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The Warehouse, by Erin Cole

Jerry tapped his foot, rocking back and forth, his eyes peeled to the warehouse across the street, a cold, dreary, transportation building.

“Ohh, no, no, don’t want to go over there,” he said. “Nope, but the boss man’ll get me. Yeeup, fire me like a barbecue! Barbecue …yeeup, I like barbecues.”

He picked up the package ready for ground shipment to San Francisco, Metropolitan Orthopedics, (FRAGILE was taped across the top).

“Gotta get it to the dock. Yeeup, that’s right.” He bit on his cuticle, already split and raw. “Okey, dokey, here we go; one foot in front of the other. Not gonna end up like Mikey. Nope, no siree. Just set it on the counter and go. Yeeup.”

Last week, the morning crew found Mike’s body cut into pieces inside a coffin waiting for ground shipment to Deadwood, Oregon. Mike was six-foot, three inches—all muscle and attitude, so whatever killed him, nobody wanted to know, and no one ever took the night shift anymore. But Jerry needed the money, needed to buy Ma some new teeth, and the abandoned night shift offered overpay.

He stopped rocking to check his digital watch—11:30 pm. “Better go, gotta do it. Yeeup.”

He hopped from his stool, clutching the package with whitened knuckles. Outside, the dark angles in the vacant lot fueled his paranoia.

“Just keep walkin’…one, two, skip to my Lou. Yeeup.”

The peppy skip lightened his mood, but then he remembered the package, (FRAGILE was taped across the top).

“Uh-oh. Can’t break it, gotta be careful.” He slowed to a fast walk, one of his hidden talents—sometimes, he could even pass joggers in the park.

Along the building, tall, sharp shadows reached out for him and he dwelled in the streetlight for a moment before unlocking the door. The lock didn’t click as it usually did. He shrugged and went inside. The door slammed shut behind him, booming through the still expanse like sheet rock falling on concrete. Overhead, fluorescent lighting lit up the 30’ foot ceiling warehouse with a dim coldness—like Mikey’s body, he thought.

Jerry smacked his palm against the side of his head. “No, no, no, just set it on the counter and go. Yeeup. Easy as pie. I like pie, pineapple cherry pie. Yeeup.”

He checked the bill number again. Dock C was located across the building through a maze of metal shelves, stacked pallets, and open, black space.

“One foot in front of the other, uncle Ted kissed my mothe…,” he stopped when he heard the main door close with a bang.

Uh-oh, you dimwit, Jerry, he cursed. Shoulda’ locked the door.

He turned around, hugging the package with bloated, nervous eyes. “Hello?”

Nobody answered.

“Knock, knock, who’s there?”

Only silence.

Moving on, he hummed a tune from Cheers. The familiar melody gave him comfort, even though his thoughts kept saying things like, Hey, weren’t Mikey’s arms and legs cut off at his torso? I bet his balls looked like Ma’s beets.

Against the wall in the back were two forklifts, an old 1967 Mustang waiting ocean vessel shipment to some place better, and at the end, a long cherry-wood chest.

“Ahh, bloody knuckles. No, no, no, not good. Yeeup, that’s a coffin. Yes siree.”

Jerry passed by the casket at an angle similar to the Tower of Pisa and when he reached dock C, he signed a Hail Mary—backwards.

“Set it down, gotta be careful.” (FRAGILE was taped across the top). He checked his watch again—11:47 pm. “Good to go. Yeeup.”

He rounded the corner, back into the main hall—it seemed different, but everything looked in order, except now the coffin lid was open.

Crusty critters! Jerry stopped so fast, he tripped forward. “Oh, I shoulda’ stayed at the office. Ma could just eat bananas…and she likes oatmeal too.”

His heart thudded as he looked down the aisles and behind his back, all without moving his feet. Then, in front of him, something rustled behind one of the pallets.

“Gotta be a mouse. Yeeup.” But the thoughts in his head said, That’s probably what Mikey thought too.

As he headed for the door, Jerry tried to ignore the scraping noises behind him. Sounds like a dead body being dragged, his mind suggested, compelling him to glance over his shoulder. He did and noticed an unusual thing—a little boy, maybe three years, stood upright on one of the pallets.

Jerry stopped. “Hey there, little mister. How’d you get in here?”

Cherub cheeks fattened with a giggle. “No, big mister…how are you going to get out of here?”

Huh? Jerry scratched his head. “Isn’t it a little late for you to be out? Did you lose your parents?”

The little boy smiled, disturbingly. “Not lose, mister…ate. I ate my parents.”

Jerry laughed at the little fellow’s joke, though he felt pressure building in his bladder. The boy’s smile widened, exposing a row of silver teeth. You bonehead, Jerry, he thought, backing up towards the door. Yeeup, this is not good.

He bumped into something solid…behind him stood a man, about six-three with sandy-blonde hair and blue eyes. “Mikey?”

“Yeeup,” Mike replied, flashing a silver-toothed grin. Blood oozed at the corners of his mouth. “Hello, Jerry,” he said in a soft, joyful voice. “I heard you like barbecues; we were just about ready to have one. Would you like to come and join us?”

The pressure in Jerry’s bladder was beyond a tickle now. He noticed giant staples around Mike’s neck and arms. At the brush of cool air on his skin, he spun around to find not only one child, but a group of them, grinning with silver teeth and little palms clutched around shiny, carving knives.

Yeeup. Fire you like a barbecue, his mind whispered.

Mike led Jerry back to the coffin. As the kids sharpened their blades using their steeled-tooth mouths, he couldn’t help but think how those teeth might work real well for his Ma.