Ms. Clark was taking a buzz saw to my skull.
My head keeps erupting in shoots of pain that claw their way to my frontal lobes. The pain was punctuated by the throbbing in my temple.
I downed my fifth cup of coffee, tasting the warm bitterness sting the back of my throat and fill up my chest.
The coffee wasn’t helping. I could feel the heart attack waiting for me in the shadowy residue at the bottom of every cup.
It was strangely inviting.
A witch’s cackle punctuates the crescendos of the saw upstairs. I clutch my chest, willing my heart palpitations to even out as I set aside my sixth cup of coffee. I poured the rest of it down the drain.
This coffee may be the death of me but I’ve managed to get a lot done in the last 72 hours. The project was going swimmingly. I think. Actually, every time I look at it something else seems to be attached to the main device. An additional wire there, an added metal piece here. It sometimes takes me a while to figure out why I added them.
The noise upstairs finally died down. I seriously wonder what Ms. Clark is doing up there. Since this is Halloween, she might be actually killing someone. Or at least sawing up the body for easy disposal later.
I filled another mug with cold tap water and sipped slow. But another witch’s cackle had me spit-taking most of it across the kitchen floor.
Well, this was turning out to be a fine Halloween. But it could’ve been worse.
I took up my mug of coffee again and made my way back to the living room to check on the Woman in the Television. I’ve been getting nothing but static on her end. Literally.
I turned the knob on the old tube television. The clicks echoed in the dead space of the apartment. The snow was sometimes intercut with images of a malicious, cartoony jack-o-lantern, whose eyes glowed a bright orange despite the fact that this TV was only capable of black and white picture. I would’ve found this eerie but this was standard Woman in the Television fare. She may make the lights flicker if she gets into one of those moods.
“So you’re going to look like that all day?”
The buzzing of the static got louder and I could faintly hear a wolf’s howl mixed into the noise.
I gave the box a few gentle taps and rearranged the antennae to see if I could find a signal. The snow got more chaotic. The image hidden beneath contorted and contracted as if it was breathing. The lights flickered and a sudden chill ran through the house. It blew a couple of papers off the table.
I sipped my coffee and waited.
The screen burst into a bright flash of light and then nothing.
I fiddled with the dials thinking that she turned herself off out of spite. She’s known to do that from time to time. But again, nothing.
“Are we seriously doing this today?”
White letters appeared on the screen. A sentence.
“The Future You Will Never Exist.”
I squinted at the message and took another sip of coffee. “Okay…”
The words changed with another click. Almost as if it was a slideshow.
“Beware The Voices In Your Head.”
I nearly dropped my mug doubling over in laughter.
“Alright. You got me with that one.” I set my coffee on top of the box. “Got anymore?”
“The Cynic In You Dies.”
I rested my hand on my palm. “Care to elaborate on any of those?”
Turns out no. She kept cycling through those images for a good few minutes. I decided to leave her after the fifth revolution.
She had to learn that being cryptic can only get you so much attention.
I was going to spend the rest of my afternoon working on my project. I didn’t have to work today which was uncommon for Monday. I didn’t like that. I hate when uncommon things happen on Halloween. It never bodes well. But there was only eight hours left of this day and I plan on staying in this apartment for that duration.
I started fiddling with some wire when there was a knock at the door. I figured it was Mira. She’s been trying to get me to come to this Halloween party since yesterday. I can already hear the faint noise of chatter in the hallway and, if the increased frequency of the witch’s cackle was any indication, a lot of people were bound to be there.
I wonder if she would go away if I hid under the table.
The knocking started again louder this time.
I could crawl back into the bedroom…
BANG! BANG! BANG!
The pain in my head was making itself known again. I stood and made my way to the door. Upon opening it, I saw Bob, the maintenance guy. He leaned against the door frame with his hand rubbing his right temple. His shirt was buttoned unevenly and there was something that looked like chowder on the corner of his lip.
He held up his finger to shush me. “Not too loud!”
“Hi Bob,” I whispered.
“Do me a favor. I have this service call that needs to be done tonight but I can’t do it.”
He said all of this in a loud voice. It caught the attention of a vampire couple entering Mira’s apartment.
He continued in the same tone of voice. “It’s a simple job. Water pressure issue. Got called about it four months ago but eh…”
He made a wavy hand motion to accentuate the “eh.”
He dropped his hand to his side with a thump. “Will you do it tonight?”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “Can it wait?”
He shook his head in agitation but the action had him turning green. He double over a bit but he swallowed down whatever was coming up. He stood up on unsteady feet and fixed me with a lazy stare.
“Boss said tonight. Can’t wait.”
I was surprised that the landlord put so much urgency on this. This is the same guy who took his time to address a rat infestation a few years ago until the creatures started scratching at his door. Though he’s timely with rent payments.
He let out a loud hissing shush to silence me. “TOO LOUD!”
A group of sexy cats and a mad scientist looked our way this time. They eyed us for a few seconds before finally making their way into the apartment.
“Why exactly can’t you do it?” I began again in a whisper.
He threw his hands over his head and said in exasperation. “I’m hungover, kid! I need to sleep with a few painkillers, man! Will you do this for me or not?”
A bloody doctor was giggling at us.
“I’m sorry about that, Bob. Sure, yeah, I’ll do it.”
He reached into his pocket and dropped some keys on the floor. He pointed at my face. “One of those should be the key to apartment 31B. Fix the pipe. Close the door. Leave these in front of the tool door or whatever.”
“O-okay,” I said as I shrunk away from the yellow gunk under his fingernail.
He started to move back down the hall but fell over in front of the chain smoker’s apartment. The door opened a bit and he peeked his head out. Our eyes met for a moment.
He held out a plate of orange sprinkled cookies.
“Want some?” He asked in a low monotone. “They’re fresh out the oven.”
I smiled at him uncertainly. “I think I’ll have some a bit later.”
“Alright.” He looked down at Bob and put the plate on his back. “I’ll leave them right here.”
He then slammed the door.
I retrieved the keys and the cookies. I nibbled on the ashy pumpkin deliciousness of the chain-smoker’s superb baking skills. I examined the keys a bit more. There was rust eating away the edges. How was that even possible?
I reached for my coffee on top of the TV to help swallow down the rest of the cookie and then it hit me.
31B is the apartment infected with the pumpkin stink.
Oh God, this was it. This was the Halloween surprise.
I tried to keep calm but between the images of a half-naked dead body and my caffeine induced shakes and heart arrhythmias, it was quite the task.
I mean, I could’ve not gone and the maintenance guy would’ve been none the wiser. He only has to come in two times a week which meant that I probably wouldn’t see him again until next Tuesday. But I’m not one to break promises, no matter how ill-begotten.
The wall. I was staring at the wall in a lonely kitchen chair, squeezing my coffee mug with both hands. I watched the light fade to orange and get chased across the room. My legs were shaking. My hands were shaking. I couldn’t remember sitting down.
The musical bass from some terrible EDM next door was making the room shake. I sipped my cold coffee and stood.
There was no point in delaying it any longer. I steeled my courage and collected my supplies.
Mira’s party was in full swing when I made my way out the door. It was flowing out into the hall with people pushing and grinding up against each other. I had to pass by a group of offensive Indian stereotypes and a sexy Frankenstein in order to get to the stairwell.
Apartment 31B was the very last room at the end of the hall on the second floor. There was a draft coming from some unknown origin which was strange since there were no nearby windows and this complex borders a shutdown manufacturing like a Siamese twin.
The door creaked when I opened it and another strange wind blew out at me as I made my way in. At this point, I was ticked at how formulaic this was turning out to be.
I walked into the dark apartment with nothing but the fading sun offering me assistance. I could see the dust floating in the dying orange sunlight.
And of course, there was a stink in the air. I could expect nothing less from my bad karma but it didn’t smell like a rotting pumpkin. It was definitely a rotten smell but it was more akin to stale water.
I made a beeline for the kitchen, unwilling to waste more time in here than I had to. I switched on the light in the kitchen and it blew out on me with a bright flash. It scared the crap out of me but this was just par for the course. Luckily, I brought a flashlight.
But it was at this point that I really started to question myself. Was I really going to stay and get spooked by some questionable supernatural entity on Halloween? Well, the dying cynic in me won out and I decided to see the job through.
I checked the pipes under the sink and, what a surprise, it was leaking. It was leaking so much, in fact, that the wood beneath was warped beyond all repair, drowning in a puddle of stale water. That explained the smell. I started to wonder how long ago that service order was really made. This had to have been willfully ignored to get this bad.
Well, I tightened the pipes to stop the leaking. I couldn’t do much about the water other than trying to sop some of the excess liquid with some paper towels I just happened to have with me. They didn’t do much. I was probably going to have to come back a little later with better absorbents.
In either case, my current job was done. I checked the faucet and it produced a steady stream.
I started packing up my things and was halfway to the door when I head a pronounced dripping sound.
The sound seemed to be coming from the bathroom. And of course it was. It was the sight of the story. Why wouldn’t I find myself there on Halloween night—the absolute worst time to go there?!
I huffed a sigh and just decided to get it over with. I edged my way to the bathroom door across the room. With deliberate slowness, I opened the door. It let out a long, labored creaking that I was having none of. Before I looked inside, I searched in my bag for some oil and applied some liberally to the hinges. I tested it out by opening and closing the door by a few inches. Not a sound.
Satisfied, I continued in. It was dark. I felt for the light switch by the mirror and nothing. It was your regular run-of-the-mill bathroom with chipped floor tiles, a bathtub and sink that needed resurfacing, and a dingy white wall.
But no leaky faucet.
I checked both the drains. Bone dry. I checked the mesh filter over the faucet mouth. Also dry. I turned the faucets on and off again, letting a decent amount of water to pool over the drain before shutting them off. The drains needed some Drano but nothing could explain away the leaking that I heard earlier.
I took a deep breath.
Okay, I was hearing things. Nothing unusual there. Halloween was just getting to me. There was
nothing wrong with this picture.
I packed away my supplies again, turned off the light and started to make my way out. But I heard it again. The dripping sound returned and sounded louder than before. Almost as if it were demanding my attention.
I looked back at the darkness of the bathroom. The room started to shake from the bass of the music downstairs. I think it was a “Spooky, Scary Skeleton” remix.
I should just leave now. Throw up my hands and call it quits but my pride and morbid curiosity as an inventor (and apparently part-time maintenance man) wouldn’t let me leave. I had to figure out where that sound was coming from. And besides, that dying cynic voice whispered that at worst, I was finally starting to lose it. No ghost, you’re just insane. Accept it and move on. Granted, this wasn’t a very comforting explanation but it was much more preferable to the alternative.
I steeled myself up for whatever happened next. I made my way back to the bathroom. I reached a hand out to the gloom and met with the doorknob. I was gripping the doorknob to a previously opened door. I looked up again and my eyes met with the door. It was closed.
My heart started to race. My hand started to shake. I should just turn around and forget this. But my hand gripped tighter on the knob. The door clicked open. The light was on.
I forced down another hard swallow. I pushed open the door slowly. It began to creak…
How was that even…?
I shook my head and pushed open the door. Immediately, a putrid, rotting smell assaulted my nose. I fell on my knees and felt ready to hurl. I swallowed down the bile that was rising in the back of my throat.
I took a couple of deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out. I could taste the stink in the air. I bit my tongue to force back the second wave of nausea.
My watery eyes focused on the ground below me. And it was then I noticed. There were several flies on the tiles rubbing their hands and feet together in greed. The air hummed with the buzz of their wings.
I didn’t want to look up. I somehow knew what I was going to see and yet that zombie cynic in me told me to do it.
I looked up and perched on the side of the bathtub was the remains of a pumpkin. Its orangish-grey body was infested by a swarm of flies that was eating away at its rotting flesh. It was slumped in an awkward position, its innards collapsing in on itself. And yet its ghoulish expression remained. Behind its carved out sockets, tendrils of pumpkin meat hung loosely from the roof of its head. Its smile, which would’ve probably been charming in health, looked like an ugly grimace.
I stood and started to back away. But I knew that even in this putrid state, the pumpkin’s eyes were still trained on me. Waiting to do something.
I turned around to race towards the door but my eyes met with another. It was an elderly man with a balding head, gray skin, and pitch black eyes. His pants were down which I was too stupefied to find the humor in. He grabbed my shirt and pulled me towards him. His breath carried the same putrid stink as the pumpkin in the bathroom.
“I need…” He started in a hoarse whisper.
His hand shook violently and he clutched his heart. The pupils of his eyes grew bigger until they resembled the hollowed out sockets of the pumpkin. His skin started to rot away and the flies started to escape through the holes made through the transformation.
I pushed him away and he landed face down somehow. His flesh rotted away more rapidly.
“I need…” He tried again until his mouth became choked out with flies.
And that was my cue to leave. I jumped over him and bolted for the doorway, slamming the door behind me.
The next thing I knew, I was in my apartment, hiding under my bed sheets.
And so the Halloween tradition continue. I decided to quit coffee for a while and slept for a good few days.