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The Warehouse by Harris Tobias
By Harris Tobias
Oscar Muller was a wealthy man. He’d made his fortune several times over selling cheap plastic lawn ornaments and Halloween themed party crap to a seemingly insatiable American public. Plastic jack-o-lanterns, cackling witches, fake bats, and made in China demons, monsters and demi-urges of every description filled the shelves for one golden month a year.
He had the stuff made in factories all over the world. Wherever labor was cheap and worker safety wasn’t a concern. He shipped enormous quantities to the U.S. and stored the stuff in enormous warehouses all over the country. He worked out of an office near his home, a rambling multi-storied manse with manicured grounds. He described himself as an importer - which was accurate - but missed the point that he set the style and substance of how Halloween was celebrated and displayed on the front lawns of America.
It was his animatronic witch that cackled on a million porches because he caused them to be produced. It was his undead butlers that served freshly decapitated heads to the swarms of trick-or-treaters. He was the designer of the macabre and grisly artifacts of modern Halloween trends. It was a business, just profit and loss and nothing more. It didn’t bother Oscar that he was trafficking in some pretty spooky things. In fact, the spookier the better. Blood and gore sold. Scary was golden. The more depraved, the better. Every year he had to design and produce ever more frightening products. There seemed to be no end to America’s appetite for and fascination of violent death as decoration. Blood and gore were the keys to his success. He alone was responsible for turning the typical suburban front lawn into a diorama of screaming horror.
When asked if he took any responsibility for making the macabre commonplace and inviting blood and gore into the home he would laugh and say, “I didn’t invent Halloween, Halloween invented me.” When asked if the millions of decapitations and scenes of slaughter might have a negative effect on the fragile psyches of the youth, he would snort and dismiss the remark saying: “For Pete’s sake, it isn’t real you know,” or “I’m only giving people what they want.”
To most Americans, the once a year aberration that is Halloween is simply passed off as an excuse for a party, a non-sectarian celebration of silly imagination. For retailers, though, it is big business. It’s the second biggest income producer on the retail calendar. If there were a way to make Halloween last for ten days like Christmas, the retailers would be all for it. Oscar Muller would certainly be all for it.
But there are those who think that Halloween opens the door to real evil. That evil is as real as Oscar’s plastic tombstones. As real as the spray can of instant cobweb you can use to disguise your vinyl sided, split level suburban home into a spooky looking haunted house. To those people there is no such thing as innocent evil. You open a door to the underworld and something is likely to walk through it. These people are paid little heed by the mainstream, Halloween celebrating public and are generally considered spoil sports and party poopers. After all, where’s the harm in having a little fun with scary things? Where’s the evil in a plastic rat?
One August night Oscar Muller was awakened by his security service. Earlier they had detected a disturbance at his warehouse. The service responded and the officers found nothing out of the ordinary. Now, a few hours later they were getting the same signal again. “It’s probably another false alarm,” said the duty officer, “but we thought you might want to know. We’re sending a team out there again.” This was Oscar’s busiest time of year. The warehouse was filled to bursting with Halloween merchandise. He couldn’t afford to take any chances. He was wide awake now. The chances of getting back to sleep were nil, so he got dressed and drove the few miles to the warehouse. He had his office there and all his records. No sense taking any chances with his business.
When he arrived, the security team was just finishing up. “Everything’s fine, Mr. Muller,” said the head of the detail. “We gave the place a thorough going over. Everything’s in order. It’s probably a malfunction. I’ll put in a maintenance request when I get back to the office.” Then the security team left and Oscar sat in his car alone in the vast parking lot and looked at the huge, low metal building that held his fortune. He felt a wave of contentment wash over him. This would be his biggest Halloween season yet. He was an innovator. This year he introduced his expensive animatronic line of life-like creatures—the zombie butler and the screaming demon being just two big sellers.
He turned the key to start the car but the car was dead. No lights, no battery, nothing, just dead. Oscar cursed his luck. He got out and looked under the hood but the car’s engine looked as foreign to him as a roadmap of Croatia. Nothing for it but call for help. He patted his pockets for his cell phone but he’d left it at home. He had his keys. He would just go to his office and call triple A. He walked across the empty lot and realized how alone he was. There wasn’t another car in sight. He might as well have been on the moon. He quickened his step while searching through his keys for the one that would open the warehouse door. Something flew past his ear. In the light of a street lamp he saw it was a bat. Then he saw there were dozens of them flitting in and out of the shadows. Bats were one of his perennial best sellers.
He opened the warehouse door and slipped inside. He entered the security code to deactivate the alarm. He fumbled for the light switch but the lights didn’t come on. Moonlight pouring in from the upper windows provided enough light to see by. Oscar’s office was at the opposite end of the cavernous building. Long rows of shelving held countless boxes of his plastic crap. It never failed to fill him with pride to see it. In a few weeks it will all be shipped and the whole cycle will begin again. Walking through the darkened warehouse filled with ghoulish things might have given an ordinary person pause but not Oscar Muller. These were his ghoulish things. He owned every single one of them. Halloween was an opportunity to sell stuff, nothing more, nothing less.
Half way to his office he heard a slithering, chittering noise. Not the kind of man to scare easily, Oscar made a mental note to himself to contact an exterminator. Must be rats he thought to himself. A little further along, he tripped on something. Bending down he saw it was a headman’s axe—item number AX-24453, $14.95 flashed through his mind unbidden— one of his many popular items. Must have fallen off the shelf, he thought. He bent to pick it up and was surprised at how heavy it was: it felt metallic, almost real. Something buzzed past his head. Had he let in a bat? Straightening up, axe in hand, he noticed three or four of his realistic looking gargoyles (item number Gar-1316, $19.95 each) standing on the floor in front of him. This was too much. First the axe and now the gargoyles. He’d have to have a serious talk with the warehouse manager about housekeeping.
He reached down to pick up a gargoyle and return it to its shelf when it bit his arm. Made in the form of flying monkies, the gargoyles flew at him. One of them sank its fangs deep into his arm driving Oscar backwards. He screamed and shook the thing off but the others were on him, bearing their teeth and snarling. He swiped at them with the axe and succeeded in cutting one in half but the axe was an unwieldy weapon in the narrow aisle. He managed to knock down another, then a third but there were dozens more climbing out of their boxes. There was an army of them both ahead and behind. Oscar gripped the axe tighter and prepared for battle. Then all at once the gargoyles were gone, vanished, as if something had frightened them away. Feeling like a warrior, Oscar sighed with relief.
Heart pounding, already bleeding from a dozen wounds, Oscar tried to convince himself that none of this was actually happening. It was all a hallucination he thought, a nightmare: I’m at home in bed and soon I’ll wake up and go to work. His shirt was ripped where the gargoyles had bitten him. He was about to attend to his wounds when he heard the sound of leathery wings. Something large was flying close to the ceiling. He could just make it out in the moonlight, it was a screaming demon. One of his high-end, animatronic new additions (item number SD-2224, $239.95).
The demon screamed and swooped down on Oscar, claws outstretched. Oscar ducked but the hellish thing raked his back shredding his jacket and shirt and leaving six bloody grooves in his flesh. Oscar’s screams mixed with the demon’s shrieks as another dove from the ceiling. Oscar turned and ran. A demon landed on his back and began gnawing on his head, its talons dug deep into his shoulders. The pain was unbearable. He stumbled and fell. He flailed away at the thing on his back until he was exhausted and could not struggle anymore. The demon gave a scream of triumph and resumed feeding.
Lying face down on the warehouse floor, Oscar could feel his blood and strength pouring out of him. In a desperate attempt to rid himself of the demon’s teeth, Oscar crawled under the bottom-most shelf. The demon left him and Oscar thought he might have saved himself. He lay there breathing heavily in the dust. When he opened his eyes he was face to face with hundreds of the hairy black spiders that sold so well (item number SP-5698, $12.95 for 6). There were hundreds of them, large hairy spiders waiting for him. They swarmed all over his face and body. There was no room to fight them off and no strength left to do it. They crawled and bit and filled his dying body with their poison. Their snapping, venomous jaws were the last things he saw.
When they found him the next morning, there wasn’t a mark on him. There were no signs of foul play. The coroner suspected a heart attack or some other natural cause. Oscar’s heirs shared in his estate made even richer by his company’s biggest Halloween season ever.
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