I have been going back and forth for a while about what I am going to do with this story. I have, in truth, been working on it for over a year. occasionally I open it up and write a few lines but I really haven’t got much drive left to finish it despite still quite liking the idea. I guess in all fairness you could say that if it has taken that long I can’t like it too much but at the same time I would hate to see it unfinished after it got so close. I just got side tracked when i was writing ‘You are what you eat’ and i never really got the momentum back for it…
Ashes and Anger.
The music stuttering from the small Sony radio wavered and faded before coming back to power for a few seconds before fading again and finally dying into static. James Arnold cursed under his breath and stood from his chair, walking across the room to give it a gentle tap. There was no response and after a few more severe slaps James gave on the damned thing and turned it off. It always happened here, it was something about the crematorium walls that meant that almost any technology short of that which kept the place running seemed to short out and die. The local council had come up with some excuse about the way the place was built and deemed all excess items unnecessary, if it didn’t interrupt the way the crematorium was run then they weren’t going to do a thing.
James returned to his desk and picked up the crossword again, 11 down, Ironmonger, 6 letters. James puzzled over it again; he had been stuck for a while. Finally he gave up and turned to his right pressing the intercom.
‘Hey Trev, you there?’
For a moment there was nothing but a quiet buzz before a voice replied.
‘Yea Jim, what’s up?’
‘You had any luck with 11 down?’
There was a chuckle from the intercom.
‘Yea I put Harold…’
‘What do you mean Harold?’
‘Well I have a friend called Harold who is an ironmonger’
‘Somehow I’m not sure that’s the answer they had in mind’
Both men were chuckling now
‘Yea well maybe I could be more helpful but I’m still stuck on 5 across.’
‘Yea I haven’t figured it out either; I’m starting to think I’m not very good at crosswords.’
‘I’m starting to think the same, you’re not very good at these, stick to sudoku’
‘I Heard that. Look give me 20 minutes to have a sweep of the top floor and then I’ll come down and we can compare what answers we do have.’
‘No problem’ finished James and he let go of the intercom.
‘Oh he’s coming down’ mumbled James to himself before giving his crossword another scan and then throwing it down on the desk.
‘Can’t do a crossword on my own’
James opened up his desk draw and looked about inside, shifting around the piles of receipts and the odd dirty magazine he kept in there till he found the Pack of cigarettes he had been looking for. He opened the pack and withdrew a cigarette and his lighter, lit up and then threw the pack and lighter back into the draw which he closed. Then rocking back on his chair he placed his feet on the desk and took a deep drag on the lit cigarette before turning to the security console. There was nothing happening. Each of the cameras showed the same empty corridors they always showed at this time of night. What a waste of money, keeping both a manager and a security personnel on the premises at night. What was the point? Who wanted to get into a crematorium at night? What were people going to try and do? Steal something? It was stupid. But James supposed that as long as they kept paying him his surprisingly generous salary he didn’t really care.
Taking another drag of his cigarette James was startled when the radio buzzed static again loudly. God damn this place, stupid power problems. But wait, hadn’t he turned the radio off? Looking over towards the wall where it was plugged in James could quite clearly see from his chair that the switch was in the off position. James gazed at this for a moment, running through ideas of how the radio could have come to making noise when the sudden knock at the door made him jump and almost fall backwards out his chair, the cigarette dropping from his mouth.
‘Don’t you remember being told not to rock on your chair in school?’ Trevor, the security guard was stood in the doorway laughing as James grabbed the desk to keep himself from toppling.
‘You Dick!’ James shouted, his hand on his heart feeling it beating like a machine gun.
‘Something got you distracted Jim?
‘Damn radio playing up again only, I turned it off when it first started doing it’
‘Maybe it’s the ghosts’ Trevor said waving his arms in a mock ghostly fashion.
‘Oh shut up and show me your crossword.’
An hour later Trevor returned to the top level and to his security details. While James shoved his paper in his draw and turned back to his security console. He slipped between the various cameras, 1 was fine, 2 was fine 3 was fine 4…4 wasn’t showing anything. Well it was showing something but it was just a grey image, not static but something was blocking the lens. James sighed and got up from his chair, grabbing his keys and heading to the door. Just as he left the radio gave another loud buzz of static, James jumped and spun to look at it. It was still off. Taking a deep breath to steady himself again James walked over to the radio and unplugged it before leaving the room and making his was to corridor G where the offending camera was located. As James walked the corridor his mind was preoccupied with the radio and he only faintly noticed the burnt smell in the air. Of course this wasn’t unusual in a crematorium but usually by this time of night the smell would have faded to almost undetectable while tonight the smell was getting stronger.
When he reached corridor G he looked up at the camera and saw what the problem was. There was a thick layer of ash covering the lens, as well as a smear of it down the wall underneath the camera. James stood and took in the scene, the ash looked almost like it had been deliberately left on the camera, it seemed too perfect for it to be there, and the wall, there was a lot of ash there, stuck to It as it was it looked as if something had been dragged down it, leaving the smear. James’ mind raced with a thousand unlikely scenarios, the wind, an animal, then he finally realised. Chuckling at his stupidity he went to clean the camera. It was a practical joke. Trevor must be trying to spook him by making this mess; he might even be behind the radio somehow. Reaching up to brush the ash from the camera he ran his finger along the lens and yelped, wrenching his hand back and clutching it close to him. The lens had been burning hot, like touching a stove. James looked at his finger, expecting for it to already be turning red, maybe already be burned, but it looked as it ever did and the pain was already subsiding.
Slowly, carefully James reached up again. The camera was giving off no heat that he could feel without touching it, not even slightly warm. He took a breath and rubbed his finger across the lens. The glass was cold as ice. James whipped all the ash off and walked back a few steps. Maybe it was a static shock he had felt, not a burn. James left the ash on the wall; the cleaners could deal with it in the morning. All the way back to his office James had a cold sweat, he felt like something wasn’t right and he was starting to feel that this may not be a practical joke. It was just that a feeling, he had not concrete proof that it wasn’t, just this horrible feeling.
When James got to the door of his office he stopped. There was a sound coming from inside. A quiet but high pitched screech, one persistent note that seemed to be never ending permeating the door and drifting down the corridor. James slowly opened the door carefully glancing into the room to try and see where the noise was coming from. Not that he needed look far. He already knew as soon as the door opened that it would be the radio that was making that sound. The screech was issuing from the speakers like a piano with something lying on the keys. The plug was still lying on the table next to the body of the radio and James knew that he had never put batteries in it, had never even taken off the back cover. James cautiously picked up the radio, holding it in his hands and staring at it. The sound persisted. James gave the radio a quick shake and still the sound persisted. James gave the radio another harder shake and the screech exploded into a scream that filled the room. A banshee’s wail that split the ears and rattled the screens of the security console.
James dropped the radio and it crashed to the floor, bits of plastic scattering in all directions and one of the speaker covers skidded off under the table. The scream stopped immediately and in the silence James could feel his ears ringing, his eardrums throbbing. The silence stretched on for minutes while James simply stood and looked down at the broken radio. Smashed on the ground the main body was mostly intact, a few chips and one big crack. The led screen had shattered but for the most part it was in one piece. Finally James decided what to do. Picking up the radio he hurried over to his cupboard and wrenched it open. Placing the radio at the back of the bottom shelf he slammed the door and padlocked it closed something he never did. Then he returned to his chair and slumped down. His fear slowly leaving him and making him exhausted. For the rest of that night James merely sat and stared at the cupboard. Almost too afraid to move for fear that the radio might start screaming again. When dawn came he left immediately, not waiting for his replacement to arrive.
James did not sleep well that day. Dreading returning to the crematorium he dreamt of twisting darkness and the smell of burnt flesh that filled his lungs and choked him. He woke before his alarm drenched in a hot sweat and considered calling in sick but he knew he would never be believed. He staggered around his flat still exhausted and unable to even think of eating anything he considered telling Trevor about what had happened but he knew he would just get laughed at. He decided he needed some proof and finally he decided that he knew how to get it. Rummaging through his draws he finally found what he was looking for. His Dictaphone from when he had attempted university.
That night James arrived at work almost an hour early, something that was almost unheard of. He set his Dictaphone up in the room and waited for his shift to start, the sandwich he had bought at the corner shop lay open but uneaten. James had spent the entire day without food, buying the sandwich simply because he thought that he needed it but as soon as he tried to take a bit he felt his stomach turn, unable to even stomach the concept. He almost ached at the prospect. So he sat and waited, waited for anything to happen.
But nothing happened. James’ shift started. The hours rolled by Trevor came in for a chat but James was too preoccupied to be much of a conversationalist and Trevor left seeming a bit put off.