The Space Between

Can a house be evil? Is it possible for a structure of wood and stone and plaster and glass to become more than the sum of its parts, in the negative sense? It certainly happens in the positive sense. Fill a house with light and love and family and that sense of comfort and well-being seems to permeate the very walls of the place. But … is it possible to architect a bad place, however inadvertently, through the unwitting intersection of board and beam?

The house on Red Apple Road was a bad place. It was an oversized farmhouse crouched sullenly on a slight rise, overlooking thorn-tangled fields long left to run wild. The house’s peeling paint may have once been white, or grey, but sun and time had long leached the true colors away, leaving the walls a jaundiced, sickly yellow. A single diseased elm leaned drunkenly in the shaggy yard, a rusted chain swing hanging from its single limb. The house’s windows were all intact, and winked in the sunlight like they knew a secret.

The rent was cheap. Bad luck and worse circumstance saw me driving a beaten-down Corolla to a nowhere town, for a stay I hoped was only temporary. The house’s owner, Burcell Lowry, bought the place for a steal at a bank auction. The prior owners had stopped paying the mortgage several years before, and had skipped town shortly afterwards. Lowry was a distant relative, and a call from my uncle prompted Lowry to offer the house for only a couple hundred a month.

I began hearing stories about the house soon after I moved in my few possessions. Lowry had a hard time keeping renters, which explained the cheap rent. Most of his tenants stayed less than six months, and one family only stayed for a single night before fleeing the state entirely, leaving behind their deposit and their dog.

I laughed most of these stories off as small town folk trying to haze a newcomer. I had experienced nothing in the house so far, asides from weak water pressure and a lack of functional air-conditioning, which Lowry had remedied with a new window-mount unit. I became more interested when I heard Jim’s story.

Jim was a manager at the Waffle House in town. He was a drunk, but he maintained through his drunkenness with an iron will and genial good humor that made my night shifts as a short order cook bearable, almost fun. “My nephew died in the front yard,” Jim said, drinking from his coffee mug on a slow Monday night — really Tuesday morning. “Cops said he weren’t wearing a seat belt. Car ran off the road, hit the ditch, and threw him out the front window. They said he was dead before he hit the ground.” Jim drank deeply. “Thing is, Paul wasn’t the only one who died in that house’s front yard. If you’re from around here, and you know where you are and where you’re going, you know to be careful driving on Red Apple Road. And you don’t use your brights when you go ’round the curve.”

Red Apple Road curved to the left around the house, and there was a deep ditch between the road and the house. According to Jim, the house’s windows faced directly opposite oncoming traffic, and would reflect the bright light of a car’s high-beams into the driver’s eyes. Every few years, some glare-blinded driver would misjudge the turn and slam into the ditch. By Jim’s count, that curve had claimed over thirty lives.

“Thirty people? Come on, Jim, you’re pulling my leg. Wouldn’t the state put up a guard rail or something?” I asked.

“State’s broke. County’s worse off. It ain’t a ‘priority’, as they say. So folks just slow down. It gets to be habit, I guess. Until one night, maybe they’s drank some, maybe it’s raining, maybe they’s just not thinking on where they are, then BAM.” Jim wiped smudges from the cash register.

“Surely Mr. Lowry would fix the windows, cover them up or something?”

“People have tried,” Jim said. “Shrubs don’t grow in that yard. A family that lived there in the eighties tried putting up black tar paper over the windows, right after a real bad accident. Didn’t last a week. That tar paper came down, and the family moved away.”

“Wow. No wonder the rent’s so cheap,” I said.

Jim laughed. “You don’t know the half of it. Ask around town.” He said no more afterwards, and commanded me to degrease some vent hoods, which I did willingly, lost in thought about my new home.

When I got back to the house, it was full dawn, the sun shining over the horizon, and morning dew sparkled in the fields. The house on Red Apple Road crouched sullenly in the morning mists, seeming to be resentful of the cheerful light. The bare, scrappy yard and the steep-sided embankment had new meaning, as did the scrapes on the asphalt of the road near the house.

I was slightly spooked from Jim’s story, so I did a quick walk through the house. Most of the rooms were bare, save for the living room, which was piled with boxes. My bedroom had a mattress on the floor and a few open boxes of clothing. I had installed heavy black-out curtains as soon as I was hired for my night-shift job, so the room was very dark. After a quick shower, I fell asleep almost instantly.

Only pieces of the dream came back to me, but it involved grasping fingers, and a terrible screaming sound, and flying feathers. I woke with a start, sitting bolt upright in bed, sweat-drenched sheets twisted around me. I was disoriented at first, blinking into bright sunlight. I looked around, and realized that my blackout curtains were gone. I checked my watch. Noon. I had been asleep for only four hours, before the dream. I got out of bed, and walked to one of the windows, thinking the curtains had simply come loose from the wall and fallen to the floor. They had not; there was no sign of them anywhere in the room. I checked the bedroom door, and found it the way I had left it: locked.

I unlocked the bedroom door and walked out into the rest of the house. The front and back doors were both dead-bolted from the inside, and in the kitchen, every cabinet door and every drawer stood open, and their contents were strewn across the floor. By this point, I was pissed. I called my landlord. “Mr. Lowry, I don’t appreciate practical jokes. If this is the way you make up for cheap rent, fine, but don’t mess with my sleep.”

“… I … I don’t know what you’re talking about, son,” said Lowry.

“I’m talking about how you or one of your friends took the curtains off my windows while I was asleep, and messed up my kitchen!” I yelled.

“I have been at a doctor’s appointment all morning. Just calm down. I’ll be there in half an hour and … I’ll reimburse you for any damages.”

By this point there was no way I could sleep, so after cleaning up the kitchen, I started unpacking. Half an hour later, Burcell Lowry rapped on the screen door. I showed him the kitchen, and some stubborn stains on the white cabinet doors, and he made some concerned noises. He had brought a replacement lock set, and I helped hold the doors as he replaced the deadbolts. “I could have sworn I replaced these after the Hernandez family moved out, but you never know. Might be some kids took it in their heads to give you some grief,” he said.

We looked throughout the house for the missing curtains, but could not find them. In one of the two upstairs bedrooms, I noticed a small square cutout for an attic access. I pointed at it, but Lowry refused. “I don’t have a ladder, and besides, this is an old, old house. I fumigate the house between tenants, but you can’t never get rid of all the spiders in old attics like this. If someone took your curtains and put ’em up there, you don’t want ’em back.” I found a roll of aluminum foil in a box in the kitchen, and Lowry helped me tape the foil to the two windows in my bedroom. He left shortly afterwards, and I collapsed into bed, hoping for a few more hours of uninterrupted sleep before my shift.

I woke to the sound of screaming, and for a moment, wondered who was making the noise, until I realized it was me. I couldn’t recall the dream, only that it was bad. A bright light filled the bedroom, casting my shadow hugely on the wall. I turned, and realized that the foil was gone from both windows.  The light was from a car on Red Apple Road, going around the curve. I sighed, got out of bed, and got dressed for work.

The next morning, after work, I walked down Red Apple Road, away from the house, and then I walked back. I could clearly see the deep scratches on the asphalt, and how they aligned with the punched-out gouges on the embankment.

The house continued to taunt me in small ways over the course of the next few days. Lights that I knew I had turned off were on when I came home. Boxes were moved, or knocked over. I was greeted at the door by the smell of baking cookies one morning, and found the oven on, set to bake. There were no cookies. The house developed a gradual sense of wrongness that existed more at the corner of my eye than straight ahead. When passing doorways into other rooms, those rooms would seem, from a casual glance, to be much larger, and to contain more furniture, or other things. The stairway in the front hallway did not exist, yet I could feel it behind me as I walked out the front door every night, stretching up to the second floor that wasn’t there, and down to a basement that never was. I could hear the echoes of my footsteps against the hardwood steps, and feel the draft from the basement, but only when I had forgotten to firmly believe that the house had only a single floor.

On my day off, I went shopping at the town’s small supermarket, which was a filthy Piggly Wiggly that had seen better decades. At the checkout counter, the red-haired, morbidly obese woman fluttered her canary yellow eyelids at me. “How’s living in the haunted house?” She asked. I  looked at her. “Everyone knows it’s haunted. That place has been bad luck for  as long as anyone remembers. I bet that old queer Lowry didn’t tell you what happened to the last people, did he?” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, piggy little eyes gleaming under the fluorescents. “The father went crazy, like in that movie with the hotel? Killed all the kids, ‘cept for the one that was with the mother. He died in jail, and she’s out of state. You know what’s the worst? They never found the bodies of those kids. He said the house took ’em. The cops dug up all the fields around there, had dogs out and all, but they never did find those poor babies.”

I swallowed, and grabbed my bag of groceries. “Well, uh, thanks for the info.”

“No problem, honey! And don’t let me make you nervous. It’s just small town gossip. There ain’t no such thing as ghosts!”

The late evening sun reflected like blood, or fire, in the house’s windows, when I returned. I put my groceries away in the kitchen, and put my other purchases in the bedroom, in front of the windows. I walked through the rest of the rooms of the house, holding a battered old flashlight like a club. The grocery-store lady’s story had spooked me more than I cared to admit. After finding no ghosts in the closets, or demons in the bathroom, I gave myself a mental shake and went to the living room to read. After so many night shift evenings, I knew I would be awake for a long time.

The loud cracking sound jolted me awake, heart hammering in my chest. I looked around the room, unsure of where I was. I realized I had fallen asleep in my chair. My book was on the floor, and I decided that it had woken me when it fell. I laughed to myself, shook my head, and stood up to stretch. Mid-stretch, I heard an answering laugh, from upstairs. I looked up, and my heart began to race again. Footsteps from above. I grabbed the long metal flashlight from beside my chair, and cautiously stepped into the foyer. I pushed the button for the hall light, and tightened my grip on the flashlight.

More shuffling from upstairs, and a tittering, wheezing laugh. I stood at the bottom of the stairs, and tried to see through the darkness at the top. I placed my foot on the first step, and another crack! reverberated through the house. I glanced behind me to the front door, and saw a light dusting of plaster falling from the ceiling in front of it. I climbed the stairs, riser after riser of old wood so brown as to be nearly black. The upstairs hallway was short, and thankfully empty. I hit the light switch with a sweat-slicked palm, fumbling at the unfamiliar two-button style, until the bare bulb turned on, shining its wan yellow light flickeringly onto peeling wallpaper and three brown wooden doors.

I yanked open the door closest to me, across from the stairwell, to find a shallow linen closet, stuffed with old quilts and blankets. I shut the door, and listened for sounds. The house was silent, as if it was holding its breath before revealing a surprise. I turned to my left, and walked to the door at the end of the hall. The plaster was arched here, as was the door, which was smaller than the other doors in the house. The black iron knob was very cold, when I grasped it, and squealed like something unpleasant when turned.

The small door swung wide into the room, and darkness spilled out into the hallway, like the lolling tongue of a hanging victim. My flashlight did little to dispel the gloom. I walked a step forward, and another, and another, and as I crossed the threshold of the little doorway, I noticed two lighter spots in the murk. Two spots that disappeared, and reappeared. A low chuckle burbled up from my left.

“Welcome, stranger,” said a high-pitched, childlike voice. “You’re in time for dinner.” A dim, red light began to filter into the room, revealing a scene from a charnel-house. The walls and floor were caked and coated with gore, dripping in clots that gleamed black in the strange light. A rough wooden table dominated the center of the room, cluttered with the rotting ruins of a cannibal feast, limbs and entrails draped in disarray across the blood-drenched wood. Crouched at one end of the table hunched a nude, haggard man, grey-black hair greasy and limp against his pocked and disfigured flesh. His jagged teeth bit and gnashed as he cracked a small, delicate bone and sucked at the marrow. He rolled flat and somehow fishlike yellow eyes at me.

“That’s my Papa,” the voice said. “Not my real Papa. My real Papa’s dead. It’s ok.” I looked to the left, and saw her. The girl was small, with unhealthily white skin and black hair that glinted redly in the light. She could have passed for ten, or twelve, save for her eyes. Her eyes were nothing human, gaping black bottomless wounds in her small delicate face, two holes gouged through the skin of the world. “My new Papa raised me himself, from when I was a little baby. He raised me to be a queen.”

She had been slowly creeping towards me as she spoke, one stuttering step after another, as if she was unfamiliar with something so mundane as walking. “They are coming. This is their place. You can join us. You can be with us to welcome them.” Another step. “This is the between. They come from outside. They were here before. They want in.” Her foot came down on a small bone and as it snapped, I realized she was right in front of me, so close that I could smell the reek of corpseflesh from her breath, I could see the rags of it in her teeth, I –

– realized there was no second floor. There had never been a second floor. I ran, turned and ran, pounding down the hallway that was far longer than before, far too long, down a flight of stairs that had two more turns and two more landings than it had when I climbed them, feeling her small childish hands grasping at the nape of my neck. I hit the front door with full force, knowing it would be stuck firm, but hoping, and it burst open wide, sagging from one hinge.

I continued running until I reached the car. I flung the door open, and jumped in. I slammed the door shut, locked it, and glanced at the back seat. There was nothing. With a deep sense of dread, I slowly lifted my gaze to the house. The single-story structure stood black and silent, its front door hanging askew from broken hinges. I passed a shaking hand through my sweat-slicked hair. For a moment, my view doubled, and I saw a different house. One with a second, and a third floor. One with a shadow in front of an upstairs window. I revved the little car’s engine, and drove away from the house as fast as the car would go.

The car idled in a church parking lot a few miles away. I pulled out the cellphone I had stashed in the center console, and dialed the one number that I had programmed in. It rang the other prepaid cellphone I had bought weeks ago. I rubbed my face, feeling the slightly raised skin of the long-healed scars that had been itching and throbbing for the weeks that I stayed in that house. “I believe you. I’ll do it.” I pulled the SIM card out of the phone, snapped it in half, and threw the pieces out the window.

I cracked a rib or two when I bounced off of an old wooden fence post. I had to guide the car far enough off the road to avoid the embankment, but close enough to hit the windows dead-center. That meant being inside a burning car for far longer than I was comfortable with. I had strewn several liquor bottles around the front of the car, and wedged the accelerator with a brick and some rope. Just in case, I wore a BMX off-roading jacket and an old motorcycle helmet. At the last moment, I lit the rag protruding from the small jug of kerosene I had belted into the driver’s seat.

The car hit the side of the house with a satisfying crunch, shattering those hateful, murderous windows, and rupturing the cans of kerosene I had stored in the bedroom. I lay on my undamaged side in the field, wheezing into the silence for a few moments. Then, with a sound like a shocked inhalation, there was a huff, and a WHUMP, and the fuel caught. Within moments the side of the house was in flames, and in half an hour, the place was a pyre. I watched it burn from a slight distance away, under the boughs of an oak that was older than the state in which it stood. The fire roared and screeched like bitter, thwarted rage.

Lowry was good to his word, though it took almost a year for him to get the money to me. When his insurance company finally settled, he made quite a profit. I promised him I would put the money to good use. There’s always something else out there, waiting to be put down.

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Storage

“Your honor, I’ve seen shit that would turn you white!” — Winston, Ghostbusters.

There’s not a lot of work out there for a twenty-ish ex-security guard with a bad case of PTSD. And if that dumb kid was hideously scarred by a ‘serial killer’ that had carved a swathe of victims across three states and disappeared without a trace? That kid can barely get a hamburger at McDonald’s, much less gainful employment.

My parents weren’t able to help much. The wounds on my forehead and cheeks healed after a few weeks, or months. I wasn’t counting. You can still see them if you look closely, or in moonlight. Nobody looks too closely these days. There’s something about my eyes that seem to reflect the things that I’ve seen.

I can identify with Winston. I’ve seen some shit. And that shit would turn you white, if not stark raving mad. And I may in fact be mad, because I keep seeing shit.

After the … incident, I spent a few days in the hospital, and a few weeks in the psych ward. They assumed I’d suffered a psychotic break due to ‘trauma’ or ‘shock’, and since most of my story did in fact sound like delusional ravings, off to the pretty pastel room I went. Life went on, the University reopened for classes on schedule, and the cops eventually stopped questioning me.

I went home and sat on the couch for a few weeks, and gradually got the sense that my parents wanted me gone. I seemed to make them nervous. I seem to make everyone nervous now. Tempers flared, words were said, and the next day I was on a bus to somewhere, anywhere. I had about a thousand in savings, plus my dad had stashed another few hundred in my bags, so I was able to rent cheap rooms and eat cheaper meals along my way, but I knew I would need to find a job soon.

I had been traveling in a vaguely southern path, and finally ended up in a bus station in a town on the outskirts of Birmingham, crouched in between the off-ramp to I-65 and a storage facility. I would say it was in an industrial district, but it seems that Birmingham is entirely failed industrial district. The place had the charm of a three-day-dead whore, and smelled like one as well.

Walking outside the bus station and past the chainlink fence encircling the UStore facility, I noticed a dingy, yellowed “Hiring” sign in the office window. “What the hell,” I thought, and pushed the dust-hazed door open and went inside.

The manager’s name was Al, but he looked nothing like my scrawny old ex-coworker. Al was a morbidly obese black man, with a gap between his two front teeth and a Cher t-shirt that looked as if it had been new in the 80s. “You got ID, you got no needle holes, you don’t stink like booze, and you even got a fuckin’ r?©sum?©. You must be my fuckin’ gift from God. You’re hired. You start right now. You got a place to stay?”

“No sir.”

“Good, that’s better. You stay in the apartment upstairs. I’ll pay you eight bucks an hour for forty hours a week. You work more than forty hours in a week, pretend you’re payin’ me rent. You’re off on Mondays and Tuesdays. If you want health insurance, you can call the fuckin’ President, ‘cos I ain’t seen mine yet neither.”

Al took me on a tour of the facility. UStore was much bigger than it looked, consisting of twelve buildings arranged inside a square security fence. Each building had four storeys aboveground and two more belowground. The lowest levels were premium-rate and surprisingly heavily-secured, with motion sensors and video cameras at every hallway intersection. “Motion sensors are a pain my dick. They go off if a fuckin’ moth flys down the fuckin’ hall, but we still have to check video and log it.”

The job was pretty much the same security job I was used to: work an overnight shift, nine P.M. until six A.M. Walk the perimeter twice, check the storage buildings once, pick up any trash, then go back and check the alarms and the video. Log anything out of the ordinary, and investigate as needed.

“Mostly, you just keep your mouth shut and let customers alone. They’re paying our bills, so you don’t need to know what they’re fuckin’ doing in their unit. Which may in fact be fuckin’!” Al laughed. “If a customer gets loud, makes a scene, or especially if they fuck up the facilities, you call the cops first and me second.” Al rapped a metal storage unit wall, which echoed beamingly down the hallways. “These walls are pretty strong, but you can punch a dent into one with your fist, and a knife will poke a hole in it. Nobody wants to rent a unit that’s all dented up, and these walls are a bitch to replace.”

We had been walking the security circuit, with Al pointing out each checkpoint, and we had reached the entrance to the high-security section. “Customers take the elevator. They gotta put in their code to get that elevator to show up, and then they gotta put in their code again to go down to B1 or B2. It really fucks ’em up. They’ll get confused and some of ’em will panic inside the elevator, so you gotta keep your radio on you all the time. They’ll eventually see the ‘Intercom’ button and call you, so you gotta explain to ’em they gotta put their code in again. For us, it’s the stairs, cos I hate those fuckin’ elevators.”

Al swiped his badge and swung the heavy door open to the stairwell, and we walked through, and I … froze.

It was the same stairs. How could it be the same stairs?

I stood there, tiny breath whistling in my throat, hand locked in a death grip on the cold steel railing.

“Hey, you ok? You havin’ a heart attack or something?”

I blinked. It wasn’t the same stairs. Not at all. These were new, shiny steel, brightly lit, and I could clearly see the bottom. “No, sorry, I thought I had to sneeze. Was … waiting for it.”

“Yeah, fuck. All the fuckin’ dust in here. Wait ’til spring, and it’s like fuckin’ yellow snow all over.”

High Security (or HS) was similar to the higher levels, but more brightly-lit. The units were larger, so there were less of them. “Wow, it’s cold down here,” I said.

“Yeah, we keep it at fifty year round. We got some law firms that keep their papers here, and don’t tell nobody, but we got some government agencies that do the same. We keep it cool and dry, and their papers will stick around forever. Got some customers that keep art down here, and antiques, and shit like that,” Al said.

The doors to the HS area were car-width, and looked to be made of sturdier stuff than the flimsy sheet metal of the less expensive units. “Can people store cars down here, Al?” I asked.

“Naw, no way to get ’em down here. Building 3 has a ramp and a loading dock for cars, but most people don’t wanna store ’em in these buildings. Regulations says you gotta drain ’em of oil and gas and any other fluid, which makes ’em a bitch to get into the units. Regs say ‘NO explosives’. Remember that, kid. You see some dumb ass storing his lawnmower AND the gas can, you log it and you tell me.”

We continued touring the HS levels, B1 and B2. Al pointed out the security cameras at each intersection, and at midpoints down the hallways, and showed me where the security route would take me. “Don’t always walk the same route. That’ll drive you nuts. Mix it up some, but make sure you tag those checkpoints,” said Al.

We made it back to the office, and Al took me upstairs to a small apartment. It was a little bigger than my dorm room in college, with a small kitchen, shower, bed, closet, and a TV. Al pointed at the TV, “That might have cable. It ain’t supposed to, and I’ve never seen a bill, but I won’t tell if you don’t. Okay, kid, you better get some sleep. You’re on-shift at nine. If you’re late, or I catch you sleepin’, you’re out on your ass. You get people wantin’ to rent a unit at three AM, they’re idiots or tryin’ to rob you. Tell ’em the office is closed at night.” Al squinted at me.

“You know how to work a gun?” he asked.

“Yeah, my dad taught me… is this that bad of an area?” I asked.

“Aww shit no, kid. You might need to show the gun to some tweakers, but that’s about all. The glass is all bullet-proof, and those are solid steel doors. If some junkie’s fuckin’ with you in the office, there’s a gun under the desk. It ain’t loaded, but there’s clips in the bottom drawer if you need ’em.” He looked me directly in the eyes. “And if you do need ’em, you don’t need ’em. You need to call me on the radio, which is what you’ll do.”

“What about inside the facility?” I asked.

“You’re inside a highly-secured, state of the art storage facility with a radio and keys to nearly a thousand steel doors. I bet you could figure something out,” Al replied. He left, and I took my duffel bag to my room, and tried to sleep.

The first night was non-eventful. So was the next. And the next. Weeks passed, and I began to feel … better. I got into the swing of being a security guard again, which is mostly looking for differences. I recognized the patterns of UStore, and its customers. The late night crowd was usually pretty quiet, except for Thursday night band practice. Some kids had gotten the bright idea to rent out one of the cheap ground level units to store their musical instruments in, and they practiced every Thursday night. I didn’t mind. They weren’t that bad.

About once a month, on a Wednesday night, there was a porn shoot in one of the units. I wasn’t very clear on what was going on until I mentioned it to Al the next day. A long black limo pulled up around 11PM, and several stripper-quality girls got out, followed by a few guys. They’d all troop down to one of the larger HS units, and they’d pack up and be gone before dawn. “We rent the units,” Al said. “So long as they’re payin’, and not breakin’ the units, we don’t say a word.”

Most of the customers weren’t like that, though. They were regular people moving stuff around, up late because they had to work and couldn’t move during the day. I saw guys fixing cars, a woman who used a large unit as her extra closet full of clothes, and a couple who were building a baby crib. They had a full woodworking setup inside their unit, complete with dust suppression and built-in vacuums. But mostly, it was people moving boxes of stuff in and out.

Everything was going so well, for maybe six weeks, and then I saw it. I saw her.

I had become accustomed to the false alerts from the motion-sensing cameras, especially in building 8. The building was close to the highway, so I suspected the sensors were falsing due to road vibrations. Once or twice a night, usually in the long stretch of dark between 3 AM and dawn, I’d hear the beeping from one of the many cameras in B1 or B2 in Building 8. I would put down my book, acknowledge the alert, write ‘FA’ (false alert) in the logbook, and glance at the long, empty, brightly-lit corridors in the monitors.

It was early on a Wednesday morning, the beginning of my week, and I’d been playing a game on my DS, when the alerts went off. I sighed, and put down my Gameboy. I reached for the logbook, and noticed something in the monitors from the corner of my eye. I looked up, and saw, in the middle of the hallway, a small shape. I leaned closer, and hit the camera controls to switch to a closer view. Standing in the middle of a highly-secured, brightly lit hallway, two floors underground, was a little girl in a bridal gown. “What .. the .. fu..” I started to say, and the girl’s head snapped up toward the camera. Her black eyes staring at me through the monitor, as if she had heard me. She lifted a finger to her lips, and ran offscreen.

I frantically thumbed through the camera views, but could see her nowhere. “Screw this,” I muttered to myself, and I grabbed my flashlight, and the gun from the holster under the desk. I bolted out the office door, pausing only to make sure it was locked, and started running down the paved alley leading to Building 8.

At this point, I wasn’t thinking of anything supernatural. I was thinking of the scumbags who made porn movies in my facility, and thinking maybe that little girl had escaped something really awful. Or was still involved in it. I called Al on his radio while I ran. “Al, wake up. We got … an intruder in Building 8. Repeat, intruder in Building 8. Wake up!” Al lived nearby, within radio range, and he mumbled something about being on his way.

I badged the main door to Building 8, flung it open, and ran across to the stairwell. The panic, which hadn’t returned since my first day, hit me like drowning in the ocean. I stopped, backed up, and shut the stairwell door. I didn’t have time for this. I ran to the elevator, punched in my override code, stepped inside, punched in my code again, and rode the slowest elevator in the world down to B2. The gently-playing Muzak version of Cher’s ‘Believe’ did nothing to make the situation better.

I cautiously stepped into the corridor. I’d kept the gun in my jacket pocket, not wanting to spook anyone, especially with a kid involved. I walked down the hallway, and found nothing. Turned at the end, down the next hallway, still nothing. No locks out of place, no units opened, no sounds, no smells, nothing. I checked the stairwell, nothing. I gritted my teeth, and walked up the stairs to the B1 landing. Looked out the door, and found nothing. By this point I was hoping I would find anything — a shoe, a body, hell, a whole murder scene, but there was nothing. My radio crackled, and I jumped and bit my tongue. “I said, where are you?” Al’s voice grumbled over the radio.

“B2 in Building 8, south stairwell,” I said.

“Found anything?” Al asked.

“Not a thing. Sorry man, it’s probably a false alert.”

“Hey, it happens. Just once though. Meet you back at the office. We’ll check the tapes.”

“Roger-roger,” I said into the radio. I sighed, and walked down the long hallway to the elevator. I checked the remaining hallways, retraced my steps to the elevator, and punched in my code. As the elevator doors closed, I thought I heard a sound. A girlish giggle. “God dammit,” I said. I punched the cancel button. The elevator doors slid open, and I stepped out, and quickly looked both ways. There! To my left, a gauzy white shape disappeared around a corner. Another giggle. I looked up at the security camera, pointed at it, then pointed in the direction of the corner. Holding my flashlight like a club, I jogged to the corner, and quickly checked both ways. Nothing. Of course. I ran as fast as I could down the long corridor to its end, turned and saw nothing. Ran to the intersection, nothing. To the next intersection, nothing. To the end, nothing. Finally, wheezing, out of breath, I yelled, “Okay, you bastards. I give up. Enough from you for the night!”

Al was at the desk when I got back. “Enjoy your exercise, kid?” he asked. “Yeah, I’m trying out for the Olympics,” I replied.

“Maybe the Special Olympics. I just watched you run two miles inside Building 8, for no fuckin’ good reason.” Al said.

“Figures,” I said. “So you saw nothing? On any of the cameras?”

“Not a thing”

Al made me sit through repeated viewings of the security footage. He made it a point to show me pointing at the camera, from all angles. Each camera showed the bright, empty hallways. “You sure you’re not on anything, man?” Al asked.

“I swear I saw something –” I said.

“Chill, man, this is me fuckin’ with you. I believe you. It gets late here, you see shit. Stare at those screens long enough not seeing anything, and your mind will start adding shit just cos it’s bored. I’ve seen shit too,” Al said.

“Yeah, like what?”

Al shifted in his seat. “I never seen a girl. I saw a dude walking down the hallway once. Normal lookin’ dude, walking around like he was a customer. But that console there shows door accesses, and it hadn’t gone off in a while. I thought maybe some asshole was trying to live in one of the units, which is against regs. It happens sometimes. I checked it out, and there wasn’t anybody there.” Al reached into the micro-fridge under the desk, and pulled out one of his favored lime sodas.

“That wasn’t the worst, though,” he said, cracking open the can. “I saw blood once. A whole lot, splashed around, all over the damn place. I used to take those damn elevators, and one time, ding, door opens and … ” He took a deep swig of his drink. “I just stood there. The door closed. I coded it open again and it was gone. I know it wasn’t real. I’d been working about twenty hours straight. I just … figure something don’t want me riding the elevators no more. So I don’t.”

It got worse after that night. I can’t help but think that my pursuit, and my taunts, woke something up. Or maybe something recognized me.

Afterwards, I had company every night. The still, sterile mood of the facility from before had changed, grown lower, grown mean, like it was lying in wait. When I made my rounds, I would hear footsteps behind me, or down adjacent hallways. I heard faint voices as well, muttering and whispering from behind the cold steel doors of the storage units.

The upper units were the worst, because they weren’t brightly-lit all the time like the HS units. The upper level lights were motion-sensitive, and on timers — they would turn on when you entered a hallway, and turn off when you left. Several times during my rounds, those lights would flick on at the opposite end of a long corridor, only to flick off again after a few seconds.

One night, during my first round, I was walking the dim asphalt paths between buildings. I turned a corner, and standing before me was a girl. I jumped back in shock. The girl uttered a short squeak, and stopped. “You scared the hell out of me, you asshole!” she yelled. “Aren’t you supposed to be using that flashlight?”

“Sorry. It ruins my night vision,” I said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone out here.” I recognized her. Her name was Jen. She was the bassist for the band that practiced in one of the units. She had long, straight black hair, and her several piercings glittered in the moonlight.

“I was on my way to your office,” Jen said, “so I’m kinda glad I ran into you. I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier. It’s just … I can’t find Lewis anywhere.” Lewis was the gorgeous and talented singer for the band, and (to my deepest regret) her boyfriend. “We had a fight, and he stormed off like the chickenshit he is. I can’t find him now.”

We walked back to the building that housed her band’s storage unit. “If he’s in the facility, he can’t have gone far. Your access code will get him into the main level of this building, but he can’t go anywhere else. The elevator takes a code he doesn’t have, and the stairwell doors are locked too,” I said.

The other band members were in their storage unit, rolling up cables and packing gear. “Did you find him?” asked the short, stocky drummer.

“No,” I said. “How long has he been gone?”

“About an hour, now,” replied the drummer. “I tried calling him, but I get shit for signal in here.”

“Not like he’d answer anyway,” said a tall, skinny kid, who was packing away a guitar. He looked at me, and said “Wow, that’s a cool tribal, man,” pointing at the scars on my face.

“It’s not a tattoo,” I said, not wanting to get into Meet-The-Freak with customers.

“Will you guys focus?” Jen said.

“Right,” I said. “You guys stay here, in case he comes back. I’ll sweep this floor, and if I don’t find him, I’ll check the video back at the office.” I left, and checked the entirety of the ground level. For good measure, I checked the upper floors as well, knowing there was no way he could get up there. I went back to the band’s storage unit.

“Did you see anything?” Jen asked.

“No, and he’s obviously not come back here. I’ll go check the videos.”

The band members decided to go home, except for Jen, who insisted upon going through the video footage with me. “Look! There he is!” she said.

“I see him.” The monitor showed Lewis leaving his storage building right after Jen said he had stormed off. Lewis stood by the door, smoking, for a few minutes, then turned his head sharply to the right, as if he had heard something. He then threw down his cigarette, and walked down the asphalt path, out of the view of the camera.

“Where did he go? Quick, find him on the other screen,” Jen said, rubbing her hands on her leggings. I toggled through video feeds, until I found Lewis again, walking down the path. He stopped, looked around, then turned again, and started walking. I switched feeds again, and found him walking towards Building 8.

“Aren’t those doors supposed to be closed all the time?” Jen asked, pointing at a dark spot on the grey and white screen.

“Yes,” I replied, as Lewis paused before the open, black threshold to Building 8, and stepped inside. I toggled through the feeds again, until I found the one for Building 8. I could only see his silhouette as he walked down the hallway, pausing occasionally to look around, and finally as he pulled open the heavy, magnetically-locked security door to the stairwell. He stepped inside, and pulled the door closed behind him.

“Shit. That’s bad,” I said. “Those doors are mag-locked, and they can’t open unless you have a badge and a code.”

Jen shook her head. “It sure as hell opened, though. You saw it.”

I switched feeds again, catching a glimpse of Lewis in the stairwell. Switched again, and saw him walking down the bright corridor of the B2 level, toward the camera. Toward an open storage unit, door rolled up and yawning open, like the black eye socket of a dead thing. Or a mouth. I saw the pale blob of Lewis’ face glance up at the camera, then whip back to face the darkened doorway. His eyes widened, mouth opened into a silent scream, and his figure jerked forward into the storage unit. The heavy door rolled down and slammed shut, leaving the camera staring blindly at the pristinely empty hallway.

Jen stared at the screen, mouth slightly open, eyes wide, bulging, ringed in the black of shock that no amount of makeup can match or mask. “… Go. Get. Him.” She grabbed my shoulder, with hands made musician-strong. Squeezed. Hard. “Go get him NOW.”

I grabbed the pistol from its holster, and dug two clips out of the bottom desk drawer. I toggled the radio. “Al, come in. We got a problem. Wake up, Al!” I shouted into the radio as I ran. The radio screeched static and white noise. “Al, I need you at work. Big trouble.” The radio hissed and popped, and abruptly turned off.

The night seemed alive as I ran to Building 8. The trees outside the facility swayed in a brisk wind, their leaves clattering like faint mocking laughter. I felt eyes on me, and the sense of things around every corner, waiting. My scars began to lightly itch, as if I had run through cobwebs.

I reached Building 8 to find the door tightly shut and locked. As I badged it open, I heard a scraping noise from behind me. I turned, hand on the pistol, to see Jen. “Is that blood?” she asked, pointing at a small spatter of spots on the floor just inside the door. I tapped a spot with my shoe, smearing it. “It’s too dark to tell from here. It could be … motor oil. Something like that. Look, you shouldn’t be in here. Go back to the office until I get back.”

“No way. I saw the tape. I saw what happened to Lewis. I’m going to get him, and you’re going to help me. Now.” She pushed past me and walked down the hall to the elevators. “Help me get this open.”

I opened the elevator, and we stepped inside. I thumbed the security code, and pressed the button for B2. “Stay behind me,” I said, drawing the pistol. I had no idea what I was doing, but I’ve played enough video games to know that the monster jumps out after the elevator doors open. I heard a faint click, and looked over to see Jen holding a small handgun.

“My dad got this for me last year. He was nervous about me hanging out downtown. Took me to the shooting range for a few months.” She passed a shaky hand over her face and through her hair. “Why the fuck is this happening? WHAT the fuck is happening? And why aren’t you scared?”

I snorted. “I’m terrified. I just peed on myself a little back there, in case you didn’t notice.” The elevator chimed, and the doors opened. “As for what’s happening, I don’t know. I have an idea, though, and I don’t think it’s good.”

I stepped into the corridor, checking both directions. The long, white hallways were bright, and quiet. I slowly walked down the hallway towards the storage unit where we had seen Lewis. At the corner, I saw a faint, reddish-brown smear. A fingerprint, or a thumbprint, as if someone had paused here, and touched the wall for support. Jen stared at it for a moment, but said nothing. I turned, and continued down the hallway.

There was a small spattering of blood on the floor in front of the storage unit. “It’s padlocked,” I said. “There’s no way he could’ve gotten in there, shut the door, and locked it from the outside.” Suddenly, my scars began to itch and throb, deeply, like acid on my face. I drew in a breath — and the lights went out. Jen screamed, and I heard a pop and a click and a clatter, and the lights came back on.

The padlock was lying on the floor, in front of the storage unit.

The bright, sterile white fluorescents at the far end of the hallway went dark. Then the next set turned off, and the next, the darkness growing closer to us in sections. A whispering, muttering sound filled the air. We unconsciously moved closer together, and backed towards the metal door of the storage unit. The lights went out again, and the darkness rushed in like some eager fluid.

Jen and I stood in the whispering dark, pressed together like orphaned children lost in an abyssal woods, for an untold amount of time, until the red emergency lights flickered into a murky life. Their blood-red glow did not so much illuminate as it did accentuate the shadows that pooled and swirled around us. The whispering grew louder, and louder, like a river of mumbling, tumbling voices, until it reached a roaring crescendo, and then stopped. The storage unit’s door slowly rolled open.

Lewis was there, sitting on the floor. He was facing away from us, crouched and still.

“Lewis!” Jen exclaimed, and tried to run forward. I grabbed her by the arm.

Lewis spoke, his voice somehow horrible, drifting up and rattling around the steel walls. “They … made me come here. They want people to know. They made me … see.” He made a deep sobbing, choking sound. “I didn’t want to see. But they made me.”

My eyes, slowly adjusting to the light, began to make out the shapes in the storage unit, stacked against the walls. Lewis’s arm reached out to the nearest oblong, shrouded shape, and pulled. It tumbled to the concrete floor, making a horrible dry husking sound as it hit. A desiccated, shriveled arm fell out of the shroud.

Lewis began to stand, and began to laugh. He turned his mangled face towards us, and stared at us with the deep, black, gouged out sockets where his eyes had once been. “They showed me! They made me see! But I don’t have to see any more!”

Jen shrieked, and recoiled into the hallway. I had the gun trained on Lewis, its grip slick in my shaky hands. The whispering roar was back, rattling the steel walls and doors. With a sickening lurch I realized that all of the units’ doors were sliding up, and their neatly-stacked contents were all falling, sliding and tumbling to the floor. The sickly-sweet stench of decay that the state-of-the-art ventilation systems had masked so well before was now overpowering, filling the air.

“Bodies! They’re all … full of bodies!” Jen screamed, hands on the side of her face, eyes huge and shining in the red light, wrenching her black hair, gun forgotten on the floor.

I grabbed her by the shoulders, shook her once. “RUN.” I shouted, and dragged her away from the bodies, down the corridor, trying desperately not to hear Lewis’ mad laughter. I tripped over a smaller corpse sprawled in front of the unit near the corner, and slammed into the opposite wall. I looked down for a moment, and saw a white bridal veil covering a small child’s withered corpse. I shook my head and staggered to the stairwell door. The whispering was now a full roar, rage-filled voices howling, shaking the security door. I fumbled my badge twice, finally got it, punched the code, and hauled open the door. I grabbed Jen by the arm and dragged her up the stairs.

The lights in the stairwell were all wrong, flickering and tilting crazily. I realized my face was wet as I reached the B1 landing. There was not much of a ground-level landing left. As Jen and I crawled out of the stairwell, we saw that most of the UStore facility was gone. A few portions of buildings were still standing, but we were otherwise in a field of desolation and destruction, as if the whole block had been mulched.

Later, I learned that even though tornados were common for that area, the one that leveled the UStore facility was uncommon in both its fury and its brevity. NOAA reported a small, high-intensity cell appeared directly above the facility at about 6:30 A.M., spawning a slow-moving tornado that rated as a F3. The tornado encompassed the storage facility, and stayed in effectively the same spot for a full fifteen minutes, until moving in a generally north-east direction for about a mile. It appeared to have left the ground for most of its travel, touching down once again in a neighborhood to the north-east of UStore, before dissipating completely by 7 A.M.

They found Al’s body, or the remains of it, in the top of a tree two counties over, three days later. The coroner’s report stated Al had died of heart failure. It appears he had a massive heart attack before the tornado got to him.

Officially, the UStore facility was being used for the illegal storage of corpses that were to have been cremated or buried by certain unnamed funeral homes. The fact that those funeral homes were never officially named, and the case was quickly filed away in the darkest, dustiest cabinet available to the Birmingham Police Department did not make the news. Of course, the scariest part about the whole situation seemed to me to be the way that even after a freak tornado revealed thousands of unidentified corpses, stacked like cordwood inside an absurdly well-secured and well-cooled storage facility in a relatively large city, people just seemed to forget about it. As if they wanted to forget. Or didn’t want to know.

I didn’t see Jen again afterwards. The cops were initially Very Interested in me, as I was apparently the only living employee of UStore, Inc., that they could locate. They kept me in jail for nearly a week, without pressing charges, before I started making noises about attorneys. For the first few days, I was completely fine being behind bars. Those bars would keep things out, as well. I overheard them say that Jen had been committed to a psychiatric ward, due to her story, and her insistence that her boyfriend was trying to kill her. She had become violent, and attacked one of the officers questioning her.

Lewis was never found, and neither was his body.

The other thing I overheard, the thing that made me decide to leave the jail, was about UStore’s owners. It seems there weren’t any. The whole operation was owned by shell companies, and the cops couldn’t track down the original owners. Eventually, they stopped looking. I knew that somewhere, some person, or some group of people, arranged to have that storage facility built, and to have it equipped for a specialized purpose. I knew that someone had to be responsible for those bodies being there, and I suspected that someone was responsible for those bodies being dead in the first place.

Thousands of people disappear in this country each year. I may have found some of them. What keeps me awake at night, more than the dreams, or the sounds outside my window, or the itching of my scars, is wondering how many more storage facilities are out there.

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NASA World Wind

NASA World Wind is a truly excellent Open Source, free 3-D world viewer, incorporating multiple layers of satellite imagery and topo data, as well as place names, boundaries, and geographic features. The mouse-driven interface lets you zoom, tilt, and pan the globe, giving the user a ‘fly-through’ effect from the 3-D-mapped ortho-rectified imagery. It’s a pretty big download at 256MB, and it does auto-download more content if you request it to, but it’s well worth it.

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Phase B Complete

Phase B is now complete!

The import from MT to WP went very quickly. The only ‘gotcha’ is that PHP hates importing text files of over 1MB (unless you screw with the php.ini settings), so I had to manually split the import.txt file into several smaller chunks.

As you can see, a few minor cosmetic glitches remain. I’m still not sure what’s up with the post title, but I’ll work on that later.

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MoveableType Eats Shit

I’ve removed mt-comments.cgi entirely, because MT eats shit.

Comment-spammers using a distributed denial-of-service technique effectively took down the server today.

I’ll be switching to WordPress this weekend.

If you use MoveableType, I seriously recommend removing it today.

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