The Horror Zine
3 AM
James Marlow

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James Marlow

3 AM

by James Marlow

At 3AM, the mind likes to travel on dark and strange roads. Your thoughts seem more real while your actions have a dream-like quality. It's a time when reality is fluid and drips slowly. It's also a time to tell yourself lies.

Much soul searching has happened at 3AM. It's the beginning of The Tomorrow, as in: “I'm going to quit smoking tomorrow,” or “Tomorrow I turn things around,” and the ever popular, “My diet begins tomorrow!”

These thoughts are easy to swallow at 3AM. If we want to be honest, at 3AM they are the truth. The Gospel. They are words carved in stone by the finger of God. It's only after sleeping that we come to see the truth has turned to lies.

I may be biased toward 3AM. My father died at 3AM. My ex-wife caught me with another woman at 3AM, and I was thrown in jail for the first and only time at 3AM. Also (this may mean nothing or it may explain everything and I'm just not smart enough to figure it out) I was born at 3AM.

I'm a security guard at a warehouse today because I drank and partied too hard in college yesterday. I work the midnight shift because I have the least amount of seniority. The job's a breeze. I sit in a little shack and watch video monitors. Every two hours I walk the warehouse and the grounds looking for anything out of place.

Nothing is ever out of place.

Except at the 3AM walk through.

And I've noticed that the 3AM walk is getting worse.

At first, it was subtle. Just little oddities I could chalk up to being tired or tricks of shadows. I would catch movement from the corners of my eyes. Always just outside my flashlight beam. I'd swing the light to the movement and nothing would be there. Sometimes I would hear faint voices echoing through the building.

And, of course, there was the first time I saw a ghost.

That night, I had thought we had a prowler, so I opened the door to the main warehouse and saw a person walking down the aisle. I yelled at him to stop, but he never turned around. Then he ran, and I pursued, screaming the whole time. Instead of going out to the docks, he turned left and I knew I had him. There was nothing down that way but a dead end. I rounded the corner, flashlight held over my shoulder, still lighting my way but also ready to knock the prowler out, and skidded to a stop when I saw I was alone.

My knees shook and I had to put my hand on the wall to keep from falling. I stood there and took a few deep breaths, replaying the chase. I hated myself for not expecting something like this. The Corps had taught me to be prepared for anything and I should have known 3AM would send the supernatural after me. Then I thought of the thing screaming and I smiled. I had scared 3AM.

3 AM was becoming a thing.

The next night I decided to confront 3AM. After the little adventure the night before I felt I had the advantage. I was wrong.

I had thrown open the door to the warehouse, feeling bold, and yelled at 3AM to talk to me. No more tricks, man to man, or as close as we could. The warehouse greeted me with silence which I had mistaken as a good sign.

My confidence increased as I strutted down the central aisle. I felt nothing, saw nothing and the only sound was my shoes slapping the concrete and my occasional profanity filled taunt. I was, if I do say, one major league Hip Cat.

Until I made it to the loading dock.

There, a semi-truck had burned with a strange black-red flame. I knew it wasn't real; it couldn't be. It was only another trick of 3AM, but I could feel the heat and smell the acrid smoke. I had stood, mesmerized by the strange ghost-fire, then I was falling.

I screamed until my throat bled, a raw animal yell I didn't think could come from a human's mouth. I landed with enough force to shatter bone. Somehow I was able to stand up again and I was amazed I was alive.

But my screams had drawn attention, and dark forms moved towards me. I heard laughter tinted with screams and fell to my knees. As soon as I was down the dark forms swarmed me.

When I was a kid my dad had taken me fishing every weekend. We were in his john boat, anchored under some trees and my rod tore through one of those spider nests you see all over the place. Thousands on tiny spiders rained down on us. I had tried to brush them off, but they were everywhere. If my dad hadn't grabbed me and thrown me in the river I would have gone crazy.

That is what the dark forms felt like, only there was no river; I had no escape.

I had prayed my mind would break but sanity remained. I don't know how long the dark forms were on me. It could have been only seconds, or it could have been days. There was no perception of time. All I know is when the feeling stopped I opened my eyes and was back in my office.

When I pulled myself together I had looked at the clock and saw it was 3AM. I broke a little then; laughter and cries mixed together. The sound reminded me of the dark place with it's creeping things and I shut my mouth.

But 3 AM passed and I recovered until the next night. That next night, I had been more cautious. I could still hear the echo of footsteps but the warehouse seemed more normal, more real than it had for as long as I could remember. I started to relax, thinking maybe 3AM had used all of it's power with the previous display.

I was wrong again.

The entire loading dock had suddenly been covered with those black-red ghost flames. I could see shapes running in the flames. They looked human but it was hard to tell. One shape ran at me and I let out a little scream when I saw it was Bill Lucas, the midnight shift dock foreman. I wanted to run but my legs were frozen.

“You son of a bitch!” Bill had yelled at me, and when he opened his mouth I saw the black-red fire dance on his tongue.

I backed away from Bill, shaking my head. “Not my fault,” I said.

Bill had tried to grab the front of my shirt but his hands were melting. He looked at them, confused, then gave me an accusing stare. And then, of course, 3 AM passed.

But now, it's 3AM more often than not.

I've almost gotten used to the ghost flames and all the screaming people. These nights, I try yelling back at Bill, and telling him that he is getting what he deserves. They all get what they deserve. I often hope that my anger would drive the demons off but it only seems to draw their attention to me. Now all of them run at me. I don't know why I thought I could yell at 3AM and get my way, but it never works.

I am on my third 3AM walk through (I average five a night now), and things seem different. The warehouse is bigger for one. I don't explore all of it; in fact, I am unable to make myself turn from my normal route, but it feels bigger. I pause at the loading door, preparing myself for the ghost flames as best as I can. It is pitch black inside; the flames never burst into life until I enter.

I step through the opening and fall a good four feet to the ground because the docks are gone. I sit on the ground, more amazed that I am unhurt than anything, and stare at where the docks should be.

I can make out the concrete dividing walls that mark the lanes to the big over-head doors, but they are cracked and overgrown with weeds. I can see that the perimeter fence is about a hundred yards closer than it should be. I chuckle, despite my fear. 3AM has outdone itself this time. I give a tip of my hat in the direction of the now-closer fence.

I get up and find my way back to the office, but it too looks old and worn out. The video monitors are off and have thick layers of dust on them. All the windows are broken and my chair is torn and rotten with mold. I am on the verge of panic when I look at the filth-covered clock and see it is 3AM.

Of course, I think, and a warm sense of the familiar washes over me. I am about to go back out for my 3AM walk-through when I hear a voice.

“You don't have to do this any more.”

I spin around. “Who said that?”

“I did,” the voice says and a women appears before me. She looks to be in her forties and is strangely dressed.

“Who are you?” I ask, even though I already know.

“My name is Madame Claire and I've been asked to talk to you.”

“Oh yeah?” I say. “By who?”

“The owners of this property asked me to speak with you. They'd like you to leave.”

That makes me angry. “I work here. If old man Benny wants to fire me he can be a man and tell me to my face.”

She shakes her head and looks sad. “You're mistaken, my friend. You haven't worked here for thirty years.”

I laugh. “That's a good one since I'm only twenty-eight.”

“I wasn't making a joke,” Madame Claire says. “Do you remember the explosion?”

“What explosion?” I ask. A memory tries to surface. I reach for it but grab only pain and creeping darkness.

“On June twelfth, 1981, you drove a semi-truck full of explosives into the loading dock, killing everyone working that night.”

“No,” I say. “That's not true. I wouldn't do something like that. You ask anyone here. I'm a good guy.”

“You had a breakdown and killed sixty people back then, including yourself. Now, you're scaring people. They can't sell this property. They can't even keep a night watchman. No one wants to walk in the warehouse at 3AM.”

I almost believe her. Somewhere a blurry memory of hate floats and I can almost see the surprised look on Bill's face when I slam the semi into the docks.

But two things stop me from listening to her sweet, commanding voice. One is I remember that it is 3AM and that whatever appears to be the truth at 3AM is most certainly a lie. And two, I notice I can see her heart beating.

I smile as I advance. “I know what you are,” I say and reach into her chest.

She screams as I grab her heart. I squeeze and she falls, dead before she hits the floor.

“My name is Henry Dobbins,” I say, standing over the ghost corpse. “I know it's 1981. And I know it's always 3AM.”

James Marlow has been writing fiction in one form or another all his life. He lives with his wife and children in Indiana and is currently working on his first novel.