Storage Unit 106, Epilogue

Click here for Chapter 1


Riverview Apartments may have been a safety disaster, by far, but they had ridiculously good insurance.  I was well taken care of in the years that followed.  My mom’s distant cousin, Tina, ended up taking me in.  The move to Alberta was the best thing that could have happened to me, considering.  I won’t plague you with the various therapy and counseling measures I needed to adjust to a life without monsters; just realise I was generally less stable than your typical teenager and young adult.  Who am I fooling?  I have never been a completely stable adult.  I never did tell the truth about my experience with Grandma and the monster.  Who would have believed me if I had, right?  I told everyone I woke up to the smell of smoke and tried to get Grandma out, but ran for it when the smoke was too bad.  The knock on my head happened when I fell in the stairwell, not when Grandpa slugged me in the basement.  Instead, I tried to forget about it and move on.  At eleven years old, I had already dealt with the loss of family once, so doing it again wasn’t as brutal.  Therapists would prattle on about survivor guilt and mourning while I secretly dealt with my fear of basements and sick, grumpy people.  I went on with my life, despite the quirks, fears and neurotic tendencies that stuck with me, even to this day.

There’s nothing I could say or do to prove my sanity; even though my last two psychiatrists gave me a pass.  The proof burned down that night.  God knows, when I’m having a bad day I still deal with the guilt of Grandma, the people who died in Riverview Apartments that night, and, in some completely screwy way, even Grandpa.

You may have wondered why I’ve written all this down.  If you guessed I was seeking closure or some type of redemption, you guessed wrong.  No, I am way past that.  I am sixty-four, now.  I am a vegetarian.  I spent most of my adult life working as an airline stewardess.  I was married for a few years, and divorced.  No kids.  Airline work was perfect because I have trouble settling in one place, and airplanes have no basements.  Therapists would suggest I have attachment issues, and they would be right; not that it bothers me, really.  I retired from the airline a few years back.  Now, I work part-time in a flower shop in Kitchener; yes, back to the start.  The house I live in has no basement.  I still keep in touch with Tina, even though she is living in a Regina retirement home.  She would tell you otherwise, but she’s showing the early signs of dementia.

Anyway, I’m already trying to avoid answering the question; story of my life.  Why write this?  Why now?  What’s the point?  I’ll spit it out.

Earlier this year, I began having these flashes of anger, verging on rage.  It started with difficult customers at the flower shop, but the spiking emotions began to happen almost randomly, after a while.  I worked as a stewardess long enough to be immune to crap from customers, and I didn’t feel burnt out, so I was confused.  At first, I wondered if this was some sort of delayed reaction, post traumatic behaviour; so I wrote it off.  On especially bad days I took a depressant, which didn’t solve the problem but kept me calm.  About a week ago, I noticed the skin on my left arm was irritated and dry.  That developed into a rash that I used vitamin E and aloe to soothe.  Yesterday, the green spots showed up.  After the mother of all panic attacks had passed, I went to the emergency room of the hospital and waited forever to see a doctor.  His diagnosis: probably an allergic reaction or infection.  Of course, he wasn’t sure.

On my way back from the hospital last night, I realised two things had gone completely over my head, until then.  A few months ago, I started craving, and eating, the odd bit of meat, contrary to many years of dedicated, vegetarian living. This was roughly around the time I started experiencing the angry spells.  It was just the odd craving, here and there; I would have a hamburger at lunch or a hot dog in the park.  The other thing I noticed was that the meat always seemed overcooked.  I found a street vendor willing to undercook my burger for a few extra bucks, and it tasted almost perfect to me.  All of that went over my head until last night, and I realised what was happening.  The left arm was where he grabbed me, and now there are green, smelly spots on it.

Three hours ago, I ate a package of raw hamburger; and it tasted better than anything I’ve had in ages.  If there had been more, I would have eaten it.  That was the last proof I needed.  I am the monster now.  That old bastard got me, after all.

So, to answer your question more concisely, I am writing this as a warning.  I plan to mail copies to the authorities.  That will force me to do myself in because I might chicken out, otherwise.  I don’t want someone else left in the same position I was at eleven years old.  Years of being neurotic about personal security, among other things, have put me in possession of a thirty-eight calibre pistol.  I took it out last night, but was afraid to use it.  Even now, I’m afraid to do it.  I have the email addresses for public tips to the regional, provincial and federal police; and, for good measure, the public health unit.  Once I send this, I’m sure I can do the right thing; at least, I hope I can.  I don’t want to become a monster.

Storage Unit 106, Chapter 10

Click here for Chapter 1

(Alice is in a tight spot. Is she up to it?)

Chapter 10: A Battle in the Dark

     In that second of recognition, I was frozen with fear.  Killing it had seemed like such an easy task before I entered the locker.  Now, face to face, I wasn’t sure I could do it.  The tentacles that flowed from the bottom half of the creature were still; the upper part, the human-looking part, looked like a deformed man at rest.  His face held only the faintest resemblance to the cranky old man I remembered as a child.  The mouth that hung open was a little too large to be normal, and, even though there were several missing, the teeth were sharp and pointy, like a dinosaur’s.  For the millionth time, I wanted to run.

     The monster twitched and shivered.  It grasped at the corner of a blanket with a couple of tentacles and covered itself.  This was such a human action it shocked me.  Could I have been wrong about Grandpa?  Was I really about to murder a person for no reason other than my blind, stupid fear?  Was I more of a monster for wanting to do it?  My mind wandered to the stories I occasionally heard in the news, stories about other countries where people were attacked or killed because they were different.  I always felt bad for those people; Grandma had told me to pray for them and the people who hurt them.

     While I battled my conscience, Grandpa stirred.  One of his watery, red eyes opened to peer at me.  He must have been half asleep.  He jumped back and growled at me.  I jumped back, too.  The next thing I knew, one of his tentacles lashed out and knocked the flashlight from my hands.  It tumbled to the floor and started to flicker on and off.  Grandpa was awake, but he didn’t seem very steady.  I had a moment of hope as he lunged and I sidestepped into the corridor.  That seemed to outrage him; he crashed through the bars, destroying the entire front of the locker in one, violent push.  This was much stronger than I had imaged.  The shattered wall of wood pulled down some of the wires hanging in the ceiling and I heard cracking and popping sounds from 106, or what remained of it.  The lights in the storage began to flicker.  I don’t know how, but I knew the time to strike had come; if I waited any longer, I would be in the dark and a lot of danger.

     The light held for long enough to make out his body flopping against the wall, tentacles coiling and twisting madly.  I rushed forward and thrust the stick into the center of his body with every ounce of strength I had.  It felt like I got him.  There was a second of heavy resistance followed by the stick moving freely forward.  I felt like a monster slayer, knight and King Arthur, all put together.

Grandpa started screaming like wild, so loud I thought someone might hear.  He lashed out with one of those human arms and caught me squarely in the head.  The corridor swam before my eyes and I was on the floor, without remembering the fall.  I could taste blood in my mouth and feel it on my face, warm and salty.  The corridor smelled like smoke.  I looked around, confused, and noticed the remains of 106 had caught fire.  In the light of that fire, Grandpa lay on his side, twitching, with the stick lodged firmly in place.  I was disoriented, but had enough instinct and adrenaline to get moving.

My head hurt like I’d bashed it off a wall.  The corridor was almost completely dark as I stumbled out.  It is something of a miracle that I made it to the door.  The hall was filled with smoke, too.  I was more confused than ever.  I tried to get to the other end of the basement hall so I could attempt the stairs, but the smoke was so thick I could hardly breathe.  The exit next to the elevator was open, with a few people gathered around it, already.  I made it half way to the door before Mr. Gruber and Mr. Quesnelle came and pulled me the rest of the way.  In my mental haze, the fact it was dark outside confused me; I had expected sunlight, somehow.

“Alice,” Mr. Quesnelle asked me in a scared voice, “are you all right?”

“Grandma,” I said, coughing hoarsely.  “She needs help.”  It was all I managed to get out before a wave of nausea and dizziness washed over me.

“The firemen have been called,” Mr. Gruber said.

“The fire department will get her out, Alice,” Mr. Quesnelle said, trying to be comforting.  “They are almost here now.”

The little group of tenants guided me to the lawn on the other side of the parking lot.  I hadn’t sat for more than a minute when a loud boom came from the building, followed by the longest, loudest jingling and crackling sounds I’d ever heard.  When I looked, the whole side of the Riverview Apartments was raining down broken glass and chips of masonry; it rained down onto the parking lot, shattering and crashing with a sound like a waterfall, mixed with screams from the building.  About five seconds later, the crashing stopped and was replaced with muttering and shocked voices from the little group of residents around me.  The lights in the building had gone out.  I was too far gone to appreciate how lucky we were to have moved away from the building, seconds before.

“Jesus,” Mr. Gruber swore, “that must have been the gas.  We need to move farther away, in case something else blows.”

I was about to protest when another wave of nausea hit me and I threw up on the grass.  All I could think of was Grandma, and how she might be sleeping through all this.  The thought of losing her made me even more nauseous, and I nearly threw up again.  Only Mr. Quesnelle managed to get me moving, assuring me that the firemen would save her.

The fire was out of control by the time the fire trucks had set up.  Later on, the safety people discovered the wiring was faulty and the gas water heater wasn’t maintained properly.  After the investigation, they tore down the building.  Most of the bodies were recovered, including Grandma’s, but nothing was ever mentioned about the presence of a monster.  A big part of the basement had caved in, so I always assumed that the combination of fire and rubble had obscured his features enough to hide his form.

Storage Unit 106, Chapter 9

Click here for Chapter 1

(Alice makes a difficult, dangerous choice in dealing with her discovery in 106)

Chapter 9: A Desperate Solution

I paused.  A lot was going through my head.  I could tell from the way she asked that caring for Grandpa was not an option.  When she started quoting the Bible, she was serious and argument pointless.  In this case, I was smart and broke a commandment with my response.

“Yes, Grandma,” I said, hoping I sounded agreeable.

“I know it is scary, dear,” she said, trying to reassure.  “Grandpa is terrible and the storage is an unpleasant place, but don’t you fear.  Grandma has tricks of her own.”

“What tricks, Grandma?” I was genuinely interested now.

“Well, when Grandpa started getting sick, he always fussed about the light, especially if it was strong.  That’s got worse since he’s been downstairs.  The flashlight is bright and makes him uncomfortable, especially if you shine it in his eyes.  If he gets excited, I use that on him.”

“Okay.  Thanks, Grandma,” I said absently.  I was forming plans of my own, and that bit of information might help.

I snuck down, early the next morning.  This time I brought the flashlight and raid can.  A little raid in the eyes wouldn’t tickle if he got too close.

I opened the door a crack and peeked in.  Nothing had changed.  I went carefully along the corridors until the final turn.  Everything was quiet as I crept up to the dead end at 106.  I turned on the flashlight before I rounded the corner.  The bucket was close to the locker again, but the stick was roughly where I left it.

“Grandpa,” I said calmly, “I know about you now.  Grandma told me everything.  I’m sorry I said mean things to you.  I understand now.  I’m just going to bring the bucket back, okay?”

There was a bit of gurgling I didn’t understand.  From through the wooden bars of the storage, the flashlight caught two, red eyes in the darkness.  “Pretty Alice,” he said in that gross voice.  “Grown ap now, big gurl.”

“Yes, all grown up,” I said, reaching down and grabbing the stick.  “I’m just getting the bucket now.”

“Shtay.  Shtay and visat wish mee.”

I reached out with the stick, going for the bucket.  “I’m really busy, Grandpa,” I said.  “Grandma’s a little sick, so I have to care for her.  Maybe I’ll have time to visit later.”

A tentacle lashed out from between the bars and grabbed onto the stick, giving it a sharp yank that pulled me down.  I dropped the flashlight as I fell, and he sprang from the locker with speed I never suspected.  The flashlight had fallen so that it pointed to the wall, blinding me.  The thing, Grandpa, was like a bunch of octopus legs coming out from the bottom of a human chest.  The legs would grab the ground in front and pull it along.  The human arms were long and gangly, with freakishly big hands and long fingers.  I couldn’t see his head very well, but it seemed to have shrunk into his shoulders.  Even in the dark, I could see his red eyes as those slimy tentacles grabbed my arm so tight it hurt.

My free arm already had a hold of the raid can and I sprayed it straight at his eyes.  The outcome was better than I had hoped.  In one motion, Grandpa sprang back and released me.  He was making noises that were a combination of screaming and moaning.  I got to my feet, grabbing the flashlight and bucket before I ran.  Grandpa lay on the floor, tentacles twisting and coiling almost franticly as I got away.

“Just for that, food will be late next time!” I called back at him.

Grandma was asleep when I got back.  The tentacles left a greasy, grey slime on my arm that smelled bad and grossed me out.  I took an extra long bath before school that day.

The days that followed are something of a blur.  All I remember was plotting the end of Grandpa.  I didn’t think of him as my grandfather, of course; he was just a monster that had been my grandfather a long time ago.  Even before he tried to grab me in the storage, I knew he had to die.  I got lucky the last time, but sooner or later he would catch me and, well, I still don’t like to think about that.  My basic plan came to me quickly; the details kept me thinking and honing the plan to a deadly point.  I slept lightly on those nights.  The apartment had old, heavy doors and decent locks, but the thought of Grandpa getting out was more than I could bear.  I even had visions of him crawling up the wall to the balcony.

Grandma had to be kept out of the whole thing.  She was determined to care for Grandpa until he died.  I figured she would try to stop me if she knew what I was up to.  I didn’t talk about Grandpa with her, other than agreeing to bring the bucket down until she was better.  Her knee continued to improve, but the strength was gone.

I waited until Tuesday to bring the bucket down; and so began my plan.  It wasn’t really late, but later than usual.  The plan was brutally easy.  I slipped a pain pill into Grandma’s tea that evening, just to make sure she slept through the night.  Her sleeping habits had been odd since her injury, and she was prone to falling asleep early, anyway.  By nine o’clock, she was out like a light.

I got all of the remaining packages of her pain medication together in my room.  They were all the samples left from the doctor.  I opened them up and used a ladle to crush them in a soup bowl.  There were six pills worth of powder in the bowl when I was finished.  I sprinkled the powder over the meat in the bucket, and stirred it up.  Body weight and dosage were not really concepts I understood as an eleven year old, however, I guessed six pills would be more than enough to make him sleep.

My next task had already been started the previous night.  My trusty stick was nearly sharpened to a point.  I spent the next hour making the point sharper, and hopefully more deadly.  At the appointed time, I took the bucket to the storage.

I was more concerned about this trip than the last.  Grandpa never seemed to wander far from 106, if the tracks in the dust were any indication, but I was very worried he would try to ambush me from one of the lockers along the way.  I approached the end of the storage by shining the flashlight ahead of me with great care, checking every locker.  I left the bucket as far from 106 as I thought I could get away with.  There was no point in giving him an easy opportunity.

“Alice,” his gross voice came from around the corner.  “I sarry.  I bad.  Alice good gurl.”

I was shocked that he would try and play for sympathy.  He must have thought I was an idiot, or a much younger girl.  My sympathy had dried up already, and there was nothing left to offer a monster.  I left, offering him a false acceptance of his apology to keep him believing there was hope from me.  Eat up, asshole, eat up.

I didn’t sleep that night.  I fussed about the point I’d whittled into the stick and practiced using it like a spear.  I was a monster slayer, or about to be.  If the plan worked out, I wouldn’t have to do much more than jab a stick into the thing and leave.  Six of those pills might have killed him, too, if I was lucky; but the thought didn’t occur to me.  I let three hours pass before I went down to face him.

As I rounded the last corner, there was no sign of him.  He could not have gone far.  I crept to the light nearest 106 and peeked around.  He was asleep or being extremely quiet, and I already knew how quiet he could be.  The flashlight didn’t do enough to light up the inside of the locker.  I took a deep breath and tip-toed closer.  I was halfway there when I noticed sweat dripping down my forehead, already; the place wasn’t even warm.  I was getting scared without noticing.

The bucket was in the usual place.  The door to 106, now that I could see it up close, was a grungy thing.  It was covered in stains and mold.  It had no lock, so I used the edge of the stick to pull it open.  The flashlight beam picked up peculiar forms and shapes inside the locker.  I couldn’t see the inside very well, but something was definitely in there.  I took two steps in before I figured out what I was seeing.

The place was filthy, I could smell that; but the coating of slime and mildew on the walls gave away the reason.  There were several blankets on the floor, and one hanging on the wall facing the corridor.  The odd bit of bone and rubbish seemed to be pushed up into corners around the wall.  Lastly, in the far corner, huddled in ragged blankets, lay the sleeping monster.

Storage Unit 106, Chapter 8

Click here for Chapter 1

(Alice faces the terrible secret in 106)

Chapter 8: The Secret in 106 

Life went back to normal over the next few days.  I had to do more chores and help Grandma do simple things, but she was mostly okay.  She took one more of the pills from the doctor, but, other than that, she toughed it out.  Her knee did look better with each passing day; however, Grandma was nowhere close to mobile.  There wasn’t much I could do to help her.  The doctor said rest and really gentle stretching were the best cures.

By Thursday night, the bucket was full again, and Grandma asked me to go down with it; I had been hoping she would forget.

“Please, Alice,” she said, noting my obvious fear, “my knee is much better now, so I’m sure this will be the last time you need to do it.”

I decided that one last effort with the bucket wouldn’t kill me.  For all my fear, I had not been harmed in the storage.  What would one more trip hurt?

Ten minutes after ten saw me descend to the storage, bucket and stick in hand.  Again, I met no one.  The storage looked the same as before, turn after turn, as I wound my way in.  At the final turn to 106, I put the bucket down and used the stick to push it along the floor to the storage door.  Just when I thought I was scot free, the bucket caught on the floor and tipped over, spilling meat, bones, juices and all.  I was more angry than frightened at my clumsiness, and my emotions blinded my better judgement.

This is stupid, I thought to myself as I stomped over to the bucket; after all, I’d probably just scared myself into hearing things.  I righted the bucket and started to put the meat back into it when something touched my leg.  It was too firm a touch to have been a spider.  I let out a short scream and jumped away from the storage, causing myself to fall.  I took a terrified look at the storage as I scrambled away.  Even in the dim light, I was able to see something long and snakelike pull back between the slats of 106, disappearing in the murky darkness.

     “Asshole!” I yelled, as I got to my feet.  It was the worst word I knew, and I put every ounce of angry, fearful emotion behind it.

     “Alice,” came a deep, gurgling and unexpected reply.  “Bad gurl.”

     I froze in place.  I still can’t say what kept me there.  My best guess is I never imagined something with a voice, speaking words.  Part of me wondered what sort of person would go to this extreme to scare me.  Either way, my anger converted to a flash of courage in seconds.

     “You asshole!” I called out again, directing my rage at this deranged person.  “You’re the one who’s bad!  Bad!  Bad!  Bad!”  This was as angry as I’d been in my life, and if I had had a proper range of vulgar words to use, I would have used them all.

     Whoever was in 106 pushed the door open, causing me to back up again.  Whoever it was stood as tall as I did; though they were substantially wider.  I did not need to see clearly to know it was a monster.  Not a deformed person or animal, but a true, blue monster from the scariest movies and books.  It moved out of 106 with a squishy, sliding sound, like dragging a wet rug over thick mud; and it moved strangely, like it was half crawling, half hopping.

     “Baad Alice,” it said again.  “Draapping tha bucket.  Spilling tha food an tha floor.”

     “How do you know my name?” I asked when I had gone as far from the thing as I could without losing sight of it.

     “You dan’t remembar mee, Alice?” it asked.  The voice was very peculiar, like someone was trying to talk with a mouth full of water.  Something about the voice, despite how it sounded, was familiar to me.  At that moment, however, I was more focused on running than placing the voice of a monster.

     “I don’t know any monsters,” I said.

     It started making short, choking sounds I didn’t immediately identify as laughter.  This thing was laughing at me, and my slight calm was immediately disturbed by another flash of anger.

     “What’s so funny, asshole?  Nobody likes asshole monsters!”

     It stopped laughing.  “Not monstar, Alice.  Graandpa.  Rememba now?”

     Grandpa?  I tried to look carefully at it, but there was nothing more to see in that light.  My head was starting to spin.  The thing, monster or Grandpa, started to laugh again, and I simply ran for the door.  Either it didn’t chase me or was too slow to catch me.  I took the stairs, two at a time, until I got to the fifth floor, barely able to unlock the apartment with shaking hands.

     Grandma had been sleeping when I got in, but my hasty entry woke her.  I was sweaty, shaky and felt faint.

     “Alice, dear,” Grandma said, still groggy with sleep, “is everything okay?”

     “Why is Grandpa in the basement?” I blurted out, harshly, not even sure why I asked it that way.  “And why is he like that?  What’s going on, Grandma?”

     That shocked her out of her slumber.  “What silly questions, dear.  Did the rats frighten you again?”

     I had a very sudden and harsh jolt of maturity.  Nothing was right about the situation, and Grandma was holding back, trying to pretend she didn’t know.  I had my first ever doubts about her character, and I felt very alone, very cheated.

     “Grandpa is in the storage,” I stated without any doubt in my voice, the words forming around the obvious connections my mind was making, “and he is a monster.  The meat bucket is how you feed him.”

     Grandma made one last attempt to explain it away.  “Alice, that’s not nice to say.  Your grandfather passed away a long time ago.  You have just scared yourself into seeing things in the shadows.”

     “No,” I interrupted.  “He talked to me.  I remembered the voice.  It’s him.  What’s going on, Grandma?  Please, tell me.”  I felt like crying, only it wouldn’t happen.  Grandma had lied to me about something big; I had to know what it was.

     A serious look crossed her face, the kind that was almost angry.  “Alice,” she said, pausing for a moment, “there are some things I need to tell you.  I am sorry you had to find all this out.  I was going to tell you, but I didn’t know how to say it.  You might as well sit down, dear.”

     I sat at the table, but I kept my distance from her.  In some strange way, I was afraid of her, like maybe she was a monster, too.

     “When you were little, Grandpa was already getting sick,” Grandma continued.  “At first, we didn’t know what it was.  Grandpa got these little green blisters and felt sick all the time.  The doctors didn’t know what it was.  They said he probably had an allergy or infection, and things like that.  They knew nothing.  Grandpa got so mad he refused to see doctors anymore.  He got worse, though.

“Soon, he had trouble keeping food down.  The only thing he could eat without making him sick was meat, and the rarer the better.  For a short time, I thought he would be all right with that.  Then, his mood started changing and he got, well, grumpy.  He got angry and mean over any little thing.  What’s worse is he started getting rough with me.  Sure, he couldn’t get around very well but he was still quite strong, and something about him wasn’t right.”

Grandma stopped to grab a tissue.  She was fighting her tears.  “I’m sorry, dear.  I’ve never told this to a soul, and it’s hard to say the words.”  She paused to collect herself before continuing.  I didn’t offer her any comfort; something still felt wrong about the entire situation.

“That last Christmas you were here, that was the last normal time he had.  After you and your parents left, Grandpa’s body started to change.  He started to have long, stringy growths from his legs and waist.  And his arms seemed to grow, and his fingers, too.  His teeth…”  Grandma was never an actress about things, so I could tell the tears were real, but I still didn’t offer any comfort.

“Anyway, I couldn’t keep him in the apartment.  The doctors kept calling and asking about him; worried about him spreading a disease to the general public.  That’s when I put him in the storage unit.  I told the police he wandered off in the night, and they believed it.  A few weeks later they found a body near Vasey, and it looked a little like Grandpa when I saw it at the morgue, even though it was a bit rotten.  I told them it was him and that was the end of it.”

“After that, I tried to get him back into the apartment, but we nearly got caught.  So I set him up with some blankets and things.  He has been there ever since.  He doesn’t eat much and gets his water from the leak under the door.  I know he is deformed; he’s worse than before, but it wouldn’t be Christian to let him die.  Besides, I have a marital and moral obligation to support him.”

“Is he still mean?” I asked.

“I won’t lie to you, Alice.  He has become the monster he appears to be.  That’s why I warned you about rats and told you not to linger there.  I don’t know what he might do if he caught you.”

“Why?” I asked, feeling a bit angry at her, knowing what she knew the entire time.  “What has he done to you?”

Grandma hesitated, fighting tears again.  “At first,” she said, “he would threaten me.   Later, he was rough with me again.  The only way I had to keep him under control was to cut off his food.  After keeping him hungry a few times, he has learned to behave.  That’s why I only feed him every few days.  Now he is good to me, even if he’s unhappy about it.”

“Why didn’t you take him to a doctor?” I was full of questions and ideas, but only a few that needed answering.  “A real doctor, I mean, that knew how bad Grandpa got.  They might have done something.”

“You see, Alice,” Grandma said, openly crying now, “if I had done that they would have taken Grandpa away.  Worse yet, they would have taken him somewhere terrible and treated him badly.”

“Like a monster,” I said.

“Yes, Alice, just like a monster.  That’s why I have to take care of him, why we have to take care of him.  He’s still a person, dear, even if he’s gone bad.  If I tell the police or doctors, they will kill him, even if they don’t do it right away.  If I stop feeding him, he will die.  Thou shalt not kill, Alice; that is a commandment from the highest authority.  Do you understand, dear?  You will help me take care of him, won’t you dear?”

Storage Unit 106, Chapter 7

Click Here for Chapter 1

(Even more spooky fun)

Chapter 7: An Easier Return

The shakes started before I got onto the elevator, and only a strange encounter settled my nerves.  The elevator stopped on the third floor, and there was Mr. Quesnelle.  He got on and gave me a strange look as he pressed the ground floor button.  Mr. Quesnelle was one of many old people in the building.  I was sure he must have been one hundred, but he was probably in his late sixties.  Like most of the people in the building, I was familiar enough with Mr. Quesnelle to know he was a local, retired businessman who had spent time on town council.  A lot of people seemed to know him and I remembered him best from the year before, when Mrs. Quesnelle passed away from cancer.  We didn’t attend the funeral, on account of Grandma’s arthritis, but we sent a card.  I was quite shocked to be in the elevator with him so early in the morning.  Mr. Quesnelle was dressed up nicely, with a suit, tie and shiny shoes; I felt self-conscious in my dirty overalls and shirt.

     “Good morning, Mr. Quesnelle,” I said, almost suddenly.  It seemed as though I had to say something, and good manners were important.

     “Good morning, Alice,” he said, surprising me by remembering my name.  “Up early, are we?”  There was more to his question, of course, than the time of day.  He was asking what I was doing up at this time of day, by myself, in dirty clothes, with a weird fishing rod contraption.  Thankfully, I was prepared for just that kind of question.

     “Yes, sir,” I said, trying to sound like I was doing something ordinary on an ordinary day, “I’m trying out my science project by the river.”  I had hoped that would satisfy him, but I was prepared for his next question, too.

     “Seems an odd time of day for that,” he commented casually.  “I usually don’t see you up this early.”

     “I know, but they changed the swimming schedule at the Y, so I have to get this done early.”  Somehow, this seemed like a poor response, poorer than when I thought it up.  “You’re up early, too, Mr. Quesnelle.  Are you going for a walk?”  It was a stupid question, really, but it was better to start asking than keep answering.

     “Not this early,” he said, acting like I’d asked a silly question.  “As it happens, I am going to church a little early to help prepare the breakfast for after the mass.”

     “Oh,” was all I managed to say.  I knew he was Catholic, and a member of the Knights of Columbus, so he went to a different church.  Church breakfast events were fairly popular, so it made sense that they needed them prepared early.

     The elevator reached ground, saving me from having to extend the awkward conversation.  “I know Elwynn has been in poor health lately,” he said as he left the elevator, “but you are both welcome to come for our breakfast.  It starts after nine.  There will be pancakes.”  He raised an amused eyebrow, as though pancakes were a good draw.

     “Thanks, Mr. Quesnelle,” I said, happy to have talked about something other than me, “I’ll let Grandma know.”

     “Good day, Alice,” he said, tipping his hat as the elevator door closed behind him, “and be careful with your project.”

     “I will,” I started to say before the door cut me off.

     I felt strangely relaxed after meeting Mr. Quesnelle.  It was like a dose of reality had shaken me out of my fearful haze.  Getting the bucket back seemed like an easy task, all of a sudden.

     I didn’t meet anyone else on my way.  I opened the door to the storage with care; I had probably riled up the rats, last time, and didn’t know if they would stay active or not.  I poked my head around the corner.  Nothing had changed, so I slipped through the door.

     I went quickly this time, only slowing a bit as I rounded corners.  As I got closer, I could make out my footprints in the thin dust on the floor.  The smell was there again, so I tried thinking of flowers and spices.  It was much easier than the previous night, with no bucket and a better sense of my destination.  I was afraid, but not in complete terror.

     As I passed the last corner, I turned the flashlight on.  It was not the best flashlight, for sure, but it threw light better than any of the bulbs.  I pointed it down the hall, where I could see the other grey door and the floor in between.  I could not see the bucket from the end of the hall, so the farmer must have left it closer to 106.  I crept closer, going slowly now, half ready to run away.  With each couple of steps, I craned my neck to see around the corner of the nook.  I was almost at the grey door before I caught sight of the bucket.  The stupid farmer had left it really close to the door of 106, which was the worst place of all.  If I could have kicked the farmer in the shins, right then and there, I would have.  Luckily, I was prepared.

     I set the flashlight down and pointing at the bucket; it was too far to light it really well, but it helped.  I didn’t even try to make out the vague, shadowy shapes in the locker.  I unwound my string and hook, being careful not to tangle it up.  I hadn’t measured the string carefully, but the stick and string together would be more than enough to reach the bucket.  It couldn’t have been more than ten feet away.  I tried flinging the hook with the stick, but knew it would fail after a single try.  I tossed the hook by hand, and struck the bucket on the first attempt.  Unfortunately, the sound of it clanging on the bucket was magnified in the quiet of the storage; the fear of waking the rats came back.  Did I wake them?  Was I about to be attacked by a zillion rats?

     The rats didn’t come, and my desire to run for the door passed.  I reeled in the coat hanger as carefully as I could, but even that made a racket.  I decided to make one more attempt with the hook before trying something less noisy.  I felt like I had pushed my luck too far already.  My second throw was off the mark, and I completely missed the bucket.  I decided to call the hook thing a dud and try another approach.   I crept close to the bucket and used the stick to get under the handle, ever so slightly, and pull it closer to me.  This worked well, except for putting me closer to 106.  The feeling of being watched was stronger than ever.  The bucket got closer and closer as I pulled it in short hops; it seemed to take forever.

     Something made a sound in the storage; not as loud as before, but enough to hear.  It was a breathing type of sound, if I had to describe it.  Whatever additional sound it might have made was lost as I flinched hard and knocked the bucket over, which drowned out the sound.  The upside of all this was the bucket falling into my reach.  I grabbed it and ran.  I nearly forgot the flashlight in my haste.  The run back was nearly as fast as the previous one, but I had a bucket and stick to carry with me.  As I reached the safety of the grey door, I took a glance back down the hall; if something was following me, it was a lot slower than I was.

     Luckily, my trip up the elevator was clear of people.  I was in a better state than the night before, but probably didn’t have it in me to speak with anyone.  The apartment felt like a refuge from the madness in the basement, again.

     Grandma was awake when I locked the door behind me.  She had not completely shaken off the effects of the pill, but was mostly okay.

     “Alice,” she said, “I called for you, dear.  Where were you?”  The way she spoke told me she was making an effort to think, despite fatigue.  I supposed she was too foggy to remember.

     I held the bucket up to show her.  “Just getting the bucket, Grandma,” I said politely.  “I tried to be quick.”

     Grandma looked at me and the bucket like I’d asked a complicated question.  It didn’t register with her.  After a long, awkward moment, she slipped back to sleep with her eyes half open.  The routine of waking in fits and starts was familiar enough; I just let her be and continued what I was doing.

     I returned the bucket to the refrigerator.  After that, I remembered to strip off the dirty clothes before I put everything back in place; I stowed my improvised fishing rod under my bed.  All this was done with half an eye on Grandma.  I washed up in the sink and put on fresh clothes for the day; exhausted at twenty to seven.

     “Alice, dear, I am thirsty.  Could you pour me a glass of water?” Grandma asked, as I was about to sit down.

     “Yes,” I said, moving to the kitchen already, “just a second.”  I poured her some water and got it to her hand.  She drank a little and put the glass down.  It occurred to me that she hadn’t eaten or drank much since returning from the hospital, and that needed to change.  I wasn’t doing badly, but I had been able to eat during her rests.

     “Are you hungry, Grandma?” I asked.  “Do you need something else?”

     “I need to use the bathroom, dear,” she said quietly.  “Then I could use a bite, I suppose.”

     “I can help you again,” I offered.  Her knee did look a lot better; the swelling and colour were far better than before.  Anyway, she accepted my help and we got her taken care of.  Her knee seemed a lot stronger and she was miles ahead of where she had been.  Breakfast wasn’t terribly fancy; fried eggs and toast.  She was still pained from her trip to the bathroom, eating slowly and deliberately.  I made tea and cleaned the table before sitting down.

     “You took care of the bucket?” she asked, sipping her tea, like asking if I had taken out the garbage.

     “Yes, Grandma,” I said, “but it was really scary.  I, I–”  Emotions stifled my words, and I was crying before I realised it.  I had hoped I wouldn’t break down in front of her.

     “It’s all right, dear,” Grandma said in a soothing voice.  I went to her and we hugged for a minute as I sobbed away a day and night of fear.  I was a wreck.

     “Grandma,” I said, as the tears and sobbing finished, “I think there is something else in the storage.”

     Grandma paused and looked at me, like she was trying to figure out if I was lying.  “Why do you say that, dear?”

     “Something moved when I went down there, both times.  It is bigger than a rat, Grandma.  I don’t know if I can go back down there.  I’m so scared.”  I started to cry again, but it didn’t last, I was mentally exhausted.

     “There, there,” Grandma said, holding me again.  “Everything will be okay, dear.  Maybe you won’t have to go down there again.  Or maybe you won’t have to go there more than once more.  My knee already feels so much better.”

     That wasn’t very reassuring.  Grandma really couldn’t stand for more than a few seconds, and that was with my help.  How could she honestly think of doing the trip to the storage, especially carrying the bucket?  It was madness to think otherwise, even the doctor had said so.

     I wanted to tell her that she was being stupid.  I wanted to run away.  I wanted to throw the bucket into the garbage and let the farmer starve.  Instead, I told Grandma I would be okay and finished my tea.