The Nonsense

October's almost here, so that means horror story time again... and, provided I'm not too lazy to type 'em up I've got a blitz of stuff planned for you, maybe even a story a week, so I hope you won't get sick of 'em.  Disturbed by them, yeah, afraid to read the next one, oh yeah buddy, but sick of them, no.  But I guess we'll find out, because they're coming.  I went a little overboard. 

Just in case you're new here, this story joins a book-full we've already got here on the blog, so in case you like it and want more, here's a handy-dandy table of contents.  Knock yourselves out!   They're all free but we'd all LOVE feedback, so, don't be shy.

My stuff:


Now, on to a bad night's dreaming... 

                                    THE NONSENSE

                “I just want you to remember that you’re getting scared away by remote controls in the refrigerator,” Jennifer said, watching Gary stuff clothes into a gym bag.  “Not a shotgun, not a chainsaw, not even a threatening word.  Remote controls in the fridge is enough to send you fleeing into the spineless protection program.  I hope you feel good about yourself.”

                “You know more has happened than the thing with the remotes,” Gary said, holding up underwear to see if it went into the luggage or the laundry bag.  “This is too crazy and it’s getting worse.  All the nightmares and the rest of it.  Not everything has to be about chainsaws.  I can’t sleep here!   I’m telling you, something bad is going to happen, and if you had any sense you’d get out of here, too.”

                “So now I have no sense?”  Jennifer threw some of Gary’s underwear into his face.  She was happy to see that pair go into the laundry bag instead of the luggage.  “I told you, I have nowhere to go.  Not all of us have parents to run home to.”

                Gary looked down, quiet.  Jennifer’s mother had died of leukemia when she was sixteen, and her father had fallen asleep at the wheel of his semi and gone into a river late one night not even three months ago.  She was still having trouble dealing with that.   Gary knew that now he was causing her to lose someone else, the last major someone she had, and that bothered him.  Not enough to override his fear of the apartment, but, bothered him.   Jennifer watched him fidget; she hadn’t meant to guilt-trip him, but if he was feeling small now, fine, she could handle that because he deserved it.  She turned her back on him and let him finish packing, the chickenshit afraid-of-ghosts son of a bitch.

                 She went into the kitchen, where the bills and reminder-notes were on the floor again.  Whatever it was liked to play with the magnets on the refrigerator.  It looked like it’d tried to make the horse magnet have sex with the Bart Simpson magnet, or maybe it was stomping him and she had a dirty mind.  The ice cream cone magnet was upside down again; whatever it was insisted on it being that way.  Maybe it had no knowledge of ice cream cones and thought it was a faceless head in a dunce cap.  That was just a guess, though; nothing the unseen roommate did fit anything resembling logic.  She’d given up hope of that when she’d had to pick Cap’n Crunch out of the clothes drier.

                The refrigerator full of remotes was a case in point.  She and Gary had gone to the movies one night and when they got home all their remote controls were missing.   They’d found them the next morning when Gary went for milk for his cereal, stacked in the refrigerator like Lincoln Logs.   Fortunately they all still worked, but that wasn’t the point; it had proven that the little odd things they’d been blaming on each other since moving in together weren’t either of them’s doing.  There was a third party involved.

                They were both afraid of it, but Gary had finally gone full-blown coward and now he was fleeing the scene like it was day twenty-eight of the Amityville Horror.   She hoped he knew that meant it was over between them.  Maybe they’d been cooling off, anyway.  Maybe they never should have moved into any apartment together.  But certainly not this one.

                It was an old apartment building, one of the oldest buildings in town.  It showed its age, and not just in the antique style and predominance of dark wood no one would ever be able to afford to build with now.  It wasn’t run down, exactly, but it creaked and cracked and felt fragile when you moved through it.  Gary had never found a suitable place to set up his Pelaton exercise bike; whenever he’d tried to use it everything in the place rattled like it might just come down on their heads.  He’d taken the bike to his parents’ house and now, she supposed, he’d get to reunite with it, ride those breakup blues into the sunset.  Hi-ho coward, away.

                “Hey,” Gary said, leaning into the kitchen.  Jennifer said nothing, didn’t even bother looking up, so he didn’t make whatever speech he’d been planning and said instead, “I’ll come back and get the rest of my stuff later.”
                “Yeah, maybe it’ll be in the street,” she said.  “Just so you won’t have to come back into the scary place.”

                “I hope not.  I don’t think you’d do that to me.”

                “You never know, people can surprise you with how pathetic they can be.”

                Gary sighed, stood un-looked-at for a minute, and if he thought of a response he decided not to go for it.  Wimp to the end.  She listened to him walk across the hardwood and leave into the night, not slamming the front door the way she kind of wanted him to.

                Now she was really alone.

                Or, not quite.  And that was the problem.  She was alone with… whatever.  The eccentric.

             She gathered up the bills and memos and re-magneted them to the refrigerator.  They probably wouldn’t stay there long.  Whatever-it-was seemed to consider the refrigerator the board in some game it played with them, the rules of which only it knew.

                The worst part were the dreams.  They weren’t really nightmares so much as just ridiculous, alien things, bringing a sense of having your mind invaded by another’s, and a crazy mind which didn’t see anything the way you did.  A few nights ago Jennifer had a dream which seemed to go on for days, in which she was trying to fill every cabinet and closet in the house with old rotting cabbages.  Even though it had sounded silly when she told Gary about it, it had left her with one of the most disturbed, encroached-upon feelings she’d ever had.  She’d awoken smelling them.  Gary hadn’t laughed, because he’d woken from a dream where he had to report to a new job at the top of an old office building, where he’d been assigned to ride on a big wooden horse all day.  She hadn’t laughed at that one, either.  Neither of them were prone to such dreams.  And both of them knew those weren’t really their dreams.  They were like notes passed to them by a demented classmate, when they were too unaware to refuse them.

                She walked back through the house, verifying that Gary had, indeed, left.  Plenty of his stuff was still around, but he didn’t live here anymore.  He could have packed more thoroughly but he wanted to escape before nightfall, when everything became worse.    Next to the front door were a pair of Gary’s shoes.  Or, it had been a pair; now it was one shoe and a hat, a fedora Gary had bought and then never worn after Jennifer had made fun of him for trying to be a hipster.  She did laugh a little at the unseen roomate’s suggestion that Gary be a trendsetter, stylin’ around with a shoe on one foot and a hipster-ass hat on the other.  She couldn’t decide if the roommate was an idiot or just had an absurdist sense of humor.  Whatever the case, there was something badly wrong with him-or-her, something Gary couldn’t bear and that now she’d have to handle on her own.

                She didn’t have anywhere else to go, and she didn’t have much money.  Without Gary splitting the rent she wasn’t sure she could even stay here.   At least the rent was paid up for two, maybe even three months;  Gary got financial help from his parents and they liked to do things in advance to avoid hassles.   Gary’s stuff was paying the rent now; she was living in his storage locker.

                And there was a lot of it.  Almost everything here was Gary’s.  His bottles of Purell were everywhere.  He was a germophobe who never finished anything, so there were bottles on shelves, on the coffee table, next to the phone.  He was as afraid of germs as he was of ghosts, afraid of everything he couldn’t see, really.  Jennifer made a circuit of the house and gathered up every Purell bottle that was less than a third full and finally tossed them in the garbage.  Not as satisfying as scaling his prissy little fedora into the street, but it was something.  Maybe his next girlfriend wouldn’t tease him about it and he’d be free to walk around looking like snappy lil’ douche.

                Not that he’d need a hat for that.  Even hat-less there was something about Gary that made you want to twirl him around by his neck.

                Jennifer snorted.  You are a bitter woman, Jennifer Barnes.  Just two nights ago you’d been begging the douche to stay, almost in tears you’d begged him.  Not so much for the relationship, but so she wouldn’t be stuck here alone with the thing.

                She went back to the living room, turned on the television, and channel surfed.  The thing in the house didn’t seem dangerous at all, it had never done anything threatening.   Gary was a real wimp for running away from it.  He had no reason to be scared of it.  It wasn’t scary, it was just weird because its behavior was so odd and because it was… 

                Dead.  It was a dead thing, sharing their apartment.

                There was no way that wasn’t scary.  Like Gary had said, not everything had to be about chainsaws.  She and Gary had gone to great pains never to be alone in the apartment, and now, here she was.

                She found a movie and got interested in it, enough so she almost forgot the situation until the grandfather clock in the hallway let out a little ding.  The clock had, appropriately enough, been her grandfather’s, and it was very sensitive, the floorboards it stood on very loose.  If you walked past it, the pendulum would swing against the spring inside and give out a little chime.  No one was near it now.  At least, no one she could see.

                She tried to ignore it, but it made her flesh creep.  She sat frozen, listening for more signs of something walking through the house.

                In a few minutes there was a lot of noise from the kitchen, clattering and bonking.  She held her breath, listening.  It kept happening, and Jennifer got off the couch and peered through the house at the darkened doorway of the kitchen.  She couldn’t see anything, but she could still hear it.  A chair, being dragged across the floor.

                Once, back in college, she’d stayed in an apartment with some other girls and they’d had a rat.  Not a mouse, a fucking rat.  They’d listened to its movements in other rooms, frozen in terror.  This was worse.  You knew what a rat was.  Bad as it was, a rat was alive.   It only did certain things.  It was a part of the world as you understood it.  And eventually a trap would (and had – gruesomely) kill it.

                This was different.  If she walked twenty feet or so and turned on the light, what would she see?

                She was tempted to leave the house, spend the evening at the movies, but it was close to nine o’clock.  She’d tough it out.

                In a few minutes, the noise stopped.  She waited until the movie was over and then, full of dread, got up to see what had been done in the kitchen.

                There was already a glow from the partially-open fridge, but she had to turn on the light to see the full ridiculousness of the scene.

                Most of the contents of the refrigerator had been taken out and lined up on the kitchen table so one of the chairs could be put inside it.  It didn’t quite fit, so another chair had been pushed against the door to try to hold it shut.

                The whole scenario was idiotic.  It still scared the hell out of her, because it had happened at all, but nothing in her imagination could come up with a reason for wanting a chair in the fridge.  What kind of mind thought, “This is a good idea, this needs doing”?

                A decayed one, full of numb dead-person logic.

                She took the chair out, replaced the racks, and put the food back in.  A few things that only Gary had liked, like black olives and Swiss cheese, she threw in the trash.  She’d adopted a tolerance for certain foods, just from living with him, but Swiss cheese was toe fungus in her opinion.  

                It didn’t take long to fix the stupidity, and Jennifer was more creeped out by it than annoyed.  

                When it was straightened, she decided to go ahead and go to bed.  She couldn’t sleep, so she read for a while, a Lee Child novel that she’d have to finish soon because it was Gary’s.  At one point she heard the grandfather clock give out a little ding as something walked past it again, but no other activity followed  and finally Jennifer was struggling to finish a page and gave up.  She considered leaving a light on but if anything happened it would only be worse, seeing it, so she turned it off.  In the dark, she was asleep in minutes.

                                                 *               *              *

                She woke up at almost four a.m. to a strange sound.  She lay there, frozen, her sleep-murked brain trying to analyze it.  A repetitive, whisking, purring sound, zoooot-zoooot, zoooot-zoooot.  A zipper, she decided.  It was playing with a zipper, one too long for pants.  A jacket, maybe?  She lay listening, holding her breath, and she could feel the presence in the room, somebody crouching on the floor a few feet away in the dark.  She could make out someone muttering under their breath.

                Finally it stopped.  In a few more minutes the room felt empty again, and Jennifer turned the lights on, wincing as it shocked her eyes.

                No one was there.  It took her a minute to figure out what had happened.

                A pair of her boots had been pulled out of the back of the closet and were lying on the floor, zipped up, not the way she’d left them. Sleepily, she got up, turned on more lights, and sat down and unzipped them.  The right boot was empty.   The left one had a banana stuck into it, like a shoe tree.

                Jennifer took it out, looked at it, and laughed.  It was eerie, but absurd.  Something had considered this a thing to do in the middle of the night, had returned from the dead to see how a boot would work as a place to keep one’s bananas, the way a chair belonged in the refrigerator.  Merry Christmas!  An idiot from beyond the grave was keeping himself busy, perhaps trying to be helpful.

                She was still tired but was done sleeping for the night, so she took a shower.   The soap was missing (a few days later she’d find it in the light fixture in the hallway) so she washed with Gary’s Axe body wash; she’d never particularly liked the smell of it, but it was that or shampoo.  He had three bottles of the stuff, two of which farted wetly in her hand before she tossed them out of the shower to throw away later.  Gary never could finish anything.

                Until now.

                “Coward,” Jennifer said to herself.  And now she’d smell like him, thanks to the only roommate she had left.

                She finished her shower and stood in front of the mirror as it unfogged, staring at herself.  Pretty girl.  Twenty-five but she still got carded once in a while.  Long blonde hair, green eyes that had been in a magazine ad for mascara once on a pick-up modeling gig while visiting a cousin who was in the business in L. A.   The cousin’s dad had died, too, so she didn’t even have an uncle.  Pretty girl, alone.  Who looked like she’d missed a good night’s sleep.  And probably wouldn’t be making it up any time soon.

                She went through the apartment, looking for any other abnormalities that may have appeared during the night.  Nothing.  The weirdo had satisfied himself with the banana incident.

                Jennifer got dressed, deciding to wear the boots since they’d been brought out for her, and ate breakfast, slicing the banana in question over her cereal.  She was up a couple of hours early so she watched TV to kill the time.  Nothing else happened; the lucky undead was apparently sleeping late.  Bastard.

                Most days she wasn’t very happy to go to work at her insurance company clerk job, but in this new situation anything that got her out of the house for a while was welcome.  It was boring, but boredom was sanctuary now.

                                                              *               *              *

                When she got home the magnets on the refrigerator had been played with again, a radio in a back room was playing static full blast, and a cereal box had been taken out of the garbage and tucked over one of the blades of the living room’s ceiling fan.  

It wasn’t much, but it was enough.  Jennifer went out to the movies.

                                                      *               *              *

She came home and went to bed.  Bentley, the teddy bear an old boyfriend had won for her by throwing a football through a tire at a Halloween carnival, was off the top of the dresser and sitting in the middle of the bed.  His eyes and nose had been pulled off, leaving him with a blank face other than a big crazy grin.  She’d later find the eyes and nose stuck in her cereal box, like a prize.  Bentley looked disturbing with only a smile for a face so she stuffed him in the back of the closet.

She read for a while, then turned out the lights.   It took her a while to get to sleep.  In the dark hallway the grandfather clock pinged a couple of times as something passed by.  Jennifer slept anyway.

                                                 *               *              *

Nothing strange awaited her in the morning, or when she got home from work that night, but she fell asleep on the couch watching television, and when she woke up Moosey McMooseface was on the couch with her.  Moosey was another stuffed animal.  Gary claimed he’d won it for her in a claw machine but since nobody ever won Jack F. Shit out of a claw machine she suspected he’d actually bought it and made up the story to compete with the former boyfriend who’d actually won the now-faceless Bentley.

As a haunting went, she supposed she should find this endearing, like the whatever-it-was thought she looked cute sleeping there and wanted to tuck her in, but it just made her skin crawl.  She didn’t want something dead and crazy finding her attractive.   The last thing she wanted was its personal attention.  Playing with the magnets was one thing, but noticing her was another.

All of this stuff had been creepy when Gary was around, but at least then they were both experiencing it and could try laughing it off, have an us-against-it feeling.  Now that she was alone and had no one to laugh with, it was so much worse; there was an intimacy with the thing that was too much to stand.  She’d been more interested than really scared by it all when Gary was here.  Now it was too weird, almost terrifying.  She hated coming home at the end of the day.

The rest of the night passed quietly but she didn’t sleep much, for listening. 

                               *               *              *

During breakfast, something was walking in the attic.  Not pacing, really, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump, creak-squeak-thump, the Ministry of Silly Walks.

The landlord – funny little Mr. Parkins – had explained that their apartment was the only one with access to the attic, a little panel in the guest bedroom closet’s ceiling that would lift up.   “There’s nothing in there,” he’d explained.  “I went up and had a peek years ago – when I could still fit – but there’s space where you can store some things, if you like.”

Jennifer wouldn’t go up there now for a million dollars.

The thing did a few tap-dance steps, then stumbled around, thump-bump-bonk.  After waiting a few minutes it hopped around like a frog, sounding heavy and soft, somehow.

Maybe I should visit Mr. Parkins and ask about who’d lived here before us (me, she corrected, just me) and ask if he knew it was haunted. Mr. Parkins would at least be sympathetic, she thought.  He was a chubby, effeminate little guy who’d spent most of his time, when he was supposed to be showing them the apartment, talking about his stamp collection.  He collected stamps, Gary had said, with the avidity of a man who hadn’t had a hard-on in years.  Jennifer had thought that was meanly hilarious until Gary had made it lame by repeating it to at least three other friends of theirs.

She hated Gary and still missed him.  Nobody should have to be alone while something hopped around their attic.

                                           *               *              *

When she came home and found a slice of ham stuck to the bathroom mirror, she went to the movies again and decided to visit Mr. Parkins on Saturday.   For some reason the ham thing really bothered her, maybe because she tried to make sense of it.  Had it watched her stare into the mirror?  Had it wanted to see something staring back at it, too?  And found cold, dead meat appropriate?

It was worse when anything it did made any sense at all.  She didn’t want to understand it.  Only a scrambled brain could understand the thing that lived in her apartment.  

Understanding felt like empathy and empathy felt like friendship and this damned puttering thing was no friend of hers.

                                   *               *              *

After the movie was over she went to Wal-Mart and wandered the aisles, just to avoid going home.  She managed to kill an hour there, but finally had to go back, dreading what she might find.

Nothing.  Or at least nothing obvious.  The apartment looked just like she’d left it.

With a degree of dread she turned in to read, trying to get sleepy.  She kept having to skip a few pages back and re-read due to concentrating on listening for strange sounds rather than the words in the book.  All she heard was a brief rattling from the kitchen, which she decided was the ice maker.  She finally closed the book and shut off the light, feeling like some game was being played with her.  Any symphony being conducted required interspersed moments of silence to make the music.

 Finally she went to sleep.

                                         *               *              *

She woke up -- from  a dream in which she’d grown antlers --  to the toilet flushing and wondered what time it was.  Gary must have gotten up early.  That wasn’t like him, though.  Usually he was a pain in the ass to get up in the morning, you almost had to beat him awake.  She couldn’t remember him ever getting up before her.

Then she remembered that Gary didn’t live here anymore, the cowardly bastard.

She sat up, staring at the clock.  2:30 a.m.  “Son of a bitch,” she snarled and got up and walked to the bathroom.  The light was off and the door was open.  She flicked the switch and looked around.  Nothing else was out of order but the idiot had tried to flush a package of razors down the toilet.

She wondered if the ghost might be some dead toddler, doing the things it did.   A dead child… that’d make it all even worse, give it a dimension of sadness.   Somehow it didn’t feel like a child, though.  It felt like an idiot, some confused moron with a lot of weird ideas for things to do, or some giggling weirdo delighting in absurdity.  

Saturday she was going to talk to Mr. Parkins and find out what the hell was in her apartment.  Today was Friday, so, tomorrow.

Tiredness allowed her to go back to sleep until the alarm woke her from a dream in which she’d found herself only being able to see from the back of her head.  She’d finally decided she’d have to walk backwards, and was calmly doping out a way to drive her car in that position.  She’d stared at the back of her head in the mirror, combing through her hair, trying to find eyes.

The apartment was quiet.  The ice-cream cone magnet was upside down again, she noticed, but she left it.  One must make little concessions, she thought, when one has a roommate.

                                       *               *              *

Mr. Parkins lived like a little mouse in a hole, his apartment cozy with clutter.  Only a sense of organization and some fussy housekeeping saved him from being a hoarder, but anyone could tell he had far too much stuff in there.  Stuff, as in stuffing, for every available space.  Jennifer liked it, though; anywhere she looked she saw something interesting.  And, apparently glad for the company, Mr. Parkins kept hauling out new things to show her.

While she glanced through an album of misprinted stamps he’d acquired through “back channels – very spy-stuff,” Mr. Parkins settled on a chair beside the couch where Jennifer sat.  He rubbed his soft little hands together and gave her a worried little smile.  “So you’re having some trouble with the apartment?” he said, having apparently decided he’d avoided it long enough and had established friendliness.

“Well, kind of,” Jennifer said, setting the stamp album aside with respectful care.  “Everything’s working fine, I mean, the sinks aren’t clogged or anything…”

“Good, because I’m awful with a wrench!” Mr. Parkins laughed.  “Although I’d certainly call a service or something if need be.”

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Jennifer said.  “Not that kind of trouble.  It’s just that the place is haunted.”

“Haunted?”  Mr. Parkins’ eyebrows shot up.  “Oh my!”

Jennifer laughed self-consciously.  “Well, I don’t know what else to call it.  Very strange things have been happening.  Crazy things.  The other night someone put one of the chairs in the refrigerator.”

Mr. Parkins stared, and started to giggle.  Jennifer laughed, too, unable to help it.  “Okay.  That would be… unusual!”   Mr. Parkins said.  “Perhaps your boyfriend is a prankster?”

“My boyfriend left,” Jennifer said.  “He got scared.  That’s another thing, I may have some trouble making the rent.”

Mr. Parkins held his hands out like he was about to play an invisible piano.  “Don’t fret over that.  I understand your situation, we can work that out when it comes.  You’re paid up months in advance, and you’ve been excellent tenants, I’ll make an effort to keep you.”

“Thank you for that.  I like the apartment, but I’m a little freaked out by the stuff going on in it.  It’s crazy.  Things get pulled out of the closet, and I woke up to something trying to flush a package of razors down the toilet…”

His eyebrows shot up again.  “Well… that certainly would freak one out.”

She nodded, laughing.  “Yes.  And I know there’s not really anything you can do about something like this.  I guess what I’m coming to you for isn’t a solution to it, but an explanation for it.  A history of the apartment, I guess.  Has anyone died there?  Has any activity like this been reported before?”

Mr. Parkins shook his head.  “This is a very old house, one of the oldest in town.  All old houses have their pasts, and their eccentricities.  I would imagine over time that people died here.  I know of no one who died in that particular apartment, however.  And no one that I know of has died in any other apartment of any unusual circumstances.  No sort of violence or anything, thank the good Lord.”  He went to cross himself, realized he didn’t know how to do it, and waved it away with a fluttering gesture.  “No strange activity has been reported to me.  Well, nothing so strange as a chair in the refrigerator!”  He laughed.  “That, I must say, is a new one on me!  It didn’t damage the refrigerator…?”

“No, that’s fine,” Jennifer said.  “Nothing… threatening has happened.  Nothing like that.  Just… strangeness.  Can you tell me about previous tenants?  Anything odd?”

“Anyone raising the devil, you mean?”  Mr. Parkins giggled.  “Not to my knowledge.  We have had a lot of ‘weirdoes,’ as you might say, but people, in my experience, tend toward the strange.  Most of my tenants have been older people.  You and Gary are the youngest to live here in, oh, it must be at least a decade, possibly two.  The man who lived there before you did die, but in hospice, not in this house.  He was very old and had become senile.  Very sad, he was a gentle, soft-spoken man.  He was odd, as you’d expect, did some unusual things, due to the dementia, but there was no malevolence in any of it.  There was another man before him, also declining.  He got Alzheimer’s and moved out to live with his children.  Years ago, that was.  Before him was a woman named Dot.  Dorothy.  She was a Dot, all right – downright dotty!  Not to the point of trying to furnish a refrigerator, but perhaps she’d try to flush razors down a toilet on a bad day.  Quite harmless, though.  She was rather delightful, really, dotty old Dot.  She was already here when I took proprietorship over the place, so farther back than that, I don’t really know.”

“So, basically, everyone who lied in that apartment was crazy,” Jennifer said.

“I suppose.  Until now.  I hope!”  He gave her a wide-eyed stare and giggled, and Jennifer laughed.

“I can’t swear to anything,” she said.  “Lately I have my own doubts.”

“Well, to be honest, I can’t say I believe in ghosts,” Mr. Parkins said, “although I believe you’re experiencing something.  Perhaps it’d help if I had your locks changed?  I’d certainly be happy to do whatever I can.”

Jennifer shook her head.  “A lot of Gary’s stuff is still in there, so I better not lock him out from it.  Thank you, though.”

“I hope what’s going on isn’t too upsetting,” he said.  “I don’t mean to laugh at your troubles, at all.  It’s just very unusual.”

“Oh, I know.  No offense taken, I know it all sounds crazy.  I’m just trying to understand it.”

“Could you, perhaps, be sleepwalking?”  He spread his hands and raised his eyebrows.

“No.  Things are happening when I’m awake.  Gary experienced all this, too.  We went out to the movies one night and when we came home, all our remote controls were in the refrigerator.”

Mr. Parkins blinked.  “I’d really like to have your locks changed, just in case some stranger is getting in.  I want my tenants to be safe.  If it wouldn’t be too awkward, perhaps you could talk it over with Gary, explain the situation?”

“I suppose,” she sighed.  “I don’t think anyone’s getting in, though.”

“I’d offer you another apartment if I had one vacant, but there are only three other residents and they’ve all been here for years.  Settled in.”

She nodded.  “Thank you, but I’ll be okay.  I just wanted a little history of the place.”  She got up to leave.

“Well, there were people there who did have mental troubles – none in the least violent, I assure you – but they all died elsewhere.”

Maybe they found their way back, Jennifer thought.  Or…and she thought something worse.  “Well, thank you for talking to me, and for showing me your things.  You have an amazing collection.”

“Maybe too much,” he sighed, standing up to show her to the door.  “A lot of clutter, really, but what is one to do?  Stop collecting things and sit, bored, in a neat house?”  He waved his hands, pushing that idea away with a derisive noise.  “Not for me!”

“I can’t argue with that,” Jennifer laughed.  She could, but she wouldn’t.  She thought of Gary’s endless bottles of Purell and shower gel and all the rest and acknowledged that it was always possible that she was the weird one.  Who really could say what the proper way of doing things was?  If most people were eccentric, maybe that was really what normal was.

“Do let me know if there is anything I can do,” Mr. Parkins said, opening the door.  “And call me if the chair goes into the refrigerator again.  I’d like to see how that works!”

“Oh, I will,” Jennifer said, and left.

It had started drizzling rain while she was talking with Mr. Parkins, and she winced against it as she hurried along the sidewalk back to her apartment door.  Well, that solved nothing, she thought.  Any one of the previous tenants had been crazy enough to be the one who was dwelling with her now.  And they were all crazy enough for additional crazy behavior to have gone unnoticed amidst their own, if the one haunting the place pre-dated them all.

And the idea that really worried Jennifer – the one she hadn’t wanted to face back there with Mr. Parkins – was the one that said that all of them had been sane until they moved into apartment three and spent some time with their new roommate.

When she got back into her apartment, the television was on to an empty channel and towels from the linen closet had been arranged on the furniture as though they were watching it.

After turning off the television and putting the towels away so she wouldn’t have to come home to them, Jennifer hurried back out into the rain.

                                        *               *              *

It had been a few years since Jennifer had been drunk, really drunk, but she was really drunk now.  The drinking had started being about the apartment, and then had become about Gary, and then she’d started drinking about her dad and that’s when it’d really gotten bad and she’d lost track.  Now she was staring through her new friend, Lucinda, and wondering how in the shit she was going to get home.   When you can’t remember exactly how a car works, don’t drive.

Lucinda was so boring she was verging on becoming horrific.   Jennifer was a few drinks past remembering how she’d even started talking to this eggplant, who was now babbling in slow motion about how she had her choice of being called Lucy or Linda but didn’t like either one but her Paw-Paw called her Linda while her Mee-Maw called her Lucy, or Miss Lucy if she were in trouble haw-haw-haw.  It swam up through Jennifer’s alcohaze that Lucy-Linda should be a few years past the age of being in trouble with her Mee-Maw, but Southern girls tend to ripen slow, sometimes maintaining it right up ‘til the rot stage.  Lucinda was, what, thirty at most?   The light here was dim, thank the Lord, but she looked forty so that meant late 20’s probably.   She wore makeup like somebody without youth on her side, though.  Her face was that of a garish doll from a bad dream, raccoon mascara and circles of rouge that made her look like the loser in a slap-fight, with pouty little bow-lips so glossed she might have been swigging olive oil.   Jennifer found herself smiling at the thought of punching that little pout just as hard as she could, seeing if that could call out Miss Lucy, haw-haw-haw, raise Lucinda’s droopy eyelids like the bell on top of one of those things at the fair, the hit-them-with-a-hammer things, whatever they were called.  Jennifer’s dad used to take her to fairs all the time but she’d never actually seen one of those things.  They were in every cartoon, though.

Dad, and the fair.

Dollface went starry and blurry.  She kept talking, not noticing Jennifer was crying until Jennifer got up.

Some guy she didn’t remember a damn thing about the next day called a cab for her and somehow she got home where she found a chair in her bed.

                                   *               *              *

She had to get another cab to drive her around to bars the next morning to pick up her car, which was embarrassing because she wasn’t sure which one she’d been in.   Luckily it was her second guess and she didn’t go broke paying the cabbie.

She’d thought about calling friends to get a ride, without explaining why, but decided not to.  She didn’t want to humiliate herself by admitting she’d gotten that drunk.  She’d alarmed herself and didn’t want to get anyone else involved in her out-of-character behavior.

She’d been so drunk she hadn’t even kicked the chair out of bed, and had just slept beside it.  The Roomate had even tucked it in, pulling the covers over it, and she vaguely wondered if he’d been sitting in it, beside her.  Taking it out, she found one of Gary’s shoes tied to it, and she’d laughed until she felt crazy.  Of course!  Who’d tuck a chair into bed without tying a shoe to it?  Silly girl, what did you expect?

When she felt well enough, she started calling friends to test the idea of maybe moving in with them, or at least hanging out with them to escape the apartment.  But, taking inventory, she found she actually had few friends.  Most of their hang-out-with friends had really been Gary’s.

When you become a couple, there’s an unconscious tendency to shed friendships who weren’t couples, too, so now her single friends had cooled and adjusted, and they all had higher priority friends now.  It wasn’t personal, it was just a reorganization of commitments, but it still made them unavailable.  And her coupled friends certainly wouldn’t want a roommate.

She was alone.  Which wouldn’t have been such a problem if she’d really been alone.  But, as the creaking floorboards and tinging grandfather clock reminded her, she wasn’t.

                                 *               *              *

As far as she could tell, the drawing was a three-legged, one-armed man in a top hat, wearing a dress.  All three legs ended in chicken feet.

It was open to some interpretation, of course, as anything drawn on a countertop with a raisin must be.

She’d didn’t know they (I, it’s I now, no, maybe it is we, what are the rules of the dead?) had any raisins, but the Roomate had found some somewhere.  The ones it hadn’t mushed trying to draw with them had been laid out in little patterns, like signals for alien pilots.  Jennifer studied the smeared drawing for quite a while.  The figure’s sole arm – or maybe it was a penis, since it sprouted so low in the torso – was carrying what might have been a sign, or an axe, or the hammer of fucking Thor.  It’s hard to draw with a raisin, regardless of your level of determination.

“A for effort,” Jennifer said, and giggled.  She thought of calling Mr. Parkins up to see ol’ birdfoot, but he’d just assume she’d drawn it herself and call the men to haul her away in the funnybus.  Instead, she scrubbed it away before ants could eat it, and gathered up the raisins.

Finally deciding her stomach was settled enough for Sunday breakfast at oh-my-god-it’s-3:30 p.m., she cooked an egg.  There was already a piece of bread – and a book about birds – in the toaster.  Laughing, she set the book aside and replaced the bread with a new slice.   Maybe a book about birds would make a good breakfast if she buttered it.  She fanned through the pages to see if the roommate had thought of that.  Nope.

“One step ahead of you, asshole,” she told the empty house.

                                    *               *              *

Only little things happened over the next three days – one of Gary’s shoes on his turntable, his fedora cocked jauntily on a globe that got left in the bathroom (and exactly when was Gary planning to get his shit?  It’d been a week with no contact), pencils stuck in an apple in an apparent attempt to make some sort of doll – but she still went out and got drunk again.   She went home with some guy she didn’t really like and fucked him just to avoid having to go home.  When she woke up and took a good look at the geeky little twerp she decided she wasn’t an egomaniac to consider herself the luckiest night of his life, and she was happy for him but disgusted with herself.  He drove her back to her car, making a lot of talk about their future, the poor guy, and she gave him a lot of lies about being “between phones” and promised she’d call him, then tossed his number out the car window when she got a mile or so away.  Slut and drunk and litterbug, oh, Jen, you just suck.

Drink enough and you end up with new things to drink away, she thought.  She hated going back into that apartment, but waking up at that guy’s place was no solution to it.   She felt numb about what she’d done.  She’d called Gary a coward, and he was, but what was she?

No shotgun, no chainsaw, not even a threatening word.

Just a chair in her bed and a three-legged birdfooted man in a top hat, drawn with a raisin.

She sat in her haunted apartment and laughed until she couldn’t breathe, while something played with the light switch, on, off, on, off.

                                    *               *              *

Jennifer skipped work.  Jennifer never skipped work.  Jennifer was crazy, Jennifer decided, and Jennifer was going to go to Gary’s parents’ house and show him how crazy Jennifer was, until she got him to pay for a hotel room until she could find some other way to get her out of this hell he had put her in.  She’d been happy in her old apartment and now it was gone – she’d checked.
When she went out to find Gary, though, the world was dark as night with the most frightening clouds she’d ever seen churning overhead, ominous as a stream of bombers.  The television, she found, was full of red flashing warnings, tornadoes on the march.  She wasn’t going anywhere.  Doom was coming.
She huddled on the couch, staring at sitcoms and listening to the house squeak and crack in the wind.  The grandfather clock tinged regularly as something paced the house.  Tornadoes, it seemed, made the mad dead nervous, too.
She clearly heard muttering, an endless low under-the-breath babble, like a conversation in a distant room.  She thought maybe it was inside her head but she felt sure it wasn’t.   She’d heard it before, in her bedroom one night.  Now it was clearer.  She could almost make out words.  None of them made any sense, but that wasn’t surprising.
She went back and forth to the window, peeking out.  Something seemed to be following her.  It muttered next to her, and her flesh crawled; being so close to the thing was repulsive.
The wind howled around the house and boards cracked like knuckles.  This building had stood longer than most others in this town which meant it was strong, but maybe it was getting tired and ready to lie down.  Her unseen roommate seemed even more upset about this than she did.  It was all around her now, on the move, muttering, fidgeting, agitated, frightened.
She tried to avoid all the angst by watching the television, and that helped a lot.  Until the power went out.

                                 *               *              *

The house was dead black and there were no sounds to cover up the wind, which was practically screaming through the eaves now, flinging things against the walls outside like the fists of a mob.

In the dark, the Roomate panicked.

Cold hands with long nails clutched at her and she shrieked and scurried across the couch, knocking things over in the dark.  The muttering was now a hoarse babble, a gobbling gurgle of nonsense, and Jennifer couldn’t stand to hear it so she yelled, wordless shouts intended to drive the thing away.  

Lightning outside lit the room and nobody was there even though hands were on her again, chilling, damp, repellently soft.  The gobbling voice pleaded and whined and Jennifer screamed, slapping at the air, hitting nothing.  Her skin was crawling and she scurried frantically away.  “Stay away from me!” she shrieked.  “STAY AWAY!”

The thing babbled and ran back and forth.  The grandfather clock bonged like it’d been bumped into.

Jennifer flailed in the dark, trying to find the front door.  However horrifying it would be out in the storm, she couldn’t stay in here.  She was mindless with terror. 

Then the hands were on her again, yielding like cheese as they gripped, the nails digging in, and it was hugging her, cold, damp, horribly soft, and she shrieked so hard her throat seized up, and it was babbling in her ear.

She could finally make out what it was saying.

And she laughed and laughed and the darkness laughed around her, laughed until it howled.

                                  *               *              *

“Jennifer?”  Gary called, leaning in the door.  “Jen?  You here?”

The apartment was silent.  He stepped in, looking around.  God, it was a mess.  What had Jennifer been doing since he’d left?

He’d tried calling first, but the tornado that swept through town three days ago still had the lines down, and the cellular service was spotty; he wasn’t sure if Jennifer was getting his calls or not.  He hoped she wasn’t just not answering him.  She probably hated him – he kind of hated himself – but he just couldn’t stand this place.  He’d felt like he was losing his mind here.  He’d even started hearing a weird mumbling voice that scared him worse than any of the rest of it, especially when he’d made out a few of the things it was saying.  He hadn’t told Jennifer about that, for fear of disturbing her.  He’d tried to protect her, right up to the moment he’d abandoned her to the nightmare.

“Jen?  It’s Gary,” he said, walking through the rooms.  Total silence.  She must not be here.

Good lord, everything in the apartment was a ridiculous jumble.  One of his shoes was dangling from the ceiling fan.  It had a potato stuck in it.

Probably the work of the idiot roommate, he thought.  Who else?

Bentley Bear was on the kitchen table, minus his eyes and nose, all crazy grin.  A fork stuck out between his legs, with an eraser impaled on it.  Magnets from the refrigerator were everywhere, stuck to anything that would hold them.  His field guide to birds was in a skillet on the stove, slathered in butter.  A circle of raisins was on the floor with a jar of pickles – wearing his hat - in the middle of it.  Someone had used dishwashing liquid to fingerpaint on the countertop, nonsense letters.

Jennifer must have moved out, and the roommate had thrown a tantrum, he thought.  The apartment had been turned into a museum of the insane.

The bedroom, though, was the worst.  What he saw there terrified him.

Using what was almost certainly blood, someone had drawn a huge laughing face on the wall, eyes wide, mouth impossibly big, proportions all wrong.  His name – with the R backwards – was scrawled above it.

“Jesus, Jennifer,” Gary gasped.

“Yes?” a voice said, and then a giggle.  And a babble.

He looked around, startled, but there was no one in the room.  The giggling and muttering continued.

Then hands – one Jennifer’s, crusted with blood, one cold and damp and unseen – grabbed him by the ankles and pulled.  Yelping, Gary fell.

They pulled him under the bed with them, and, though he was screaming and then laughing as hard as he could, he still heard the things they had to tell him.

                                           THE    END

Copyright 2017 by me