Seth examines computer code, but something wants to examine him.
The Winds of Construction
By Pernell Rogers
Thirty-two-year-old Seth felt better after woofing down a quick breakfast this fine cloudy Monday morning. He perched himself on the couch and slurped his usual cup of coffee while the local morning news played on his television. As scheduled, at 8:00am, he traipsed into his home office ready to tackle today's work assignment. Sitting behind his desk, he stared at a mish-mosh of computer code knowing that somewhere within it were specific lines that caused an application to underperform. His task was to find those lines and correct them.
Noisy hammering started about ninety minutes after he began working.
"Dammit! Not now!"
The rapid fire of the jackhammer's chisel sparked his ire. He despised being interrupted while working with code. Concentration and quiet were a must. Now the entire house seemed to vibrate. How long will that incessant hammering going to last, anyway?
Soon, the thought of driving into work entered his mind. Yeah, getting behind the wheel to drive into work during rush hour would make him feel better--NOT! It defeated the purpose of working from home, and had been a godsend until today. But if he stayed home, how long would the street construction last? Days, weeks, longer?
Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, then silence.
The hammering came in quick bursts, like machine gun blasts. Seth stared at his computer screen, devoid of any expression. His hands stood idle over the keyboard while the chiseling chipped away at his brain cells, one-by-one - a pure physical sensation. He'd discovered he stopped breathing whenever the chisel pounded away and started again whenever it stopped. Ironically, he blamed himself for what was taking place outside his home. He voted yes to have new fiber optic cabling installed underground within the city of Dallas, and this was the unexpected result of his vote. Trying to work was useless, and he went to grab another cup of coffee.
The kitchen sat in the house's rear, and he poured himself another cup. His eyes closed from the aroma and soon relaxation took hold. He brought the cup to his lips while leaning against the counter. Boy, was it hot, but tasty. He stared through the kitchen window at the cloudy day outside and took another sip.
The jackhammer growled, then barked a quick burst of hammering.
He juggled his cup, splashing some coffee on his shirt.
He set the cup down and removed a dish towel from the sink. While blotting his shirt, the hammering started again. Even the kitchen wasn't a haven from the noise. It was useless. Either he had to deal with the noise or drive into work. He hung his head, weighing the pros and cons of each choice based on one thing; which would cause him the least stress. After a few minutes, he raised his head and realized the house was quiet. He left the kitchen and returned to his office.
One way or another, he was going to accomplish his task. He sat down and returned to the code, allowing his mind and eyes to examine its logical flow. After twenty minutes, as he came to an area where he suspected there may be a problem,
Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da... pause... da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da... pause... da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da.
"Shit! Not again!"
He slumped back in his chair and took a deep breath. His forehead tingled as his blood pressure rose along with his rage. There had to be a way to work around it. He stopped working and began reading internet news. All it took were a few fun stories to avert his mind from his troubles.
While watching a funny YouTube video, he gazed around his office. His face tightened, his nose crinkled. Something nasty filled the air. What is that? It could be his coffee pot burning, so he jumped up and sprinted into the kitchen. The pot was fine, still half full. He gazed around the kitchen as the odor became stronger and more putrid. The stove's burners were off and so was the oven. The odor had a tinge of human waste in it. He checked both bathrooms. They were clean. Where is it coming from? The polluted air made it difficult for him to breathe. He cruised past his front window and glanced outside.
He stopped, moved the blinds aside, and furled his eyebrows.
Outside, the city workers stood around with hands on their hips while others covered their mouths and noses. All stared down into the pit they worked on while the jackhammer leaned against the tailgate of one of the city vehicles.
YES! No more noise!
But something's going on. He moved to the right and shuddered when he saw the word sprawled across the passenger door of another city pickup.
What did they do? He bet they'd hit an underground line which released toxic chemicals, and its smell seeped into his house. Damn them.
He stayed by the window covering his nose and mouth, then moved to the left and paused. A local television news van had arrived. This may be really serious, whatever it is. He stood there while he observed the city workers and television crew dawning breathing masks. What the f... That can't be good. Two hazmat workers entered the pit while traffic slowed to a crawl as drivers craned their necks to see what was going on.
He was just as curious, but there was no way he was going to open his door. The smell was bad enough with it closed. Today had turned into a disaster. First the jackhammer and now he was probably going to die from poisoned air. What's next?
He removed his hand from his nose and noticed the smell wasn't as bad as when he first detected it. In fact, with the jackhammer down for the count, he felt he'd be able to get back to work. He returned to the kitchen, poured himself a glass of water, then headed to his office to resume working.
Work consumed him for two hours straight and he discovered multiple problems within the code, with each problem line compounding problems for future lines. This would not be an easy fix. It was his rumbling stomach that made him pause, then he realized how quiet it was. Maybe the construction crew knocked off early today. He left his office and fixed himself a small lunch in the kitchen.
While cruising by the front window, carrying his food and a glass of milk, he stopped to see what was happening outside. Everyone had left, but the crews had placed flashing warning signs around the pit.
That evening, Seth called on a cooking expert to provide his evening meal: Domino's Pizza. He placed his order using his phone app, then slipped off his shoes. The cool air hit his toes, and he wiggled them with fervor. Then he stretched out on the couch and waited while an episode of Netflix's Love! Death! & Robots played. Just as he got comfortable, there was a knock at the door.
He rolled his eyes, hefted his frame up from his nice warm spot, and plodded toward the front door carrying his wallet. No one was on the other side of the peephole. Where's the delivery guy? He unlocked and opened the door. No one was there. He sighed and closed it while that vacant feeling in his stomach became stronger. If someone was joking with him, it wasn't very funny. He was damn hungry.
He plopped down on the couch, and his anger transformed into puzzlement. He tossed his wallet on the coffee table and laid back down. His stomach rumbled again. As much as he tried, the Netflix episode couldn't keep his attention. He'd definitely heard someone knock, and it didn't come from the television. Could it have been kids playing? Highly doubtful. There weren't many kids in his neighborhood, and there was no history of that happening, ever. Add to that the fact it was nighttime and most kids wouldn't be out that late, at least the younger ones.
A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. He rolled from the couch and got his footing, leaving his wallet behind. He stepped up to the peephole and peered through. This time, someone was there. He pulled open the door, and a young guy smiled, the porch light reflecting off his braces. In his hand was tonight's meal. The kid held out his other hand, which contained a clipboard holding his receipt and a pen. Seth signed the receipt, handed it back, and retrieved his pizza. Once the kid bid him goodnight, he closed the door and doused the urge to skip back to the couch.
The aroma seeping from within the box sent his mouth into a tizzy. He set the box down on the coffee table, sat down in front of it, and opened the lid. His mouth watered. He scanned the edible disk for the largest slice, then paused. Something was missing. Where was his wallet? He'd left it on the coffee table when he went to the door the second time. He shut the box. It wasn't under the lid. He stood up and scanned the couch, tables, and floors. Nothing.
He entered his kitchen and checked the counter. There it was, sitting next to his toaster, but how did it get there? He hadn't been near the kitchen all evening. When he picked it up, it felt cold, much colder than it should. He rubbed it between his palms to warm it. While returning to the couch, he paused when the pizza box's lid sat open. He knew he closed the lid before searching for his wallet. What's going on? There was no way someone else had entered his home, was there?
The question set his imagination on fire. He returned to the couch and set his wallet on the coffee table and entered every room, switching on lights and opening every enclosure capable of holding a human being.
He found no one.
Every light in the house was on, and he thought he'd officially lost his mind just because he'd found a few items out of place. Anyway, how could anyone get in? One by one, he entered each room and switched off the lights.
Back on the couch, he stared at the coffee table. The pizza box lid was still open and his wallet sat next to it, just the way he'd left them this time. Everything was normal. He dropped his shoulders and convinced himself he must be tired. His detailed work, along with the pounding jackhammer, must have stressed him out.
The following two nights, more strange occurrences took place. Lights were on in rooms he'd never entered. Strange noises emanated from different rooms. Even during his working hours, while poised in his office, the sounds of drawers opening and silverware rattling forced him to get up and check around his home. The incidents became unbearable to the point he was having trouble sleeping. However, it wasn't until Thursday afternoon when he realized his life could be in jeopardy.
Sitting behind his cluttered desk, he dropped his head and covered his ears while the muffled rat-a-tat-tat of the jackhammer paralyzed all active thought. He squeezed his eyes shut and prayed that somewhere in the darkness was a beacon that would guide him back to sanity.
His eyes popped open. The noise didn't come from outside; it was definitely in the house. His breathing deepened as he rose to investigate yet another occurrence. He entered the kitchen, and the horrible stench from Monday had returned. A cabinet above the counter sat open and shivers sped up his arms and around the back of his neck. Something was in the house. What evil did those guys release into his house with their digging? As he stood there, a dishcloth whisked off the counter and landed on the floor, but all windows were closed because of the noise. He stepped back. Something was in the kitchen with him, but he saw nothing. He scrunched his shoulder when an icy breeze smothered his neck. His heart raced, and he spun around.
Nothing was there.
Something rubbed his arm, and he smacked at it before looking down. Again, nothing was there, and soon the stench smothered him. He darted from the kitchen into the family room. The television switched on, but he didn't do it. He froze, and his eyes bugged as the picture on the screen materialized.
Crazy gray static occupied the entire screen, then a pair of black, oddly shaped disks, set side by side, appeared in the foreground. Seth retreated from his television until his back hit the wall. The putrid air filled the room, and he covered his nose, to no avail. His feet felt cold, and he gazed down. A bluish mist sat around them, then spread out along the floor. He moved away, but the mist stayed at his feet.
Something in the mist opened and closed the pizza box lid, then lifted his wallet, spinning it around. There were sounds coming from the kitchen, and more mist entered the room from that direction, carrying items from his drawers and cabinets.
Seth was too afraid to move while the mist carried items through his home. The black disks on the television switched in his direction, and so did the mist. It swarmed his body. His lungs filled with the putrid odor and a wicked coughing jag began. His next gulp of air was easier, but he had levitated. He kept his eyes open as he floated within the mist, while invisible fingers poked and prodded.
He was upside down, but felt nothing but coldness supporting him and nothing came out when he tried to talk. The mist repositioned his body horizontally, facing down. Below him was the coffee table with the pizza box open and his wallet. His mind remained in shock as something levitated him higher. The edge of the coffee table sat within his eyesight.
The mist released him, and the edge of the coffee table blurred.
A bright flash... followed by darkness.
A splash of blood burst outward, spritzing the couch and table. Seth's body convulsed violently, his wide eyes rolled back into their sockets, revealing the white sclera. The sandy carpet distributed his blood efficiently, dispersing it around his head. His chest flexed and arms and legs flailed. Then all movement stopped. A last blast of air escaped his lips. The disks on his television faded while the mist retreated, and silence consumed the house.
Three days later, police investigations were underway in Seth's community where four unexplained deaths, including his, had occurred within the past week near construction zones. The police had no leads or motives, but in each case, the deaths appeared as blunt force accidents.