By Jesse Blake McCann
I don’t remember much when I first woke up on my last day in the apartment. It was all routine: wake up at 1pm slightly hungover, shower, and get ready for my job at the department store. I remember I was dreading that day because we had to take down all the Halloween decorations and replace them with Thanksgiving, meaning a lot of packing, unpacking, carrying heavy boxes, moving displays, and waking up the next day feeling like all my muscles had been punched repeatedly by small children.
I remember Trey caught me in the hallway as I was about to leave for work. He came out of his room with a shy smile and wearing a yellow Spongebob bathrobe that was too small for him. Usually my alarm wakes me up, but this afternoon it was the rhythmic creaking of Trey’s wooden bed frame and the muffled squeals.
“Hey man,” Trey said in his usual empty and innocent tone, “Off to work?”
Trey looked and acted like a surfer, though as far as I knew, he had never rode one wave. He was tan with tone muscles, and had a handsome face consisting of blue eyes and a mess of dirty blonde hair.
“Yeah,” I said and made a miserable face at the green button up shirt I was wearing, “Another eight hours of volunteer incarceration for a paycheck.”
“Drag man,” Trey said, “I thought people got Halloween off. Like, isn’t it a national holiday or something?”
I stared at him and waited for a laugh. When he continued to look at me with a serious expression, I said, “My work doesn’t recognize religious holidays.”
“Ah, that sucks,” he said, and then he lowered his voice slightly. “Hey, I’m having a 7 over tonight at 11. Is that cool?”
A sour chemical released into my brain that was probably jealousy and a little bit of annoyance at his transparent lady code and his subtle message to leave the living room free and give them plenty of space.
“7? You’re slipping. Last night you had an 8, at least” I said, and felt a tinge of anger that meant my comment was more than just a light jab at him.
“Shhh,” Trey said and looked back at his door, “Keep your voice down.”
“Yeah, that’s fine. I’m going to be so exhausted tonight, I’m just going to come in and crash.”
He beamed at me, and his ridiculously small bath robe opened more in the front, revealing a smooth and broad chest.
“Thanks, man.” He turned and went back into his room. I got a glimpse of a head with long brown hair sleeping on the left side of his bed before he shut the door.
Trey and I got along well enough, but we were never close, even when we were rooming with each other in our failed college days. His character had little substance beyond talking about the Fast and Furious movies and planning the next time he smoked pot. Trey got most of his money from his rich parents who lived in the adjacent beach town, though he had a casual job at a local beer and wine market.
I passed through our living room and descended down the long staircase. The most interesting aspect of our apartment was the front door, which was on the first floor despite the rest of the apartment being on the second. If you opened it, you’d find there were only tiled grey stairs on the right that would take you up to where we lived.
I felt my cellphone vibrate twice in my front pocket. Once outside, I turned and locked the door before I pulled out my phone to read the text message.
The table in the living room is a mess. Please clean it up tonight.
The message was from Allison. I sighed and rolled my eyes for no one’s pleasure but my own. Lately Allison had been resorting to text messages to complain instead of coming to me directly (probably due to the increase in frequency I was “asleep” when she knocked on my door). I found this more annoying than when she delivered her complaints in person– it felt like she was sending me a corporate e-mail with an assignment instead asking her roommate to do something. But that was Allison in a nutshell.
Allison was a tall and skinny brunette with a sharp nose and cute face. Her eyes, which were an interesting shade of dark green, seemed permanently narrowed in judgement. I mostly saw her as she was going or returning from her work wearing professional business skirts with high heels and some flowery perfume. She worked at a law firm, or a bank, or something like that, and was doing her best to put out the ambitious vibe of a mid-twenty-year-old looking to move up the corporate ladder.
Admittedly, her complaint via text wasn’t invalid: the table was a mess. Two nights ago I drank one and a half bottles of wine and thought I had a good idea for a dramatic comic book. I spread a large stack of computer paper across the flat surface of the round table and began to draw figures and panels that made no sense the next morning.
I replied back “okay”, even though at the time I wanted to send a less mature response like, “We wouldn’t even have a table to make a mess on if I didn’t get one.”
I always thought it was strange an overachiever like Allison lived with us; Trey was basically a burn out and I had nothing really going on in my life besides video games, weekend beers with friends, and one fourth of a novel I would rave about when I was really drunk. Perhaps she liked the cheaper rent because it allowed her to save money and invest. Or maybe all she needed were people who paid the rent on time. Mostly.
“Hey,” said a voice from behind me as I stepped out my front door. I turned around in mild surprise.
Standing in the long space between the apartment complex’s front doors and the tall fence of the next building over was the lengthy form of Staf, our neighbor. I felt a balloon deflating in my head, and the air rushing out said “Craaaaaaaaap.”
“Oh, hey Staf. You scared me,” I said with a cheery and false tone I instantly disliked, “But I guess that’s appropriate, with Halloween and all that.”
Staf looked at me and didn’t react. This was odd behavior for the middle-age man who was already strange; usually he laughed at everything with dry heaves that could be mistaken for a cough. In fact, he looked completely devoid of anything jolly that afternoon. Dark circles were under his wide eyes and, coupled with his premature wrinkles from whatever substance he was abusing, he had a vacant and haunted look.
I waited for him to ask to bum a cigarette (even though I didn’t smoke), or complain about something that went wrong today and then indirectly state racist reasons why society’s gone downhill, but instead, he asked,“Hey, when did you come home last night?”
The question felt strangely intrusive, as if he was asking my penis size.
“I got home around 10pm, just after work. Why?”
Again, a long pause, and he looked over my shoulder. I looked behind me, and saw nothing but the quick metal glint of passing cars on the large street in front of our apartment.
“Last night,” he said, “I saw someone standing on the street divider, in the middle there.”
“Oh. I didn’t notice anyone as I was coming in.”
“I came out for a smoke,” he continued as if he didn’t hear me, “Must’ve been ‘round midnight. There were no cars passing, it was late, you know. And there was this guy standing there.”
Staf pointed to a spot on the divider and I looked over again.
“I couldn’t see ‘em well, though. There was only that damn ugly orange street light, and it wasn’t very bright. But there was something wrong with this guy. He was tall and looked like he was wearing a big coat. And… somethin’ about him was off, and he was just…facing me.”
“Did you yell at him?” I said, “Tell him to stop being a creep?”
“No,” he said and shook his head, “I didn’t want to. It was like, if I did, he would have a reason to come over.”
I glanced at the non-existent watch on my wrist.
“I rubbed out my cig and went back inside, not even lookin’ back. When I got the courage an hour or so later, I popped my head out. He wasn’t there anymore.”
“I got to go, Staf,” I said, “I’m going to be late for work.” I turned away from him in a manner I hoped was polite but firm.
I felt Staf’s twig fingers tightly grip my shoulder from behind. I made a less-than-manly squawk of surprised and turned around to face him. His large eyes were rapidly searching my face in a way that reminded me of cornered cat.
“The worst part,” he said, and took a hard swallow, “The worst part was…he was… I don’t know… Maybe it was the bad lighting, but it kind of looked like he knew I was creeped out and was…shakin’ with excitement.”
I backed up slowly from Staf and felt his hand slide off my shoulder. I watched him and didn’t know what to do next. I was pretty sure the scrawny bastard could catch me if I ran.
Thankfully, he took a few steps back himself and moved to his door. With his hand on the knob, he looked at me one last time.
“Be careful when you’re coming home. I’m gonna call the cops if I see that guy again. But you should still lock your door.”
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t take my eyes off of him until he opened his front door and moved inside, looking like a dazed turkey.
I turned around and began to walk to my car. I heard a slam behind me and the strong snap of a deadbolt.
Setting up the Thanksgiving decorations was about as horrible as I expected. By the end of the shift, the bottom of my feet ached and there was a mild pain in my lower back. Even worse, the boss asked us to do an hour of overtime. By the end of the shift, I was so tired of hearing his voice that I prayed that he would choke on his own tongue
I entered the apartment just after 11:30pm, heavy with exhaustion. I looked up the long stairway and groaned lightly, but carried myself up. I passed the kitchen, which had a window that filtered in the dull orange street light and provided enough illumination so I could vaguely navigate through the dark living room . When I was almost to the bedrooms, I saw the shadow of the mess I made on the table. I snorted; there was no way I was cleaning that up tonight. Let Allison flip out in the morning.
In the bedroom hallway, I saw my two roommates had shut their door, which is the international roommate sign for “I’m home and don’t want to be bothered.”
‘I can relate,’ I thought, as I entered my room and shut my own door.
I flipped on the small light on my side table and collapsed onto my bed. I used my feet to pry off my shoes as I lay at an awkward angle on my comforter.
‘I’m going to close my eyes for just just a second,’ I thought, ‘Then I’m going to… not sleep. Because I earned a night of… whatever.’
My plan failed, however, and almost instantly I was pulled into deep sleep with my work clothes still on. It wasn’t until later, when I was giving my statement to a serious-looking police officer with a notepad, that I realized that I didn’t even think to check if there was anyone standing in the middle of the street.
My eyes shot open to the sound of a deep electric shock. It took me a moment to register my phone was buzzing against my keys on my computer desk. I looked up at my clock and saw the red digits displayed 12:57am.
I sat up in bed and made a sleepy moan as I stretched. I stared at the floor for a bit and waited for waking thoughts to replace the fragments of sleep still drifting in my brain. In the background, I vaguely registered the sound of Trey’s bed frame creeking.
The second buzzing from my phone caused me to stir. I stood up, feeling like bruised meat, and picked up my cell phone. There were two new text messages, both from Allison and both with the same message:
don’t forget to lock the door.
A red anger broke through the fog of sleepiness, and I responded with “Thanks, Mom. I did”.
There was a slamming sound from Trey’s room as bedsprings and wood cried out. I jumped slightly and cursed his name under my breath.
I was more awake than I liked, so I decided I would just make the best of it. I sat in my computer chair and opened my web browser, where I was most likely going to look up porn.
There was a slight rattle on my desk as the phone vibrated again. I was a little apprehensive to see Allison’s reply to my sarcastic text, but I looked anyway.
good because I did not take the walk and assure everything was locked
I considered her message for a moment, and wondered if Allison was tipsy. I replied, “Don’t worry, I got it.”
Immediately after I sent the text, I received a new one.
all good boys brush their teeth before bed
I felt an annoyance burn on the sides of my head. I quickly typed back, “I have limited texts. Stop wasting them with stupid messages.” I sent the text and wished I still had a flip phone so I could slam it shut. Instead I just threw the phone on my desk where it clattered loudly.
I sat back in my chair and rubbed my eyes. I couldn’t believe Allison wouldn’t even come out of her room to talk to me, even if she was mad. She could be condescending and a nag, but she had never been this immature.
I stood up with the intention to sooth my anger with late night cereal, and realized I had to pee. I had the silly thought that if I went into the bathroom, Allison would think I was doing what she was recommending via texts.
‘That’s stupid,’ I thought, ‘What am I going to do? Not use the bathroom all night because of a weird message from a roommate?’
I opened my door and made my way across the dark hall to the bathroom. I was about to turn on the hall light, but stopped. Trey’s door was opened slightly, revealing a line of darkness that peeked inside his room. There was no more rambunctious noise.
I decided then that Trey’s midnight romp probably loosened the door out of its frame. I smiled a little and slipped inside the bathroom. I shut the door before I turned on the light.
As I lifted the toilet seat and relieved myself, I looked to my left. The shower was drawn, and I could see a blue map of the entire world in the curtain folds. Allison had bought this for the apartment, claiming it would help us practice geography while we showered. I rolled my eyes and flushed.
I glanced at Allison’s room as I passed it on my way to the kitchen, and I saw no light was coming from beneath the door. She might be sleeping or watching a movie on her laptop in the dark. I considered knocking on the door to ask what was up with her texts, but I was too tired to start a fight tonight and I didn’t want a naked Trey coming out to try and keep the peace.
I maneuvered in the dark to the kitchen and flipped on the light. Under the bright fluorescents, I grabbed a big bowl and filled it with a knock-off brand of Captain Crunch. I turned off the light and nearly tripped over a TV tray as I made my way back to my room eating cereal. As I shut my door and sat down, I wasn’t surprised to see I had another text message. I sighed and navigated the phone menu to open it.
you did not brush your teeth
My first response was to snap back “How the hell do you know?”, but after a deep breath and counting to five, I decided if I wanted to carry out an evening without this stress, I would at least have to attempt some conflict resolution. So I texted this: “Allison, if this is about the messy table, I’m sorry. I was very tired when I came home from work. It’s been a long day. I promise it will be the first thing I do tomorrow.”
I put down my phone, and was only able to glance at my first e-mail before I got a reply.
allison was a bad little girl
This text was from a number I didn’t recognize. An uncomfortable cold feeling bloomed in the back of my head. I thought this must be some late Halloween prank Allison was playing with a friend, only… when did Allison gain a sense of humor? And did she even have friends?
The sounds in the house came into sharper focus outside my closed door. I could hear the hollow yawn of passing cars from the street, and the rhythmic groans of Trey’s wood frame was going again.
The cell phone buzzed again. It was from another unknown number with an area code I’ve never seen.
never peep, never embark. good children keep their eyes shut tight in the dark
There was a picture attached to this message. It showed a line of light from a door slightly opened and looking out into a dark hallway. And though there was only the faint glow of orange, my outline moving toward the bathroom was as unmistakable as the large shadow that stood not too far behind me.
I stood up and walked over to my closest. I dug through the junk until I found an old wooden bat I had found sitting out with someone’s trash a few months back. The wood was dark and warped from too many days exposed to the elements.
I told myself I was probably overreacting; that I would exit my room and Allison would pop out and laugh at me for looking like a paranoid crack dealer. And I hadn’t heard anyone moving through the apartment. There were only the sounds of a cheap bed being used for Trey’s one night stand, but… even that made me feel uneasy for a reason I couldn’t quite pinpoint.
I opened my door, and it made a creaking sound that was louder than I would’ve liked. The blackness of the hallway was before me. A few minutes ago, I could cut through the dark like the air it was made of, but now it was like I was moving at the bottom of the ocean. My senses were on full alert, but I heard and saw nothing; even the sounds from Trey’s room had stopped. I moved down the short hallway as fear grabbed the sides of my stomach and pulled.
Allison’s door, like Trey’s, was now slightly open, an inky black line that could hold anything behind it.
‘She’s watching me. She’s watching me freak out from her room,’ I told myself.
My fear turned into a burning and embarrassed fury. I strutted forward and pushed open Allison’s door with a small force.
“Allison, will you cut out this bullshit?” I said and fumbled for the light switch next to her door, “I’m tired and–”
I snapped on the light. The room was empty. There was only the neat orderliness of her room. I turned around and moved with determined strides into the bathroom with my bat dangling at my side.
The lightswitch made a lonely echo against the bathroom acoustics, and revealed no one. Just a toilet, sink, and empty shower stall with all of our shampoos and soaps. The sight, however, caused the arteries in my heart to freeze.
I flinched at the buzzing in my front pocket. I forgot I had shoved my phone in there before I had stood up to get my bat. I dug into my pants and pulled it out.
The caller ID didn’t show a number. Instead, it was a random assortment of letters, numbers, and characters. But the message attached was clear:
bad boys who sneak out of bed always end up dead
I looked from the text to the shower curtain bunched on one side of the tub. Miinutes before, it had been drawn.
Noise erupted from Trey’s room. I don’t know if it was the state I was in or if I didn’t notice it before, but the sounds were more like wild animals thrashing than lovers tangling under the sheet.
“What the fuck,” I said outloud to an apartment that had become a new and terrible place. Then the phone vibrated in my hand and I cried out softly.
It wasn’t a mystery number this time. Oh no, there was no mystery who sent the text.
Found a 9 at a hween party. not coming home. sry I didnt text earlier
It was from Trey. Trey. Trey Trey Trey.
My mind repeated his name over and over again, faster and faster, and my heart rate increased to keep pace.
I fled from the room. I used the narrow hallway wall to pull myself forward quicker. I didn’t dare look toward Trey’s room for fear of seeing some horrible face peeking out at me, perhaps ready to take a more intimate picture. I scrambled through the living room, knocking over the TV tray I had bumped into earlier, and passed the kitchen. I thought I saw a large cocoon-shaped shadow lying just outside the orange square of light coming in from the window above the sink. But I didn’t stop to look or process it. Every unknown and dark corner was now a potential for a new kind of horror, and I needed to get out.
I almost hit the wall at the top of the stairs, which would probably have caused me to go tumbling down. But instead I was able to brace myself with my palms, and then quickly turn around and grab the handrails.
There was something at the bottom of the stairway, hiding in the darkest gradient of the shadows.
It was a mass of black. It was crouching and looking away from me. Staf’s words shot back to me like a bullet in the brain: “He was tall and looked like he was wearing a big coat.”
I stopped and almost fell forward from my panicked momentum. I watched in horror as my cell phone flew out of my hand and launched itself down the stairs.
It landed about halfway down and made a sharp plastic clattering sound. Amazingly it didn’t break. It just tumbled down the rest of the stairs and landed at the feet of the thing. The creature jerked its head toward the phone. After a few seconds, my phone buzzed twice on the ground, and in the long hallway it sounded like organs grinding in a woodchipper. The thing slowly looked up at me, and with the little light coming from behind me, I saw white reflections in its pure black pupils.
It stood up. It was hard to judge its height and my terrified memories may have made the thing even taller. But it was big nonetheless– certainly over six feet. I understood then what Staf meant by knowing that something was wrong with it just by looking at its outline: the proportions were off. Its body was big and husky, but the head was too skinny to be human. Its arms were long and they swung on its sides like a twisted orangutan as it started to ascend the stairs.
It moved too quickly for something that size. Occasionally the body would twitch and it would be closer, or on the other side of the stairs, as if I was watching a movie with missing frames. And there was this chattering sound, like the sound of sharp teeth rapidly clicking together, but I saw no mouth. The thing was like nothing I had ever seen, but I knew on a deep, primal level that it was a predator.
My feet would not respond to my command to run, as if the creature’s hands held my shoes below the carpet. And I realized with a fear almost too much for my sane mind to handle that as it grew closer, black tendrils were expanding from the sides of its head.
I screamed and the stairway echoed back a hoarse and pathetic whine. I spun around and ran a few steps, but my bat got caught between my legs. I didn’t even realize I dropped it. What happened next is a memory that’s burned into me so deep, I can replay the entire scene in my head at any pace.
I fell forward and saw the edge of the white table before I struck it. Luckily I was able to put out my hands and brace myself before impact. My right palm hit the edge hard, and I heard a small crack somewhere in my hand.
The circular table I landed on was pushed down by my weight, causing the other side to flip up. And I saw, as I landed on my side and faced my pursuer, many sheets of white paper launch into the air, along with a single half-empty bottle of wine.
The wine bottle shot into the face of the creature that was almost on top of me, followed by a thick bundle of white sheets. There was a shatter and the sound of a thousand tiny screams, as if a spider colony had just been smashed. I scrambled up as wine droplets rained down and didn’t look back.
I saw the large cocoon-shaped lump in the kitchen again as I rushed by. I don’t know if it’s the years adding more horrible details, but I thought I saw a high heel sticking out.
I made it into my room and then slammed the door and locked it. I threw my computer chair in front of it and frantically looked around the room. The only way out was the window, and that was fine by me.
I slid the sliding glass open and tried to push out the screen. I yelped as a lightning bolt of pain shot through my right hand. I pulled it back and looked at the screen that had hardly budged.
A rapid clicking from down the hall sent my mind reeling around the room for anything that could help. My eyes settled on my keys, still on my computer desk.
I punctured a hole in the screen with a violent jab from my long car key. About the same time, a large mass slammed against the door. I picked up my efforts and used my left hand to tear a hole
“Good boy, you locked your door,” I heard a voice from the other side of the door say. It spoke in a harsh inhaled breath, “Time for bedtime prayers.”
I screamed out my window and tore a slit about two feet long. I pushed my head through and heard the screen rip further. There was another slam behind me and I felt a chunk of splintered wood hit me in the back. I pushed my body against the screen like a newborn trying to escape a dying womb.
The door burst open and slammed the wall. I heard a scraping on the carpet and I gave one last leap against the screen and…
I was free. The air was rushing up at me and everything was spinning, but I was free.
I landed on my left side on the grass in front of my apartment building. Vaguely I heard a deep crack in my left arm and a few snaps in my rib area, then my body was rocked with a new pain. I rolled on my back to get off the bones I just broke.
The creature was staring down at me from my open window. Its dark eyes pierced me and I heard a light clicking noise. The oil-colored tendrils on the side of its head were feeling the air.
It continued to look at me for a moment longer. Then I blinked, and it was gone.
Staf found me outside on the ground first. When I told him that thing in the street was in my apartment, he screamed and fled down the sidewalk. He must’ve stopped and called the cops at one point though, because they arrived ten minutes later. A deus ex machina too late.
After the ambulance came and took me away, they searched the apartment. Of course they found nothing but my broken door. There were no signs of my phone or Allison’s. Well, there were no signs of Allison ever again.
Her car was parked in her spot behind the apartment. There were no indications of a struggle or witnesses that saw her get kidnapped or anything. The police questioned me in the hospital and I told my story above. I got the sense they were suspicious. I mean, I don’t blame them. All I had to back up my story was a broken door and escape injuries.
Apparently there wasn’t enough evidence to indicate foul play on my part, because no one ever accused me a murder. And as far as I know, the missing person case is still open on Allison. I’ve thought about visiting her family, but what could I tell them that wouldn’t make me look like a guilty maniac? And the thought of seeing their faces, whether they were in grief or anger, was too much for me.
Trey came to visit me before I was released from the hospital. He said that my room was still open and he would even cover the rent for the month I was in the hospital. I thanked him and said there was no fucking way I could live in that apartment after what happened.
I have a bachelor pad now. It takes up a lot of my paycheck, but I don’t mind. I don’t go out much anymore and I no longer pay for a cell phone. I keep all the lights on because it allows me to see every corner of the small apartment, as long as the bathroom door is open.
I took an earlier shift at work too. I don’t like to come home after sunset anymore; the orange glow of the streetlights create too many deep shadows in the driveway.
I once asked a friend who couldn’t swim what it felt like when he got into the water. I was curious because I grew up in Los Angeles, where everyone has a pool, so I knew how to swim before I even had a fully conscious mind. He told me he had a distrust of the water; he didn’t believe that it would keep him afloat.
After that night, I felt the same way about day-to-day living. The ground rules of reality were now something that was not guaranteed. Things happened that night that went outside anything I have ever known, and I would never tread too deep again or I was sure I would drown.