March 14, 2011

The Midnighters: Shadow of Midnight

For over thirty years, Jerry worked as a police officer in Pittsburgh. In his time on the force, Jerry had seen some bad things, some worse things, and some downright evil things. Cleaning up when people got mad or got crazy was part of the job, but there were other things that Jerry saw, things that most people never see, things that prowl the night, things that refuse to die.

I interviewed Jerry several times in 2002. The following incident is just one of the many stories Jerry shared in hours of audio recordings. I have transcribed them just as they were told to me by Jerry.

“Back in the 60s, the rivers were lined with steel mills and they was chugging away, you know, making steel all day and night. Now, this was before they started closing ‘em up, just before they closed, in fact. Frank and me, we were having a coffee in the car and it was a quiet night, you know, as quiet as it was gonna get, I guess.

“It was just after midnight, I’m thinking, and we get a call over the radio about a problem at one of them mills. Frank and I aren’t too straight about the call and the dispatcher doesn’t seem to want to say too much, but they called us, right? So, we know it’s one of those calls.

“We get to the mill and these things are big, big buildings. Heck, I don’t know where one of them mills ends and the city begins sometimes. It’s spooky, these mills, they’re real loud, you know, but it’s real peaceful at the same time, too.

“The night shift foreman comes out to bring us down to the hot end where they got the furnaces running all the time. He’s an okay guy, but he looks like he seen a ghost, right? Not far from the truth of the thing, but he doesn't want to talk in front of the other guys working up top.

“So, we go down enough stairs that I don’t know where I am no more, and we see this big room like a cave, and there’s the furnaces cranking away, making it hot as hell in there, and it’s real dark even with the fires. I can see a crowd of guys standing around in the shadows.




“The foreman’s not anxious to explain it, but he says there’s somebody broke in, there’s somebody poking around back there, and they want him out. Frank gives me this sideways glance and then he asks the foremen real calm-like, ‘So, can you give me a description of this guy?’

Well, the foreman’s wiping the sweat off his head and it ain’t from the furnace, right? The guys standing around all look the other way. The foreman says, ‘I got work to do, okay? We need that furnace up and running. You get that g.d. sonabitch off my floor!’

“Frank and me, we’re cracking up, you know? Then one of the guys says, ‘Hey, where’s Little Kevin?’ and all the guys start to get worked up. Turns out Little Kevin, Big Kevin’s nephew, go figure, is missing. They say he was just there and the foreman says he didn’t pass nobody coming down and the guys look like they think something ate the poor kid.

“Now these guys, you gotta remember, these guys built this city, right? These guys were tougher than tough, and they worked all night in that place, busting their butts. If they was afraid of something, then it was probably something worth getting afraid of.

“Frank and me, we tell them guys to sit tight and we’re gonna find out what’s going on. Now behind the furnace there’s a maze of pipes and passageways, and the lighting is spotty, and of course, it’s hot and it’s loud. We draw our guns and Frank and me, we head back in there.

“I stick pretty close to Frank ‘cause it’s dark back there and we don’t know what we’re in for. I don’t wanna shoot Kevin but I don’t know what back’s there, right? But Frank seems okay about it, you know, like he knows what he’s getting into or he doesn’t care.

“We go down one dark passageway after another and we’re not finding nothing and then we see a guy and we hope it’s this Little Kevin ‘cause otherwise I don’t know how we’re gonna find our way out, right? Anyway, this guy is sitting with his back up against the wall and his head kinda slumped on his chest, so Frank and me, we go see if he’s alive.

“Frank gives him a nudge with his shoe and he leans down and says, ‘Hey, Kevin, wake the hell up!” Real softie, that Frank, huh? So the guy looks up at Frank like he was just taking a nap, and then he realized where he is and what’s going on and he looks like he just met the Devil. It’s our guy, alright, Little Kevin. He seems okay, just a little shaken up, and Frank says, ‘What happened to you, son?’

“Little Kevin says he come back to the furnace to make sure some of the safety doodads was okay since everyone ran off. Now the other workers had seen some guy, right, and Little Kevin says they been seeing this guy for a week and they were all worked up about it ‘cause some of the guys said it wasn’t a guy but a ghost.

“Little Kevin said he never saw a ghost, didn’t believe it, so he didn’t mind coming back alone. Of course, when he did, he saw something back here. He said it was a guy, but he couldn’t make out what he looked like, even though the fire was hot and it wasn’t so dark, it’s just that the guy didn’t have a face to see. And he was wearing a hat, right?

“I thought what a load of bullcrap, right? But Frank was buying it and he asks Little Kevin where’d you see this guy and which way we should go and could Little Kevin make it back by himself. So, you know, I get it. Frank wants to go after every weirdo shows his face in Pittsburgh, but I thought these steel guys was pulling our leg on this one. So, after Kevin takes off, I give Frank a piece of my mind, but he cuts me off, and he says, ‘Jerry, I know this guy. This guy with the hat, I know him.’

“Frank had been on the force before me, right? I was the rookie and Frank had been around the block, so I shut my trap and I followed my partner into the hot end. What was I gonna do?

“We went further in and it seemed like we was going down deeper, but it was the same level. Frank and me, we was real quiet now and I was starting to jump at shadows, right? Well, Frank stopped and he pointed down the passage to a shadow in the corner, at a spot where the passage kinda turned.

“I said to Frank, ‘I didn’t see it, Frank. What’s in the shadow?’ and Frank doesn’t take his eyes off it and he says to me, ‘It is the shadow, ya dummy.’

“So there we are, pointing our revolvers at a shadow on a wall. After a minute, Frank steps up and he says to the shadow, ‘We see you in there so come on out!’ and I’m thinking Frank’s finally lost it and I hope he can keep his pension when they throw him in the loony bin and then the shadow starts to slide down the wall, right? And it looks like there is somebody there in the shadow, somebody who wasn’t there a second before.

“I think, how did I miss this guy? He’s real tall and real skinny and it looks like he’s wearing a suit – I know, a suit in that heat? – and he’s got a hat on, too. It’s hard to see him ‘cause of the shadows but he starts to step out into the light and I still can’t make out his face, you know, and then I realize he’s not standing in the shadow anymore but he’s still in shadow, like his face is nothing but shadow, his clothes and hat – it’s all just shadow.

“Frank’s not bothered by this, you know, but I’m pissing in my drawers. I see that Frank looks like he gonna punch this thing in the face, but before he can do anything, the shadow guy just starts to melt away. He kinda floats up and poof, into thin air and all that. Up above us, in all the pipes and ducts, there’s a rattling like a bird or something got caught up in there.

“Well, Frank and I get the heck outta there. These steel guys, they’re happy to have their buddy back and Frank tells them it’s over, and I think they get it that something happened but they don’t wanna know anymore.

“Anyway, Frank and me, we’re driving away and I ask Frank how come he knew about whatever it was we saw back there and he says, ‘They call him the Hat Man, Jerry, and I ain’t never laid eyes on him, neither. But I been hearing the stories.’ He told me some of them stories and if I’d known them before we went down into that furnace, I’d done more than piss my pants, I can tell ya.

“Now, the rest of the story is it turns out not more than two weeks later they had an accident out at that mill, a real bad one, and a couple them guys we met got killed. Little Kevin was one of them, you know, and he was burnt up real bad. The guys down there, they think this Hat Man somehow caused the accident, but Frank and me, we think it’s more like he shows up in the places where bad things are going to happen, like he gets drawn to the place before there’s people dying, like a haunting but backwards.

“It was all in the files there that Frank kept. I think he put it under Harbingers.”


Read more stories of the Midnighters here.

4 comments:

  1. Wow! Fantastic blog! I'm following and I put you on my blog list of blogs I recommend. Keep it up! I really enjoyed this.

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  2. Great to hear from a satisfied reader. This month's stories are all about shadows, but next month "The History of Horror" begins!

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  3. First I gotta say I LOVE your blog! I've been reading your stories everyday since I found it. I live in central PA, so I especially like that so many of them are near here. You have so many I've never heard before, & I hope you keep adding more!
    My reason for commenting, though, is cuz I had a question. At the beginning of this story, there are 2 places that say Jerry & me. Since Jerry's the one telling the story, shouldn't it say Frank & me? Maybe I'm missing something & it's supposed to be that way, but thought I'd ask! :)

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  4. Glad to hear you like the local flavor. Pennsylvania is a strange place, so let's keep it that way! Thanks a bunch for writing in about that typo. I'll have to write a stern letter to my transcriptionist!

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