I woke up before the alarm went off the next morning. Despite my midnight jaunt, I felt fine – good, even. Weird because I usually drag if I don’t get my full eight.
Figuring that there was probably a pile waiting for me at work, I got up and started the day. Once squeaky clean and well groomed, I jogged into the kitchen and tossed a pastry into the toaster. While it warmed, I pulled my sack lunch out of the fridge. Momma had made her chicken salad Sunday so she had popped a couple chicken salad sandwiches into the bag.
My Momma has made my lunch since I was in grammar school. Just because I moved across the hall was no reason for her to stop – at least in her opinion. I gave up trying to fight it long ago. If she knows I’m working she’s gonna put a sack lunch in my fridge. Nothing shy of changing the lock would stop her and I’m not sure that would do it. I know it’s not an extra effort – she has eight other kids to make lunches for, after all – but for a long time I felt like I was being a burden. Then I realized she did it because she wanted to and got over the whole thing.
The toaster poked up my breakfast finally. I looked out the window toward the fire escape as it cooled enough to eat. I wasn’t sure what to make of the night before. After a moment I decided I didn’t have time to think about it now and grabbed my breakfast from the toaster. I downed it in a couple bites as I headed out the door.
I work as a welder at Gordon’s Welding which is just off 15th street. It’s a short walk to the bus stop and a short ride to the shop so I was there by seven. I’ve worked at Gordon’s on and off since high school. I fell in love with welding in shop class and managed to cajole Mr Salvador into letting me work odd jobs around the shop back then. Eventually I worked up to doing preliminary work for the welders and finally to welding. I have my basic certification and am working on becoming a commercial welder. Working at Gordons these three years has made a big difference – at the risk of sounding smug, I’m a better welder than most of the guys my age with the same level of training.
I’ve had a key to the place since I became an actual welder so I let myself in. Bernie greeted me with a wag – for him, that’s enthusiasm. Bernie is an ancient German Shepherd Mr Salvador keeps at the place as a guard dog. I suspect the old boy would just wag at a burglar and go back to his pallet just as he did for me. Grinning, I trotted into the break room and shoved my lunch into the fridge. I went to my locker and changed into my work clothes. A few minutes later, I went into the shop and headed for my station.
The only thing on my table was a wrought iron gate I’d been working on the last time I was at work. I looked at my box but there were no work orders. I smiled, realizing the guys had taken my load while I was out.
The gate was done when Mr Salvador walked in at 7:55. Mr. Salvador had bought the place twenty years ago from Mr McCall who had bought it from Mr Schmidt. The best anyone can figure, Mr Gordon was two owners ahead of Mr Schmidt. None of the owners had changed the name over the years since everyone they did business with already knew it as ‘Gordons’.
Mr. Salvador came over to my station as I put the gate into the finished bin. "Jack, my boy, why so early?"
I grinned, "I figured I’d get an early start on the huge backlog here…"
He smiled, "I told them leave all the work for you. See? I was right. You come back and get it all done before time to start!"
He patted me on the back and headed for the office. Guys were filing in and the work day began in earnest.
There was a lot of explaining to do during break as I filled the guys in on my absence. I didn’t fill them in on the new red head in town – no way was I going to risk competition in that field!
I ate alone at lunch. The guys had tried to talk me into joining them at Guido’s down the street but I had my lunch and I like Momma’s chicken salad. It was the same most days so I actually enjoyed the normalcy. Sometimes I would tell Momma the night before that I planned to go with the guys so she wouldn’t fix lunch for me but only rarely. I like my Momma’s cooking and I enjoy a few minutes of rare solitude in my family filled life.
Bernie was standing by the break room door as I came out. Weird, he rarely comes out of the office during the day.
I scratched his ears, "What’s with you, fella?"
He was tense and kept looking around. Really weird now – he usually just lays on his pallet like a lump and even when he’s up, he’s never tense. Having never had my own dog I’m hardly an expert but this didn’t seem right.
Thinking he might need to go out, I grabbed his leash and took him out to the back lot. He kept looking around but otherwise acted okay. He finally decided to do his business and we wen’t back in. Mr. Salvador was already back from lunch and I told him Bernie seemed tense.
He watched the dog for a minute and decided to lock him in the back office until he settled down. Bernie actually stopped moving as we got to the door. For a second he looked around at the shop door and bared his teeth. Then he dutifully walked into the office and Mr. Salvador shut the door.
"He no like that." Mr. Salvador commented.
I nodded. That was the first time I’d ever seen Bernie show his teeth like that. Weird.
I’d finished the few small projects Mr Salvador had had for me that morning so I got started on a new one. It was a simple repair to a broken couch frame but of course, the frame was huge and I had to wrestle it out of the in bin and over to my table. I had just convinced the stupid thing to quit warping as I tried to clamp it to the table when I felt something down my spine. I shot a quick look at the outside shop doors but nothing was there.
I was beginning to question my sanity. I’d have sworn something was there. Not that shadow thing, this felt different, but something. I went back to clamping the frame down. The feeling didn’t stop, it got stronger.
I kept looking at the door. In the back office Bernie had begun to growl. Maybe it was a coincidence but I wasn’t inclined to believe in coincidence at the moment. I took another look at the outer doors and headed to Mr Salvador’s office. I might be crazy but what were the chances Bernie and I both went insane on the same day.
None of the other guys were back yet. That was normal; Mr Salvador took lunch earlier than we did and I’m a fast eater. But Mr. Salvador wasn’t in his office where he’d normally be.
Marta, our secretary, said hi as she walked in the lobby. I nodded at her absently.
"You sick?" she asked, probably because i was at the boss’s door.
"No, no, I was looking for Mr. Salvador. He was just here."
She smiled, "He go to the bank today. Big meeting, he say. I see him leave just a minute ago. You might can catch…"
I shook my head. The feeling was leaving and Bernie was no longer growling. I was starting to feel silly. "No, I’ll catch up with him later. Thanks, Marta."
She smiled as I waved and went back to my table.
I wasn’t there five minutes when the feeling hit me again, this time like a ton of bricks. A split second later, Bernie was barking his head off and Chester, the shop foreman, was screaming in anger from the parking lot outside the outer doors to the shop.
I couldn’t see him until I got closer to the door. He was backed up against the dumpster and was surrounded by what looked like gang bangers. Wrong colors and I didn’t recognize any faces, but more than that, they looked fake to me – like they were not only not gang members, they didn’t even seem human to me.
I couldn’t have given a reason why – they just didn’t look like humans. As I got to Vinnie’s station, I saw the dogs. Huge, shaggy and mostly teeth, even the dogs didn’t look right. I counted four and ran to Marta’s window. Marta’s office has a window that opens to the shop. I banged on it and yelled for her to call 911.
Turning, I passed Gino’s station. Gino does fine metalwork – decorative stuff and often, plated stuff. He had a couple silver arrows for a finial he was working on. Don’t ask me why but I grabbed both. Little silver bars when I had a bin of rebar a couple steps away, but that was what I grabbed. Still not thinking, I snatched up a three foot section of angle iron as I rounded the corner to go out the outer doors.
The situation was worse. Chester was on the ground with two guys kicking him. I counted five guys and four dogs instinctively. I knew full well I was about to commit suicide but it didn’t matter. I’d lost Mr J, I wasn’t gonna lose Chester, too.