I stared up at the ceiling, my eyes wide open and my brain feeling like a skipping record.
Okay. Silence. It’s lasted a while now – it has to have been at least a minute. Maybe that means that the sound has-
Nope. There it is again.
With a grunt of exasperation, I sat up and threw off the covers. The red digits on the clock across from me told me that it was morning, if just barely. My brain feverishly calculated that I had approximately seven hours until I had to be at work.
And for the fourth night, I couldn’t fall asleep, thanks to that damn noise.
I turned, dropped my feet off the side of the bed and into the slippers positioned next to my nightstand. I fumbled for my glasses, sliding them onto my face. Standing up, I grabbed my dressing gown and pulled it around me as I stumbled towards my front door.
It was that mysterious tenant in 201A, I knew it. I’d only just moved to this apartment a couple weeks ago, but I’d already gotten to meet most of the tenants. Old Mrs. Rabbish, down on the first floor, now greeted me with a cheery smile that made her wrinkled skin crinkle around her eyes. Terry, the muscle-bound bodybuilder up on the fourth floor, gave me a high-five whenever he came hustling past me on the stairs. The tenants all seemed like a friendly enough bunch.
But I’d never met my neighbor, the occupant of 201A, the other apartment on my floor. Strange – I would have expected to bump into him or her sooner or later, but I never saw any sign of my neighbor on the second floor.
Someone lived there, though. I sometimes saw packages sitting outside their door, or Chinese take-out menus looped onto the doorknob, when I left for work. By the time I returned home, however, they’d always be gone.
Now, opening my door, I stomped over to the door for 201A. I wasn’t sure what I would say, but my body, fatigued with exhaustion and fogged with desire for silence, carried me forward. I lifted my hand, formed a fist, and pounded on the door to 201A.
I heard no answer from within.
After another knock produced the same lack of result, I leaned in, pressing an ear up against the cold wood. Perhaps the scraping sound was coming from somewhere else…
No, there it was! From the other side of the door, I heard it, fainter but unmistakable! This neighbor of mine was making the noise that kept me awake!
I pounded on the door again, but I still didn’t hear any approaching footsteps, any sign of life. My hand dropped down to the knob, but I hesitated for a moment as I felt it turn beneath my fingertips.
“You’re just going to put a stop to that noise,” I told myself, taking a deep breath.
I turned the knob, leaned in to push the door in – and stopped as the swinging door caught on something.
There was something in the way, some object on the far side of the door. The crack was a few inches wide, now, enough for me to slip my arm in and feel around for the obstruction. Turning my body to the side, I blindly slipped my hand and arm in through the crack, feeling along the door as I searched for whatever might be in the way.
Nothing at the top of the door. I lowered my hand down, dropping to a crouch, feeling a pit open in the bottom of my stomach.
My hand bumped up against something, and I nearly screamed. The obstruction was only about a foot off the floor. It felt like fabric, maybe cotton – and it gave a little at my touch.
I gave the cotton object a push, and felt it roll backward with a soft thump. Standing back up, I gave the door another push, and this time felt it open further. It still wasn’t all the way open, but the crack was now wide enough for me to slip my body inside.
Briefly, I considered whether I should call the cops. But I hadn’t found anything bad yet, right? I hesitated – and then stepped inside, feeling around as I did so for the light switch.
I found it, and for a moment my eyes saw nothing but white as they tried to adjust to the sudden brightness.
Once my eyes had recovered from the flash, I lowered my hand down from across my face. I glanced over at the door to see what had been blocking it – and nearly screamed, leaping backward.
For just a second, I thought that the… thing… on the ground was some sort of rubber suit. It looked large, detailed, with gray hair covering the head and wearing some sort of clothing. That must have been what I pushed on, I thought numbly to myself.
Uncomfortable, but unwilling to draw away, I peered closer at the suit. Why did that face, despite being empty, deflated, somehow look familiar?
It wasn’t until I had lowered myself to put my own face barely a foot away that I realized how I recognized the face on this suit – and I backpedaled with horror, my heart accelerating until it was thumping like a rabbit in my chest.
I knew that deflated, sagging, dead face.
That was Mrs. Rabbish’s face.
It took several seconds before I was able to even breathe again, my heart still pounding in my chest like I’d just sprinted a mile. What in the world was going on? I couldn’t think, couldn’t make any sense of it.
But then, on the edge of hearing, I caught that scraping sound, coming from further inside the apartment.
I felt beyond tired, unable to think with any sense. I stood up, doing my best to keep my eyes away from that empty skin on the ground by the door, and padded further into the apartment of 201A.