A single bulb dangled from a thin cord that disappeared into the high recess of wood beams above, casting the entrance to the warehouse in mist. The air smelled of wood mold and spiders, not a place for a woman alone.
Bam! Miller jumped as the heavy metal door swung shut behind her, echoing through the black hole of a building lying ahead.
The cement floor, powered with dust, was visible for ten feet, but grew fainter and disintegrated into the darkness at twenty feet. From outside, the building looked to be the size of a football field, inside it shimmered like a silent, starless universe, as foreboding as a mausoleum.
Miller patted her pocket and pulled out the small automatic. Five lessons at a shooting range in Gary left her feeling like a kid holding a cap pistol. The S&W .38 felt cool and solid, though, and it balanced the weight of the heavy-duty flashlight she’d borrowed from Sparky.
She fumbled with the safety catch, flipped it off with a click that bounced off the invisible walls around her like a ping-pong ball. This building was early 1920’s, a leftover from the heydays of bootlegging.
Miller diverted herself with pictures of rum runners dropping off kegs here, a short hop across the Indiana border to safety, but within driving distance of Chicago. If only the walls spoke, they'd tell rambling stories peppered with names like Al Capone and the Purple Gang.
The wood and shingled firetrap had managed to keep itself from being burned down by misdeed or pulled down by an enterprising manufacturer. It sat like a lost ship on a weed-infested field, three blocks from the lake and a hundred thousand miles from modern civilization.
The thin crumpled paper lining her pocket gave no hint of where to start searching in this palace of forgotten dreams.
Miller snapped on her flashlight, did a quick tour of the immediate darkness and took a tentative step into oblivion. One step, pause, listen--her footfall echoed inside her head like a small drum. Another step and she paused again and listened.
Her breathing grew louder, overshadowing her footsteps, competing with the booming of her heartbeat. In unison, they picked up the tempo with each step she took. Thump, boom-boom. The cold cement permeated her sneakers, chilling her feet. Her foot came into contact with something solid that bounced away on impact with her toe and she shuddered.
What was it?
A piece of trash left by the night watchman? The skeletal remains of some animal who’d sought shelter from the harsh lake winters?
She turned and swept the path behind her. Her footprints the dust were as clear as if she’d written, “Here I am! Come find me!"
A sudden, sharp headache of urgency without clear thought drove her forward.
A hundred feet away sat hundred or maybe thousands of boxes, stacked to the ceiling, row after row of gray, grimy boxes.
Moving quickly now, she ran past row after row, squinting at the changing logos: Hammond Sewage and Disposal; Calumet Electric and Light, Second Bank of Hammond, and on and on and on.
What frightened her the most was the sense of time dissolving inside this paper mausoleum, minutes passing unnoticed, the world pressing down like she’d made an unexpected visit to a dead box purgatory with no way out.