Incorporated

BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

As his fingers ran through his thick beard, like paddles parting the water in a white stream, Calvin Green reclined his chair. His feet sprung upward and his torso laid back. He released a deep sigh as he extended an arm to the newspaper folded neatly on the table to his left. Calvin grabbed the paper by its well-creased edge, and pulled it over into his lap. He began to unfold it, tilting his head so that his eyes were in an optimal place to read the small text. He adjusted his hand so that it did not cast a shadow on the words. And finally, he dialed down the volume on the television with the remote positioned on the right arm of the chair. These were the minor actions he took every day when reading the local paper. This was Calvin’s routine.

He scanned the pages for a story he might enjoy. The paper tended to have the same repetitive topics… the local schools’ sporting events, updates in the weather forecast, and promotional product reviews. Every now and then, Calvin would find some real gems that made his daily routine worthwhile. An intriguing interview, a newly broken record, a strange occurrence somewhere in the town. But today’s paper seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. No stories caught Calvin’s curious eyes. He did give a brief glance at the NEWLY LISTED COMPANIES column, which he often overlooked. George Clemens Inc., 439 Hollow Ave. The address seemed a bit familiar to Calvin, but certainly not the name of the company owner. The address bounced around in his brain a bit, but then it settled and he gave it no more thought.

Until the next day came around.

Calvin reclined his chair, let out a sigh, reached for his paper, unfolded it, positioned his eyes perfectly, and then turned down the volume on the television. He skimmed the headlines once again for anything striking. LOCAL PHOTOGRAPHER WINS NATIONAL CONTEST. Hm, that one peaked his interest at least a bit. He took a moment to read about the young man who had captured a fascinating picture of a vulture, thus winning a cash prize and a place in a nationally renowned nature magazine. Good for him. INCIDENT AT SUPERMARKET LEADS TO MULTIPLE BROKEN ARMS. Ah, a classic story of buffoons at a supermarket. Calvin always found it curious how supermarkets drew out such peculiar characters. He thought to himself that this paper was quite interesting for the most part. Moments before he set it down, he noticed something in the NEWLY LISTED COMPANIES section. Jacob Wells Inc., 439 Hollow Ave. That was the same address as yesterday; Calvin was certain of it. He squinted at it, considering the possibility of it being a typo. Perhaps someone else had purchased that space within a single day. That would explain the name change. He debated researching the location on the internet, but decided a little blip in the paper was not worth his time.

That is, until the next day.

Barbara L. Jameson Inc., 439 Hollow Ave. Calvin was thoroughly perplexed. A new company had been listed in the same exact building for three consecutive days. This discovery was quite odd. The trend also could have possibly been going on far longer than Calvin realized, and it rapidly turned gears in his head. He lowered his feet and stood up from his recliner. Marching into the kitchen with the paper in one hand, he called out to his wife.

“Linda? You read today’s paper yet?” he asked, raising his gruff voice.

“Oh yeah!” she called back from the kitchen, hollering over the sound of their coffee maker. “That vulture was quite the find! You don’t see too many of ‘em around here… good on that photographer for capturing a picture!”

Calvin walked through the open door frame to find Linda pouring herself a morning espresso. She leaned back on their tall counter, blowing gently on the surface of the coffee before taking a small sip. Her silky grey hair was pulled behind her head in a ponytail, and she was wearing a casual sweater.

Linda,” said Calvin. “I’m not talking about that. Did you check the listings for new companies today?”

“Hmmm…” she stroked her chin sarcastically. “Ya know, I really don’t think I did today… or ever.”

“Yeah, not usually the most eventful column… but for at least three days in a row now, someone new has supposedly bought the same exact business space. Three days in a row! Someone bought it and sold it, then the next person bought it and sold it, then-”

“The writers might just be playing jokes on you, dear. They probably were wondering if anyone even looks at the listings column, so they just copied and pasted the same address a few days in a row. Doesn’t make a whole lotta sense for it to be serious.”

“But, what if it is! I just wanna know-”

“Dear, put down the paper,” said Linda, meeting Calvin’s concerned eyes with her own calming ones. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

Calvin opened his mouth to speak again, but hesitated. Then he closed it. He set the paper down on the counter, realizing his discovery was most likely meaningless, and he ought to just give it up.

Until the next day.

Linda!

“Yes?”

“Another name at this damn address. 439 Hollow Avenue. Where even is that? I’m not certain I’ve ever actually been to Hollow Avenue.”

“So explain this to me again.”

“Every day, it says So-And-So Inc. has purchased this place. Every day. It’s the most peculiar thing, it truly is.”

“Well have you considered going down there? Asking them what’s going on?”

Calvin looked out the window in a subtly dramatic manner.

“I… I suppose I could. How far is the drive?”

“Pretty sure Hollow is South, toward the edge of the town. I think we drove it once coming back from a trip. We never really have any reason to go down there if we’re not leaving or returning to town.”

“So half an hour? An hour?”

“Oh goodness, are you really gonna go be a detective?”

Calvin sighed. Linda looked at him with a loving smirk that seemed to say “I can’t stop you, but there’s really no point.”

“You’re right,” said Calvin with a bit of a defeated smile. He hugged his wife with one arm before beginning to pour himself a cup of coffee.

But the next day, when that same address showed up in the paper, it started to anger him. Surely it was illegal to put false listings in the paper. But perhaps the truth of the happenings at 439 Hollow Avenue would be even more illegal. A new company every day… it did not add up. Why had no one else noticed this in the paper besides him?

Several more weeks went by like this. Some days, Calvin tried to resist looking at the NEWLY LISTED COMPANIES, but he simply could not refrain from returning to the repeated anomaly that was 439 Hollow Avenue. Tim Morrison Inc., 439 Hollow Ave. Jonathan France Inc., 439 Hollow Ave. George Rebel Inc., 439 Hollow Ave. The cycle continued, and Calvin kept coming up with excuses to avoid making the drive. But eventually, he gave in to the curiosity. To avoid an eye roll from Linda, he simply yelled “Heading out!” before leaving the house and heading to his car.

During the entire drive, he felt a sense of unease that he was unfamiliar with. In all his years, Calvin had never felt this sensation. He was used to seeing odd little things in his daily life, things that could not necessarily be explained. But for whatever reason, he was attracted to this abnormal newspaper trend like nothing else. Here he was, taking the time and effort to drive to an unfamiliar place to investigate some abnormality from a paper that did not even affect him. It felt like more than curiosity. The lack of an explanation made Calvin ache. He had to know.

The drive was barely over half an hour, but the anticipation made it feel like a lengthy road trip. When Calvin’s GPS told him he had arrived, he rolled down his window with a lightly quaking finger. The building was located exactly where the map said it would be. But there was a large pair of open double gates before a long path leading to the space. The number 439 was engraved on both gates. For some unplaceable reason, his arrival felt more disturbing than climactic. Seeing the place in person made it all feel too real.

Calvin parked his car near some signposts. He slowly stepped out of the vehicle one foot at a time, and turned away from the building to observe the signs. They seemed to have been printed fairly recently; most of them were not weathered or damaged whatsoever. Every single name he had seen in the papers during the weeks leading up to this visit was posted there, followed by one abbreviation. Three letters. INC. It was such a bizarre and surreal sight. Calvin reached out one arm and tapped his fingers on a sign to insure it was real. What could this possibly mean? Seriously, what?

He thought for a moment that all of these businesses might be sharing the space. It was the only justifiable explanation. But one head turn toward the building reminded him that it was far too small to fit all of these businesses. Skepticism set back into Calvin’s mind, and he began approaching the path, feeling like a real detective yet again. He passed through the large gates, beginning down the long stretch of pavement.

“Well…” he muttered. “This is weird.” Standing in the pathway, he suddenly realized how long it was. From a distance, it seemed like quite a decent length. But as he actually began to walk it, he realized it was going to take at least five minutes to reach the end of the path. Not a terrible hassle by any means, but still unusual. Nevertheless, he walked the entire length of it, and he became increasingly anxious with every step. At last, he reached the doorway. It was glass, and there were windows on either side of it. At first, he saw only his reflection. But as he stepped closer, he noticed at least a dozen women standing in the room. That’s it. Just standing.

Calvin bravely pulled at the door handle, given there was a sign hanging from it that read OPEN. However, it did not budge. The women inside ignored him as he repeatedly yanked at the handle. Then, he gave the door a loud knock. He struck the glass with his knuckles three times. And on the third time, all of the women simultaneously turned their heads to face him. And all at once, they began walking toward the door.

That evening, Linda had been especially tired. She had taken a couple naps during the day, and was still ready to head to bed early. She had given Calvin a couple calls, wondering about his whereabouts, but had gotten no response. She assumed he had finally worked up the nerve to investigate the strange place from the papers, and also assumed there would not be much cell service out there. So she went to bed without too much concern or worry, assuming he would come in later that night with stories to tell about this odd building. Either that, or he would return sullen without any bit of satisfying information.

In the morning, she awoke and reached a hand over to the other side of her bed, feeling nothing but more covers. Oh, god. Calvin had not returned last night. Linda immediately hopped from her bed and began shouting her husband’s name.

Calvin! Calvin! Are you home? Sweetie, where are you?” As she unfortunately expected, there was no reply.

She made it to the door, and stepped outside. Calvin’s car was not in the driveway. She put her hand over her mouth, and was petrified by the notion that some awful fate had befallen Calvin. Linda took another step, and almost tripped over the paper. She knocked it down their front steps, and it unrolled itself on the ground. She stooped over and picked it up, frustrated at that stupid column for endangering her husband. She looked at the LISTINGS one final time, and then dropped the paper out of fear, her hands returning to her mouth.

Calvin Green Inc., 439 Hollow Ave.

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