by Gabino Joaquin Barcelona
My eyes darken whenever I see Him. And I want to scream, but my mouth remains shut.
He comes around three in the morning, every few nights or so, right in the middle of my shift. I work the counter at a fast-food chain’s small, middle-of-nowhere branch, by a dirtied road that connects the city to the wider provincial areas. Practically no one turns up anymore, though, aside from the occasional Grab driver. Everyone takes the highway, and the yellowed grass leaves remain untouched, the white light of the restaurant washing over.
Until He appeared a few months ago, ever since the start of election season.
I remember dropping a plate when I first saw Him. A man, skin pale as decaying snow, staring at me from outside the restaurant. His tall posture is stiff and still, and his fingers long and rotting like vines from a dying forest. They tap on the glass in erratic motions, signaling his presence. He doesn’t even bother to enter through the doors; He just stands outside, looking at me. But that’s not even the strangest part. The man wears a dilapidated MetroCom uniform, ripped straight from the seventies, every single night.
And He’s there – focusing on me through the large windows. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for less than a minute. I match his stare, and a swelling form deep inside my chest. His mouth presses on the window, breathing raspy breaths and fogging the glass. With each second, I’m pulled closer and closer, like my face is being sucked out of my head. My lungs hitch.
And I try to shout, but my lips can’t move, as if bound in place.
It’s like that until He leaves. I turn, and when I look back, the man is gone in a blink.
Recently, the visits have become more frequent as the election nears. I try to tell the other staff of our skeleton crew, even point directly at the man when he’s there, but all of them either say they don’t see it or call me crazy for believing in evil spirits. Days pass, and I feel like I’m going insane.
My manager, Monica, approaches me one night as I arrange bills in the register. “I heard from the others you’re seeing things,” she says to me.
“You’re here to call me crazy, too, boss?”
Her voice turns grave and a pitch lower. “MetroCom?”
My eyes widen. “How did you—”
“You think I haven’t seen it too after all these years working here? Look, just keep your mouth shut and don’t tell anyone else. The higher-ups in the company want it a secret.”
Monica starts to whisper. “They’ve been terminating employee contracts for the last ten years, since the first sightings started to be reported. For your sake, don’t spread it any further, alright?”
The images of food and electrical bills flash in my mind. I sigh, but don’t answer. Monica pats my shoulder, then leaves after a moment, leaving me to my thoughts.
He appears, then, tapping on the glass. My spine chills. The MetroCom uniform is repaired.
I witness a landslide on election day. As the numbers tally upward, I can only feel His beady stare invading my home. I half-expect Him to be there as I turn a corner. Maybe he is. I just don’t see it.
I arrive for work the next day, the white glow of the restaurant looking even more clinical than usual. The rest of the crew, meanwhile, bear the same quality – detached, and overwhelmingly somber. Monica doesn’t show up.
Throughout the night – I hear faint taps on the glass windows, whisperings behind my ear, and the shuffling of feet. I look around. Nothing.
And I’m left alone for last minute cleaning towards the end of my shift, checking for any misplaced equipment and waiting for the morning staff to relieve me. I end up on my phone as the night turns into an odd lull; no cars pass by, and no early birds chirp their highest note.
But then, footsteps from… behind? My heart stops.
He got in.
I don’t even bother to glance back as I rush to the doors, all the while the sounds of his heavy breathing filling my ears. I try to open them. Locked. How did he—
I turn, and see his pale skin come closer and closer with each slow, weighted step. I feel my face being sucked out of my head.
And I want to scream, but my mouth doesn’t move.
Suddenly, I feel the doors give way, and I stumble out to the grassy roadside. Monica stands there, manager’s keys in hand. She notions me to run with her, and I do so without a moment’s notice, adrenaline pumping through my veins.
I don’t know for how long we run, but when we finally stop, a tinge of sunlight graces the night sky. A few cars speed past.
“So,” she says, panting, “we’re definitely quitting after this, right?”
I nod, still out of breath as well. “Tell the truth – any way we can.”