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NEWS | Oct. 28, 2014

Working through the witching hour

By Senior Airman R. Alex Durbin 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a fictitious story written to celebrate Halloween

For U.S. Air Force Senior Airman John Herbert, Oct. 31 held no real significance. Halloween, he thought, was just a day like any other. He was a grown man after all; past the yearly office costume party, he didn't dwell on ghosts, ghouls, goblins and other creatures of the night. So when the clock struck 5 p.m., signaling the end of a busy day, and he decided to stay late and catch up on work, it wasn't much of a disappointment.

Little did he know what horrors the hallowed night held in store.

"Are you sure you want to stay?" said Airman 1st Class Selena Morgan from her desk, which sat adjacent to John's own. "Don't you want to go home and relax? This week's been crazy."

As she spoke, John stacked the papers scattered across his desk, but he felt like he wasn't actually accomplishing much.

"That sounds nice," he said, giving up on the white wasteland for the time being and turning his attention to Selena. "But I'd rather stay and get this done so I'm not behind tomorrow."

"Suit yourself," Selena said as she stood and began gathering her things. "Be careful, Thomas told me this building is haunted."

"Oh my!" said John in his best concerned voice, but he couldn't keep up the façade for long. "Thanks for the warning, but I think I'll be fine."

"I wouldn't be so confident if I were you," She said moving closer, dropping her voice to a grave whisper. "They say Halloween is when the veil between our world and the spirit plane is the thinnest. Ghosts that are said to roam these halls are the least of your concerns tonight."

She moved her hands with mock mysticism and let out a loud witchy cackle. John rolled his eyes and went back to attempting to find the surface of his desk. Selena laughed, said good night and walked down the hallway toward the exit.

With the last distraction gone, John made a mental checklist, put on his headphones, hit play on his favorite playlist and continued to work.

After finishing the first few items on his to-do list, John rubbed his eyes wearily and looked down at the clock in the bottom-right corner of his computer screen. The white letters read 7:56 p.m.

John took off his headphones and stood up, raising his arms high and arching his back to stretch in a feeble attempt to fight off the tiredness. He let out a deep breath, and began to rotate his neck to loosen his neck muscles. Suddenly, cold washed over him and a single whispered word cut the silence.


John jumped and turned around quickly, looking for the source. After his investigation was unfruitful, his heart slowed and he rubbed his eyes again, laughing at himself.

"Aren't we a little old to be jumping at ghosts, John?" he chuckled again.

John sat down in his black leather chair and put on his headphones. His ears were met with the overwhelming scratching sound of static. The sudden pain caused him to tear off the headset and throw it on the desk, scattering his freshly organized stack of forms.

"What the-" John exclaimed. He looked down at his phone, which had been playing his music. The screen was black and unresponsive to his attempts to turn it on.

With a shaking hand, he slowly reached for his headphones and carefully lifted them to his head hesitantly. With a sudden surge of courage, John brought the right side of the headphone to his left ear and heard...

Nothing. Absolute silence.

"What is wrong with me tonight!?" said John aloud, annoyed with his own stupidity.

He tossed the headset back on the desk in frustration and turned back to his work, but it wasn't long before he let his mind wander to Selena's words. As her warning repeated in his head, he heard a faint whisper, but when he tried to make it out, all that met him was the quiet and constant humming of the air conditioning unit in the wall behind him.

He leaned over, rubbed his forehead and decided he got as much work done as he was going to finish tonight. Even his brain was trying to tell him enough was enough, he thought with a feeble grin. He raised his head and signed off of his computer, then stood with a sigh.

Just as he reached for his jacket, he saw a shadow pass through his peripheral vision. He turned, then looked down the dark, uninhabited hallway.

"Hello?" John called out with more confidence than he felt. "Is anyone there?"

Another shadow danced across the corner of his right eye, then another on the left.

John searched the cubicles, looking under desks and behind office doors. He methodically worked his way from the back of the building to the front, checking and double checking every corner, crevasse and shadow for the phantom intruders. When he reached the end of the hall and finished checking the office closest to the stairs, he heard a soft, rhythmic chant from downstairs.

John took a deep breath, attempting to slow his heart hammering in his chest, and walked slowly down the stairs as quietly as his now-numb limbs would allow. When he reached the first floor landing, he shivered and realized the air was frigid. Rubbing his arms for warmth and clenching his jaw to stop it from chattering, he walked down the impossibly dark hallway before him.

John had walked the hallway more times than he could count, but as he shuffled down the passage forcing each step, it felt foreign. It felt wrong. As he neared the office entrance, the chanting became louder and so did the voices from the back of his mind. He couldn't make out what they whispered. Each time he tried, they receded, only to resurge when he turned his focus back to his slow march toward the chilling chant.

When he reached the mouth of the lobby, he crouched low and looked into the room. What he saw froze him more than any cold could. In the center of the room stood a cloaked figure chanting over a bubbling cauldron, hands moving in dizzying patterns. Despite the light emanating from the strange liquid, the darkness seemed to radiate out from the cauldron and the shadowy figure at the center.

The figure, who John thought was a woman, dropped an undistinguishable powder into the pot and a bright light flashed upward with a roar. After the light faded, the voices grew more excited and rapid, though John couldn't tell how he knew. Still crouching, John moved closer to get a better look at the scene. He snuck quietly behind the customer service desk and dropped to a knee.

When his knee hit the ground, he had to stop himself from crying out as something hard caused a radiating pain up his leg. He looked down and found a small wood carving of a man. He inspected the figure and ran his thumb across the abstract facial features of the doll. He felt mesmerized by it. Somehow, he felt connected to it.

A particularly loud verse of the chant broke his day dream and he returned his attention to the figure standing over the cauldron. The figure threw something else into the liquid, changing its color from pale green to a deep, dark purple. Suddenly, the figures whirled in Johns peripherals. He turned his head to search for the dark dancers, but only darkness surrounded him. Although he was alone behind the desk, but he couldn't shake the feeling he was standing in a crowded room.

The figure continued chanting, but now the figure's voice was not alone. Voices of varying pitches and inflections joined in a chilling chorus. John leaned from behind his hiding place and saw the figure was still standing solitary in front of the cauldron, her arms now spread wide. The shadows on the walls began to whirl and despite John's best efforts, he couldn't get his legs to carry him from this room.

John suddenly felt drawn toward the hooded figure. He felt as if an invisible rope pulled him, inch by inch, toward the center of the room. Without a thought, John slowly stood up, but in his stupor, he knocked over a nearby penholder, which had sat previously unnoticed  on the nearby desk. He watched in slow motion as the pens fell, but he couldn't act fast enough. They hit the floor with a crash louder than anything John heard before.

The chanting stopped, the voiced screamed and the shadow dancers moved in a flurry of activity, but John was frozen. The only thing moving was his beating heart, pumping in sharp staccatos.  Before he could look up, he saw the feet of the robed woman standing in front of him. He looked up in horror and fell back to his knees. The wooden doll skittered across the floor, but John didn't notice where it went. He couldn't pull his eyes way from the cold eyes standing over him. The dark figure reached forward.

"John! John, wake up."

John's eyes snapped open, and he sat straight up, his heart still pounding. He looked up at the figure standing over him.

"You!" he exclaimed, rolling his chair away frantically.

"Me?" Selena said confused. "John, are you okay? You were moaning in your sleep."

John took in his surroundings and realized he was at his desk. He felt drool on his chin and quickly wiped it away. The computer's clock read 9:17 p.m.

"But, you..." he murmured, scratching his head. "You were... You were standing over a cauldron chanting a magic spell or something."

"Cauldron, magic?" Selena said as she looked at John with a raised eyebrow. "I wish. Maybe I could finish my work faster."

Almost as if to prove her point, she pointed at the papers on John's desk and yelled "Abra Kadabra," but the papers lay motionless.

"Oh, well," She sighed. "John, you had a nightmare. You're lucky I forgot my phone at my desk, or you would have been here all night. You should go home and go to bed."

"Yeah, I guess so," said John with a nervous laugh. He got up and gathered his things and followed Selena downstairs. As they passed the foyer, he nervously inspected the room, but found nothing out of the ordinary. The pair walked out of the office and to their cars.

"Oops, I forgot my keys inside," Selena said, digging through her purse. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Yeah," said John. "See you then."

Selena watched him drive off, then entered the building as she waved. She walked briskly through the entrance way. After a minute of silent searching, she bent down and picked up a small, crudely carved wooden doll.