Burke hated his job. He was a security guard for Preston Hall, a private institution dedicated to promoting science education at the high school level, and was constantly assigned the graveyard shift. Working from midnight until eight a.m., his job was at least a quiet one. After locking all the doors and checking the motion detectors, he would settle into his basement office. He would emerge to patrol the grounds once every hour, but was largely free to manage his time otherwise. Burke tried to force himself to read the stack of paperbacks that kept piling up, but more often than not would find himself watching YouTube or other videos. He was a lonely man, having lost his direction in life after his divorce and was struggling to get his shit together.

His condition was worsened by his abusive relationship with energy drinks. The fact that several of his friends had suffered adverse effects from them did not deter Burke. Even on this night, he had already emptied his first Red Bull and was one-third down a second. Guarana-based drinks were his favorite, that Amazonian leaf acting as something of a mental aphrodisiac for him. Consuming more than 100 mg in a 24-hour period has been shown to cause hallucinations, vertigo, and even more serious consequences. Perhaps Burke subconsciously wished they would make something to happen to him, to force him out of the malaise and lethargy which plagued his life.

So far, he had been found wanting. Staring once more into the blue light of his laptop screen, he went from watching two-bit hack comedians, to Russian dash-cam videos, to “trolling the public” pranks, all the while plagued by infernal advertisements (which he could not skip) for products he would never consider buying. It seemed that even the AI overlords couldn’t make sense of his chaotic mind.

The first strange occurrence happened around 12:30. Burke found himself in one of the upstairs halls, but did not remember walking there. It was like when one suddenly arrives at work, not consciously remembering the morning drive. The auto-pilot capability of the human brain has been experienced by a great many people, considered more a consequence of habit than anything else. He was making his usual rounds, walking between the buildings of Preston Hall, flashlight in hand and pepper spray and a radio on his belt, when he suddenly heard a sound. Through an opaque glass window, he could see a vague figure moving in the very building he had just finished locking down.

It is important to note that Preston Hall housed many pieces of expensive scientific equipment, and that attempts of theft have become fairly common. Burke was therefore especially concerned to see the figure, knowing that thousands of dollars’ worth of property were at risk. Disgruntled former employees were the usual offenders, though Burke had also caught students sneaking back into the buildings at night, channeling the excitement of trespassing into other extracurricular activities.

Although he could not see very clearly, he was able to make out that the figure was a short older male with white or grey hair wearing a black coat. This certainly fit the profile of a disgruntled ex-employee, raising immediate concern. Burke started to shout something to the figure, but as he entered the building and approached the stranger, it quickly took off.

Burke grabbed his communication radio and went out chasing after the figure, watching it turn into the nearby storage room. Seeing that the space was pitch black, he decided not to chase after it right away but instead called his fellow guards. Though Burke usually worked alone, his company (one of those rent-a-cop outfits also used by shopping malls) maintained a 24/7 dispatch. Furthermore, recent attempts at burglary had necessitated the reluctant hire of several patrols. In less than two minutes, one of the other guards responded and, when they got the power working in the storage room, they found nothing. Not only that, but the windows were closed and locked form the inside, leaving no possible way for a person to exit without being noticed.

After making sure that nothing had been taken, the two men notified their superiors of the incident and were told to return to work as normal.

Later that same night, at around 3:30 am, Burke was taking a break from Netflix by doing a crossword puzzle. He suddenly got the eerie feeling that someone was watching him, which would be highly unusual in this dark and undesirable basement. Looking up, he saw someone leaning on the counter on the other side of a frosted basement window. Burke realized with a start that it was the same figure he had seen earlier.

Wanting to apprehend the mysterious trespasser, Burke set off again down the hallway. Knowing that there were only two directions for the figure to turn, he first glimpsed down the side and saw nothing but a locked pair of steel doors. He then turned the opposite direction and once again saw the storage room which he had locked after his first encounter. While looking in the direction of this room, he heard the steel doors closing behind him and turned around just in time to see them shut.

Try though he might, neither he nor his colleague could force the doors open. Reporting this to headquarters, they were once again told to stand down and assured that a key-bearing employee would turn up shortly. No one did until their shift was nearly over and the daytime guards were reporting for duty. To this day, no answers have been offered.

In telling his story, Burke stresses that he never felt threatened by the presence but was merely curious as to who or what it was and why it was in the Preston Hall basement in the middle of the night. He has moved on since then, joining Customs and Border Control in Arizona a few months after this incident. Yet, in the time before he left Preston Hall, he would frequently be called upon by senior staff members to retell the events of that night, those who in normal circumstances were the least superstitious. Burke had, in passing, remarked that the figure bore a strong resemblance to a painting of the late Dr. Michael Roberts that now hangs in the halls of Preston’s headquarters, a portrait which bears beneath it the ominous inscription, “In spirit you will always be in and out of these halls.”

Burke freely admits that this could be a false memory, that his subconscious mind had filled in this image to make sense of that strange night, but the old men of Preston Hall seem to have a strange, quiet, consensus regarding the figure’s identity.

In the modern day, the scientific and educational establishments have turned to a dogmatic materialism. No deviation from this premise is tolerated, with researchers and scientists putting their careers at risk by pursuing wider areas of research. Yet, to paraphrase a figure Burke otherwise has little use for; “if something is real it can take the pressure.” The strange, extraordinary, and yes, spiritual aspects of the universe do not simply cease to exist because post-enlightenment men choose to ignore them. All throughout academia exist “invisible colleges” composed of researchers who quietly, and on their own time, pursue investigations of this sort.

Prior to the eighteenth century, science itself was known by the name “natural philosophy,” the love of the wisdom of nature, and was pursued by men with an overtly spiritual outlook. Though men of this disposition have been outnumbered and suppressed over the years, their tradition has never died.

He wants little to do with Preston Hall now, yet he receives word from its employees from time to time. No matter how many times he insists that he knows nothing more than he has already told, questions continue to follow him. In a way, he has this strange night to thank for the positive turns his life has since had. It is entirely possible that he would still remain in his depressing but comfortable malaise had the strange visitor not shook him out of it. Had his colleague not also seen the strange figure, he would attribute the entire night to a bad trip, a consequence of too much caffeine on the brain, but now he finds the lines between reality and fantasy increasingly thin.

Burke doesn’t drink guarana anymore and has gone “straight edge” in terms of his other old habits as well. Abstinence from artificial stimulants, self-derived physical satisfaction, and an unhealthy diet has already cleared his mind considerably. He hopes that one day such changes will clarify his mind regarding that night on the graveyard shift, but only time will tell.