Storage Unit 106, Epilogue

Click here for Chapter 1

Epilogue

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.

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 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 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

Storage Unit 106, Chapter 1

(After too much pondering, some spooky stuff for you. I have always enjoyed a good, scary read, so I hope you do, too. This one was partly inspired by a niece and nephew. It certainly classifies as horror. It will be broken it up into smaller chapters than my first offering; around 2000 words each)

Chapter 1: Where It All Started

My name is Alice Velamy.  I was born in Kitchener, Ontario, living there until I was six years old, when my parents and little brother died in a car accident.  I’ve been asked how that felt on many occasions since.  Sure, it’s not always asked straight out, like a reporter asking how the victims of a recent house fire feel or something along those lines; my answer hasn’t changed, really, though my recollection of how I experienced that feeling has changed over the years.  Considering everything I’ve gone through since then, I think that is perfectly normal; as if my early life could be called normal.

     When I was young, shortly after the accident, their deaths didn’t feel real.  It was like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were skipping a year and forgot to tell you to your face.  My six year old sense of time, and the events in the years that followed, have fogged my perspective of those hours and days, maybe weeks, following their deaths.  I only have a vague recollection of a babysitter becoming deeply concerned and telephoning the world when my parents failed to return.  I can’t picture her now; I can’t tell you her name or what she was wearing.  I don’t know why, but I think she was a teenager and familiar to the family.  I have an excellent recollection of the police officer who came to the door in the wee hours of the night.  He was tall and dark, with strong, masculine features and a bushy moustache.  He looked like a star in a cop movie or something.  I can still picture him today; and, if I had the talent, I could draw or paint him.  He arrived with a social worker, who I recall as an older lady with a clipboard.  They spoke briefly with the babysitter before telling me there had been an accident and I needed to go with them.

     I don’t recall feeling shocked or horrified.  I remember the cop, and his eyes.  He had dark, friendly eyes, and my six year old intuition told me I could trust him; and how could a trustworthy man, a policeman, at that, give me truly terrible news?

     I don’t remember the funeral, though I’ve been told it was a very tiny affair.  I spent the days that followed my parents’ passing in a temporary care home; essentially, they were foster parents that temporarily cared for kids in my situation.  I only remember that they were a young couple and gave me lots of ice cream.

     When the immediate dust had settled, there weren’t a ton of options for me.  My family was spread out, and not ideal for raising an orphan of six.  On my father’s side, there was an aunt, Melanie, who lived in Brampton.  Like so much else from that time, my sense of Aunt Melanie was quite vague.  I’m sure I had seen her by then because the name was familiar.  Aunt Melanie was right out of the question as a potential guardian, though.  She was well on her way to being a burnt-out druggie, at that time; and years later she went to prison for armed robbery, and hung herself in her cell.  The rest of my fathers’ relations were few and distant, people I’d never heard about or met.

     My mother’s side had more potential.  There was an Uncle Roger who lived in Sudbury, and I’d met him once.  He probably would have taken me in, if there had been no one else, but he was a career bachelor with a busy life and no preparation for a kid.  Years later, I learned he was estranged from the family for a variety of reasons.

     There was a distant cousin who had kept in touch with my mom, right up until her death.  Her name was Tina, and I wish she had taken me in, all those years ago.  Tina lived in Alberta and worked as a secretary for a small manufacturing company.  She didn’t make much money and Alberta was considered too far to relocate me.

     This left my grandmother.  Grandma and Grandpa lived fairly close by, in Midland, and I knew them reasonably well.  Mostly, we visited them on big occasions like Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.  I don’t remember hearing about Grandpa’s death before then, but he had passed away, apparently.  Grandma picked me up from the temporary care home two days after my parents died.  We went to the apartment, the only home I had ever known, where she began packing things and organising the rest.  We stayed at the apartment for two days and left after the funeral.

     Grandma had always been nice to me.  She was your stereotypical, white haired, conservative old lady who baked cookies and gifted you socks and all that.  Despite all the crap that happened after, I am still glad that it was my Grandma who came to watch me in the days and weeks that followed.  Her familiar presence was a comfort I don’t think anyone else could have given me.

     It was not until the start of the school year that the death of my family actually hit me.  Grandma had me ready for day one of a new school year, in a new school, when I just couldn’t stop bawling.  I had my shoes on and waited at the apartment door with my lunchbox when I felt the loss of my parents, all at once, and it was awful.  We were due to leave at any moment when something just clicked and I couldn’t do anything but cry.  It’s one of those helpless, powerless feelings that sneak up on you; when you’re six, with no perspective or experience, they hit hard.  Grandma called the school and I stayed home.  I’m pretty sure I cried steady for the next couple of days.  The weeks that followed were tough, too, but I got through them and Grandma was very patient and supportive.

     Of course, life went on.  I began going to school, making new friends and slowly becoming myself.  It wasn’t always easy, but I got through it.

     I suppose I should talk about Grandma and our living arrangement.  Grandma lived in the Riverview Apartments on Monarch Street.  The apartments were fairly old and a bit dark.  The building had ten floors and about ninety apartments.  It was probably the biggest apartment building in Midland, at the time.  Grandma explained that she had moved to the apartments because Grandpa had been sick and they couldn’t take care of their house any longer.  I didn’t completely grasp that, because I had no memory of them living in a house.  Anyway, the building was adequate, with an underground parking garage, laundry room and basement storage.  There was even a decent common room with a piano and library.

     When I look back on it, the place was at a tipping point in terms of maintenance.  It’s one of those situations where the owner starts pinching pennies and dragging his feet on maintenance; and the longer that happens, the more the tenants get used to it, only encouraging the owner to drag his feet.  Riverview Apartments were at a point where the neglect could no longer be masked, and was turning dumpy.  As a little kid, I noticed the condition without really processing it.  I normalised the situation.  This was where Grandma lived and that’s how things were at places where Grandma’s lived, so the case was closed.

     Apartment 504, where we lived, was a small, two bedroom place.  It was properly suited for older couples, or young couples starting out.  The kitchen was tiny and there wasn’t much open space.  The balcony was a nice size, though, and I spent a fair bit of time there.  It overlooked an undeveloped area of trees and river, even though I considered it more of a creek.  Grandma placed a small, plastic patio set on the balcony in the summers and I made good use of it.  The rest of the apartment was cozy, and had that old person look to it.  The walls were covered with pictures, shelves of knickknacks, a clock, a barometer, and a collection of knitted, artsy pieces that Grandma referred to as her birds.  The other furnishings consisted of a smallish dining set, couch, rocking chair, coffee table, ancient TV and little writing desk.

     My room had been used as a craft studio, of sorts, before I moved in.  I have vague memories of being fascinated by the place on family visits.  It was a clutter of shiny, neat stuff that any little girl would love.  Of course, the other half of the fascination was in not technically being allowed to play there.  When I moved in, Grandma fixed up the room by clearing out her crafts and installing my old bed and dresser, along with some other odds and ends from my old room, like my Smurfette poster and spaghetti art.  She had also recovered a rare, family picture and hung it on the wall beside my bed.  I didn’t properly appreciate that picture until years later, when I realised how little I had left from my parents.  It was a small room, but not much smaller than the one I had spent the previous six years in.

     Grandma’s room was larger, but you wouldn’t have known it.  She had a large bed and dresser that ate up most of the space in the room.  They were nice, and also quite old.  The decorations on the walls thinned out in her bedroom.  All that decorated her walls were an old picture of her and Grandpa, when they were younger, a crucifix and a tapestry depicting the last supper.  Grandma wasn’t a religious nut; however, she was a solid, churchgoing Christian.

     My memory of Grandpa was not very good.  I remember he was usually sick when we would visit, and usually crotchety, which Mom explained away with his illness; I remember her telling me Grandpa hadn’t always been like that.  I also remembered the strange, small sores on Grandpa’s arms.  They were green and smelled strange, like worms or something.  When I moved in with Grandma, I was surprised to hear he had passed; but it didn’t bother me that he was gone, either.

     I wasn’t allowed to play in the halls or garage; and the common and laundry rooms were off limits unless Grandma was with me.  These were the sort of casual limits I was used to, however.  When you are six, more things are out of bounds than in.  I suppose the point is that I wasn’t really bothered about going anywhere in the building.  Grandma kept close tabs on me and I wasn’t prone to wandering, so all was well.

     The big off zone, however, were the storage lockers in the basement.  Grandma was always very clear about keeping away from that part of the building.  There wasn’t much of interest down there, anyway.  The entrance to the basement was either by the stairwell, on one side only, or the elevator; and the two were close together.  The storage area was accessed though a heavy, grey door.  It was pointed out to me, soon after I moved in, that this was a no zone.  The door was dented in a few places and the paint looked like it was the most recent of several layers.  The iron handle and keyhole above it had splotches of grey paint on them, too.  It immediately took on a sinister look and I heeded Grandma’s warning.

Continue to chapter 2!