Recursive's life as a teenage Sandbox

It's literally garbage?!

It was a hot summer when my friends and I began to frequent Providence, that humble diner on Angell street. Nowadays, if one were to visit that quiet corner, you would only see run-down buildings with trash piled outside. But in my youth, it was a bustling center of activity, especially for my friends and I.

Inside, it was the same as any other old diner. The food was mediocre at best, and its ice cream mixer was often broken, but it was a shelter from the scorching summer sun. That alone was enough for it to become the base of operations for us, as we thought of games to play, or schemes to con the elderly into giving us money for candy. However, what made it really stand out to us was the Janitor.

He was always buzzing about like a fly during the day, wiping the floors and tables, which never seemed to stay clean. This was mostly due to my friends and I, but the old Janitor never seemed to mind. In fact, he always seemed quite cheery and glad to see us.

Despite nothing about the man seeming out of the ordinary, rumors circulated about him. Some said he never left the store. Others said he was a devil worshiper. Others still claimed he went town to town, taking a wife and murdering her.

As for myself, I never really put much stock in the rumors. I was a simpler, younger, man then. He treated me and my friends politely, so I would say no wrong about him. Until one day in particular.

Two of my friends had gotten into an argument about the Janitor as we played outside. His father had forbade him to go back to the diner, having heard, and believed, all the rumors about the man. My friend Herbert, was in my camp, not buying into hearsay. My other friend, Nick, was quick to swallow any information he was given, and had given in to the same rumors his father had believed. He wouldn't go near the place when Herbert and I wished to, and got into a physical confrontation with Herbert, who taunted him for being afraid. After I broke up the two, Nick spat at us and ran off.

Herbert and I were a bit shaken by the experience, as there had been no trouble between the three of us before. We decided among ourselves to prove Nick wrong, and attempt to clear the lies surrounding the Janitor. The only way to do this, we thought, would be to sneak into the diner, and stay overnight.

As the sun went down, we hid beneath the stairs which led to the apartment of the diner's owner. We had noticed that the Janitor didn't ever seem to bother with this area, as it wasn't technically part of the diner, and was blocked off by a few tables. We sat for a while, as we heard the Janitor cleaning in the kitchen. Then, at last, he stepped out.

At first, we thought everything was normal. He was just sweeping, like any other Janitor would. We quietly snickered, thinking of how ridiculous Nick had been. Then, as the light outside dimmed further, we began to notice something odd.

There were areas in the darkness that seemed… darker, somehow, than the rest. There were shadows among shadows, shaped like long, arachnid-like arms holding cleaning implements. Stranger still, as we watched, we noticed that these phantom limbs had an impact on the environment. Dust was stirred up when a shadowy broom touched the floor, before being snatched out of the air by a dark dustpan.

Herbert's mouth was agape when I looked back to him. We both wondered what this could possibly mean. We attempted to find the source of the shadowy limbs, tracing their movements as they snaked between chair legs and around empty tables. They all led, it seemed, to the Janitor, whose back was to us at the time.

My friend and I could do nothing but watch in a mixture of fear and wonder as the Janitor continued to clean. As the night went on, everything seemed to take on an eerie glow. It filled me with a sense of dread, as if I were viewing something unnatural. Even then, the Janitor did not stop.

Everything around us, from the tables, to the bar, even to the ceiling, was unfathomably clean. It shone, reflecting some unknown light source. Then, at last, the Janitor turned his face to us. It glowed so bright that I only caught a small glimpse before I was unable to keep my eyes trained on it.

From every orifice, the shadow limbs protruded, dozens of them. The rest of his face looked as if it were made of pure gold, radiating a searing light. As I turned away, I saw that Herbert had not done the same, and was transfixed on the Janitor. I shook him, trying to wake him from his stupor, but he would not respond.

A voice, soft and comforting, echoed in our minds. 'Hello,' it said. 'I know you're there. Nothing in this place happens without my knowledge. Come into the light, that I may see you better.'

Herbert began to crawl out from our hiding place, despite my pleading. I grabbed his leg, trying to drag him back, but he threw me off as if I weren't there at all. He stood, and stepped into the light. By now, it was so bright that I could only make out silhouettes.

He walked to the Janitor, still hypnotized by the light. Once more, I heard the voice. 'You needn't fear. I only wish for you to know the joy of true cleanliness. To cast off your dirty, unhappy shape.'

Herbert stepped forward once more, seeming to accept what was about to happen. Shadow arms wrapped him in an almost loving embrace, and I could no longer see what was happening. The limbs writhed like snakes, as light began to shine through them.

When they retracted, I couldn't look away. It was Herbert, I was sure, but he shone as bright as the sun. He turned to me one last time, and though I couldn't see his face, I somehow knew he was smiling. I heard his voice in my head, which sent chills down my spine.

'Come with me.'

He shone even brighter for a brief instant, and then vanished. That was the last thing I remember, for what was happening was too much for my young mind, and I blacked out. When I came to, I was at my home, in bed, without a speck of dirt or dust on my clothes. I never went near that diner again.

I'm still not sure what happened that night, all these years later. What happened to Herbert, or if he's somehow still alive, I also never found out. I still see him, however. Every night, in my dreams.

He calls out to me, begging me to join him. Telling me how happy he is to finally be clean. And then, from his mouth, dark arms jut out, grabbing me, and dragging me to him. I feel a searing pain, as if every part of me were being scraped away. And then, just as it becomes too much to bear, I wake up.

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