When I was 20, I took a job to earn pocket money while making up for my earlier underachievements at the local community college. My new employer was one of those full-service residential cleaning companies; I won’t say which one, so, to protect the innocent, let’s just call it CleanBro. I was one of two types of people who worked the mops for CleanBro: 20-year-old punks who had spent high school in the bottom of a bong, like myself, and 40-year-old losers who didn’t care how dirty they got during the day, so long as they could afford to wash themselves off in cheap beer at night. There were also plenty of upstanding folks in the profession, but they tended to sign on with companies that cared more about their employees’ work ethic and less about the kind of documentation that come standard with being born here. Unlike the competition, CleanBro exclusively hired drop-outs and burn-outs because we worked for peanuts, and because corporate seemed to have a knack for attracting government scrutiny. For both groups, then, cleaning up other people’s messes was something to do while running away from our own. Everyone came to the job from somewhere less than ideal, and most folks left it for pastures that were no greener.

Clean-up jobs came in a pretty wide variety. The most common one was picking up after a kitchen fire. Some sleep-deprived stay-at-home mom would put dinner on the stove, then nod off on the couch. The smoke alarm would blare and give the kids a good fright, but everybody would make it out safe. The fire department would hose it all down with gray water, leaving behind a colossal mess of smoke-stained ceilings, water-logged drywall, shattered drinking glasses, and smashed dishware. Once the claims adjuster had taken his look, the homeowner would call CleanBro, and I’d roll up in my company van and company overalls to spend the day scrubbing soot off windows, prying up cracked tile, and sucking ashes into the world’s most powerful shop-vac. The next day, carpenters would swoop in and put the whole thing back better than new. With the insurance payout, half these houses had nicer kitchens by the time all was said and done, and I usually got a pretty good tip for my trouble.

Some of the cleaners refused to work anything worse than a fire rehab or flood restoration, but as a young fellow I liked to think I could stomach anything, so I ended up taking a lot of the worst jobs, too. For example, every couple of weeks, CleanBro got called to work a suicide scene. Now, it’s not as bad as you think. By the time I pulled up in the van, the coroner had picked up the body, the cops had asked their questions, and the forensics team had scraped together whatever evidence they were going to. At that point, the homeowner was usually left with little more than some bad memories and a stain, and it was my job to scrub out the stain.

The more considerate ones left hardly any mess at all, choosing the bathtub for their final resting place before cutting their wrists or swallowing a handful of pills. Sometimes there would be a dark ring revealing the tub’s last high-water mark, but usually there was no sign at all of what had happened there. Still, the homeowner would normally have me pull out the tub entirely, leaving behind a hole that they’d fill with something new. I guess they didn’t like the idea of taking a shower or bath in the same place where a loved one lay dead and decaying for hours, days, maybe even weeks before being discovered. They hired me because, in my area, a lot of regular contractors can’t touch a tub that’s had a dead body in it, owing to occupational health regulations, but as a CleanBro cleaner I had all the necessary training and safety gear to touch dirty things.

Some of the dead were less polite, though. Folks who went in bed, which included a lot of elderly types taking the natural way out, left behind a pretty big mess on the sheets and mattress from the various liquids that tend to exit the body upon death. Blood and vomit were pretty common additions from the cutters and overdosers respectively. The clean-up involved little more than wrapping everything in plastic and hauling it out for a proper biohazardous-waste disposal, a service CleanBro provided for a reasonable fee.

Then, there were the really rude people. The ones who decided to swallow a bullet because it’s quick. They tended to take the longest to mop up. I’ll spare you the details beyond that. Worse than the mess itself was the thousand-yard stare on the face of the spouse or parent who had the misfortune of discovering the body and seeing their loved one in that state. You just knew those people would never be the same inside again.

Now, if all of that makes you reconsider your professional choices for a career in cleanup duty, perhaps you’ll think again when I tell you this tale.

I had been working at CleanBro for about a year when I got sent on a job early one morning. My boss didn’t give me any details, just the address and a work order with the phrase “basement deep clean,” telling me someone would explain it to me when I got there. Vague instructions were always a bad sign. I packed up one of the boxy CleanBro vans with the full set of gear, then headed out. The place was hard to find, tucked off a back road in the woods at the edge of town, and satellite navigation was barely a thing yet, let alone GPS-enabled smartphones.

After making a few wrong turns, I figured I was in the right place when I spotted one of my fellow cleaners, Kurt, waiting in a driveway by his beater Civic. It wasn’t unusual for folks to get called in straight from home to work a rush job on their day off. Kurt was that other kind of CleanBro cleaner, the 40-year-old burnout. Fortunately, he was reasonably reliable, preferring to stay sober at least until the job was nearly done. He was smoking a cigarette while some slick 30-something in a suit, holding a binder, was shouting and waving excitedly at him.

I recognized the guy: a real estate agent for a local bank that often hired CleanBro to make foreclosures presentable before putting them on the market. Those jobs were some of the worst, even though there was rarely any blood or gore. Instead, we had to deal with the knee-deep residue of evicted hoarders, or work without lights and running water where drug addicts had ripped out wires and plumbing to sell for scrap, or risk getting shot by a disgruntled ex-homeowner looking to exact revenge on whatever poor schmuck was standing on “his property” at the behest of “that fucking bank.” I was almost relieved when I recognized the house as a different case entirely.

About six months earlier, it came to light that a bunch of disappearances throughout the state had been the work of some local psycho who was using his basement as an abattoir. The evening news had run a shot of the killer’s house to introduce a couple weeks of nightly updates on the story. “Such a normal fellow,” his neighbors had told the cameras. “So clean,” they said. I had been with CleanBro for a few months at the time, and the reports made me wonder if I had learned enough about removing stains to make a murder scene vanish completely, but by now I was a pro. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a big job after all.

Besides, they’d already found the guy hanging from his basement ceiling, so at least there was no chance of being the next lucky contestant in his game. The cops had gotten a break in the case when a student at the college dodged an attempted kidnapping. They released a pretty good sketch to kick off a statewide manhunt. The police had gotten some leads in the area, convenience store clerks whose stories were backed up by grainy security video. They started canvassing the area, someone found a front door standing open and nobody at home, and I imagine they started peering through windows until they spotted some “probable cause.” Once they realized what they’d stumbled across, the cops must have figured their suspect opted for a literal noose over the figurative one that was drawing tight around him.

The real estate agent spun around when he heard my van pulling up the secluded driveway and flashed a look of relief before turning red again in agitation. He was already yelling at me before I had the van in park, squeezed between Kurt’s Civic and a silver coupe that screamed “self-indulgent prick.” I calmly stepped out, walked to the back of the van, and began unloading the gear while he blathered something about having booked us weeks ago, something about an open house in two days, something about lawsuits, and something about hard-working red-blooded Americans instead of lazy goddamn immigrants. “Got here as soon as I was called, sir.” “We’ll work as quick as we can, pal.” “Way above my paygrade, guy.” Go fuck yourself, I didn’t say.

The real estate asshole led me, Kurt, and our gear up the masonry exterior steps, through the front door, down a hall, and into the kitchen where the entrance to the basement was. He tried the knob, which turned, but of course the door was stuck. I could tell this guy didn’t really want to be here, and I couldn’t wait to see him go, either. I was about to volunteer to try when Kurt spoke up. “Let me see if I can open that for you, sir,” he said, in that way a lifelong service slob like Kurt could be literally respectful while implying the deepest loathing imaginable. The agent seemed inordinately relieved as he stepped back all the way to the entrance to the kitchen, as if ready to sprint back to his Audi. I instinctively braced myself as Kurt gave the door a single, sharp shove in just the right spot, popping it free and releasing the most unholy smell imaginable.

I reeled backward, my eyes watering, my stomach and my throat fighting over which direction my half-digested breakfast was meant to go. I kept it down and blinked away the tears as I heard Kurt wheezing for breath through his tobacco-stained lungs. For a moment, I envied his burnt-out sinuses, since he seemed only barely fazed, while I was on the verge of passing out. Before I could recover fully, I heard the agent snap that we had to be out by tomorrow at 10, in time for the house-stagers arrived to turn the basement cesspit into a cozy game room or some shit. And then, with the audible bark of four turbocharged cylinders, the real estate asshole was gone.

Kurt and I put on our masks, which helped enormously with the smell. The HEPA filters pulled anything biohazardous out of the air, although you could still tell something had died down there. I descended the narrow basement steps and found a pull-chain dangling from the ceiling. I gave it a tug and was disappointed with how little effect it had. The killer had apparently decided to do his part to save the earth by installing one of those new helical compact fluorescent light bulbs, the kind that take a while to warm up. In its weak greenish light, combined with the dim morning sun filtering through a row of six-inch-high basement windows, the room looked like a pretty unremarkable basement: a gray concrete rectangle with a few round, steel posts supporting the joists above. Kurt awkwardly passed a heavy lighting rig down the stairs to me, and I plugged it into an outlet on the wall, pumping 2000 watts of halogen glory into the concrete room. I immediately wished I hadn’t.

Under the dim fluorescent light, the floor had just been a gray plane, and the room was full of shapeless gray furniture. Our artificial sun had revealed that I was, in fact, standing on a pool of dried blood that was nearly the size of the house’s entire foundation, and there were tables and power tools around -- anything too big to fit in an evidence bag -- that were equally coated in what I could only guess were tiny bits of human remains. Again, I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say, I was glad we had full-body plastic suits to wear for this kind of job.

“Takes a long time to make a mess this big,” Kurt muttered as he reached the bottom of the stairs and turned slowly to take in the view.

Kurt and I got to work, and after a little while, I barely even noticed the noxious smell leaking in through my mask. We laid out drop-cloths to avoid tracking gore around. We wrapped the soiled furniture and tools in plastic to haul away. We found the bulkhead door up to the back yard, but it was padlocked shut, so we broke our backs pulling things up the narrow steps to the kitchen, looking like germaphobic movers as we emptied the basement onto the front lawn. The day wore on and, as we took our lunch break, a CleanBro disposal truck stopped by to pick up the large bio-contaminated debris.

The driver was a friend and had picked up some subs for us on her way over. Kurt scarfed down baloney and American cheese on white, but I didn’t have much appetite for my chicken parm. When he’d finished eating, Kurt lit a Marlboro Red from his bright orange Zippo and was in a surprisingly cheerful mood despite this being by far the nastiest call I’d ever worked. He told me all about his less-than-illustrious career in clean-up, how he’d been cleaning for twenty years and worn the overalls of half as many different companies throughout the region, a note of nostalgia in his voice. Making the biggest messes disappear gave him a kind of satisfaction that I, at the time, couldn’t quite muster. I’d never seen Kurt so chatty, but I was content to let him talk himself out before returning to the task at hand.

We hit things hard after that, hoping to finish the job without having to come back ass-early the next morning to make our deadline. Our boss at CleanBro always showed appreciation when we made one of our bank clients happy, since they offered plenty of the toughest but most lucrative jobs. All the big stuff was out, and the layers of caked-on blood were starting to wear away under the industrial solvents we had deployed. Between opening the basement windows and setting up a massive industrial fan blowing down from the top of the steps, we’d managed to clear the worst of the fumes. The mopping was sweaty work in full hoods and masks, and I was starting to feel weak from skipping lunch, so we decided to take them off and risk the air. The smell was now entirely tolerable, although I did catch the occasional whiff of death as the afternoon wore on.

The sun was setting as we started to wrap things up. Thanks to chemistry, mops, and old-fashioned elbow grease, the concrete floor was clean enough that you could eat off it, assuming you had no idea about the horrible crimes that had been committed there. Anything else that had been soiled was either off the property or in the back of the van. Kurt and I nodded agreement at a job well done and then, just as I turned to haul the first load of cleaning equipment back up the narrow basement steps, I heard a sharp pop above my head. I had clipped the fluorescent bulb with a mop handle, shattering it into a fine silver powder that drifted down like snow. Working under the glow of our industrial lamps, I had completely forgotten it was there.

Now, as if there aren’t enough reasons to hate these fucking compact fluorescent bulbs, the damn things have mercury in them that gets out as dust and vapor when they shatter. Most people just vacuum up the dust and broken glass without a thought, which is a great way to spread the poison around your house. As a certified clean-up professional, I had both the training and the sworn duty to do the right thing in this situation, even if it kept me from going home for an extra hour. Kurt smirked at me, shaking his head as he pulled his HEPA mask back on. “That’s all you,” he said, grabbing the shop-vac and hauling it up the stairs. I followed him back to the van with a half-empty bucket of solvent and fetched a sticky lint roller, a fine broom and dustpan, and a jar intended for hazardous chemical waste.

Kurt packed the rest of the equipment into the van while I performed the delicate duties of saving the world from a thousandth of a gram of mercury. Loading in and out were my least favorite parts of the job, and even though it was Friday night I didn’t have much to go home to, so I was pretty slow about it. I timed it so I would finish just as there was nothing left but the lighting rig, and that was the only thing keeping the darkness at bay now that the sun was gone. I swept the final flakes of CFL dust into the jar, then reached up to unscrew the wrecked bulb’s base from the fixture. Just in time, I remembered to tug the pull-chain and switch it off first.

I was sealing the jar’s lid when I heard the snap of Kurt’s Zippo. I was about to admonish him for smoking in a client’s house when I saw he was using its light to get a look at something against the wall, outside the searing beam of our flood-lamp. The better-prepared cleaners carried a penlight with them, but Kurt was more of a travel-light kind of guy. He was poking at some antique furniture that had witnessed the basement’s horrors and escaped unstained. It was clean enough to sell to some depraved collector of serial killer memorabilia, which meant we weren’t supposed to touch it. It’s bad form for a cleaner to snoop through a homeowner’s property, but I guess the poor dead psycho wasn’t going to mind.

“Looks like the cops missed one,” Kurt said, letting out an amused whistle as he stared into a drawer he’d opened in direct contravention of CleanBro policy.

“What?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

Kurt held up a severed finger in his nitrile-gloved hand, giving me a glimpse of it before dropping it into a small bag for biohazardous waste that he’d already pulled from a pouch on his plastic bunnysuit. I guess when the killer is dangling a few feet above a stack of his own victims, the forensics guys feel free to phone it in.

Shaking off my mental image of the spare finger, I brought the jar of mercury-kissed glass shards out to the van, securing it in a chest reserved for the deadliest of deadlies. I wasn’t allowed to carry anything else when transporting something so very dangerous. You’ve got to love policies created solely for corporate liability ass-covering. I’d left Kurt behind, figuring he could bring the lighting rig out when he was done collecting souvenirs. He was taking his time and I remembered just how unwieldy the rig had been when he handed it down to me, so after hanging at the van for a few minutes, I locked its doors -- another inane hazardous chemical waste policy -- and went back into the house to check on him.

Descending the basement steps one final time, I took a deep breath and drew in the smell of victory: absolutely nothing. Then, like the killer who comes back for one last swipe at the hero, a gust of putrid wind hit me in the face. I blinked the tears from my eyes again to see an odd shadow on the wall, tracing the outline of a tall, slender figure, its torso spread to the ceiling and its legs stretching across the floor, the whole shape swaying unnaturally. I was still reeling from the unexpected lungful of noxious air, which was cleared by a chill draft blowing through the concrete room. My pulse quickened as my gaze swept across the space, scanning for some demonic intruder, but saw nothing there. Instead, I spotted a nitrile glove draped over one of the bulb enclosures of the lighting rig, two fingers dangling in front of the beam and fluttering slightly in the draft. The glove was just starting to melt in the searing halogen glare, so I yanked it away before it glued itself to the metal frame. A red smear across the glove's palm turned out to be a message.

“THANKS,” it said.

“Kurt, what the fuck!” I yelled. Cleaners pranked each other all the time on the job, but this had crossed several lines. I scanned the shadows again, expecting to see him doubled over in suppressed laughter, but I was alone. Then I noticed the cool breeze was drifting down from the open bulkhead door up to the back yard.

“How did you get that open?” I asked the empty room, but no reply came.

“C’mon, man,” I whined, hoping Kurt would return to help me. After a few seconds of silence, I pulled out my tiny AA-cell Maglite and unplugged the halogen flood-lamps, leaving myself standing in near total darkness. I held the flashlight in my teeth as I hoisted the lighting rig with both hands, wondering how I was going to get this piece of CleanBro property back to the van without adequate light or help. I wasn’t exactly afraid of the dark, but I did feel kind of vulnerable trying to haul that rig around an unlit basement-slash-murder-factory. On cue, my imagination -- or maybe it was my empty stomach -- supplied a spooky noise, which got me moving toward a shaft of moonlight.

Without help, hauling the lighting rig out via the broad bulkhead door was easier than squeezing it up the kitchen staircase, and with the job done and no other working lights in the basement, I figured there was no point going back inside. I slammed the bulkhead shut and lugged the rig around to the front of the house, just in time to see Kurt’s Civic backing down the driveway, pivoting, and disappearing into the night. It was past our usual CleanBro clock-out time, and my meticulous mercury cleanup procedure had probably made him late for a date with a bottle, but I cursed his ass for leaving like that. I suddenly felt very alone as I ascended the front steps one last time, locked the front door, and tucked the key into the lockbox hanging from the doorknob. There were no exterior lights on, and the neighborhood was sparse and mostly dark. Finding it entirely too quiet, my imagination provided more creep-show soundtrack, and in a moment I was back in the van, reversing up the drive at a dangerous clip.

Given how he’d left me like that, I was almost glad when Kurt no-showed for a fire rehab job a couple days later. Instead, the office called in a pretty pot-head girl who was new to the cleaning game, and I was happy to show her the basics.

Now, it’s not unusual to work with a bunch of different cleaners over the course of a month, but after a few weeks I noticed I hadn’t seen Kurt since that basement job. He had hardly seemed grossed out by it, so it didn’t make sense that he would have thrown in the towel, like I’d seen so many newbies do on their first suicide call. Usually, if you walk off the job, you walk off before you start, not after you’re done. I started to wonder if Kurt had seemed a little too happy with that particular clean-up. He’d been more amused than disgusted by that finger he found and, come to think of it, he couldn’t have tossed it in with the other bio-waste in the van since I had the keys. The freak must have kept it, maybe even used it to write his fucked-up glove note. I started to figure that either I’d witnessed the inspiration of a brand new psychopath, or I’d been the sole guest at his retirement party. His 40-something burn-out look did bear a passing resemblance to that police sketch.

My suspicion grew when, a couple months later, some detectives came to visit me about a fraud investigation centered on Kurt. They told me something about closing his bank account the day after I’d last seen him, something about maxing his credit cards buying easily pawned jewelry, something about abandoning his car at a park on the other side of the state, and something about a lack of friends or family to question. “Couldn’t have been much cash, officer.” “Gold chains weren’t Kurt’s style, detective.” “No idea where he could be heading, sir.” Maybe Kurt’s a serial killer, I didn’t suggest.

The house sat on the market for several more months through a few stagings and open houses, but, thanks in no small part to my efforts, it sold to some family who needed room for all their kids and couldn’t afford a place with a zero bodycount in a good school district. I guess there’s no such thing as ghosts, though, because they stuck around.

I stuck around, too. After I’d worked a few more years at CleanBro, they had a scandal with a crew of cleaners who used small jobs to case for burglaries and big jobs as their roving drug lab. It took the cops long enough to figure out that, by the time they were busted, everyone in the region knew somebody who’d been burned by the “CleanBro Bandits.” The supply of calls dropped off a cliff, and rather than wait for the axe to fall on me, one of their most reliable workers at that point, I used what I’d learned in my community college business classes to put out my own shingle and built a solid local brand doing the same shit work as ever. I still had to put in long hours and get my hands dirty -- a national corporate presence and a cushy executive office suite was still a long way off -- but at least I was getting paid more than nine bucks an hour for my trouble. I actually started to like the work, watching the worst day of somebody’s life vanish into a Hefty bag or swirl down a drain. Business boomed, the town grew, and the woods were chopped down to build suburban subdivisions and corporate office parks. The whole thing with Kurt disappeared into distant memory, never to be resolved, like so many of life's weird coincidences. That's what I thought for the past two decades, anyway.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk when I received an odd call, the kind where the homeowner doesn’t want to give any details over the phone, just an address. A bashful caller is always a bad sign. I recognized the street name and decided to check it out for myself before fobbing it off on one of the 20-year-old drop-outs or 40-something burn-outs that ride my payroll on their way from making whatever mistakes they’re trying to outrun to those mistakes catching up with them. It was the same house where I’d last worked with Kurt, and after two decades working in the region, I found it pretty easily, even without my GPS-enabled smartphone. The neighborhood had grown up around it, and with new windows and a fresh coat of paint, you would never have guessed it was the kind of place a serial killer had called home.

The current homeowner was the oldest child of the couple that had bought the house so many years ago. He was in his 30s now and had kids of his own living there. Most people had forgotten the place’s reputation, but something had come to light that would certainly jog folks’ memories if it got out. He couldn’t afford to dump the house and move, and he didn’t want to stir up anything that would cause trouble for his kids at school or lead them to discover that they were growing up in a slaughterhouse. Basically, he’d been in the basement one day, poking around some old furniture that had been there as long as he had, thinking he’d turn the place into a cozy game room or some shit. He pushed aside a wardrobe from its spot against the concrete basement wall and revealed a steel door behind it, secured with a padlock. With a healthy curiosity and a pair of bolt cutters, he got it open without stopping to consider the basement’s dark legacy until it was too late. A quick glimpse was enough to send him running to call the police.

The cops found a mass grave in there, sealed up airtight for more than a decade. By now, the coroner had hauled off all the bodies, the detectives had asked their questions of the dumbfounded homeowner, as well as his parents, siblings, and wife, and the forensics team had scraped out a bunch of evidence, but they all seemed to be phoning it in again. Mold spores and decay patterns indicated that the small room had been sealed since before the family had moved in, and these were almost certainly the uncounted victims of the home’s previous resident. Nobody wanted to face the embarrassment of having overlooked this much the first time. There were two funny things about it, though, if your sense of humor can abide a stack of corpses entombed in what was now a cookie-cutter suburban development full of smiling children and friendly dogs. Most of the victims had been loaded dead and dismembered, but the one on top had been hit on the head and sealed inside alive, left to suffocate on a stack of rotting bodies over the course of several hours -- a fate surely worse than death, followed by death. Even stranger, the cell had contained an empty bucket of emergency rations that had once held enough packaged food to keep a person alive for almost half a year.

The homeowner led me down into the basement where an unholy smell awakened some long-buried memories in the back of my mind. The sense of smell is said to have a direct line to memory, and this stench forced me to recall an entire day spent down here mopping up the leavings of some psychopath’s extended wet dream. Under the weak bluish glare of the basement’s bare LED bulb, the homeowner pointed out the shape of a wardrobe by the wall, and my heightened memory instantly recognized it. It was sitting just a few feet to the left of where it had been when Kurt and I had cleaned this place out. In its old spot, cut into the concrete wall, there was a steel door, standing slightly ajar and wafting the stench of hell itself into the room. “Oh god, I forgot how bad it is down here,” the homeowner said, retreating to the kitchen and leaving me alone at the bottom of the steps. A lengthy career of solvent fumes and suicide clean-ups had left me reasonably immune to the worse effects of bad smells, but I almost followed him anyway. God I wish I had just followed him and called in Brayden and Malik to do my dirty work, but my curiosity got the best of me.

I pulled out my heavy D-cell Maglite from its loop on my utility belt, gripping it for safety against I-don’t-fucking-know-what, and walked over to that steel door. I checked out the wardrobe first, saving the worst for last. My mind flashed an image of Kurt pulling a severed finger out of one of its drawers with one hand, lit by the flickering glow of a lighter in his other hand. The wardrobe looked heavy, with broad, solid feet, and it probably would have taken a three-man team to pick up and move. Then I spotted the telltale tracks of casters cut into the decades of dust that had fallen since Kurt and I had cleaned the place. Looking back, I realized that there had been no dust to speak of even when we’d started, after the house had been supposedly unoccupied for six months. I gave the wardrobe a nudge, and it was clear: the hulking thing had hidden wheels so it could be slid around easily, and with it no longer flush against the wall, I could even see a small handle bolted into its back.

I turned my attention now to the steel door, cut into the concrete wall, standing about four feet tall. In the corner, there was a brown smear, which I recognized as old blood, as if someone had hit it, or been hit by it, very hard. A streak, about the width of a fingertip, had been smeared through it when it was fresh, but no real attempt had been made to clean it off.

I inhaled deeply through my mouth, tasting that familiar reek, and held my breath, then pulled the handle. Inside was exactly what I’d imagined: plenty of caked-on, congealed, decaying blood, and little bits of nondescript debris, coating the stone walls and floor of a four foot square cell, but nothing that was still shocking after so long on the job. The space was tucked under the house’s front door landing, an easily missed protrusion from the otherwise rectangular foundation.

I leaned in with my flashlight and looked closer, certain there was something to find, something to understand. Brown smudges on the walls could have been illegible writing, or feeble attempts to shift the stones. Someone had spent their last moments awake and alive in here, the final movement in a madman’s symphony, and suddenly that was all I wanted to know.

I let out my breath with a sigh and started to pull back, and that’s when my 1000 lumens of Maglite brilliance caught something bright in the corner of the concrete cell, tucked in by the jamb of the door. I focused my beam on it, taking a moment to resolve the soft edged, rectangular shape and recognize it for what it was. It was an orange Zippo lighter, its lid singed with soot from burning until it ran out of fuel.

Written by EscapeAuteur
Content is available under CC BY-SA

Originally Posted: NoSleep Subreddit

Audio Adaptations: NoSleep Podcast S6E9 (Paid Edition Only) YouTuber CreepsMcPasta

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