Clandestine – 2

Soundtrack

“You lost, friend?” Comes a loud voice, which sounds oddly familiar. I wipe the sleep from my eyes, put on my glasses, and look out the window. It is the cop from last night. Did he follow me here?

I roll down the window of my car. “What do you mean? I’m sorry if I wasn’t supposed to stay here; I’m leaving now.”

“You best do that. And go back where you came from, remember?”

When he says ‘remember’ his voice changes. It gets lower, sadder, and even louder. Immediately, without trying or even thinking, the image of the boy hanging from the highway sign by snakes comes back to mind. I shutter.

“I’m leaving,” I say in a rush, starting my car.

“Good. Go.”

I leave the lot feeling just as bad as I did last night. The location where I am supposed to drop off the letter is just about ten miles outside of town. I reach the small community by 10 a.m. There is no one in sight. The road is made of dirt, and I see a few houses every now and then on the left and right side of the road.

I wonder what the hell was up with that kid, and with that cop. Was this all some sort of backwoods joke on passers by? I begin to feel sleepy. Almost like I am going to fall asleep at the wheel, just out of no where. I stop to calm down and have a cigarette at a small park I find. There’s not much here, just some rusty swings, some gravel, a chain-link fence missing the gate, dead trees in the middle of summer, and some matching cigarette butts. I glare at the envelope I am to deliver. What could be inside this? I hold the envelope to the light to try and read through it. I think I can see the word “Human” somewhere, but I’m not even entirely sure.

“Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS came on my CD player. It’s a good song. I forgot about making this CD, there’s a lot of good songs on it.

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division came on next.

Odd pairing, I thought, but also sort of funny. I started another cigarette.

“Never Tear Us Apart” started again. Followed by “Love Will Tear Us Apart” again. Tired of hearing the same two songs twice, I pulled the key from the ignition. The radio didn’t stop, though. I pressed the power button and it still didn’t stop. I pressed the eject button; the CD didn’t come out, but the music had stopped. Something didn’t feel right; I lit another cigarette.

Just as I did, “Never…” started playing again, at full volume. About thirty seconds in, “Love…” began playing. I ran to the car, and pressed the power button again, to no avail. I looked at the radio.

666

That’s all that was on the radio. The music kept playing and I opened the trunk for a wrench to disconnect the battery. Just as I opened the trunk, the music stopped.

What could I do, really? The car went back to normal. I was a bit freaked out, but I needed to make my delivery. I kept driving on back roads, and the streets seemed to get worse: more potholes, more rocks. The houses also went down drastically in quality. That is, until I got to a golden gate, with a drive-up box to talk to the owners of the house up the hill. The house was the one I was to make the delivery at. I drove to the box and pressed the call button. “Who is it?” responded an elderly-sounding woman’s voice.

“I have a package,” I said.

“And you’re sure it’s for me? For this address?”

I repeated the address to her.

“Well, who are you with?”

“Ma’am, I’m just trying to make a delivery for my landlady. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. I am not with a corporation or anything. Can I please just come drop this off to you?”

She let me in. As I drove up the winded road to her house, I realized it wasn’t much of a house at all — it was a mansion.

“I’m sorry I was so annoying at the gate,” she told me over the tea she eventually made us.

Her mansion seemed to go on forever. We were sitting near a large fireplace, in elegant red couches.

“It’s just,” she continued, “you saw all of those shacks on the way up. They’ve got me beginning to think this was all a bad idea.”

“What was a bad idea?” I asked.

She sighed. “You have something for me?”

I handed her the envelope. All it said on it was For Sasha. “Can you tell me what it’s about? I don’t want to pry, but I drove a long way and my landlady is really making a big deal out of these deliveries…”

“You’re right, you shouldn’t pry. I think maybe you should go now.” Her tone was completely different, like she had snapped.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m sorry if I asked something offensive…”

She didn’t even look at me as I left out the long, stone hallway. Along the way, I saw something move into the room next to the front door along the floor. I peaked my head in before I left, to see a snake slithering through the room.

I found it a bit unsettling when the people who lived in the cheapest housed gave me sad, almost scared faces as I drove passed. They were gone so quickly and out of view, so my mind moved on to other questions faster than it probably should have.

I ended up back in town quicker this time — strange how not having my car radio become possessed during a smoke break will make that happen. I had to get gas at the gas station which was now open. As I went inside and b-lined for the snack isle, I got a message on my phone from an unknown number.

“New delivery boy, huh? I think there’s something you should see,” it read.

I responded with a “who is this,” only to get no response. I paid for my gas and chips and went to start my car. It started, but didn’t sound okay. I pulled over in the still closed “Atlas of Humanity” parking lot since it was still abandoned, and looked at the engine. Everything seemed fine, but when I went to start the car to leave, nothing happened. The engine didn’t turn, the lights didn’t come on, nothing.

I had just made a long, stressful drive out to a place I didn’t really want to go, where I didn’t really feel comfortable, to do something I didn’t really want to do. And now my car had died. To make the best of my situation, I decided to cut my losses and make a day of things. I stopped by the local liquor store, grabbed some more snacks, and went on a hike in the northern Kansas nothingness to take my mind of of things, or at least to organize the thoughts inside my head from the last day.

The day-hike quickly turned into a night hike. I got lost. I don’t know how it happened, exactly, as I followed the map I had previously downloaded onto my phone. The whole time, it said I was only a couple miles away from where I had started at most, but when I turned back to go to my car it took me hours. I am back at my car now, and it still will not start. Something is wrong, though. Someone has done something to my car and is keeping me here. It’s too late to do anything about it now, though. I have no choice but to camp out in my car again, in the same lot I was in before. I hope that cop isn’t watching me.

I eventually fell asleep for a little while. But I woke up to a loud pop.

I looked up at the lot, and at the “Atlas of Humanity” place — it wasn’t empty anymore.

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Clandestine – 1

Soundtrack

I moved because there was nothing for me where I came from before. There were more people, and more businesses, and more “friends,” but there just wasn’t what I needed. I need to think. I need a fresh start more than anything, I guess.

I did things where I came from that I am not exactly proud of, and don’t exactly want to relive. I want to get away. I need to think, that’s all. You can’t think when your home in the city is filled with people who have bigger, louder problems than yours. They rant and rave, they stay up late and drain all of their emotions, they eat whatever. And I mean, like garbage on a plate — and it smells, and their conversations drain me, and make me want to go mad.

But here I can breathe. I can think, and I can make for myself what I want.

I found a spot in the middle of nowhere. Here I am thirty miles from the nearest town, and twenty from the nearest grocery store. There is almost nothing to see in every view, but it somehow means everything to me. There is a beauty in being surrounded by nothing, knowing that nothing is your closest “thing.”

When I moved here, I agreed to work out a plan with the Landowner. I will drive (an undetermined amount of miles) every month and deliver “special packages” around the country. “It’s nothing harmful or illegal, I promise,” L tells me. “Your help could really fulfill some important goals, though. I don’t have the energy or the time to make all of these stops on my own.” I say that the deal sounds great to me and move in. The house is a two story, green adobe home. I live above the garage in a studio-style setup. There is a bathroom, a small kitchen, my bed, and a closet. I don’t need much else – I don’t own much else. I can see out of two windows — one to each side of the house, and can sometimes hear L loudly making phone calls. She is out of town this week, and I have my first delivery.

I am to go to a small town on the north side of Kansas. I have an envelope to deliver there. “I don’t trust the post much anymore,” L tells me when she gives me the envelope, “I doubt any USPS truck is going to go here, anyways,” she concludes. She then leaves on another “vacation,” and asks me to finish the delivery by the end of the week. Kansas is fairly close to here, but I have nothing else to do and I set off.

I begin driving through the nearest city and when I reach its outskirts, I start to think. Why is L always going on vacations? There is no way she makes so much money she can really go somewhere almost every week. I ultimately decide she must be some sort of millionaire retiree, though, and journey on.

When I reach the edge of the Kansas border, I see something in the distance. It looks like some sort of fake alien. There is a cartoonishly large head upon a small body. Above that is a billboard. I can’t quite read it out yet, but as I get closer it says “Travelled so far?” The billboards is just black, with plain white font on it. There is no advertising for anything. As I get closer, I realize that what’s under the sign isn’t a fake alien at all. What I see is much worse.

I see a body. I don’t know if it is real or not, but it’s a body. Above that is not some silly alien head — it’s snakes. A ball of snakes is wrapped around this person’s head and is holding them up by the sign, as if they are hanging. “That has to be a mannequin,” I think to myself, not wanting to stop. I pass, and the human and snakes become more clear — it is a boy’s body hanging, and the snakes are red. I almost swerve off the road staring, when I am pulled over by a police officer.

“Sir! Sir!” I exclaim when he walks up besides my car.

“Shut up,” he whispers.

“No, you didn’t see that kid?! You need to send h—”

“Stop. Stop right now,” He says slowly, but with a loud force that gets me to quit. “What you saw was nothing, and I suggest you go home.”

“I won’t have a home if I don’t keep going,” I say, “This is all I’ve got.”

“Look, kid,” he knelt down to my car and looked me deep in the eye. “We are all a part of something, we just don’t know it. We should be glad we don’t know it. Once you start knowing what you shouldn’t know — what there is out there to behold… Just get out of here and pretend tonight never happened.”

He doesn’t say anything else, but with the look in his face, I can tell he is terrified. He slowly walks back to his car and I slowly get back onto the highway. I am shaking from what just happened. If the police aren’t going to even acknowledge that boy, how are they to ever help me here? I felt as though I were totally on my own. It was the middle of the night now, and I knew I was getting close to my first delivery.

I park in an abandoned lot. I am in an extremely small town in northern Kansas. It is flat here and there is only a gas station (which is closed), a grocery store (which is closed), and a mega-complex (which is shut-down) with the old outline of a sign that has been taken down which reads “Atlas Of Humanity.” This is the abandoned lot which I am camping in my car at.

I begin to think of my move, and about what I am doing with my life. I chose to walk away from the city, to face my anxiety and move into the forest. I made a deal with someone who I hardly know, to do god knows what. I can’t help but feel as though I am a part of something now, though. I have to, if not finish, a least find out what I have started. I fall asleep thinking of what the morning will hold in store for me, and what I will find.

I awake to a knock at my car window.

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.

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.