The wooden door to old number 9 was titled and holding on by only one hinge. I could see nothing but faceless darkness looking out at me through the gaps the door’s lopsided hang provided. I thought about turning around and going home for about the tenth time since I pulled my blue Geo Metro into the parking lot. I knew I should have brought my dad’s shotgun which still rested underneath my parents’ bed. I didn’t know how to use it, but just the sight of it in my hands would probably scare off any squatter I was probably about to disturb in number 9.
I was riding a long wave of “fuck it” so I decided to keep it going. I rolled up the door of number nine and pushed the dead wood of the door hard enough to where it swung around, came off its last hinge and fell to the ground at my feet.
Once inside, I flicked on my dad’s old MagLite and lit the place up to discover a room which was a little smaller than the shack down by the river, filled with items which seemed strangely much newer than they should be. I expected to encounter a bunch rotting newspapers, magazines, VHS tapes and old pictures, but instead saw myself looking all around at a dirty, but newish wardrobe – sweatshirts, jeans, musty jackets and baseball hats lined the walls. There was a lot of old stuff as well, and it all looked to be Charlie’s baseball gear and memorabilia.
I first thought about how I was going to answer the question to the crossword. Would I say, some guy’s clothes? I leaned to “Charlie’s stuff,” but was quickly distracted by two things:
1. A familiar smell began to tickle my nose.
2. I noticed a half-inflated blow-up mattress, the kind you might take camping in the back corner of the unit. A black sleeping bag spread out across it.
That smell took a minute for my nose to identify, but I eventually was able to pinpoint it to the smell of the awful Acqua Di Gio cologne Charlie would wear back in high school. The slight hint of citrus which cut through the chemical cloud of the male perfume was just too familiar to me.
One more feeling began to take over my body. The sense that I was in a place where I wasn’t supposed to be. It was that feeling you might get when you are at a friend’s house and you sneak into their older sister’s bedroom to steal one of her Cosmopolitan magazines with the sex articles in them with your friend. My body seemed to be telling me I needed to get out of there.
I spun my chair around and raced for the door with my breath held, prayed silently I would get back before whoever was living there decided to return.
I made it out the door and into the heart of the storage facility without a sign of life around me. I stopped just past the trucks on the way in and tried to catch my breath. It had been a long, long time since I had put myself through this kind of strain and my arms and lungs were weak.
The world stopped spinning for a moment and I locked my eyes on the red, rusted truck to my left. I recognized that the passenger side door which was closed when I came in was hanging open in the wind.
I heard footsteps on the asphalt behind me approach.
I wheeled myself away as fast as I could until I was red in the face, my lungs burning and my arms like jelly when I rolled up to the driver’s side door of my Geo Metro.
The trouble was now that I knew my wheelchair to car lift would take at least a couple of minutes to get me safely into my locked car. If whoever came out of the truck and walked behind me had followed me over to my car, there wasn’t much I could do at this point.
I didn’t even turn around to look, too nervous, just waited for my lift to pick up my chair and start pulling me to the chair. I actually closed my eyes and figured I would rather not see what was going to happen, if it was going to happen.
But nothing. I dropped down into the mildewy cloth of my driver’s seat and opened my eyes to see my dirty windshield clouding my view of the lonely highway.
I locked the car.
The little bit of security that piece of metal sliding into the locking mechanism of my car provided me allowed me to look back at where I had just rolled away from. I could barely make out anything in the near dark of the growing night, but off in the distance I thought I could see a light. It looked like one of those Halogen lanterns you might take camping. It dangled down from the long, thin arm of a man who seemed to be looking in my direction.
There was no way I could make out the man’s face through the fogged glass of my back window, the light rain and the adrenaline pumping through my veins, but I couldn’t help but feel I had seen this man’s presence before, though it had been a long, long time. It felt like a recurring nightmare you hadn’t had in years coming back to you in the night that you just couldn’t quite remember the next day.
I drove away with sweat on my fingertips.