The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.
Discretion is advised.
WRITTEN BY ALEX KINGSLEY
Hello everyone. Due to the nature of how the last episode ended, I am unfortunately not yet able to give you episode ten, the mid-season finale. Instead, I’m recording this brief intro from a hospital bed and I’ll have to get back to you next time with episode ten. For now until I can get back to my normal recording self, I wanted to share with you one of the stories that was submitted through the writing competition we had last year. I hope you don’t mind this slight delay, and something tells me you’re going to enjoy this story. I’ll be back in two weeks with episode ten.
The guidance counselor told me that it wasn’t too late for me to get on the right track. Which I thought was stupid, honestly— the idea that there was a “right track” and a “wrong track” for me.
“You’re only a sophomore,” she told me, “There’s still time to make up for your mistakes.”
I guess there’s no use hiding it. I mean, it feels weird to admit to the police that you were selling pot out of the second floor girl’s bathroom every third period after Mr. Thompson’s class ended, but then again, you guys already busted me for that, so you know that part already. The thing is, I didn’t think of it so much as a mistake. High schoolers are stressed. They need something to help them chill. Thanks to my big brother, I had that something, and I didn’t really think there was anything wrong with that.
I didn’t say this to the guidance counselor, though. I just told her that I didn’t think colleges would look fondly upon a fifteen-year-old who’d already racked up a criminal charge. She laughed, and I remember the way her beaded glasses chain waggled, she told me that I was not the first weed dealer she’d helped to get into college.
“Colleges love to see that you’re engaging in your community,” she told me, “and since you’re still relatively young, if you get started now and stick with it, it’ll really look like you’re committed to whatever activity you pick.”
I tried not to laugh. First of all, I’m pretty sure selling drugs to students was already pretty great community engagement, but colleges wouldn’t see it that way. But I guess what really got me was that it all seemed so fake. Pretending that you really like something just so colleges will say, “oh, that kid’s got passion! Oh, that kid’s going places!” She shoved a bunch of brochures at me, telling me to “peruse these opportunities for promising youths” and get back to her.
I chucked them as soon as I got home, but my dad found them in the trash.
He told me, “If this is how Mrs. Vale thinks you’re getting into college, then goddamnit, you’re doing it.”
I looked through the brochures, and they all seemed pretty boring. Volunteering at a children’s museum. Working at a homeless shelter. Doing paperwork for some environmental nonprofit. I managed to eliminate all of them except one: the city library. It’s not that I was exactly thrilled at the possibility of reshelving books, but I figured it sounded a lot better than spending my day with a bunch of screaming children trying to force them to learn about the life cycle of a bee, so that was the one I picked.
I went on Monday afternoon after school and was greeted like a returning war hero.
“You must be Bailey!” I remember the woman at front desk clasped her hands together, like my appearance was an answer to her prayers. She took me into a back office, where there was a spindly old man rubbing a wet paper towel on old children’s books.
“Welcome, newest addition to the Children’s Section!” he said, much to my disappointment. The whole reason I took this job was to get away from a job with kids. Still, there was hope. Maybe they’d just have me preparing arts and crafts. Maybe I wouldn’t have to interact with kids at all.
The lanky man introduced himself as Randy, and he rushed me away on a tour of the building. It’s funny what constitutes a big landmark in a tiny local library. He was particularly proud of the color copier, which is apparently a coveted thing in the library business.
The big climax of the tour was the Reading Room. I didn’t want to be impressed by the library, but to be honest, the Reading Room was pretty cool. The carpet was blood red with little black dots that made me think of a ladybug, and one full wall of the room was covered in huge arched windows, with wooden spokes that reached down to connect at a central hub, like hands on a clock. There were no lights in the room. It was only lit by the sunlight streaming in from the windows. The floor was littered with multicolored pillows, now unoccupied. At the head of the room was a rocking chair with a stack of children’s books on the floor nearby it.
“This place is actually pretty nice,” I told Randy, and he looked so proud, like he’d built the library himself.
“Why thank you,” he said, and took me back downstairs to give me more information about what I’d be doing for my job. A lot of it wasn’t so bad— laminating posters, folding brochures, making decorations for the “Book of the Month” display. But every weekend, I was expected to be there for Read Aloud Time. I didn’t want to let Randy know this, but I was dreading that part. I do not like hanging out with kids, and regardless of how pretty that Reading Room was, I didn’t enjoy the prospect of sitting on the muticolored pillows, doing stupid nursery rhymes with a bunch of drooling, sniffling, grimy toddlers. But Randy had this kind of pouty face, one you couldn’t say no to, so of course I told him I would be there bright and early Sunday morning.
I was really dragging my feet on my first Sunday, but once I saw all those cute little faces, so eager to hear about Peter Rabbit and Mother Goose or whatever talking animal they were going to learn about today, I felt my heart just melt a little. I remember thinking, “Oh, okay. I can make this work.”
Basically my job was just to sit with them and listen to the story while Randy sat in the rocking chair reading.
Read Aloud always started with the Reading Time Song. It wasn’t so much a song really as a chant— I think it’s too much to ask of little kids to stay in tune. Before the story began, they would speak the words aloud with the accompanying hand gestures. It went like this:
I open my heart
I open my mind
I open a book
And I read what’s inside
I keep my hands to myself
And I won’t be too loud
So all of my friends
Can enjoy Read Aloud
It was pretty sneaky, teaching the kids the rules like that. It was basically a nice way of saying “sit down and shut up.” It worked, though. The kids always paid attention during Read Aloud. And as much as I hate to admit it, I paid pretty close attention too. Some of those kids’ books are good, okay?
Sunday mornings became my favorite day of the week. I started getting up early, even before my dad opened the store, to bring the front desk lady — her name is Laura — a bagel and a coffee. I kinda became a local library celebrity. I think it helped that I was the only person working there under the age of fifty. Oh, and I’m sure the fact that I was unpaid labor didn’t hurt either. I’m not gonna lie, I have a hard time getting myself motivated for school. I’m not really that interested in chemistry or history or trig or whatever. For a long time I didn’t know what I was interested in. Turns out I’m just interested in making kids laugh.
Randy was particularly excited for me to be there for the Summer Reading Program. It’s the time of year that the children’s section is busiest because kids are coming in with their reading logs to get their hands stamped and to get a reward for how much they read. It encourages kids to read on their own, Randy told me. And to be quite honest, I was looking forward to it too.
Okay, now I know you’re probably tired of hearing all that gushy stuff, but that’s where the touchy-feely part of the story ends, because a few months into my job was about when things started to go south. I knew something was wrong when I walked in one Sunday morning and Laura was not her usual chipper self. She still had her hands clasped together like she usually did, but this time she was a little shaky, like she was nervous about something. I gave her the usual bagel and coffee, and she just shook her head. I asked her what was wrong. She leaned over the desk and whispered that Randy was gone.
Before I could ask her what she meant, a man I didn’t recognize stepped out from what used to be Randy’s office. He was a lot younger than Randy, with full dark hair combed back and thick beard. He wore a suit and a crooked smile, two things you don’t usually see on someone who works in a public library. The new man introduced himself as Damion, and he said that he’d been transferred from another branch to be Randy’s replacement. I asked where Randy had gone, and he brushed the question aside, saying it wasn’t any of his business. Then he told me I was going to be late for Read Aloud and he hurried upstairs.
Before I followed him, I turned to look at Laura. Her eyes were wide with panic. I asked her if Randy had told her anything about retiring and she said no, he’d never mentioned anything about leaving. She’d tried calling him and there was no answer. She’d also asked around to the other branches to see where Damion had come from, and none of them seemed to know who he was.
Despite Laura’s franticness, I wasn’t actually that concerned. Mostly just confused. What kind of guy just shows up to take over Read Aloud?
Just as I was about to ask Laura some more questions, I heard my name:
Without turning around, I knew it was him calling me. His voice felt cold, like ice water dripping down my back. I turned around to face him without thinking about it first.
“You’re late for reading time. Come.”
“Yes sir,” I said reflexively, and followed him upstairs.
That was the first Sunday that we did not do the Read Aloud Song. Damion said he had a new song to teach the kids. It went like this:
We invite him to come in
We invite him to come feast
We invite him to our doorstep
We invite the hungry beast
We give him all he asks for
Anything he needs
We invite him to come in
So that he may feed
Damion didn’t teach the kids fun hand gestures like Randy did. He made them cover their faces with their hands as they spoke.
Usually that’s when Randy would go on to read the story, but Damion didn’t do that. He started handing out sheets of paper. He called them “reading logs” and he said they were part of the Summer Reading Program. Only thing was, they didn’t look like the reading logs you usually give to kids— lined pages covered with clipart of books and caterpillars and things like that. These were blank. And instead of instructing them to write the books they read and bring the reading log in to get a stamp and a reward, he told them to write down what they believe in. The child who believes the most will be the Summer Reading Champion.
After Read Aloud, I told him I thought it was a really weird nursery rhyme. He said it was just something he used to do as a little kid, that it was about feeding a stray dog. I told him I still thought it was really weird, and he just glared at me. Usually I have no problem with people looking at me funny, but this was the first glare I ever got that truly made me want to run away. And it was just over his stupid nursery rhyme.
I was hoping maybe there was some mistake, that Damion was a temporary replacement and that Randy would return, but from that day forward, I only saw his crooked little smile when I looked into Randy’s office. I wanted to quit, but everytime I made my decision that I’d had enough, it was like he knew, and he appeared behind me, asking me to stay. And I didn’t want to stay, but somehow I still found myself saying yes.
Laura disappeared. Not in the same way Randy did, luckily. I showed up one day with a bagel and coffee for her and she was gone. I called her and she told me that she just couldn’t stand it anymore. Something wasn’t right and she didn’t want to be there. I was jealous of her, actually. I don’t know why I kept coming in, watching the kids do their chant and turn in their “reading logs” every Sunday morning.
I’m not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t forgotten my jacket that day. Summer was coming to a close and it was going to be a chilly night, but I didn’t notice myself shivering until the sun started to go down and I was already most of the way home. I considered not turning back for it, but I figured that since I had the keys anyway, I might as well run back into the library, scoop it up, and be out of there.
As soon as I entered the building I knew something was wrong. I heard what sounded like a rhythmic hum, like there was some kind of generator running. But all the lights were off. I decided to ignore it and just look for my jacket, but the deeper I got into the library, the louder it got. At that point I was too curious to let it go, so I started to follow the noise. It led me to the stairs, and I realized it was coming from the second floor. From the Reading Room. In that moment I knew that whatever was happening, Damion was behind it.
I crept up the marble stairs. As I walked down the second floor hall, I realized the hum was actually a chant. The same chant that Damion made the kids do. But this time, they weren’t saying it like a nursery rhyme. They were repeating it like…a plea.
I gently pushed the door to the Reading Room open, knowing that Damion would not be pleased at my intrusion. I feared what he might do to me if he found I was there. All the kids were seated on their cushions, hands pressed over their eyes, repeating that horrible chant. The only light in the room was the moonlight streaming in through the huge windows, casting long shadows of the children across the floor. Damion sat in the rocking chair, his face almost glowing in the moonlight, grinning.
“Now,” he whispered, “it’s time to crown the Summer Reading Champion.”
With a flourish, he lifted one of the “reading logs ” and a little girl stood up. I recognized her from Read Aloud as Lucy, a shy three-year-old. I had spent a lot of my volunteer time sitting her in my lap and encouraging her to interact with the other kids.
“Thank you for choosing me,” she said in a voice that was not hers, “I am honored.”
Slowly she glided through the other children and towards Damion, who stood with an outstretched hand at the front of the room.
I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen. Even looking back, I still have no idea what might have happened if that girl had taken Damion’s hand. But I had this sense of dread deep in my stomach, this knowledge that if he touched that little girl, something irreversible would happen, and it would be terrible and it would be all my fault for doing nothing.
Without thinking about it, I leapt forward, dashing through the children and scooping up Lucy in my arms. Damion cried out in surprise when I appeared. I guess he hadn’t seen me lurking in the shadows in the back of the room.
“The child now belongs to me,” he said in a voice I know did not come from him.
“No,” I told him, “she doesn’t. And you are ruining the Summer Reading Program.”
I shifted Lucy to my left arm to free up my right, and I smacked him hard across the face. I didn’t actually hit that hard, but I think it was the surprise of it that made him give an inhuman shriek, reeling backwards. The moment he fell, it was as though a spell was broken. The children simply stood up and left. Even Lucy wriggled out of my arms and walked towards the door. When I looked down, Damion was gone, and I was alone in the Reading Room.
I know I sound crazy, especially since none of the kids remember this happening, but you can ask Laura. She’ll back me up. Damion was there, and he did…he did something to those poor kids, even if they don’t remember it. And then he just…disappeared.
You may think that after all this, I would never want to set foot in the library again, and that was true. For like a week. But I missed the kids, and I missed Read Aloud, so I picked up where Randy left off and started reading those kids books myself. I don’t think I want to go to college anymore since it seems like I’ve got a pretty sweet gig lined up right here, so it turns out all that “community engagement” was for nothing. Well, not for nothing. I’m pretty happy. Mostly.
I still often wonder what happened to Randy. And I never stay in the library after dark.