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I am the epitome of an average, white male in America. I was a decent student in high school, but not great. I was OK at sports, but not great. I was a good musician (for the area… big fish, little pond), but not great.
So when it came time for college, my options were to take out enormous loans, or figure out how to work full time while in school. My job of choice was security guard. Evening and weekend hours were abundant and it was (generally) easy work.
The company I worked for was relatively small, about 50-60 employees, 10 of which were in administration of some kind. The rest of us were "Security Professionals" (aka, rent-a-cops). We had our company issued flat black polyester uniforms with official looking badges and jackets that look like we borrowed them from the State Police.
The owner of the company was retired military and was very big on professionalism and "proper procedure." This led to the mandatory practice of "Properly Reliving the Watch." When properly executed, the dialogue will look something like this:
- Oncoming: *Salute* "I am here to relieve you."
- Off-going: *Salute* "Very well." *drops salute*
- Off-going gives pass down, reviews and signs logbook
- Off-going: *Salute* "I am ready to be relieved."
- Oncoming: *Salute* "I relieve you."
- Off-going: "I stand relieved." *drops salute*`
It's silly and we all generally mocked the practice, exaggerated salutes, added words, etc. I can't count the number of times I started mine with "I don't want to relieve you." ("Very well, and f**k you!")
In late September, we started hiring a few extra guards for the holidays and I became a "senior" guard (turns out, turnover for security guards is about as high as fast food).
This is where life started to get interesting. Since I was now a senior guard, my schedule became a little more static (which I was thankful for) and I was pulling a consistent 40 hours a week between a couple different posts, one of which was a 2-person job at a new construction site.
Normally, construction sites were 1-person jobs. Our job was to just walk around the perimeter at least once an hour, and sometimes walk through the building to ensure things hadn't spontaneously caught fire and the junkies hadn't come in and stolen all the copper wire. But this customer was one of the bigger clients for our company. This was going to be their new headquarters and was costing them a pretty penny to build. So we put two guys on it at night to ensure everything was good.
As the senior guard, I would normally arrive about an hour before the second guard, relieve the day guard and wait for the second guy to show up. That night, it was one of the new guys. We'll call him Jim. So Jim shows up about 30 minutes before he's scheduled and awkwardly walks up to the guard shack. Evening rounds haven't started yet, so I'm just sitting there rubbing my hands together in front of the space heater in the guard shack.
I watch Jim come up and stand right outside the guard stack. He just stands there, at attention, looking at me through the window. I cocked my head at him and furrowed my brow. If he wanted to stand in the cold, that's his choice.
Suddenly, Jim threw his arm up in a salute so violent that his hand actually vibrated like a springboard for a split second after reaching the top of the salute. I suspect if I was outside, I would have heard a distinct BOING noise you normally only hear in cartoons.
He then shouted, actually SHOUTED, "I AM HERE TO RELIEVE YOU!"
Oh new guy…
Smiling, I opened the door. "Put your hand down. You're not relieving me. You're standing watch with me. And you're a half hour early. Come inside and relax until your shift starts."
Jim blushed and dropped his hand, embarrassed. He came inside and sat down. We talked for a few minutes and I learned his name and that he was about a year younger than me, also a college student trying to work his way through tuition. This was his first actual post, but he'd been coached by someone just after his orientation about "Proper relieving procedures" and how important they were. I guess he really took that to heart (although, I can't think of a single guard that would do that to a new guy… most of us still think the procedure is foolish.) He clearly wanted to do well at this job so I couldn't really fault him for his zeal.
Laughing that off, I walked Jim through the post and what expectations were for this site. He was a pretty smart guy (despite first impressions), and asked relevant questions and we were good to go. We did our first set of rounds together before the sun completely set so that I could show him things to look for, places to avoid (trenches covered with plastic that were easy to avoid during the day, but impossible to see at night), etc.
When we got back to the shack, I explained that we would usually have one guy walking around and one in the shack. Every hour, we would switch. That helps keep people awake as well as allows you to warm up on those really cold nights. Jim said he would take the first walking shift and I was happy to oblige. The temps were dropping pretty fast now that the sun was down and I wanted to get back to my space heater. I handed Jim a radio and showed him how to clip it to his jacket so he could hear it easily and respond without having to remove it from his jacket (we weren't fancy enough to have the shoulder extension things you see on TV).
I would see Jim every 10 or 15 minutes as he walked the fence line to the site. After the third pass, I poked my head out and yelled for him to go do a security walk through the buildings too. It should have taken him about 10 minutes to walk the buildings. I figured he would do the buildings, hit the fence once more and that would put him at around an hour and he would come back.
30 minutes later, Jim hadn't come back into sight so I radioed for him.
- "Base to Rover, come in."
- "Base to Rover, come in."
Sighing, I pulled my jacket on and got ready to head outside to find Jim. Right when I clipped the radio to my jacket, there was a loud THACK on the door behind me. I nearly crapped myself and spun around fast enough for the radio to spin off the clip on my jacket and clatter to the floor.
There was no out outside the window. I picked up the radio and grabbed my flashlight. I opened the door to the shack and poked my head out.
Static kicked up on the radio again. I turned the volume down and clipped the radio to my jacket.
I stepped outside and did a quick walk around of the 5' by 5' building we call a guard shack and saw nothing weird.
I started walking toward the buildings just as Jim rounded the corner at a dead sprint. My pulse had just started to calm from the sound in the shack, and the sight of Jim sprinting at me sent my imagination running wild and my heart racing again.
I ran over and met Jim halfway. He stopped running, and bent over, trying to catch his breath.
"What's wrong, Jim? What happened?" as I scanned behind him with my flashlight.
"I saw… I saw… there's someone in the building."
Now, the buildings were still in the fairly early stages. They were mostly framing with a ton of clear plastic hung around as a wind-break while the construction guys worked on the guts of the building. I'm acutely aware of how creepy it can be walking through sometimes, especially if the workers left certain lights on or the plastic came loose and started flapping oddly in the wind. But I doubted anyone was inside. The site was fairly remote, the fence was high, and the buildings were fairly uninteresting at the moment.
"Okay, so why didn't you radio me?"
Jim reached his hand to spot on his jacket where the radio should be and found nothing but air.
"I… must have dropped it."
"Did you at least hear me calling for you a few minutes ago?"
"Yeah, I responded. I said I wanted coffee. But wasn't that like half hour ago?"
"You… wait, what? No. What are you talking about?"
"You asked if I wanted something to drink. I figured you had access to the construction trailer or something."
"I… no. Were you on the right channel?" (Our radios had channel A and channel B, we always kept them on channel A).
"Of course, I haven't touched it since you handed it to me. Well, except to respond to you about the coffee."
I had Jim give me a quick rundown of where he thought he saw someone and made a mental note to talk to him at the end of shift about the duties of a security guard. If you see someone, your ENTIRE JOB is to walk up and instruct them to leave the premises. Strike one, new guy.
I sent Jim back to the shack to get warm and calm down. Instead of walking the perimeter first, I went directly into the building and walked toward where Jim had said he saw someone.
The site was divided into two buildings connected by a sky bridge. The left building was four stories plus two basement levels. The right building was five stories and no basement. The floor on each level was a solid concrete slab and the walls were nothing but framing and plastic with loose wires running every possible direction. The concrete flooring made things fairly echoy, and the plastic really liked to flap in the wind. Those attributes combined made for some interesting sounds sometimes. Throw in an unfamiliar shadow and you get mystery trespassers… apparently.
Jim said he saw the "person" in the right building, third floor, near the sky bridge. I headed that direction.
As I got into the building, the wind gusted and cold air rushed down the collar of my jacket. Shivering, I folded the fur collar of my jacket up and walked toward the stairwell at the end of the hall. I didn't mind walking through this building as much as the other one because there was more construction lighting over here. Most of the areas got at least some light in addition to your flashlight. This one also had small electric heaters that blew air through large plastic tubes along the ground (basically a ghetto central air system).
The elevator hasn't been installed yet, and only one set of stairs was "usable" (the other was being used for material storage), so I walked over and opened the door to the stairwell.
This stairwell was fairly well lit, so the first thing I noticed when I opened the door was Jim's radio sitting in the middle of the stairs on the first landing. It was standing perfectly upright, green lights blinking away like normal.
I walked up the two stairs to the first landing, and leaned over and grabbed the radio. After checking that it was on the correct channel (it was), I put it in my pocket and continued walking up to the third floor.
Once on the third floor, the first thing I noticed was that it was a LOT colder than normal. I walked over to that floor's heater and noticed that it had gotten unplugged somehow. I plugged it in and the heater roared back to life. It would take an hour or so for the heat to really start coming back, but the night was young.
I walked down the hallway, scanning each room with my flashlight as I passed, looking for our trespasser. I got to the sky bridge at the center of the building and hesitated. There was nothing blocking the route, so if there WAS something there, he could very easily have walked to the other building in the 5 or so minutes since Jim saw him.
I decided to finish my scan of the third floor and then walk the other building. If I didn't see anyone, I would drop of Jim's radio at the shack and start the perimeter walk, chalking up his "trespasser" as a shadow or someone that was equally as spooked by Jim and already ran off.
So far, there was nothing wrong in the building, no graffiti and nothing appeared to be missing from the building materials lying around.
About fifteen feet beyond the sky bridge is a small alcove with the empty elevator shaft. Because there are no doors yet, there's a warning sign and caution tape across the alcove, keeping anyone at least 10 feet away from the opening to the elevator shaft.
As I walked by, movement in the alcove caught my eye and I quickly spun and shone my flashlight into the nook. Empty. I edged up to the caution tape and craned my head as far into the area as I could without ripping the tape down. Nothing out of the normal. It was empty.
As I turned to finish my walk, I heard a faint noise. It was quiet enough that with the heater on, I almost didn't hear it at all. After a moment, I realized it was coming from my jacket pocket.
I pulled Jim's radio out and held it up to my ear.
- "Base to Rover, come in."
I quickly pulled the radio away from my ear and held it at arm's length in front of me. I looked down at my jacket and saw my radio was still attached to my jacket. And I know these are the only two radios at this site.
I brought Jim's radio back to my ear.
I cued up his radio and instantly heard a chirp and feedback from being too close to my own radio. I moved Jim's radio behind my back, and cued up my radio, "Radio check."
- "Radio check"
Shaking my head, I turned Jim's radio off and put it back in my pocket. I'll worry about it when I get back to the shack. I continued my scan of the third floor and found nothing out of the ordinary.
I walked back to the sky bridge and started to cross when I paused. Something felt… different. I back pedaled a little and scanned the alcove by the elevator again. Still empty.
Then I realized that it was the heater. I didn't hear it anymore.
I walked back to the end of the hallways and inspected the heater. The switch was still in the ON position, still plugged into the extension cable and the lights in the stairwell were still on (so it wasn't a fuse issue). A flutter of shadow from the plastic sheet walls drew my eyes to the corner of the room. I scanned over with my flashlight and frowned. The extension cable was unplugged from the wall terminal.
But it wasn't just unplugged, like it had been loose and just fallen out. The end of the cord was a good foot away from the wall and the cord had a little loop in it, like someone pulled it out and flipped the cord once.
My pulse started to speed up again. OK… maybe someone is in here?
"Hello? This is <Company name> Security. You are trespassing. Remove yourself from the premises or you will be prosecuted." (Standard script… minus the awkward "hello")
"Did you hear me? Remove yourself from the premises immediately and nothing will happen to you."
I gripped my flashlight like a baton and walked as quietly as I could in combat-style boots to the room at the end of the hall. I scanned the room with the light. Empty.
I tip-toed to the next room over, then the next, then the next, listening as intently as I could for ANYTHING out of the ordinary. All rooms were empty.
Flustered, I plugged the heater back in and decided to finish scanning this building first, since someone was obviously here. On a whim, I walked to the back of one of the rooms to the window and looked out to the guard shack, three stories below. I could see from the light inside that Jim was sitting in front of the heater, jacket off, staring intently out the window and up at the building.
My scans of the fourth and fifth floors were uneventful. No issues with the heaters, nothing out of place, nothing missing. On both floors, I made sure to look out the window and check to see if Jim was still in the shack. He always was.
My scan of the second floor turned up that some of the plastic sheeting had come loose and was throwing some super eerie shadows around, but nothing else.
As I got to the last landing before the first floor, my radio chirped like someone was about to talk. Out of habit, I bent my head over to listen… only to remember that the only other radio was in my pocket… and currently off.
I removed my radio from the clip and held it up to the light. The indicator that it was receiving was lit up. But I didn't hear anything. Noticing I hadn't turned the volume back up from earlier, I turned the knob almost all the way up and held it up. Suddenly, at full freaking volume, static! But not normal static. It sounded like the noise a kid would make if they were using pretend walkie-talkies and they wanted to simulate static.
I almost threw the radio in surprise. I quickly reduced the volume and held it back up to listen. It was definitely not real static. Someone was cueing a radio somewhere and intentionally making "ckkkkkkkkkkshhhhhhhhkkkkk" noise with their mouth. Awesome. Someone was on our frequency.
I clicked the radio over to channel B and the noise stopped. I reached into my pocket and changed Jim's radio too before I forgot.
I made my scan of the first floor with no incidents and headed back outside toward the guard shack. I was going to drop off the radio before doing the scan of the second building. It had already been 30 minutes due to how thorough of a scan I had to give this building.
As I got back, Jim stood and opened the door for me. I came inside and the instant warmth from the heater made me a little weak in the knees. I handed Jim his radio and turned it back on.
"Jim, were you in here the whole time?"
"Nevermind. Okay… well, you might be right, I think there was someone in the building. I did a complete scan of the right building and it's clear now. I'm about to go clear the left. Do me a favor, do a quick perimeter walk while I do it? If there was someone, we need to make sure they didn't bring the fence down somewhere. Should only take you 10 min. Just keep an eye out. If you do see someone, use the phrase they taught you at orientation for confronting trespassers."
"…remove yourself from the premises… or whatever?"
"Yes… or whatever," I rolled my eyes and headed back outside.
I started to close the door when Jim stuck his hand out and said, "So are you going to actually search the building now?"
"What do you mean? I just did the right one, there's no one there."
"But I saw you in the window."
"Yeah, I was just checking to see if you were still in the shack."
"You were standing in the window the whole time."
"What? No, I only walked to the window once on each floor, just to make sure you weren't going to try and mess with me."
"I watched your silhouette in the third floor window the whole time you were standing there…"
I turned and scanned the windows behind me. All empty, no shadows or silhouettes of any kind. Okay new guy… nice try.
I shook my head and closed the door behind me. I didn't make it 10 feet before I heard a chirp.
- "Base to Rover, come in."
I turned back to the guard shack and Jim was sheepishly standing in the window with the radio to his mouth.
- "Just checking…"
I started my scan of the second building on the top floor. This building as roof access from the stairwell, but our passdown was that the door to the roof was to remain locked and we didn't need to rove up there (no rails, liability, etc…) I always check the door anyway, just to make sure it's locked.
The door swung open easily and a gush of frigid air blasted me in the face. I hung my head for a moment and sighed. Taking a deep breath, I took a step outside.
- "Base to Rover, come in."
- "Base this is Rover, go ahead."
- "<My name>, why are you standing in the window again? It's creeping me out."
I stepped back inside and ran across the hall to the closest window that could see the guard shack. From this angle, I couldn't see inside, but I could see the light was on and Jim's shadow was being cast softly to the gravel outside.
- "Jim, where are you looking? I can't even see you from here."
- "You're standing in the third floor window again… same place as before."
- "Jim, step outside and look over at the left building."
- "Just do it! Fourth floor, last room."
I waited a few seconds and Jim still wasn't outside.
- "Jim, Step. Out. Side. And. Look. Up."
- "Rover to base, come in."
God damn radios.
I walked down to the third floor and over the sky bridge to the right building. The floor was starting to warm back up with the heater running again, but I still shivered a little.
I walked directly to the last room on the end and scanned the room with my flashlight. Empty. This kid is killing me. I walked to the window and looked down to the guard shack.
Jim wasn't inside. What little light there was emanating from the shack, I could see he wasn't immediately outside either.
Wanting to finish my patrol and get back to the space heater, I walked back down the hallway to the sky bridge. I was about to walk back to the second building when I heard a distinct, but quiet chirp from the radio.
Tilting my head to my chest, I paused and listened.
Another chirp made me realize it was coming from down the hall. I stepped back into the hall and walked 15 feet and heard it again from my left. The Elevator alcove.
Shining my flashlight in, I saw that the area was still empty. The Caution tape was still up.
One more Chirp and a faint voice told me it was coming from the elevator shaft. Jim must have come inside looking for me and turned his radio back to channel A for some reason.
I flipped the channel on my radio.
- "Jim, what are you doing?"
- "Rover to Base, come in."
More irritated than anything else at this point, I yelled into the alcove and down the shaft, "JIM, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" My voice echoed down the hall and down the hollow elevator shaft.
- "Why are you yelling? Are you unhappy?"
The voice came through at barely a whisper.
I checked the volume on my radio (it was at about 75%) and responded.
- "Jim, what are you doing? Just wait in the shack. I'll be there in a few minutes."
- "Jim… stop being a child."
- "OK Jim, you win. I'll see you in a few minutes."
I started to head down when I remembered I need to clear the second building first. I jogged back to the other building and up to the fourth floor. I did a quick scan with my flashlight. Empty. Same for the third, second, and ground floor. I was about to head into the first basement level when I noticed that the main light bar that extended into the basement was out. Great… the basement is already dark, now it's even darker.
I scanned around to make sure the light wasn't just unplugged and I noticed the broken glass. The light wasn't OFF. It was broken. There was nothing in the day guard's passdown about this light being broken.
Oh, fantastic… there probably IS someone here and now he's breaking shit. I gripped my flashlight tightly and walked in the basement. Outside the obvious creep factor of walking down an all concrete tomb with wires hanging out of seemingly random holes in the walls and ceiling, the basement was uneventful. Thankfully.
Last stop, the subbasement. This level had no installed lighting at this point, so you got slight ambient from the stairwell and your flashlight. While the echo was weird, at least you didn't have all the random shadows and bizarre sounds that came from flapping plastic.
I got to the end of the hall with nothing unusual to report. I started to turn back when the light reflected oddly off of something in the last room. I walked into the room to get a closer look.
On the wall, someone had splashed what appeared to be paint on the back wall. Red paint. Which was odd, because to the best of my knowledge, there wasn't any red paint even on site.
I scanned the rest of the room and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Taking a mental note about the paint, I walked back to the other end of the hall to the stairwell.
As I got to the ground level, Jim's voice came across my radio.
- "…mn it <name>, this isn't funny. I'm putting this in the logbook."
- "Rover to base, repeat your last."
- "Oh… now you respond. I'm still going to write everything down. I'm not some frat boy you can haze on his first time out."
- "Um… roger. I'm headed to base now, I'll see you in a minute."
I got to the guard shack a couple minutes later and found the door closed, lights out and Jim wasn't inside. Thinking we just lost power, I opened the door to hit the light switch when I hear something roll out the door and into the gravel at my feet.
I bent over and picked it up. It was Jim's flashlight.
- "Are you my relief?"
I looked at my radio with mild confusion. I don't even know what game this kid is playing anymore.
A few seconds later, I heard a second chirp from the radio.
- "Are you my relief?"
- "You, by the shack… are you my relief?"
It took me a moment, but I realized that wasn't Jim's voice. I whirled around and looked up at the building. There was a silhouette of a person in the third floor window, last room in the hall.
- "Who is this? You are trespassing on private property. Remove yourself from the premises immediately."
- "But I like it here… I made a new friend."
The silhouette withdrew from the window.
- "I am calling the police. You are trespassing and have damaged private property."
I reached into the guard shack and grabbed my backpack and pulled out my cell phone. I called the local non-emergency number and reported that I had a trespasser and requested assistance in removing him. The dispatcher said they would be there in 10 minutes, so I hung up and called my supervisor to let them know that we had to call the police for a trespasser (I think I called him an "aggressive" trespasser). Once off the phone, I looked around and realized I had no idea where Jim was. I walked over to the outhouse. Empty.
I started to cue up my radio again, but then realized the crazy dude clearly had his own radio and was just listening to us anyway. I didn't want to feed him any more info than I had to.
About 15 minutes later, I see police lights (no sirens) driving slowly up the road toward the site. I open the gate and let him drive up to the shack. I am in the middle of describing everything that I'd seen so far when my radio came to life again.
- "I am ready to be relieved."
The officer looked at me with confusion and I shrugged. "I think the guy has a radio with our frequency. He's been saying random stuff all night."
- "I said, I am ready to be relieved. You know the next part, Jim."
- (Jim's voice, very whispered) "I… I relieve you."
- "I stand relieved. Ckkkkkkkkkkshhhhhhhhkkkkk…"
- "Jim? Jim, are you alright? Did you find the trespasser? Where are you?"
- "Jim, come in."
A scream tore through the silence. Both the officer and I immediately ran toward the buildings. It sounded like it was from the left building, so I veered that direction. I got to the door, pulled it open and stepped back to let the officer go first (he had the gun, after all), when I realized he wasn't behind me.
I stepped back and looked around. The officer was nowhere to be seen. I guessed he went in the other building.
Well, shit… I'm not going in without a weapon with a crazy person potentially inside. I jogged over to the right building and pulled open the door and ran inside. I got to the stairwell and pulled the door open and listened for the officer's footsteps.
Where the hell…
A second scream pierced the night. I was certain it came from the other building this time. And I was certain it sounded like Jim. It sounded like… from the roof?
I charged up the stairs, taking them two at a time. I was out of breath when I reached the roof door, but I didn't care. Pressing the handle down, I shouldered the door open and ran outside holding my flashlight like a bat.
But the roof was empty. Well… mostly empty. There was something on the ground over near the edge. I walked over cautiously. About 5 feet away, I realized it was a radio. It had been smashed and was in at least a dozen pieces.
A flash of light from the ground made me blink and cover my eyes a moment. I side stepped and looked over the edge. The officer was on the ground with his Maglite shining right at my face. He called something out, but I didn't understand what he said.
The officer lowered the light and I noticed what had drawn him to that spot. There was a jumble of plastic, the kind used to cover build materials in the rain and block off the deeper trenches. In the middle of the pile was twisted body of a man.
I pulled back from the edge, suddenly dizzy and a bit nauseous. I stumbled back a few steps and then collapsed to the ground.
- "I am here to relieve you."
- "I am here to relieve you."