Author Topic: Fleming Storage Unit #83: Sequins and Stones  (Read 723 times)

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Lysdoodle Weaver

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    All right, my fellow Denizens of the Dark, as promised I have a story for you, so turn out the lights, grab your favorite chalice, horn or mug and sit back as your Auntie Claude tells you the tale of Number 83. It begins in Havre, Montana, a place I’d never spared a brain cell on until the beginning of October. That’s when I got a rambling email telling me I had to get my stuff out of a storage facility called Flemings before the 14th.  It read like crap spam, but I checked my lockbox anyway. Sure enough, there’s a receipt, a rental agreement, and a key. I’d been the proud owner of Unit Number 83 for just over a year. I booked a roomette on the Empire Builder out from Seattle and a little over a day later was turning a key, removing a padlock, and opening up a door to a unit I didn’t remember owning.
   For those of you who don’t know ( take a drink, folks ) Fleming’s is an outdoor self- storage facility, located on one of Havre’s few non-numbered streets. It’s between a closed down bar and a plaza of barely-making it businesses. The place itself is one giant squared outdoor horseshoe: fifty units on one side, fifty on the other, more at the back. On that day, it didn’t smell like urine or failure, like you’d expect from other storage places. In fact, there was nothing obviously eerie or foreboding about the place. It was normal, aggressively normal. It put me on edge.
    At 11 am on Tuesday the 10th, it was already crowding and buzzing with people who’d decided to beat the rush. Three police officers patrolled the area. One of them checked my paperwork and helped me find number 83, though he didn’t seem up to making sure the door stayed more than halfway up. He was a big man - in both directions- with a mustache stolen from the 70’s. He reeked of fish. Pretty much a sea lion in disguise.
   I shouldn’t say that. It’s rude, what if he’s a listener? Hey, Officer; if you are listening: showers aren’t illegal, man. Look into it. 
   I expected Number 83 to make Fibber McGee’s closet jealous. As you all know ( that’s drink two) late July and Mid-August of last year is a black hole in my memory. That’s also when most of my things, stuff I’d worked for, or worked on had gone...well, somewhere. I thought this was somewhere. I was ready for piles of books, mountains of plush animals, pyramids of music boxes, every single half-finished craft of the last fifteen years. Ya know what I got, denizens? What the great and terrible autumn spirits decided to gift me with in that unit? I’ll tell you right after this. Keep listening.
   The cold October sunlight struggled to reach to the back of the twenty-five foot interior ( I looked it up, now shut up and drink). The noise of outside was swallowed up as I walked in, the sound of my footsteps bouncing in a muffled hollowness off the concrete floor and grey siding. 
   On the right, there was a bed frame. It was metal and brass, painted a creamy white that had dried and flaked away with time. The second hand shop had billed it as “antique”. It’d been priced a $120, and ages ago I’d paid $87 for the shop owner to hold it until payday. It was leaning against something tall structure that was wrapped in thick-quilted blue-grey moving blankets. That was a large armoire, unfinished pine that curved gently at the top. Across from them, under its own moving blanket, a four-drawer vanity in rock maple part of a set. The mirror from the set faced the back wall that it leaned against and the matching bench - which held you as long as you mastered the art of lightly hovering over the wood frame - was upside down in front of that, it’s long thin legs in the air.
   I barely had time to take it all in when the light around me started dimming with a shudder and protesting shriek of metal. Obviously I’d gotten the best constructed door there. I managed to shove the it back up with just enough force that it didn’t rebound back down in response and went back to the items. As I pulled the vanity towards the middle of the room to see if ” I Love Badgers!” was still on the plywood back, something came loose and clattered to the floor. It was a small black die ( as in the singular of dice,  not as in ” learn how to word properly, Claude.” ). It had fallen onto position at number three. Once upon a time, I could have told you what that meant, but alas, dear denizens, astragalomancy is one of the other black holes in my memory.
   I’d had a habit in my youth of collecting things, and hiding them in “safe places” that I would almost immediately forget existed. Nowadays they call it A.D.D., back then it was called “get your shit together.”-ptosis. I looked under the vanity to see what else I’d stashed away over the years and found a piece of antler wedged into the back left corner. It was a deer antler, about a foot long, and with a groove carved in the center at the end where the antlers would join the deer’s head (those of you who’d like to tell me about the precise anatomy or history of antlers, that email is This particular one was covered in my poor attempts at scrimshawing geometric shapes. Not ashamed to admit it, give me a penny to trace around and at no point in my life will I manage a circle.
   I placed it on top of the vanity, then looked behind to confirmed my suspicions. Yep, “Badgers”, a word I had newly learned and decided was the best word in the world, permanently inscribed in indestructible 1980’s Pacific Blue crayon.
   That was when a car drive by. It was large - someone’s moving van - just big enough to block the way out.
   I’d swear up and down I felt fine, and there’s someone else with me. Someone else’s heart is beating fast and loud, someone else is forcing gasping breaths through tight lungs, someone else’s feet are rooted to the cement. But that someone else was doing all that using my body, the bastard. Something inside me was going to just explode.  I couldn’t make them give my body back because, at the moment, I didn’t really care, I was too dully fascinated, and dimly away of all the aches and pains that had become ignorable background noise in the last year. The door was a Hubble length away.  I shut my eyes, which helped less than not at all. The air smelled and tasted of metal. All my thoughts became one, single, certainty: I would be left here, surrounded by these things; when light touched me again, I wouldn’t be Claudine Woodbead, one of infinite voices in the digital æther.  I’d be Number 83, the way the other guy became Number 70. You all would have to live without my voice in your ears.
   That last part was a lie. I didn’t think of you guys. Sorry.
   A gradual lightening of the dark put me back in my body and when I opened my eyes again I saw the door was stuck halfway open. I had to walk carefully, fingers lightly touching the metal wall, both for balance and to make sure everything was real. Reality sounded like the buzz of moving activity, and smelled like woodrot. Next to me, a man was methodically loading carvings of animal-like objects into his truck from Number 82. I watched for a moment, partly musing on how memories have a smell, mostly trying to get my leg strength back and trying not to barf. He ignored me, the way you do with strangers on public transport. As he walked back to his unit, I caught a glint of shiny blue by his shoulder, like a sequin off dark yarn.
   I needed a break.
   All the other uniteers were dining at the plaza next to Flemings. Most popular was the Tex Mex,  or the Chinese Buffet, so I placed myself at the diner. They’d named it Inspector MooMoo’s. You heard me.  Inside was like a film noir’s bar tried to go straight by turning itself into an ice cream parlor. After the burger, I stopped trying to spot Christmas sweaters in window reflections. After the coffee I stopped shaking inside at the things I’d found in 83. In a fit of relief-insanity, I agreed to come back for their Murder Mystery Night and a sundae.
   I’ll spare you the details about the rest of the day. It was just a U-haul rental - with hand truck , furniture dollies, and straps - and phone calls to other Havre units to check their prices. A lot of discounts for Fleming’s customers, but no great prices.
   Long time listeners know how I’ve felt about driving since the accident last year, and it’s still true. But most of my money went to that train ride to Havre. A moving truck was cheaper than a hotel, and I figured if it were big enough, I could sleep in the front seat and pretend it was indestructible, with flamethrowers and hubcaps like spiked chariot wheels.
   I’d forgotten about the antler until I’d parked at a Walmart off Highway 2, when the coat I was using as a blanket poked me in the arm. I couldn’t tell you when or where I’d first gotten it. Maybe I picked it up without thinking, like I had with the die years ago. Maybe I’d actually bought it. But I’d wedged it on the underside of that vanity so it wouldn’t be found. It was something that was mine, and I hadn’t wanted Gran to find it and find a way to make it hers. At the time, I’d been thinking about making it into a tomahawk. Not good enough for throwing, but at least a thing that I’d made that was both beautiful and functional. That was the idea anyway. 
   I hear you, denizens: “Claude, you lost literally everything last year. Now you got furniture that’s not made of milk crates. There’s no down side.” You probably think I should be glad at finding these things here. You’d be wrong, however (Two drinks there).
   See the thing about all those items is, they weren’t actually mine. I’d kept them. I’d used them. Apparently I’d stored them. But they were never mine.
   They were my grandmother’s.
   And this is a problem, see, because Gran...she...
   The problem is...the issue...the thing is...
   I’m going to need some fortification for this. Join me, won’t you? Here we go.
   As you know.   
   First, some context.
   Exactly 3 and a half minutes.
   Now, one more for all the lightweights that didn’t make it this far.
   All right.
   My Gran is -was- is what’s called a Good Person. She was all poise and generosity. Got her hair curled at the salon weekly, and in the cold weather, wore those soft yarned sweater with giant multicolored sequins in the way only the eighties and old ladies can manage. She’d gotten the vanity as a kid, the year her family settled in California. Gave it to me when I was five. The water marks, the scratches in the staining, the badger thing were all me. Gran had not been pleased.
   The armoire was the gentle swoops was going to be the first thing I’d ever bought with my own money from my own job. The first I’d ever actually earned. I’d casually mentioned it to Gran. She’d shown up at my work just as I was checking out, summoned another Team Member with a metal tub for furniture moving, and led us both to the housewares section. For what felt like hours, she stood there repeating: ” Do you want it? It’s on sale. I’ll buy it for you if you want it. Don’t be selfish.  You’re wasting this man’s time, just say yes or no. Do you want it?” Completely ignored my increasingly less polite ” No” or Kevin’s growing discomfort with the whole scene.
   The bed, wait. Let’s see, we’ll go with...
   I’m an expert at this video game.
   Now, I said I’d paid $87 as a down payment on that thing. Gran came in while I was at work the next day and paid the rest. Still don’t know how she found out.
   But she made sure, each and every time, that everybody knew she had bought those for me. Because that’s what family did. Thing about people, denizens: they like believing in the goodness of others. So when you tell them that your Gran doesn’t love you, has said so, multiple times, in front of a counselor and all, you’re not believed. Gran buys you things, she takes care of you, even though her health is so poor. You’re just being selfish. Childish. I never showed anyone the Rock Box. Gran had said I was dumb as one, so I collected the rocks that were exactly as dumb as I was. There’s no emancipation as a teen, no restraining orders as an adult. Just: “sucks to be you. Good luck with that.” Police, courts, don’t care about things like that.
    I got into college 400 miles away. She’d told everybody how hard it would be for her to lose her only family, at her age, in her infirmity. I was drowned in “hints” and offers to join the local community colleges until I picked one.
   Finally got a job, got a temporary transfer to Billings, Montana. I had to bring Gran’s things, couldn’t afford my own stuff and a new place just yet. Had to sign a promise to send money, to repay her for raising me. It’s what adults do, paying folks back. She had it notarized. I “lost” the phone she’d gave me, changed my email. I’d still hear her voice in a crowd, or see her when I was shopping. Told myself it wasn’t real. Sequined sweaters never go out of style among ladies of a certain age: trees, cats, swoops and swirls, squares-within-diamonds; blues, greens, purples, reds, golds. Once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere. There had to be hundreds of women who weren’t her. There were nights I didn’t sleep, sure that she was about to threatening to break down my door and beat the shit out of me because I wouldn’t go to Ralphs and get her a soda. It was only 11:30 at night, why was I so ungrateful? It took two years before I stopped waiting for her name to come out of  every person’s mouth.
   Finally got to shop for my own furniture. I mean actually, really shop, not just create my own wishlist. That was August 16th, 2016. According to the paperwork attached to the receipt, I rented Unit 83 at three in the afternoon on August 17th, a yearly account. Saw someone very much like her on the way home, down to the glittery rainbow collar. She was waiting at the bus stop, a silver trimmed black purse placed precisely over one arm as she waited.
   You all know the rest of this story. Better than I ever will, anyway.
   Now all her stuff- all of her- was back in my life, waiting for me to take it home.
   Shouldn’t be so hard right? U-haul, new unit, new agreement, home. Forget about it until the next bill comes.
   Should’ve let it get sold at auction. Walked away and never gone back. 
   Only I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair to whoever took it on. Years of hate, tears, anger - it has a way of...of seeping into things. It’s how you get hauntings, the real kind no one can explain or cure.
   I picked Al’s Mini Storage on Wednesday. Someone had strung up a sign above two rows of shelves: “Corpse-free since ’83.” I had to admire the dedication needed to patiently unwrap from the two light posts. Spent the rest of the day taking a tour of Havre Beneath the Streets ( I recommend it. It’s what normal should feel like).  I was back Thursday afternoon, staring at that furniture again in the unnatural quiet of Unit 83. I felt 8, 12, 18 again. Everyone telling me Gran loved me, that I had to understand how she was ill and thus I had to be nice to her. She was such a hard worker and she’d sacrificed so much to make sure I’d grown up right. How could I go off and leave her alone like that? And without giving her so much as a phone call?
   Had it been this bad last year?
   I loaded the bed frame. It was hard to push, harder to pull. Would have said something was holding it back. Was probably just weaker than the last time I’d moved. I got it in the U-Haul. Went back.  The armoire would have to be last. It was heaviest. The ground shuddered under me as I loaded it.
   There’s blank space in my mind for this minute. Thought I heard a car horn. I saw a glint of glittering gold and black and a thick green. And then
   And then
   I was floating in the dark. Smothering in the voices, the guilt filling me into I was sure I would explode. I’d been selfish. Childish. I should never have left. I was going to stay here.
   Time must have passed. Hard to tell the difference between the dark and the blank spaces.
   Make something up, denizens, Take a shot.
   Fuck it, take two.
   It took forever to realize I wasn’t holding the handle of the hand truck. It didn’t have rough shapes carved in it.
   A tomahawk, stone or steel, is great for destruction. If I’d ever finished it, I could have destroyed the crap out of Gran’s things, bust a hole in the doors or the back wall. An antler was only good to drum on the siding.
   Never drum on the siding. It just makes an echo only you can hear.
   There was a thin line of grey, a Hubble length away. Beyond that, cars and people. Each move was heavy and unwilling. Less of a walk. More of a drag. Along the wall, towards the light. Wasn’t just the guilt or the voices now, but memories from the blank spaces. The feeling of being upside down. The crushing closeness. The grey line grew closer.
   I was upside down. I was sideways. Couldn’t move for the crushing metal and plastic I couldn’t see. Gran’s voice beside me with the disappointed tsk. “See what happens? Your Gran always knows what’s best for you. Now ,you just stay there. Don’t go interrupting people. Causing trouble. ”
   I did, but only cause breathing was harder. The grey line was getting hazy.
   Couldn’t open that anyway. Dumb’s a box of rocks and half as strong.
   Rocks can make a good wedge though. Failing that, an antler’d do. 
   I hard to contort my arm around the seatbelt, past the top of the driver’s seat. Into the thin line of grey of a cracked window. Each centimeter caused metal or bone chips to dig into me. I wedged the sharp tip into the light. and pushed up. A little more. The line was less hazy. The air was cold. Breathable. A little more. The bonds around me were looser. Breathing easier. Again. I could sit up. Get my fingers under the door. I shoved.
   A box of rocks can be really strong.
   That armoire’s staying where it is and getting auctioned off , haunted or not. Soon’s I can find a buyer, so’s the bed frame and the vanity set. I closed the unit that day. Went to the Murder Mystery that night.  A bunch of kids, picking random guests as suspects. Can’t even remember who did. Fairly certain it was the detective. Maybe the corpse. Best examples of overacting I’ve ever seen. Didn’t know a corpse could overact, but there you have it. Highly recommend the place. They make great sundaes. I left that night, ready to leave Havre with a happy memory and no intention of returning. And then I saw  her. Coming out Marg Madness, the Tex-Mex place. There must be hundreds of ladies with salon curled hair, with sweaters in thick soft yarn and large sequins around the collar. Hundreds of ladies stand with the grace and poise, and let their black purses perch very precisely on her arm. It couldn’t be her, but, denizens, there was no way your Auntie Claude was going to stay and find out.
(Edit: Thanks for letting me play, guys. )

« Last Edit: 10:33 PM, 12/ 7/17 by Lysdoodle Weaver »


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Very interesting. I wasn't sure about the sort of stream-of-consciousness style of narration, but by the end I thought it worked really well. Though I can't tell how literal the things being described toward the end are, I think they worked to give tone and really drive home the theme of this one.

A couple typos, but nothing too distracting. I'm glad I read this one :)
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Hey! So, sorry again it took me so long to get around to your story. I saw your post in the other thread a few days ago, and I totally blanked. That's my bad.

Anyway, I'm just gonna rock through everything that stood out to me. It's still not letting me make multiple Quotes in a single post for some reason (sorry about that too), so I'll try to keep these points in the order in which they come up in the story.
Also, I might get a little specific. Take these with a grain of salt, they're just suggestions. It's not my intention to say my way is right and yours is wrong.

[post-reading note: Many of these sentence structure and grammatical edits could be left as they are if you put a nail right on top of the whole thing that your narrator is recording this for audio rather than writing it out. She refers to her "listeners" a few times, so you could probably frame this right away with a pithy channel intro or something just so it seems like the transcript of a rambling Youtube upload. I think you'd get away with a LOT more that way...of course, bear in mind, it still needs to make sense when read, so...I dunno.]

-First off, I don't know if it's unreasonable to assume that the Units would have made the news, but it may put you on thin ice in the realism department.
-At the end of your first paragraph, I think "-didn't remember owning" would hold the past tense a bit better than "-don't remember owning". Your narrator has remembered it now.
-I like the humor you drop in with "go ahead and take a shot", but you might want that as a parenthetical. The humor makes it less formal, and addressing the audience directly even more so. Parentheses can be touchy sometimes, though, so this is one of those 'be it forever on your head' kind of notes.
-"closed down bar and plaza" made me think they were the same place. Maybe: "closed down bar, and a plaza".
-Quick rewrite: "One giant outdoor hallway--fifty units on one side, fifty on the other, with more at the back..." If you don't like hyphens, you could probably get away with a colon or even just keeping the comma, depending on the rhythm you were going for.
I'd also refrain from using the numerical 50, especially given that the units themselves have numbers.
-Hit the smell of urine and failure with a mention of what normally would have had that smell, like other storage facilities or something. The way you have it makes it sound like clean air is globally exclusive to the facility.
-Maybe find a different example other than "flea market" or "farmers' market". Using 'market' twice feels a little awkward.
-Where you mention the officer's fishy smell, separate that from the previous fragment. As you say "WITH a mustache" directly before it, I was expecting another noun. You could maybe say "a smell of fish" to follow the 'with', or even just make that its own sentence: "He reeked of fish" to really hit it more sharply.
-Ah..."he might be a listener"...we have the mention of an audio medium. Nice.
-"Hey, if you are hearing this, Officer". That second comma means she's talking to the officer, and not saying that we might be hearing an officer. I hope that makes sense.
-"music boxes, and". What can I say? I'm an Oxford Comma man.
-Same with "15 years", I'd spell that out rather than using the numerical.
-"...15 years. All the things that had gone..."
This is another one of those comma, colon, hyphen sorts of issues, but I don't think it should be its own sentence as it is.
-Fibber McGee's a good reference. Makes me consider the narrator's age.
-I know "It wasn't" would work in the paragraph because you preface it with "Number 83 should have been", but you preface it more closely with "It should have made" which throws off my inner syntax.
-"hollow echo", not "hallow echo".
-"23 feet back" is awfully specific for someone without a tape measure. Maybe something like "A little over twenty feet" might feel more conversational.
-Unless previously mentioned or immediately described, I would drop 'the' from "the blue-grey moving quilts".
-"in chipped white" makes me think that's a type of 'egg shell white'.
-I've never known resale stores to be called 'second shops', but that might be a local thing.
-I'd hyphenate "four drawer"...four-drawer.
-"small black die, that had" quick rewrite "small, black die which had".
-Comma after "Once upon a time".
-"wedged in the corner" -comma- "just by the back right leg"
-"At some point" -comma- "I'd covered it"
-"I placed it on top of the vanity" -comma-
-Either "to confirm" or "and confirmed my suspicions" not "to confirmed my suspicions".
-With "Yep, badgers" I would put the word badgers in quotes, and capitalize it as before.
-Weird spacing before "Two shots there", and I would put a comma before 'there'.
-Nice reference to 82, but it seems pointless. Maybe make the guy loading statues into his truck more personal...notice her, or remind her of something, that kinda thing, just bridge that gap a little more.
-This is informal. You get to start a sentence with "But", though do put a comma after it.
-"With a hand truck" could also be a parenthetical.
-"I'd forgotten about the antler until I'd parked". After the first "I'd", you're already set in the past-past-tense (I don't know what that's called), so just "until I parked" might smooth that out, I think.
-"parked in a Walmart parking lot" feels a little parking repetitive. Maybe just "-at a Walmart"? The lot, I think, is implicit.
-"...but at least a thing I made, that was both beautiful..." Quick Rewrite: "...but at least a thing I'd made which was both beautiful..."
Or, possibly: "...a thing I'd have made...". Hard to say. Double past-tense future aspirations are always a little wonky.
-Those three, standalone quotations threw me.
-"she stood there repeating" -colon-
-"Completely ignored my increasingly...". I think you want 'ignoring' rather than 'ignored', because Gran's already repeatING. Unless, that is, you completely separate that and just say "SHE completely ignored..."
-I don't know what to make of the bit about Kevin growing discomforted. If it was another protest, put it in quotes.
-"she made sure that everybody knew she had bought" -it- "for me"
-I like the Rock Box bit.
-Oooh. Here's a fun one. If you italicize "courts", it could imply that she's thinking of one court in particular...really humanize it.
-"Just" -colon- ""Sucks to be you. Good luck with that.""
-I don't know what you mean by: "In two years before I stopped waiting for her name in from every person's mouth."
-Curious use of a semicolon after "Years of hate, tears, anger". I'm hesitant to say that's 'wrong' because semicolons are wacky like that, but it did give me a second of pause.
You're daring, I'll give you that.
-By: "the guilt filling me into" did you mean something like "the guilt flooding into me"...?
-I'd drop quotation marks around "tsk".
-Maybe lose the comma in "A box of rocks, can be really strong"
-Same with "A bunch of kids, picking random guests as suspects." Lose that comma.
-Maybe "Can't even remember who dunnit" as opposed to just "-who did"...? Lean into that noir lingo with it?

OKAY. Wow. Okay...that looks like a lot, but I really liked this.
It very much picked up right around the halfway mark, which was great, and I don't think that acceleration would have worked nearly as well if I hadn't been so lost for the first half. This is tricky territory to be in, because you did almost lose me early on. The humor you weave into it did a lot to keep me on track.
Of humor, I wouldn't say there's too much of it, so don't worry about that. A miserable reminiscence gets to be a little sardonic, and your narrator's voice is perfect for that.
By the end of it, I THINK I know what's going on, though I'm not certain. That's more tricky territory, but definitely not bad. I was willing to give you and the story the benefit of the doubt for how fun it was to read, and tightening it up with some of those edits would put you on safer ground.
I didn't feel cheated by the end, that's my point.

Again, I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I hope you still have time before the deadline.
Shoot me a personal msg. or something if you want clarification on anything. That brick of text I've sent you might be hard to parse through, and I'm writing this as fast as I can so as to not waste any more time.

[also, I JUST cottoned on to the idea that you may have been intentionally filling this with meme fodder. Here, I thought your narrator was just an alcoholic, not literally playing a drinking game. Like I said...daring...but you may be overstepping there. If I'm wrong about that and just seeing conspiracies, don't mind me...]
« Last Edit: 05:18 AM, 12/ 6/17 by Bosencaine »
Nightmares can be such flimsy things with such voracious appetites. Turn them away once and they can starve.

Lysdoodle Weaver

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Thanks 112% for the critiques guys. A lot of errors are there that is the result of my pushing myself to just get it done and I've already started on the rewrite. Once upon a time I was an English major, but I was not a good English major. I'll discuss literature til forever and geekout with you over Shakespeare, Sullivan's Travels, or Robert Koch's War of the Worlds but my knowledge of grammar and sentence structure leave a lot to be desired. The issue of numericals, like "13" rather than "thirteen" is a problem the interwebs did nothing to clear up for me.

I'm still waffling about the drinking game myself. On the one hand, I'm sure nothing will be lost by cutting it. On the other hand, it's when I "listen" to the character, that's what I'm transcribing so (dot) (dot)(dot) *shrug* We'll see what the Edit gremlins bring.

Sleeping now, editing tomorrow, hopefully be ready by tonight.

P.S. - Oxford comma's for the win *fist bump*