The New Companions in Apt. C6
Four buildings rose three stories high from the cracked parking lot. Empty cars sat around the buildings, looking old and tired, their paint chipped and their windows hard to see through. The buildings themselves seemed decent enough, their paint more recently touched up, the grass among them lush and trimmed, only a few hard to get at weeds blemishing them. “Not as bad as I was expecting,” Jennifer said, a cautious, restrained kind of hope in her voice Raymond understood perfectly, because it felt like the only hope he’d known in the past two years since they’d both learned what it was like to beg for whatever money they could get. Neither wanted to be parked in front of the office for the Overlook Apartments, just as neither wanted to see the home they’d once proudly proclaimed as their own taken away from them, but begging had a way of putting things in perspective, and Raymond found a lot of harsh realities were a bit easier to accept than he would’ve once thought.
They stepped through the office door into a long room so clean Raymond could feel the obsessive compulsion that kept it that way.
“Maybe we were being too hasty,” Jennifer said. Her eyes swept around the room, having expected the same squalor that Raymond had. Given how many times they’d heard the name Overlook Apartments used in a news article about a shooting, a drug bust, or a prostitution ring getting broken up, assuming the worst seemed safe.
Something flushed in the back of the building. An old man walked out, shoulders slumped down, the bags beneath his eyes somehow slumped even more, his whole body bent and defeated.
When he saw the two of them he froze, and Raymond swore he saw the man’s lips quiver downward just briefly, body in a state of shock, veins pulsing visibly across the man’s nearly baldhead. It didn’t last, a smile breaking through the man’s surface. With that first impression Raymond knew he was looking for a reason to say no. He’d need a good reason to say no, because Jennifer wouldn’t listen to him if it were too flimsy. He’d been flimsy with a lot of his excuses, as if they’d somehow get to keep the house if they couldn’t find someplace else, and he’d promised he’d keep an open mind, if only because of the price.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize anyone was here,” the old man said. He stepped up to a desk in the middle of the room. He wore a wrinkled suit, faintly stained in a few places, and from the way the stains were spread, Raymond figured the old man had scrubbed a bit at them before giving up.
“It’s no problem,” Jennifer said, smiling, probably enjoying how timid the old man seemed, the type she might be able to haggle with. “I assume you’re looking for an apartment,” he said without sitting down. “Yes, we were hoping to look at one. One bedroom, preferably.” “Don’t think I have anything,” he said immediately, smiling tightly, hands rigid on the desk.
Raymond tried to make it look like he was glancing around the room as he eyed how white the old man’s knuckles were getting, saw the twitch in the man’s right eye, and had it just been him he might’ve said it was fine and been on his way, but Jennifer gave the man a perplexed stare. “Are you sure?” Though it lasted all of ten seconds, maybe even less, Raymond saw the man considering it, working something through his head. “Maybe I have something,” he said. “Just give me a minute to check.”
He turned and left through the same back doorway he’d entered. Jennifer gave Raymond a quizzical stare, but Raymond shrugged. He didn’t offer her any thoughts or help with the whole thing, as if he didn’t have any thoughts to begin with on the matter. Any thoughts he did have would probably just lead to an argument, so he kept them to himself.
The old man’s voice came from the back room, though not directed at them. They both leaned in on the desk a bit to listen, hearing the man saying something, talking to someone, the voice kind of stressful, but the words unclear.
When the old man returned they both acted like they hadn’t heard a thing. “Yeah, I’ve got one to show,” he said. He took down a key from a rack by the desk and gestured for the two of them to go ahead of him out the door.
They moved across the parking lot towards one of the far buildings. Walking through the rows of aged cars, Raymond felt the unease creep into his stomach; twist its way up his throat. He didn’t want to live in the place. He didn’t care if the grass looked mowed and the buildings were just painted. There was just an air of desperation, partly from the cars, but partly from the silence that hung around everything, with the blinds all drawn, no kids laughing, adults talking, or studio audience laughter drifting from windows. Though they walked outside, the air smelled musty, stunk with age but not trash, like a basement untouched in years.
Only one window had the blinds opened, and Raymond saw two people staring down at them from the third floor, but with the sun as bright as it was, he could only see their outlines. Yet from what he saw, he swore their faces seemed off, and their bodies were unusually thin, just skeletal figures watching them walking up.
“Not many people get out around here?” Raymond asked as they approached one of the buildings, and started up the wooden steps leading to a second floor walkway. He told himself there hadn’t been anything odd about the people he had seen in the window.
“Well, with the old owner, had some problems with crime around here. Got a bad reputation,” the old man said. “We’ve done what we can to make things better again, but people don’t forget.”
“Looks like you’ve done a good job keepings things looking nice,” Jennifer said.
Raymond knew the tone of her voice and the look in her eye. She was convincing herself the place was good, right for them, a great steal at the rent that was listed.
The old man opened the door to number C6 and gestured for them to enter. He turned on the light to an empty apartment with tan carpet and gaudy, floral wall paper. But beyond the lack of taste in the decorations, the place seemed clean. No roaches scurried for cover and the carpet was free of any major stains. The light above them came on easily, just as the water flowed clean and cool from the kitchen sink’s faucet.
Raymond heard Jennifer and the man talking as he scouted the place out. He searched with a passion, trying to find something big, but he didn’t find anything but clean white tiles and mirrors in the bathroom and large empty closets in the bedroom.
All he had was the same sense of unease in his stomach and the stuffy feeling of age to use against moving here.
“Water and heat are included in the rent,” Jennifer said when Raymond returned to the living room. That was certainly the final nail in the coffin.
And then they heard the slight scratching in the far wall.
All three of them heard it, but rather than look at the wall as Jennifer did, Raymond instead looked at the man’s face pale just a bit at the first scratching.
“What is that?” Jennifer asked, probably thinking of mice or rats, though Raymond knew that wouldn’t be enough to stop her either. Roaches, maybe, but not vermin. “What was what?” the old man asked, smiled nervously.
Then it happened again, a bit louder this time, and less like scratching and more like a wooden thump. “Guess it’s the neighbors,” Jennifer said, her eyes on the wall, and not on the relief flooding into the man’s face, a nervous frown turning into a smile.
“Yes, of course, the neighbors. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. The walls are actually quite thick. I’m surprised we heard anything.”
Raymond knew the man was lying, but knew as well he couldn’t really call him on it; Jennifer would only be annoyed. Raymond had cried wolf just a few too many times already with other apartments, and accusing the old man of lying, especially when he was probably just trying to act like the place didn’t have mice, wouldn’t get him anywhere with her.
But something did flicker in the corner of his mind. Something he recalled reading about the place years ago, back when stories were still popping up with the name Overlook in the headlines. Most of the stories hadn’t been worth remembering. Most were just about the same types of things happening all around this part of the city, but this headline had stuck with him more than others.
Jennifer turned towards the man, asking about deposits, asking about possible move in dates, while Raymond walked up to the wall where they’d heard the sound and rubbed his finger along the wallpaper.
“What are you doing?” the old man asked, the nervous pitch in his voice was clear even to Jennifer, making her look towards the wall Raymond was rubbing his fingers along.
“Just feeling the wall paper,” he said. The man took a step closer, but Raymond ignored him, pushing in harder, recalling in better detail the story about the old building’s owner, the way he had apparently used a space in the walls to watch the tenants in their apartments. Raymond’s fingers stopped over a patch in the middle of the wall. There wasn’t anything solid behind the wallpaper.
“I’d really prefer if you didn’t mess with the wall,” the old man said, voice hitching, and now Jennifer was moving closer to Raymond, showing a bit more interest in his efforts as he pulled out a pocket knife.
Before the old man could object any further Raymond shoved the blade into the wallpaper, quickly tore a hole, and pulled it back to reveal an opening.
“What are you doing?” Jennifer shouted. She moved beside Raymond, her anger parting into confusion as they both looked through the torn portion at the dimly lit opening, a small rectangle cut in the drywall, the wallpaper probably thin enough to let someone see through.
Suddenly something moved on the other side. Both of them jumped back. The dark shape moved too fast for them to make out what exactly the person looked like, but Raymond was certain he’d seen someone and this someone must have been watching them inspect the apartment. As creepy as the whole thing was, Raymond felt a smile pluck at the corner of his mouth.
Jennifer turned toward the man, her face crimson. “What the hell is this? Who’s back there?” “Just ignore that,” the old man said. “I’m sure we can work out a great deal.” “Who is back there?” she demanded.
The old man moved closer, voice a bit lower, trying as best he could to calm her down. “Look, my manager was just thinking I wasn’t working hard enough, so he wanted to watch how I was doing, that’s it. I mean no one goes back there normally. It’s nothing, really.”
Raymond didn’t know what it would take to make Jennifer still consider the place, and he didn’t want to see how cheap the old man was willing to go. He put a hand on Jennifer’s shoulder, said, “I think we should go,” and he knew from the way Jennifer’s head lowered that she accepted in that moment that this wasn’t going to be the place for them.
The old man followed them out, still trying to make the sale, telling them how well secured the area was, how it was all just a misunderstanding, but neither of them paused to hear him out.
Raymond glanced back at the building, and as he did he noticed more of the blinds open, especially some on the bottom floor. All of the apartments were empty that he could see, or at least they had no furniture in them, but as he squinted a bit more into them, he realized there were people along the back walls of each apartment, often two or three, huddled close, their heads following him and Jennifer as they moved further to the building where their car was parked outside.
That building, too, had more blinds open now with people staring at the two of them, all of the faces gaunt, one person pressing a boney hand against the glass. Jennifer finally saw them as well and froze. Most of the people were clothed, but some were nude, their shrivelled forms motionless at the windows, looks of pure sorrow deep within their eyes and faces.
Fire burned the back of Raymond’s neck. His knees buckled. Jennifer screamed beside him. The sidewalk met the back of his head. The world dimmed. Blurred shapes moved above him. An old man grabbed Jennifer and pressed a taser gun to her stomach. She fell to her knees beside Raymond.
He wasn’t unconscious when the hands grabbed hold of him and started dragging him across the sidewalk. He could feel his shirt hitch up and the cement scraped skin off his back.
He saw through squinted eyes the blue sky and shining sun up above, just a few clouds drifting lazily through the air, until the building loomed over him. Raymond tried to move, tried to grasp at the ground to stop whoever pulled him along. He lifted his head enough to see Jennifer still far back on the sidewalk curled up into a ball, not sure if she was conscious, or even if she was still alive.
Raymond tried to jerk himself up, managed partial success, until the old man’s emotionless face appeared over him and the taser jammed into his chest. Raymond’s body bucked and convulsed, but he still didn’t let his mind go. When the fire left him he saw the building through a shimmer of tears. In an open window beside him two people were pressed up against the glass watching, their bodies nothing but skin and bones, parched lips quivering. He thought they were mouthing something to him but he was dragged up the steps before he could understand it. The old man wheezed and grunted, and had to stop at the top step, to catch his breath. Raymond’s strength slowly returned, but not fast enough. Once the man got Raymond into the apartment, he placed handcuffs on his feet and hands before leaving.
Raymond managed to crawl over to the open window. He watched as the old man started pulling Jennifer towards the building.
She moaned lightly when the old man got her through the door. Her eyes were partially open, gazing listlessly around the room until Raymond called out to her. Only then did her eyes snap into focus and her head jerked up off the floor.
The old man stood in the open doorway with a deep frown on his face. “You should’ve just turned around when I said there was nothing. I’ll get punished for it too, you know, saying that and all, punished even though you’re still here after all.”
“What the hell are you doing?” Raymond called out from his spot on the floor while Jennifer weakly pulled herself to her feet.
“I just work here. My boss took a liking to you. Likes to watch people, you see, finds enjoyment from it, and our little place is sort of sealed off from everything else, from all the depravity surrounding it. I keep this place well kept, just the way he likes it, and people like you keep him entertained. I’m afraid you aren’t going anywhere anymore. This is your new home whether you like it or not. You’re never leaving this place.” He tossed a small key into the room before taking a step back and closing the door.
Jennifer ran to the door, turning and yanking at the knob, but it was locked from the outside. When her efforts failed she used the key he’d left them to undo their cuffs. Then the two stood in front of the large open window and watched the old man walk back over to the office and step inside. “What is this?” Jennifer asked in disbelief.
Before Raymond could answer they saw through the opening cut in the wall a piece of wood being pulled out. Raymond hurried over to the opening and shouted, “You think you can keep us here?”
A set of eyes glistening in the darkness from the other side looked at him. The figure was too far back from the opening for him to see a face or anything else, but the eyes came through clearly, a hint of joy in them as they stared back at him. Fear and anger overtook him and Raymond shoved his arm through the opening, grabbing at empty air, swinging around for over a minute before he yanked his arm out, feeling some splinters dig into the flesh as he did. Standing back with Jennifer by his side he saw the eyes press back up against the opening, smiling at them, before a block of wood was put back in place with a soft click.
Use your Facebook login and see what your friends are reading and sharing.
Now bringing you back...