Cthulhu’s Car Park — Chapter One

“It’s not working.”

Sam tried not to sigh. She looked down at the customer from her post beside the automatic parking machine. It was a woman, driving a low, red, middle-grade sports car-type vehicle, Sam didn’t know the model, with a look of utter contempt on her face. She was holding a blue parking ticket.

Ignoring the fact that the woman had not even tried to put her ticket into the machine, Sam took it, and slid it into the slot. “You need to put it with the stripe up and to the right,” she explained for the millionth time. She watched the screen and was unsurprised when it showed the woman had not paid for her ticket yet. Following instructions did not seem to be this lady’s strong suit, considering the number of signs posted, everywhere, suggesting she prepay in the elevator lobby. “It’s going to be a dollar and fifty cents.”

She was even less surprised when the woman started digging through her purse and withdrew two crumpled dollar bills. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” said Sam, using her best customer-service tone and pointing to a big sign posted right on the machine, “we can only accept debit or credit cards at the gate.”

The woman’s frown turned into a grimace. “That’s ridiculous! It’s two dollars!”

Sam shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry, that’s just how our system works, ma’am. This machine isn’t built to handle cash.”

A credit card was dug out of a wallet with long, expensively manicured nails and thrust toward the parking lot attendant, who inserted it into the machine and waited for the transaction to clear, silently hoping the machine wouldn’t screw up for once.

It was a sleek looking device, sort of resembling an ATM. It had one slot, two buttons and a screen. You might think a machine that simple would be easy for people to use, particularly with a big board with instructions right in front of them, but, that was definitely not the case.

Thus, Sam would stand beside the machine, putting people’s tickets in correctly, assuring them that yes, their credit card did go there, and clearing mechanical jams. Luckily, this time, she could hear the machinations inside working smoothly, and out popped the credit card. She handed it back to the customer. “Would you like a receipt?” But, the gate had gone up and the red sports car was already wheeling onto the street, so she plucked it out of the machine and put it in the small pile on top of the nearby garbage can.

The job wasn’t a hard one if you were talking about skill level. Be polite. Help people operate a system that was designed to be completely automated. No cash register to mess around with. Very little handling of cash at all, assuming the machine in the lobby was working. But, sometimes easy or hard doesn’t have to do with skill.

The sound of an idling engine drew the attendant’s attention to the entrance, which was to the left of the exits. Two men were sitting in a black sedan, staring at her. It was eleven o’clock at night on a Wednesday and the parking structure was almost empty, so Sam prepared herself for a hassle. “Can I help you?”

The driver had an expression of slack-jawed determination. “Yeah, uh, where’s a spot?”

Sam disliked this question, for a couple of reasons, the first being that it reminded her that she was expected to stay by the gates, not allowed to go anywhere else unless instructed to, or to check for college students and drunks (or a mix of the twoboth) doing damage to the structure, so there was no way for her to know which spots were available. The second was because of the question’s lazy nature. Drive around for two seconds and find it yourself, she thought.

What she said, politely, was, “It’s pretty empty right now, I’m sure there’s one just up that ramp.” Just to be clear, she pointed out the ramp to the next level.

When the customer had driven off, having not said much other than “cool,” Sam stood there for a moment and enjoyed the quiet. The night was winding down, the electronic sign in front of the garage said there were almost two-hundred spaces available, and in a few hours, she’d be able to go home. In was summer in the college town of Ann Arbor, and the night was a pleasant, balmy one, so she was wearing her uniform polo, khaki shorts and tennis shoes, because sandals were against the dress code. There was a slight breeze tickling the sad little urban trees, pushing a receipt across the concrete floor of the structure, and the only sound was radio traffic on her walkie-talkie; cashiers and maintenance workers checking in with the home office all over the city, clearing special transactions and reporting problems. In a few weeks, the university would be starting up again, and then the calm nights would be a memory until around Christmas.

Just when her mind was really starting to wander, the sound of puking echoed over the poured concrete from somewhere within the structure. This time, Sam did sigh as she unclipped her walkie from her belt. “Seven-One to HQ.”

“HQ,” crackled the radio, “go ahead, Seven-One.”

“I think I’ve got someone throwing up somewhere in the structure. Permission to go check it out?”

“Okay, Seven-One, go check it out. Let us know if you need any back up.”

“Ten-four.”

Returning the walkie to her belt, Sam looked around for any customers, then made her way to the up-ramp. It was a small structure, with eight split-levels containing only about thirty spaces each and it didn’t take her long to locate where the sick person had been. There was nobody to be found on 3b, but a pool of vomit beside the black sedan that had just entered gave her an idea of who it might have been. It smelled disgusting and alcoholic. She informed HQ what she’d found.

“You got sawdust over there, Seven-One?” asked Marcus, the night manager.

“There should be some in the basement hold,” replied Dave, one of the maintenance workers.

“Just spread some of that saw dust and we’ll send someone over to deal with it later,” said Marcus, who sounded distracted. “What’s this guy doing? Hey, Seven-Six, you got that guy’s license plate?”

Her part of the conversation over, Sam went back to ignoring the radio traffic and took the elevator down to the bottom floor of the structure. It had a level and half underground, besides the eight split levels above.

The basement levels were generally pretty creepy. Their ceilings were lower than the upper levels, there were no windows giving them a claustrophobic air. And worse, the lights were motion activated. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the fact that they took a second to register, leaving you in almost pitch-blackness for longer than Sam was really comfortable, and once they came on, they had a tendency to flicker, like in a bad slasher movie. Every time she had to go down there for a car count or whatever, she found herself imagining the lights coming on, and seeing someone standing there, waiting. Today, she was too annoyed at the prospect of cleaning up a puddle of sick to be bothered, and made her way to the supply hold, which was a closet, closed off with a chain link fence. She shoved her electronic key into the lock and heard it chirp merrily.

The fluorescent lights were still flickering when she heard another chirp. It wasn’t electronic. She glanced down behind her and jumped. Mice were not unheard of in the structure. They ate garbage, and nobody really cared since they mainly stayed out of sight. But this was not a mouse.

First of all, it was green. Not lizard-green, with scales. This was booger-green, and looked like one of those disgusting oozy toys that were popular in the 90’s. The thing had smooth, glistening skin, too many legs and far, far too many eyes. And they all looked up at her. It chirped again, though she couldn’t spot any sort of a mouth or nose. “Um, hello,” she said, and immediately felt stupid. But really, it was either talk to it, or let panic overtake her, so she said, “Where did you come from?”

It chirped again, which would have been cute if it hadn’t been accompanied by a large, fang-filled mouth emerging from the slimy thing like an angry suction cup. The chirp lowered in tone as the teeth extended. Before it finished its transformation, Sam had picked up the heavy snow shovel they kept next to the bag of sawdust. She slammed it down on the creature with as much force as she could and it made a disgusting, stomach-turning squash-clang!

Gingerly, she lifted the metal shovel head and peered at what was left. The corpse was totally smashed and bright green goop was oozing out of its body like the inside of rotten melon. And the smell! It was something like burned hair mixed with old garbage. One of the thing’s arms twitched, and she threw the shovel down and ran back upstairs to the street level and into the staff bathroom. With the door securely locked behind her she got on the radio. If she hadn’t been working for Empire Parking for years, she might have gotten on her phone and called the police first, but it had been drilled into her mind, just about every weekend, that unless someone was about to die, you called management first. “Hey guys,” she said, her hand shaking as she held it to her mouth, “I need someone over here now.”

“Who is this?” demanded Marcus, who had heard her on the radio almost every day for two years.

Sam screamed with frustration. “This is Seven-One.

“Okay. Go ahead, Seven-One.”

“There is some sort of… animal in the basement. I don’t know if it’s still there. Can someone come check it out?”

“Okay, we’ll send somebody over.” Sam listened as Marcus arranged for Dave to drive over and take a look. She also listened for customers driving down, but had no intention of leaving the bathroom until there was someone else there. She looked at herself in the mirror over the sink. Her long, black hair had come out of her ponytail and her face was somber and pale under the fluorescent light. What the hell was that thing, she thought as she put her hair back up and rubbed her arms. For a second, she imagined its green, slimy remains sliding under the door crack, and shivered. The lights had probably gone out in the basement again. It was just sitting there down in the dark; a strange, hopefully dead, little thing.

Only the sound of one of Empire’s big blue maintenance trucks idling outside brought her out of that bathroom. Dave rolled down the window of the big F150 and leaned over. “Where is it?”

“Down by the hold,” she said, rubbing her arms again. “I don’t know what the hell it is, man, but it was gross.”

Dave nodded, rolled up the window and rolled the truck down into the basement. Not an easy task, considering how tight the structure was. Sam stood near the bathroom door, ready to bolt back inside, or run to help, she wasn’t sure which. Her fight and flight instincts warred with each other while she waited what seemed to be an eternity of silence on the radio. Eventually, Dave drove back up, and she got him to roll down the window while he was trying to get the gate to read the truck’s automatic pass. “Did you find it?”

“I didn’t find anything but some spilled coolant down there. No animals or anything. I put some sawdust on it for you.”

“That wasn’t coolant, that was — ” but, it was too late; the gate had popped up and he was already driving away. “ — its blood, I think…” she finished quietly.

Left alone in the silent structure, the semi-darkness of a college town on a Wednesday night surrounding her beyond it, she began to wonder if she’d really seen what she thought she’d seen. Maybe it had been just a goober of coolant? Or something non-living, at least. With the lights flickering down there like they did, and the fact that she had a tendency to be creeped out without any reason, it was plausible that her imagination had run away with her. She got out her phone and put some music on, which was not strictly allowed, and tried to calm down while she waited out the clock until two in the morning.


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