Jean Hays trudged across the fairgrounds. Sweat dripped down her temples. The sun beat down out of a cornflower-blue sky while end-of-the-monsoon season thunderheads built up into towering blinding white and ominous portents of future rain. Wish I’d remembered my hat. That’s what I get. March had seemed so pleasant. Who knew September would mimic an oven with misters?
She reached the first of two shipping containers the Hise County Fair used as storage lockers. They called them Conex boxes. Jean remembered seeing them on every Air Force base she’d ever been on. She glanced at the cloud studded sky. Rain every year for the fair, she’d heard the Exhibits team say before she’d trudged to the storage container where the plastic tubs of left over ribbons, banners and other fair paraphernalia resided the rest of the year. She wiped her face and hoped the units were unlocked. The Fair Board President, Arris Van Horn wasn’t answering his phone. I hope Arris came by and unlocked these. He should have them open by now. Jean examined the two-part mechanism to open the container. She briefly touched the handles. The doors received full sun all day. They were hot but not hot enough to give a burn. Jean pulled on one lever. Part of the mechanism moved a rod that connected with a top and bottom notch but it didn’t allow the door to open. She wiped the sweat from her forehead. I really need to learn to wear a hat.
Jean had moved to Greyson, Arizona in February. It had been winter–there was even a bit of snow. Old northeastern habits died hard, she never used to wear a hat. Now, though, she wished for her wide-brim hiking hat to give her some relief. Must be ninety degrees out here.
She tried the second handle on the door. It lifted another bar. Maybe both of them at the same time? Jean lifted them both. The vertical bars lifted and lowered, freeing the door. She tugged it open. Now I don’t have to track Arris down. He had the keys and the combinations to every lock and door on the fairgrounds. Jean was totally dependent on his expertise. She hadn’t been VP of Exhibits more than four months so she was still learning how things worked in this county.
She swung the container doors open wide. The doorway was a tangled mess of everything the fairgrounds needed to have stored. Jean pulled a wooden tripod out of the doorway and used it to prop the right-hand door open. It looked as though it was a sign post. A lot of other events that were held at the fairgrounds used these containers. Five feet into the container she wished she’d brought a flashlight. Sweat began dripping in earnest as she peered into the musty darkness. Smells like mice in here. Hope they haven’t gotten into the tubs.
Winding her way past safety cones, stacked tables, buckets of rope, steel cable and broken metal chairs, she stepped over a pile of rebar to reach her stack of tubs. One, two, three, four, she counted. Where’s the fifth tub? The heat was giving her a headache so she massaged her temples after she’d wiped her filthy hands on her shorts. She hauled the bins out to the front of the container. When those were outside she decided to check farther to the back. The Exhibits team had been sure there ought to be five bins. A pile of cardboard boxes labeled Mud Run blocked her way. Jean moved the three boxes behind her and stepped over a pile of rusting chain. It’s creepy and dirty in here. Let me just find the box and get out.
Squinting, she saw a medium blue tub labeled Fair Ribbons just out of reach on top of another stack of bins. There you are. She wiped her face again and held her breath. The smell of dead things was overwhelming. I hope nothing crawled into my bin. The ribbons will be ruined. She picked her way past boxes, rusting metal things she couldn’t identify and a broken ladder. She pulled the tilted bin toward her–just a little more—and then the whole pile of bins fell over with a godawful racket. Her bin slid to the floor, taking part of her thumbnail with it and raising a cloud of dust.
“Owww!” she cried as she jerked her hand away and stuck the injured digit in her mouth. In front of her, the two doors of a metal cabinet against the right-hand wall of the container creaked open and a desiccated human body fell out of it in seeming slow motion.
In the moments it fell, her eyes were wide as her brain tried to make sense of the situation; she could see long hair trailing behind the head as the thing toppled. Female, was her instant thought, especially as the body wore a woman’s pink down vest. The vest was discolored with rust stains. Then Jean realized that the discoloration must be body fluids. Her stomach rolled and as the thing hit the bin at her feet, she shrieked and scrambled outside.
Panting, she stared at the gaping mouth of the container. Jean pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed 911. When the operator answered she said, “This is Jean Hays, VP of Exhibits at the fairgrounds. I just found a dead body in the storage container on the southwest side of the grounds.”