A Bright, White Light in Storage Unit #13D
I encountered a lot of inexplicable shit during my limited tenure as an overnight security guard. That’s probably not abnormal. Most people stuck in similar gigs, working solo, would probably attest to the same thing. That dark, panicky feeling in our gut can usually just be attributed the uncomfortable aspect of being alone. As any good skeptic will admit, sometimes, a quiet mind plays tricks. But this story is not one of those times. I can promise you that the following will always be the most bizarre experience of my life. And I still have no rational explanation for it today.
It was ten PM, just after closing, in a sleepy suburban town on the edge of eastern Pennsylvania. A steady rain drifted in from over the mountains and into the valley of our shitty little city. Heavy wind whipped plastic bags and shopping carts from the grocery store next door like tumbleweed across the puddle painted gravel. Lightning took down distant power lines in increasing pops.
This storm lined up perfectly to fuck up my night.
The rain projected to be the heaviest at eleven. I arrived at ten. And management (mainly that asshole Bill) still insisted on having somebody walk hourly foot patrols through the early morning. That lucky somebody, of course, happened to be me. I didn’t like it. Truth be told, I hated it. We never experienced crime, or break-ins, or people trying to stay in their units past curfew. It was suburbia, for Christ’s sake, the town barely experienced anything more than the occasional DUI. There was never reason for such an aggressive approach. But the exercise got me off my ass, and the job kept me out of debt, so I shut up about it and did as told.
One patrol every hour.
The Public Storage lot consisted of nineteen identical one hundred square foot buildings. Each was uniformly plotted out in a small neighborhood consisting of a couple streets. If you haven’t seen one, they look a lot like this. The purpose of my patrol was to walk up and down these streets, listen into the units, check the locks on a couple, and keep an eye out for signs of break-ins or squatters. By ten PM, it is state law to vacate the storage unit, as they cannot be treated as housing facilities in any way, shape, or form. Nobody should be on the property but me. That could result in a big lawsuit for Bill..
At ten-thirty, I had just passed the first row of houses, when I heard the hum of what seemed to me like an electric generator kicking into gear.
I couldn’t believe it.
In a full year on the job, it was the first time I heard someone in the lot after curfew. I traced the sound of the noise, in the rain, to storage unit #13D.
A light was clearly visible underneath the door.
I knocked a few times on the metal entrance in as official a manner as possible. I was nervous. I never had to confront anyone like that before. I had never been the confrontational type. But Bill the boss told me what to do in these situations, if they should ever arise.
“Never walk in without a warning,” he said. “Never ever. That’s a must. You might not like what you see.”
The image of a fifty something man sprawled out in his undies fixated itself in my mind.
And so I knocked, about ten or fifteen times, to send home the point. But nobody answered. I started to get frustrated. I knocked so loud and hard that my hand hurt. I looked under the crack in the door and could clearly see a bright white light pulsatinging underneath and leaking outside.
Then a shadow passed in front.
Somebody had to be inside the unit. And if this asshole thought he could get away with it by just ignoring me… well, that was not going to happen.
“Hello?” I shouted through my dampened ski mask. “Open up. Past curfew. Anybody still on the property needs to leave immediately.”
I pounded on the door about ten or fifteen more times.
I pulled out my ring of keys in frustration and flipped through to find the master. Opening the door wasn’t exactly ethical, or smart. But I was annoyed that somebody else decided to ruin my night of Netflix. And state law gave guards permission to enter if we suspected somebody squatting in our storage unit.
“Alright, I’m coming in,” I announced. “If there’s anybody inside the unit, please, let me know. Letting me know would be easier for both of us.”
Nobody answered. I pulled the neatly decorated master ring from the key and clicked it against the dripping lock. Just before it found paydirt, a man called out from the other side of the door.
“NO!” he shouted. “Please. Please listen to me. You cannot come in here. Not yet.”
The shock of hearing another voice caught me off guard. Mind you, I had been alone in the dark for hours, at this point. I had been alone every night for weeks. Hearing someone else speak in the dark, rainy, quietness of the evening sent uncomfortable shivers down my shine.
“Sir, you can’t stay in there past hours, it’s the law,” I tried to explain. “I’m calling the police if you don’t come out.”
I pulled out my phone and started to dial.
“NO,” the man screamed in a panic. “Listen, please, I just need an hour longer. An hour longer is all it should take. Please. Call Bill. He’ll understand. Bill knows me. Call Bill.”
Okay. The likelihood of rationality returning felt welcoming. My coworker’s name seemed to pull my dark imagination back down to Earth a bit. Maybe Bill knew the guy. Maybe he made an exception. The scenario seemed pretty unlikely from my hard ass boss, but nevertheless, I couldn’t see the harm in giving him a call. It wasn’t like the perpetrator was going anywhere. I changed the number from 911 to Bill’s and dialed.
He picked up after two rings. I spoke in a voice loud enough that my companion inside the storage unit could hear everything I was saying.
“Hey Bill. I’ve got a guy down here staying in Unit 13D after curfew. He says he needs an hour. Says he knows you.”
My boss lived the old timer’s schedule. Why stay up late when you could hire a twenty-something to do it for you? That call marked the first time I ever needed bug him about any issue after hours. His grumpy, disgruntled response reflected that fact perfectly well.
“No one can stay past curfew. You know that.”
“I know, but…”
My boss sighed and sounded like he might be getting up from bed.
“13D… 13D is the widower, right? Always liked him. He’s been here for years. Him and his wife…”
The phone disconnected at the worst possible moment. I cursed loudly and tried to dial him back. But the blinking message on my cell screen read ‘Service Unavailable’. Perfect, I thought. A cell tower must have collapsed.
I focused my frustration on the door. I banged so hard on the door that fresh red cuts appeared from where the metal rusted and curved. The storm grew more fierce. I had to hold my hat on my head just to keep it from flying down the street. Thunder cracked overhead so loud that it became difficult to distinguish the sound from that damn electric humming. I pulled my radio off my belt and fumbled through the frequencies for an emergency broadcast. But I forgot how to reach it.
Again… I never had to do this before.
The steady hum emanating from the storage unit quickly started to pick up in volume. I stopped knocking out of shock. After a few moments, the light bathed the entire lot in an eerie, picturesque luminescence that reached into every shadowy reach of the property. I shouted for the man to open the door. But if he could hear me over the din, he ignored me. Once I stopped to listen, I could hear him laughing. I could hear him laughing so loud it sounded as though he were singing along to the soundtrack of the horrible device he kept inside.
“Oh my God. I did it. I did it. Maryann, I did it, baby.”
Some part of my shock waved brain understood it would be better to back away. I know now that is what I should have done. God, he could have had a bomb in there. But I couldn’t do it. I don’t know why. Maybe I felt responsible. Maybe I felt like I could save him/ For some strange reason, I continued to knock on the door. Then I pulled the master key from its loop and announced with all the false confidence I could accommodate –
“I’m coming in.”
But the howl that answered inside sounded more animalistic than human.
I stepped away from the unit as the cracking voice of joy on the other side quickly turned into something far more sinister. The howling turned into a venomous growl. The growling turned into the barks of of an animal far larger than the average dog. I covered my ears and fell to my knees as long nails scraped against the metal interior. I could hear the man struggling. I could hear the man fighting. The uproarious tone of the electrical whirring and the ear piercing animal inside reached a fever pitch. I braced on the floor with my hands over my head and wondered whether my ears would begin to bleed. I looked up, just as the entire storage unit seemed to expand and contract, as if taking one long breath.
Then the noises inside suddenly… stopped.
The night once again grew silent. Our shitty little valley town returned to being a shitty little valley town. The rain dripped into puddles beside my aching head. The wind pushed the matted hair from my face. And a single voice whispered over the newfound silence.
“My God, Maryann, I can see you. I can finally see you again.”
And then the bright light went out.
I picked myself up and brushed the mud off my pants. I walked over to the unit and knocked a couple times. Nobody answered. I pulled out the neatly decorated master key and stuck it in the lock. I turned the handle. But when I walked in, nobody was there.
The entire room was empty. It looked like it had never been rented at all.
The only remnants were four long scratch marks on the far wall.