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The Night Shift

A night time janitor at an aquarium finds himself in a cat and mouse game of hide and seek with a sadistic killer.

By Jenna TomovichPublished 6 months ago 15 min read

The aquarium after dark is a magical place. All is quiet, there’s a soft bluish hue emanating from the massive tanks, and every creature emerges from the deepest crevice to bask in the solitude. It’s the best part about being a janitor here. Fish are much better company than people. I’ve learned that during my 45 years of life. The aquarium, my massive ocean on earth. I never would have imagined that my refuge would become my nightmare.

It was a Monday evening, and the last stragglers were exiting the building as I arrived for the night shift. I pulled my employee badge out of my gray jumpsuit pocket and clipped it snuggly to my chest. “Richard Dullen” was printed neatly in bold letters underneath my photo, the same photo I took when I first started twenty years ago. My hair was darker then, less gray. Less wrinkles too. I wondered when I’d be forced to take a new one, but let it go as long as possible because I hate getting my picture taken.

I approached the front security gate and flashed my badge to Earl, the night security guard.

“How ya doin’, Rich?” he asked me in his usual friendly tone.

“I’m alright Earl. How are you? How’s Hellen?” I responded.

“Oh we’re both fine, thanks for askin’. Hey, when you comin’ over for dinner?” Earl inquired. I must say, I don’t like many people, but Earl was tolerable.

“You got my landline, right? Give me a call, we’ll set something up,” I smiled, starting to walk inside.

“You really oughta get a cell phone, Rich! I dunno nobody who ain’t got a cell phone,” Earl called after me.

I laughed and shook my head, “Have a good night, Earl!”

I pushed open the large, glass doors to the aquarium, the fading sun casting beams of light onto the giant fish tank in the lobby. A school of Barramundi fish swirled and danced behind the glass. “Hey fellas,” I said, tapping the glass with one finger as I walked by.

One can easily get lost in the aquarium if they don’t know their way around. Luckily, I’d spent night after night navigating the halls. I turned down the main corridor, past the tropical fish exhibit and through the rainforest habitats to a side hallway with a black door labeled, “Maintenance”. I took out my work keychain, unlocked it, and walked inside. I grabbed the essentials I needed for my shift and loaded up my janitor’s cart. As I pushed the cart toward the door, the overhead aquarium lights shut off, as they always did. A second later, the low-powered after-hours lights flickered on, casting a hazy, purple glow throughout the halls. Some people may find it creepy, I found it peaceful. At least I used to.

The first few hours of my shift went on without incident. I swept the main exhibit floors, waxed the glass of the tanks, vacuumed the carpets, and cleaned the bathrooms on the first floor. I was pushing my cart past the main entrance doors when I noticed something strange. There were thin cords wrapped around each of the three main door handles. I left my cart next to the Barramundi tank and inched toward the doors to get a closer look. I noticed that the cords were all sealed with a lock. I grabbed hold of the center doors and tugged, trying with all my power to open them. No luck.

“What the…is this some kind of new security thing?” I muttered to myself. I walked over to the door on the left and peered through the glass to see if I could locate Earl. I could just make out his security booth, but he wasn’t in his chair. “Must be in the bathroom,” I grumbled.

I started to head back to the cart, confused as to why someone had locked the doors from the inside. That’s when I heard it, a loud shriek that sent chills down my spine. I jumped back, not knowing where the scream had come from. Then, another cry broke out from somewhere to the right.

I turned in the direction of the scream and nervously called out, “H-hello?” I waited for about thirty seconds before I mustered up the courage to investigate. It would have been impossible for someone to get into the building from the outside after closing. The only people with access to the aquarium were the night crew, which was usually just Earl and I.

I passed through the entryway into the amphibian exhibit, peering through the glass at the frogs, lizards, and snakes. The nocturnal creatures were out and about, roaming around their habitats as if nothing unusual were happening. Suddenly, a loud thud came from the end of the exhibit near the entrance to the staircase. I ran toward the sound, against my better judgment. The night lights in the stairwell emanated an eerie red glow, just bright enough to make out the steps leading upwards.

“Hello?!” I called into the stairwell, my voice echoing.

There was no answer. I began to go up, step by step, getting closer to the first platform. I had just grabbed the railing, about to turn to continue up toward the second floor, when I was hit by a powerful force that knocked me on to my back. I gasped and hoisted myself up on my elbows. There, in front of me was a girl, maybe in her early twenties, in a tattered, bloody dress. Her long, blonde hair was hanging down in strands in front of her face and breathing was ragged. In her hand was a small knife which she held shakily in my direction.

“Did you do this?!” she hissed at me. I was so shocked I couldn’t speak. She took a step forward, “WELL?!” She demanded.

I shook my head, confused, “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please, I’m just the janitor!” I explained, fearfully.

The girl began to lower the knife, her face turning from rage to desperation, “You have to help me!” she begged, “There’s someone trying to kill me!”

I was still trying to catch my breath from when she ran into me, but I did my best to calm her, “Ma’am, just calm down. Who is after you? How did you get in here?” I asked.

She began to sob, “I don’t know! I woke up two floors up. There was a note next to me…I-It said that he wanted to play a game, uh…hide and seek.”

“Hide and seek?” I asked, even more puzzled.

“Yes! The letter said if I could make it until sunrise he’d let me go,” she managed to get out.

I observed her blood-stained dress, “You’re injured…”

“Once I read the note, a knife just flew out of nowhere and hit me in the shoulder…he threw this at me!” She cried, holding up the knife.

“Ok, we’re going to get you some help…what’s your name?” I asked, trying to keep her calm.


“Ok, Hailey. I’m Richard. You need to come with me. I know a safe place to hide. We can wait there until morning,” I explained, taking the knife from her and putting it in my pocket.

“Do you have a phone? We need to call for help!” she pleaded.

I shook my head, “No, but there’s a landline in the janitor’s closet. We’ll be safe and we can call for he-,” I was interrupted by the creaking sound of the metal door two floors up. The faint tune of a nursery rhyme filled the stairwell. I recognized the song as “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

“It’s him!” Hailey whispered, “We need to go!”

I grabbed Hailey’s arm and pulled her down the steps onto the first floor. We ran through the exhibits until we made it back to the janitor’s closet. Once we were safely inside, I slammed the door shut and flipped the lock. Breathing heavily I said, “Ok, we’re safe here. He won’t be able to get in without a key.”

I then ran to the wall, where the landline hung. I held the phone up to my ear and waited for the dial tone, but nothing. “Come on, come on!” I said, pressing a few keys. Still nothing. I slowly placed the phone back on the hook and turned to face Hailey, who was huddled in the corner. “I…I think he cut the phone lines.”

Just then, the distant sound of “Pop Goes the Weasel” began to get closer and closer from outside the door. Hailey began to cry and cover her ears, rocking back and forth.

“What do you want!?” I screamed. I was answered with two knocks on the door. “GO AWAY!” I screamed. Again, no one answered. A few moments later, the music began to get further away, and I could hear the sound of the man’s steps retreating.

“I think he’s leaving,” I whispered to Hailey, backing up from the door. A few seconds later, the sound of the man’s feet came running back toward the door! I ran over next to Hailey, and crouched down in a defensive stance. “He can’t get in!” I reassured her. That’s when the lock slowly turned to the left, and the terrible screeching sound of the door opening followed.

I braised myself, expecting to be attacked, but there was no one behind the opened door. Hailey and I were frozen, our eyes glued to the door.

“Where is he?” she asked nervously.

Before I could answer, a large, black zip-up bag was pushed through the door frame and hit the ground with a loud thud. Hailey screamed and my heart almost jumped out of my chest. Taped to the bag was a small, paper note that said, “Surprise!” with a smiley face. I crawled toward the bag, knowing I shouldn’t look inside.

Hailey grabbed my leg, “Don’t!” she begged.

I waved her away and inched closer. I tore the note off of the bag and slowly unzipped it. There, inside the bag, was Earl’s mangled, bloody body.

I yelled and jumped back, crawling backward, “He killed him! He killed him!” I screamed. Hailey continued to sob, burying her head in her hands. That’s when an even scarier thought entered my mind, he had Earl’s keys.

“Listen, we can’t get out because he has locks on all the doors and he has keys to the entire building. If we keep running, he will find us,” I stated, grabbing Hailey’s shoulders. “Our best chance is to fight him.”

Hailey shook her head, “We can’t fight him, he's insane!”

I took a deep breath, “Don’t worry. I have a plan.”

I grabbed Haileys arm and pulled her toward the door. “No! He’s out there!” she screamed.

“Listen! There’s no music. He must be waiting somewhere else. This is all a game to him. He wants us to run,” I assured her. Hailey nodded, clutching my arm as I led her into the hallway.

We made our way to the stairwell on the opposite side of the building and climbed to the third floor.

“Where are we going?” she asked as I unlocked the door.

“The sky walk,” I whispered, “It’s a platform that goes over the predator's tank. It’s still under construction and not open to the public yet.”

I could tell Hailey was confused, but we were running out of time before he found us. I pulled off the tape that read “RESTRICTED AREA” and stepped on to the platform, “Ok, now you have to trust me. I need you to walk to the end of the platform and wait there. But be very very careful. They haven’t finished installing all of the glass flooring yet. You have about fifteen feet until you’ll have to use the side rails to climb over to the platform on the other side.”

Hailey paused for a minute before a flash of realization washed over her face, “You want me to be the bait!?” she yelled.

I covered her mouth with my hand, “SHHH! Yes!” I whispered harshly, “Like I said, you have to trust me. It’s our only chance!”

Hailey took a deep breath and stared at the glass walkway, “Ok, I’ll do it, but…where will you be?”

I pointed to a large pile of construction supplies a few feet away, “I’ll be hiding there. He won’t get to you. I promise.”

Hailey nodded and climbed up onto the walkway, carefully feeling her way down the glass path in the dim light. The sharks below sensed the movement, and splashed in anticipation along the surface. I could see her slip slightly when her foot hit the empty section of the walkway, and she shrieked in fear.

“Use the railing to climb to the other side!” I called as loudly as I dared.

Hailey hoisted herself up onto the metal railing and shimmied about five feet until she was safely on the platform. I breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived once I heard the nursery rhyme in the distance. He was coming. I quickly dashed behind the supplies to hide. I could just make out Hailey’s body in the dark on the other side of the platform, and nodded reassuringly.

A few moments later, the door to the exhibit opened, and the dark figure of the man appeared, “Pop Goes the Weasel” playing at full volume. He was just a few feet away from me, and this was the first time I could get a good look at him. He was cloaked in a black trench coat and his face was covered with an old fashioned clown mask. On top of his head was a wide-brimmed black hat, casting a shadow over his masked face. I assumed the music player was hidden somewhere underneath his trench coat. He looked like a character from my worst nightmares.

He turned his head from side to side until his eyes locked on Hailey at the end of the platform. He tilted his head, raised his hand and waved at her slowly with a long, terrifying knife, still dripping with Earl’s blood. Hailey screamed and began to sob. He then took a step up onto the glass pathway and began to walk toward her, menacingly. I held my breath with each step, waiting for him to reach the gap in the platform and fall through.

He made it halfway down the pathway, about to step over the edge when he stopped. He knelt down and reached his hand out over the floor. His gloved fingers went through the empty space in the platform and he began to cackle. He then raised a finger and wagged it at Hailey to show that he’d discovered the trap. Hailey backed up as far as she could until her back was up against the wall with nowhere to go. I could hear her terrified sobs and pleading. The masked man placed the knife in his trench coat pocket and climbed up onto the railing, trying to make his way toward Hailey.

Internally I could feel an explosion of fear and rage pulse through my body, and it was as if someone took control of my limbs. I leaped out from behind the crates, grabbing hold of a loose pipe lying on the ground and jumped on to the platform. The following seconds seemed to pass in slow motion. The man turned to face me, still hanging on to the side of the railing. I dashed across the platform, stopping at the last piece of solid glass flooring, just feet away from him. Swinging the pipe over my head, I brought it down hard on his hands that were gripping the railing. In a cry of pain, he released hold of it, and fell backwards down through the gap in the floor.

There was a loud splash followed by the man’s screams as the sharks began to tear him apart. His screams were accompanied by the tune of the music player until it gave out completely. After a few moments, the screams stopped and all that remained was the sound of the thrashing sharks feasting on his body. I watched in horror and relief as the water turned red with his blood and the old clown mask floated to the surface, bobbing in the water.

I looked up at Hailey who was equally as traumatized as I was. She stared at me stunned before breaking out in tears. I climbed onto the railing and reached out my hand to her, helping her climb back onto the pathway, “You’re safe. It’s OK.”

I wrapped an arm around her and helped guide her down the steps and back toward the front lobby of the aquarium. Through the doors I could see the pink glow of the rising sun. I sat Hailey down on a bench by the barramundi tank and walked up to the doors which were still locked from the inside. I peered outside and could see the first of the employees starting to arrive for work. I banged on the glass and screamed, “Help! Call 911!” They looked at me in terror, probably because I had her blood all over my clothes. “HELP!” I screamed again, snapping them out of their shocked state. One of them pulled out a cell phone and called the police while the other ran to get help.

I sighed and slumped down onto the ground, leaning back on the palms of my hands, “Hey…Hailey?” I asked.

“Yea?” she answered meekly from the bench.

“Remind me to tell someone the sharks already ate today.”


About the Creator

Jenna Tomovich

Hey guys! My name is Jenna and I'm a twenty-something post-grad living in the DC area! I mostly write for fun and it's always been a hobby of mine. I hope you enjoy my stores and that they bring some excitement to your day!

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