Unit 1414: A Short Story
NB: May Be Disturbing To Some Readers
Why am I awake?
Jaime checked her clock. In digital red, it showed midnight. She squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them again, it showed a minute past midnight.
For God’s sake, I've only been asleep for an hour. I need to get some sleep.
Jaime had been working long days for several weeks now. She had the mortgage payments for the new condo to pay, a new group of coworkers to impress, and she also had to keep her mind off of Jason. Long hours, plenty of time at the gym, and a glass of wine or three before stumbling into bed normally did the trick.
The refrigerator shook itself quiet. In the silence that followed, she heard a quiet tapping. Jaime focused her attention on the sound. There seemed to be a kind of intelligence in its rhythm. It didn’t seem mechanical. The hesitation between each tap seemed almost like a moment of reflection on how to proceed.
She listened more carefully. The tapping was at the door to her condo, and that was strange. As far as Jaime knew, she was the first person to move onto this floor. She might even be the only person living in the building. She had no neighbors that she knew of.
This building is too new for rats, she thought. I mean, it better be. I paid too much for this condo for it to be infested with rats.
A strong wind rattled the window above her bed, and a shiver went through her whole body. She held her breath for a moment. The tapping continued.
OK. I admit it. I’m scared. I don’t know why I’m scared exactly, but I am scared. I can admit that. I’m willing to admit that. It’s important that I admit that. OK, I've admitted it. Good for me. Hurray.
Normally, Jaime would have called Jason at a moment like this. Normally, he would have come over too, if she asked. Now, she wasn't even sure if he would answer her call, after what she had done. She forced herself to breath deeply, and resolved to adopt a dog as soon as she could. A big dog.
Alright, Jamie, you’re a big girl now. An independent woman. Just like you wanted. Remember, that’s why you moved across the country, far from your family. If you’re going to be on your own, you’re going to need to handle situations like this on your own. And you will. You can. I know you can. However, you can’t handle the situation from your bed. You will actually need to leave it at some point.
She leapt out of bed, and threw open her bedroom door. Once open, the tapping was much more apparent, even though the wind grew stronger, rattling the windows more fiercely. She shivered, as she crossed the threshold of her bedroom door. The air was eerily cold. Her hand hesitated at the light switch.
No, I better not turn on the light, otherwise, it will know I’m coming. I mean, he or she. He or she will know I’m coming. Get a grip, Jaime.
She moved slowly down the hall, towards the door, placing each foot carefully and quietly before the other, testing the new hardwood flooring, hoping it wouldn’t squeak. The light from the hallway beyond the door glowed in the peephole of the front door.
She stopped moving and listened carefully to the tapping. It seemed to be happening at the bottom of the door, under the handle.
Jaime took another careful step, and her foot brushed against something hard. A tinkling of sound turned into an explosion of rattling glass, as several wine bottles resettled in her recycling bin.
God damn it. I was suppose to put that out when I got home. Oh well, so much for the element of surprise.
She realized that the tapping had stopped. She held her breath, and waited.
The tapping started again, slowly, almost uncertain, until it found it’s old rhythm.
Jaime started to breath again.
OK. This is it. Just a few quick steps and I’m there. That’s it. It will be over. Mystery solved and I can go back to bed.
She moved quickly and peered into the peephole, half-expecting to see a ghost in chains. She saw only the hallway, dimly lit. She was almost disappointed.
Something covered the peephole.
Jaime jumped away from the door, not making a noise, and stood still, holding her breath.
Then, the peephole began to glow with the light of the hallway again.
OK. Something is out there. Something is definitely out there. Something big enough to cover the peephole. Something big enough to tap at the bottom of the door and to reach up and cover the peephole. Or, it could be two things. Two people, I mean. Two people.
The tapping started again.
I should look in the peephole. I should look in the peephole again. I should look in the peephole. It can’t hurt me. There’s a door between us. There’s a door between us. I’m safe. I’m totally safe. I’m safe.
She took a step towards the door and noticed that the chain lock was not in place. She reached out slowly, snatched it, and slid it into place in one smooth motion.
The tapping stopped and the light in the peephole disappeared again.
Can it see me? Can it see in? Can people see in through a peephole? I don’t know. I've never checked. Tomorrow, I will check. Tomorrow, I will definitely check.
She shivered again. Jason’s old T-shirt couldn't keep out the strange chill of the air or the feeling that she was being watched.
OK. I’m calling the cops. I’m calling the cops. That’s it, I’m calling the cops. Oh, and what are you going to tell them? That you need to be saved from a tapping noise. Yeah, that will go over real well. Shut up. You, shut up. Trust your instinct. Trust your instinct. You’re scared for a reason. Something isn’t right here. Trust your instinct. Fine, go ahead, trust your instinct, but don’t call the cops because you have the jitters. They have better things to do than put jittery girls at ease. OK, fine, but I need to call someone. I know. I will call the concierge.
Something threw itself against the door, with a loud fleshy thud.
Jaime jumped backwards, caught her foot on the recycling box, and fell hard onto her ass.
The door rattled again, but, this time, on it’s own. The rattling grew fiercer and fiercer and, all at once, the door was in a constant motion. Every part of it rattled and shook.
The chain lock fell out of its track and the door stopped rattling immediately.
Jaime realized that she was muttering the Hail Mary, under her breath. She hadn't prayed in years, so most of the prayer was forgotten. She repeated over and over, “Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women.”
The tapping started again.
She wanted to scream, but she bit her tongue instead. Even if she did manage to draw someone’s attention, what would she tell them when they arrived? There was also no reason to assume that whatever was out there wouldn’t harm whoever came to help. If it was harmless, she would look ridiculous. If it was harmful, it would hurt whoever came.
Maybe, if I stay quiet, it will go away.
The tapping continued.
She moved away from the door, sliding along the hardwood. She reached the end of the hall and turned into her living room.
This time a scream escaped her lips effortlessly. At the window overlooking her balcony, a pair of sharp red eyes watched her. There was a flash of lightning and an immediate crash of thunder. In the light, she thought she saw Jason peering in through the window, above where she had seen the eyes.
Oh, my fucking God. This better not be some kind of ridiculous practical joke. I’m going to fucking kill him.
“Jason, how the hell did you get in here,” she called out to him, as she approached the balcony. She threw open the door and turned on the balcony’s light.
Blood was everywhere. Jason’s limbs were arranged in a neat pile next to his torso, which was torn open like a flower. His organs were arranged neatly around his severed head, the heart still beating. She inhaled sharply at the sight of it, and she could smell his all too familiar cologne. His eyes opened, and he looked at her, his gaze full of hard anger.
She screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed.
“She was delirious, naked, and mumbling prayers to herself.” Tommy didn’t like telling the story, but eventually one of the new guys always asked about Unit 1414. “You know, like spooky Catholic prayers, even though she hadn't been to Church since she was a kid.”
“Seriously,” said the new guy, with good natured skepticism in his eyes. “What the fuck?”
“I know. That’s not even the weirdest part.” Tommy wagged his finger at the new guy. “Her whole body was covered in hundreds, you know, maybe even thousands of these tiny little scratches. Just deep enough to bleed, but not enough to kill.”
“Like, not death by a thousand paper cuts.”
“Sure, whatever,” Tommy continued. “They bundled her off to a psyche ward, loaded her up with meds, and wrote the whole thing off as a nervous breakdown, brought on by too much work, being away from her family, a broken heart -- you know that kind of bullshit.”
“Did she ever get better?”
“Eventually.” Tommy folded his arms. “Nine months later they finally let her out.”
“That’s a long time.”
“It sure is,” Tommy poked the new guy in the shoulder. “But, do you get it?”
“The time. The amount of time. Nine months.” Tommy crossed his arms. “She got better once she was done thinking she was pregnant.”
“Apparently, she blew up and everything.” Tommy used his hands to illustrate a pregnant bulge over his stomach. “Nine months later, her belly disappears, and she finally calms down.”
“Jesus Christ, Tommy,” the new guy giggled nervously. “You’re fucking with me right. This is all bullshit, right. Some kind of ‘new guy’ initiation shit.”
“Of course, it’s bullshit, but I’m telling you what actually happened.”
“How the hell would you know?” The new guy took a step away from 1414’s door.
“I was the fucking guy on duty, when the cops came to look for her.” Tommy reached out and touched the door of the unit. “I opened that goddamn door.” He brandished his master key, with his other hand. “I used this fucking key to open that door. I saw everything.”
“When you see that kind of bullshit, you don’t let the story go. You know what I mean? I followed up to find out what happened.” He paused for dramatic effect. “And you know what? She never came back to the condo. Ever. Everything is still in there, just as she left it, after the cops were done with it.”
“What the fuck,” the new guy took another step away from the door. ““I guess, she couldn't sell it, after a story like that.”
“Not couldn't.” Tommy stepped in close to the new guy. “Wouldn't. She never even put it on the market.”
“That’s really fucking weird, Tommy.” The new guy took another step away. “That’s really weird.”
“Weird, from one point of view. Sure.” Tommy took another step towards the new guy and got into his face “From another point of view, it makes perfect sense. Especially, if you don't want whatever happened to you to happen to someone else.”
The color drained from the new guy’s face, as Tommy’s point sunk in.
Tommy didn’t like telling the story, but no matter how cocky the listener, no one ever went into that condo after hearing it. And that’s all that mattered. Tommy told the story because he didn’t ever want to go back in there, not after seeing the broken look in that woman’s eyes, hearing the strange terror in her voice, and feeling the queer unholy cold in the air.