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So I used to have a job in this town. I used to be the second-shift front desk clerk for a self-storage facility.

It wasn’t a fancy job but it was a big job, at least I like to think. ‘Cause a lot of people need their stuff stored, right? You know, we’ve all got so much stuff these days – sometimes I wonder where everyone puts it! But my place was one place. And, you know, lots of people have more stuff to store than their apartment can hold – better a self-storage facility than tripping over a bunch of junk to get to the kitchen table, right?

Well anyway. This place, big tall square brick building, not dressed up very fancy. It had a big neon sign out on the top that said “Self Storage.” Big letters lit up in red.

And I’m working at the front desk alone because the only two people who really need to be there are the receptionist, a couple security guards, and the manager. It’s a pretty low-overhead kind of place. Good profit, and I get some of it. Enough to pay for the cheapest apartment this dumb city has.

So around about noon one fine cold day this guy comes walking in and he looks homeless. You know how you can tell sometimes, right? Wearing lots of clothes all at once, carrying a big bag of cans, face looking like all the world’s come right down on you, which, to be fair, it has. Well this guy didn’t have a big bag of cans and he wasn’t wearing all his clothing at once, but he did have that look on his face. And he was, to be fair, pretty scruffy.

And he came up to me and he said, “I would like to store myself, please.”

And I said “Stop yanking my chain.”

And he said, “I’m not trying to yank your chain, I want to store myself.”

And I said, “Either tell me what you actually want to store or stop wasting my time and get out of here.”

And he said, “Look, can I speak to the manager?”

And I rolled my eyes and I went to bring the manager out, and the manager asked the guy if he could pay, and the guy brought out a big old wad of cash. Well that threw me for a loop. Where did this guy get a big old wad of cash if he was homeless? The way he explained it, he had a decent job and all, working at the dollar store and second shift at a fast food joint, but he still just couldn’t afford an apartment in this dumb city, you know how it is, especially since he had to help pay his sister’s medical expenses, and the motels didn’t want him around, and he got kicked out of the Salvation Army Shelter because – well he wasn’t going to explain that at all. So maybe this was a last ditch, you know, a wild shot in the dark. Better than sleeping on the cold street, right?

And I thought well that’s fair, and the manager said well that’s fair, but it’s not like our units have ventilation or anything. And he said he would leave the door open a few inches at the bottom.

I didn’t think the manager was going to go for it, but he did, and the fellow purchased a unit and promised he would pay extra if he was going to bring anyone else in. And by day he would be out and about, doing his work, and by night, before the third-shift clerk came in, he would come back, pay his fee, give me a high five and go to his unit. Never brought anyone else in. Maybe he couldn't pay enough?

We wound up having to explain things to the third-shift clerk and the first-shift clerk, because sometimes Mister Stores-Himself would come in much too late for me, and of course he’d be leaving when I wasn’t there – the first-shift clerk thought it was pretty funny but the third-shift guy took some convincing. Fortunately in this economy, “do it or you’re fired” is pretty convincing. I always felt a little ashamed about that but hey – I’m not the manager. None of this was my decision. I’m just along for the ride and making money.

Well. Things went like that quietly for a while. I wondered if any other homeless folks would follow in his wake, but, you know, we do charge a fee for storage, and we’re not going to give discounts. Got to make money, right?

The first test of that principle came when the neon sign had a letter burn out.

You know how it is with those signs, right? Where you drive up to the store at night and the sign says “ARGET” or “OOD MART” because the boss was too cheap to get the sign fixed and who cares anyway. Maybe you’re old enough to remember when the Hollywood sign said “HULLYWO D”? That kind of thing.

So now, as soon as night fell, our facility was called “ELF STORAGE.”

I thought that was kind of funny, like, oh no someone’s going to try to store an elf here. I stopped laughing when a lady came in around 6 PM and asked to store an elf.

So I said, “Come on, lady, I don’t need this kind of crap. I’m here on my feet from 5 to 11 and – ”

And she cut me off like a jerk. “I don’t care about your feet,” she said. “I want to store an elf.”

And I said “Look, you can store any object you want as long as you can pay, but why do you need to tell me the details? Just get out your credit card and stop wasting my time.”

And she said, “This isn’t an object, this is a real elf. The sign says Elf Storage. So I’m storing an elf. Do you want me to sue you for false advertising?”

And I said, “Do you want me to call security?”

And she said, “I want you to call the manager.”

Here we go again! So I brought in the manager and the manager said alright, let’s see this elf, and the lady brought out – must have been from behind her back somehow, I swear I never saw the damn thing before that moment – a living breathing elf.

A fairly tall elf lady, as it was, and I could tell even though her long hair covered her ears, cause she was a foot taller than my annoying customer and she was giving me a look that made me shudder and I was pretty sure her dress was made of actual leaves.

So I turned to the manager, hoping to get some backup for my refusal here, and the manager said, hey, we have to make money. And I said, I think we’re in over our heads. And the manager said, do you want to get paid or not?

That was a good answer, but I still had a burning question on my mind, so I turned to the annoying customer and said, “Why don’t you let the elf here speak for herself?” And that turned out to be a mistake because the elf’s response was a song that sounded like it came out of twenty different people.

And the annoying customer said that this was the elf lady’s request, because now that the sign no longer said self-storage, she couldn’t ask to store herself.

And that was when Mister Stores-Himself walked in and put down his fee for the day, and the Elf Lady told him to scram because he was violating the sign. He told her to shove off. They almost started a fistfight until the manager put his foot down very loudly and said it was his facility, by thunder, and he’d accept whatever he wanted to accept.

That was a fair enough answer for the elf lady. She could understand monarchy well enough. And Mister Stores-Himself was just glad to avoid being tossed out. So he didn’t put up a fuss.

Money in the till and that was that. The annoying customer purchased a small unit and the elf lady shrank to fit. I could swear she gave me a wink before she closed the door.

Things went like that for a while. Someone would come in wanting to store an elf, and all kinds of them – some thin as a rail and taller than me, some short and squat, some pale, some brown, some golden, some blue, didn’t matter really, they always looked completely different every time any of their doors were opened. And the third-shift guy kept telling me that they looked nothing like human when they crossed through moonlight. I asked him how the hell he was seeing moonlight in the middle of this city and he said he could see the full moon out the windows every night, when the lights flickered out at random times. I asked him how the hell the lights burned out when they were fluorescent track lighting installed last month. He couldn’t explain.

It took some convincing to get him to put up with all this, which is to say the manager threatened to fire him again.

Well, whatever. I didn’t have to deal with it except on the very occasional instance that the lights went off before my shift ended. One time Mister Stores-Himself came in at just that moment, and needed help finding his own unit. Wouldn’t have been a problem except that my flashlight wasn’t working, so I had to use the glow from my smartphone screen and that kept turning off. Slow going. Especially since Mister Stores-Himself told me to keep my eyes away from the patches of moonlight, so I’m shuffling around them with my eyes down. Talk about a nightmare. I have no idea how I found the guy’s unit before dawn.

Both me and third-shift guy were envious of the first-shift clerk, or more envious than usual.

That went on for a few months. No more incidents on my end, although Mister Stores-Himself complained to the manager that his unit’s door kept getting shut all the way. Thank heavens the first-shift guy always made sure to check. Otherwise it was a nice time. The building was warmer than you would have expected.

Then the next letter in the sign burned out.

At that point most of the elfs disappeared. They weren’t going to stick around if the sign didn’t say they could. And the manager no longer had a hold on them. Maybe he never really did. Maybe they were just playing with him. Or maybe they were following rules that he didn’t understand. Or maybe they understood what was coming. Whatever it was, the fees for their storage were gone, and the manager was despondent. He made hints that he would have to let us go. No more money. Well, that was going to be a problem, but at least the units were free for other people, right?

Unless some whack-off comes in trying to store an LF. What the heck is an LF? I don’t know. Hopefully nobody knows.

So the very next evening some fellow comes in with a pet carrier in one hand. Big pet carrier, the kind that holds a medium dog or a really big house cat. And oh boy, the sound that comes out of this pet carrier. Snarling like the devil himself. SNARL, GRRR, ROWL, RARR. I can barely hear the guy as he requests to store an Eleff.

I say, “What? You want to store an elephant?”

And he says, “No I don’t think you’re elegant!”

And the manager comes out, grabs the pet carrier, opens the door, sticks his hand in, and suddenly it’s dead quiet.

Alright, so maybe these things shut up if you give them a taste of the long pork. I asked the manager if Mister Stores-Himself is going to like that idea and the manager said, we have to make money.

So now it was my turn to suffer. First-shift clerk had no people coming to store Eleffs; third-shift guy only got them now and then; they all came in on MY shift, and oh my poor eardrums. I had to learn to stick my hand in the pet carrier despite my utter terror.

Whatever these Eleffs were, they were pretty fluffy.

And once you shoved the pet carrier into the unit their snarls were muffled. That worked well enough for a while. Until we got as many of them as we used to have elfs, and all the muffled snarling added up to an ominous sound that had the third-shift guy shaking in his shoes all night. He didn’t wait for the manager to fire him, apparently. Just ran out the door into the night. Or so I was told. I never actually saw him go.

You’d think if he got eaten Mister Stores-Himself would have gone first, but, by the same token, HE had a big steel door to hide behind. And what was he going to do if he didn’t like it? Leave?

I felt a little sick thinking that way about a fellow down on his luck, but it was true. He had to accept whatever this place threw at him, as long as his unit was his own. And the manager would take anything, as long as someone paid the fee. Money. Money money money. Maybe Mister Stores-Himself and the manager were both stuck in their own way. Manager out of greed, Mister Stores-Himself out of desperation. And me? Well, I had an apartment to pay for as well. This place paid well enough that I only had to work one shift. What a rare thing around here. I was stuck as much as anyone else was, unless I wanted to work myself to death at some warehouse package-fulfillment place where I could die and nobody would find me for twenty minutes

So while these Eleffs were snarling all the livelong night, I was drowning them out with my own snarls about who had enough money to pay our fees, after all. How the hell did they get it and what did they do. Who were these people. Why had none of them hired me first.

Well, that went on for a while, and I wound up picking up the third shift because I was really good at ignoring the noises from the units, and NOBODY was applying for the position. Hey, double wage, what’s not to like, right? Oh right, the fact that I had to stay awake from 5 PM until 5 AM. No goddamn way, man. I slept under the front desk.

Until the security guards ratted on me to the manager. Maybe they were mad at me for supposedly accepting all this nonsense. Hey, all I ever did was call the manager!

So I got real mad and I decided to get real sneaky. One night I told the security guards I was leaving the desk to use the bathroom, cover for me alright? And I snuck up to the seventh floor where the big red sign ran right under the windows. This whole LF thing was going to end right now, dammit. I leaned out the window and whacked the glowing red L real hard.

Admittely it was a long shot, but I was thinking that, if they’re hanging up high, they’re not built to withstand any heavy blows. Well, I can’t say for certain. My idea didn’t work.

What actually happened was that the metal parts holding the sign to the brick were really rusty because mister We Gotta Make Money never bothered to pay for maintenance on these things. So one smack sent the entire thing right off the wall. Hey, it was bound to fall at some point, right?

The impact down on the ground sure drowned out whatever snarls were coming from the units. And thank god it sent both security guards running towards the sound, because they were too distracted to see me coming down the stairs. They were looking up to wonder why the sign had fallen, and down to worry about the massive amounts of glass all over the place.

I didn’t get any more sleep that night. The manager told me to sweep up all the glass. Oh, security guards didn’t have to help, did they? No, they had to protect the precious storage units from the sneak thieves who might have been using the sign as a distraction.

They wound up blaming Mister Stores-Himself because he was…an easy target, to be honest. They knew I’d gone to the bathroom and Mister Stores-Himself couldn’t prove his whereabouts, could he? And he could open his unit’s door from the inside, right? There you go.

The fact that I never revealed the truth when I had the chance to save that guy is not the greatest shame of my life, but it’s up there.

Well. I’d solved my problem, at least. Now we were going to get people trying to store an F. And no more snarls! No more Third shift for me!

Except that by this point, nobody in their right mind would have applied to work for us. I had hoped that Mister No Longer Stores Himself would take the opening that I had left, but maybe he wasn’t going to put up with a place that treated him like crap after pretending to give him a chance. So, welcome to third shift again!

And my assumption about the new customers proved correct. Sort of.

The first guy that came in next evening said, “I want to store an Eff.”

And I said, “Store an F? Maybe you can just paste it to a wall somewhere.”

And he said, “Excuse me? Oh, no no. Spelled E-F-F. Slightly different.”

And I said, “The sign says F not E-F-F. No dice.”

And he said, “I want to talk to the manager.”

I was sorely tempted to go behind the doorway and pretend to be a gruff manager telling him to scram, but the actual manager was there, so, nothing for it.

The manager said it was fine as soon as he could see this “eff”.

And the customer said, “You can’t see it. But! You know it’s there. Here effy effy effy effy.” And suddenly a gentle breeze blew through the room even though the door was closed.

Money in the till and that was that.

Only after the second and third of these things came in did I think to ask where, exactly, these things were being stored. The manager said, wherever. And I said, what do you mean whatever. And he said, you can’t store the wind in a definite place, can you? And I said yes you can, it’s called compressed air. And he said, the point is, we can store as many of these things in here as we want. Infinite customers! We’re no longer limited by space! And I said, compressed air, dumbass, there’s a limit to how much air you can fit in a space. And he said shut up or you’re fired.

Fine. At least this time the security guards weren’t going to venture into the building. At all. They were getting really scared. So I could sleep behind the desk now and fall asleep to the sound of a gentle breeze.

Or with good earplugs, because as we got one customer after another, the wind got louder and louder. I had to sleep with a thick blanket behind the desk because that wind was taking the heat right off me.

Mister manager kept his door closed and pretended not to notice.

But eventually, it was impossible not to notice, especially when I was having trouble standing upright at the desk. If I couldn’t hear a customer say anything then how could we get any more customers? Sign language! Thank goodness everyone knows sign language, right? Right. Right. Lucky me.

At the point that the manager himself could barely get his own door open, he began to have some doubts himself. But, gotta make money, right? And I tried to tell him that this was now impossible. First-shift clerk was long gone. Maybe blown out the window. The manager had to cover that shift himself.

But before he had the chance to figure that all out for himself, I wasn’t going to let him learn for himself, before I had my goddamn revenge. What I did was, instead of communicating the impossibility of the situation to him in sign language, I opened one of the windows, staggered back to the cash drawer, opened it up, and tossed all the cash into the air.

Must have been three thousand dollars that blew out the window with the escape of the Effs.

So NOW it was quiet.

And the manager told me I was fired.

Fine.

As it turned out, I wasn’t going to get any more money out of that place. Now that the remaining customer base had been thoroughly infuriated, they collectively sued the guy to oblivion. He tried to pin the blame on me but I never wound up paying anything because HE counter-sued the customers for creating the whole situation, and the whole thing became a legal tangle. He had to sell his storage facility to a national chain in order to keep paying his legal fees, and then settle.

In the meantime I took a first-shift job at a mattress store and a second-shift job at a nail salon, and those places were at least nicer. And I’d picked up enough money from the night shift at the storage place that I could put a down payment on a better apartment than my old place. I tracked down Mister Stores-Himself and offered to make things up to him by letting him pay a quarter of the rent instead of half. And he said, oh no, I don’t think you can put up with me, and I said, what could possibly be the problem? And he said that, before he managed to put on deodorant in the morning he always smelled like the devil himself. He had asked for a unit in a storage facility because he knew he’d be totally alone in the morning.

Well I’d lost my sense of smell in a firecracker accident years ago, so that wouldn’t be a problem. And he said fine and dandy.

So now we’re kind of stuck together, but I’d rather be stuck with him than my old manager.

I wonder why the manager never said anything about the smell. Maybe he was too polite? Nah, can’t be.

It had to be the money. Well, he got what he wanted.

And maybe everyone got what they deserved, after all.

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