It seemed not a single soul other than me lived in the building. I had spent a solid three weeks of my life living in the 10-story apartment complex and had yet to run into a single person. I may have assumed that maybe I was the only person living in the square brick 80-unit building on the corner had I not regularly heard the other tenants flushing toilets, watching TV, couples getting into fights, having sex. You know, all that urban apartment static which should be unnerving, but you just tune out because you assume everyone else hears you do the same.
I moved in smack dab in the middle of an awful, sticky, hot New York City summer. I was drawn in by the shabby chic charm of the 1920 construction and the fact it somehow was a small (but true) one-bedroom for less than $3,000 a month in the city.
However, I should have thought better about the lack of the air conditioning. The place was uninhabitable during the day and only a little bit better when the sun went down.
It wasn’t just the heat that was keeping me awake at night either. An alarm clock in the unit above me had been ringing out for three weeks straight. It constantly bleated out at a steady cadence around the clock until it seeped into my brain and l I think my body just catalogued it as something that belonged, like the beat of my heart.
The weather app on my phone told me the temperature was still hovering at 94 at 1 AM the night I finally had enough. I had been lying naked in my bed with a fan turned on me on full blast for hours chasing sleep to no avail with the tone driving me mad. I got up and threw on a sloppy pile of clothes – flannel pajama pants, loose tank top, no bra, and an ex-boyfriend’s Yankees hat – and headed upstairs to the tenth floor for the first time.
I was first struck by the overpowering stench which greeted me once I reached the top of the final stretch of stairs – it smelled like someone had thrown a pile of sweaty clothes into a dryer without first putting it through the washing machine. The hallway outside my door smelled like an unwashed bathroom towel, but it wasn’t as putrid this awful smell.
I couldn’t believe it took me almost a month to finally figure out what the hell was going on with the alarm clock above me, but it wasn’t entirely shocking. The modern world turned us all into passive introverts who would rather suffer for weeks instead of doing the worst thing in the world – picking up a phone and actually calling someone or knocking on a door in confrontation. Nothing ever gets fixed or confronted in a city apartment building. Everyone just sits in their apartment on their devices, hoping someone else will say or do something. That old tale of the woman who got murdered in the middle of New York City even though she screamed for help and 20 people heard her in their apartments is 100 percent true.
But here I was, at the end of my rope, about to do the impossible. I approached the door of the unit above mine, my hand already extended, ready to knock, I was in the zone.
My new-found confidence disappeared when I saw the door about six inches ajar. Shit. I could hear the tonal ringing of the alarm from inside the apartment.
“Hello,” I called out into the apartment like a hopeless damsel in a slasher film.
No answer. Do I dare go in the apartment? If it is empty, I can just turn off the damned alarm myself.
Maybe it was the insomnia running in my blood. I found the courage to push the door all the way open. Stepped inside.
I was greeted by an apartment which looked like it was the ultimate bachelor pad in 1975 – black shag carpeting, a circular bar stuck into the middle of the living room, walls lined from floor to ceiling with mirrors and racks of martini glasses. I swore I could smell stale cigars sweating out of the fabric of everything. Even the track lighting reminded me of being at my grandparents’ condo in Scottsdale.
No answer. I followed the sounds of the alarm through a tight, dark hallway lined which seemed more like softcore porn disguised as artwork until I reached an open door. I hesitated for a moment, taken back by the soft light radiating out of the open crack of the door. I pushed my fears down, pushed the door open.
I was greeted by a giant unmade water bed draped with a mess of red silk sheets. I almost wanted to barf and not just from the smell of dirty locker room and Cuban cigar which still lingered. The design sense in my heart and mind almost couldn’t stand looking at the mess of a bed which looked like the kind of thing a Bond villain would rape a hooker on. Ugh.
Never mind. There it was next to the bed on a black nightstand, the dreaded alarm clock.
I wiped my eyes and walked across the room. I examined the alarm clock from above, couldn’t figure out how to shut the ancient SANYO monstrosity off. Fuck it. I unplugged the thing out of the wall.
I jumped back into my bed. The absence of the alarm tone relieved my mind, but did nothing for the heat. I was already coated with a thin layer of horrible sweat again. My blood still boiled from the high of the adrenaline pumping through my veins. Maybe a shower would help?
I readied myself to get back out of bed. Stopped. I heard a new sound come from the unit above me. Right above my bedroom. Heavy footsteps. My temperature dropped back down to tolerable levels in a breath.
The footsteps walked on above. Heavy and clacking, they sounded like someone wearing heels or at least formal men’s shoes. I held my breath until they stopped.
I wanted to lay in bed all night until the morning sun rose. I wanted to shrink into oblivion. Had someone been there the whole time when I was in the apartment upstairs?
It didn’t take long for the smothering heat and my gulping fear to turn my temperature up again. It was time for a shower.
All cold with just a hint of warm, the cool shower couldn’t have felt better. No soap, shampoo or conditioner – I used the shower as my own personal standing swimming pool to cool off. I closed my eyes and let the cold water wash over me until I felt I could breathe again without breaking a sweat.
The shower ended up being one of the longest of my life – clocking in at nearly 20 minutes – and it couldn’t have been more worth it. I didn’t even towel myself off, just walked straight out of the bathroom and onto the hardwood finish of my bedroom floor, breaking one of my own cardinal sins.
I didn’t notice the note until I stepped on it, my eyes blurry from the water which cascaded down my brow. I reached down and pulled the little piece of yellow paper off of my soggy foot.
Gerald Is A Bad Man
My heart fell. I dropped the note to the floor. Stood bathed in the rapidly-cooling water for a moment frozen like a deer on the prairie in front of a hunter with an aimed rifle. I knew I needed to go check my front door, but couldn’t move.
I eventually stepped out of the shelter of my little bedroom and into my living room area which was somehow even smaller. One step into the room was enough to reveal something was not right.
The front door of my apartment was a little bit open. Light from the hallway leaked into the black pool of darkness which was the room. Had I forgotten to lock the door when I came back? I must have.
There was no more time to pause for fear. I ran across my living room. Shut the door all the way and fastened all three locks.
The bad news was I had to start getting ready for work in an hour. The good news was the sun would start to rise any minute. The ugly news was something was beyond wrong with my new apartment.
The day drug. I was so tired and out of it, I could barley move. I just sat at my desk, zoned out through a few meetings and hit the streets a few minutes after the bare minimum for social acceptance at an advertising agency in Manhattan.
I walked by the entry to my building three times before I forced myself to go inside. I rode the elevator up to the ninth floor, the smell of grandpa cologne stinging my nose all the way up.
I stayed in the elevator when it opened, stared at my door at the end of the steamy, narrow hallway until the elevator doors started to close in on me again. I fought against my fears, pushed my way onto the dirty carpet of the hallway until I was staring at the front door of my apartment and an envelope which was stuck in the crack.
I tore open the paper as fast as I could to reveal a note written on the same paper in the same handwriting as the note I found last night outside my bathroom door.
The run down one flight of stairs and up a short hallway to apartment #801 took what seemed about one breath and just a few frenzied strides.
I knocked on the white door with the number 801 printed in fake gold stuck to it harder than I probably should have. I waited a few tense moments before the door slowly opened just a crack. All I saw was a wild eye surrounded by silver mascara stuffed between the door and the frame.
“Yes. Were you in my apartment last night?”
The door flew open. A naked woman with skin which looked like that of a red delicious apple would if you left it on the counter for a week or two and a head of long silver hair greeted me.
“Come in,” she announced without a drop of embarrassment.
“You want to know why I am leaving you notes?” The woman asked bluntly, turned her back to me and walked into her apartment with the door still open.
I bit my lower lip and followed her into the guts of her home.
The smell of cat piss unsuccessfully covered up by generous amounts of incense struck me when I walked into the woman’s living room. I followed her naked body until she took a seat on a dirty couch and waved me over to do the same.
“That’s okay. I was sitting all day at work,” I lied, I was exhausted and would have loved a seat. “Were you in my apartment last night?” I cut to the chase, kept my stance across the couch from her with a long, flat coffee table between us.
“I’m not on trial here,” the woman replied and then literally hissed back at me.
“Holy fuck,” I muttered.
“You should have never left your door unlocked. You fool. You never should have gone up there. You invited him in,” the woman suddenly started to speak in a whisper. “I was just trying to help you. Don’t attack me.”
I struggled to form another sentence, petrified of conflict. The woman slowly began to spread her legs. I flinched and looked down at the floor.
“What the hell is happening here?” I asked.
“You’ve been chosen.”
The woman’s ominous answer forced me to look back at her. She was delighted. Shot a glance down at her crotch.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“He invited you here. He lured you into his room. I heard you on the stairs last night, figured you were doing something idiotic and tried to help you, but was too late, you had already went up, so I just left the notes. Maybe I shouldn’t have.”
I turned around and walked away. Not having any of this shit. This freak with the ammonia-soaked one-bedroom was probably just getting off on fucking with me.
“Wait, wait,” she called out to me just before I got to the door. “Check you email.”
That was far too random of a request for me to just ignore and walk out the door. I turned around. Saw the woman at least in a pair of stained shorts, her long gray hair covering her breasts.
“Check your email. The first one you got back from the building management. You probably sent emails to so many apartments you didn’t realize it, but, they reached out to you. You didn’t reach out to them.”
The old bitch was right. I found the email thread between me and the building manager, Avi, and it started with an email from him that was headed with a RE: Apartment For Rent but was the first email in the chain. It’s possible I truly sent out the first email and it got lost in digital ether, but that seemed unlikely and would have been a massive coincidence for the crazy woman downstairs to somehow bank on that happening when she made her curious request.
It was almost 10, but I didn’t give a shit. I called Avi.
“Hello. It is very late,”Avi answered on the first ring.
I had never actually seen Avi. He had an assistant show me the apartment and give me the keys when I moved in, all I knew about him was he had a vaguely Middle Eastern accent.
“It’s Roxanne in apartment nine-o-two. I have to ask you something.”
“It can wait for the morning Roxanne.”
“No it can’t. The woman in apartment 801 told me you reached out to me, I didn’t reach out to you about the apartment and she was right. You first sent me an email.”
There was a long, long pause on the other end of the line.
“There is no one else who lives in that building Roxanne.”
“You are the only person who lives in the building,” Avi went on. “No one else lives in there. There is no woman in apartment 801.”
“What are you talking about? I hear people all the time. I was just in that woman’s apartment talking to her.”
“What was her name?”
I thought about it. I never got her name.
“I don’t know.”
“I promise you Roxanne. No one else lives there. I will admit. We did reach out to you because we are just refilling the building. It had to be remodeled the past two years for repairs and we just opened it and are looking for the right kinds of tenants – young, professional, hip I guess. We saw your application to one of our other buildings which was full on the upper east side and thought we should instead offer you this apartment. We have more tenants moving in next week, but I promise you, no one else is living in there right now.”
Avi offered to let me move out and give me my money for my deposit and my first month back after I threatened blasting his building management company on social media and informing my blogger friends. I turned down his offer. Something much more pressing was on my mind.
Memories of Avi swearing up and down no one else lived in the building twisted in the dark veins of my brain when I walked down the stairs and the hallway to apartment #801.
I knocked on apartment #801 and waited. No answer. I knocked again. Waited for at least a couple of minutes. No answer again.
I tried the handle. It was unlocked. I slowly stepped into the darkness of the apartment.
I don’t know what the fuck I was doing/thinking. Maybe the heat was making me delirious? Maybe my solitary life of single girl living in the city and working way too hard sun up to sun down had taken it’s toll? Maybe I just needed some adventure.
The smell was the same in the apartment when I stepped through the front door – like someone smoking incense soaked in cat piss through an old bong – but the room was completely dark and silent now. I reached over to flick a light switch I remembered seeing on the wall just inside the door when I came in the first time. I pushed it up and down as fast as I could. Nothing.
“Hello,” I called out into the darkness. “Hello.”
No answer. I wasn’t walking any further into that room by myself with no lights on. I turned around to go back out the door. I was almost out when I felt a hand swiftly run through my long hair. I screamed. I stopped in the open door, got a little field of vision from the light of the hallway.
I peered into the little sliver of light and saw the woman from earlier. She smiled at me with rows of yellow teeth as she squatted naked on the floor and giggled like a child. She began to urinate right before I shut the door again.
I held the door shut on the outside as hard as I could and tried to catch my breath for a few moments. I could hear the woman cackling on the other side of the door.
Now you are probably asking why I didn’t just leave at this point and that’s understandable. I ask the same. I myself now wonder why I didn’t just leave when I got the whole weird explanation thing from Avi. What was I thinking?
I will spare you the time, but it boils down to a lack of options and childish pride. I grew up in a small town in Utah with a tight-knit family that tried tirelessly to talk me out of taking a job in New York. Promised me something bad would happen. I couldn’t prove them right a little more than a year into my sojourn. In the short-term. I had zero friends I knew well enough to ask if I could crash at their place and I couldn’t afford even a night at any hotel which wouldn’t have been any less scary than my apartment in New York.
So I took an Ambien and a Zoloft, laid down on my bed in the sweltering heat and closed my eyes.
Sleep eventually came, but did not last. I awoke in almost complete darkness, just the blue light of the city lights which permeated through my beige blinds gave me some vision in the night.
I looked to the alarm clock next to my bed. It was 3:30 AM. At least I had grabbed about four hours of sleep. It had been the most I had in a while.
I breathed a sigh of restful relief, but then sucked it right back in when I looked to the foot of my bed. Through the open door of my bedroom, I could see someone standing in the corner of my living room.
It took my eyes a moment to focus in on what appeared to be a gray old man clad in just a pair of white briefs – his liver-stained back and nearly-bald head reflected back at me. I sat up in my bed, my eyes glued to the figure who just remained in the corner, staring at a blank wall.
My thoughts were on my phone. I couldn’t remember where I put it.
I slowly got up off of my bed and stepped down upon the hardwood of my bedroom floor as lightly as I possibly could. I took baby steps toward my living room, my eyes never leaving the back of the old man.
I made it into the living room without disturbing the old man, but it was there that my luck ran dry. I was within a few steps of my jeans when he stirred. I watched the old man turn out of the corner, walk right past me without an acknowledgment and then tuck himself into another corner of the room, leaving me frozen in the middle of the room.
“Who… are… you?” I barely got the question out from trembling lips.
I took a couple steps closer.
“Who are you?” I asked louder this time. “Who are you?” Louder, again with a few more steps toward the old man.
My last step was enough to grab the attention of the man who was so gray his skin seemed to take on a tint of blue. He turned to me with silver eyes without pupils which shined in the night. I took a step back.
The old man said nothing, just walked right past me with a swift gait and headed to the front door. I didn’t fight it, watched him unlock the door from the inside and walk out into the hallway.
That was it. I went to go retrieve my cell phone. I furiously dug my hand into the pocket of my jeans but it wasn’t there.
I froze up. There was a knock on the door right next to my head. I jumped.
“What?” I screamed out from the pit of my tortured stomach.
The witchy voice of the woman from the eighth floor answered on the other side.
“I have the answers you need, but you are going to have to listen… and open the door.”
I didn’t answer. I honestly had no idea what to do. I didn’t trust this woman, but I didn’t know if staying in my apartment without a way to communicate to the outside world was a better idea.
I opened up the door and laid eyes on the woman from 801 dressed in teal nurse scrubs and a face coated with sweat. She shot a worried look over her shoulder, down the hallway before she ducked into my apartment. I shut the door behind her and locked the locks.
“You made the right choice,” she announced.
The woman took a seat down on my couch. I stood in front of her, a coffee table separated us again.
“Keep your clothes on please,” I said.
The woman laughed hysterically.
“That’s the least of your problems,” she said dismissively. “You made a grave mistake moving in here,” she said and lit one of the candles on my coffee table.
“No shit Sherlock,” I muttered.
“There is a crossing right above our heads,” the woman went on.
The ceiling above us shuddered.
“Whenever someone dies at their own hands and crosses over to the other side, there is an opening which forms to take them, but sometimes, there is a glitch in the system, an error. It happened to Gerald. He didn’t cross and now he can go back and forth, between the after and life.”
The sounds of footsteps moved in circles above us.
“The bad news for you is once you can keep going back and forth as long as you send someone else back through the opening to take your place and it seems Gerald has taken a liking to you.”
I didn’t want to believe this shit, but the ceiling shuddered again and I had become a little bit more open to crazy ideas at this point.
“Great, I’m just going to leave.”
My apartment door shuddered.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that easy,” the woman whispered with an eye locked on the door. “You have to acknowledge why you are here and then confront him.”
“How am I supposed to know why I am here?”
“I think you have a better idea than you are letting on,” the woman said and shot a look at my bare and scarred wrists.
She was onto the truly dark fears which I was too afraid to mention until they were tossed out into the cold open like a hooked fish slammed onto the deck of a fishing boat. The scars on my wrists, the memories of the nights in the emergency room, the tears in my parents’ eyes when I left Utah. My life had been a bit of a nightmare even before I stepped into the supernatural.
I watched a smug smirk emerge on the face of the woman, almost as if she could watch my suicide attempts replay in my mind while my brain re-watched them again and again like they were a torturous gif to remind me why I am weak and vulnerable.
My morbid projector was interrupted by hard knocks at the door.
“Don’t answer it,” the woman commanded. “Not until you are ready.”
“How do I know?” I yelled back, my eyes locked on the door which began to shake.
Looking away from the woman was a mistake. I didn’t notice she had slinked off of the couch and crept up behind me until I felt hot breath upon my neck and heard a familiar male voice whisper into my ear.
“I’m so glad you decided to move in.”
My mind flipped through a mental rolodex of where I knew that voice from until it landed on the building manager, Avi.
I tried to turn around, only was able to twist a little bit, but enough to see the woman had lashed my hands behind my back with a thick rope and enough to see her feminine mouth contort and make the masculine voice of Avi again.
“It was either you or me, sorry.”
I was pushed to the ground before I could respond with anything more than a scream. I felt all of the woman’s weight come upon my back. I tried to wriggle away, but she fought me back and climbed onto my shoulders. I was just about to give up when something hard fell upon the back of my head. I thought she might be trying to knock me out until I saw the object resting right in front of my eyes. It was my cell phone.
The woman scooped up the phone before I could do anything.
“Forgot that in my apartment my dear,” the woman said before she flipped me around onto my back.
The angle of seeing her in her scrubs from on my back kicked that mental catalogue in my head into overdrive again. I had seen this near exact image before except I wasn’t on the floor of my apartment, I was on a table in an emergency room. It clicked. She had been my nurse a few months ago when I swallowed a bottle of pills on a truly dark winter’s night.
She drug me towards the door. I fought as hard as I could but couldn’t do much, my near absence of sleep the past few days helped drain my body of any fight.
I screamed, scratched and clawed when I saw her push an open cloth sack towards my face.
“No. No. No. No.”
But there was nothing I could do. Soon all I could see was darkness.
Then I heard her voice.
“Thank you for being weak.”
My journey was dark, but I recognized the smells.
The musty mildew of the hallway carpet.
The burning grandpa cologne in the elevator.
The stench of old cigars of the apartment above mine.
I felt myself get thrown down upon what felt like a water bed.
I still couldn’t see a thing. Could barely breathe with the sack over my head. All I could hear were footsteps walking away from me, but I did find one sliver of hope when I took a deep breath in and felt the soft fabric of the sack stick to my lips.
I sucked in another breathe as hard. I felt the entire room shake. The fabric of the sack stuck to my wet mouth again. I grabbed hold of the fabric with my teeth and started to slowly, but powerfully rip the fabric between my teeth the way a dog would a chew toy until a rip formed and a little bit of light seeped through. I could see the world around me in the soft light of a bedside lamp.
Across from the foot of the bed at my feet was an open closet – the doors swung out into the room. A few stray suit jackets dangled down from a pole and slightly obscured and endless wall of black which was behind them. As I looked, I saw a figure emerge in front of the blackness. Before my eyes, the cold, gray body of the old man appeared, he dangled limply from a thick rope which hung from the bar which also hung the jackets.
I watched as the old man’s body began to wiggle and remained silent. Watched in horror as the man’s arm fully came to life and pulled a long, sharp knife out of the back of his white briefs. I watched his hand grasp it tight and then saw on the thick rope from which he hung until the rope gave and he fell to the ground.
I started trying to move off the bed, but couldn’t only wiggle around, my damned arms being tied behind my back make it almost impossible to do anything. I never took my eyes off the old man. He was now slowly headed in my direction, his cold, blue eyes seared into my soul. I let out a scream when he crawled onto the bed. Tried to move away, but couldn’t make it. He was on me, quickly had a hold of my ankle and started to pull me off of the bed.
It wasn’t long before I was back on the floor, looking up at the wrinkled skin of the old man as he drug me towards the black abyss at the back of the closet. I continued my fight, kicked at the old man, but it seemed to do nothing. My only hope came in the sight of something I saw lying on the floor, just inside of the closet – the knife the old man used to cut himself down. He was pulling me right toward it.
With my last reserves of energy, I twisted myself onto my stomach as the old man drug up to the entrance to the closet. I stretched out my neck as far as I could so my mouth was headed right into the knife with its handle resting horizontal to my lips.
I snapped my teeth down like an animal when my face reached the knife and clamped down hard upon the handle of the knife. I flashed my eyes over to the right ankle of the old man right as he drug me into the closet, it was just inches away.
My attack felt like an out-of-body experience. I struck the knife hard down into the soft flesh of the old man’s ankle, pulled it out and slashed again in again in a furious flurry until the old man fell to the ground of the closet bleeding and screaming in pain.
On my stomach now, I had a little bit of mobility. I pulled myself across the floor and on top of the old man. I almost puked when I smelled the stench of his frightened breath radiate back upon me before I plunged my face at his wrinkled neck with the knife firmly clenched in my teeth.
The out-of-body feeling started to fade after I went to work on the old man’s neck long enough to where he stopped moving, stopped breathing. I needed to be in the moment and aware for what I was going to do next.
I starred at the blackness at the back of the closet. I could feel its cold grasp, a slight draft drifted out of the endless darkness. Like the feeling you get when you stand on the edge of a cliff, I could almost feel the presence of a great divide existing just inches away from me that I could slip into and end it all easily at any moment. I was tempted to push myself in there myself despite all of the fighting I had just done to save myself.
But I fought the feeling. I put my head down and slid across the wood floor until the old man’s body started to head toward the abyss and I could hear the sounds of the dark winds whipping inside the black hole. I worried I might slip up and slide into the thing myself, but pushed on, finally getting some progress with the old man’s body until I saw his naked foot slip into the nothingness of the hole. I pushed more and more until I watched the old man’s entire form vanish from my field of vision.
I was far from out of the woods at this point. I could barely move, my body was beyond traumatized and running on fumes. I also had no idea where my dear friend from apartment #801 was.
With that in mind, I slowly started dragging myself away from the closet and back onto my feet. I didn’t have time to waste a single second.
Once I got back on my feet, I ran as fast as I could out of the apartment with my hands still tied around my back. I ran to the elevator, hit the lobby button with a toe and rode down to the ground floor.
Once on the ground floor, I ran out into the light, hustle, and bustle of a New York morning half naked, shivering with my hands tied behind my back. I screamed and shouted for help until I fell to the ground in exhaustion and fainted.
I am writing this in an email draft on a tablet a doctor was nice enough to let me borrow for the day. They told me I was out for just a few hours, but have been holding me for testing for a day and a half now. I have been tempted to tell them about what happened to me, but I don’t know. Will they believe a girl who has three documented suicide attempts (one of which was treated at this very hospital), a checkered history with drugs and mental instability? Do you?
I’m not really sure about anything, but I have my suspicions. Mostly about a silver-haired nurse I saw walk through the hallway a few minutes ago. I might be crazy, but I feel like I have seen her before.