Another Sunless Midday
I think we might have left her place in the early morning, but it was impossible to tell. I hadn’t seen a working clock since my phone died sometime early yesterday in her apartment… fucking Android phones never seem to last more than a day and a half before they die. Regardless, the smell of cool morning dew hung in the air with a hint of smoke as I tried to make out the surrounding world with the little light I was given. I looked straight up to see a dark gray sky, nearly uniform everywhere, shifting slowly towards the east. There was no sign of the sun. It felt like ages since we felt it’s warmth.
As we walked across Route 1, Nicole grabbed my arm and held me close. Despite the situation that we found ourselves in, I felt a warm sensation shoot through my body and into my head. Her need to be close to me was comforting beyond words. “We’ll be at my apartment soon,” I said, trying to sound soothing. She gazed up at me, confusion behind her blue eyes, it nearly broke my heart. I needed to make her feel safe. I needed it to give me hope.
Two stimuli, rather lack of stimuli, stood out to me as we passed the old McDonalds and headed farther down the backstreet towards my apartment. There was no wind… and there was no sound. I couldn’t quite make out what I was hearing, but it wasn’t the normal ringing that you hear sometimes when it’ s completely silent in a room. You know, that noise that you can simulate by biting down really hard when you’re in a relatively quiet space? No, that noise would have been much more comforting.
This sounded almost like a dull, soft moan echoing through my ear canal and penetrating through to my sanity. It didn’t help that the trees appeared as if they were tilted to one side facing east, almost as if they were caught mid gust and frozen in time. The nearly black branches of the trees contorted out of their usual stance, contrast to the dark gray background that was the sky scared me more than my discovery inside of Nicole’s bathroom. It was probably this feature that made me realize that whatever was happening and whatever had happened was far from natural, that it wasn’t some odd weather phenomenon. I decided it would be best not to tell Nicole about this, the poor girl was already scared enough without me pointing out more twisted oddities about the surrounding world.
We were here. I put my magnetic key up to the door.
“Well fuck…” I said, looking at my key ring with disgust, “the lock is off.” I don’t know why I didn’t realize this knowing the power was out. I really cannot function without electricity, seeing as I constantly kept checking my phone and tried to get electronic stuff to work despite the widespread blackout. Nicole stepped back, and I had a stupid idea. I don’t know why I still felt the need to impress this girl, I mean it’s not like I was really competing against anyone.
With a smug expression, I took one step away from the door, and braced my core. Taking one deep breath in and putting an angry look on my face, I lifted my leg up in front of me, bent ninety degrees so that the sole of my shoe was perpendicular to the ground, and thrust. My foot hit the glass door with such force, but the damn thing didn’t give way to my triumphant kick, sending a painful shock up from my leg to my core and throwing me backwards onto the ground. It really was stupid. It wasn’t even a full year ago that I had to have hardware put into my leg due to a broken fibula. I felt the screws tug on the bone, sending wave after wave of sharp pain all the way up from my leg to my neck.
I couldn’t tell which hurt more, the stupidity of what Nicole had just witnessed, or the stinging that was radiating from the side of my leg. A glass fucking door, I thought, you have got to be kidding me. No, I couldn’t look stupid in front of this girl, get up with confidence and smash the shit out of the glass with a rock, my mind told me. Frantically, I stood up without looking anywhere near Nicole’s direction and headed towards the little garden that was to my left. Every step I made took an immense amount of effort to not limp. I couldn’t let her see that I was hurt. Instead, I ignored the pain, picked up the nearest stone, and hurled it at the glass door. Thankfully, this time the glass broke into a thousand pieces and I was able to reach my arm in and turn the knob from the inside. I turned to Nicole and put on what I believed to be the stupidest smile of my life, but as I was turning back I felt another sharp pain come from my right forearm.
“Mother fucker... you’ve got to be kidding me,” I said through clenched teeth as I had realized that I sliced my arm wide open on a shard of glass still attached to the door frame. Slowly, I pulled my arm out of the hole that I had created. Blood was gushing out of the cut, and I could feel a slight sense of nausea overcome me.
“Quick, wrap that up with something!” Nicole exclaimed. She seemed more worried about it than I did. Without thinking, I took off my shirt and wrapped it tight around the cut. For some reason, the only thought that went through my head was that I was glad I had an undershirt on so it didn’t seem like I was trying to pull some Taylor Lautner stunt. Honestly, I couldn’t explain to anyone why I was having these random thoughts during a serious situation like this, but it was happening. I felt like a high school freshman trying to get his first girlfriend or something, it was weird and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
Shit, I felt my face flush every time she looked at me, and I started to get cottonmouth when I wasn’t sure about what to say to her. I felt like a loser, but still we had to get to my room. We still didn’t know what was out there waiting for us, I mean we didn’t even know what got into her room last night while we slept or how it was able to sneak into the locked room without waking up. It was a disturbing thought, and maybe it should’ve bothered me more than it did at the time, but I decided to keep my calm as long as Nicole was with me. As we headed up the stairs, I began to smell something rancid.
Once we got to my door, I felt that I had lost a lot of blood, and I was guessing that if I didn’t get it elevated and wrapped well soon that I would probably pass out. I fumbled for my keys in my back pocket with my left hand, and, of course, being a righty, failing to do so. I moaned, feeling nauseated from the abrupt loss of blood that I’d experienced. I finally was able to open the door after a great deal of effort, and promptly went to the sink in the bathroom down the hall. Nicole said something to me as I stumbled on spilling blood all over the carpet, but I couldn’t tell what she was saying, I really needed to get a wrap on my arm. I accidentally fell into the door, breaking part of the doorframe and falling to the floor. The last thing that I remember, Nicole rushed over to the bathroom and opened the cabinet, grabbing the gauze. She said something along the lines of “shit, shit, shit, lift your arm up!” I remember seeing the ceiling move away from me before I felt my mind float away
I woke up in the same spot that I had fallen, except with a pillow under my head. My arm was wrapped up with some sort of elastic material with an inch thick of bloodstained gauze underneath it. There was a deep shooting pain that ran from the base of my skull to the back of my eyes each time my heart beat, making me wince. It was dark again, unfortunately, the only light being a few candles that Nicole had lit. The lack of light gave me a sense of vertigo as I lay there, facing the ceiling which seemingly pulsated with my body’s circulation.
Aleve… I thought as I clutched each side of my head with the palms of my hand, I need to do something about this fucking headache. Slowly, I sat up, fighting vomit as I did. I looked around the bathroom, seeing dried blood over every surface. My mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton, a sensation that only made me want to puke even more. With a deep breath, I reached up to grab the sink counter and pulled myself to my feet.
As soon as I got my footing, I turned to the sink and threw up. I didn’t really have much in my stomach to begin with, but whatever I had left was now gone. A cold chill took over my body, causing me to shake violently. Water. I fucking need water. I turned the sink on, rinsing most of what used to be food down the small drain, cupped my hands, and splashed water on my face. It was one hell of a relief. Hastily, I cupped my hands under the faucet again and slurped the lukewarm water down as if I hadn’t had water in days. This was the greatest feeling in the world. I dipped my head into the sink so that my mouth was receiving water straight from the faucet and gulped away.
After about five minutes of slurping that glorious water, I finally lifted my head up and looked in the mirror. From what I could see in the dimly lit bathroom, my eyes were bloodshot, my eyelids were pretty swollen from dehydration, there was dried blood coming from my nose, and I was about as pale as a goddamn albino. Rolling my neck to alleviate some soreness, I decided that it was time to try to find sustenance. I wanted... no, I needed sugar, at least at first.
“Thin mints…” I whispered to myself, remembering that I had a half-eaten box sitting on the side of my bed. My bedroom was right next to the bathroom, the door immediately to the right upon exiting. Unfortunately, I do… er did… share my room with someone else due to the fact that I can’t really afford the luxury apartments. Doug was my roommate, and he was a pretty cool guy. We had become really good friends in high school, but grew apart during our freshman year in college. When I learned that he didn’t have any living arrangements for his sophomore year, I asked if he wanted to live with me and two randoms. Obviously, he said yeah. I feel like I piss him off all of the time, though, because I fall asleep after him and wake up before him.
I left the bathroom and felt the carpet, stiffened with blood, under my feet. I guess it really didn’t matter too much what the state of the room was, considering the events that unfolded. The door to my room was closed, which it never is unless Doug is studying or we are sleeping. Figuring Nicole was the reason for this, I turned the doorknob to my room and entered.
My room was completely darkened, aside from a dim nighttime glow that came from the window. I looked at Doug’s bed. The blankets were jostled, which struck me as odd considering he never leaves his bed without making it, even to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, it’s the weirdest thing. Not really taking it into consideration, I turned my attention to my bed.
It looked like Nicole had already gone to sleep. I guess I was out for longer than I thought, I don’t think Nicole will mind if I sneak in next to her. I wasn’t really tired at the time, seeing as I was already out for much of the day, but due to the fact that the Thin Mints weren’t where I left them, I figured I’d hold off on food until the next morning. I tiptoed through some of my dirty clothes lying on the floor as to not wake Nicole up and got to the bed. Before laying down, I looked out the window into the night. What I saw almost made me shit my pants.
My window has a large elm tree right outside of it, and behind that is the street. On the other side of the street is a small town house complex where some seniors reside. But standing in the middle of the road was, or at least I think it was, a man. I backed away from the window a bit, but realized there was no way that he could see me due to the absolute darkness of my room contrast to the dim night glow outside. I stared at the figure, which seemed to be swaying in slow motion in the still night. It made my skin crawl.
I had the sensation that he was looking straight at me. I tried to make out a face, but the elm tree was blocking too much of my view to get a good look. I decided it would be best to go out into the kitchen where I would have a wide open window that was a bit to the left of the elm tree. Slowly, I tiptoed out of the bedroom, still trying not to wake or worry Nicole. I left the door somewhat ajar so I could get back in silently. As I walked down the hall, I realized that all of the candles that were lit only a few minutes ago had been extinguished. Again, this was one of those events that I had attributed to the weirdness of the occurring events, shrugged it off, and continued into the kitchen from the common area. Immediately, I headed for the window, which was almost fogged, looking almost like a set of headlights with UV damage. Still, the view from this window was not obstructed by a large tree, and was much clearer.
That man was still standing there, swaying fluidly, like an upside-down pendulum. It’s hard to describe, but the way he swayed was inhuman. The rest of his body was staying perfectly still, no arm or upper body motions, just that damn sway. Weirder still, I couldn’t make out what clothes he was wearing. It just seemed to be a solid dark mass for a body, and his bald head. I stared closer, and couldn’t make out any facial features either. I got closer to the window, cupped my hands over my eyes, and pressed against the glass. I gasped. He had no face. No eyes, no nose, no ears… just a mouth... A fucking mouth that began to curl into a grin when my jaw dropped. All of a sudden I heard a rustle behind me and turned around.
“Hey, you’re finally up,” Nicole muttered, rubbing her eyes and laying on the couch in front of my television. I turned back to the window and saw the figure taking smooth steps backwards, away from my apartment and towards the side of the townhouse complex across the road. My breathing was deep and my palms began to sweat. “Um, are you okay?” Nicole questioned. I turned back to her.
Just then, a shot of fear went through my body. “Have… you been sleeping there?” I asked, my voice noticeably shaky.
“Yeah, after I wrapped your arm I grabbed some chips from your kitchen and fell asleep here not too much later, why?” She explained.
I felt like I was going to pass out. This isn’t happening right now. I didn’t say anything to her, I just put my pointer finger up as to say ‘one moment.’ She nodded, a stern concerned look replacing her usually happy features. My chest started to hurt, it felt like someone was sitting on my sternum, making it harder to breathe. A faint ring sat deep in my brain. What was in my bed? I turned the corner to enter my hallway, and noticed that the door was now closed.
I swore that I had left it cracked. The hallway was darker than it had been before. Even with my eyes now thoroughly adjusted to the dark, I had a large amount of trouble making out the doors and the walls. Slowly, I approached the door, dreading every step that brought me closer to whatever the fuck was laying in my bed. Once in front of my room, I put my ear up to the door to see if I could make out any sounds that were coming from within. For the first few seconds, there was total silence. It wasn’t normal, by any means. This was absolute silence. Taking a deep breath, I pressed my ear up against the door, trying to drown out everything else.
It was a seemingly weak whisper that sounded like it came from the center of my room, a few feet from the door. I kept my ear pressed up against the door, refraining myself from any physical movement aside from a deep gulp that I made.
“Heeee... Heee... Hee.”
Now it sounded like strained breathing, getting shorter and closer with each breath it took. Suddenly, I felt a small amount of pressure come from the other side of the door, as if someone had placed their hand on the other side.
Something was scratching the door, starting at the floor and making its way upward. I was doing everything I could to not run away. I realized I hadn’t taken a breath in about a minute, but I wasn’t about to make a sound.
The scratch was coming closer and closer to where my ear was. Once the noise was at the direct spot that my ear was, it stopped. Then tapped once. Tapped twice. I waited, ear pressed against the door, scared to move, scared to breathe, scared to blink.
One last tap, harder than the other two, came from the door. At that moment, I hurried back down the hallway and out to the common area where Nicole was waiting, standing in front of the couch with a look of confusion and fear. I walked straight up to her and hugged her tight. I was still shaking. I felt her arms wrap around my torso.
“Nicole, you have to listen to me, okay?” I said, taking deep breaths but maintaining my tight embrace.
“Okay..” She whispered, gripping me tighter herself.
“No matter what happens, you do not go back down the hallway. If you hear a scream, a shout, my voice, someone else’s voice… you stay here. If I’m not back out here in a few minutes, you have to leave. Leave the room, leave the building if you can, but you can’t stay here. Do you understand?” The magnitude of my words began to hit me. This might be the last thing I say, I almost wanted to cry.
She pulled away from the hug, looked me in the eye and nodded softly. She raised her arms to my neck and pulled me in for a kiss. I wanted that moment to last forever. I wasn’t ready to face whatever was taunting me from the other side of my bedroom door. I gave her one last glance and turned back down the hallway, trying to ignore my growing fear. Thinking quick, I realized that I needed a weapon, something blunt. I opened up the closet adjacent to my bedroom door and grabbed my backup hockey stick. As I did so, I heard a good bit of commotion coming from my bedroom.
If anyone else has ever been in a life or death situation, whether it be a near collision on the road or getting held up, you know that your mind goes blank, and your actions become almost involuntary. Instinct kicks in. Without thinking, I kicked the door as hard as I could. It didn’t open. So I kicked it harder. The deadbolt broke the doorframe that was holding it shut and the door swung open violently. I thrashed around with my stick like there was no tomorrow, whacking everything that was within a 5 foot radius of me. I broke the lamp, created a hole in the closet door, knocked over Doug’s computer chair, sent clothes flying everywhere, and pretty much destroyed my C programming book. Frantically, I stopped swinging and looked around. Nothing. There was nothing.
I looked at my roommate’s bed. Besides the mess that I created, there was nothing unusual about it. A short chill shot down my spine and I glanced over at my bed. The figure was still there, laying the same exact way it was before when I thought it was Nicole. Was this the same thing that was making those noises? Clenching my fists, I strutted over to the bed and lifted the covers.
Again, I threw up, all over the clothes on my floor. It was Doug, or rather what was left of Doug, lying face up. He was pretty mangled. Half of his head was scalped, the skull underneath was pretty dented. It looked like both of his arms were broken forcibly, bent entirely backwards at the elbows. His torso was exposed and was bruised and scratched to the point where it looked like he was the aftermath of a head on collision on the highway. The worst part of it were his eyes. They were fucking torn out of his head, still connected to the back of his sockets, causing his eyelids to sink in. I felt sick, and I collapsed to the ground. He had been my best friend from 9th grade until now.
What the fuck could have done this? He was one of the best people I knew, and here he laid in front of me, lifeless, beaten... Torn. I cried. Everything that had built up in me about the whole situation I was facing suddenly surfaced, and there was no stopping it. Tears streamed down my face as I thought about it. I probably will never see my family again. My mom, my dad, my sister, my two pups.
I never even got a chance to say a real goodbye to them. My friends from back home, all the situations we got into, how much fun we had just drinking a couple beers and shooting the shit in the basement. I would never have that again. Everyone and everything I knew was gone. I sobbed like I had never sobbed before. It was just then that I realized, the only remaining reason for my existence was to make sure that Nicole got through this ordeal alive. She was the only real thing left in my life, a girl that I had only just met.
Slowly, my chest rose and fell. Breathe, man. You’ve got to get moving, you don’t know what’s still here, I thought to myself. Just stay composed, you can do this. We’re not gonna end up like Doug. Goddammit Doug.
As I walked down the hallway towards the common area, Nicole came into sight. “Are you okay?” she asked, a look of genuine concern on her face. I shook my head.
“We’ve got to keep moving. I don’t think this area is safe.” I said. I peered outside, seeing only a vast expanse of darkness. There was no way it was safe outside, but it was no safer in here. At least if we were outside we weren’t cornered with no place to run to. Nicole looked at me, and I smiled. I’m gonna make sure this girl stays safe. I grabbed a few bags of clothes, throwing some boxes of granola bars, a few cans of tuna, a big box of Special K, some water bottles, and some soda. Everything else sitting around my dump of an apartment was rendered useless by the Buzz.
“You know, I always heard bad things about this apartment, y’know, how it’s run down, smells bad, and is just pretty trashy. I guess all of those things are true, aren’t they?” Nicole joked, with a small, innocent smile on her face. A big dumb smile appeared on my face. I walked up to her, placed my hand gently on her cheek, and kissed her. I pulled away, still smiling, and looked into her sparkling eyes.
“I’m gonna keep you safe. I swear on my life, nothing bad is going to happen to you.” I said with complete sincerity. She smiled and gave me a quick, playful hug.
We left my room. I didn’t want to look back at it. The memories that it kept were gone, and it was best to leave them behind. It had occurred to me that this was my life now. There was no more school, there were no more exams and homework. Ice hockey was now a thing of the past. My friends are all dead or gone, and the chances of seeing them again were slim. I just wanted to keep Nicole safe.
I opened the back door to the apartment building without hesitation and took Nicole’s hand with confidence. Out into the darkness, we headed north.
Guys, I'm so sorry for the three month delay on this story. I really have no excuse to give you, I just hope you all enjoyed this. Part three will conclude it, and hopefully it doesn't take nearly as long as this one did to finish.
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