The Man from Unit 41

Submitted into Contest #185 in response to: Set all or part of your story in a jam-packed storage unit.... view prompt

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Urban Fantasy Mystery

The door to 716 Jefferson Avenue closed with a barely audible click, this miniature percussion marking the end of another heartbreaking chapter of the Man’s life. His fingers held tightly to the tarnished brass doorknob, body and mind alike holding to a bygone fantasy of love and absolution for a few more precious moments before finally releasing their grip. He finally turned, wintry heart doing its best to match the wintry gloom of late February as he stepped away from the cozy warmth of what he had once foolishly believed to be his new home.


***


The gaze of halogen high beams danced on falling snow, scattered light nearly blinding the Man as he walked the thin shoulder of the state highway. The light calmed and his bent thumb retreated back into an icy hand as the tractor-trailer’s brakes whined to a stop on the road just behind him.


“Are you nuts? Get in here!” A deep baritone carved its way through the stormy air, its owner lost behind a curtain of murky white.


The man obliged, hauling himself up the tall steps and swinging into the warm, tobacco-scented truck cab. The trucker sitting across from him was a big man, wide shoulders matched by a wide belly and sporting a haphazardly bearded face with a vandal’s smile and the tired eyes of someone who spends entirely too much time on the road.


“A little overdressed for a walk in the weather, ain’t ya?” He turned his attention back to the road, two V12 engines roaring to life as the vehicle worked its way back up to speed, “where are ya headed?”


The Man tugged at the hem of his stolen sports coat in an abortive attempt to find a comfortable position on the stiff bench seat. For a moment, he considered rolling down the window and throwing the damn thing out, but this wouldn’t help him forget the night’s events and would probably serve to insult the hospitality of present company, so he decided against a tantrum. “There’s an old motel just past the interstate. I’d be mighty thankful if you’d drop me off there.” He leaned his head against the cool glass of the window. Gloved fingers once again roaming to the pendant secreted away in his back pocket. He pulled it free, staring down at the floral design printed on its silver-plated face and trying to work up the courage to look inside one last time.


“Aye” the trucker said distractedly, gaze wandering to the jewelry resting in his passenger’s palm. “You know… you want to talk about it?” he looked up to meet the Man’s eyes and a mischievous grin returned to the corner of his big mouth, “you might not believe it looking at me, but I’ve been around the block a time or two. I’m no stranger to a broken heart and I don’t get a lot of good conversations out here.”


The Man returned a sad smile, the driver’s folksy charisma managing to take the edge off of his growing melancholy, “I guess I just thought things could be different this time… I thought I could be different this time.”


“Ain’t that the story of our times” the big man shot back with a laugh.


***


The Man stood unmoving in the flickering glow of a neon ‘vacancy’ sign and watched the semi’s taillights disappear south along the state highway. He waited until he was certain that he was finally alone before turning back into the dark of the night and beginning the last short leg of his journey home, snow beginning to give way to icy sleet that soaked through his clothes and chased away any remaining sense of comfort. As he walked, the buildings slowly came into view through the gray pre-dawn haze, their unadorned and windowless concrete walls as artless as they had been when he walked away from them three short months ago. He arrived before the tall wrought iron gate, the familiar words Seasons Scrap and Storage welded in twisted rebar across its face.

He scanned a weathered access card at the gate kiosk and entered the facility, slick mud squelching beneath borrowed shoes as he lazily walked the last 300 yards to a moss-stained concrete box set far against what had once been a proud Northeastern forest. Just to the right of the reinforced roll-up door, a peeling aluminum sign marked it Unit 41.

Swallowing his growing sense of dread, the Man punched in his door code and tore off the soaked and clinging coat, leaving it to rot in the thick mud. He wormed his way through the narrow opening in the packed storage unit, taking care to close the heavy door behind him. His long familiarity with the man-made cave brought him to a miniature electric lantern hanging on the back wall that flooded the crowded space with soft artificial light. His home, his punishment, his absolution was just as he had left it; The box and its velvet cloth, the tools, the stone, all pulled at him with their long familiarity. The Man felt overcome with a sick sense of comfort in the claustrophobic space that finished hollowing out his shot nerves. He collapsed onto the cold floor and wept for the first time in three long decades.


***


The Man awoke from his fugue some hours later, staring at a thin trickle of water that had infiltrated the space and begun working its way across the low ceiling. He rose on stiff limbs, hardening himself against what he knew must come next. At the other end of the cramped space sat his tools and one oversized rust-colored brick, the last untouched relic from the only true home he had ever known. Its siblings made up the oppressive walls of the Man’s den, their presence pushing him ever toward some kind of end.

The Man set to his work without complaint. He poured what remained of an old bag of mortar into the bucket, mixing it from a drum of gathered rainwater. The brick he touched last, turning it over to find the hollow space and pausing to reflect on what was lost. He pulled the pendant from his back pocket, thought about opening it once again, and again took the coward's path. What is done is done. He kissed the trinket, savoring the pain it brought to his lips, before laying it inside the hollow alongside the dust and the cobwebs. The Man filled the space with mortar, then lifted the heavy stone to its rightful place.


The tiny light now shone on a completed cage. No monster such as him would escape its prison as it had done so many times before. It would sleep now, It would wake weak and hungry in twelve moon’s time, and here It would starve and shrivel, scratching uselessly at the stones that had once housed Its wife, Its children. This was justice.


The Man thought once again about pulling the heavy stone from its place before it had time to set, about giving the monster one last chance to change, but he could no longer ignore the weight of its crimes. The walls surrounding him were a testament to far too many second chances.


The Man finally found some courage. Lifting the cedar lid of a dead man’s coffin, he climbed inside to sleep. Perhaps now he could finally find peace.

February 16, 2023 22:01

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