Self Storage

(with apologies to Edgar Allen Poe)

I’d had enough. Well, I’d decided I’d had enough six months ago, actually. Then about two months ago I’d said to myself that that really was it, I mean the final, actual it. Two weeks ago something eventually snapped, and yesterday it snapped again, louder. That whining, nasal, orange-faced cunt had become the bane of my life and she was going to get it – hard.

The house had looked lovely at the time and, despite the still-untreated damp in the master bedroom and the collapsed garden fence that had never been mended, I suppose it was still ultimately a nice property. That must be why I had persevered with it – well, that and the fact that I’d signed a contract effectively forfeiting my soul should I try to leave before the end of a year. ‘Character Victorian property, 4 bed’ the ad had said, with that gleeful noun-abuse so beloved of letting agents. But it was characterful, with that reassuring solidity common to nineteenth-century town houses all over the city. It was on a leafy street in Chalk Farm, five minutes’ walk from the tube station, towards the upper end of my budget range but not so far into the posh end of the neighbourhood as to be unaffordable. Jane, Tim and Tariq had all been enthusiastic, and it had been decided that as Master’s students we were entitled to a bit of luxury after three years of undergraduate semi-squalor.

The letting agency had seemed reasonable at the time, although even then there had been something about Janice Sneed that had got my back up a bit. Maybe it was the not-quite-convincing fake tan that ended an inch or so above the collar of her shirt; maybe it was the sing-song, nasal intonation or the ingratiatingly insincere smile; maybe it was her insistence on hypercorrecting pronouns in the belief that it made her sound erudite. Probably it was all these things. But all this had seemed immaterial since the house was going for what appeared to be a reasonable price and, with term starting soon, we gathered in the agency’s office on Camden High Street and signed the fateful contract. “Yourselves will receive countersigned copies in a few days”, herself had twanged at us as we left, rather put out by the £100 ‘signing fee’ that had allegedly been mentioned before (none of us had any recollection of it) but nonetheless happily preoccupied by thoughts of moving into our new home. Perhaps the agency’s name – ‘Happy Homez’ – should have rung alarm bells before we even walked inside. But all that’s academic now.

And for a few months everything had gone swimmingly. We had an enjoyable housewarming party, did some minor decorating, found a decent enough nearby pub that became the established local. All that sort of stuff. Anyway, it was fine. Then Tim noticed a small dark patch in the ceiling corner of his room, which appeared after a night of heavy rain in November and gradually grew as the winter wore on. Three emails to the agency later – initially polite, then polite but insistent and finally insistent – they’d eventually sent round a goon in overalls who’d glanced at it for a moment, grunted and then driven off. The following day Tim had received an email informing him that since the damp had been there when we’d moved in, there was nothing they “could” (by which I think they meant “should”) do about it. Further emails, phone calls and eventually a personal visit to the office had resulted in a different goon coming over and simply painting over the damp. None of us was exactly an expert on home improvements but it was obvious that this was not going to fix the problem.

Various other gripes were dealt with ineptly or simply ignored, but what really started to grate was the correspondence. Emails about a subject one of us had brought up would often be addressed to one of the others, and the content of these emails sounded like it had been written by someone who’d heard of the idea of ‘office English’ and thought they’d give it a bash. Phrases like “as per the last correspondence from yourselves” and “with reference to the term’s and condition’s hereby set forth in you’re contract’s” are indelibly burnt into my brain.

But that was just the start. Things went from bad to worse when Tim decided to move out after being offered a placement in the States. We knew we were jointly liable for the rent of course, but had assumed it wouldn’t be a problem since Tim’s friend Alex wanted to move straight in and replace him, so the room wouldn’t be standing empty. What could be simpler than printing off a new contract with Alex’s name in place of Tim’s, with a start date one day later than the day Tim left?

Oh, no. Oh no, no, no, no. It is not that simple, Happy Homez told us dolefully, as if they were the ones who were going to have to pay big to sort out this apparently all-but-intractable problem. All our names were printed on the contract, we had to understand. This was why the re-signing fee – which none of us had remembered being mentioned in the original discussion of terms, funnily enough – would apply four times over, to the three of us who were remaining as well as to Alex. Tim was caught too, with a hefty early-termination fee. When we pointed out that none of these fees were mentioned in our contracts, Happy Homez helpfully responded that these were additional fees, which we could view at our leisure on their website, and that by signing the contract we’d implicitly implied that we’d read and agreed to those conditions. These weren’t so much letting agents as blood-letting agents, I decided grimly.

This was the final straw. Alex and the rest of us eventually paid up, upon threat of legal action, and we simply decided to sit tight and wait out the remaining few months of the contract. We’d given all reasonable notice about reclaiming our substantial deposits and on top of that had come yet more demands for fees for the privilege of living in a house we were all fleeing at the earliest feasible opportunity.

So that was it. I was moving out, finally free of this house of administrational horrors. Or so I thought – turned out Happy Homez had one more trick up their sleeve for us. A final ‘severance fee’ of two hundred quid in addition to the ‘releasement fee’ we’d already coughed up to free ourselves from the contract. But I wasn’t put out by this, not at all. I’d gone beyond rage and into this serene, Zen-like state of calculated retribution, and I knew exactly how to put it into effect.

I’d be living abroad to conduct research for my developmental dentistry course, I’d said, and would be leaving most of my possessions in Big Yellow Self Storage off the A40, out in the Lynchian badlands of West London’s outer suburbs. My three housemates had scattered; I could hardly blame them, but as a plan formed in my head I realized it suited my purposes perfectly to be Happy Homez’s last traceable contact. They’d tried to get me to post the money or hand it in at the office in person, of course, but it tickled me to give them a small taste of their own medicine as an aperitif before the main course was served.

My heart leaped as Ms Sneed answered the phone – to be honest I’d have been happy to victimize any one of these pricks but it had been Janice who’d talked us into the contract and been the main source of anguish to us over the past half-year, so it was only fitting that she should be the one to pay, just as she came (so she thought) to collect our last payment. “Well, if yourself absolutely can’t make it then myself will drive over and meet yourself there”, she’d concluded, audibly annoyed at being the inconvenienced party for once yet also pleased at the prospect of screwing a final couple of tons out of us. I wrote out the cheque, smiling at the certainty that it would never be cashed, and loaded a syringe with the novocaine I’d half-inched from the materials cupboard at the lab. I allowed myself a further moment of self-satisfaction at the research I’d done into finding a perfect venue for what was to happen that afternoon; Big Yellow Self Storage had recently relocated to a larger facility further up the A40 and the former premises were completely abandoned, with CCTV deactivated, although hardly any signage had yet been put up to indicate that the place was no longer in use. A preliminary survey had shown that it was relatively easy to shimmy over a fence around the back, break into a small office and then open up a side door from the inside, so that a person not expecting anything untoward – and with the smell of an easy £200 in their nostrils – would not necessarily notice anything was amiss. The only other thing I needed was a dozen or so large, empty cardboard boxes, which I found without too much hassle in the area for trash and recycling at the back of the college lab complex.

The appointment was made, I put the folded cheque in my wallet and carefully placed the sheathed syringe in my inside jacket pocket. Then it was just a case of getting in the car and making the drive around the northern edge of the congestion zone, across the opulent neighbourhoods of Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove, then out west into the bizarre, endless zone of ugly 1930s semis, more modern flat blocks, carpet shops, Polish delis, garish roadside pseudopubs and eventually the big row of self-storage facilities. I conducted a quick recce but fortunately the place was as deserted as it had been on my preliminary visit. Excellent. Ingress was easily made and I quickly made my way along the corridor I knew would lead me to the side door I’d told Janice to come to. Almost more for the sheer theatrical hell of it, I took off my jacket and left it in the storage room I’d selected along with most of the decoy boxes and rolled up my shirtsleeves in the manner of someone in the process of moving a large number of bulky items.

I heard the sound of tyres on concrete and looked up to see a lime green Fiat Uno crawl up the little drive leading from the road to the car park by the door I’d opened. It stopped, the driver’s door opened and a pair of meretricious kitten-heels became visible, then a pair of legs in a tacky pencil skirt and finally the rest of Ms Sneed. I saw her over-plucked, pencilled-on brows descend in a slight frown as she took in the surroundings, which then immediately transformed into an unconvincing smile as she saw me. She clip-clopped over to me in that familiar I’m-a-professional-don’t-you-know way, intensified her awful smile as she cocked her head to one side and whined “Well Ms ——-, I’m sorry you feel yourself has had to leave Number 81. So good of you to take time out from your busy schedule to pay the severance fee”, making it abundantly clear that I should be jolly well ashamed of myself for putting her to such a terrible effort to collect two hundred quid she had no reasonable right to whatsoever.

“Yeah, sorry about that but I’m leaving tomorrow, still got lots to do. It’s in my jacket in the storage room, if you’d just like to follow me…”, I replied, secretly pleased at having used a letting agent-type phrase on her. She complied as I entered the building, followed me up the stairs two floors and down a corridor that was, as far as I had been able to tell, entirely identical to every other corridor in the place. The power had not yet been disconnected, as is often the case with disused commercial buildings for a surprising length of time after their abandonment, and she seemed not to have twigged that the place was empty of staff and in fact devoid of people other than the two of us. I counted out the fourth room on the second floor, swung the door open and, in an apparent display of manners, held it open for her as she entered the room first. I picked up my jacket where I’d left it on a stack of boxes as she looked around the small, windowless, cell-like room. She made that awful smile once again and waited in clear impatience with her hands folded in front of her.

“Here you are Janice, £200 as discussed”, I said in a business-like manner, as I removed the cheque from my wallet and handed it to her. She looked over it briefly, placed it in the document wallet she was carrying and nodded a curt “Thankyouverymuch. I must be going n-” before I interrupted with “Oh, Janice, there was just one other thing…”

She looked at me quizzically as I reached into my jacket again, rummaged for a second and then, in a flash, whipped out the syringe, unsheathed it and, before she could do anything other than gasp in shock, drove it into her left thigh and expertly depressed the plunger to send about half the solution into the muscle. Janice Sneed screamed with the sudden pain and backed away from me, but the scream became a moan of disbelief and horror as her left leg suddenly gave way beneath her and she crashed into a pile of cartons, which being empty tumbled immediately under her weight. I moved in and swiftly delivered the rest of the solution to her right thigh, reducing her options for locomotion to crawling pitifully around with her arms.

“Oh god, what’s yourself doing? What have you done to myself? Let myself go!”, she pleaded, reaching imploringly to me with one hand while feeling desperately along her useless legs with the other. “I’m sorry Janice, but you’ve brought this on….yourself“, I said, savouring the final word. Feeling no particular Bond-villainish need for an extended gloating monologue, I simply picked up the document wallet where Janice had dropped it, removed the incriminating cheque, wiped the wallet down with a clean handkerchief and tossed the item back on the floor. I then did likewise with the cheap pay-as-you-go phone I’d been using to communicate with her for the past several weeks – the small chamber was totally impervious to mobile signals, I’d checked that earlier, so her own phone would be quite useless – and, without further ceremony, left the room, heaved the door closed behind me and swung the lock. Without a key it would of course be openable from the outside, but not from the inside, and as I’d only told Ms Sneed where to meet me after she’d left the Camden office, I was the only person who knew where she was. Perfect.

Those thick-walled, heavy-doored storage chambers are fairly, though not perfectly, soundproof. As I walked away down the corridor I could clearly hear a pair of kitten heels being struck desperately against the inner side of the door, and a shrill voice yelling “Please Ms ——-, let myself out! Please, myself will do anything! PLEASE, LET MYSELF OUT!”.

I had to allow myself a grin as I left the storage facility, the faint yells and banging inaudible before I’d gone down one flight of steps. Sorry Janice, but no, you’re going to stay. Nemo me impune lacessit. That’ll teach you to be so selfish.



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