of the handle. Without the aid of light, Gord couldn’t tell if it was paint or something else. Whatever it was, it had an unusual thickness that seemed to absorb any sparse light that stretched over to it from the distant windows.
Having gone this far, Gord decided it was his duty as a good employee to clean up the mess. Since he didn’t know how to turn on the main factory lights, he would have to get a flashlight from the maintenance room. Fortunately for him, this was one place he was allowed to go, day or night.