The Night Shift

An adrenaline junkie meets a new friend and faces their fears in a corporate janitorial gig.

Under the Arch

The Night Shift

An adrenaline junkie meets a new friend and faces their fears in a corporate janitorial gig.

A long, empty stark white office is pictured with little saturation. The only distinct feature is the neon red EXIT sign.

Who cleans the office at night? Who takes the trash out? Why are there always paper towels available? Nights in an empty office building are a different kind of lonely. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

Poe Rosenberg, Contributing Writer | Dec 11, 2022


I’m the kind of person you’d call reckless. Honestly, it’s gotten me into more than my fair share of trouble. I’ve broken my wrist, arm, collar bone, three of my ribs and each of my legs. My carelessness has ruined so many of my relationships. No one really wants me around.

I see my parents about once or twice a year, and my brother once every few years. But besides them, the people in my life are a rotating cast of strangers. It shouldn’t have surprised me, I guess, that after so many people are too scared of my proclivity towards climbing out of windows, trespassing and stealing, I’d find someone who wasn’t phased: Mel.

I met Mel when we were both working as janitors for some big office building. I arrived late my very first day, and Mel was there waiting. After enough assurances that I wouldn’t be fired, Mel showed me the ropes. 

The building was as sterile as they come, replete with white buzzing fluorescent bulbs, stark gray walls, and a ceramic tile floor that was off-white in a way that set my nerves on edge. Every corridor looked the same and all the rooms were cheap copies of each other, save for some sparse furnishings. 

Mel showed me around the dead office building. It was eerily quiet this late at night. For all my overconfidence, I’ve never liked jobs that put me in corporate settings. I’d much rather clean toilets in a gas station than floors in an office. But here I was, and this job paid extremely well compared to anything else I’d been offered. Plus, I was strapped for cash. I had some medical bills from the last time I went free solo climbing and wanted to send some money to my parents for missing one of my mom’s birthdays. But back to the story.

Mel and I began to talk more openly that night, and we even showed each other some scars we had gotten from our crazier stunts, tracing bone exit wounds and burn marks on each other’s bodies after work. Everything happened so fast after that. We couldn’t have been coworkers for more than a month before we ended up moving in together — it just made sense financially. I remember signing the lease so clearly, a smile on my face as I passed it to Mel so we could email it to the landlord. Mel almost made me forget how uneasy I felt about this janitor work. 

The work wasn’t hard, but something about the solitude in that building in the deep night wound me up and made me feel as though we weren’t supposed to be there. The sound of our footsteps squeaking on the floor and the squelching of the mop echoing down the hallway felt like they were calling out to whatever lurked just around the corner. 

Everything went wrong when Mel got a different job. We both hated working those nights in that horrible building, and Mel snapped first and got a day job cleaning Central Park. The schedule change meant we’d almost never see each other, and that I’d be working at the office alone. It was crazy how different Mel was after getting out of that place, as though the very act of working there was stifling. I can’t say I felt different. And seeing how joyful Mel was the few times we were together after that only made me more eager to find work somewhere else. 

It was my last day working in that godforsaken building. I couldn’t work fast enough, it seemed, and every slosh was like a fresh pump of adrenaline. I was cleaning the last bathroom before I was finished with one of the wings. The stark white tiles and buzzing fluorescent bulbs seemed to mock me. What could possibly go wrong? 


I had finished all the bathrooms on the floor. The constant hum of air conditioning mocked my fear as I stumbled out of the bathroom toward the only speck of color in the landscape of grays and whites: my trusty mop cart. A dull yellow opposing the monotony of this never-ending hallway. Had the hallway always been so long? Where in the building was I? 

Panic crushed my lungs as I began to run. Where was the exit, that wonderful hum of red light signaling my freedom? Where? Where? Where! My heavy breathing was the only sound distinguishable from the steady beat of that building. 

The hallway kept moving, turning and twisting, with each room becoming less distinguishable from the last. I knew the layout of the building — I’d cleaned every floor, cubicle, bathroom and meeting room. I was very attentive to the details of each one. I knew each room by the few things that set apart one from the next — a potted plant, a picture of the employee’s child, a coffee machine. 

But I was completely lost. The hallway stretched out on either side of me, an ocean of corporate cubicles. 

I lost track of time. There wasn’t a clock in any of these coffins, and my phone had died before I finished cleaning. At some point, I gave up, leaning against a hard sterile wall with my yellow mop cart in front of me. 

I awoke to another janitorial staff member prodding me, asking me why I hadn’t clocked out, as my shift was over and it was almost time to open. The office was as normal as one could expect, the cubicles had the traces of personality I remembered and the exit signs dimly buzzed at the end of the hall. 

I haven’t been to one of those corporate buildings, those sites of capitalist hell, since. But sometimes, after an especially stressful day, I dream of sterile walls and a blank hallway with no end.