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by Gordon Rowlinson

Read more John from Texas stories!

In the Dead of the Night


Gordon Rowlinson

This is my fault. I can see that now. I can deal with it all now. Last week my mind was distracted by depression and downturns and doom and gloom, and I didn't see things clearly. It burdens my heart to look back on how I ignored all the warning signs of danger and I let myself fall into the abyss. When the cold fingers of death claw and grasp for your throat, it's hard to believe that you don't see it coming and let it happen. But it happened. Let me attempt to explain.

My name is John. I'm from Euless, Texas—some call it Useless, Texas and that joke is getting a little tiresome. It looks like a boring, quiet town, but crazy things can happen. My descent into this horror started when I had just finished my 2nd year of college and ran out of bucks. I decided to take a year off and work. I saw a blind ad on the Internet for a Payroll/Inventory Clerk. I rationalized that such a job would give me good experience and be a stepping stone to a better job.

When the jerk called me up and asked me for a job interview, I should have immediately recognized the address. I drove to the bad part of town and found myself at the office building next to Safe Self-Storage—a place where I have had bad supernatural experiences. I’m pretty sure that the place is haunted. Safe Self-Storage is a large storage facility on the south side of town. People stash their excess belongings that clutter up their lives and their secret personal treasures here. I stopped at the gas station across the street and I delayed going in for 10 minutes. But l needed the money and like a moth to a flame, I forced myself to pull into the parking lot next to the storage facility.

The job was working at the central office of Safe Self-Storage. The reason the ad was a blind ad was that Safe Storage has had a lot of bad publicity in the media and they wanted people to show up for the interview. When the receptionist led me to a conference room, I told myself that working at the central office of Safe Self-Storage would not be like working at the storage facility hellhole next door. As Joe Bob, the jerk boss explained the job, “All the Safe Self-Storage chain locations around the country send the payrolls to this Texas main office.” During the interview, I tried to look smart, as I was doing something very stupid and getting sucked in. I must have appeared smart as Joe Bob suddenly stood up, shook my hand and told me to start on Monday.

Monday morning when I arrived for my first day, Ethel, the middle aged receptionist-secretary, showed me the actual office area where I would work. I was stunned. The office—if you want to call it that—was a small room packed with beat up cubicles. The bare walls were devoid of pictures. The only window was a tiny window next to the door. My cube had a telephone that didn’t work and a computer with no internet link. I was isolated from the outside world. Next to me sat Carl. Carl seemed like the type of guy that was in his 40s, but he acted like he was in his 60s.

Carl was a Clerk II and my mentor. I figured if I worked for the place for 20 years, I could get his job. I grimly decided that I had come this far so I decided to give it a try. At 9:30 I started entering payrolls into the system. With no contact with the outside world and no break from the monotony, I started getting depressed by 12:00. Lunchtime came mercifully. I decided to escape and go to the local sub shop. On the way out the door, I stopped to talk to Ethel. In the background, I recognized the song on her radio as "Is that all there is?" I asked her if every day was like this. 

"Oh, the rest of the week isn't as exciting as Monday." she said.

I smiled a fake smile and ran to the parking lot. On the 3-minute drive to the sub shop, I felt like a prisoner who escaped from solitary confinement. I was terrified. This was my first real job. If all jobs were like this I would turn into a vegetable by the time I was 30. Is this what one works hard in college for? Is this what jobs are like? Is it worth it? Is this all there is?

Day dreaming on the possibilities of getting a job looking for buried treasure in Hawaii, I ate my lunch and made my way back to the office. The afternoon was even more boring. Like a prisoner in jail, I watched the clock counting off the minutes to 5:00. When I left at 5:00, I told myself that things couldn't get worse.  

On the second day on the job, things got worse. Bobby, the jerk boss, told me he had a task that would utilize my accounting skills and led me to a small back room in the warehouse. The tasks were to count and inventory forms for the office. I also had to inventory piles of obsolete computer equipment. I was merely counting items. A 10 year old could do the job. The room was not air-conditioned and the high steel walls and the unbearable Texas heat reminded me of being inside an oven. I kept telling myself over and over that I was doing something that would lead to a better job and a career.

At 11:00 I needed a break from the heat and boredom, so I stepped outside into the alley between the office headquarters and the local Euless storage facility. I leaned up against the brick wall and looked into the rows and rows of rental rooms. 

An unmarked truck pulled up to a back row storage room and two men unloaded some strange wooden boxes. I noticed some faded markings on the boxes. I recognized some of the markings as Voo Doo symbols. But the thing that was most unusual about the boxes was how beat up and broken they were. When the men saw me watching them, they yelled at me, “You didn’t see anything!” Then they quickly hopped into their truck and drove off.  

Thinking back, that had to be how the problem started. The broken up boxes must have leaked the virus that was the source of the infection. Yes—I should have done something that day. I should have done something to stop the disease from spreading. I should have never gone back to Safe Self Storage. I should have left town. I should have... I should have...

At the end of the third day, a strange thing happened. All of the lights went out at the storage facility next door. There was no power outage so Joe Bob told Carl to go next door to see if everything was all right. Carl didn't come back. At the time, I was too distracted with adding a long string of payroll numbers to care.

Only 20 minutes later, when I heard a creepy scratching at the door and walls, did it occur to me that something was wrong—very, very wrong.

It was 4:45 and it was dark out, but I looked out the single office window and was surprised to see a small group of slow moving monstrous--looking people desperately clawing at the office door trying to get inside. Looking closer I recognized that it was the day staff from the storage facility. From the soulless eyes, the stiff-legged walk and the ragged clothing, I could tell what they were. There could be no mistake. They were zombies and they were relentlessly trying to break in and kill everyone in the office. Carl was part of the group clawing at the front door. They had gotten to him and he was now a zombie. I noticed he had the typical dull blank zombie-like look on his face and thus actually seemed more alert and intelligent than usual.

I realized then what had happened. The broken wooden boxes next door had spread the zombie virus to the storage facility workers. When Carl went next door, the zombies got him.

I ran to the office door and started to block the doors with the cheap metal desks. Two other frightened co-workers ran over and started to help me.  

"What's going on? Are you guys nuts?" Joe Bob emerged from his office.

"There are zombies are outside!" I said. Joe Bob calmly strutted to the only office window to survey the situation from a management perspective.

"The boss is the last one to realize a problem—typical." I thought.

Joe Bob dashed back from the window white as a sheet and immediately helped us block the doors. I desperately picked up the phone at the reception area and tried to get an outside line, but the lines were dead. I wondered how soon it would be before we were all dead. The breaking sound of glass rang through the office and dead zombie hands clawed and reached through the small window. 

Ethel screamed as zombies overpowered us and pushed the door open. The zombies outnumbered us and were pushing their way inside. We had only seconds to react now and they would soon be clawing for our throats. Ethel and the two guys retreated and ran for the conference room and started to barricade the door. I turned and ran to the back of the office. I heard the shriek of terror behind me. I turned around and saw zombies surround Joe Bob and drag him to the ground.

Running past my beat up cubicle, I tried to think of a way out. I glanced at the clock on the wall. The clock read 5:10.

"Looks like I have to stay after 5:00 and work with some zombies," I thought grimly.

I ran around the corner. On a hunch, I hid in Joe Bob's office. As I ducked behind his desk, I noticed the screen on Joe Bob's computer. It was the computer solitaire game. Apparently what the boss feverishly worked on all day was merely playing solitaire.

I heard screaming from the conference room and realized that the zombies had finally crawled their way into the conference room and got the remaining office staff. I wondered if changing into a zombie it was really that much of a change to the office staff. They all were almost zombies anyway from working at this dump. But I was young and I might have a future. I wanted to escape and the zombies were blocking the only way out. 

A crazy thought came to me. There was a cemetery near Safe Self-Storage. Everyone in the office and the staff from the storage facility had now been turned into zombies. If the zombie virus spread to the cemetery, hundreds of zombies would rise from the dead and attack the town. It was all up to me to stop the monsters and save my hometown and perhaps the entire state.

Suddenly I got an idea. Like most offices, our place had a cheap, fake ceiling. I stood on Joe Bob's desk and boosted myself through the ceiling. Balancing myself on the dusty supports, I desperately looked for a way out.

I felt my way through the dark and finally found the manhole hatch to the roof. The latches were all rusted as no one had ever used this thing. But I managed to pop the manhole open and shinnied up to the roof. I stood up and looked over the area. Looking across the street, I saw something that could solve the problem.

I found the fire escape on the side of the building and quickly climbed down to the pavement.

Some zombies saw me on the ground and tried to come after me but I could easily outrun them.

"Why do zombies always move so slowly?" I thought. No matter. I knew what to do. I had a plan.

I ran across the street. There was a gasoline truck that was going to refill the gas station's underground tanks. The fat middle-aged driver was inside the gas station talking and trying to impress the young chick that was behind the counter. The gasoline truck was still running—perfect.

I turned the latch in the back of the truck and the gas started to flow out. Hopping into the driver's seat, I tromped on the gas and headed back to Safe Self Storage. There were two zombies directly blocking my path at the chain link fence at the entrance. Their bodies made a sickening thud as I ran both of them down. I drove the truck up and down each row of the storage facility. There was gasoline everywhere. I finally crashed the truck into the warehouse door that held all the paper forms.

"Perfect," I thought.

Running back through the entrance fence, I threw the match on the trail of gasoline. I ducked as the entire Safe Self-Storage went up in a deafening explosion. Something that looked like a mushroom cloud rose into the night sky. The initial blast faded to steady purifying flames. The rows and rows of storage rooms full of dark secrets, the office headquarters building full of endless piles of paper, and the alleys were all in flames. I ran to the parking lot. On the other side of the fence, zombies were stomping around in flames. They moaned and mindlessly clawed at the fence. I tried not to listen to the sounds of the dead as they burned to a crisp, but I knew that horrible sound would haunt me for the rest of my life. The blackened zombies eventually fell to the ground and stopped moving.

As the fire lit up the night sky and I heard sirens in the distance, I turned to leave. From the size of this inferno, I knew that this would be a total loss for Safe Self-Storage. They would never rebuild this hellhole. As fire purifies things, I figured my long nightmare with Safe Self-storage was finally over.

I limped to my beat up Ford and squealed the tires on the way out of the parking lot. I had only $20 in my pocket and I had no idea of where I was going—Mexico, New Mexico, New Orleans—as long as it was far away from Texas and Safe Self-Storage. The realization that I would never see un-Safe Self-Storage again seemed like a huge exorcism to my life and knowing all my monster problems where forever behind me was a deep comfort to my soul. I pulled onto the dark main highway and pushed the gas pedal way down. The tired little engine protested and semi-bald tires whined, as the old car hit 70 mph.

I smiled and looked far down the lonely road. In the dead of the night, I tried to find the point in the night where the highway meets the horizon. I hoped that that would be the place where I could see a fresh new life in the distance.

The End?

Read more John from Texas stories!

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2012-01-02 15:20:23
I have to tell you I love what is shaping up to be a series of stories about John from Euless Texas. He is a bit rough on his local storage units, but they are all bit creepy, don't you wonder what people do keep in those units? Can not wait for the next one.

2012-01-01 07:12:37
I love this series!

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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
Time Wars & other SciFi Tales

by Gordon Rowlinson