The Footsteps In The Hall: Part 3
Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2
Sheets of water battered the showroom windows as midnight approached. Harold was beginning to wish he had brought his guitar. An itch had developed in his fingertips to feel the copper strings beneath them, to hear the scratch of his new calluses on chord changes. It’s like the guitar talks back to you sometimes, Sally said once, like it’s telling you you’re doing a good job. For the first time since February, he smiled while thinking about her.
Headlights flashed through the waterfall outside and into the showroom. It was Janette; the flash of orange gave away her Ford Pinto even in the soaked dark. Harold rose and approached the wall where the button to start the electric gate was affixed. He tapped the red circle and gave a wave through the window he was sure she wouldn’t see through the rain.
The gate slowly swung open and the Pinto drove through and gave a little honk. Harold watched as the gate swung home as Janette pulled around the corner to building A and out of sight. He was certain she wouldn’t bring anything home with her, she never did despite her complaints of how much money this place was “fleecing” her for. Then again, there was always the chance, and she would be sure to let Jerry know how little help there had been when she needed it. It’s always best to be sure, he heard Sally say in his mind.
There was a short sprint from the back exit of the office to the entrance of building A, but even still the cuffs of his pants passed the point the raincoat covered and his shoes were soaked by the time Harold made it through the door. A trail of wet shoe prints led from the door and ended at Janette’s open storage unit.
Harold pulled the thin plastic raincoat over his head and threw it to the side. “You doin’ alright Ms. Hulette?”
Janette Hulette’s reedy voice erupted from within the unit, “Oh yeah!” It seemed to be at a constant level just below screaming and was only amplified by the concrete walls and floor. “Power went out for a sec and it fried my air…fryer!” She barked a deafening and abrupt chuckle.
Harold arrived at the open shutter door as she lowered a tattered box sporting a thick layer of dust. “Find what you were looking for?”
She flipped open its aged flaps as if handling a sacred tome. “I think so, Harry.”
He started at her use of his nickname. Only Sally had called him that. He swallowed back the tears that stood in his eyes and cleared his throat, deciding to let it lie. She was a nice old lady anyway; no need to mire her in any drama. “Great,” he finally uttered after an awkward pause. She fished out what looked a bit like a crockpot to Harold and placed it gingerly into a brown plastic bag sporting a large green P signifying its namesake store. “Need help getting that to your car?”
She rose, grunting again as she did. “Nah I’m alright.” She grabbed up her large black umbrella that was still dripping. “I tell you, Harry, it’s a shame you’re here on a weekend, ya know?” She waddled to the exit and he followed. “You ought to be with some nice young lady.” She paused and gave him a bit of a side-eye. “Or a guy, you know, if you’re into…them.”
Harold couldn’t help but chuckle. “No ma’am, too boring for that I’m afraid.”
Janette nodded dismissively. “Anyway. A place filled with other people’s old crap isn’t a place for somebody young.”
“Ah come on it’s not that bad, Ms. Hulette.”
They reached the door and she readied her hands on the umbrella-like a soldier preparing to storm a beach. A soldier who had felt the need to carry along his air fryer.
Harold only now found the oddness of needing to reclaim such a thing at this hour. Old people do what they will, Sally’s voice spoke in his mind again, clear as a bell. Only this was not one of her many axioms she would regularly quote. In fact, he was certain he had never heard her say anything of the sort.
Janette’s voice startled him. “Oh dang it! I forgot to close the shutter.”
Harold saw that it was, indeed, still open, like the mouth of some odd-looking cave, the grab string lilting to and fro.
“Be a dear and grab that for me, will ya?”
He swallowed. Directly across from her unit stood the double doors. It’s fine, he told himself, you shut it and then head straight back to here. “Sure thing,” he replied finally.
As he walked back to the open shutter he was, again, startled. This time by the slam of Janette using the crash bar and disappearing into the void of water and night. Fortunately for her, the gate had a motion sensor for cars exiting.
Harold turned back to the open shutter. Just get it done, you punk. His steps were long and quick. He dared not face the windows of the double doors, telling himself it was silly to think he’d see anything, but not knowing for sure if it was the truth now that he was here alone. Hopefully alone. He grabbed the pull string and brought the door down, sending thunderous clanging through the hall around him. Once it was shut he slid the floor locks into place with his feet and clamped the padlock home.
As he turned back to the exit where his plastic raincoat sat crumpled on the floor, a sound like one of the crash bars being hit sounded off from within the connecting hallway. No, no, no, no, he thought frantically, it was thunder…just thunder. Don’t be childish. The concrete hallways pressed in on him like a weighted blanket. He craned his head around slowly to the window in the double doors behind him. There was nothing.
Harold forced himself to stare a moment longer. There is nothing there. It was just thunder. He nodded, and said aloud, “Ok.” He half-ran back to the exit Janette had passed through only moments ago. His mind caused a shadow to appear in the periphery of the window just as it fell from view and the hairs on his neck and arms rose. Just your mind, punk, and just thunder.
He let out a sigh of relief when he reached the door that was cut short by his inability to open it. He pressed on the bar and it did not give. He pressed again, harder this time, and still nothing. “Come on you piece of garbage,” he scolded at the door. He slammed his shoulder against it, hoping that it was only moisture that had caused a small air pocket to act as a sealant. The door didn’t budge. “You have got to be kidding me.”
Harold placed his hands on his hips and looked around for anything that might give him some leverage, but there was nothing. Surrounded by stuff and can’t find the thing you need. Sally’s voice again.
Look, his voice this time, just use the door halfway down the hall. You’re wigging yourself out because it’s night and it’s storming. Like the beginning of one of Sally’s books.
“Fine,” he said and slowly trotted back down to the double doors.
He hesitated before bringing himself into view of the windows. There won’t be anything there. He took a deep breath and swung the door open and stepped into the hallway.