The Storage Papers is a fiction horror podcast.
Discretion is advised.
WRITTEN BY JEREMY ENFINGER
In his mind, Thomas wavered between causing problems for those charities that take most of the money they collect and pocket it versus ensuring his family prospered.
On one hand, there are charities doing great things and they’re competing with these corrupt ones. Helping those charities by preventing the corrupt ones from swindling good people would have a great effect for the many people who need them. The positive impact could be exponential.
On the other hand, Thomas considered the financial trouble his family was in, and the only reason he was even working that holiday season was to help pay the bills so they’d have the necessities while his mother worked on recovery.
What Thomas didn’t know was that Cain was aware of his thoughts. Thomas did think of his family at first, with hopes for his mother’s well-being. But then he began imagining what he would do with his nights off after he was able to leave his job. Cain knew Thomas was selfishly imagining stacks of money and making lavish purchases without intending to help anyone around him.
Greed drove him to his choice as Thomas reached for the gold key.
Cain looked at the boy, who was ready to turn around and begin his trek to the storage unit. He said, “Oh, Thomas… are you sure this is the correct decision?”
Thomas said, “Absolutely. I’ve thought long and hard and I think it would be best to make sure I do this for my family.”
Cain lifted an eyebrow of inquiry, to which Thomas noted, but decided to move along anyways. As he walked away, Cain said, “Oh, Tomas?”
Thomas turned around to find Cain standing in the shadows again, but he could see a glint of light reflecting from his eyes. He said, “What is it?”
Cain replied, “Just make sure you don’t open the package within the box”, then smiled.
Cain’s smile made him feel uneasy as the little thing backed completely into the shadows and out of Thomas’s sight.
So then, Thomas walked the distance to the storage unit, and when he arrived at the main gait, he noticed a number pad for an electronic code entry. He hadn’t counted on this, so he began looking for a keyhole around the gate to use the golden key, but was unable to find one.
He began thinking of a solution as he gripped the key in his jacket pocket. That’s when he noticed it was warm to the touch. As he pulled it out of his pocket, the key grew warmer, so he pinched it between his thumb and index finger and held it in front of him.
He took a step toward the gate and the key cooled down a bit. Then he turned to face the opposite direction away from the gate, and the key grew warmer. He took several steps away from the gate and the key became hot. And as Thomas approached the keypad once again, with the key just inches from it, it became almost too hot to hold. Suddenly, the gate began rolling open, and he thought to himself, “This really is a magic key!”
Thomas used the same technique to locate the storage unit within the complex, and to open the outer lock to the storage bin. Once he was inside the storage unit itself, there was a small lock-box on the floor in the back right corner of the unit.
Thomas walked over to it and noticed the key was no longer hot, nor cold. He picked up the box and noticed an actual keyhole on the side. When he inserted the key, the lid popped open with a click and the key disappeared before his very eyes.
Thomas reached inside and pulled out a small box wrapped in parchment paper. He recalled Cain’s warning to avoid opening the package, though he was tempted.
On his walk back toward the bench to meet up with Cain, Thomas couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being swindled somehow. He thought about the circumstances that led to this moment. The way in which Cain only appeared to him without any witnesses. About how fast he had moved. How he could hover in the air, and claimed he was able to perform magic.
Thomas then began to justify the existence of magic in his own mind. He hadn’t believed in magic before tonight, and he was still skeptical, even considering what he saw Cain do, and what the key he was given did.
This gave him hope. Thomas tried to recall Cain’s exact words when he approached him with the proposition. “You won’t need to worry about finances any longer” was the phrase that continued to play back in his mind, like dripping water from a leaky faucet.
Before Thomas returned to the bench, he was tempted to open the package. It didn’t weigh very much… less than a pound he estimated. He tried shaking it but there were no loose pieces making any noises when he did so. He thought to himself, “How valuable could it be?”
And then Thomas’s mind wandered toward the silver key. They key he did not choose. What kind of package would he be carrying right now if he had made a different choice?
All of this thinking of hope and possibility made Thomas’s walk back to the bench pass by quickly.
When Thomas arrived, it was very dark. He could see street lamps over the parking lot in the distance where a single car remained – his car. He looked in every direction, but didn’t see Cain, so he sat on the bench for a moment.
Minutes went by and Thomas’s breath could be seen like he was exhaling after a cigarette drag as the night drew colder. He finally grew impatient and yelled for Cain, who did not come. He thought, “What else is there to do?” and considered opening the package. He turned the package on-end and slid a finger underneath a flap that was taped closed, then paused, contemplating whether or not he should open it. Cain’s warning rang in his mind.
Thomas ultimately decided against opening the package, and he laid it down next to him on the bench. That’s when Cain suddenly appeared next to him and picked up the package. His eyes glowed red, though there were no red lights near them for this to be a reflection.
Cain appeared giddy with excitement as he turned the box over and examined all sides of it. He let out some grunts and groans with an even bigger smile than he’d previously seen on Cain’s face.
Then Cain suddenly stopped. All expressions of excitement and glee left his face, and without moving his head, which was still down facing the package in his hands, Thomas noticed Cain’s eyes rolled up to meet his own, and there he sat on the armrest of the bench, staring at him like a statue.
Moments filled with dread passed in what seemed like hours before Thomas finally broke and said, “Um… so what’s in the package?”
Thomas couldn’t be certain, but he may have seen a smirk form in one corner of Cain’s mouth. Finally, Cain spoke. “Well Thomas, since you were the one to do all the hard work, why don’t you open it?”
Thomas paused for a moment and said, “Are you sure? I mean, you seemed so excited to get it, and I wouldn’t want to take away the surprise from you.”
Cain replied, “Oh Thomas, I already know what’s in the box… Part of my fun would be seeing you find out what’s inside it. Go ahead.”
Cain extended an outstretched hand with the box in it. Thomas was hesitant, but he took it and began slowly peeling away the parchment paper. Once the paper wrapping was off, he found a cardboard box taped closed with packing tape.
He looked at Cain, who said, “Go on…”
Thomas took his car keys out of his pocket and punctured the tape, then ran a key along the seam of the lid, splitting the tape as he went. He opened all four flaps and found some packing material on top, which he removed.
At this point, he noticed Cain’s head over his right shoulder looking down at the box with him. Inside the box was what appeared to be an ornate wooden Christmas tree ornament. It was rather large, and beautifully carved.
Thomas looked at Cain, somewhat confused, and said, “A Christmas tree ornament? That’s what you had me get for you? But why? What’s so special about this ornament that you couldn’t retrieve it yourself?”
He held the box up to Cain’s face, which caused him to recoil.
Cain said, “Thomas, I must not touch this. It has been forbidden. I will need you to handle it for me.”
Thomas replied, “I just don’t get it… why do you want this so badly?”
Cain eagerly responded, “I don’t want it, I need it… for my tree, you see? The big one over there!”
Thomas looked over at the large tree he had motioned to. It was the one he first saw Cain standing next to.
Cain said, “I just need you to place it on the tree, and then you will have fulfilled your duty and earned your reward.”
Thomas said, “Um… okay I guess.”
Cain and Thomas walked toward the large Christmas tree, and as they did, the lights on the tree began to dimly glow. The closer they got to the tree, the brighter the lights became.
“Where do you want me to place it?” Thomas asked.
Cain pointed to a spot that looked bare near the base of the tree and Thomas approached it and reached for the ornament. When his hand made contact with it, Thomas felt a surge of energy, as if the wooden object were somehow giving off some kind of magical effect.
Thomas lifted the ornament up toward the branch and used the small metal hook to suspend it where Cain had shown him. He turned to Cain and said, “How’s that?” but Cain was no longer standing with him. He could hear retreating laughter in the distance that was drowned out by a cold breeze.
Thomas stood there silent for a moment, wondering what was going to happen next, if anything. And then he looked down and noticed he was suspended in the air about a foot off of the ground. He was levitating, and gliding slowly toward the ornament he had just hung.
He felt a sharp pain in his feet, which traveled up his shins and into his knees, then up his legs and into his hips. The wave of pain continued and Thomas cried out until the pain reached all the way up to his throat, when he found his voice stopped making noise, though he was trying to scream.
He found himself frozen in place, and unable to move as he continued to glide toward the ornament on the tree. Then the pain stopped suddenly, and Thomas began to notice the other ornaments on the tree.
Scattered between the lights and colorful bulbs were the ornaments with faces on them that he recalled noticing before. But this time, he noticed all of the eyes within the ornaments moving to watch him as he got closer to the ornament he had just hung. And as he floated even closer, he finally understood exactly what was happening to him.
Cain returned to the tree before sunrise, and with him, he brought a chisel, a hammer, and a small paintbrush with some red paint. He went to work, chiseling away at first. At one point, the branch Thomas was hanging from suddenly shot up in the air before he heard a large “thunk” sound hitting the ground below him. He couldn’t move anything except his eyes, and when he turned them to look at what made the noise below, he saw his shoes, his jeans, and his coat, but they looked like they were made of wood. There it laid, headless.
Cain did some additional chiseling before he was right up in Thomas’s face, then said, “Well, we can’t have an unhappy decoration now, can we?” He had carved a smile on Thomas’s now-wooden face, then finished up by painting some rosy cheeks, then stepping back to admire his work. Then he dragged Thomas’s body away, and that was the last time Cain spoke to him.
There Thomas hung as the sun rose and people started to appear to take in the decorations. Hundreds of people each day walked by to appreciate the joy and cheer brought by the festive decor. All the while, Thomas was of sound mind, but he could not make noise, he could not sleep, and he could not move, save his eyes, which moved too slowly for living people to appreciate.
About a week later, late in the evening after most people had left Santa’s Workshop, he saw his family. His father and two younger sisters were in the distance. It appeared as if they were hanging something on the walls of the adjacent buildings. He tried with all of his might to cry out, but nothing happened.
A few minutes later, he saw his mother. She was out of the hospital and actually walking. She appeared healthy. She was only feet away, taking in the beautiful decorations on the tree and holding a stack of papers. On the front, Thomas could make out some writing and an image. At the top, in bold letters, was the word, “Missing”, and below it was a picture of Thomas.
Soon his father and sisters joined his mother in viewing the tree. And eventually, his mother gazed at Thomas directly. She focused on him for a moment, then squinted and pointed at Thomas, and said, “Doesn’t that look like…”
Thomas’s father looked at him as well, then said, “Dear, I think we’re both seeing things that we hope for, but aren’t there.”
His father then took one of the fliers from his mother and used an empty branch on the tree to perforate the flier in order for it to be displayed for all to see. Right next to Thomas’s head. He then wrapped his arms around Thomas’s mother and said, “It’s getting cold. We’ll come back out tomorrow and post more fliers.”
Thomas was overrun with emotion, and the realization that he was going to be hanging there for eternity. As his family walked away, a single tear ran down Thomas’s now-wooden face, down the side of his cheek, and below his head where his neck once was before dripping onto the cold grass below.
As the people went home, Thomas noticed someone in the distance sitting on the bench, appearing to be lost in thought. And not long after that, the man appeared startled and was squinting to see something to the side of the tree. Thomas couldn’t turn his head to look, but when the silhouette of a short pointed-eared person began making his way toward the man on the bench, he only wished he could warn him.