South Desert Storage – 6

Fuck the owner of 1A, I thought. I work here, I take care of these units, I do my job at making this place a business. Who the hell are these people to come into 1A, and threaten Bob and Joe? Or me? I want that owner here, I thought. I want to tell him to leave, to get the hell out of here and never come back.
I went to 1A and opened the door. I stared at everything in the unit – a baseball and baseball bat, some board games, Jack Daniels, old ashtrays, a twenty-something year old Honda Nighthawk (which I ended up putting back), rugs with dust on them, an antique rifle, an antique handgun, more Jack Daniels, Paul Mall Reds, a machete, a dog collar, and a pair of black cowboy boots. The China tea set was still in the middle of the room. Without thinking, without blinking, and I swear to god, without breathing I ran to that machete. I picked it up and with all of my might I swung it at that tea set. I shattered it and the Jack Daniels. I cut the board games in half, and I sawed through that dog collar. I was on my way to the cowboy boots when I heard an enormous bang.
I turned around to see the man. It was the man from before with the cowboy hat – the owner of 1A. He was holding the antique pistol in the air. Smoke was coming out of it and he looked like some zombie who’d started a marathon race. I still couldn’t see his silhouetted face, but he was about 30 feet behind the unit. Behind me.
I froze, but I still had adrenaline pulsing through me. I turned around with the machete held high in my right arm. “What do you want!” I yelled.
He slowly lowered the pistol until it was pointed directly at me.
“You’re going to kill me over some crap in a storage unit?” I asked. “What do you want?”
He was still standing in the same spot, but the word “everyone” flew into my ear as if he were right next to me. We both still didn’t move, I still couldn’t see his face.
“W-what do you mean ‘everyone?’” I stammered.
He pointed his gun to unit 2A. The door flew open and as if someone in the back of the unit had thrown it, a VCR tape flew a couple of feet and then slid right to where I was standing. Bob & Joe / Last Tape was written on a piece of duct tape that was attached to the VCR tape. I looked up when I heard the sound of the motorcycle from 1A being started.
The man was leaving. I don’t think this is the last time I’ll see him, though.
By now it was evening. I quickly locked every entrance to the units, got in my apartments, and locks all of its doors and windows as well. Then I got my VCR player out.

I rewound the tape when I put it in, but it still began in the middle of a frame. It was Joe, younger looking though. She was sitting on a wooden porch somewhere. Her face looked so terrified. I played the tape and found out Joe was at some sort of party. Someone (I’m guessing Bob) is grilling hotdogs and hamburgers. There are other people there, maybe five or six. They all look like family, old and young. They’re just talking, two kids are running around in the grass, a couple is standing off to the side. Joe won’t stop looking at something though, with that horrified look on her face. Why did that man want me to watch this? What would anything with Bob and Joe have to do with him tormenting me now?
“Grandma, are you rich now that you sold your store?” The girl running in the yard comes up to ask Joe.
“Hey,” says Bob, smiling at her. “It was my store too. Your grandma isn’t the only rich one.”
“No. No, we are not rich. Stop it. No!” Joe is in the same spot, staring the same way, but she’s yelling now. “We are not rich! Shut up!”
The girl begins to cry. One of the other adults tells the person behind the camera to shut it off. The tape goes to a black screen.
I fast forwarded the tape but I couldn’t find anything else. Just this one scene.
I need to talk to Joe again.

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South Desert Storage 5

I sat down, and leaned over the table and picked up a piece of the lamp with my bare hand. No one showed up. I placed the glass down and picked it up again, thinking that maybe that would fix the problem. Again, nothing. I sat and waited, not really knowing what else to do. After a moment I could hear something. It was the sound of voices. They were quiet and I couldn’t hear what they were saying, or how many there were. My kitchen and dining table where I had been waiting were on the middle floor, but this sounded like it was coming from downstairs.

I got up and slowly inched my way down, being sure to be as quiet as possible. About halfway down the stairs I realized that the voices were from the tv. I could hear Jerry Springer, and some couple fighting over who’s grandma could be responsible for giving their child his first pack of cigarettes. I kept creeping forward until I could see someone sitting on my couch, faced away from me, watching my tv. And watching trash tv, at that.

With the confidence of my football helmet and baseball bat I quickly cleared my throat and said “Bob? Or Joe?”

The person let out a deep sigh and turned the volume on the tv down. They then slowly put their left arm on top of the couch and began turning themselves around. It was a woman. She was bigger, had dark red short hair, and was wearing a grey Mickey Mouse sweatshirt that smelled like McDonald’s. “Joe. As in Majoesaphine? What are you, stupid, girl?”

“Oh, I’m sorry I just wasn’t -“

“Wasn’t expecting a fat loser, huh?”

“What? No, I just – Sort of the opposite of this. Uh, of you…”

“Right.” Her strong southern accent was now on full display. “You were expecting some crazy son of a bitch come in ‘ere and try to kill you, like last time. It ain’t gonna happen right now so just settle down, missy. I don’t kill. I watch my shows, without being interrupted.”

“But how did you know-”

Without being interrupted, hun.”

Fine. I will just let this random woman finish her trash tv in my living room. No problem, I have lots of other things to do. Totally.

I stared at a fly trying to get out of my halfway opened kitchen window for about 20 minutes, when Majoesaphine finally called for me. Judging her that she might be somewhat needy, I brought a couple of drinks with me.

“Mountain Dew?” I asked.

“Thanks,” said Joe, as if expecting me to do this sooner. “I’ll tell you what I know, ‘cause that’s all I can tell you. If I can’t tell you something, you gotta understand I just don’t know and I just can’t tell you. Okay?” She sounded afraid. What couldn’t she tell me? And what would it matter? She was a stranger in my home, brought here by circumstances I don’t know. Who would know she’s here, and how?

“Okay, Joe.”

“Alright. Now, I know you don’t know Bob and I, even though we were sort of a big deal around these parts. Gotta commercial on tv, you know?” She frowned, “Had, I guess.”

“Yeah, what happened?” I really did want to know, I wasn’t just asking. I didn’t know how to appropriately convey that, though. I sat on the chair next to the couch and leaned in towards her.

She let out a deep sigh and looked at the floor. “We died, hun. Don’t matter how, just matters that it did, and even that don’t matter a heck of a lot now. What matters is what affects you now.”

I didn’t know what to say. “I’m so sorry… how does this affect me, though,”

“Being dead is like a fuzzy memory. Like being asleep, kind of. I knew we had lost our name on the store. I knew that our things had been packed up. And I knew that all of it had been moved here, but then it was sold.”

“Sold to who?”

She swallowed, still staring at the floor. Her eyes widened. “He’s not of this earth, girl. You need to be careful. You seem nice enough, but I can’t stay here and help you, you just need to know that 1A is bad. Bad, bad news.”

Then, she vanished.

South Desert Storage 4

“Hamburgers or hotdogs tonight, ma’am?”

“Jesus, you scared the crap out of me, Joe! I didn’t even hear you pull up!”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Lucky it’s just me and not some maniac out here though!” Joe was my boss. If you could call him that. If a “boss” is a person who often disregards things you have to say (I don’t know if it’s intentional or not), brings you food every other week so you don’t starve, and ignores almost all of your calls until they pop up out of no where behind you.

“Ha, yeah. That’s right,” I said while thinking why the hell would you say that? 

“2A, huh? Well now, I thought that unit was empty. None of this stuff should be in here,” he said.

“What stuff? Do you know what’s in here?” I asked. I could tell the unit was filled to the brim with stuff, but it was all covered over with ugly brown tarps.

“Oh, what’s in any of these units? Crap, probably. Don’t bother yourself with it, though. I’ll have this space cleared out this afternoon.”

“Why? What do you mean? You can’t just leave it here?” I was trying not to sound suspicious. Maybe he was too, though.

“Well,” he chuckled, “If something’s not supposed to be here, it shouldn’t be here!” His tone then changed. He sounded sad, desperate almost. “You should know that by now.”

Joe left right after dropping my groceries off. He didn’t say another word to me until he left. When he did, he perked up just for one “Well, see ya in two weeks!” and then regained his sad demeanor.

I had to know what was in the unit.

When I ran outside, a moving truck with two men was already at work removing the contents. How did they get here so fast? Why have I not heard anyone enter the facility all day? The men were working quickly, like they were on a tight schedule. When they saw me approaching they didn’t look at me, but made conscious efforts not to. They began working even faster, silently. I stood watching as one was loading in the last of the items: in one hand a stained-glass lamp, and in the other its shade. In his hurry the man dropped the glass lamp. He tossed the shade into the truck and bent down to pick up the broken lamp. His partner ran over and slapped him on the back and then made a let’s-get-the-hell-out-of-here gesture towards the front of the truck. The two then scurried off.

I quickly ran inside and grabbed a broom and dustpan once I could no longer see the truck. I scooped up the lamp and headed inside.

I waited until business hours were closed, even though I knew no one else would be showing up today.

I readied myself with a baseball bat, I was wearing a football helmet that I was borrowing from some rich family that was into sports and had to come around every season to switch out their crap. I was sitting at the table, with the broken lamp in the middle. It was glass, painted blue. It didn’t look like it was from a chain store, but rather customized by its owner. I placed a chair opposite me from the table, hoping that when I touched the glass, its owner would show up in the chair I had provided for it, or would at least be happy that I had provided it a place to sit. “I am an extremely old demon, who was all too prepared to eat your soul, but upon finding this chair, I think we’ll get along just fine,” the owner would say. “Have you any tea?”

I just hoped I’d be right. Or close. I just didn’t want to die or get knocked unconscious again.

South Desert Storage 3

I woke up in my bed. Had I dreamed being unconscious? Had I dreamed everything? I was wearing a hat. Why the hell was I wearing this? It was a baseball hat, trucker specifically. Back-to-back world war champs it read. The letters were in white on a plain black background.

“Probably wondering what’s up, huh,” said a voice from the other end of my room. It was early, but the sun wasn’t all the way up yet and so I couldn’t see everything in my room…

“Quit lookin’ around and just listen!” The voice was familiar now, it was the man from before.

“What do you want!” I yelled.

“What the hell did I just say? I’ll just give you a second to think about what you wanna do here, girl.”

I shut up. I still could not see him but I could feel him in the room.

“Well, alright now,” he continued. “Good choice. Now, you’re employed at an interesting spot here, you know that? Don’t answer. See, you’ve been here a while now it seems and you’ve been a good little worker. You clean, you leave. Usually that’s all fine, right? But lately, you seem to think this shit is yours, huh! You took my bike, and now I need to get even.”

“You haven’t been here in years, that spot used to be empty!”

“That spot is mine!” He was yelling now. “You don’t get it! I am not what you think I am, and…”

I rushed up from my bed to turn the lights on. As I did, I dropped the hat. There was no one in sight. I called out and there was really no one inside. I picked the hat up again to examine it.

“I am death…”

The man quit talking again when I dropped the hat. I’m not so sure if he said “dead” or “death.” Whoops.

I knew now that it was the hat that brought the man out. It must have been the motorcycle too, that it did it the first time. And the woman too, I think. Whenever I touched something, the person belonging to it appeared. Belonging to it? Can a person belong to an item? “It’s not the clothes that make the man,” but man also did not make the clothes. What is man anymore? What’s in a person?

I went back down to the unit with the motorcycle. It was open, the way I had left it. I didn’t want to touch anything. The woman who knocked me out must have “belonged” to the teapot I had touched. But why was all of this stuff here, and why now? That man… that man also knew how this worked. And he knew to put the hat on my head, but he couldn’t have done it. Who did?

I checked the unit next to this one in the computer. 2A – it should be empty. The owners left about a year ago now and it hasn’t been rented since. Robert and Josephine Grant. I Googled them just to cover all of my bases. I found a website near me:

Bob n Joe regret having to close our store here in the heart of the desert. The southern desert. After 56 years in business, we will miss our patrons, mostly who were passersby, asleep in their trucks. Oh how Joe and I would love to watch those trucks come in and see the characters driving them. One time this fellow showed up, on a motorcycle. Can you believe that! Riding through the desert on a motorcycle. Jesus H Christ. Well I’ll tell you, that asshole left his tank overflowing in his motorcycle. Did it constantly. He’d always be poking fights with someone, and one day thought it’d be ‘cool’ to light a cigarette while filling his tank. That dickhead got into a fight and it overflowed again! He went back and bam! I have to fill out insurance forms, cars are damaged, I need a new pump, plus the ambulance bills! Don’t get me started on the damn ambulance bills! 

Anyways, I’m sorry to leave you guys, but we’re just getting too old for it now. It was a pleasure to serve you and meet you all.

(Except that asshole with the bike, rest in peace)

Nice couple. I walked down to their unit and opened up the door. It wasn’t empty.

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South Desert Storage – 2

The person lit a cigarette in my direction. They were bigger. It looks like the silhouette of a cowboy hat? I didn’t want to move foreword.

“Have a good ride?” They finally spoke. It was a man’s voice. He sounded old, his voice was gravely and shaky. “Did you have a good time riding around on my bike? Now don’t stare, love. Come here.”

“Who are you?” I didn’t move.

“Well,” he slowly let out a drag from his cigarette. The figure looked calm. “You should know I’m the owner of that bike, for one.”

“But you haven’t paid, and I’m sure I checked it before and there wasn’t any-”

“Have you seen death?”

He caught me off guard. It wasn’t what he said, it was how he said it. I still couldn’t clearly even see his face, but the question was whispered right into my ear. As if he were right behind me.

“Does it scare you?” He was still in the same spot and the voice was still in my ear. “Are you afraid to die right now? I bet you are. What are you going to do?” Another drag. “Nothing. That’s what I know you’ll do. Listen, girl,” he disappeared. Vanished into thin air.

He appeared to the right of me. He was literally whispering in my ear now. I could smell his cigarette, his horrible odor. I could feel his breathing on my ear. “You’re afraid to die right now and you won’t do a thing about it.”

He vanished again.

I started the bike and left. I made it to the front gate, unlocked it, and sped off. I rode all night to just get away from there, from whatever just happened. How did he get in there? Was he even real? Was it just some elaborate prank to avoid a rental space debt? But, I did check the space before and it was empty. I know it.

The sun was coming up as I was getting gas. I had to go back.

I pulled up to the gate at South Desert Storage and everything looked the same as I left it. Gate locked, night lights on, apartment lights on. The only thing that was different was the storage unit – 1A. It was closed now, I had left it open since I began cleaning it and now it was closed.

I shut the bike off, collected myself, and built up the strength to go to the unit. I pounded on it with my fist.

“Yo! Open up!” I was doing my best to sound intimidating, like a woman who’d seen some shit. I wanted whoever was in there to hear me outside and be like damn, that’s probably some crazy ex-bartender chick. I bet she’s had to beat the shit out of drunk people and stop knife fights. I surrender! But it probably sounded like some twenty-something year-old who smoked too many cigarettes and became bitter at an early age. But who knows.

There was no response. I had to open it. Everything was still there – the whiskey, the handgun, and machete, and dog collar and everything else. Untouched and unchanged. That was a bit of a relief. Right?

The China teapot and tea set was still there as well. It was the most beautiful thing in the small, dusty room, and I wanted to look at it closer. I picked it up. It was warm! There was warm tea in the teapot. Who’d made it? Was that man from last night still here?

Behind me, in a shrieking woman’s voice screamed “You! You bitch! What do you think you’re doing!”

I was knocked unconscious before I could even turn around.

South Desert Storage

South Desert Storage has been here for ten years, and I for two. The name doesn’t mean much because I don’t even know what desert this is. It’s just empty; north, south, it doesn’t matter. But I suppose some people feel comfortable putting a name on everything, so here I am – southern nothing. It’s better than some jobs, at least. I mean, I live here and get paid to do so, so that’s something. It’s just me, which is also kind of nice sometimes. When I signed up they asked me what I wanted most out of this job. I don’t know, I told them, I guess I just want to find out what I want to do with the rest of my life, you know? Some alone time might help that? They told me I’d be less alone than I’d think. I don’t know what that means, even still. It’s only a couple times a week I’ll have to let someone in the gate so they can get to their things. More often than that, I’m just cleaning up old spaces people have quit paying on and abandoned, which happens enough to still surprise me.

Today I’m cleaning 1A because I finished cleaning the cycle last month and now I start over. It’s an abandoned lot. The rules for those say that there aren’t many rules, and I can take what I want. There’s rarely anything I want.
It’s morning and I lift the garage door to 1A to begin. The smell is what hits me first. It’s like if a hundred-acre farm, with all of its farm smells, were wrapped up into one medium size garage of unpleasant musk. I found a lot of things in that unit that made sense – a baseball and baseball bat, some board games, Jack Daniels, old ashtrays, a twenty-something year old Honda Nighthawk, rugs with dust on them, an antique rifle, an antique handgun, more Jack Daniels, Paul Mall Reds, a machete, a dog collar, and a pair of black cowboy boots. There was also something which didn’t make sense to me – an antique china teapot and set, displayed pristinely in the middle of the room. I didn’t remember a unit like this. The record says they quit paying a few years ago, but I know I’ve cleaned this unit out already. More than once.
What am I supposed to do, what are any of us supposed to do, when something so strange but so mundane happens? Complain that we may or may not have missed something in our previous work, and risk sounding ridiculous? Don’t do the work and be fired? No, no, I’ll just do the work.
I clean and dust. I organize on my terms; everything except the motorcycle on one side, and just the motorcycle on the other (it runs). I take this person’s life and how they organized it at one point, methodically and meticulously, and I ruin it to make my cleaning easier.
South Desert Storage is assembled a bit like a castle. It’s a giant, two-story square lined with tens, maybe hundreds of units. In the middle there are also more units. I spend the rest of the day riding the motorcycle around the complex.
Towards the end of most days, I like to go to the top of the complex and watch the sun set.
I start the bike to get back down to my apartment on the first floor and it won’t go. I check the gas tank and see that it’s out. As I begin coasting the bike down the ramp to the first floor I see something. The headlight won’t work, but it looks like a person? There’s no way into the complex unless I open the gate. Unless my boss opened the gate?
“Joe? I thought you were getting the grocery order next week,” I yell.
Nothing.
I hit the brakes and begin just inching foreword. It’s a person, it’s definitely a person.
“Joe! Say something!”
Everything gets quiet. No wind, no birds.

Library – Pt 3

I pressed the ‘notes’ folder on the phone.  I found a list of information about a man named Christopher Nealon – his height, weight, age, that sort of thing.  And then, at the bottom was a line with Christopher’s signature and a copyright logo that was just next to the name ‘Isaac.’  What had Christopher signed up for, and why?

Do you think my writing is really why I left?  I mean, I know that it’s why I said goodbye.  Several times.  It’s why I’m seldom around when you need me most.  It’s what I tell myself is so worth being so scarcely seen by the one I love most.  But I can’t shake this feeling that there’s more to it.  Maybe it’s subconscious, or maybe I really do just love this library where I write.  Or maybe I just like being alone.  Not lonely, but alone.

I couldn’t stand up any more.  I was weak from hunger, and from passing adrenaline, and from thinking too much.  I sat in a corner as far away from the windows and lights as I could be.  I wanted to be in my own world, but I didn’t feel alone.  I felt like someone else was with me.  Watching me.

“You’re right to want to be isolated right now,” a voice came out of the dark.  I shuttered.  I don’t think out of fear so much, as just exhaustion.  I am exhausted.

“Things didn’t go as planned.  You must be worried, scared even,” the voice was monotone, too much so to convey any real emotion.  “Lots of questions, I’m sure.  I know, in fact.  I know for a blatant fact that you are scared, you are worried, and you have many questions.  Let me help you out.”

His voice sounded more annoyed and rushed now than before.  I could hear him inching towards me and then he stopped, just out of my sight in the shadows.

“I have been watching you.  I have been studying you.  I own you, and I mean that in ways you cannot even comprehend.  I am not here to kill you, but I do not care about your wellbeing.  I own you and I own the libraries.  Don’t ever forget that.  These places are not to you what they are to everyone else.  I think another one of your friends can attest.”  I heard a loud thump and then another man’s grunt as his footsteps left the building.

I heard the door close behind him, and then some rustling in the hallway.  I slowly got up and went towards the door.  It was another man in the matching shirt with the electronics in it.  He was bleeding as well, but he still had his uniform on.  He was coughing on the ground.

“Kill him,” the man growled out.  “That’s what your next step needs to be.  You have no one else.  He’s gone after families, friends, you name it.  Just some fun new technology, huh?”

“I don’t understand,” I told him.  “I don’t know who that was, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know who that man was who died speaking to me!  I don’t know if I want answers, I don’t know if I care.  I just want to go home,” my eyes were tearing up and I was losing my ability to speak clearly.

“Look, I don’t know how you got into this, but I know that he knows you.  And if he is making threats to you, look out.  He’s already done so much…”

“But what?  What has he done, what is happening here, who are you!” I was sobbing.

“That man is Isaac.  I don’t know his last name, no one does, he just goes by that.  I signed up for a test group.  It was early stage implant technology.  Do you use Siri?”  He waited for a response but I didn’t speak.  “Well anyways, artificial intelligence is farther along than the public thinks.  Much farther.  But robot brains don’t work the same way that human ones do, right?”

Again, no response from me.

“So what are you going to do, then, not advance your artificial intelligence?  Never, you use human brains to improve on your robot brains.  Take what you want out of the humans, find its source, extract it, and upload it.”

He quit talking, not looking for a response this time.  I sat for a few moments and let things register as best as they could.  “And that’s what these shirts are?” I barely let out.

“Right.  The shirts were designed to connect to our brains.  They’re looking for the most suitable mentality for their software.”

“What type of mentality?  So, there are robots being built to walk around and kill people?  To do what all of… you people did outside, running into the window?”

“Not exactly.  They didn’t say what the software was for, outside of artificial intelligence.  I’d doubt if it’s real robots, these people are bigger and more sinister than that.  They want their software to infect.  And I think you were a test.  Probably still are.”  He sounded tired.

“What do you mean, he said he wouldn’t kill me.”

“I don’t know how these tests end.  I just know that it was uploaded into us to find you at all costs.  We couldn’t help what we were doing.  They want to know how we fulfill an objective with our own brains.  If they like what they see, either in thought or in action, they take that part out of us.  Isaac owns the libraries, they are his playgrounds.”

“But why was I the only one left in here?  This is a public place but I can’t find anyone who isn’t attached to whatever is happening now!”

“This is his playground.  He can do what he wants.  He probably used some type of illusion to lure you alone here, all I know is that he will use his no-tech subjects however he wants.  Just like us.  He watches everything and when he no longer has a use for you-” his body snapped back quickly.  He was dead.

And I was alone.

I hope.