Kordell walked past four aisles of busy cubicles to the boss’s office. Mr. Barrington was not really someone he wanted to deal with, but in Kordell’s hand was an outdated invoice, a faded and stained white-paper invoice from 1973. It had been discovered behind some loose plaster down in Accounts Management, but since Kordell was the new guy, it was his job to take it to Mr. Barrington.
The old invoice was for a small shipment of the long-discontinued Jerryman Percolator, a safety hazard that had set ablaze kitchens across the country, a safety hazard that had nearly ruined the company back then.
The boss’s eyes widened into dark saucers as he stared down at the old invoice. With trembling hands, the old man gave the crumbling piece of paper back to Kordell, who gingerly received it with great care.
“This is the old McAllister bill!” gasped Mr. Barrington. “The McAllister mansion burned to the ground while entertaining a number of foreign dignitaries…We managed to avoid that lawsuit due to a lack of evidence…Oh, this requires a…a burial of sorts…No one can remember this, not even me…Oh, it had to come to this…”
He ushered Kordell out of his office and onto the main floor.
“File Thirteen it,” ordered the old man.
The cubicles upon the main floor went silent as if on command. Kordell looked about in both confusion and slight fear as all of the other employees poked their heads from out of their workstations and stared directly at him. Kordell had no idea what was going on, but whatever this was, it was enough to get the attention of everyone, and it was more than enough to rile the boss.
Mr. Barrington tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.
“Focus, young man!” hissed the boss. “This is important!…Ahem…Now, listen carefully…Kordell, is it?…Take the service elevator down to the basement storage. In the back of storage, there’s a rusty door that’s off limits…You’ll open that with a key I’ll give you, and you’ll return that key once you’re finished. In that room is the…the back storage…I…I hate to do this to you, but…I’d take it myself, but I can’t be allowed to remember this. I can’t afford to.”
“O…kay…” said Kordell nervously.
“The back storage is a…a confusing place,” continued Mr. Barrington. “It’s technically a small room, but you can get lost in there…Don’t get lost!…It’s not safe. Just get in there and get to the back. In the back is an old rusty chute, the chute that we use for anything that’s File Thirteened. We drop anything down there we want to forget about…forever. Now this is very important, so listen carefully. Do not…put anything down that chute but this bill. Understand? No trash, no scraps of paper…nothing…but this bill. Nothing…at…all…Understand?”
“Okaaaay…” said Kordell uncertainly. “Whatever you say, Mr. Barrington.”
“One more thing,” said Mr. Barrington. “When you’re in there…there is…is uhhh…Just…Just dump the bill and get out of there as fast as you can. Understand? Don’t linger; it’s not safe…I’ll give you the rest of the day off after this. Just go ahead and leave after you return the keys to me. Consider it hazard pay with a bonus.”
Mr. Barrington gave Kordell an encouraging swat on the arm, and Kordell grinned in return. All of this was weird, but what the heck, right? A free day off with pay sounded good to him.
Mr. Barrington handed Kordell the keys for the service elevator and the rusty door. The service elevator key was just a normal key on a ring, but the rusty-door key was…odd. It was a big, rusty, metal thing with a skull on the handle of it, the handle as long as Kordell’s hand, and this kind of creeped him out. Nevertheless, he took the big key and nodded once to the old man.
“Good,” nodded Mr. Barrington in return. “Just remember, young man…everything dies…even time…even reality. Everything dies…and this keeps Death very busy. But Death has a way of…of getting what she wants. She’s a terrible little thing…a lonely, jealous little thing…Just keep that in mind.”
“Ooookay,” replied Kordell. “I’ll uhhh…I’ll keep that in mind, Mr. Barrington.”
Kordell walked off to do his job, well aware of the keen eyes of everyone else upon his moving figure. He shook his head at all of this but took to the service elevator anyway. He used the service key and headed down to the warehouse-sized area that was the company-building’s basement.
He wandered through a mess of shelves stacked with old files and equipment until he reached the back wall, and embedded in that wall was a tall rusty iron door. Kordell took the strange old key and jammed it into the door’s huge lock, and even he, fit and muscular as he was, had trouble turning the thing, this strange rusty key with a skull on the end of it.
The odd key turned over with a loud clunk, and Kordell pushed open the heavy iron door. He walked into the flickering light of overhead bulbs hanging from concrete ceiling, but he left the door open…He was not stupid.
Inside this room was yet another mess of shelves stacked with old files and equipment, but this room was somewhat smaller than the warehouse that was the company basement. He could see the mortar of the back wall in the distance, so he headed in that direction, though it was not a straight shot.
He wandered toward the back wall within a maze of shelves, but his skin crawled as the hairs on the back of his neck raised…He did not like this place at all. There was something about this room that scared him, and he was not one to be easily pushed.
Nevertheless, he made it to the back wall after a few minutes of nervous wandering.
Next to that wall was a rusty metal chute jutting from the floor like an Industrial-Revolution-era machine pillar. Someone had spray painted a large orange #13 across the front of it, and that should have given the chute a sense of normalcy, but this did not ease the feeling of dread that seeped into him. He could sense a heat from the old chute, but that heat made him feel cold after a few seconds, a chill that went right down to the marrow of his bones.
“Let’s just get this done,” said Kordell in a nervous tone, but his voice sounded thunderous within the pure silence of this place.
He reached for the rusty chute’s metal lid, and he tried to pull back the heavy swinging cover, but the old lid was rusted tight, and it took him to straining all of his muscles to open it. He managed to pull down the lid to where it came down with a terrible screech, rusty metal grinding against rusty metal, but at least he managed it.
The odor that wafted up from the black pit that was the opening of this chute was like nothing Kordell had ever suffered before. It was dust mixed with rot mixed with disease mixed with…It made him sick to the point where he had to cover his mouth with his right hand.
He tossed the old McAllister bill through the yawning opening, and it vanished into that pitch dark.
“Kordell…” came the whisper of a child’s voice from behind him.
Kordell jumped as his left hand caught the open lid of the chute. The lid popped up with a terrible screech, and his wedding ring came loose from his finger, only to clatter along the lid and pitch into the yawning hole that was the chute. The lid slammed shut, Kordell let out a little shriek, and then he ran, thoroughly freaked out by everything now.
He tried to run his way back toward the open door on the far side of the room, but it was not that easy. A large metal shelf of files and old products tipped forward in front of him, and he jumped backwards just in time to avoid being crushed beneath all of that junk.
He heard the giggle of childish laughter around him as the lights flickered overhead. Panicked, he made his way through several aisles of shelves, but various boxes and outdated products flew from the shelves at him, flying out as if on their own accord, and he was bruised and battered as he shrieked in pure fear.
“Kordell…Kordell…Kordell…” taunted a child’s voice.
Kordell screeched and ran in a mad panic from one aisle to the next. He could see the front wall above the shelves in the distance, but he couldn’t seem to reach it. He turned past two shelves to reach another aisle, but this time he skidded to a halt.
Before him, in the flickering light, there was a child, a little girl by the looks of her little dark-blue Sunday school vest and skirt, African American by the color of her bare legs, the dark curls of her hair done up in pigtails, her back turned toward him.
By her size, she couldn’t have been older than six, but she simply stood in the aisle within the flickering fluorescence, her shiny little black shoes in stark contrast to the grey concrete floor beneath their feet. Her head was lowered to stare at the floor, and though she should have been small and nonthreatening, her sudden presence, her very existence down here in this hellhole, set Kordell’s teeth on edge.
“H…Hello?” he stammered.
“Kordell?” came the child’s voice. “Won’t you play with me?”
The little girl turned around, and as she did, Kordell saw her face, or rather, her lack of one. Where her face should have been was a clean white skull, the grinning, ivory-white skull of a child, and this was too much for him.
He screamed and ran once more. This time he bolted at near the speed of sound, and three aisle turns later, one left, one right, and one more left, he saw the open doorway and ran toward it. The shelves surrounding him pitched over as he passed them, but he did not look back, even as everything crashed behind him.
“Come back, Kordell,” came the little girl’s voice. “Come play with me…”
He ran through the doorway and quickly slammed shut the heavy metal door. He jammed the boss’s key back into the lock and twisted the key with all his might. The lock clunked over, and Kordell breathed out a long sigh of relief.
He took the service elevator back to the main floor, and everyone stopped working in order to stare at him as he crossed the room to the boss’s office. He was beat up, scratched in places, and his work clothes torn in some spots, but at this point, he didn’t care if everyone else decided to gawp at him or not. He just wanted to go home.
“Great job, my boy!” said Mr. Barrington as he clapped Kordell on the arm. “You’ll get a big bonus for this! I don’t know why you had to go down there, but I don’t send anybody down there unless it is extremely important.”
“What?” asked Kordell in rife confusion. “Do…Do you even know what’s down there? You sent me down into that…that hell, and you can’t even remember why?”
Mr. Barrington held up the rusty door key and gave Kordell a pert frown.
“Listen, young man,” he said in a grave tone, “you need to take the rest of the day off. Take tomorrow off, too…Believe it or not, I’ve been down in back storage. I know exactly what goes on down there.”
“Y…You do?” stammered Kordell. “And you sent me down there? Willingly?”
“I knew you’d be all right,” frowned the old man. “You see, the more times you go down there…the worse it gets. You don’t have to go down there again. Once is enough for a lifetime.”
“You think!” cried Kordell. “Why do you even have a place like that!”
Mr. Barrington sat down on his desk and raised his left hand, palm out.
“It’s always been there,” he said calmly. “You see, some places in the world are very close to Death…Death can go anywhere, mind you, but some places…some places are places where…where she has a…special grip, a death hold, if you will. The backroom storage is one of those places. We send things to the backroom storage that we want to die…It’s a very clean way of getting rid of something.
“If there’s a product that we want to discontinue that is somehow a fad, we send a working model down there, and ‘poof,’ the fad ends for one reason or another, and we can move on to something better. You go down there, open the door, find a shelf to put the thing on, and leave. It’s not that bad…as long as you don’t wander. I can tell by the way you’re beat up that you did some exploring. Not a good idea down there.”
“Wander?” asked Kordell in rightful indignation. “I didn’t wander! You sent me down there to throw that invoice down that old chute in the back!”
Mr. Barrington popped up off his desk and gave Kordell a look of wide-eyed alarm.
“What did you say?” asked the old man in a panic.
“You told me to throw that old invoice down that chute,” repeated Kordell.
“Oh…Oh, no…” said Mr. Barrington.
“What?” asked Kordell. “You said you send stuff down there to die…”
“No…no, no…” said Mr. Barrington with a shake of his head. “No, the chute is different. If I sent you down there for that, that means whatever ‘invoice’ I gave you was File Thirteened.”
“Yeah,” nodded Kordell. “That’s what you wanted. That’s what you called it.”
“That chute is…is oblivion,” replied Mr. Barrington.
“Oblivion?” asked Kordell.
“In the thirty years I’ve worked here,” said Mr. Barrington, “I’ve only had to use it twice. This will make a third time.”
“Uh huh,” frowned Kordell. “That doesn’t tell me anything. What’s the chute for? Why is it different?”
“That chute is oblivion,” nodded Mr. Barrington. “It’s where both time and reality go to die. When we throw something down that, it’s not for it to just die. Death is, at least, something. Whatever gets thrown down there is erased…It’s gone as if it had never existed at all.
“Only the person who threw the item away will ever remember it, because the reality of throwing the object away must still exist for it to occur in the first place, but…whatever you threw down there for me, young man…you’ll find that no one anywhere will remember anything about it. It’s gone…It never happened in the first place.”
Kordell’s shoulders sank as he nearly had a heart attack. He held up his left hand and felt horror grip him as he stared at the dark, bare skin of his now barren ring finger.
Bonus Story: RUBBER DUCKIE
His mother set him down in the bathtub and turned off the water. Joey had just turned three, and though he liked to play in the water, there was something that he did not like at all. It was one of his toys, the one he did not like, and he did not like it one bit.
The phone rang in the living room, and his mother stared down at him and frowned. The young woman pulled away her pretty red dress to keep Joey’s splashing from getting the fabric wet, and her lips crinkled as the phone continued to ring.
“I have to get the phone, Baby,” she said, a clear note of unhappiness in her voice. “Your father is working on this year’s ad campaign for the new 1957 model that’s coming out soon. You just sit tight and play. Here…I’ll give you one of your toys.”
She pulled a toy out of the little wooden bin under the sink and dropped it in the tub with Joey. The little toy hit the water with a splash, but Joey did not like this, not one little bit.
“I’ll be right back,” she said as she hustled off to answer the phone.
She left the bathroom, and Joey stared in fear at the red rubber duckie floating in the water of the ivory porcelain tub they both shared.
This thing had a huge grin on its beak, with white, human-like teeth in that sinister bill. It possessed little feathers on the sides of its small head that looked like horns, and its black and soulless pupils were mere pinpoints in large ovals of white, those deranged eyes staring at him as it bobbed up and down, up and down in the clear liquid surrounding it.
He did not even have time to cry before it attacked; no tears were shed because of a dire need for survival.
The water rippled forth from the front to the back as it pushed Joey against the back lip of the tub.
The first wave roiled over him as the malevolent little bath toy bobbed forward upon that evil tide. Joey tried to cry out as water entered his open mouth, and he was sputtering and flailing as the second wave of water washed over him.
His bare feet, bottom, and hands slid down along the smooth finish of the porcelain beneath him, and water entered his nose. It was all he could do to push up from the bottom of the tub, only to choke out more of the suffocating liquid as a third wave rocked him.
He was pushed down again, and looking up through the water revealed the bottom surface of the floating red rubber duckie.
He pushed up against an invisible force in a desperate attempt to right himself. The clear water was like pushing through mud, but he found the strength to push up, to push up and against the malevolent force trying to drown him.
Joey pushed up with both hands until they felt a rubber surface. His little hands burned as if he had touched a hot stove, but he would not give in. He could not.
The evil little toy flew from the bathtub to bounce across the white tiles of the bathroom floor, and he sat up above the waterline and took in some deep breaths.
Today was a victory, but Joey knew that tomorrow…tomorrow would bring a whole new struggle for survival.
File 13 Copyright © 2020 100 More Tall Tales Matthew L. Marlott
File 13 Copyright © 2023 bloodytwine.com Matthew L. Marlott
Rubber Duckie Copyright © 2020 100 More Tall Tales Matthew L. Marlott
Rubber Duckie Copyright © 2023 bloodytwine.com Matthew L. Marlott