Art by David Revoy/ Blender Foundation

Night Shift

By Dyane Silvester

Emma yawned and looked at her watch; only three hours to go until the morning shift took over. She glanced across at Ken, who was dozing in his seat at the Reactor 2 control desk, and smiled.

A streak of mischief overtook her and, grabbing a pen she threw it across into his lap, just for the fun of watching him jump.

“Emma!” He spun round to face her. “Don’t do that!”

Emma stifled her giggles.

“Don’t go to sleep, then. It’s not fair anyway; it’s always you who sleeps.”

Normally Emma didn’t really mind. Having worked at the nuclear power station since its commissioning stage, she felt like it was her baby. She wouldn’t dream of sleeping on the job. Something about Ken’s slacking really bugged her. Being alert was so important.

A blue light flickered on her internal phone, and she reached for it.

“Control desk. Unit 1.”

“Emma, it’s Dez. I’m on Boiler 4. Have you had any alarms?”

She quickly scanned her desk

“No, nothing? Why? What’ve you got?”

“Not sure; I thought it was a steam leak but I can’t find it. There was a hell of a hissing and so much vapor, though. Have you got the camera on up there?”

“Yeah, just hang on.” Emma reached to her left and switched the CCTV monitor onto the boiler tops. “Looks okay to me.”

“Okay.” Dez was hesitant. “Really spooked me.”

Emma grinned. “You’ll be off in a couple of hours. I think you need some sleep.”

“Yeah, cheers.” Dez hung up abruptly, and Emma was left staring at the phone in her hand. Feeling spooked just wasn’t like Dez. He was so rational.

She glanced across at Ken; predictably, he was asleep again. If she could only rely on him to stay awake for half an hour she’d go up to the boiler tops herself, but if she left her post it was really important that he was here to watch both desks.

The light on her phone disturbed her reverie again.

“Control desk. Unit 1.”

“Emma? Dez. I really need a couple of guys up here. Boiler 4 is pouring steam, and it should be obvious where from but it’s not; it’s just, there. Can I get Colin and Paul on it?”

“Yeah, do. But I’ve got no alarms, and the monitor looks fine. Get back to me when you know anything.”

The puzzlement returned. In the midst of it the thought of ghosts came to her, and she smiled inwardly. The idea of a brand-new nuclear power station being haunted really tickled her. That would give all those tree-huggers something to panic about.

She glanced up at the monitor screen again and saw Dez, Paul, and Colin come through the hatch and look around. There was clearly some banter, which Emma couldn’t hear, and Colin slapped Dez’s shoulder. Then the image seemed to flicker for an instant, and the men were no longer on screen. Emma froze, then blinked very deliberately and looked again. They were there; her imagination was running away with her. Perhaps it was she who needed to sleep.

She scanned the rest of the desk quickly, then sat back and closed her eyes for a moment.

A beeping alarm woke her with a start. Glancing down she saw the turbine first stage over-pressure alarm light flashing and reached automatically for the phone to call the operations office.

“Ops office. Harry.”

“Harry, it’s Emma. I’ve got an over-pressure on unit 1 first stage, can you have a look?” Glancing back at the alarm screen she saw the pressure was still rising. “I’m going to have to trip the turbine, get yourself down there and see what you can do.”

Harry’s response was his usual grunt, and he hung up. Emma was glad it was Harry who was on duty; an old school engineer who’d started on coal-fired stations as a 16-year-old apprentice, he was the best she had.

She held her breath as she firmly pressed the turbine trip button; she’d never had to do this before. The dull thump and muted roar of high-pressure steam screaming out of the emergency dump valves reverberated through the building, and Ken woke again with a start.

“What’s that?”

“Turbine trip. Overpressure.” She really didn’t have the patience to deal with him right now, and anyway her phone was ringing.

“Control desk. Unit 1.”

“Emma? Dez. Was that deliberate?”

“Yeah, turbine overpressure. What’s going on up there?”

“Not a clue. We can’t find anything, and this steam’s coming and going.” She heard a scuffle in the background, and Dez came back on, his voice slightly panicked. “Emma, I’m getting Colin off here. He’s freaking out and going on about ghosts. We’ll deal with the leak later.” He was gone before she could reply, and as soon as she hung up the phone rang again.

“Control desk. Unit 1.”

“It’s Harry. High pressure outlet valve’s closed. Who the hell’s been down here?”

“No one should have been.” She looked up to the system overview monitor, and a frown creased her face. “Is it still closed? Because the monitor’s showing it open.”

“It’s closed. Bloody computers don’t know shit. I’ll get Kate and Bob on it.” He was gone again, and as Emma replaced the phone she looked back up to the CCTV screen and felt a cold sweat prickle her skin. She saw the image of Paul’s inert form sprawled across the boiler pipework. Emma rang the emergency team and ordered them up there immediately, paging Dez at the same time. Waiting tensely for him to call back, she couldn’t take her eyes off the screen, even when she felt Ken hovering at her shoulder.

“Just go back to sleep,” she growled softly as her hand reached for the now ringing phone.

“Control desk. Unit 1.”

“Dez. You paged?”

“Why did you leave Paul on the boilers? On his own? You idiot!”

“I didn’t. He’s here with me, I needed his help with Col.”

Eyes still locked on the screen, she felt a trickle of sweat down her back; words failed her.

“Emma? Are you still there? Paul’s with me. We’re at the medical center. They’ve sedated Colin. Do you want us back up there?”

“No.” She felt her voice crack. “Stay where you are.”

“You okay, Emma?”

She hung up. Was she going crazy?

When her phone rang again she stared at it, terrified for the first time in her working life, afraid to answer it.

“Control desk. Unit 1.”

“Emma, it’s Joan on Emergency, we’re on Boiler 4 but there’s no one here.” Emma stared at the screen. Joan was looking straight up at the camera, Ella beside her, Paul’s body to her left, his arm dangling through her thigh. As Emma watched, a cloud of steam began to materialize around them, gradually obliterating her view, and her consciousness was filled and extinguished by the thin inhuman scream coming down the phone wire.

Dyane Silvester is a Civil Engineer during the daytime, but loves to write in any spare time she can find between work, hiking, sailing, and being on the amateur stage. She writes regular articles on behalf of Cumbria Wildlife Trust, but in recent years has found herself drifting towards fiction. She finds inspiration by looking into the cracks in everyday situations and considering what could happen if they opened up. She has had work published in Ken* Again (ezine) and “Camping” magazine in the UK.

4 replies
  1. Damien
    Damien says:

    Yes. I was going to comment – even before seeing the other comments – that it ended a little too quickly. And – again like the others – I thought it was spooky and chilling, a great start to a story which ended in a way that seemed to be a bit of a cop-out. I think you should explore and expand more. I really liked the idea of the ‘new nuclear power plant being haunted’. It was compelling and I was really interested in how that was going to play out. I think you could have some fun with that.

  2. Rod Galindo
    Rod Galindo says:

    Ms. Sylvester, I enjoyed “Chapter 1;” really hoping there exists Chapters 2 thru x. 🙂 I agree with Jackie that it ended too quickly. The pros here are it’s a quick read and “a bit of a spine tingler” as Rita Bond mentioned. The con would be if there isn’t a larger story to explore more of the frightening fission reactor. Like Harry, I’d like to know who shut off the high pressure outlet valve. Did Emma see one possible future on that monitor, or maybe a Paul from an alternate reality? Or was it a ghost taking a form Emma would recognize in order to lure prey? And was that really Ken hovering at her shoulder? She never looked and he never spoke…


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