[WP] An ex-con, working the night shift as a security guard in a hotel, realizes that a CCTV camera in one of the conference rooms is showing 24 hours in the future.

Carl groaned and squeezed his palms against his eyes. It was a long night, like every other night. The bank of monitors in front of him were leftovers from the 1970s, closed circuit to all of the public spaces in the Grand Countenance. Despite it's name, it was really just halfway okay, one block off a dirty interstate, but it was the best job Carl had since getting out of the slam.

The G.C. wasn't a carpet of used needles and beaten prostitutes, so Carl considered the job a move up in the world. Worst he'd ever needed to do was restrain a kid that dropped some shrooms in the public restroom. When the cops came, he almost felt bad for the kid. A a drug rap in your jacket off a harmless high was like getting your foot chopped off for using the wrong restroom. In a few years the kid would be out looking for a job just like him. It was a shame.

Carl blinked. He was ignoring the monitors and getting trapped in his own head. He did a quick sweep with his eyes. As usual, the girl that worked the night desk was flirting with her boyfriend. Kid had his pants down nearly to his knees, leaning forward over the counter on his arms like he wanted to climb over the damn thing. Carl shook his head. Next screen, Carla the night maid was picking up litter in the hallways. Someone had just dumped a pocket of potato chip bags on their way through. Lowlifes. But, still, life as usual.

Next the conference room. But the screen was very dark. It shouldn't have been dark, because it was kept it lit so you could see the table from the lobby. It was to try to lure in traveling business people. Not that the neighborhood had those. Mostly the maid staff used the free photocopying service to send letters home to El Salvador.

"What is going on?" Carl thumped the monitor with his hand and leaned in closer. "Is that…" He whispered, squinting. A foot? On the table? Why was there a foot on the table? Where was the rest of the person?!

Jumping up from his chair, Carl's knees launched it back to slam into the security room wall. There was a rattle of metal and framed certificates. Not a second later, Carl had hauled up his heavy belt and hustled out the door.

A door, a narrow hall, another door, and… He exited into the lobby and looked over to the desk, where the night clerk was chewing gum and making googly-eyes at her boyfriend. "Hey, Tira? Teera? Whatever, call the cops!" Carl yelled and raced around the corner to look through the glass wall of the conference room with his 6 D-Cell Maglite up on his shoulder, ready to crack some skulls.

But…

The conference room was well lit and empty.

"What's going on?" Tyra yelled. "What do I tell'em?"

"No… nothing." Carl shuddered, frowning. "Don't… Don't call yet."

Tyra and her boyfriend came around the corner, looking at Carl and then into the room. "What's going on?" She echoed. "You look like you seen a ghost."

Carl shook his head. "Naw, just… Testing you. Security test." He cleared his throat. "You two been doing everything but making out on that counter over there. Wanted to wake you up and remind you that it's a workday."

Tyra rolled her eyes. "Come on Patrice. Carl's a jerk." She grabbed Patrice by the hand and dragged him back around the corner.

Carl breathed heavily, finally able to let out his surprise. He was shaking from head to foot. What was going on? There was a foot on that table! The lights were off! Trying to keep his cool, he raced back to the security room. Somebody was screwing with him.

On the bank of monitors everything was the same. Although when he leaned in, the camera lens was… dripping… something.

"What in the? Did someone splice the feeds? This has to be a prank. Otherwise its what, some kind of messed up serial killer? Why a foot?" Carl sighed. It was an explosive noise. "What do I do?"

Carl did the only thing he could think of: he traced the line. From the boxes to the wall, into the utility closet, through a wall, and finally the wall adjacent the conference room. But wait, what if Tyra and her waste of space boyfriend were in on this? What if they were gaslighting him? She had access to the conference room. Watching it was literally her job. So he stepped back out into the lobby and confirmed they were at the counter again. Gum chewing, pants dropping, leaning. All the same.

Looking around the corner into the conference room, he stared into the camera. No signs of tamper. So again, back to the security room.

Still a foot. Only the darkness on the lens was smeared. A fingerprint? No. Drying? A pool of blood was spreading across the table. It was like something right out of a horror movie. But next to the table, he spotted the normal potted plants. The same vases. Ugly Chinese knock-offs, but definitely the real deal. Shattered glass on the floor, at the base of where the glass wall should be.

Carl collapsed into his chair and rubbed his eyes again. "What's going on?" He whispered. "The technicians aren't available until morning, but my shift will be over in two hours. Report it? I have to report it." Again, another deep sigh.

"Hell, if I report this and there's no evidence, they're going to drug test me." Carl stared off into space. "That is not good. Ain't on nothin' hard, but… the weed." He tried not to picture going back to jail over a bit of green. Again. He should have known better than to smoke it anyway.

The monitor screen twitched and it was back to normal. Conference room, bright lights, clear glass, ugly vase.

"What in the…"

As Carl leaned in close, it twitched again. Shaking hard, as if the wall the camera hung from was rocking back and forth. Then the glass spraying across the floor. More glass, the wrong shape, skittering across the table. A foot landing on it, tumbling, smearing it with blood that sprayed up at the camera.

"What in the…" Again. "I'm losing my mind? I'm… losing my mind."

Carl lowered his eyes to stare at the desk. "Two hours, Carl. Then you can go home. You ain't seen shit. Got tomorrow off on the swing, going to see the kids, try to kiss the old lady for old time's sake. Ain't. Seen. Shit." But he couldn't unsee it.

The monitor twitched again. The table was clean.

"Argh!" Carl grunted and turned, looking through the old school VHS machines recording the feeds. If he played one, it would stop the recording but he could explain that. Accidents happen. But he needed to know.

Carl tapped stop, and glanced over at the monitor. The feed went out. He hit rewind and the machine screeched, a remnant of times past just like Carl. He hit stop, and then… Play.

Carl spent the next two hours watching the tape. A recording of a clean table, in a clean room, with an ugly vase. Then he went home, but the images stuck with him. He saw the kids, he kissed the old lady, he ate some cake, and he went home.

It was two in the morning when Carl got the call. Carmen, the other night maid. "Mister Carl! It.. something.." She was out of breath.

"What is it, Carmen?" Carl asked. "What's going on?"

"Tyra was hit by a car!" Carmen cried into the phone. "It come through the lobby and hit her! She… she… The police… It's a mess. The supervisor is away! There is an audit. Please… Please, can you come?"

Carl sat there at the edge of his bed, in a cold sweat, and holding the phone to his ear. He sighed again. "Yeah, Carmen. I'll be right there."

At the very least, it was something Carl knew how to handle. It wouldn't be a surprise.


Original

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