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The Facility (and the Purple Ooze)- 2019 short story

Updated: Feb 13




From the 2019 short story archives.


TODAY

Another day and delinquent payment later, Mike Lumpkin, owner and general manager of the climate-controlled Northern New Hampshire Self-Storage, prepared to evict the tenant of unit 27, Joe Roberts. Twenty-seven was on the west wing of the forty-two unit facility. Mike had been in the business for twenty-one years and had seen it all. Some units were overstuffed. Others were underused. And then there were the occasional make-shifted business spaces or those that were packed up with fancy antique furniture.


He had written up the contract requirements himself. Tenants had a fifteen-day grace period before their payment was considered delinquent. He wasn’t the kind of property manager to chase a tenant the second a payment was overdue. In fact, he would only call or e-mail a reminder around day 14 or 15-- always hopeful for another treasure hunt in an unpaid unit, the likely culprit for minimal reminders.


On average, he only evicted or emptied about three units per year as a result of a violation of the contract. Sometimes a tenant would die, they didn’t pay, or they moved away. Other times they were subpoenaed by law enforcement. And then there were the one-offs. These were the times he looked forward to most. The most notable discoveries to date were a Revolutionary War-era musket, an antique desk from the Jefferson administration, and a diamond necklace he had discovered in the bottom of a dresser. The owner and tenant privacy agreement in place had ample checks and balances that were in the best interest of protecting the tenant. When the payment went delinquent, it became the property of Northern New Hampshire Self-Storage. Mike was the sole proprietor. Sometimes, it would be a big score-- other times, a total miss.



Joe Roberts had been a tenant for three months. As per the security camera footage and the gate code usage, Joe used the facility daily and kept the air conditioner in his unit, unit 27, at a steady 68 degrees at all times. As Lumpkin watched the surveillance cameras, he watched Joe in his typical routine each day, garbage sack in and a garbage sack out. Mike assumed it was clothing and other knick-knacks Joe had no use for, but could not seem to part ways with. Mike assumed that Joe was purging the unnecessary items as often as possible. One day when Mike was cleaning out the unit across the hall, he noticed Joe arrive and caught a glance into the back of it. It was primarily full of action figures and collectibles, but he also spotted a bed and bedframe. After exchanging basic pleasantries, they both went on their way. Technically, there wasn’t a policy against living in a unit, but it was certainly frowned upon. Joe’s in and out times on the gate code logs never matched that of a "live in" as he had occasionally seen in the past. The 4-5 hour visits seemed minimal for this to be an actuality.


21 YEARS EARLIER


Mike’s grandfather, Michael Garrett Lumpkin, had put in an upstairs apartment over the office area when the facility was built. Mike moved in and never left. Initially, his grandfather thought Mike might hire someone to manage the property, and would only drop in occasionally-- a nice additional passive income and spending money for Mike to have for weekend outings and nice vacations.


After completing three years of university education in English, his grandfather presented him with the idea of owning and managing a storage facility as a steady flow of income to support his pursuits in English in the summer before starting his fourth year of college. At that point, he wasn’t sure if he would be a writer, a teacher, a document editor for an executive, or something else unrelated. His grandfather wanted to give him room to forge a path to success without breaking much of a sweat.


Mike moved into the apartment at the start of his fourth year. As a new facility, it had taken about three months to arrive at full occupancy. As a general rule for himself, he committed to leaving two units for absolute emergencies, charging a triple premium to lease one of the two when the need merited itself. He only booked forty units at a time -- occasionally forty-one.


After only a week of living in the apartment, he began hallucinating. Unit 27 was not rented out but an individual identifying themselves only as the Unit 27 Tenant would appear to him late at night, climbing in through the locked apartment window. Their evening chats began on the sofa as the tenant would help himself to a limited supply of breakfast food. Blackberry Toaster Pops, and Old Amish Country Oatmeal were among his favorites.


Mike began keeping Cocoa Roo’s faithfully stocked after the Unit 27 Tenant threatened him on his first visit,


“Mike, if you don’t keep the pantry stocked the way I want it, I will make your business fail and cut you deep!”


Mike tried to reply, but the conversation was always one-sided like a dream. The tenant never acknowledged anything Mike said, only moving forward with his own unidentified agenda.


Mike avoided unit 27 from the beginning. His parents superstition toward the number left him feeling the same. His older brother, Will, died in a plane crash at age 27 and they always harped on Mike to avoid the cursed and fated number. He carried the irrational feeling toward it even going so far to leave unit 27 vacant as his 42nd unit. He was so avoidant that he never even raised the roll-top entry door to the unit to inspect it since the facility's completion.


The mysterious tenant initially looked identical to his older brother, Will. The voice didn’t sound the same though which was both strange and difficult for Mike to process. This similarity in appearance was the main reason that he enabled the mysterious visitor to keep returning. He remained unclear if the tenant was real or in his mind.


The tenant began spending more and more time around Mike getting to a point where he distracted Mike from his university work, even going far enough to keep him up late and cause him to miss classes. About two months into the semester, Mike stopped attending classes and dropped out at the manipulative behest of the tenant. Shortly after the fact, his grandfather passed away and Mike's motivation to move forward with education dwindled as the demanding nature of the tenant overran his schedule.


THREE AND A HALF MONTHS AGO


Joe Roberts was in a bind. He needed to find storage space, and he needed it fast. His quickly growing action figure collection had grown into an obsession, even recently bringing his marriage to an end. He was up to 372 figures, money was tight, and the one-bedroom apartment didn’t have enough space to host guests as a result of his juvenile clutter.


When he saw an ad for a half-priced unit at Northern New Hampshire Self-Storage, he immediately responded.


“Hello, I’m calling about the ad for your half-priced storage unit. Can you tell me more about it?”


The voice on the other end of the line replied to Joe, “I have a unit that I need to fill up… quickly, very quickly. I figured this was the fastest way to get it leased out. I will give it to you at the half-priced rate for the first year, and we will re-evaluate after that. No guarantees I can keep it that cheap forever. Come by tomorrow, and we can look at it together, and you can decide if you want it.”


“Ok, sounds good," Joe replied, "See you tomorrow afternoon. Thanks. Bye.”


He hung up the line and put together 230 of his action figures and collectibles to deliver to the storage facility.


“I'll finally be able to make room in my apartment again,” he thought.


When he arrived at the facility, the gate was already open. Most of the time, these places had an entry code assigned to each customer, and the gate only remained open for 10-15 seconds before it closed and locked back up. Mike had gone to lunch in town. The Unit 27 Tenant greeted Joe, introducing himself as the owner, but didn’t provide a name. As Joe and "the owner” walked down the interior hallway of the facility, they got to unit 27 and began to open the roll-top door.


Another man who was already inside the unit appeared to be fixing an outlet. The men were identical.


“I’d like you to meet my twin brother. We own this place together,” the owner said.


His newly introduced brother extended his hand to greet Joe, “It’s nice to meet you. Unit 27 is as good as new. You are getting a real bargain. What are you going to use it for?”


This was an unethical question as per Mike’s standard facility guidelines, but the "owners" didn’t care. Joe didn’t want his collection revealed to just anyone, so he changed the subject.


“So…How long have you guys owned this place?”


“About 21 years,” they replied in an eerie unison tone.


Joe had worked very hard to get that first edition Bobby Jenkins superhero, and exceptionally hard to get the 1961 GI George. He'd done much the same for the Man of Iron and the Purple Ooze recently acquired from the nearby Comics and Toys shop down 8th street.


By Joe’s estimate, his collection was worth around $10,000.


There wasn’t much said between Joe and the mysterious "owners" after he had asked them about their tenure owning the facility.


Joe had an uneasy feeling, and he felt his mouth becoming very dry. He needed something to drink fast, or he was going to faint. He would never admit it, though. He tried to swallow, taking deep breaths, and pinching himself to remain alert. Before he could say anything , the twin brother fixing the outlet pitched him a water bottle that he had in a small cooler inside the unit.


He read the label; it said, “LIFE WAT….”


SLAM!!!!!!


The first brother whacked the second brother over the head with a tennis racket like something in a cartoon as he collapsed to the concrete with strange purple ooze coming out and splattering on the wall.


Joe didn’t know what was happening and he started to feel concerned about his own wellbeing.


The tennis racket wielding brother yanked him out of the unit and closed the roll-top door quickly locking it up. “Let’s pack up for today, partner. You’ve seen enough. We’ll get you moved in tomorrow… if you’re ready. Please sign the dotted line here…”


Joe didn’t like the idea.


He already had a car full of stuff to drop off. The storage facility hallway was dimly lit, and he couldn’t read the fine print.


The man began to put pressure on Joe.


“ARE WE GOING TO DO THIS DEAL OR NOT? I’VE GOT BUSINESS TO TAKE CARE OF!”


Joe asked for a pen to sign the contract with reluctance. He was too cheap to wait and he wanted the discount, regardless of the strange circumstances. As he began to sign, he heard the sound of the other brother down the hallway calling out angrily.


The man looked at Joe and said, “Oh, don’t mind my twin, he’s going on no sleep and managing this property is a real chore. He’s irritable.”


Joe replied, “Why'd you hit him on the head with the tennis racket?!”


The man didn’t respond to the question.


Joe's voice raised, “I said, why… did you hit him on the head?!!!”


The man turned to him, “I will cut you deep for your tone with me.”


He grabbed Joe and scratched him with his long index fingernail on the back until a small trickle of blood spilled out.


“Now, go on and get out of here. We’ll talk tomorrow.”


They shook hands at the forceful way of the Unit 27 Tenant. Something about the tenant’s grip felt strange to Joe.


...


Mike returned from lunch and found the gate open despite there being no vehicles. He inspected the area but could find no evidence of anyone being there.


“Hmmm…maybe I left it unlocked before I left and didn’t realize it,” he thought.



It had been 20 years since he had gotten help and a long while since the Unit 27 Tenant made an appearance to Mike. He assumed the prescribed medication to subdue his overactive imagination and quiet the hallucinations was working. His motivation emerged when costly mistakes in managing the facility led to losing track of payments and tenant information. He had never been this disorganized in the past, but the tormenting tenant had disrupted his state of normalcy for an entire year, and this lingered with him.


The Unit 27 Tenant still appeared to him occasionally in nightmares and on the side of the road or in the store throwing him for a loop, but sightings at the storage facility had minimized through the years. He went to sleep that night continuing to have bizarre dreams off and on of the peculiar character for two weeks. Each of them were related to unit 27-- the kind of things one could only picture in the worst of their nightmares.


Joe returned to his apartment where he struggled to sleep. He couldn’t stop going to the mirror to inspect the cut on his back. The blood had soiled his starched blue shirt. The cut wasn’t much longer than 1-2 inches, but it was deep, and the wound looked very prone to infection.


As Joe fell asleep, the haunting image of the Unit 27 Tenant left him terrified and the echo of “I will cut you deep” ran wild in his imagination.


He awoke suddenly, but it was incredibly dark. He hadn’t left his apartment this way; the vent-a-hood light above the stove and the small elephant lamp on in both corners of the room, respectively were always on until the bulb burned out. He fumbled around and kept walking into metal walls as if boxed in, until he finally found a light switch.


He wasn’t in his apartment. The lights in the unit had a twistable timer and would run for up to twenty-five minutes at a time. He was now in the bed inside of unit 27. The two men he encountered before were nowhere in sight. He tried to let himself out of the unit by lifting up on the roll-top door, but it wasn’t budging. They must have locked him in.



Mike Lumpkin had been asleep on the couch of his apartment when he awoke to a draft in the room. The window the Unit 27 Tenant used to enter through was open again. Mike had not opened the window since the unannounced visits stopped several years before. What was strange to him was the fact that the image of the tenant had changed in the times he had seen him off and on through the years. The resemblance to his deceased brother, Will, only lasted the first year.


The disturbing part to Mike was that the tenant still remained unmistakable, despite the changing appearances. It was something he sensed and couldn’t explain as if the two were linked in some other way. It was the way the tenant's dark eyes would look right through him when they made eye contact.


He peered out the window and saw the gate opening below. He went to the computer to verify the access code in use. The code used was 2727. Mike would never have assigned the code because of his reluctance to the number. When he looked it up on the GateLock application, he found that it was programmed with unit 27. The code was activated previously in the day when Mike had gone to lunch. He reviewed the camera footage to see if he could trace back who pulled into the lot around this time, but the data was scrambled for the period.


Joe laid in the bed inside of unit 27 and went back to sleep. He hoped that the next morning, something would change, or he would awaken from what he hoped was a nightmare. After four more hours of sleep, he woke up to find himself still in the unit with the door rolled up and open, and the timed light turned on with a note on the wall.


“Make sure to take out the garbage every day or DIE forever. – Signed, Unit 27 Management.”


A garbage can in the front right-hand corner of the unit appeared to be what this referenced. As he opened the lid to inspect the contents and prep to do as he was ordered, he felt a shiver down his spine. Something was terribly wrong.


He examined the bottom of the garbage bag, and the timed light cut off. A glowing dark purple oozing substance seeped from it, distracting him from turning the light back on and leaving him conflicted if he should touch or examine it any closer.


As he lifted the bag out of the garbage can, he saw the dark purple ooze pouring out onto the floor and near his leg. The ooze melted a hole in the floor directly underneath the garbage can, which quickly grew.


As he fell beneath the unit, he landed on top of a pile of skeletons atop a coffin several feet below.


“What’s going on? What have I gotten myself into?!!!” he thought.


The ooze on the floor began to harden like a rock, and the hole closed up above him with no defined way out.



Mike went down once it was daylight to inspect the facility for his morning rounds on a golf cart. He always carried a pistol on his person in case of vandals, criminals, or other problems that needed addressing, but seldom needed it. The surrounding area's prosperity and crime rates were at an all-time low.


He walked through the corridors of each unit finding nothing out of the ordinary. A few hours later, he saw the gate code 2727 being used again by what appeared to be the recently registered tenant, Joe Roberts.


Mike struggled to recall Joe signing up for a unit, but attributed it to a slipping memory. Maybe it was just the stress kicking in again. The anniversary of his brother’s death was imminent and that was always a tough period for him to get through.


22 YEARS AGO


Will Lumpkin was in law enforcement for his first four years out of college. He studied criminal justice and found employment at the Errol Police Department. There wasn’t much crime to fight with the limited local population, so he was frequently on loan for the surrounding areas and elsewhere in Coos County. Late in the year toward the end of his role, the state of New Hampshire sent him to a criminal pattern and behavior conference organized and managed by retired Sheriff Deagal Hughes in Norfolk, Virginia.


The conference hosted a total of 8 experts, and they lectured on the differences between psychopathic and sociopathic behaviors, even speaking on the tells and hints that point to a murderer or criminal. They shared cases of the North East and New England areas and regionally-specific flavors of crime.


It was a chilling conference for Will.


Deagal asked him to leave Errol and come and work for him as a crime exploration consultant. Will hadn’t told anyone about the job offer yet, feeling unsure of whether or not to accept it.


Errol and Coos County were a low profile and low-key gig that he had come to enjoy. When he shared this information with Deagal and that he decided not to accept the offer, they parted ways with Will exiting the conference thinking they were on good terms.


Deagal was furious.


As Will boarded the flight back home on the small twelve passenger airplane, he saw some faces he recognized but did not get a good look at the pilot.


Deagal Hughes was also on the plane in the very back seat. He was not easily identifiable while wearing a brown baseball cap and darkly toned sunglasses. As the flight began to make its descent over New Hampshire, Deagal had gone to use the airplane’s small restroom against the pilot’s orders. When he came out, he slipped into the cockpit and began to strangle the pilot.


The door was flung open, obscuring the view of the passengers. The pilot went unconscious, and Deagal took control of the plane hoping the passengers remained unaware h as he gradually coasted the plane downwards toward Umbagog Lake. The plane hit the water at 263 miles per hour, and it crashed into the rocky bottom leaving the struggling passengers unable to escape.


Deagal had prepped a diver’s oxygen tank to wait out the rest of the passengers and pulled out an ax from behind the captain’s chair. He swung it at the front glass and kicked it out. As he came to the surface, an older gentleman approached him.


Michael Garrett Lumpkin was the grandfather of Michael Garrett Lumpkin, III, owner and general manager of the Northern New Hampshire Self-Storage facility. He had been fly-fishing at Umbagog Lake when he saw the small twelve passenger plane plumeeting toward the water. It was too far out for him to be able to swim to help. At 76, he was incapable and he hadn’t purchased a mobile phone.


As Deagal came to the surface, Lumpkin confronted him, “Where are the rest of the passengers? You just left them there? I don’t know what to say.”


“They are all dead," Deagal quipped back, "There was nothing else I could do. The impact hit the back of the plane much harder than it did the front. I was the only one spared. The captain slammed his head hard on the glass upon impact.”


Michael knew Will’s flight was due back and had genuine concerns this fatefully doomed flight might have been it. Sensing Deagal's deceit, the older Lumpkin began trembling and chanting in an unrecognizable language, “Goodtha, Luna, Ictha, Loopdoo, Ona, Iray.”


Deagal collapsed to the ground and awoke in a coffin buried at 1814 Aker’s Pond Road, a developing storage facility lot purchased by Lumpkin 6 years earlier.



FOUR MONTHS AGO


Late in the evening, about three weeks before Joe arrived at the storage facility, he and his wife, ReAnne, had gotten into a heated argument about his ever-growing action figure collection. She gave him an ultimatum of getting rid of the action figures or ending his relationship with her.


When Joe went with the action figures, ReAnne went into an explosive tirade that struck his last nerve. Arriving home from the office with the $300 Man of Iron figure, ReAnne began questioning him incessantly and he just couldn’t take it anymore. He clubbed her down with it.


The figure was made of iron and rendered her unconscious. He loaded her into the car and began to drive. He needed to dispose of her. He dumped the body into the far side of Aker’s Pond. He waited until it was dark, turning the car headlights off for the last mile of the drive in hopes of minimizing detection from nearby onlookers.


21 YEARS AGO


Five days after burial, Deagal was still locked in the coffin and conscious. Forcing his way out of the coffin, he began to dig himself out of the ground. It couldn't pan out very well though. The builders had placed the forms and rebar earlier in the week and were pouring concrete just above the area Deagal was buried as he tried to escape.


Marked on the concrete in white spray paint above the point of burial was a # 27. Parallel forms with white string marked the borders and boundaries where the unit would be placed. Stranded beneath the unit and left to die, Deagal was helpless.


Michael had chosen to bury Deagal under unit 27 in honor of his grandson Will’s age, cementing "the Curse of Unit 27" into full effect.



Deagal’s personal hell only became worse after death. His transitory state before his uninteresting end left him punished to 1814 Aker’s Pond Road, the new site of Northern New Hampshire Self-Storage, where he would never be permitted to leave the lot. Michael Lumpkin had cursed him to remain there.


Unsure of what else he could do to help contribute or remain productive while still alive, he begun to explore his limits. He began wanting to use his skills in a more helpful way like he did during his time as sheriff.


In his new state, he could also shapeshift, change his appearance, and maintained exceptional night and distance vision. He could also physically interact with objects and sense when he spoke with other fellow killers that entered the facility. He never knew the details of how a kill occurred, but could detect it with ease. It was strange to him at first, but he became accustomed to it with time.


FOUR MONTHS AGO


Most recently, Deagal noticed a woman’s body being dumped across the pond late in the evening. He couldn’t identify the vehicle's make or model, but observed a man throwing away an excess of newspapers and trash into a neighboring garbage bin and the man's junk-riddled automobile.


“That’s it,” he thought to himself, “I’ll haunt Mike to place an ad in the newspaper, and maybe we can lure this killer over to dispose of him properly. He clearly needs a place to store his junk.”

He spoke to 6others before Joe responded to the ad. He wasn’t sure if Joe would be interested in coming near where he dumped the body, but that wasn’t his concern. Law enforcement was in his past, not the present. He just wanted to take out a bad guy or two to make himself feel better.


21 YEARS AGO


Mike Lumpkin didn’t ever advertise it to anyone, but his family’s historical tradition of dabbling in the occult had haunted his grandfather, his father, his brother, and now him. They were all linked together in this way. He tried to block it out by numbing himself with the medication-- to mute the voices, the images, the thoughts. It was simply never strong enough to completely mask the sins of his family’s past. He saw what he wanted to see and tried to ignore what he didn’t want to. That could only take him so far.


Late one night, shortly after the facility opened, his grandfather, Michael Lumpkin went in and made his way to unit 27 and began to pull up the roll-top door. His eyes electrified when he came face to face with a transitory Deagal Hughes inside. Deagal’s post-death appearance looked just like his grandson, Will, but somehow Michael knew it was Deagal.


There was an unexplainable interconnectedness between them.


Perhaps, it was due to Deagal being responsible for Will’s death and Michael being responsible for Deagal’s death. The mystery was unclear to the pair. The main physical difference was the health of the body, which started to seep an oozing purple substance powerful enough to alter the state of concrete.


Michael moved the garbage can out of the corner near the door and revealed a hole where the purple ooze had penetrated through several feet deep into the earth where Deagal’s coffin was visible. Before it could register, he was whacked in the back of the head and fell down into the hole. The blunt force of the impact and the hardness of the top of the coffin had killed him at 76.


When he died, something extraordinary occurred. Michael took on the persona of a stronger twin form of Deagal emerging from the hole and continuing to punish the original Deagal indefinitely.


TODAY


Mike Lumpkin had not received a payment from Joe Roberts in over a month. It was well past the due date, and the payment was now delinquent. His note to file said that Joe agreed to pay in cash before. They had rarely intersected other than their very brief meeting the first time they'd seen each other in the facility hallway. What Mike never understood was that Joe Roberts was dead under unit 27. Deagal and his twin had taken on the appearance of Joe for the past couple of months.


In his transitory state, Michael Lumpkin, appearing as Deagal’s twin, was not restricted in his mobility like Deagal was. He could leave the property at his choosing, even going so far as collecting all of Joe’s action figures and returning them to the unit to give the façade of Joe being an active tenant.


When Mike went into Joe’s unit, he began checking what treasures he might find. Front and center was Joe’s favorite action figure, the Purple Ooze.


Behind it, 371 other action figures were all nicely and neatly stacked up and around the walls of the unit. As he picked up the Purple Ooze action figure, he noticed a sticky purple substance on the base of it that was dripping and burning a hole into the floor. He tried to touch the ooze with his hand, and he began to slowly see his skin transform and disintegrate into a glowing purple ooze. He felt a scratch from behind that went very deeply into his back.


Deagal emerged speaking the last words Mike would ever hear, “I told you I would cut you deep if you didn’t keep the pantry stocked, Mike. Why didn’t you listen?”


A few minutes later, Deagal swept up what was left of Mike, pouring his disintegrated remnants into the garbage can.


Deagal’s twin (Michael Lumpkin) still maintaining his appearance as Joe Roberts took out the garbage.

….


He poured the purple ooze into Umbagog Lake. It was a penance for Will where Deagal had killed and abandoned him. Deagal dripped about 12 pounds of ooze per day. This had only begun after he killed Mike’s grandfather, Michael. If it piled up too much, he was putting himself and others at risk of being exposed to the ooze’s toxicity, which in excess was fatal to anyone in the transitory state and extremely fatal to anyone still living.


Michael (appearing as Joe) helped to dispose of the ooze because he loved to get into Deagal's head and torment him. If he refused, Deagal would die completely and be awarded a peace he never deserved. Michael Garrett Lumpkin’s curse made sure to remind Deagal of his torment every day with the note on the wall,


Make sure to take out the garbage every day or DIE forever. – signed, Unit 27 Management.”

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