The Sound of Fear

Rachel Bournival

Rachel Bournival

Jess Winter locked the main doors and flipped off the switch that lit the large "The Yoga Mat" sign outside. Her coworker had called out sick (again) but she didn't mind closing by herself. It gave her an opportunity to decompress after a long day of customer service and people-ing, plus she got a bit of overtime out of the deal. A win-win situation.

She did quick once-through of the two studio rooms, picking up a couple of dropped towels, and then peeked in the changing rooms to make sure there were no lingering customers or forgotten personal items. A single plastic drinking straw, bent in the middle, lay on the counter in the men's room.

She casually swept it into the trash can, then gathered up the top of the bag to tie it closed.

Thud.

She paused, looking back at the door to the restroom. Had she imagined that?

Leaving the trash bag where it was, she poked her head into the hallway and peered down toward the offices in the back. Silence.

She shrugged, going back into the restroom and picking up the trash once again. She headed back to the laundry and storage rooms, tossing the trash by the back door and the towels into the big industrial washing machine. She would deal with them on her way out.

The women's room was next – no random trash on the counter or the floor. That trash bag joined the first, and then collected her cleaning supplies.

Creak.

She froze. She definitely had not imagined that.

"Hello?" she called into the stillness.

No response.

She walked back toward the front of the studio. "Hello?" she said again. "Gail?" Maybe the instructor had left something behind and come back.

The reception area was empty, the silence full. She rattled the front doors. Still locked tight. She walked back through the studios and peeked around every corner. Nobody there, nothing out of place. She shook her head. Here she was, letting random noises and her overactive brain get the better of her.

Ffffssssssshhhhhh.

That sounded like the sweep of the door at the back, the one with the rubber door guard at the bottom. There had to be somebody here. She crept toward the offices again, her senses on full alert.
Nothing. Nobody.

She sighed, annoyed, and headed for the steam room. I'll just clean this and go, she thought to herself. I can text Gail, ask her to count down the register and do the deposit for me in the morning.

The door to the steam room was down a hallway just after the restrooms. The overhead lights in the area were purposefully dimmed, to help customers relax and feel more restful before and after their time in the wet sauna. But Jess didn't feel like meditating; the lower light made her jumpy and nervous, and she really just wanted to bolt out of the door.

She pushed open the door to the steam room and the hot, dense air billowed out in a visible cloud. She turned the boiler down for the night, then began quickly wiping down the wooden benches with sanitizing solution. The aromatic air clung unpleasantly to her skin and clothing.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

She froze in mid-wipe, her eyes wide. The humidity in the steam room muffled the noise from the rest of the building, and she strained her ears for any hint of sound.

Click-creak. Berrroooooo.

The room was instantly plunged into total darkness. Through the frosted glass of the door, Jess could see that the hallway had no lights either. The power had gone out.

Or been cut off.

Her heart pounded in terror. The boiler had an indicator light and its dim red glow was the only source of illumination. Cautiously, step by quiet step, she made her way to the door. She paused, her palm against the handplate. She took a deep breath and forced herself to calm.

Open the door, go right, then go left, then straight out to the front door!

She pushed gently at the door, and it swung open with only a whisper of sound. Just a few inches – enough to slip through. She left her bucket of cleaning supplies and mop on the floor. She slid silently into the hallway and eased the door closed so it would not make that fwump sound.

Silence reigned. She moved down the hall, her ears alert for any indication that somebody else was nearby. The main hallway ahead was lit with the faintest gray, whatever outside light was leaking in from the parking lot. Just enough for her to make out her position.

She peeked around the corner. Right. Left. Nothing moved in the shadows.

Step. Step.

Her heart thumped and she abandoned all caution as she threw herself toward the left. Toward the reception area and the front door.

Step-step-step-step-step-

Frantically she tugged at the keys in her pocket, fumbling to get the right one out, to unlock the door.
She slammed into the glass, the key in her hand, already fitting it into the lock.

The touch of cold metal on the back of her neck.

Click-click.

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