A Tech Writer’s Halloween Tale

Our first story for Tech Writer Halloween Horror Stories Week.  This week we’re celebrating Halloween and the scary, nee terrifying, things that happen to technical communicators.

It was a dark and stormy night and we had to work overtime. Our deadline was only an hour away and the chief engineer had just been found unconscious in his office with suspicious bite marks on his neck. My name is Joe Tech and I work the Publications detail for Big Bucks World Manufacturing. This is the horrific story of the most

horrific project ever. We had gone to Frank the Engineer’s office in search of the massive amounts of missing information we needed to complete our task when we found him. None of us were prepared for the sight of his pale, lifeless body. But then, Frank always looked pale and lifeless. It wasn’t the first time we found him on the floor either. This time was worse than the others, though, because he had two bloody holes in his neck and he was dead. Oddly enough, he seemed to have more color than usual. My partner, Tom Gannon, already on edge, started to lose control.

“Frank! Frank! Where are those specifications??” screamed Tom as he violently shook Frank’s limp carcass.

“Give it up, Tom,” I said, trying to get him in a calmer state, “it’s too late for Frank…and probably for us too.”

“What are we going to do Joe? What are we going to do?”

Tom, now starting to sob softly, appeared to be on the verge of a total collapse.

“Steady Tom. We’ll just have to go up the ladder to our boss, Arnold Benedict, and plead for more time.”

If only my insides were as calm as my words. There was a knot forming in my stomach as we climbed the stairs to Benedict’s office. The trip was never a pleasant one, but this time a feeling of impending doom made it feel even worse. Benedict’s back was to us as we arrived at his doorway.

“Come in gentlemen,” said the voice in an eerily strange tone, “I’ve been expecting you.”

“Frank’s dead,” said Tom in a voice shaking so much the words barely came out.

Benedict just started laughing at the statement. That is when he turned and we saw his fangs,  Frank’s blood still dripping off of them.

“You fools!” laughed Benedict, “I started sucking the life out of you when I imprisoned you in those poorly lit gray cubicles years ago. Now it’s time to finish the job!”

“Quick Tom, to the stairs!” I shouted, already three steps out of the door.

We ran as fast as we could, but wherever we turned, the cold-blooded sound of laughter still echoed in our ears. Thinking fast, we ducked into the warehouse, unfamiliar territory for all of us. Or so we thought.

“Let’s try that door,” said Tom.

There it was before us, a heavy, steel door that looked tougher than any battleship. Neither of us knew what lie beyond that door, but whatever it was seemed like our only hope at that point. We both felt safer with the thunderous noise of the massive door latching shut behind us, yet the smell of fear was still in the air. Or was it?

“What’s that strange smell?” asked Tom.

Taking a deep breath, old memories came flooding back to me as I replied, “I know that smell. It’s from the old days. It’s rubber cement.”

Along with the smell came sad, groaning noises in the distance.

“Is someone there? Please make it stop. Make it all go away.” The voice was accompanied by continual sobbing.

With wide-eyed fear, Tom slowly asked, “Do you think we should check it out?”

“Of course we do. Really, how much worse could things get?” If only I were as brave as I sounded.

We inched our way back a dark hallway, approaching the dim bulb that was the only source of light. That’s when we saw him. He was an old man, sitting at a drafting board, sleeves rolled up and his shirt soaked in sweat.

“The changes…keep coming….won’t stop….please make them stop….please help me,” sobbed the old man uncontrollably.

“There, there, old-timer. It’ll be alright. We’ll help you if we can.” Those words seemed to calm him down a bit. “Who are you? What’s your name?”

“My names Ryan Harold. I’m the Senior Technical Writer here, working on Project Weasel,” said the old man.

Tom turned to me, a puzzled look on his face. “Isn’t Project Weasel the one we heard about that got cancelled over twenty years ago?” Tom turned to the old man and asked, “How long have you been here Mr. Harold?”

The old man thought a bit and replied, “I really don’t know. What year is it?”

It all started becoming clear to me. “I think I know what’s going on. Remember how Benedict said how he had us imprisoned in our cubicles? Apparently we weren’t his first prisoners.”

At the mention of Benedict’s name, the old man came alive. “Benedict? Arnold Benedict? Is that mule-faced scum of the earth here too? He’s the one that keeps sending this endless string of Change Notices my way. I’ve had enough! I say we get him!”

I just looked at the old man. “That’s easier said than done. Evidently he’s a vampire.”

Oddly enough, the old man didn’t look surprised. He just shook his head. “Well that explains a lot,” he said. “I think I know how we can take care of him, too.”

We both looked at this rejuvenated old man with amazement.

The old man continued. “See that stylus there? The tip is silver!”

He noticed our blank stares.

“You know, a stylus, for rubbing numbers on our artwork when it’s glued on the repro boards.”

Our blank stares continued. This old guy was speaking a foreign language now.

“Geez, kids,” the old guy muttered, “Listen guys, I think I know how we can take care of Mr. Arnold Benedict. Just let me set things up.”

We watched with awe as Ryan Harold set up his trap. He embedded the thing he called a stylus in something else he called a rubber eraser and glued them to the floor with the silver tip up. Next, he poured several gallons or rubber cement on the floor leading up to the stylus.

 “Okay guys, the way I see it, Benedict will come running through the door, get his feet caught up in the glue, and fall right on the stylus. Just in case, take these T-squares, they should double as crosses if this doesn’t work.” It seemed like the old man knew what he was doing, even though most of what he was saying seemed like crazy talk.

I carefully opened the door and shouted out, “Benedict will never find us in here! Let’s go!”

Sure enough, just like the old man said, Arnold Benedict rushed through the door. Before he could stop, his feet stuck in the glue, and just like the old man had planned it, he fell forward right on the tip of the ancient stylus which pierced his heart.

Gasping his last gasp, Benedict uttered his last words. “This will adversely affect your next Merit Review, Mr Harold,” growled Benedict as he slowly faded into a pile of dust, trapped forever in a glob of rubber cement.

“Well, that’s that,” said the old man. Tom and I both turned at the same time first with surprise and now with shock. We had turned to see why the old man’s voice suddenly sounded different and we were now seeing a much younger man.

“Ryan! You’re young again!” we both shouted at the same time.

Ryan Howard just looked at us, grinned and said, “I guess the Benedict curse is broken. Do you guys think it’s too late for me to get out of Technical Writing and into Marketing?”

Maybe it was the adrenaline flowing or the fumes of the rubber cement talking, but all I could say in answer to that statement was, “Ryan, I think you better stay out of Marketing. The world already has enough zombies roaming around.”

Dana Ford

Dana Ford, a 30+ year veteran of the Tech Writing struggle for respectability, has managed to use the Technical Writing craft to pay the bills and support a family of six in the mountains of Pennsylvania. In his spare time, he works on classic muscle cars and his dream of the great American novel.

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