“Have you been getting enough sleep?”
“Yes. For the hundredth time. Yes. How many more times are you going to ask me that? I have a class to get to.”
“Well your father and I just worry, that’s all.” Reassured my mother from the other end of the phone line. “Between your place, college and your job. Honey, you need to look after yourself.”
“I’m fine.” I lied. “I’ve been sleeping fine.” The lying continued. I yawned but had to cover the mouthpiece so she wouldn’t hear.
“You know, I heard that place is haunted.”
“Some poor guy went missing from there a while back and they never found him…”
“Are you finished? I really have to—“
“Janice told me that down at the supermarket. Nice woman. But did you hear she left her husband for his—“
I hung up. I certainly had not ingested enough coffee to deal with that this morning. I fearfully glanced at my watch. I was already running late for my lecture so I made my way for the door.
The apartment block was a little worse for wear. However, for now, it was home. Adorned with dilapidated red brick, it stood rather grimly in an even grimmer neighborhood. Said bricks were covered with various graffiti tags. The artists marking their territory. Why anybody would want to own such an establishment was beyond me. Apparently, even monetary gain proved to be an insubstantial reason to hold on to it. My landlord Rick has been trying to shake it for years. He told me some had been interested, but all potential buyers upon viewing, decided they had too much self-respect to buy it and “do that to themselves”. They realized that with the building, they were also inheriting all of its ailments. Euthanasia seemed the most logical approach for the place. The pipes were leaking. The ceiling was leaking. And, apparently it was haunted. It didn’t entirely matter that my shower was on the fritz because I was treated to a lovely cold splash of water that fell on me while standing at the kitchen sink due to the apartment above me. Needless to say the gentleman from 27D was taken off the Christmas card list.
However many secrets the ramshackle apartment had, I was convinced its residents had more. It was just when I was leaving my bath tub of an apartment, when my aloof neighbour, 13C, was leaving his apartment. Ever since I had moved into my four walled puddle, this man has always given me the creeps. Every Saturday, without fail, there would be banging noises from his apartment. Thunderous thuds. As if he were trying to punch a hole in the wall. For all I know, he was. It wasn’t just the performance of Satan’s concerto though. He had that look about him. The look of someone who probably killed rats for sport in their youth. He had a shaved head and a seemingly permanent scowl. His sharp facial features would appear nearly attractive if it weren’t for his sallow skin. What looked like black eyes had dark bags beneath them. On his person, a worn hoodie, ripped jeans and boots that had been through the mill. I often thought that if he were in a police line-up for committing a crime. I wouldn’t care what type of crime it was or who else was there. He’d be guilty. Case closed. Everyone else can go home. We got him.
As I saw him close the door to his apartment, I made haste for the old fashioned industrial elevator with the vertically opening door. My eyes were sluggish from sleep deprivation and I struggled to find the button to the lobby. I massaged my right temple as I felt another headache come on.
Just then, 13C entered the elevator, panting with exertion. Being dragged along behind him, a very sizeable and presumably very heavy black bag.
He reached for the button for the lobby and asked, “Going down?”
I nodded in affirmation.
Never in my three months of living at this apartment had I spoken to the man. And with good reason. Those loud thuds I heard in his apartment, I liked to write off as him engaging in some late night carpentry activities. It was easier to think of it that way. Far easier when I was lying awake at three in the morning. However, I saw he was carrying this conveniently human sized bag. That possibility faded, along with my composure. I didn’t dare meet his eyes as he pushed the elevator button. The door shut and I could feel my long dormant claustrophobia wash over me like the second hand water from the ceiling of my apartment. I began to tremble ever so slightly. Not yet so noticeable that 13C would notice, but it wouldn’t be long. I took solace in the fact it would only be a few more seconds until we would be in the lobby around potential witnesses, should I suddenly be impaled by a knife of his.
Five. My palms are sweating.
Four. My breathing is beginning to become erratic.
Three. The tremors are exacerbated by the suspense but I only have two more seconds to wait.
Two. The elevator grinds to halt.
I’m startled, but the ice man doesn’t display so much as a flinch. With every fibre of my being I curse this fucking apartment block. For all its faults, it never put me in a potentially life threatening situation.
I don’t care what the landlord says, I’ll knock this place down myself. I’m sure a stiff gust of wind would suffice. In the midst of my internal ranting monologue, I caught myself. 13C had not yet moved. He stared directly ahead as if nothing had happened. The bag still at his side. To his left and to my right. After what seemed like a millennium, the excruciating silence between us was palpable. I haven’t the foggiest what possessed me, but I felt as though I should break the ice before he potentially breaks my skull. You know, out of courtesy. The question of what was actually in the bag was gnawing at me like a…well I would say rat but that wouldn’t be appropriate given his past.
I leaned toward him to the minutest degree whilst I looked at the bag to give the air of a normal conversation. ‘So uh’ I croaked and thus cleared my throat, ‘what have you got there?’ I asked, despite the fact that I was terrified of the potential answers.
He shrugged with a casual indifference and replied with a low and apathetic voice, ‘just a few bits and pieces.’
With a large mental stick, I beat back the image of these ‘few bits and pieces’ as being a ‘few bits and pieces’ of the anatomical variety.
The elevator lighting was harsh. Far too bright for my piercing headache to agree with. It turned his already pale skin to an off-white colour, which combined with the shaved head made his head appear as if it were a skull. The lights were flickering. The shadows danced across his scalp and deepened his cheekbones to the point where he really did look like a skeleton. His already dark eyes turned into gaping holes in his head.
13C looked down to his large bag, as if to make sure it hadn’t wandered off on him. But as I was sure there were remains in the bag, remains generally remained stationary. The lights continued their seizure inducing ballet. The bag on the floor was still. Mind numbingly so. I needed it to move. I needed a contortionist to unzip it and jump out. I needed to see it move so I could unzip it to see a dove fly out. I needed anything other than how still it was.
I closed my eyes and shook my head. I was losing it.
The elevator shaft creaked and in my agitated state I could have sworn its walls were closing in around me. A metal snake ready to asphyxiate its prey.
My head was pounding.
There was the buzzing of electricity and creaking of the old complaining machinery. Sounds of ecstasy at having trapped me. This all amounted to a deep growling noise coming from below us. If this elevator were to plummet, I thought, we would bypass the ground floor, the basement, the crust of the earth. I had an inkling we would descend straight into hell itself, what with the demonic noise emanating from below us.
To my right, the flesh and blood incarnation of its malice. I was really shaking now. I moved my sweaty palms to zip down my jacket and alleviate some of the heat. ‘God it’s boiling in here.’ I said, almost to myself.
13C sighed. ‘Yeah. I’d kill for a cold drink.’
I gulped hard. ‘Fuck.’
‘What was that?’
‘I didn’t say anything!’ I was panicking now. He could see it on my face. He was looking at me strangely. He could smell the fear. With his ebony eyes staring deep into my soul, I shook like a leaf in a hurricane. I took what I was sure was my last breath and said ‘It must have just been the ele–‘. And just then the elevator roared back into life. The final second of the journey went by as the elevator screamed in protest and the door opened to reveal the lobby.
‘Well’ 13C said cheerily as he swung the bag over his shoulder, ‘bye now.’ He made his way out of the elevator whistling.
Frozen where I stood, it took me a moment to discern that I was in fact still in the land of the living. My jaw was to the filthy floor as I tried to decipher what just transpired. 13C walked for the front door of the apartment block.
Just then my landlord Rick came into view. ‘Hey kid. What’s new with you?’
I stepped out of the elevator unsteadily as I looked about my surroundings. ‘Oh, I just had a near death experience with a psychopath. Nothing new.’
‘Psychopath?’ He questioned ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’
‘The guy!’ I said in a hushed voice as he was still in the vicinity, waiting to pounce. ‘You know! The one who lives beside me! 13C. He was just in the elevator with me. Shaved head. Shabby clothes. Try to avoid at all costs.’
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh Rick?” came the approaching voice of 13C as he made his way back to us in the lobby from the front door.
My heart stopped.
He smiled at me then looked to Rick. “I have this month’s rent handy. Can I give it to you now?”
“Sure thing kid. I never say no to money.” He chuckled.
He lifted the dreaded bag onto the table in the lobby and unzipped it. No contortionist. No dove.
“What have we got in here?” asked Rick.
The bag was loaded with tools. Hammers, screwdrivers and drills. “Just some stuff for a hobby of mine.” He fetched his wallet from within the bag. I saw as he opened it that he had a large amount of cash in it. Far too much for someone who doesn’t work and spends his days indulging in “hobbies”. The dots were joining unfavourably. I felt a pain in the pit of my stomach. There was sweat still on my brow from the elevator and my headache was throbbing. After he handed the rent to Rick, he smiled and gestured his goodbyes to the both of us.
I let a moment pass to get my bearings and then too bid adieu to Rick. I stumbled out of the apartments. It was raining but I was too distracted to notice. I took out my phone.
“I thought you had a lecture hun.”
“Tell me more about that guy who went missing.” I demanded. “But don’t say a word about Janice’s affair with her brother-in-law or I swear to God…”