The short fiction that appears on this blog is interconnected within the same universe. Follow the tag #TheRift to read everything in one place. This is purely experimental fiction and you will see me playing with differing narratives and ideas throughout.
“That’ll be £7.50, sir”, Debbie runs through the routine of ringing up a sale through on the company’s new touch tills, practically punching the total icon due to frustration. The till finally springs open and she hands the middle aged man his change and a receipt. “Ah, you can just pop that in a bin” he says. It seems the fashion nowadays that people shun the proof of their purchase. Debbie wonders if this plain man with salt and pepper hair is reckless with his money or just doesn’t want evidence of his dull spending habits. “No worries, sir. Have a super stacked day” she throws the limp catchphrase towards the man’s back as he exits the automatic doors.
“Why do you think he bought them, then?” Max asks as Debbie slumps into her office chair twirling on the pneumatic base. “Do we have to play this game? Really?” She stares down her co-worker Max with a glare only half filled with malice and he returns her look with a smirk, “Well, I reckon he collects the skulls of animals he finds by the road and stores them under his bed”. This is a poor opener from Max, who usually goes straight for the lewd ideas. Debbie only has to think for a moment before an image appears of the man who just exited with three Small Home Storage Boxes. “Easy” She quips, “He has been saving his toenail clippings since he hit puberty and the supermarket bags that were his preferred storage containers are biodegrading in his shed”. Max’s appreciation is shown as he stands and claps slowly. To fully show his appreciation for her joining in on his time wasting game, he showers Debbie in the contents from her own hole-puncher. “Oh, fuck off, Max. Urgh, it’s gone in my bra!” With her fingernails trying to grasp small paper circles within the cups of her underwear and she makes her way to the staff toilets. “You gonna want a hand with those?” The predictable comment erupts from between giggles that shouldn’t emanate from a man of thirty four. Debbie answers with one of her fingers raised as Max groans, getting to his feet signalling it’s time for their sixth cup of piss weak tea.
Flushing the toilet and checking a text on her phone, Debbie strolls back to the front desk, finding a homely looking woman browsing the leaflets on reduced price storage cubicles. “Those are great value for money” She begins her sales pitch in earnest. It’s too hot today, the sun is streaming through the plate glass and the notifications from her friends on Facebook are making her envious. Trying to forget the picture of her best friend applying sun cream, taken 23 minutes ago, she looks up to the woman who is now standing directly in front of her at the till point. “Erm, yeah, they are a lot bigger than you think from looking at the leaflet” Debbie begins to cough in a poor attempt to cover the snort of laughter from the staff room and the comment of “size matters”. It manages to seep through her attempt at disguising his un-professionalism, regardless.
The customer raises a perfectly plucked eyebrow, smiles and announces that she would like to see a storage unit that would hold the contents of her flat while she moves. “Of course” says Debbie as she calls up the list of vacant units on the company iPad. “I’ll find a suitable one to show you. We have one very close to the loading bay. That would save you walking back and forth with your things.” The woman seems pleased with the suggestion and beams at Debbie with a mouthful of perfect teeth. “My name is Debbie, can I take yours, please”. To Debbie’s astonishment the smile widens, “Of course,” the lady announces, “My name is Leilah Fox”. Debbie is stunned by this woman’s eyes. They seem to bore into her as if she is probing her soul. “Thank you, Mrs Fox” says Debbie. The customer’s smile fades in an instant, replaced by a look of sadness and anger. “No! It’s MISS Fox. Thank you”. Flustered, Debbie tries a quivering apology and grabs the keys to unit 172. Debbie ushers Miss Fox to the door that leads into the labyrinthine warehouse of green Space Stacking Storage units.
Debbie calls back to Max that she won’t be long and lets him know she’ll be on the radio if he needs her. It’s unlikely that he even heard her, but security is paramount to the company. The chances are that he’ll be sat behind the counter watching their progress on the CCTV monitors, adding his usual facetious commentary over the top of the pictures. Debbie’s radio crackles, “don’t get lost again”, Max’s braying voice carries an echo from the speaker. Debbie looks to Miss Fox in embarrassment. “Sorry, he’s erm…” Miss Fox cuts Debbie off flashing her radiant teeth, “it’s fine, you both must be so bored stuck in here when it’s glorious outside?” Debbie is suddenly aware that this Miss Fox may be one of the fabled mystery customers and casts her a professional look of utter disinterest at the summer day outside. “Here is unit 172, Miss Fox”, they come to a stop outside a bright green door that looks exactly the same as the surrounding facades. The only distinguishing factor is the unit number displayed on a yellow plaque in a font that looks uncomfortably like Comic Sans.
“Each of our units is temperature controlled to ensure your belongings remain in the condition you left them. We also supply a number of double strength cardboard boxes to aid you in your storage needs.” Debbie hates the sound of her own voice as she trawls through the script handed down by HR people who have likely never seen a real customer. “The door is currently fitted with one of our padlocks, but you must supply your own, should you choose to Stack Safely with us.” Miss Fox nods agreeably, a shimmer of impatience flits across her eyes. As Debbie fits the key into the padlock she explains about the access available for the customer, “You can access your unit 24 hours a day, we give you a passcode to get through the security gates.” Miss Fox mumbles a cursory “very good” as if the transaction would be null and void without some kind of dialogue from her. Debbie continues her spiel as the door swings open, “Of course there are certain things you can’t store here, I can give you a sheet with…” Debbie is cut off by Miss Fox’s distant look. Turning round she sees that in the corner of the room is a dog’s food bowl with only crumbs left in the bottom, next to a blanket. Debbie swipes her iPad, a look of confusion on her face, “Hmm, this room seems taken. You’d be surprised what people store in these units.” She says, waving her hand vaguely at the belongings. Laughing nervously, Debbie explains “We rented a unit to a man once and all he left in it was a mannequin. He kept the lease going for over a year!”
The iPad claims the storage unit to be empty, Debbie assumes a fault in the system and apologises to Miss Fox. “I’m sorry about that, I can show you a different unit, just down here. Exactly the same, just slightly further from the loading bay.” After showing the next unit, Miss Fox seems uninterested insisting she must go home and think about it. She takes a leaflet and one of Debbie’s business cards which has a quote scrawled on the back. “Thank you” with that, Miss Fox exits into the car park and drives away.
“Time waster?” Max sprays this question at Debbie in a shower of biscuit crumbs. Picking up her now cold cup of tea, she nods absently and begins a new line of conversation, “Did you rent out 172?” After taking a sip of the tea she grimaces and turns to her colleague – he looks void. “How the fuck would I know? I don’t keep track of every unit I book. It’s possible…” He trails off, swiping his phone and bringing up a betting app. After tutting at something on the screen, his eyes wander back to Debbie in the usual manner – from her chest up. He has forgotten she was speaking to him, rolling her eyes, she tells Max that she is going on her break. “I’ll be outside, making a phone call.” It was obvious she would either sit in the staff room which is only ten feet from the front desk or stand outside on her phone. Space Stacking Storage being on an industrial estate, her only other option would be to take in the sights of the M.O.T service garages and be whistled at by cretins.
The sun begins to burn Debbie’s skin the moment the automatic doors glide open. She pulls her phone from her bag, rolls up her sleeves and begins to check her messages. She deletes a text from Simon before she’s halfway through reading it, as soon as she reads the words ‘I said I’m sorry’, her finger channels her new hatred for him by swiping to erase his words. With no other notifications to check, she glances to the top of her phone, noticing that only three minutes have passed. Stifling a yawn, she knows she’ll go back to work early, just to have something to do. She has to check on unit 172, and find out why the system is saying that it’s empty, it’s clearly being leased. No, she thinks, I will sit here until my forearms have at least gone pink before going back in there.
Walking back into the air-conditioned reception Debbie disturbs Max’s important work of excavating his nostrils. “You took your time”, he says tapping the power button on his phone. “I’m entitled to fifteen minutes, so I took all fifteen. It’s too bloody nice out there to be stuck in here” she grabs the iPad and makes for the door that leads to the storage rooms. “I won’t be long, just need to check something”, Max blankly looks at her before going back to whatever he was doing.
Debbie walks through the silence of the storage corridors, shivering slightly despite the heat outside. Being alone here always sets her on edge. The sound of her shoes bounces from the metal walls and the strip lighting begins to work on her tired vision, an oppressive headache begins to throb behind her eyes. Arriving at unit 172, she stops short, noticing right away something she should have noted earlier, with Miss Fox. It isn’t a customer’s padlock holding the door shut. She fumbles for the key in her pocket, a slight shake to her hand. Taking an involuntary deep breath, the lock opens. Checking over her shoulder, glancing towards the other units – out of habit – she sees nobody else. Foolishly, she has left her radio on the front desk. Thankfully her line manager is on leave this week so she won’t be pulled up on the error. As the door opens, she doesn’t know what she expects to find. It’s not like there will be a note in here explaining the issue with the computer system.
A growl sends her stumbling backwards, into the corridor. “Sorry, miss, he’s awfully jumpy at the moment.” Debbie’s instincts cause her grab for her mobile phone, already scrolling her contacts to call the front desk. There can’t be a dog in there, she thinks, or a person for that matter. I’m tired and stressed, maybe the heat got to me. Reluctantly she pokes her head back into the storage unit. There is a man resting against the rear wall, stroking a Spaniel which is baring its teeth at her. She notices the man is shrouded by the blue tint of smoke. Raising his other hand, he takes a drag from a cigarette. “How the fuck did you get in here?” The man starts to stand up. “Don’t come near me. I’ll scream” Debbie is scared and confused, the unit was locked from the outside. “No need to scream, miss. I don’t rightly know where I am, seeing as I banged my head bad, now the side effect of the painkillers are coming on. Did I pass out? Did someone move me?” Debbie looks to the dog and slides her eyes over the stranger. He’s covered in mud, she can make out a khaki colour uniform underneath the filth. His eyes shine through the dirt on his face and a neat moustache twitches under his nose. “You can’t be here, you shouldn’t be here. You aren’t real, we would have seen you on the cameras.” “Cameras?” The man raises his hand and the dog steps forward. Debbie turns into the corridor and jogs urgently towards the exit, trying not to look panicked in case Max is watching her on the CCTV.
“Only twenty minutes left of the day, let’s lock up early and head to the pub. I need a drink, Max” she says, gasping for air in the reception lobby. Noting the look on Max’s face she raises her hand stating clearly “nothing is meant by it. I just need a drink.” Picturing the man and his dog, she continues “I think I’m going mad.” The grin slides from the face of her co-worker and he shrugs his acceptance. It takes less than five minutes to go through the routine of cashing up the till, sending off sales reports and securing the office. After another fifteen minutes, they’re both sat in the nearest pub with alcohol relieving the tensions of the day.
“And this guy was sat there with his dog!” Max holds the bells on the fruit machine with a jangle of tones, “uh-huh, shit come on, the cherries rolled too far”. Debbie looks over at her colleague who is craning his neck in an attempt to watch a woman enter the toilets. “Max! It could be an intruder” Debbie became angered and worried, the noise of the pub was suffocating. “Could be” replied Max, but he wasn’t listening to her, he was counting the change in his hand preparing himself for another trip to the bar.
Debbie drained the dregs of her now warm beer, as she thudded her empty glass upon the table a new pint of lager was traded for it and she began emptying this new drink, “I should check the CCTV” she said to nobody in particular. Her mind was becoming hazy but that didn’t stop her from speculating on the earlier situation. Was the young man real? He certainly seemed so. Her memory clawed at the the fleeting moment from work and she remembered a smell of decay and smoke hanging in the air. Plus there was the echo of his voice, would those have been there if it was a figment of her imagination? Was she having a stroke? That was the smell of burned toast wasn’t it?
When Debbie wakes in the morning, she finds it hard to remember the night before. She lost count of how many drinks they consumed, but the pounding in her head and the smell of her body gives her some idea. Did she mention unit 172 to Max? Standing under the intense spray of the shower, her skin crawls cold as she recalls the man and the dog. Feeling fresher, she looks in the bathroom mirror and laughs at herself, “You need a break from life, love”. While she dresses in her uniform, she weighs up what happened yesterday. I’m an intelligent woman, she thinks, no matter the crappy job I find myself in. I’m under a lot of stress from Simon, I’m barely sleeping and my brain is rotting from working with a misogynist. It was obviously a funny turn. Laughing again, she mutters under her breath about going insane.
She arrives at work after a clammy commute on the bus; several men had brushed up against her despite plenty of space to move freely between seats. She sees that Max is already behind the desk. As she approaches the door he stands and points at her, chanting “lightweight, lightweight”. “Fuck off Max, I’m not in the mood today.” Placing a hand on his chest theatrically, Max begins to turn and offers a cup of tea. “No, thanks. If I’m to survive with you today, I’ll need a coffee” she replies. “Feminist” says Max, with a sneer. Debbie throws her bag under the desk and glances at the monitors to see the deserted routes through the maze of green doors. An anxious feeling rumbles in her stomach as she sees unit 172 appear on the screen. She begins to rise, wanting explore the room again, determined to prove her mind was playing tricks on her, when Max clunks a steaming coffee in front of her. “You need to call head office about one of your customers. Oh, and you can do the callbacks this morning. I need to restock the boxes and packing tape.” He has begun to loosen his tie, such is the exertion it takes to lift cardboard. “Yeah, whatever, sure. I’ll do it now” Debbie manages to stutter, reaching for the phone and calling HR.
With the urgent work out of the way and her limp homemade sandwich eaten, Debbie announces that she needs to check a unit. Max has balanced his phone on the side and is watching Top Gear on Netflix while he stacks flattened boxes, “uh-huh”. This time she remembers to pick up her radio as she snatches the key for 172 from the board. “Okay” she mumbles, “time to prove I need a holiday”.
Rounding the corner of the hallway leading to unit 172 she remembers how she ran from here yesterday, leaving the unit door open – completely forgetting protocol in her panic. But the door to 172 is now locked. Same lock as last time, fastened securely, like normal. Of course, she thinks, Rob would have done the rounds on his night watch and tended to it. It’s amazing what no sleep will do to the brain. Exhaling sharply through her nose, she unlocks the door and steps inside with assumed courage.
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