I wrote the following story especially for Halloween. It was originally published on the Sternenwanderer as part of a Halloween series.
Terrible things happen on the Cargo Deck. A story for Halloween.
With trembling hands, Maria pressed the display. She left a sweaty fingerprint above the lettering “Cargo Deck”. With a jerk, the elevator started moving. No, Maria didn’t want to be here. But the supervisor had insisted that the service desk was staffed. Just in case someone would come by. But who would come? No one dared to go to the cargo deck since the horror had begun.
It had started a few weeks ago. At first, only a few food containers had been broken into. Whoever it was had raided the food like a wild beast. Then the first people disappeared. The authorities were not interested. The warehouse workers who disappeared were not citizens. They were civilians, second-class citizens. Civilians did not have the same rights as citizens. They were not even allowed to vote for the new emperor. In short, it didn’t matter.
The elevator door opened with a squeak. With a cautious step, Maria crossed the threshold. It almost looked as if she were unsteadily crossing a deep canyon. To her right was the warehouse with the large containers. A dim light illuminated the huge hall. The containers were only dimly visible. The service area in front of her, on the other hand, shone brightly like a sports stadium in floodlight. Still, it didn’t give her a feeling of security.
Maria took a deep breath and walked quickly. She wanted to get to her workplace as quickly as possible. Just away from the passage to the warehouse, this dark opening that almost seemed like a portal to the underworld. Maria had already made it halfway when she saw something in the corner of her eye. A movement, nothing specific, rather a change in the lighting conditions. She faltered and looked to her right into the warehouse. There was something by the containers, or was it behind the containers? She thought she saw a shadow on the wall. Only briefly, a vague flash of a dark spot. She stared into the twilight, unable to move. Then she ran off into the light of the service area.
When she was finally at the service counter terminal, Maria took a deep breath. She hadn’t really seen anything, had she? It had probably just been her imagination. At least that’s what she tried to tell herself. The stories and events of the past weeks made her imagination run wild. Maria turned around and tried to focus on the numbers on the terminal. The elevator and the passage to the warehouse were now behind her. She could not see what was happening behind her back.
Maria was typing in a few numbers when she suddenly froze. She thought she heard heavy breathing. It sounded as if someone had sucked air through a metal mask. Filled with fear, Maria closed her eyes. Her fingers curled around the edge of the terminal until her knuckles turned white. Maria didn’t move, she didn’t breathe, she pretended to be dead. The seconds passed. It was as if someone had paused a movie. Then a metallic sound, a squeak. In her mind’s eye, Maria saw claws scraping across the hull of a cargo container.
Horrified, she dropped to the floor. She took cover behind the counter, pressed her head between her knees and put her hands protectively over her head. Then she heard footsteps. They came closer and closer until they stopped just on the other side of the counter. Someone leaned down over the counter toward her. Then Maria felt a breath on the back of her neck.
“Maria, what are you doing?”
Puzzled, she lifted her head and looked up with tears in her eyes. “Oh, Paul, it’s you. I thought….”
Paul deliberately tried to look nonchalant. “Did you see a ghost? It was probably a good idea to come by to check on you.”
In a shaky voice, Maria said, “Paul there is something. In the warehouse. I’m sure of it.”
Paul turned his head and looked toward the entrance of the warehouse. “I’ll go take a look. I’m sure you imagined it. I’ll be right back.”
After a few steps, Paul had disappeared into the darkness of the hall.
Maria listened tensely. She tried to perceive every change in the air molecules. It was so quiet that Maria thought she could hear the rush of her blood in her veins.
“Paul?! Paul, are you still there? Say something!” With shaky knees, Maria finally headed toward the warehouse herself. “Paul, is there something?”
She reached the hall. Slowly her eyes became accustomed to the darkness.
In front of her was an open space. At the edge she saw containers stacked so high that she couldn’t see all the way to the top. However, she did not see Paul. Maria stopped and listened into the darkness. Not a sound could be heard. Then she spotted something like a passage between two containers further back. It was not much more than a dark hole in the darkness. She walked towards it. Sure enough, there was a gap. Maria felt her way between the two containers with her hands. Her heart was beating up to her throat. When she reached the end of the container, the passageway turned to the left. Cautiously, she peered around the corner. The passage continued for a few more feet, then made a right turn. A faint light could be seen from there.
Maria gathered all her courage and cautiously walked on. One step after the other. She tried not to make any noise and breathed as shallowly as possible. When she arrived at the light, she stopped in amazement. There was a room in front of her. She looked at a game console, a refrigerator, and a sofa. There was a lot of trash lying around. It almost looked like someone was living here. Maria had been working on the cargo deck for a while now, but she knew nothing about it. Whoever the occupant was, he was not here. Then she heard someone behind her. All at once, all the pent-up air and tension came out of her.
“Paul, thank God.”
Maria turned around.
Relief abruptly gave way to sheer horror. Her eyes were wide in panic. Standing before her was a figure in an old, makeshift space suit that had been patched together. Under the hood, she saw wrinkled, almost inhuman skin. It appeared to be as makeshiftly stitched together as the spacesuit. A metal mask was over its mouth and nose, and its eyes were covered with black glass. Nothing about this being appeared human.
The silence of the cargo deck was shattered by a loud, shrill scream. The echo still reverberated off the walls seconds later. Then it was dead silent, at first. Finally, a soft giggle could be heard from behind the containers, growing louder and louder.
“Trick or treat!” said Paul, taking off his mask.
There was a loud clap as the flat of Maria’s hand hit Paul’s cheek.
“You idiot, how could you scare me like that.”
Paul couldn’t hold back his laughter.
“Sorry Maria, I’ll buy you a drink tonight. Let’s go back to the service desk.”
Paul and Maria were about to start walking when they heard a deep and menacing growl.