The Constant Crypt Guard: A Retrospective Epiphany in Three Parts
By Lewis Carter
Part 1: A Cryptic Evaluation
James exited his Kia, careful not to slam the door in earshot of the Clefton residence. The large door had opened on his approach, as it always did, to reveal his therapist, whose smile in turn revealed Dr. Clefton’s alabaster teeth.
All the better to psychoanalyse you with.
The doctor had welcomed James as usual before disappearing to some hidden nook of the house. James hated the Clefton home. It was open plan in every sense of the meaning. Each room had a way of blending into the next, and every aspect of division or separation had been kept to an extreme minimum. James had decided during his first session that this style of interior was all the more inappropriate for the home of a man who spends his days talking of intimate secrets with strangers. Surely if any home called for a secure set of walls and confined spaces it was this one.
‘Sorry to keep you like that.’ Dr. Clefton blurted as way of announcing his way into what James would have called, ‘the room’, if the prospect of actual confinement within it were possible. Then came the usual questions: ‘How are you feeling? Have you found anything particularly stressful or taxing lately?’
James insisted that he was ‘fine’, and ‘feeling normal.’ That’s when the shuffling started. James was used to this. He would often hear what he assumed to be Mrs. Clefton above him, creating an intermittent shuffling and scraping sound, as if she were determined to act as a physical manifestation of her husband’s attempt to burrow down into his mind.
‘Ok.’ Clefton conceded with a reluctant nod of the head. ‘Looking back on what happened a little under a month ago, do you feel the same way you did then?’
‘No, of course not.’ Clefton had more fishing to do: ‘But you admit you must have felt angry back then…for you to act the way you did?’
James felt everything hinging on his next response, his re-integration back under the radar of scrutiny at work, the end to his disciplinary evaluation, and most of all his escape from these weekly therapy sessions. ‘I can assure you Doctor, that I’ve apologised profusely for my actions, and not just because I want them to be forgotten, but because I truly am embarrassed for them. Like I’ve told you before I’m really not an angry man. I just must have been under a significant period of stress, that’s all.’ Would that do it? Would it be enough to bring an end to all of the fuss over the last few weeks? Clefton himself seemed unsure as he leaned back in his chair, preparing a response as the scraping and shuffling continued overhead.
‘James, it is my personal and professional opinion that unexpressed pain and turmoil creates a, kind of, hidden crypt inside a person. Within this crypt are kept the relics of past trauma and stress, which are un-content to be superficially laid to rest, and, therefore, force the person into becoming a constant crypt guard. As these relics build up within the crypt, from time to time some will inevitably spill out to haunt the guard, causing him to subconsciously react in strange and destructive ways, which will often have violent or even lethal consequences.’
James had nothing in response to this. If it was some kind of test, he was sure he was about to fail. So he let the silence linger until Clefton chose to break it.
‘That being said, as you show no willingness to open up about anything other than the reason you were sent to see me, despite my belief that there are real sources of pain in your past, I have no choice but to sign off on your treatment and wish you good luck in your return to work.’
‘What a fucking quack job.’ James said aloud to his empty Kia as he left Clefton’s semi-detached yet wholly suburban home. But as the drive went on, he began to take comfort in the fact that he had done enough to ensure the end to his mandated therapy. He spent the rest of his drive home floating between shock and relief that his so-called apology had worked. The apology had come two days after what his supervisor had taken to calling ‘the incident’. He liked to lean in as he said the word, with his eyebrows arching to form real-life bushy, black quotation marks.
Forty-eight hours after ‘the incident’, James had awoken from what felt like a coma, realising the full extent of his actions, and smashed the speed dial for his supervisor at the office. Then he had begged to be allowed to come in and apologise to everybody for his outburst. James could still remember the long pause on the other end of the line as his supervisor contemplated his request. During that pause a dramatic and irreversible shift in the balance of power between the two men took place, before the voice on the other end of the line granted him a final chance to salvage his job.
He had no idea how long he had stood there in front of his colleagues in an earnest attempt at sincerity and contrition; neither could he remember what he had said or how he had ended his performance, but he knew it must have ended at some point as he could recall standing in front of his colleagues as they stared up at him, everyone apparently unsure of what should happen next. His supervisor eventually broke the bond of silence that had fallen over the room.
‘Well, thank you for that James.’ He emerged from wherever he had been during the ordeal. ‘If you’d like to join me in my office now while everyone else gets back to it.’
Of course there was more to come—did he ever really think that the apology would be enough on its own?
‘James, in light of your willingness to come in and make amends for… “the incident” the other day, I have spoken to HR and we’re willing to lift your suspension.’ This was the first time James had seen his supervisor refer to it as ‘the incident’ with the help of his expressive eyebrows.
‘All the better to condescend to you with,’ whispered a voice in his head.
‘However, there are some contingencies which we will require you to abide by in order for us to move forward.’
‘Of course,’ James replied, clearing his throat.
‘The main one being that you commit to a short period of evaluation with a therapist to determine that you are indeed in a suitable frame of mind to return to work. Can you commit to that, James?’
The rest of the meeting was a distant haze in his memory. How had he let things come to this, to allow himself to be put in a position where this man could dictate that he needed to undergo therapy to keep his job?
Part 2: Out of the Box Thinking
James pulled up to his apartment building after spending the whole the journey back form Clefton’s recalling the events leading up to his enforced therapy. Unlike the other floors in his building, which all had multiple apartments, the neighbouring rooms on his floor were left vacant for storage space. These rooms were filled to the cracks with anything his neighbours from the lower floors decided they no longer had room for.
He checked his watch as he closed his double-locked apartment door behind him—too late to get much work done before tomorrow, but also too early to go to bed. He decided the best course of action was to check his work e-mails before watching an hour or two of crap TV. His laptop was open on his second-hand sofa, where he had thrown it after a pre-work speed wank. He pressed a button bringing the screen to life without plugging it in—a sure sign that he didn’t expect to get much done that night. He allowed the memory in his fingers to tap his username and password into the boxes provided whilst staring at the fridge. Had he eaten before going to see Dr. Clefton? He couldn’t remember. Five messages appeared unanswered, ushering his attention back to the screen. They were mostly spam trying to get the company to subscribe to this or that; but one jostled a memory somewhere in the back of his mind. He opened the e-mail and found that he did indeed remember the name of the company; in fact he had been e-mailing them for the past few weeks on behalf of his supervisor.
Dear Mr. James Kasten,
Thank you for your continued interest in our service, and I apologise again for the persistence of your company’s dilemma.
We can report that we did indeed arrive at the given address for your company and found the object in question. On attempting to remove the foreign object from the grounds, we discovered that it was unfortunately too heavy for our crane to lift safely (whatever is in there must be heavy!).
We do have the option of hiring a vehicle with a crane with a greater weight-bearing load to take care of your problem, but as I’m sure you’ll understand this will increase our estimated fee for our service by a small amount. If you would like us to go ahead with the operation despite the small increase enclosed, please respond at your leisure to let us know.
Brian (Hindrance Removal LTD)
James smiled at the e-mail; it was in relation to a blue metal storage crate, which had appeared in the company’s car park. His supervisor had tasked James with discovering the origins of the phantom crate, and when James had reported back that nobody knew what it was or who had ordered it to appear, he had been given the job of getting rid of the foreign cube. James’ smile widened as he read the e-mail for a second time. The annoyance the arrival of the blue storage crate had caused his supervisor was common knowledge at the office, and his increasing intolerance at its existence in his company’s car park was one of the only things that could come close to a reason for James to look forward to going to work. The thought of the thing remaining for another few days while a new crane was ordered would surely evoke what was becoming a daily display of neurotic frustration by his supervisor. Thinking of telling his supervisor the news the next day elevated James’ spirits for the rest of the evening as he watched TV.
On leaving his apartment the following morning, James was startled by a metallic thud from one of the storage rooms on his floor. Turning to examine the source of the noise, he noticed a thin beam of light streaming from the keyhole. Whatever had shifted inside to cause the thud had cleared the way for some light to escape to freedom. He swiveled his heels, allowing the light to travel past him along the corridor before merging with the sunlight from the small window directly opposite the storage room.
The morning sun had already baked every inch of the Kia’s interior. Two pools of moisture had formed under his arms as he entered his company’s car park. The discomfort, however, didn’t stop him from smiling as he passed the blue crate. He scanned the car park for a space in a strip of shade; his usual space was exposed to the sun, and he had no intention of driving home in a sweatbox. Finally, he spotted a space in the shade, but before he could rejoice and step on the gas to claim his cool spot, he realised why this space had been left empty. It was his supervisor’s unofficial personal spot. James sat there in the middle of the car park for a moment as his clothes clung to him before gripping the wheel and manoeuvring into the forbidden fruit of boxed off concrete. Why shouldn’t he park there? He had completed his therapy sentence with Clefton, surely now he could afford to tread on one of the many eggshells surrounding his supervisor.
Part 3: A Concrete Solution
Apart from his bold move in the car park, the first hour of his day went much the same as any other. He made himself at home at his desk, retrieved some coffee, and had completed most of his admin tasks for the day. Some time later, as James found himself half-way through writing a report on a subject that made him almost miss the inside of his molten hot car, he looked up to see his supervisor march through the office glancing towards him with a brief but undeniable look of hostility.
Just as James was finishing the report, he heard the door of his supervisor’s office open for the first time since his arrival. He waited to feel his presence linger over him.
‘How did last night go?’
‘Last night?’ James replied, leaning back in his chair so he could locate his boss.
‘Your final session with Dr. Clefton, of course. I hope they’ve been useful to your state of mind. If not, we might have to consider extending your time with him before welcoming you back here fully.’
James froze in his chair; was he really talking about his therapy here, out in the open in front of everyone. This was revenge for the parking spot—James was certain of it.
‘The sessions have all gone well, I can assure you,’ he managed, grinding his teeth slightly in response.
The two men stared at each other as the office pretended to work around them.
‘That is a relief, we can’t have a repeat of “the incident” now can we?’ There went the eyebrows again.
James held himself down in response to the urge to dive at the man standing over him.
‘I notice that damn crate is still outside too, what are you doing about that?’
‘Still haven’t heard back from anyone about it.’ He lied without thinking. No way was he going to help remove one of the major sources of annoyance in this man’s life, not after his attempt to humiliate him in front of everyone.
‘This is unacceptable. I’ll sort it out myself.’ He snorted, turning back to his office. ‘Someone will be here to get rid of the bloody thing today!’
For the next few hours until James could escape the office for lunch, he remained anchored to his seat staring at his computer. It had taken all of his strength to beat down the latest front of bullshit from his supervisor. Picking the earliest acceptable time to leave the office, he left his packed lunch in his desk drawer and rushed passed everyone towards the exit.
Outside, his vision was drawn to his supervisor’s car parked in the middle of the sun-coated car park in James’ usual spot. He lifted his hand to his eyes to get a better look at the vehicle. For a while he was convinced that his supervisor had left his head lights on, but soon decided that it was impossible to tell with the sun beating down, casting a glare off every metal surface in sight, including the crate.
When he felt a little of the anger dissipate from his body, he returned to the office to continue his day. His first task would be to delete the e-mail he had received about the crate last night.
As he made his way back inside, a large truck with a strange crane-like device manoeuvred its way onto the premises. He was back behind his desk and about to delete the e-mail when his supervisor marched through the office once more, this time towards the door. He had a set of car keys in hand, which gave James hope that this would be the last he would see of him today.
People began waltzing around the office, making the most of the lack of supervision to make small talk with their colleagues. A soft rumbling came from outside the building, which James didn’t notice until it became clear that it was the sound of an engine straining to come to life. Nobody seemed concerned, and their ignorance seemed justified when the noise stopped after a few more splutters from the dying engine. The noise that came next was, quite simply, a loud crash, the sound of which you cannot become accustomed to by working in a mundane office day after day.
The receptionist was the first to the window to investigate. Her hand flew to her mouth then she ran outside. Others soon followed her, leaving only a few remaining in the office.
James followed the group at a reluctant pace. Outside, he found everyone huddled together, some in tears, some consoling those that were. His curiosity peaked to new heights; he parted the crowd and made his way to the front. They were all staring at the, now slightly distorted, blue metal crate. Next to it stood a large truck, which once held a strange crane like device, but now only held a man in a hardhat weeping. The device, which had now completely ruptured from the vehicle, was attached to the top of the crate, which now stood over the same patch of concrete in which his supervisor had been forced to park his car.Debris surrounded the perimeter of the crate. James picked up a piece of glass from a headlight. It burned in his palm from overuse.
As he stood there, a crimson puddle snaked its way from under the crate towards the crowd, provoking considerable screaming. James remained where he was. He wasn’t thinking of the screaming or the blood. He was thinking of the headlights, his own Kia parked safely in the shade, and of Clefton’s constant crypt guard.
Eventually he turned and made his way passed the small crowd surrounding the crate and his supervisor’s remains beneath it, out of the car park and further still. Eventually, he came to a busy street where a few taxis had congregated for some unknown reason. He entered the back seat of the taxi at the front of the group and gave the driver an address over the sound of his radio. A woman’s voice was ebbing its way out of the speakers, singing a song that James was sure he had heard a long time ago. The journey took under an hour, but James wouldn’t have cared if it had gone on for a lifetime; in fact, the closer they got the more at ease he felt.
Finally they arrived. The cabbie killed the radio to ask for his fare, but not before inquiring;
‘This the right place, mate?’
‘Let’s make it an even forty quid then.’
Thankfully he had enough and handed the fare over with a polite smile.
Outside, he watched the taxi as it disappeared around the corner of one of the suburban streets, then he returned his gaze to his destination. He made his way towards it, treading slowly, knowing this time the large door would not open on his approach as it had in the past. This time he would have to knock.
Lewis Carter is from Bridgend, South Wales. He has recently completed an MA in Writing for Performance and Publication at Leeds University, under the tutelage of experienced television writers and playwrights such as Garry Lyons and Adam Strickson. On that course he was awarded the prize for the best project thanks to his novella ‘Memoria Manor.’ Lewis has submissions pending with various writing competitions, such as Aesthetica magazine. As well as publishing stories with independent minded publications such as Empty Sink, he is writing and directing his first short film.