72 HoursMature

A horror-themed webserial with comedic elements (sparingly used) that alternates characters on a chapter-by-chapter basis. It's the story of three contractors (plus a creepy guy who followed them to their job site) during the worst assignments of their respective lives. Also: creepy spiders!

Chapter 1: Sight Unseen

It’s eight o’clock on a Friday night, which means the Blue Swan Diner is jammed, bustling, the small-scale 24-hour eatery equivalent of the ball drop in Times Square. There’re hipsters sitting at the dessert bar with their coffees, high school students with or without lettered jackets, senior citizen bowling leagues, nuclear families with alternately smiling and sullen kids of different ages, mostly bored parents. It’s all merging into a chorus of laughter and chatter, clinking silverware, the occasional dropped plate, broken glass.

I’m here for the eggs (poached), the coffee (unlimited refills) and the free wireless Internet. As my team’s only proactive member, I am trying to find some freelance work, and it has been a staggeringly tedious process of sifting through message boards at more than eighty little hole-in-the-wall type websites, most of which have been graffitied with spam messages. I am starting to get bored, irritable. I haven’t slept for 20 hours. The caffeine pills I took in the afternoon have worn off, they’re not blocking the adenosine levels in my brain anymore, and my vision is starting to get swimmy. I shake two little blue pills out of the packet I keep in my jacket and crunch them between my teeth.

I decide to dick around for a few minutes while waiting for the pills to kick in. I watch the rain through the window. I stare blankly at the ceiling, inspecting it for water stains. Feeling suddenly artistic, I use a piece of toast to try and draw a happy face on my plate with leftover yolk, but I somehow end up with one of the angry smileys with the arched eyebrows. It leers at me.

Forty-five minutes go by. The pills have kicked in. I’m feeling edgy and jittery, but my brain is knife-blade sharp. I spin my laptop around to face me and tap a key, dispelling the flying toaster screensaver off to whatever hell it is that flying toasters eventually end up in. Fingers crossed, I click open my web browser’s bookmark list and click the entry for fullmetalbracket.com, my go-to site for fast cash gained through very little physical effort. FMB has been down for about three hours—its extreme popularity means it’s also extremely prone to server shutdowns.

The guy who owns this domain calls himself Handy, by the way, and the guy (or girl) is a total cipher. He operates one read-only message board where he posts lucrative, high-end side jobs for general contractors, easy gigs like cabinet installation or bathroom remodeling commissioned by people who (a) end up way overpaying for the work performed and (b) generally have the money to blow anyway, so I don’t feel too too bad about taking it. He is obviously a fan of the films of Stanley Kubrick. But aside from that, no one knows who he is. He does not answer personal messages. Site memberships are invitation-only (Paul got one somehow) and the whole thing is almost self-consciously mysterious.

But the jobs are all reliable, and it looks like Handy did reboot the server. It must have been recent: I’m the only person online.

It feels strange, like I’m in an empty movie theater. I don’t like it.

But there is one open job posting on the message board. I see the fee (5K) and the project timetable (72 hours worth of work). The post is a minute old. I grin and click the ACCEPT button, sight unseen, and skim the project summary. About 65% of the job is demo, a few walls here and there. Some wiring (networking cables, if I’m reading this right) and cleanup. And that’s it.

I forward the link along to Paul at the office, along with a message telling him that I’ll meet him and Ollie at the job site. “Bring the tools,” I type. “And food,” I add, an afterthought.

Handy’s associates value their privacy, so any contractor who accepts a job through FMB goes in blind. Addresses aren’t listed with the job specs. Contractors are directed to the job site via text messages sent to their smartphones, and anyone who reveals a job location publicly after the fact is blacklisted from FMB. I’ve seen it happen.

My phone buzzes at me with the first of several step-by-step directions—it’s directing me to the highway. As I start packing up, my laptop bleats at me, indicating a new email. It’s from Paul, who is claiming that he has a “bad feeling” about the job. He also informs me, in a postscript, that he doesn’t think that Ollie’s up to working this weekend because he is having one of his “episodes” and “just ate two pens.” I click delete. Ollie eats pens all the time. It doesn’t impact his work. And Paul is nervous about everything. He was nervous about a milkshake I bought him the other day, because he feared poison.

When I get to the job site—a ten-story corporate office—a freshly dead security guard is there to greet me. I feel a vibration from my jacket pocket. I pull the phone out of my pocket, study it.

It’s a message from Handy. I feel honored and important until I see what it says. “Sorry,” it reads.

The End

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