You voted and here it is. An excerpt from Chapter Four of the novel tentatively titled The Cross Tapes. I hope that the effect of the scene won’t be weakened too much out of context, but at the very least it should give you a feeling of the style of the novel and excite you to read more of it. So without further ado, here we go. Two thousand words from Chapter Four.
The storage facility was unmanned. To get in, you needed to swipe a plastic card, much like a bank ATM. Thankfully, I was able to sneak in with several other customers by taking out my wallet and rustling through my cards just slowly enough that they “beat me” to the lock. They held the door for me, asked me no questions, and went their own way. Lucky me, since I had hundreds of blue-doored storage units to investigate, and no clue which one I was supposed to open. I did, however, know a few things. First, whoever this Ben Cross had been, he liked number games and secret-agent-style shit. Second, he was obsessed with being my brother. Third, he seemed to intend that I figure this plot out.
At least, I could only assume that the message on the photographs was meant for me. And if the pattern followed, then I should already have or at least be able to find the information that I needed to locate the correct unit. The storage company’s advertisements cheerily informed me that this particular facility offered eight different sized units spread out over twenty different floors. Somewhere around four thousand different storage units.
The storage company had labelled each unit with a two-part code. The first number referred to the floor, and the second to the unit. So the first floor contained units 01-001 through 01-200, and the twelfth floor had unit 12-001 and so forth. The layout on each floor appeared to be identical, but the concrete floors had different coloured paint stripes running up and down the hallways as the only visual distinction. So, given those limitations, what number unit would my crazy brother purchase?
My first thought was my initials. Megan Kinsey could be 13-011 or 13-110, and if you included my dreaded middle name Blodeuwedd (Welsh is a strange language) that made 13-112. I headed to floor thirteen. But of course, there wasn’t one, as floor twelve was immediately followed by floor fourteen.
So maybe my birthday? 08-188 would be one of the largest units the facility offered. The eighth floor had a foot-wide purple stripe running up and down the halls. I headed for the back of the floor, eying the units as I passed. Each unit had some sort of padlock or similar device securing it. The larger the unit, the more complicated that device, it seemed. Unit 08-188 was secured with a giant circular padlock. If the key for this unit was in that damn pizza place in Syracuse, it was never getting opened.
But maybe my original idea had been more or less on track. Sure, you couldn’t do anything starting with M, since there was no thirteenth floor. But if you began with my last name, like you would on an application for a storage unit, for example, it could be Kinsey, Megan, 11-013. Or Kinsey, Megan B, 11-132.
The eleventh floor was orange, and I could hear the echo of other voices from further in the unit. I hoped it wasn’t the group that let me in. If I had to turn around again and pretend that I had gone to the wrong floor, things might start to get weird. I wasn’t concerned about the cameras—they would only be checked if a unit was broken into, and since the unit I was hunting was owned by a dead man, he seemed unlikely to complain about me snatching his stuff.
11-013 was unrented, but I could reserve it for the low price of blah, blah, blah, according to the poster on the door. No good. I walked down the central hallway, reading the numbers on the wall. 11-040 to 11-060; I passed the group of people. 11-100 to 11-120. Then I was there. Storage Unit 11-132; a painted blue steel scroll-up door, locked with a combination padlock. Three numbers: 08, 01, 88. My birthday. And with a click, I was in.
I’m not sure what I expected to find in the unit. Something freaky, probably. Maybe a life-sized papier-mâché replica of me. Maybe a stack of empty Uno’s pizza boxes. But the contents of the five-by-ten unit were perfectly normal. An overstuffed lounge chair, a wooden dresser. A lot of cardboard boxes with labels like “kitchen” and “bedroom – books.” It looked like the kind of storage unit any normal person would have while in the process of moving between cities.
Except that there was one medium sized box with an envelope taped to the outside. An envelope that had “Megan” inked in neat letters across it. I carefully untapped the letter from the box, and pulled out the sheet of notebook paper. The careful printing matched the address on the envelope.
If you are reading this letter, I have most likely killed in a gruesome manner. Congratulations on solving my little riddles. I am sorry that the first that you met of me was my corpse, but indicating you as my next of kin was the only way I could guarantee that this information would fall into your hands upon my death. It has the added bonus of actually being the truth, as you will soon learn.
In this box are a number of video tapes and a machine to play them. The messages on those tapes should help to explain a lot of what is going on, and a lot of what will soon be taking place. I am not sure how long I have before I am found out, but I will continue to update the tapes for as long as I can.
It is very important that you never hook these tapes up to anything digital. Nothing that transmits a signal. When you watch them, take the batteries out of all of your phones and unplug all your computers. If you are able to watch them somewhere with no wireless signal, even better. This may sound extremely paranoid, but I guarantee you that when you see the tapes, you will understand my caution.
I will leave the rest to the tapes. Be careful.
Ben Cross, August 22, 2013
Well, that was that was one question answered. Whoever this Ben Cross had been, he had undoubtedly been crazy. I looked inside the box, which did indeed include a small tape player and a stack of Hi-8 tapes, each with a date label. At a quick glance, there were maybe eight tapes, the most recent of which was labelled 10-20-13 in thick-tip Sharpie. So, no digital signals? Going back to early 80s technology seemed like one way to dodge the NSA or whoever else might be listening.
Getting away from extraneous wireless signals might be a bit trickier, though. Sure, if I went underground far enough, I could escape the cell signal. The subway sprang to mind. But that wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. It wasn’t like I could drag a TV with me, and even if I found some non-digital portable device to watch the videos on, it wouldn’t be private. I wasn’t in the mood to sneak down the subway tunnels on the word of some stranger who I was fairly certain was off his rocker.
Why I was actually taking all this paranoia seriously, I wasn’t quite sure. But as I stood there at the end of a concrete hallway in a self-storage facility, I began to feel distinctly uneasy. The chatter that I had heard from the other couple had disappeared. I could hear the distant thrum of a furnace and the hissing of air through vents. Had the HVAC system been running five minutes ago? It was growing distinctly cold, and I pulled the collar of my black wool coat closer.
You know that sensation you get when somebody stares at your back from across the room? You didn’t know anybody was there, but you can feel the eyes on you. I was getting a major case of the creeps. Time to go, Meg. Time to go. I shoved the letter into the box, slapped the top closed, and pulled down the sliding door of Unit 11-132. The lock clicked into place and I double-timed it back to the main hallway.
There was no one there as I peered around the corner. This facility was arranged with a central corridor that bisected five perpendicular hallways, meaning that there were ten hallways of twenty units each. I could see clearly to the end of the opposite hallway, and there was nobody there. All the units were closed. To my left, there was only one more set of hallways; the ones that contained the deepest storage units. To my right, the hallway stretched almost two hundred yards towards the elevator. I just had to walk down there, past three other pairs of hallways, press the button, and be out of here.
My footsteps rang out in the chilling air as I made my way towards the elevator. As I already mentioned, I walk a lot, so I wear comfortable, soft-soled shoes. You know, quiet shoes. But with no other sounds except the hissing of the air, they sounded like hammers on stone. And then I was there, at the elevator, pressing the button. And pressing it again, for good measure. Poke, poke, poke. I know that pressing the button multiple times doesn’t make the elevator show up faster. I can’t stand it when people jab the “close door” button a million times, because they’re in such a damn hurry. But this was different. I didn’t have anywhere to be except not here.
Then, a unit door opened.
It must have been at the opposite end of the building. But the sound of corrugated steel scrolling up on door tracks reverberated around the room. Shreeeeek, bang, bang, bang. Now I was beginning to grow panicky. Was the far end of the hallway getting darker? Hazier? I blinked my eyes rapidly to clear them. I hadn’t looked down the last set of hallways, I told myself. I tried to regulate my breathing and chill out. There was just a person there, opening his unit.
And then the second unit opened. The shriek of casters in metal tracks, the “chk chk chk” of door panels folding, and the banging of a forcibly opened door bouncing against the stops. Where was the goddamn elevator? Fuck that, where were the emergency stairs? I saw the glowing red EXIT sign to my left at the end of the first row of units. I turned and started that way just as the third door smashed open. One, two, three, and now only one hallway left between me and whatever was opening those units. The whole floor was getting darker.
I clutched my box and ran. I am so glad that I don’t wear heels all the time like some girls. I twisted the handle and flung the door open for all I was worth just as the fourth unit opened with a protesting cry of steel. I jumped into the stairwell, slammed the door behind me and leant against it, gasping like a fish. I could barely breathe. There was a heavy weight on my chest. Was I being gassed? Is that what the HVAC system had been? Some hallucinogenic? No, wait. I have asthma.
I fumbled in my pocket for an emergency inhaler and there it was, thank God. I breathed in the medicine and immediately my breathing eased. My heart was still pounding, but that would settle in a moment. My back was still to the thick steel fire door. Nothing had tried pushing against the door, and the loud noises that had initiated my panic seemed to have stopped. There was no window in the door, but even if there had been, I wouldn’t have looked.
I was just beginning to formulate some sort of reasonable explanation for what had happened when I heard a scratching from the other side of the door. As though claws were surreptitiously picking at the metal door. And I thought I heard a clicking, whistling sound as well. I didn’t stop to listen closer. I bolted down the staircase, two at a time. Ten floors later, I needed another hit of my inhaler, but stepping into the crisp November air felt almost warmer than the storage unit. I clutched my prize close and looked up and down the street.