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I’ve moved all my stuff out, called the cops, and informed my absentee landlord. I’ve done all the proper things, so there’s nothing left to do but share my little fucked up city-living story.
About six months ago, my girlfriend and I moved into an apartment in the Benton Park neighborhood of St. Louis. About two weeks after we moved in, her grandfather, who raised her, had a fucking stroke, and she ended up going home to Twin Oaks to take care of him. She was living with him full-time until we could afford a nurse or hospice.
Anyway, I’d been living in our one bedroom apartment all alone for the last half year. It’s beautiful, newly remodeled, double pane windows, great insulation. The best a couple of hicks turned yuppies could want. It’s got a couple of weird things about it, as you’ll see. There’s only four units in the building, on the second and third floors. We’re on the top floor.
The first weird thing about the place we noticed right when we moved in. The walls and floors are paper thin. I could hear every word of my downstairs neighbor's conversation at all times. I know when they take a shower, I know when they fuck. And I’m sure they know the same about us. It’s weird; the more info we had on each other, the less we wanted to actually know each other.
They moved out six weeks ago. Then the other two units went vacant a week later. It was kinda weird, but also kind of awesome. I could finally stomp around, watch porn and play Rock Band at full volume.
About four weeks ago, it got weird. It was about 1 am, and I was going to bed, and I started to hear this noise from the empty apartment downstairs. Really quiet at first, but sustained. It sounded halfway between a hushed conversation, with only one person talking, and small motor running. Just a babbling, not quite regular drone. It freaked me out at first, but I rationalized that it was some plumbing or the refrigerator downstairs, something I’d never heard over my downstairs neighbors farting and snoring. I learned to live with it, as it rose and fell every evening. Pretty soon a steady tapping sound started in with mumbling. I know it sounds fucked up, but when you hear it every night for a while, you just make excuses for it.
Then I kept hearing boards creaking. It’s spring, my first in this building, so I assumed it was just the old boards under the new drywall settling. Then one night, as I was brushing my teeth, there was a mighty dry thump, right behind me. I just about stabbed myself with my toothbrush. I stayed really still until I was sure there wasn’t anyone in the house, and then turned on all the lights. This is when I noticed a peculiarity in the remodeling.
On the other side of the bathroom, where I heard the thump, is the hall closet. I open it up, and switch on the light, expecting a box to have fallen off the shelves, but it’s all gravy inside. I tap on the wall between the closet and the bathroom, and it sounds oddly hollow. And I start to realize that the closet isn’t as wide as I think it should be based on the bathroom. I pace it out with my feet, and then a tape measure just to confirm. Sure enough, there’s about 30″ of space in between the two walls that I thought were adjacent.
Again, rationalization time: Surely there’s extra insulation there to keep the bathroom warm, or maybe the walls are thicker than I imagined, because fuck, I’ve never built a house. So in this one thick wall, some huge fucking rat must have taken a tumble and freaked me out. No big deal. I felt a lot better at the time; even better when it was the first night in a while without that weird noise below me.
So, everything was fine until last Friday night. It’s about two in the morning and I’m home late from the bar, not as drunk as I want and remembering that I left all my clean laundry in the dryer before I went out. One thing sticks out as I climb the stairs: The door to the apartment below me is closed. It’s been open since the neighbors vacated. I got kind of used to seeing an empty mirror image of my place every day when I walked past. Maybe the landlord was showing it to people today. Rationalize, rationalize, rationalize.
I bag up a small load of laundry and climb down the back porch steps to the laundry room, which is really just part of the garage, but the staircase in on the outside of the building and it gives each floor a little shared porch. I get down there, and into the little room, and I start bagging up all my clothes into this big black duffel bag.
Two things you should know about me at this point. I turn off every light when I leave a room. No matter what. My dad used to beat the shit out of me when the energy bill was a penny over the norm. And I also lock the door every time I go through it. Hell, I even locked the back door when I went down to get my laundry.
I start back up the stairs and on the first flight I look up, straight to my bedroom window. The light is on. And there’s a silhouette against the closed blinds.
I pissed myself a little and every hair on my neck snapped to fucking attention.
And then the light goes out. It happened in less than a second. Ten seconds later I’m still frozen in place, and trying to figure out if I just saw what I think I saw. Rationalization lost out, thank fucking god, and I snuck down the stairs and out through the garage. I called a cab and stood across the street from the building looking at my living room window. About five minutes before the cab showed up, the Venetian blinds parted slightly for a few seconds, like someone was looking down on me. Then nothing.
I stayed at a hotel that weekend, then a couple of buddies of mine came back with me on Sunday to see how much stuff had been stolen.
It was all there. My laptop was still charging, and even my brand new plasma TV was still there. The doors were locked. I moved it all out that afternoon. While my friends were with me, and I had the daylight on my side, I checked out the apartment below me. The downstairs closet had the same abnormally thick wall.
Only someone had hammered through this wall, a big round jagged hole, exposing the tiny crawl space between.
And in this space flat against the wall, was a cheap hardware store ladder; leading up through the darkness, to the space behind the walls, in my apartment.
I don’t know how he got into my apartment from there, maybe through the heating vents in my ceiling. I really don’t give a shit. All I care about is never seeing that building again. I mailed my keys to the landlord, told the whole thing to a terminally disinterested cop. Done my part, moving on. Quit my shitty job, which might be the one good thing about this.
I’m typing this at a friends house on his Wi-Fi. I was going to take this convenient time to get the fuck out of dodge, and move in with my girlfriend and her grandpa, but he died two nights ago. Still think I’d like to head back into the country, but I guess this is like a clean slate for us.
I haven’t told her yet, and I’m not sure if I will. Told her our landlord went apeshit and kicked me out. She’s already got issues with security and I don’t want to add to them... But I don’t ever want to live in an apartment, or hear people moving beneath my feet, or on the other side of a wall. Never again.