It was a shit gig and Carson knew it, but it couldn’t be helped. It seemed that no one was interested in hiring someone in their eighties nowadays. Never mind that he still had all of his faculties and was fit as a fiddle. Granted, maybe it was a fiddle with just three strings, but that was two more than most. It also didn’t seem to matter that he wasn’t talking to himself, drooling the hours away in some home or that he could hold a conversation for more than ten seconds without having to check a smart phone.
Carson heard Derrick, his boss, coming in downstairs. A few moments later, he heard the footfalls on the steps and knew the weasel would be making an appearance any moment, and the peace and quiet would be shattered.
“Knock, knock,” Derrick said, “Daddy’s home.”
He said the same joke every night and it was as tired and worn out as the man’s god awful hair piece. He looked ridiculous and couldn’t help but be an asshole. After all, the kid was young enough to be his great grandson and born during the first Clinton administration for Chrissakes. What the hell could he possibly know?
“How are things going for you this fine evening Carson?”
Honestly, he was tired, dead tired, but he wasn’t about to tell the idiot that. He didn’t sleep much at all anymore, no matter what he tried. The clock would tick the hours by one by one and he’d still be awake staring at the ceiling. If he happened to nod off, it didn’t last long, things whispering and reaching.
“They’re going, just like they always are. I’m still here farting dust and you’re still showing up every night smelling it. You know, I think sometimes you just show up to work to see if I’m dead in this chair.”
That seemed to fluster Derrick.
“That’s not true at all. I fully expect you to outlive all of us here Carson. Do you ever take a day off?”
“I did for about a decade when I retired, but it didn’t take. I had to find something to do or I’d lose my crackers. Besides, I’m not one for sleeping much these days.”
His grandmother once told him when he was a little boy that she didn’t sleep much either. When he spent nights at her house, she’d pace all night, her slippers shuffling along the hardwood floors. She told him it was because all the people on the other side were constantly scratching at the door and it was wearing thin. Sometimes, she’d said, you could hear them whisper too, which is why she played music most of the time. When it was too quiet those voices were clearer.
Carson wasn’t sure if he believed her or not, but he knew his grandmother was bat-shit crazy toward the end. He sure hoped he didn’t go out like that. It wasn’t like he was hearing voices or anything, but those things his grandmother told him still lingered at the back of his mind.
He didn’t answer, not wanting to tempt the things from his dreams. It was bad enough they didn’t stay put and surprised him from time to time, lurking in the cellar or whispering to him on the phone.
“No, no, nothing like that. Don’t have much need for dreaming at my age. Nobody does. I’ve already seen it all and done it all.”
“That it is.”
“Seems like there’s probably a thing or two you haven’t done yet. I mean in this great wide world where anything is possible, there are always things coming you didn’t even think of.”
“You don’t say?” Carson asked, making sure his keys were secure at his belt, not really paying all that much attention to Derrick.
“Well, yeah, I mean what about sky diving?”
“Shut up. Really?”
“Yeah, except when I jumped out of planes people were shooting at me, you know, in the war. After that, how much fun can just jumping out of an airplane be?”
Derrick was quiet, just staring at him, an odd expression on his face. Carson took that as his cue.
“Going to make the rounds.”
“Sounds good Carson. When you get back I’m going to go out for some coffee. We’re out.”
He didn’t answer, just saluted to indicate he understood. Standing up, having to wait a moment for the dizziness to pass, just like he always did, Carson picked up his flashlight and stepped out of the control booth on the second floor. Shutting the door, the sound echoing throughout the art museum, Carson walked down the hallway to the main display room.
It didn’t matter how old he was, Carson didn’t like wandering through the place when it was completely dark. Maybe it was from watching too many Twilight Zones or reading too many Weird Tales comics as a kid, but something about it made him a little uneasy. The shadows sometimes seemed a little thicker than they should be in certain places. It made him wonder if something was crouched there salivating at the thought of sucking on his bones.
Why did he do that to himself? Now, he’d probably not be able to sleep at all with that thought bouncing around in his head. Wonderful.
Turning on his flashlight, he directed the beam into the corner behind a marble bust of an artist whose name he couldn’t pronounce. His dusty heart lurched awkwardly for a beat or two as a section of darkness leapt away and seemed to vaporize into other shadows around him.
The beam cut through the darkness as he looked for the movement, but he never found it again. He had to wait a few moments to get his breathing under control, hating that he was old. It was just a damned shadow for crying out loud.
“Carson, this is Derrick, over.”
The static of his radio broke through the darkness in a squawk of sound, his heart skipping a beat.
Wouldn’t that be perfect? Death by static.