Like A Puppet
Earl was two hours into his shift and already pissed off.
It was bad enough that management stuck him out at the East Gate Security Checkpoint but they also put him with the new guy, Geoff. Not only that but his guts rumbled too, threatening to spill out his hind quarters at any moment.
No one really used the East Gate anymore as it had been turned into an exit-only checkpoint. The road was poorly maintained with crumbling asphalt and the gate itself was rusted chain link. Their guard shack was roughly the size of a large recreational vehicle and sat just off the road surrounded by weeds.
Inside was a large desk with two computer monitors, each of them linked to a CCTV camera. Fluorescent lights hummed above, giving the trailer a slight hint of green making Earl think of a hospital. There was a single phone hooked to the wall and even it had seen better days. In Earl’s view, the only good thing about the shack was the air conditioning.
“I’m going to have a smoke,” Earl grunted.
He stepped outside and a lit a cigarette.
It was a humid evening, evident from the sweat already running down his back. The sky was streaked with crimson as the sun slowly dropped toward the horizon. He glanced up at the lone street light standing next to the shack and watched as the moths were drawn to its glow.
A mosquito buzzed by Earl’s ear and he swatted aimlessly at it. Nearing fifty with a gut starting to hang over his belt, Earl had been with Dragon Security for almost fifteen of those years.
Despite that experience, they decide to screw me and stuck me the East Gate.
“No,” Earl said, sighing heavily. “You got yourself stuck here.”
The door opened behind him.
“Did you say something, Earl?” Geoff asked.
Earl shook his head and waved the new guy away.
He didn’t dislike Geoff as a person, but rather disliked him for reminding Earl of what he once was: young, in shape and working the job solely to pay his way through school.
Not earning a living off a security guard’s shitty wages.
The air conditioning felt great, although it also gave him the chills thanks to his sweat. He sat down on one of the hard plastic chairs and looked at the grainy black and white images on the monitors.
“What do you think they do up there?” Geoff asked, sitting down next to him.
“Up where?” Earl asked.
“At the Institute.”
Earl glared at him and said, “It doesn’t fucking matter what they do up there. The less you ask, the better.”
Geoff blinked, not expecting Earl to snap.
Earl sighed. “Look, I’m not trying to be a dick. I made the mistake of asking a similar question and now I’m getting punished.”
Geoff opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it and turned back to the monitors.
About a week ago when Earl was still in Dragon Security’s good graces, he was working at the Main Entrance. He had gotten to know some of the people who actually worked inside the McFarlane Institute, one of whom was Dr. Richards. They shot the shit daily until Earl made the mistake of asking what they were doing up there.
A harmless question.
Dr. Richards didn’t speak to him after that and shortly thereafter he got assigned to the East Gate. It still pissed him off thinking back to it.
The ground shuddered, followed immediately by a deep, heart pounding thud.
The lights flickered twice before going out, along with the monitors and air conditioner.
They had lost power.
“What the hell was that?” Geoff asked as he jumped to his feet, knocking the chair over in the process.
“Relax,” Earl replied. “Just give it a sec. Sometimes there are power bumps.”
While it was true, Earl had never experienced a power bump like that before. He looked out the window toward the institute and saw that the lights were still on.
Why hadn’t they gone out?
The power returned and everything went back to normal.
“You see,” Earl said, rubbing at his stomach. “There’s nothing to it. If you’re here long enough you’ll get used to them.”
“I won’t lie,” Geoff said picking his chair off of the floor. “It gave me a start.”
Earl’s guts rumbled again and he knew better than to tempt fate.
“I’m going to take a shit,” Earl said making his way toward the bathroom. “Are you okay out here?”
“I should be,” Geoff nodded.
“You remember what to do if a car comes?”
“Check their documents of entitlement and identification. If everything looks good let them out.”
As he reached the bathroom, Earl turned around and said, “If you have any issues let me know.”
Earl shut the door, dropped his pants and closed his eyes as he sat down on the toilet, enjoying the relief it brought. For some reason, the trailer’s designer felt it necessary to put in a small window in the bathroom. It was the size of the Kleenex box and up high so they left it alone, usually leaving it open to air out the shitter.
As much as he wanted to believe that it had just been a power bump, Earl couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something else. Every other power bump had knocked out the exterior lights to the McFarlane Institute.
This time it hadn’t.
“Hey Earl,” Geoff called through the door. “There’s a car coming.”
“So handle it!” Earl yelled back.
He heard Geoff open the shack door and step outside. As Earl went ahead with his business, he listened as Geoff’s voice carried in through the open window.
“Good evening,” Geoff said.
There was a pause and then a voice said, “Good… evening… it… is…” Earl recognized the voice as Dr. Richards’. Why did he sound weird?
“I need to see your ID and document of entitlement.” There was the sound of movement, then shuffling of paper. “It’ll just be a quick second while I validate these.”
“Going… home… for… night…”
“What was that?” Geoff asked.
“Going… home… for… night…”
“Quitting time is always a good feeling.”
The phone began ringing out by the desk.
“Fuck sakes,” Earl muttered.
After a quick wipe he walked toward the desk, stealing a glance outside at Dr. Richards’ car. Geoff was handing his paperwork back through the passenger side window. Earl saw the good doctor and stopped, as there was something off about him.
His motions were jerky and delayed as if he were reacting. It reminded Earl of the old ventriloquist puppets when their heads would turn followed by their eyes. That combined with his bizarre speech pattern rubbed Earl the wrong way but he couldn’t figure out why.
The phone continued to ring.
Earl heard the familiar buzzing indicating that the gate was opening and saw Geoff with his hand on the control switch. The gate was almost completely open when Earl picked up the receiver.
“East Gate, Earl speaking.”
The gate creaked to a stop.
“This is McNeil!”
Geoff waved Dr. Richards’s car through.
“Don’t let anyone through the gate! We’ve had a breach! I repeat, we’ve had a breach!”
Earl dropped the receiver and bolted outside just as Geoff hit the switch to close the gate. Dr. Richards’ car was already outside the gate, a few meters beyond the fence where it had stopped.
“That guy sure seemed fucked up,” Geoff said, then looked at Earl. “Hey, who was that on the phone?”
Dr. Richards began convulsing uncontrollably.
“It was McNeil from the institute,” Earl began. “He said there’d been a breach.” His voice trailed off.
Dr. Richards rose from his seat and hung out the passenger side window by what looked like a cross between a snake and tentacle.
“Uh… Earl,” Geoff whispered. “What the hell is that?”
Earl said nothing as a larger shape materialized from the backseat and slithered through the window.
The creature had what looked like five appendages, including the one holding the good doctor. Its moist body glistened in the light of the street lamp now that the sun dropped completely below the horizon. It emitted a sound similar to that of someone smacking their tongue against their lips.
Dropping Dr. Richards’ body onto the ground, it disappeared into the encroaching darkness.
“My God…” Geoff muttered. “Earl… did it… did it use his body like… like…”
“Like a puppet,” Earl managed to say.
© Copyright 2017 John Olson. All Rights Reserved.