Storage Unit 106, Chapter 6

Click Here for Chapter 1

(More horrific fun)

Chapter 6: Planning

     I ran like the wind, or it sure felt like I did.  I took the quickest glance back as I turned the first corner, only to see a carpet of rats was not chasing me.  I didn’t slow down until I passed the last corner and saw the big, grey door in front of me, and I didn’t slow down very much.  The heavy door opened easily as I pulled with every ounce of fear-powered strength.  When I passed into the warm light of the basement hall, I closed it with urgency; I didn’t want the rats to get out.

     I had no idea how long I had been in the storage area, but, if you had asked me, I would have told you it was an hour or more.  I tried to act calmly, like I had not just survived a nightmare.  It was not until I reached the elevator that I realised my effort would surely have been wasted.

     It was well into the evening and I was in the hall, which almost never happened.  I was covered in dust and cobwebs, highlighting the little lines of sweat running down my face and neck.  That brought the fact I was sweating like crazy to my attention, which brought the fact that I was still panting and out of breath to my attention.  The run was nothing, I could have run farther than that in gym class without trying; but I had never run from rats before, and I’m sure I had never run that fast, either.

     Luckily, I escaped notice on my return to the apartment.  I locked the door, even attached the little security chain we never used.  Grandma was asleep in her wheelchair; everything was as I left it; suddenly, it felt like the safest, most wonderful place on earth.

     I was filthy and needed to clean up.  I tried to stay on the entrance rug as I stripped off the gloves, overalls and shirt, which were the biggest issues.  My shoes could wait to be cleaned, so I turned my overalls and shirt inside out and threw them into a plastic bag.  I kicked myself about forgetting the can of Raid as I checked pockets.  Then, I checked the time.  It was just before eleven.  Had all of that happened in only twenty minutes?

     I started to run the water for my bath.  As I reached over to test the water, something fell from my hair and I nearly screamed.  The tiny form of a spider sent equally tiny ripples through the bath water as it struggled, swimming for safety.  Not a fatty, but too big for my liking.  I was crying before I knew it.  I had just enough sense to close the bathroom door so I wouldn’t wake Grandma, but not much more than that.  I sobbed and sobbed as the rush of what I had just done caught up with me.  I was an eleven year old wreck for several minutes.  The tub was at the point of overflow for a little while before I turned off the taps.  The spider had got free of the water to rest on the edge of the tub, where it sat, seeming to watch me; for a little while, I watched it back.  It had to go, but I was completely spooked by it.  Getting rid of spiders was Grandma’s job.  In the end, a Kleenex and forced courage got the job done.

     I cried again while I bathed, but washing seemed to clear my mind, so I felt much better.  I got into my pyjamas and tried to settle down.  It was strange to feel so tired, like I’d run a marathon or something, and be wide awake.  It was the longest, short night I had experienced.  I was able to drink a little water and eat a piece of bread.  It was past eleven thirty and well past my bedtime.  I really didn’t want to go to bed; the thought of being alone in a dark place was more than I could bear, so there was no point in actually trying it.  So I took a blanket from the closet and got onto the couch.  It was a rare thing for me to sleep on the couch, but it was comfy and fit me just right.

     I was starting to relax, if only a little, when I realised that I would have to go back down to the storage to get the empty bucket.  What little chance I had of sleeping ran off with that thought.

     A million other thoughts stampeded into my mind; the planning was on and the resting was off.  I said a quick prayer for God to help me; but they were just words, I was too distracted to pray properly.  What could I do?

     I got my notes from Grandma and turned the paper over.  If I couldn’t sleep, I could plan.  I reviewed my experience and put together a better plan than simply walking in for the bucket.  My first thought was to camp out next to the storage door and intercept the farmer.  Grandma had told me he was odd, but my new fear of the storage area was enough to risk upsetting her and the farmer.  After all, this was technically a favour to him, so he could be made to see reason or get his slops elsewhere.  There were two flaws, in addition to challenging two adults, which would make the plan fail miserably.  For one, the thought of going downstairs and spending the night next to a nest of spiders, rats and whatever else was more than I could handle.  The second flaw was that I would surely be noticed by someone from the building.  I would have no proper explanation, in that case.

     So, it came down to another approach.  The main issue was 106.  Something had moved inside that unit, something big.  I wracked my brain to think of anything I had heard about rats, especially regarding their size, and came up dry.  I convinced myself, just barely, that the sound wasn’t exactly what I thought; I had been scared, and whatever it was had made a smaller sound.  I remembered my grade two science unit on sound, and how things could sound different coming from different places, so it must have been that.

     Anyway, I began to form a plan.  My goals were to stay as far from 106 as possible and spend as little time in the storage area as possible; easy enough with a little planning.  The speed part was mostly solved already.  I had been there once, so I didn’t need to go as slowly or waste time searching for 106.  The return trip didn’t involve a heavy bucket, either; I could go quick, maybe even run, to save time.  If I had finished the entire trip in less than twenty minutes, lugging a bucket and having other delays, then I could do it much faster at a run with an empty bucket.

     My deep concern about 106 was still the sound I had heard and what might have made it.  Even if my brain had exaggerated the sound, rats were involved.  Not good things to get close to.  The light was bad and I would be ambushed, sooner or later.  Grandma might get well enough to do the bucket thing again, but that might take days or weeks, maybe more; so the rats would have a few chances to get me.  I needed a way to get the bucket without getting closer than necessary.  In the end, my solution was to rig up a pole with a rope, like a fishing rod, to hook the bucket from a distance.  Several designs crossed my mind, but the realities of materials and construction ended each idea.  The closest thing I could come up with, that had a chance, was to find a stick and tie some string to the end of it.  I was pretty sure I could bend a coat hanger into a good enough hook and attach it to the other end.  I couldn’t figure out why, but it seemed like an impossible task when it was really just a stick, string and coat hanger.  Everything seemed like it would be hard to do.

     I woke with a start.  The night had nearly passed.  I was sleeping with my head on the table.  Somehow, I had fallen asleep without realising it.  My pen was still in hand and the paper resting under my head.  I felt stiff and tired as I got up and went to the bathroom.  I washed my face and checked the time: five o’clock.  The previous night felt far away, like a dream.  I wasn’t sure what to do about my fishing rod plan, but I had to do something soon.  Grandma always got the bucket the next morning, and it was usually quite early.  I decided I would try to put together my plan in the little time I had.  If it wasn’t perfect, I could adjust it after.

     I took last night’s clothes from the hamper and shook them off on the balcony.  Normally, this would get me in trouble, but I didn’t have time to wash them and dirtying another set of clothes seemed wasteful.  I got a flashlight and let myself out.  There wasn’t anyone around as I left the building through the back door and crossed the parking lot.  A small patch of lawn separated the parking lot from the bush, where the slope to the river began.  It was just after five and only the outside lights of the building gave me any chance to see.  I used the flashlight to search the bush until I found a stick suitable for the job.  It was as tall as I was, and sufficiently thick for what I needed.

     When I returned to the apartment, Grandma seemed to be stirring a little; the pill was wearing off.  I didn’t slow down in my task.  I found some string in Grandma’s craft supplies and tied a long, doubled length of it around a knot in the end of the stick, which I had stripped of branches.  The coat hanger turned out to be a bigger job than I had planned.  Getting the twisted part untwisted was a lot of work that ended up taking more than fifteen minutes, making a mess of butter knives, a screwdriver and braking a set of pliers.  Once it was apart, bending it into a hook shape was fairly easy, and I tied the result in place with a triple granny knot.

     It was almost six o’clock, and Grandma was getting quite restless.  I had no exact idea of how long it would take me to get the bucket, but estimated it wouldn’t be more than ten minutes.  Grandma probably wouldn’t wake up in that time, or so I hoped.

Storage Unit 106, Chapter 5

Click Here to Start at Chapter 1

(The spooky story continues. Enjoy)

Chapter 5: A Prayer in the Basement

Normally, I like to think things through before doing them; the same was true at eleven.  What kept me from taking a moment was the sudden recollection of Grandma’s instructions about going quickly.  If I mucked about for too long the rats would start waking up and taking notice, and then I would be in real trouble.

What got me moving again were two thoughts.  The first thought was: spiders were something I could deal with.  Sure, I had visions of hundreds or thousands or millions of fatties jumping down at once and biting me to death.  A video about bugs in second grade showed a spider sucking the juices out of a fly, and that image came to me as clear as day.  But I knew the spiders were scared of me, too; so long as I didn’t disturb them, they would probably just stay up in their webs.  The one that touched my neck had probably been disturbed when I looked around the corner, so I would be more careful about that.  I had never been bit by one before, but Grandma told me it was like a mosquito bite, and I had survived plenty of those.  The second thought: I had forgotten to pray.  A silly thing, perhaps, but it wouldn’t hurt.  I really was a good kid, so I was sure God would help me.  My attention at church service was not always the best, but I knew a few prayers by heart.  A whispered prayer was better than nothing.

     I picked up the bucket and took a few steps around the first corner.  The comfort of the big, grey door was behind me now.  I decided I could do it.

     “Our Father in Heaven,” I began, as I turned the corner to see another length of hall; this one had storage units on both sides.  The lighting was odd because all the bulbs did not hang directly above the hallway.  Strange patterns of blurred shadow formed on the floor.  I was being very careful about not looking into the storage units.  Grandma hadn’t specifically mentioned, but if there were rats in our storage unit they could be in any of them.  The storage units were shabby looking, on the outside, and most had some kind of padlock.  So far, they all seemed to have their numbers showing in black paint.  My math skills were pretty good, so I noticed the numbering system was highly erratic.  The numbers in the first hall started at five hundred and something.  The second hall started at 452, followed by 430, 426, 419, and so on.  I didn’t like checking the numbers because it meant I had to look at the doors; and might antagonise the rats.

     “Hallowed be thy name,” I whispered as I passed the second corner.  The hall was much like the other, except the air seemed to be getting heavier, damper.  There was another turn at the end of this hall, too.  A quick glance at the ceiling confirmed the spiders were still with me.

     “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done.”  The storage numbers were making even less sense.  A couple of them didn’t even have numbers.  I was getting more frightened by the increasing distance from the entrance.  If rats did show up, I would have to make a long, winding run for safety.  I tried to focus on moving quietly and praying.  After all, God was up there with mom and dad, and my little brother, too; I needed all the help I could get.

     “On earth, as it is in Heaven.”  I passed the third corner.  The air was positively stale in the next stretch.  Someone had left a broken chair, lying on its side, next to locker 297.  Other than the strange feel of the air and my increasing distance from the safety of the grey door, I was starting to feel the tiniest bit better.  I was making progress and there had been no sign of rats.  The numbers on the units didn’t go down evenly, but they went down, so I was getting closer to 106.

     “Give us this day our daily bread.”  I rounded the fourth corner and thought I would die.  At least one or two bulbs had burnt out along this hall.  The tiny bit of light that carried over from the other hall was barely enough to see by.  Pure force of will kept me moving because this fresh scare.

     “And forgive us our trespasses.”  I squinted through the dim light, gripped with fear.  I tried to imagine Grandma coming down here with her arthritis, hurting the whole time, having trouble seeing the way.  I kept moving forward, one scared step at a time.  The lighting was roughly the same as I turned the next corner.  The air got worse, though, and actually started to smell; it was a familiar smell I couldn’t quite place.  I wondered if it was a rat smell.  More than ever, I wanted to get the chore over with.  There was another turn at the end of this hall.  It started to feel like a nightmare.

     “As we forgive those who trespass against us,” I whispered, almost forgetting to keep praying.  By the time I made the next turn, things had changed from bad to much worse.  The smell was a little stronger, and definitely more familiar.  It was an unpleasant, earthy smell, so thick I thought it would never leave my nose.  There was a single bulb at the end of the hall, dustier and dimmer than the others, making this the darkest length of hallway yet.  As I made my way to the dim glow at the end of the hall, I noticed very few of the units were locked; a couple of them even had their doors hanging open to reveal sinister interiors, full of dust and shadows.  The unit numbers only became clear to me when I got to the end of the row, close to the dusty little bulb.  It was hard to tell for certain, but it looked like 159.  I reasoned that the next length of hall would probably be the last, unless the numbers were completely mixed up.

     “And lead us not into temptation,” I continued as I rounded the sixth, and hopefully last, corner.  Two bulbs lit the way, this time, and they were nearest to me.  The problem was that the far end of the hall was obscured in darkness, making it tougher than ever.  Luckily, the left side of the hall was made of the same grey cinder block as the first length of hallway.  Even my eleven year old sense of logic suggested the end was close, though it was darker and smellier than I cared for.

     “But deliver us from evil,” I spoke, feeling like the words were sucked away into the darkness.  This stretch made me think of a dungeon, like in the days of knights and maidens.  It was a smelly, dark basement with lots of little passageways; all it needed were whips and chains on the walls to be complete.  I tried to rid my mind of those thoughts.  The door to locker 123, about half way up the hall, was completely off its hinges and lying inside the locker itself.  I was angry with myself for having looked inside, but too scared for the feeling to linger.  The ending of the Lord’s Prayer was badly timed because I felt like I needed it more than ever.  I passed the final light bulb and got my first good look at the end of the storage, sort of.

     The hall ended with a large door that appeared to be grey, like the entrance, with a nook to the left of it.  A door!  A door!  I was filled with a flash of hope as I approached.  I couldn’t be so easily trapped by the rats, after all.  My hope didn’t last.  The door was locked with two bolts, one at the top and another at the bottom.  Each was secured with an oversized padlock, barring any passage to freedom.  A large, shallow puddle of water had formed around the bottom of the door; a leaky pipe was my guess.  The loss of that quick, hopeful moment was far worse than never having it.

The light was extremely dim at that point, and the bucket felt heavier than ever.  The last unit to my right had no number, but the one before it was 118.  I reached the grey, locked door and looked to the left.  Despite the darkness, I made out the cheap wooden bars of a final storage locker.  It was about ten feet down a dead end hall; and maybe it was just my imagination, but I could have sworn I saw the number 106 through the gloom.

The Wye Marsh, I thought to myself.  The place smelled like the Wye Marsh.  I had been there twice on school trips.  The Wye Marsh was a swamp, just south of town, with a conservation and education center.  It drew plenty of students and summer tourists to see some of the local bugs, animals and plants living in the marsh.  It was spring when I first visited the place, and the smell of rot was the first thing I noticed.  All the kids in my class were going on and making jokes about the terrible smell.  Sidney Nelson got into trouble for making jokes about frog farts.  It was practically the same smell in the storage, which got me thinking the building might have been built on a marsh.  Or maybe Sidney Nelson was wrong, and it really was rat farts.  Either way, it wasn’t good.

To make matters worse, I had the terrible feeling I was being watched; and it wasn’t spiders or rats doing the watching.  I managed to convince myself it was all in my head and kept on toward the last unit, which had to be 106.  Those last steps were the longest.  Grandma had specifically said there were rats in that storage, and I was scared silly about it.  Finally, I stopped in the middle of the hall, a good five feet from 106; I was not going any closer to a nest of rats.  With a quiet sigh, I placed the bucket on the floor and turned to go.

Something moved in 106.  It was a shifting sound, like a heavy rug being dragged over the floor.  It is always difficult to judge things when you are scared, but I couldn’t imagine the size of rat it would take to make that sound.  My heart skipped a beat and I ran without looking back.  My imagination was more than capable of filling in the blanks, so looking back was unnecessary.

Storage Unit 106, Chapter 4

Click for Chapter 3

Click for Chapter 1

(The tale continues. It’s a rainy Friday morning, so much better for reading something scary. Enjoy.)

Chapter 4: Fatties

After tea, I got the wheelchair to the bathroom door.  It was not big enough for the wheelchair to pass, so Grandma needed help from there.  With her cane and a lot of my help, we got her to the toilet.  She managed to relieve herself without any problems.  She was in a great deal of pain from the simple effort of moving three or four feet to the toilet, though.  I warmed up a wash cloth and helped her do a quick washing.  I thought she was going to faint by the time that was finished and she returned to the wheelchair.  On her request, I moved the chair into the living room and got her pill.  She was taking shallow breaths and hardly moving, otherwise.

She took the pill with a little water.  “The bucket,” she said tensely, before the pill started to take effect, “must not go down,” she cleared her throat a few times, “before ten o’clock.  Promise me.”

“I promise, Grandma.  It will be okay.”

“Good, now take the cross I wear around my neck, dear, and wear it.”

“But Grandpa gave that to you,” I said.  “You always wear it.”

“I meant for you to have it, Alice,” she said with a quick clearing of her throat.  “The Lord’s sign will give you strength.  Say a little prayer while you’re in the storage, dear.  You won’t be alone, then.”

“I will Grandma, I promise.  Everything will be okay.  Just rest now.”  I was in caretaker mode, but my consolation was for both of us.  I took her chain before she made a fuss.  It was a simple chain with a small, silver cross hung on it.  I had a hard time putting it on because of the tiny clasp, but it fit me.

Minute by minute, Grandma settled until she slept.  Her mumblings were hard to understand, but had something to do with God and the storage.  I tried not to think about what she was saying.

I made sure Grandma was comfortable before cleaning up from supper.  Washing dishes and wiping the table felt like the most wonderful things in the world.  I could have done it all night.  Despite my efforts to drag out the experience, the time flew.  The hands on the clock told me it was nine thirty.

What would I do in between then?  It was the longest, scariest block of free time I’d ever spent.  The day had been bad, true, but now I was standing on the edge of it, and running out of room.  I tried my best to focus on what Grandma had said about never being hurt by the rats.  It was small consolation to me, though; Grandma was a grown up and I was not.

At quarter after ten, I was a wreck.  I had settled on a few points.  I would be the best combination of quick and quiet I could be.  Rats had tiny ears, so it stood to reason that stealth would be a huge factor.  Also, once the bucket was in place, I would run back at full speed, at least to the elevator.  Lastly, I would bring a small can of Raid.  Nothing on the Raid can suggested it was useful against rats, but poison was poison, and a little bit in those red, icky eyes might be enough to save me.

I changed into my overalls.  They were the denim ones I did my paper route and bottle collecting in.  Crawling into ditches and bushes for empty bottles was dirty work, and the old, rugged overalls were perfect for the task.  I stuffed the Raid into a side pocket where it bulged out but stayed covered.  I made sure my new, silver cross hung on the outside of my shirt.  It made sense that the cross would be more valuable if it was exposed; hopefully, having the same effect on rats as, say, vampires.  I threw on some garden gloves and opened the fridge door.  I hardly looked at the bucket as I lifted it out and closed the fridge.  It was a little heavy, but I could handle it.  A final check of the clock showed it was just after ten thirty.  Ten o’clock was my bed time on school nights; I could usually get away with ten thirty, or maybe eleven on weekends.  I wondered if I would be able to sleep, anyway.

I quickly checked the hall before walking to the elevator and pushing the call button.  The building was very quiet at that hour; all the same, I didn’t want to explain myself to anyone.  The elevator seemed to take forever.  It arrived with a hum and the doors slid open to reveal the empty space inside.  I got in and descended to the basement.  I braced myself for the possibility of encountering someone, but the doors opened to the empty, basement hall.  I wasted no time getting to the storage door.  It loomed like a grey monster, scarier than Frankenstein or Dracula; it held back the terrible rats that were already causing me to tremble.

I fumbled with Grandma’s key ring.  I had keys of my own, but was never given a copy of the storage key.  It was a good thing Grandma labelled her keys with plastic tags.  It felt like it would take forever, but I finally got the key out and into the lock.  I had to jiggle the key around to make it turn.  When it did, I pushed the door open and pulled the bucket in after me.  The heavy door swung closed before I realised the storage lights were off.  It was completely dark, too dark to see.

The moment of panic was harsh and terrible.  Every rat and monster on the planet was bound to come running.  How could they resist a terrified little girl in a dark basement?

If you can believe it, I was too scared to scream.  I frantically pawed for the door handle, desperately trying to reopen it for some light.  The tiny sliver of light from under the door was worthless and I was about to wet my pants, I was sure.  My hand came across the light switch before it reached the handle, and the shock of the lights coming on was almost as bad as the shock from the darkness, except I could see what I was dealing with; and it wasn’t much better.

The storage area was scary.  Even if I hadn’t been told about the rats, I would have suspected them; and much worse, too.  The floor was cement, badly overdue for a sweeping.  The outside walls were bare cinder block.  The ceiling, in the places you could see it, was the same, plain concrete as the floor.  A crisscross of pipes, valves, hoses and vents hung from the ceiling like a crazy, metal spider web.  The storage units were the truly ominous part, however.  They were cages made from thin slats of cheap wood, nailed together to create four by four spaces; each had a door made from the same slats that swung open on old hinges.  Those wooden walls stood about six feet high, maybe more, and almost touched some of the pipes.  A combination of chicken wire and boards had been used to cover off the tops of the units, and this blocked the light even more.  The lighting was provided by a series of dusty bulbs hanging from the ceiling.  They threw a very dim light; only the bulb at the entrance seemed properly bright.

Directly ahead was a small hall, formed by the outside wall on the right and a line of wooden storage units on the left.  To the immediate left of the door was a tiny nook with a broom, dustpan, and shovel, all of which were covered in thick dust.  The place was dirty and scary.

It took a moment to settle myself after the panic of being caught in the darkness.  I picked up the bucket and started on my way.  I did my best to be quiet and made good progress toward the end of the hall, where it turned to the left.  The corner scared me; I knew the rats would be nearby, and the corner would be a great ambush point.  The hall was too narrow for me to approach the corner and see all the way around it.  I kept going forward and stopped right before the turn; deciding to pop my head around the corner for a quick look.  I put the bucket down and took a deep breath, trying to be brave for Grandma.  I carefully stuck my head past the corner of the storage unit to see a short length of hallway that ended in another left turn.  I breathed again.

Something touched the back of my neck.  It was a quick, light touch, but a touch.  I let out a squeak and twisted around so fast that I bumped into the outside wall; I nearly fell, swatting at the back of my neck like it was on fire.  Whatever had touched me must have been quick because I could not see it.  Had it come from inside the storage unit?  It was the closest thing to me and the gaps in the wood were more than wide enough for something to reach out, like a quick rat, perhaps.  The air felt stuffy, all of a sudden, and it seemed as though I could not breathe fast enough.  In those seconds of fright, I looked down at the floor to see something moving; it was too small to be a rat.

I leaned down to see a spider scurrying for the safety of the storage unit I had just been standing next to.  It was a type of spider I recognised.  In the spring, especially on humid days, we would get them on the balcony.  Grandma really hated them and I usually let her handle their removal because they were icky.  These spiders were a pale, fleshy colour with large abdomens and spindly legs.  I shivered even though I was relieved it had not been a rat.  I brought my foot down on the thing in an act of retribution for scaring me silly.  Then, and I don’t know why, I looked up into the ceiling.

The light bulb hanging in the corner made it hard to see the ceiling clearly.  I lifted my hand to block out the light bulb and see the ceiling in detail.  I wished I hadn’t.  The ceiling was more than just a spider web of pipes, tubes, hoses and wires.  It was laced with webs, a lot of them; and there were more spiders perched up there than I would have thought existed in the whole world.  If this wasn’t bad enough, many of those spiders were what Grandma would call fatties.  They were great big ones with abdomens as wide as dimes; I had never seen so many fatties, and never thought they could get so big; they covered the ceiling for as far as I could see.  The terror in that moment caused me to forget the little can of Raid I had brought along.  I had my first, serious urge to run back.

Continue to Chapter 5

Storage Unit 106, Chapter 3

Click for Chapter 2

Click for Chapter 1

(More scary goodness.)

Chapter 3: Avoiding Rats

“Alice, dear,” Grandma snapped, more than a little harshly, and cleared her throat.  “You must write this down so you don’t forget it.”

“Yes, Grandma,” I said, nearly jumping out of my seat.  My hands shook as I wrote point form notes about moving quickly to avoid rats.  The writing was legible, but would have failed a handwriting test at school.

“The next morning, you must go and collect the bucket,” she continued.  “You must go quickly then, too, because the rats are always around.  They will be sleepy in the morning, but you can’t be sure.  Now, when you are bringing the bucket down or getting it back you must never, never look into the storage units.  The rats will be there and feel threatened if you look at them.  They get very nasty if you provoke them that way.  Do you understand?”  Another clearing of the throat followed.

“Yes, Grandma,” I said again, careful to write it down this time.

“That’s a good girl.  You know your numbers, so write down one, zero, six.  That’s the number of our storage unit, and it’s painted on the storage door.  Ours is the last one at the end of the hall.  You will leave the bucket in front of it.”

I scribbled the number down, trying not to think about sharp teeth, slimy tails and angry red eyes.  I had no special fear of rats, but going into a basement full of them was definitely changing that.

“Grandma?” I started to ask a question.

“Just a moment, Alice,” she interrupted.  “Read your notes to me.”

“Uh, okay, Grandma,” I said, brushing aside thoughts of twitchy noses and scratchy rat claws jumping out at me.  “I bring the bucket to the storage.  I must go quickly.  There are rats.  I must not look into the storage unit because of the rats.  The storage unit is 106.  It is the last one.  I leave the bucket in front of that storage.”

“Good,” she said.  “You must not tell anyone about this, Alice.  I am not really supposed to leave the meat for the farmer, but he is poor and needs the food for his animals.  This is why we leave it in the storage and tell no one.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Grandma,” I answered in complete reflex.  It felt like a lie.  I understood what she was saying, but what she was asking made no sense.  My honest, guilty thought was that the farmer should starve rather than send me into a basement full of rats.

“If you go late in the evening, like I do, and return early in the morning, no one will see you go.  If they do see you, tell them you are taking it down to the garbage room.  They may think it strange, but it is better that way.”  She cleared her throat again, and I could tell she was running out of energy to fight the pain.  She would need the medicine soon.

“The bucket should have been brought down last night,” she said, beginning to struggle with her words.  “That is okay, but we must not make the farmer wait another day.  It is very important you bring the bucket down tonight.  Promise me you will do it, dear.”

My sense of sympathy and loyalty rushed in at that moment.  My new fear of rats and a weird, poor farmer no longer seemed so daunting.  Grandma needed me in a way she had never needed me before.  This was important to her, important enough to suffer through her arthritis to tell me about.  It occurred to me that all the other little things I had done, like the paper route, collecting bottles, cooking and cleaning, hadn’t mattered like this.  I was desperately afraid, but at that moment I would have walked into a rat nest with a cheese necklace if she had asked.

I promised her I would take care of the bucket and be very careful.  I kept my million questions to myself; Grandma was in too much pain to answer anything.  I gave her the pill and brought her some water.  Ten minutes later, she was drowsy, mumbling slightly about the bucket.  After another ten minutes she was sound asleep.

The immediate wash of sympathy for her began to fade, and the fear came back.  I tried to focus on the written list, but the details were already burned into my memory; I would not forget those details if it killed me.  The rest of that day was spent thinking about rats.  I had never seen a real rat before.  My entire experience with them had been in picture books and television, which was more than enough.  I had no specific ideas about them or what they would do to me, but I didn’t need details to know it would be unpleasant.

The rest of the day was spent in something like a fog.  I cleaned up the oatmeal dishes, kept Grandma propped up in her chair, tried to do homework, and things like that.  My mind would not play along, however.  I chipped a bowl in the sink, nearly woke Grandma twice, and couldn’t remember anything about my homework a second after I stopped looking at it.  I literally spent my day thinking about rats, farmers and stinky buckets of meat.

Grandma slept through lunch and I decided not to wake her.  Sometimes, on a busy day, she would miss lunch, so I felt it would be harmless.  It wasn’t until almost supper time that I began to shake out of my fearful daze and do something properly.  I began with getting supper ready.  I wasn’t sure if Grandma would wake up for supper, but I made enough for both of us, anyway.  I prepared chicken noodle soup from a can and made two cheese sandwiches.  It was a light supper, but enough for us; and there were cookies for dessert if Grandma was especially hungry.  The second thing I did was prepare a list of questions.  Mostly, they were little detail items about getting into the storage area, what time I should leave, and how fast rats could run.  I did add on some other questions regarding potential options that occurred to me.  For example, could I bring the bucket directly to the farmer?  He must not live too far away, right?  And what if I left the bucket somewhere else in the building, like the garbage room?  I tried to keep my questions to a minimum, knowing Grandma was not fond of constant questions, though an encounter with rats was testing my sense of restraint.

I kept the supper warm until the last moment, and Grandma began to wake.  She was groggy, like before, but shook it off faster than the last time.  I was glad she was hungry.  I gave her most of the soup and ended up making her a second sandwich.  She had eaten three cookies before I had her tea ready.  We had started late, so it was well after supper when I set out the tea.

“Thank you, Alice,” she said, still sounding tired, “that was a meal.  You are a strong, smart girl.”

“I almost started without you,” I said, adding milk to our tea.  “Your medicine is really strong.”

“I suppose it is.  The day has passed me by.  What did you do with your time, dear?”

“I cleaned the dishes, did my homework, and I made supper.  I stayed with you.  Are you going to be okay, Grandma?  Your knee looks a little better.”  This was true.  Her knee was still grossly swollen, but it seemed to have receded a little.

“It still hurts, but I will be fine,” she said.  “It will be back to normal in a few days, I’m sure.”

“But the doctor said it would be a month, maybe more,” I said.

“Alice,” Grandma replied with hints of condescension, “the doctor sometimes gets things wrong.  I know my old bones better than he does, and I say it will be fine in a few days.  You’ll see.”

I wasn’t going to argue with her.  The knee looked terrible to me, far from healthy, and I doubted her.  Then again, Grandma had been pretty tough with her arthritis, so maybe she would recover faster.

“Do you need another pill now?” I asked.  She seemed much better than the last time she was awake.

“Not right away, dear,” she said.  “I need to go to the bathroom and change clothes, if I can.  The pill will knock me out too quickly for that.  Let’s just enjoy our tea now.”

“Okay, Grandma,” I said.  It was nice to have her awake with me.  Spending the day alone with thoughts of rats had been terrible.  I couldn’t help but ask, even though I badly wanted to prolong the moment of normality that was happening.  I was usually good at starting up a difficult discussion, but I was at a complete loss.  My list of questions was in the other room; as if I needed it.

“Grandma, what if I asked Mr. Gruber to get rid of the rats for us?  He wouldn’t have to know about the bucket, right?  I’m sure he would do something about it.”  Mr. Gruber was the superintendant for Riverview Apartments.  He was an older man, always a little grubby and usually hard to find.

Grandma gave me an odd look, like she had lost her concentration.  “There is no point in telling Mr. Gruber about the rats.  He already knows about them and has been trying to get rid of them.  Rats are tricky, and hard to kill.  Maybe he’ll get them all, one day.”

More information on rats that merely fuelled my fear: rats were tricky and hard to kill.  I would have guessed they were tricky.  Being hard to kill was nothing I would have guessed, and my anxiety heightened another notch.  If they were tough enough to survive Mr. Gruber’s efforts, then what chance would I have if the rats attacked me?

“Does the farmer live far away?  Maybe I could bring the bucket to him?  It would be better for him if he didn’t have to travel here, right?”  It took everything I had to speak slowly.

“He does live far from here, dear,” Grandma said.  “He passes through town, so it doesn’t cost him anything to come here.  Besides, you couldn’t carry the bucket that far.”

That ruined my thoughts of putting the bucket on my newspaper wagon and pulling it there.

“What if I left the bucket in the garbage room, Grandma?  It would be better than leaving it with the rats, wouldn’t it?”  At some point, without having noticed it, I had started to cry.  I was so scared that it just happened.  Grandma reached over and held my hand.

“Alice, dear,” she said quietly, “I know the rats scare you.  They scare me, too.  If I had a better way to get the bucket to the farmer, I would have thought of it long ago.  I don’t want you to feel really scared about them, dear.  Just remember not to look into the storage unit and don’t linger.  If you are a good girl, and do as I say, they will leave you alone, all right?  All right?”

I nodded my head; my eyes were a wash of tears.  Words would only have caused me to break down and start bawling.

“That’s a good girl,” she said, patting my hand.  “Grandma has brought that bucket down for a long time and the rats haven’t hurt me yet, so I’m sure you will be fine.”

Continue to Chapter 4

Storage Unit 106, Chapter 2

Follow this link for chapter 1

(It should be a lazy Sunday, perfect for reading. For now, more of the modern horror.)

Chapter 2: Normal

Life went on, as I said, and my childhood was as normal as it could be for a young orphan living with her grandmother.  Midland was a smaller town than Kitchener, even at that time.  Not that I was the most street smart kid or anything, but my new town had a more relaxed, rural feel to it; there was something safe about it that couldn’t easily be identified.  Grandma was the watchful sort, as I mentioned, and that added to my general sense of security.

     So, I went to school, made friends, took swimming lessons, did crafts with Grandma, and generally began to grow up.  My life was fairly normal, as far I knew.

     Where normal ends and not normal begins is never a fine line.  Everyone has little oddities in their life that are less normal than the rest of the world.  Those little oddities mostly fall into the spice of life or less normal category, and are usually harmless.  I had some of those oddities.  I also had some that crossed the line into definitely not normal.  The trouble with being six, losing your parents, losing your friends, moving to a new city, and everything that goes with that experience is that your sense of judgement is lost.  Your ability to know where the line beyond normal, as fuzzy as it can be, starts and ends is practically zero.  So, I did what any right minded little girl would do and trusted Grandma; she wouldn’t steer me wrong.  In this case, however, even that obvious, default decision was the wrong one.

     Grandma always kept a spot in the refrigerator for a bucket.  It was an old tin bucket with a round handle.  It was in pretty good shape for its age.  Anyway, the bucket was always in the bottom left corner of the fridge and Grandma was always very particular about it.  Any meat scraps from our meal or its preparation were put into the bucket.  Nothing was thrown away, not even the fatty or bony bits.  Grandma was meticulous about keeping everything that wasn’t used and putting it into the bucket.  After a few days, she would bring it downstairs to be collected.  Downstairs was the initial destination I was given for the bucket, which was the same place Grandma would go to retrieve it the next morning; only it was empty on the return.

My initial inquiry about the entire process and purpose for the bucket was easily answered.  Grandma explained that the scraps were left for a man who would bring them to his farm for feeding pigs, or something like that.  The man came in the evening and took the meat scraps, and Grandma would get the empty bucket the next day.  At six, that made as much sense to me as anything, so I never questioned it; not for a long time, at least.

After a while, I hardly gave much thought to Grandma and the normal factor of bringing a bucket of meat and bones to the basement every few days.  Occasional questions in the years that followed got me as far as understanding that downstairs meant the storage area of the building; it also lead me to understand the farmer was too busy during the day to pick up the slops, which is why he came in the late evening.  It was nothing strange by my reckoning, and life went on.

Fast forward a few years and things began to change.  My tough, independent grandmother had slowed down a great deal.  I was aware she suffered from arthritis, even before my parents died, but it really meant nothing to me.  Grandma had no obvious symptoms, other than occasional soreness after a long day; nothing out of the ordinary for an old lady, right?

Sometime around my ninth birthday, the signs were becoming more obvious.  It didn’t register with me right away, but a series of incidents caught my attention and I began to notice her suffering and slowing.  She would make little excuses for not going on a walk or finishing the dishes or whatever.  She was fond of citing a knot in her back for the trouble, but the truth had become clear to me.  By the time I was ten, she had all but admitted to the trouble her condition was causing.  The benefit package from Grandpa only covered part of her pain medication costs; and I was an unexpected cost, too.  My parents had not left much, but it had been enough for the first years.  When that money ran out, something had to give.

When it was clear to me that money was an issue, and I was part of the burden, my guilt and sense of duty kicked in.  I took on a paper route, which doubled as a glass bottle collection.  Every penny went straight to Grandma, who took the money with muttered regret.

Anyway, pain medication made little difference to Grandma’s condition, which continued to degrade with time.  At ten, I was doing a lot of the household chores and running errands on days when Grandma was really hurting.  I never complained about it; in fact, the little bit of help I gave made me feel better.  The loss of my parents was something I had not exactly forgotten or disconnected from.  I was deeply aware of how quickly and easily you can lose someone close to you, so I wasn’t about to lose Grandma by wearing her out with housework that I could do.  Being a natural introvert helped because the loss of free time didn’t impact me much.

The one chore that Grandma was adamant about doing herself was the bucket.  She always insisted she do it, and no reasoning would convince her otherwise.  My offers to simply go with her and open doors were also dismissed.  And so, every few days, without fail, Grandma would struggle with the bucket and hobble down to the basement, returning for it the next morning.  For a day or two after, Grandma wasn’t able to do very much on account of the pain.

It was a rainy Victoria Day when Grandma fell and twisted her knee.  She had been folding laundry, an easy job for her, when she lost her balance.  She complained about my fussing the entire time, but couldn’t put any weight on her leg, either.  It wasn’t until her knee had almost doubled in size that the trip to see a doctor was agreed to.  Grandma wasn’t a very big lady so my eleven year old frame was enough to help her into a taxi.  The final diagnosis was a severe sprain.  The doctor said she had been lucky her weakened knees weren’t damaged beyond the ligaments.  When he explained she would need to stay off of her feet for a month or more, I thought Grandma would leap out of the chair and attack him.  She went on about taking care of the apartment, me, and everything else; but when she tried to stand up, and couldn’t do it, she began to cry.  I had never seen Grandma cry like that before, and it was a shock.  I tried to console her, only to find myself crying, too.

To make the long story of an angry grandmother and stubborn doctor short, Grandma agreed to take a wheelchair, with her church paying the rental bill for it, and a handful of free, sample pain killers from the doctor.  The pain killers were quite strong and would help her sleep.  The doctor told me that I could return for more of them if she ran out.  It was 1985 in small town Ontario, so doctor-patient relations were much more casual.

The bucket issue had come to a head.  The wheelchair was good, but old, and too heavy for her to comfortably move.  The arthritis was also in her arms, so she could just barely move the chair around the apartment without becoming exhausted.  Her leg was so bad she couldn’t even stand with a cane.  Even prior to the injury, she had taken to sponge baths because getting in and out of the tub was tricky.  It was clear she wouldn’t be bringing the bucket down for some time.

She slept in her wheelchair the night we got back from the doctor.  The bucket was probably due to go down that night but the pain killers made her sleepy, and there was nothing to be done about it.  I was a little worried about her reaction if she knew I brought the bucket down for her.

I consider the morning that followed to be the start of the most devastating and terrible period of my life; even worse than the loss of my parents, if you can imagine that.

Grandma was quite groggy for the first couple of hours after she started waking up.  I made some porridge but she ate very little of it.  When the pain killers finally eased up, and Grandma was properly awake, the pain started again.  I brought her another pill, fresh from its individual paper package.  Grandma refused it, and told me to get a paper and pen.  I did what she asked and sat close so she could tell what was so important.

“Alice, dear,” she said, when I was ready to take notes.  “You must write down everything I tell you, and carefully.”  She paused a moment, pretending to clear her throat, a habit she developed to cover her flares of pain.  “You know how I bring the bucket downstairs for the farmer, don’t you dear?”

“Yes, Grandma,” I told her eagerly, knowing she was going to ask me to take on that task.

“Good,” she continued.  “Now I need you to do it, but you need to be careful how you do it.  The farmer is very picky about where you leave the bucket.  You also need to know that there are rats in the storage area.  Don’t worry, dear, they can’t get out of that place.”  She cleared her throat, wincing slightly.  “The rats are only dangerous if you take too long, so it is very, very important you leave the bucket and get out of the storage area quickly.  Do you understand?”

The level of shock I felt is hard to explain.  Meat waste in a bucket was practically normal; a peculiar farmer collecting it was half normal; having rats in our storage was an incredibly frightening concept.  That kind of fright doesn’t lend itself to questions of why are the rats there? or why hasn’t the landlord removed them? or the like.  The raw fact freezes you in place, like the proverbial deer in the headlights.  Grandma noticed that I was gazing into those headlights; I had stopped writing my notes and probably turned ghostly pale.  The needle on the not normal meter had just swung well into the red zone.

Continue to Chapter 3