Short Stories: The Watchman

There were two chairs in Doctor Greene’s office. In one, sat Doctor Greene herself, dressed in grey trousers and a pale pink blouse. Professional but approachable. In the other chair, sat Daniel, his feet together, his hands clasped in his lap.

“What about your sleeping?” Doctor Greene asked the boy. “Did you try the exercise we discussed? Imagining turning off all the lights in a building, one-by-one?”

Daniel nodded, frowned, and then said: “Well, kinda.”

“What do you mean, Daniel?”

“I pictured a building, but it wasn’t me turning the lights out.”

“Who was it?”

Daniel didn’t answer. He kept his gaze focused on the floor between them.

“Was it…him?”

Daniel nodded, still not looking up.

“How did that work for you?”

“Alright, I guess. I slept a little after that.”

There was a moment of silence then. Thick. Almost palpable.

“Were you there at all?” Doctor Greene asked. “When you imagined him? Where you there too?”

“Yes.” Daniel said.

“Good.” Doctor Greene said. “That’s good.”

* * *

The night watchman had, once again, completed his nightly duties. Daniel met him again, on the twelfth floor.

“How did you get in here?” The watchman asked while the elevator made its way up to them. “Come on now. I’ll let you out.”


The watchman entered; Daniel followed and rattled the ‘door close‘ button with one finger, this time without even waiting to see if they would close on their own.

“Come on now, son. There’s no need for that.” The watchman said. He stopped. The doors closed. The elevator descended.





“I have two children.”



“Two little girls.”




“I’d sure like to go home to them tonight.”





The elevator jolted with a thud. The doors opened on the brightly lit foyer. Daniel stared for a moment, confused. He looked up at the watchman who continued to face forward, not moving. Daniel stepped out of the elevator car and into the foyer. He took slow, cautious steps, as though he expected the floor to crack at any moment. Suddenly, Daniel was startled by the sound of the doors sliding shut behind him and he turned just in time to see the watchman disappear behind them and the elevator began to go up again. Daniel watched the digital display above the doors as they counted up to 10 and then stopped there. He ran for the stairwell and rushed up the stairs to the tenth floor.

The lights on the first nine floors were off and all Daniel could see outside the stairwell doors was brooding darkness. On the tenth, however, all of the lights were burning and humming their incessant hum. Daniel wandered around the rooms of the tenth floor but could find no trace of the watchman. He checked the eleventh and then the twelfth. Both brightly lit, both completely deserted. He tried flicking the light switches but found that they did nothing. The fluorescents continued to hum.

Back in his bed, Daniel opened his eyes and looked at his dark ceiling.

There would be no sleep for him tonight.

* * *

“You look exhausted.” Doctor Greene observed as she sat down in the chair opposite Daniel. “What happened to the exercise.”

Daniel shrugged.

“It hasn’t been working for the last few nights.”

“You mean you were still awake at the end of the exercise?”

“I mean I can’t even complete the exercise! I get to the bottom and the damned guy goes back to the top and switches the lights back on.”

Doctor Greene frowned.

“This is your imagination you’re talking about?”

“Yes. I mean, no. I don’t know! I just know that every time we get to the bottom and the lights are off, he goes back to the tenth floor and I can’t stop him.”

“The tenth floor.” Doctor Greene repeated. “Do you have any idea why that floor in particular?”

Daniel shrugged. Doctor Greene sighed and leaned forward in her chair, her elbows on her knees.

“Daniel, we’ve been meeting now for almost five weeks and I think you’ve reached a point where we can speak honestly.”

Daniel dropped his gaze to the floor. Doctor Greene reached out a hand, placing a gentle finger beneath his chin, and lifted the boy’s head.

“Look at me when I talk, Daniel.” She removed her hand; he kept eye-contact. “Any denial you were in when you first got here, you are no longer in. Any memories you tried block out, however hard you tried, you couldn’t do it. You remember and you need to face it. You know why you can’t sleep and I think that, until you force yourself to re-live and accept what happened that night, you’ll never sleep soundly again.”

Daniel held her gaze, but did not reply. His bottom lip quivered, barely noticeable, but it was Doctor Greene’s job to notice.

“So, tell me.” She said to him. “Tell me everything that happened that night.”

Daniel’s eyes became watery. Doctor Greene sat back in her chair and crossed her legs, waiting. The boy’s hands were kneading one-another in his lap.

He began to speak, slowly and deliberately at first, then in an outpour. He told her everything.

* * *

Daniel let himself into the building around five. So many people were leaving that nobody really noticed him. This was how Kenny had said it would be. He made his way to the top floor, twelve, headed straight for the men’s toilets and locked himself in the furthest cubicle away from the door.

‘Then alls you have to do is wait.’ Kenny had said. ‘By six, that floor will be totally empty. It always is. Then you come out and go straight for the room at the end of the corridor. Find work-station twelve-seventeen and bust the desk open. Somewhere in that desk will be a data-stick, if there’s more than one, take ’em all. Then you wait until dead on seven and make your way down the stairs and out the front door. The security guy makes a round of the building every hour on the hour, he’ll be in the elevator while you’re running down the stairs. Keep your face covered and if you run into trouble, you know what to do. Don’t fuck this up, kid. You have no idea how important this is to me.’

It was such a simple plan, but life doesn’t give a fuck about your plans.

Daniel had emerged from his toilet-cubicle just after six and headed for the room Kenny had described. He was already in the large, open-plan, office suite when he realised there was still a guy sitting at a desk on the other side of the room. The guy was facing the other way, giving Daniel the chance to roll beneath the nearest desk and pull the chair across to cover himself. Now he had to wait for this guy to leave.

It was eight when the guy finally strode out of the office. Daniel waited an extra few minutes to make sure he wouldn’t come back and then he rolled out from under the desk and set about finding work station twelve-seventeen. It was easy enough, the desks were in numerical order and twelve-seventeen was near the door. He shrugged the backpack off his shoulders and pulled out the crowbar Kenny had given him. He busted the desk drawers open, just like Kenny had showed him. They each made a loud, splintery crack as they popped open. In the bottom drawer, Daniel found a small box that contained six different data-sticks. He took the box and dumped it into his backpack. He gave the drawers one final turnover to make sure he hadn’t missed anything and then he headed quickly for the door holding his bag in his hand.

He checked his watch. It was 20:13. If the security guard was checking the building floor by floor, he would be up here soon. Daniel ran for the stairwell and began to descend. He made it down two flights before running right into the guard on the tenth-floor landing. They made eye-contact and Daniel froze.

“How did you get in here?” The guard asked. He was an older man, maybe fifty. His hair looked very white in contrast to his black skin. Daniel thought he could outrun him, but he was standing on the stairs, blocking his exit. Daniel remembered what Kenny had told him. He reached into his bag. The security guard had turned his body slightly away from Daniel as though he meant to head down the stairs, but his head didn’t turn and his eyes stayed focused on the boy. “Come on now.” He said. “I’ll let you out.”

Daniel let the bag fall to the floor. He was holding a gun with both hands, his finger planted firmly on the trigger. He pointed it at the guard, whose eyes widened in surprise. Daniel had never pointed a gun at anyone before in his life. It felt a bit like playing a computer game, he thought.

“Come on now, son. There’s no need for that.” The guard said, raising his hands slowly so they were out at his sides. Daniel did not lower the gun. His hands had begun to shake and he felt beads of sweat forming in his lower back. He was going to kill this man. He had to kill this man.

“I have two children.” The guard said, clearly struggling to keep his voice from wavering. “Two little girls.”

Daniel planted his feet, one slightly further back than the other, just like Kenny had shown him.

“I’d sure like to go home to them tonight.”

For a moment, the two just looked at each other in silence. Then there was a deafening crash and the guard crashed backward and down the stairs. Daniel edged forward, still pointing the gun, and saw him lying there, his head turned around at an impossible angle, a crimson cloud spreading across the front of his clean, white, shirt.

Daniel dropped the gun back into his backpack, his hands shaking so badly that he almost missed the opening. He grabbed the bag and ran past the dead guard and down the stairs as fast as his body would allow.

He was tackled three floors down by a cleaner in grey overalls.

* * *

When the session was over, Daniel was escorted back to his cell. Doctor Greene packed her things back into her satchel and headed out of the room. She was stopped in the corridor by a man in a dark grey suit that matched his salt-and-pepper hair.

“So?” The man said abruptly.

“Use your words, Gilbert.” Doctor Greene replied.

“You said he was close to a confession. Did you get it?”

“I got it. I also got a name. Kenny.”

“Kenny who?”

“That’s all he gave me. I tried to press him but he seems genuinely terrified of the guy. He’s scared that Kenny is going to come after him.”

“Well, he’s in the safest place he could be. Locked up where he belongs.”

“He’s a fourteen-year-old kid, Gilbert.”

“He’s a killer. It kills me that he’ll be out before he’s thirty.”

“This Kenny fellow is the one you should be worried about. If you don’t find him, chances are Daniel won’t be the last little boy running round town with a big gun and an immature sense of responsibility. It’s a bad combination.”

“I’ll put out an APB. We’ll find him. You think you can get the kid to identify him, maybe testify?”

“I don’t know. I’ll keep you posted.”

“Please do. I gotta get back to the station.”

“Enjoy your day.” Doctor Greene said, but Gilbert had already disappeared down the corridor.

Doctor Greene made her way outside and crossed the street to her parked car. She thought, fleetingly, of the dead security guard and of his two daughters. She found herself wondering what their names were. Then she shook her head and banished this thought. She was off the clock and she was starving. She thought that she would even have a glass of wine or two with dinner.

We all have our ways of getting to sleep at night. She thought as she dropped into the driver’s seat.

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