The supervisor held his clipboard like a shield. It contained all the information he needed to get things done, but crucially, no more. That was how he liked it. He looked at the crew he had for the evening's job. They were a sorry-looking bunch, and all of them seemed to either be too big or too small for their high-vis jackets. It was probably possible to swap the jackets round so everyone had one that fit, he thought, but that wasn’t really anything to concern him.
He'd done a few jobs like this before – private contracts where they didn't want anyone asking too many questions, memorising too many floorplans, telling anyone anything they had no place knowing. He'd helped install emergency underlighting in a missile silo once, one that didn’t show up on any maps. He’d built a panic room behind a revolving bookcase in a very high-up politician's study, and once led the clean-up crew on an industrial accident that technically never happened. He prided himself on his efficiency, discretion and ability to completely lack curiosity in the world around him.
He cleared his throat and addressed the rag-tag crew in front of him. “Right lads, I'm the super for this, so do what I say and we'll all be good,” he said. “It's all a bit vague and top-secret, and it's on a need-to-know basis. None of you need to know, so let's just get this all done and get back up out of here in time for our lovely brekkies.”
“Through that door is a chamber containing a hundred or so capsules. You'll know what they look like. About six foot long, wooden, sort of diamond-shaped, some with handles on the side. You'll have seen one before with your granddad in. We all know what they’re really called, but tonight, gentlemen, they're capsules. Now, my assistant Adrian here should have placed you in groups of three. Is anyone not in a group?”
Nobody responded, so the supervisor continued. “Within each group of three, one of you will have a crowbar, one of you will have a mallet, and one of you will have a bag of these oak stakes. If you're missing any of these, talk to Adrian, he'll sort you out.
“When you approach a co–, ha, a capsule, you're to use the crowbar to open it up, exposing the object inside. You're gonna get right in there with the stake and use the mallet to really drive it in through to the back. Right through the, er, chest, chest... chestal region. And then we reconvene here and go home. Our employer will be coming down here in the morning to check we’ve done a good job, so let’s dazzle him.”
The supervisor looked back at his clipboard to see if he'd missed anything. All seemed to be in order, right up until the handwritten note that had been added by the man who was paying them, insisting a full demonstration had to take place. A demonstration by the supervisor. “So, if you'll all turn your helmet lamps on and follow me through, I'll just run you through every stage again,” he said. He led the assembled team through the reinforced doorway into a large chamber filled with coffins.
Capsules, he reminded himself. Capsules. They were neatly arranged, leaning against the edges of the chamber, and from where the crew stood, the most distant capsules seemed to be the oldest – they were covered in dust and cobwebs, and some were falling apart. Every so often there was a smaller one, standing only three or four feet tall, like the sort of capsule that might contain a child.
“What the hell is this place?” said one of the workers.
“Shut up,” said the supervisor. He walked along to the first capsule, turned round and held his hand out. “Crowbar.”
The closest worker handed his crowbar over, then crossed himself and stepped back. The supervisor inserted the crowbar into the side of the capsule, where the lid met the sides, and pulled, dislodging the lid. He handed the crowbar back and lifted the lid off. There was a cloud of dust, and as it dissipated, he could see the contents of the capsule. It was a dead body, a skeleton covered only in a papery layer of completely dried-out skin. It must have been dead for a hundred years.
“Stake,” said the supervisor. “And mallet.” With the stake in his left hand and the mallet in his right, he took a deep breath and inserted the stake in between the skeleton's ribs, where its heart would once have been. He hit the stake hard with his mallet, sending it right through the skeleton.
The supervisor felt a shift in weight, as though there was mass where there had until recently been none. The skeleton unexpectedly shrieked, in a way skeletons don’t, and a torrent of thick black blood sprayed into the supervisor’s face from what was now a wound. For a brief second, the supervisor thought he saw a fully-formed adult body, facial features contorted in agony, but all of a sudden everything was still again. The supervisor was dripping in oily, sticky blood, but the body was, if anything, drier and dustier than before. Turning back to his workers, the supervisor saw them running towards the door, swearing and crossing themselves. One or two of them were being sick.
“Come back!” he shouted. “You're on the job! This is disgraceful. Adrian!” Adrian too was leaving. The supervisor found himself suddenly alone in the underground chamber.
He removed his helmet, wiped his face on his high-vis jacket and wandered back to the chamber entrance, where several bags of stakes had been dropped in the rush. He sighed and picked one up. He'd have to do them all himself then. He'd never let an employer down in his whole career, and this Van Helsing weirdo wasn't going to be the first.