I'm not going to try to argue that it's normal to take a cold bath at four in the morning. It's not. But it's been my experience in life that everyone has their strange little habits. I mean, given the things I've seen some people do when left to their own devices, Jack's was actually pretty mundane.
For example; mine is coffee. I drink gallons of the stuff, and at really odd hours. I'll be wide-awake until the sun comes up, but not because I'm some kind of insomniac – not really. I just fell into a destructive cycle. Get bored? Drink coffee. Starting a new book? Make a coffee first. Movie marathon with Jack? I'll fix us each a coffee. Exhausted at work because I didn't sleep for more than an hour last night? Better grab a coffee on the way!
…You get the picture.
Anyhow. I was staring at my ceiling, wide-awake, my bedside clock displaying “03:51” in fat, orange digits. From across the hall, I heard a door click open, and then the pad-pad of bare feet on the carpeted landing. Jack was embarking on his nightly jaunt to the tub. I had work in five hours, so I tried to suppress the urge to intercept my fellow night-owl for a cup of the black gold. Instead, I wedged my head between two pillows, so that the dull throb of my heartbeat filled my ears like pulsing music building towards a crescendo.
Far from soothing my worries, and lulling me to sleep, I found that listening to my own heartbeat just made things worse. I was counting the thumps – trying to figure out whether or not the beating was irregular, or if I was simply whipping myself into a panic, and causing my heart-rate to rise by itself. As the thought crossed my mind, I felt a desire to unwind – for the comfort that comes with wrapping one's hands about a warm beverage. Coffee. Sweat crept up my back like a clammy hand, and when I glanced at the clock, I realised (with some dismay) that only four minutes had passed.
So I sat up, threw on my dressing gown and (you guessed it) wandered down to the kitchen, the ghost of that familiar aroma already filling my nostrils. As the spoon clinked inside the cup, I noticed the sound was offset by another – a low, baritone voice from the ajoining bathroom. Just Jack singing, I told myself, but this was not quite a song. There was no melody to it – just a repetitive rhythm. I'd have thought it to be some kind of looped recording, perhaps playing from Jack's phone, but for occasional variations. Intermingled with it, too, was a sighing. Like the hiss of steam, when you submerge a hot pan in cold water.
Chant-Chant, Chant-Chant, [hisssss], Chant-Chant, Chant-Chant, [hissss]... (and so on). I laughed it off, but as I made to leave the room, I noticed that the boiler, which was fitted just outside the bathroom door, facing the kitchen, was switched off. I could plainly hear the gurgle of the taps in the bathroom, but the bath must've been ice-cold. I knocked on the door.
“Hey, Jack. You want me to turn the hot water on?”
No reply. The chanting continued, unabated. He must not have heard me, I rationalised. Besides, if he was not already aware that the water was cold, he soon would be. As soon as he dipped his toe into the tub, most likely. I smiled at the thought, and returned to my room.
Despite the caffeine burning its way through my system, I managed a solid three and a half hours sleep, and rose from my bed with time for either a shower or a coffee before I had to set off. I picked the shower, knowing that I could grab a coffee from the shop on the corner by my office, but when I got to the kitchen, my feet splashed down into half an inch of cold water, shimmering atop the tiled floor. I dared not try any of the lights or kitchen appliances, so I fumbled my way across the gloomy room to the bathroom door, and hammered on it. Even as I did, I realised (in a moment of stinging terror) that the chanting was still happening, albeit in a more feeble, exhausted voice. There was light coming from under the door, too – bright electric light that made white prisms in the murky bathwater.
“Jack,” I called. “You in there?”
The weak chanting continued, but the hissing had abated. I grabbed the door handle and threw all my weight behind my shoulder as I turned it, simultaneously shoving it open, squinting with eyes unaccustomed to the light.
...And there he was. Jack, lying in a bathtub, facing the door, his mouth moving – reciting things I could barely even hear any more, and his face crumpled with fatigue. The water spilling over the top of the bath was a reddish brown, and as I stumbled forwards, I saw why. Fanning out across the surface of the water were Jack's organs. All of them – the spools of intestine, the heart that still thudded out little ripples over the bathwater. All of his organs spread out and floating around him, and his mouth still moving in a ghastly mimicry of life. In the corner of my eye, wedged between the end of the bathtub, and the wall of the shower cubicle, there stood something else, too – tall and pale, and wrinkled, and watching my flatmate's waterlogged form twitching there in the bath, but I never had time to look at it – my gaze was fixed on the sickening spectacle before me – my stomach turning violently.
“Oh, God... Jack,” I managed.
All of this took place in a matter of about two seconds. Even as the words left my mouth, the light above me suddenly flared brightly and then popped. The switch from dark to light, then back to dark, all in a matter of a few heartbeats, was too much for my eyes, and I flailed backwards, slipping on the floor as my vision was filled with neon star bursts and silhouettes superimposed atop them, and, but for the gurgle of running water, everything had fallen completely silent.
By the time my vision had cleared enough to see, Jack was dead. The rosy apple of his heart bobbed there, a hollow, stationary shell, and his mouth hung loose and wide, as bathwater rushed inside to soothe his ruined throat. The open window allowed the warm fingers of a late summer breeze to brush the surface of the water - sending a little wave rolling along its surface. I looked for the man in the corner of the room, but he had vanished, taking with him whatever strange force of will that had kept Jack chanting.
The police were less than helpful. They initially suspected me, and when I finally got a good lawyer, they ruled Jack's death a 'suicide' and closed the case. When I told the detective about the man I'd seen, and Jack still chanting while so grievously wounded, he grimaced and told me I drank too much caffeine – that the rush of blood to my head was causing my brain to play tricks on me.
Then, just like that, I was left alone to pick up the pieces. I had to sort through Jack's things, and I found a reef of unpaid electricity, water and gas bills. For three weeks, we had been using nearly double the amount of electricity we normally used, and the billing authorities had threatened to disconnect us from the grid if we didn't pay up. I sorted through them all by lamplight, the evening I got back, coffee cooling atop a stack of envelopes, calculator on my lap. We owed hundreds of pounds in utility bills and fines. As I did so, I swore I could hear the pipes gurgling – like someone was using the taps downstairs, but when I ran to check, everything was off.
For a time, I became obsessed with the manner in which Jack had died – printing off newspaper articles and listening to archived reports about strange crimes in the area, but there was nothing even close to resembling what I'd seen. I missed so much work to sleepless nights, I was laid-off, and I had to enlist the help of my brother and a few friends to pay off the money I owed. Eventually, I moved back in with my parents. I guess it would make for a more engaging tale if I were to tell you that I was haunted by Jack's vengeful spirit, or that the pale thing from that bathroom stalked me wherever I went, but I would be lying if I did so. It's like, between the light going out, and the forensics team finally draining that ice cold water, Jack just ceased to be. His family won't even talk to me, and mine tell me to try and forget everything that happened and move on with my life, but it's just hard, you know?
I... I don't drink so much coffee any more.