Jack’s Apartment (Part 1)

Jack’s Apartment

by Thadd Presley

Jack’s first day in the apartment was a new lease on life. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do first. But it was an answer to his prayers, and, yes, Jack was now a praying man. God wasn’t always on constant call when it came to Jack’s old life. However, since he began his life after drugs, he was in constant communication with the man upstairs. But, this was more than Jack could have asked for. He never knew gigs like this existed. The idea of “cup runneth over” truly had a meaning now, and Jack felt like a human being for the first time in years. But, Jack was logical. He knew that it wasn’t all God. Jack owed a special thanks to Adam, the man he met while in the county rehab.

Adam was a preacher of sorts, who spent time with addicts and gave them hope. But Adam was much more than a counselor to Jack. Adam was a guiding light and a mentor. He helped Jack and gave him a chance to work at the church and prove himself as a carpenter, which had been instrumental in getting the job at the apartment complex.

He thanked Adam as he sat alone for the first time in a long time, with his dinner on his lap, and thanked God for his apartment, which was on the fourth floor of the Wartzburg Building. It was only a small, cheap, four-room cracker box, but he lifted his head toward the roof, as if he could see into heaven, and asked God to come into his home. It was a quick prayer, just something to bless his food and to invite good spirits to his new place. But he knew it was important, because he didn’t want to forget about all the good things that had been happening to him lately, nor did he want to forget what drugs had done to him.

Before he left the rehab center, he thought that he’d be happy out in the real world, away from the clinic and all the church meetings, away from all the drug addicts and the whiners. But, he wasn’t. Over time, he’d come to like working for the church and he liked the few friends he’d made while living at the halfway house. He liked that his life was on a new path, but he was more afraid everyday. Afraid that he’ d mess everything up now that temptation was at every turn.

What he felt then was suffocation. Anytime he thought about running into old friends or what he was going to do if he started wanting a hit, a panic quickly closed in on him and crushed his goodness. His ideas of a good life and of the spirit who he’d prayed for began to wilt as if something didn’t want him to have a good, new life.

He just felt so alone.

The apartment he picked out on the fourth floor had a small table in the main living room, where he sat with his macaroni. On his left was a doorway to the only bedroom, which was really small, and beside that, a door opened onto the bathroom. There was a fourth room, but it was locked and so far had been inaccessible. He had keys to all the rooms on the fourth floor since part of his rent was going to be repair work, but none of the keys opened this door. The lock was older, probably left over from a century before, and because it was his first day in the apartment, he didn’t want to be a pain to the landlady, especially if it meant she would have to drive all the way back into the city and open it herself. She would be back in a few days to inspect the work he’ d be doing and make sure he was as good a carpenter as Adam said. He could wait and ask her about the room then.

For a moment, with food paused in mid flight to his mouth, he thought about when he’d met her. She was younger than he’d imagined when Adam told him about her, and she was beautiful. She asked him questions about his past and where he used to work. She reminded him that the floor had not been used for thirty years, so he would have to wear a mask when he worked.

“Who knows what all is considered toxic these days. The paint is lead based, I know that for sure; the tile has asbestos in it, as does the insulation and ceiling tiles, and probably there would be more than that. Do you understand that you have to wear the mask? It is very important.”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Legally, no one can live on the fourth floor yet, but since Adam has been so good to us in the past, I’ve decided to make an exception. What we need to do is get your room up to code and as close to livable as fast as we can, both for your health and in case of any problems we might have with the inspectors.”

“I understand. I’ll start in the apartment and work my way into other areas.”

Then came the question he knew was loaded. This was where she would decide everything. “So how long do you think it will take to do the entire job. I mean, the floors, the doors, the trim and painting, we have to replace the ceiling and there will be more, lots more, when we get into it deeper?”

She smiled when he said, “four months should get us to a good point. After that we will know exactly where we stand.”

“I’ll know where we stand in one week, Mr. Solsbury. I want to start renting that floor as soon as possible.”

“Yes, ma’am. Four months is just my guess right now.”

They talked while they signed the last documents, which explained that he would not owe rent for the months he worked, but rules came with the room. No drinking or parties were allowed and no one could live with him. No one can be on the fourth floor, except Adam of course. And, by signing and shaking her thin hand, he became the sole tenant of the fourth floor. He felt like Donald Trump that day. He had an entire floor to himself.

He thought of all this while he ate in silence. With no television or radio, the feeling of loneliness had a tendency grew out of hand, and he found himself thinking of Caroline. He’d never felt so alone in his life, not even when his mother died. Since after high school, he always lived on his own and loved the solitude he had when he wanted or needed it. But since Caroline’s overdose, he’d found a real need for companionship and love. He hated himself for getting her hooked on pain killers and showing her how to shoot up. Her death was his fault; there was no doubt of that. It was as if he killed her the day he met her.

An hour later, having eaten what he could of the cold pasta, he was laying on the old couch, which looked as if it had been here through the thirty years of abandonment, half asleep thinking of Caroline and what his life would be like if she hadn’t died, whether or not he would have gone to rehab. It was her death that brought the police and the reality of drug use to his life. The more he thought about Caroline and what he did to her, the more he thought about whether death did for him. She never got a second chance like he did; she never got to learn a lesson. All she got was death, and he gave it to her in a needle.

He dozed and dozed…then he dreamed.

Jack.

A high pitched, hollow voice filled the room. It seemed to shake his entire being. He opened his eyes, completely sitting up, and felt for his phone. He’d set it on vibrate days ago and hadn’t changed it. He looked around the room, knowing he’d heard something.

No… someone, he told himself. It was a voice. He listened harder, trying to hear his neighbors below. He listened for footsteps in the hallway. Maybe it was someone in the stairwell and their voice had traveled. His eyes stopped on the locked door. He looked away, but somehow he could keep them from going back. The door was actually pulling his eyes to it. He felt panic beginning to set up in his muscles and chest. It would become hard to breathe, but he had to stay calm.

“Dude, calm down,” he said aloud. “It was a dream.”

He shivered. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so rattled. The sound of his voice calmed his nerves a bit, but he knew sleep wouldn’t return. He could only sit there and look at the door.

After a long while of sitting in the red gloom of the heater’s glow listening to the silence, he knew a trip to the bathroom was in order before sleep would return. He wasn’t old by any means, but the drugs had done their worst to his system. He knew he wouldn’t make it the entire night without a pit stop.

It took another five minutes and mighty strong convincing from his bladder to get him to leave the warmth of the heater. The gas on the fourth floor was turned off, so the only warm room in the apartment was the living room, and only in the vicinity of the heater.

He tested the floor with his bare feet and found it absolutely freezing. But it had to be done; there was no stopping nature. In the old days he would have used a bottle and tossed it in the morning, but he didn’t have a bottle, nor did he feel like living that way. After giving up everything in his pursuit to live a new life, such things now seemed out of character and would lead him right back to the past. He felt that a new life demanded new actions.

He crossed the room, only thinking of his urinary duties, when he heard the high-pitched, quick voice again, like the snap of a rubber band.

Jack.

Hearing the voice again and being awake when he heard it shook him to his bones. A bit of pee squirted down his leg and he had to squeeze everything together so he didn’t piss himself completely.

He walked faster and felt the burning urgency.

That voice was not his imagination, he nervously realized. “You heard that with your own ears,” he told himself in a whisper, “and it called your name.”

He turned and looked at the locked door.

Fear tried to grip him, but he fought it. He no longer felt alone, but he couldn’t let whatever it was scare him out of his apartment. What would Adam think if he called and said he couldn’t stay in the apartment because he was scared? He smiled in spite of himself, thinking how easy it was to frighten yourself. How many times did he do it as a child? Every night? Whether it was something under the bed or in the closet, something always seemed to be out to get him. And as he got older, the monsters just got scarier and more dangerous. A simple dream or a spooky moment had a way of sending the blackest fear upon him. It was worse now, since Caroline.

Help us, Jack.

This time he jumped hard enough for his feet to leave the floor. It was louder, closer, and there was absolutely no denying that the voice came from behind the locked door.

With a flick of his hand, the light in the bathroom broke the darkness, and he saw himself in the mirror. He didn’t like the look in his eyes and looked away. He turned on the water. It was as cold as he knew it would be.

As he waited to see if the water would get warm, he tried to push the idea of ghosts away. But, there was no mistaking that he’d heard the voice. It called to him three times.

The fear forced its way into his mind.

He let the water run and listened as it gurgled down the pipes. If it started to run red, he warned himself that it would only be rust. Not blood. That only happened in movies. Old pipes sometimes have rust in them.
The urgency of getting to the bathroom was gone, replaced with fright.

Murder To Save A Friend (part1)

Murder to Save A Friend
(part 1)

Everything about this situation looks so plain and simple from my point of view. John needs to see it for himself, not that it matter’s who tells him, only that he finds out before it’s to late. It’s true that I see things from my own perspective which comes with a certain light that most people are blind to, but it is illuminating and many people, including my friend John, would benefit from it’s intensity, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying he has ever listened to me. He rarely takes my advice, in fact, usually going in the direction I least favor, causing hardship on himself and those who love him.

The situation is so clear and easy, as I see it, but I know I can’t  bring the subject up to John directly. I shall have to leave the task, this minor act of discretion, to my butler, a man we both adore, who is cunning and knowing, and will slip my words into John’s ear without even a hint of force or embarrassment. To say Hamish knows people would be an underestimation of his agreeable talents, to say he knows exactly the right words to use in every circumstance would be a direct hit on his powers. He is a worldly, faithful servant, not because he needs to be, because he wants to be, and he has raised me from a colicky babe into the gentleman and friend I have become today.

John loves and respects Hamish as much as I do. As my constant companion through childhood and business partner in adulthood, we have both drank from the same trough of learning, which was constantly replenished from Hamish’s well of knowledge and wisdom. As close as brothers, we’ve been through thick and thin together, and we’ve never had a bad word between us. That is, until recently.

So, it shall be Hamish who sets into motion the only possible solution to John’s miserable existence, which is to murder John’s wife and liberate my dear friend from the hell he has been subject to these last six months. Even though, as easy as it shall be, I know John will suspect me and fight tooth and nail to bring me to justice. So, to remove suspicion from myself I set my plan into motion a fortnight ago by inviting John and his wife to dinner by way of telegram while they were away in Knoxville.

Of course, they received the telegram and accepted the invitation. John replied with happy sentiments, admitting that after a week of being away with his wife he was looking forward to Hamish’s cooking, writing that she destroyed a pot of Premium Oatmeal by arguing with him instead of watching the breakfast. And while John knows that his life with Rosa is not perfect, what he doesn’t realize is that it will only get worse.
So, because of my vision and from an act of love for my best friend, I have arranged an “emergency” to befall us on the road at precisely 4:45, while we are on our way from the offices to my house for dinner. A robbery will take place that will once and for all remove Rosa from John’s life.

The death will look accidental. I am sure no one will be the wiser once the excitement is over and she is found. To further confuse matters, I have elected myself to become wounded in the performance as well. I believe it will lend an air of reality to an otherwise fake event. My wounds will not be life threatening, I hope, but should be enough to remove all possible accusations from myself and place them on the thieves.

I realize that someone might look at my scheme and think I’m only being a jealous friend who has lost his playmate and will do anything to get him back, but it would be wrong to assume that. If only it possible to see what I see, why that person would volunteer for a part in my production, possibly even maneuver themselves into the position to pull the trigger and set John free by their own hand.

It is hard for me to look upon tonight without some feelings of guilt because it would not have come to this if I would have spoke up in the beginning. If only I had John’s ear and knew how to explain myself, I know I could have saved John and Rosa. But, it is too late now and to say that I knew what was awaiting John the moment we met Rosa is only admitting that I did nothing to stop it.

Did You Lock The Door?

Where do stories come from?

(there’s a story below, but first)

Where do stories come from? Where does the voice of each character come from? Where do they intend to lead us? Is this gift/curse of writing a manifestation of split personalities, fear, or just an over active imagination? Could it be a deeper understanding of humanity trying to make it’s way to the surface and into the world.

Of course, it could be all of these things and none of them. I know I often hear a dialog to begin each story, then I begin to see them living their lives. Mostly mundane lives, but it so clear I can write it down.

It’s not always something I want others to read. For many reasons, the story is just not for them. Many of my stories wouldn’t be fully understood by someone who doesn’t know me. They would think I was unstable.

Writing is a way I can release the mounting dialog welling up inside of me. There’s a torrent of voices from regular people living their regular lives in regular places making connections in my head. Murder is never the point, even in a murder mystery, and neither is the mystery. It all begins with a voice, a person asking a question about the life they are suddenly living. Something as simple as this:

“Did You Lock The Door”

1200 words

“Steve, did you lock the door before you came to bed?” She asked him every night if he locked it.

“Yes, Becca.” He was tired. The day had been long. Shopping and wrapping gifts had worn him out.

“Did you double check it?”

“I did.”

This was normal nightly procedure. She would remind him about the door a few times before bed, then ask a few times after getting in bed, never forgetting to add:  “you know, someone could just walk in off the street and do anything they wanted to us and we’d be laying dead to the world.”

The memory of her warnings rang loudly in his head. Steve had heard Rebeca go through her script nearly fifty times since they moved from Avalon Avenue to Mill Street and thousands of times before that. He’d heard it so many times that he never forgot to check the door. Especially since moving.

He had begun automatically locking the front door even when coming in from checking the mail.  And, by God, he knew he locked it before going to bed last night. There was no mistake. He remembered distinctly the door locking in his hand because even before removing his boots, he reached back and turned it. It was only a flick of the wrist.

He even rechecked it after his shower before going to the bedroom where Rebeca was already asleep. And then came the ritual. While getting comfortable next and snuggling close to her, soaking in her warmth, she stirred a little and asked, “Did you lock the door?”

“Yes, Becca, the door is locked. Twice checked.”

“OK. Thanks, Love you.” She pulled his arm around her and they settled into their new comfortable bed.

Everything in their house was new. At most, some of it was a month old, because they’d bought it in preparation for the move.

Suddenly, right before drifting off, the door came to Steve’s mind again and he smiled to himself. More and more, he noticed his wife’s OCD beginning to affect him. He tried to push it out of his mind, but since he needed a drink of water and was forced to leave the warmth of the bed anyway, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to check. She would probably ask when he got back in bed.

On his walk through the living room, he saw from the hallway by the blinking of the Christmas tree lights that the door was locked. But, to be sure, he crossed the living room rechecked the door.

On the way back down the hallway with a glass of water, he looked in on his son. Even at five years old, Steve knew the boy was going to have a snoring problem. It wasn’t loud yet, but it was one of his families traits. He stood in the boy’s doorway and made a mental note to see the doctor. It might lead to a discussion about surgery.

It was all so clear. There was no mistake. The door was locked. Son was fine. Wife was sleeping when he returned. But, none of that mattered now. It was only memories. From the warmth of his wife to the sound of young Max snoring, nothing but very detailed memories.

It was six in the morning when he walked back through his house. He woke because he felt the wetness and thought he peed the bed. He woke already embarrassed, but it became worse, even more embarrassing because his pee was sticky. Maybe he had one of those wet dreams he’d always heard about.

When he flipped on the bedside light, he got ready for his wife’s laughter and knew he wouldn’t live it down quickly. She would tease him about it and ask about the girl he had been dreaming of. But, there was no laughter, no questions. The dream had not been wet. The bed was wet with blood.

There was absolutely nothing he could do that would change the terrible facts. It was too late. Walking through the house, he replayed every move he made in his mind, but it didn’t help him understand what happened. Nothing would bring his wife and son back. Rebecca’s worst fears had come true. Someone had walked in off the street and done something to them while they were dead to the world.

Rebeca was dead in his bed, stabbed just inches from where he slept and his son had bruises around his neck where someone had strangled his weak little body until it moved no more.

“Je-sus,” he yelled in two penetrating syllables. She knew all along that this was going to happen. She had some kind of premonition a long time ago and knew it. “I’m sorry Becca!” He screamed it. “I’m so sorry.”

But, nothing would change anything now.  This was a concrete and unforgiving world. If life had suddenly become a game, he wouldn’t restart.  He wouldn’t want infinite lives. He would just turn the game off. He was tired of playing it.

It was too much to take, too much to describe, and no way anyone would understand if he tried. Christmas mornings weren’t supposed to start this way.  This week, this move, and the new year was meant to bring a brighter vision of the future.  Everyone had been fill with excitement, but now everyone was gone and he was faced with a nightmare. He was alone in a world where he no longer wanted to live. Steve knew he couldn’t go on. He wasn’t going to go on, not like this.

It was the end for him.

He didn’t own a gun. He didn’t have enough of the right pills to kill himself. There was no poisons he could drink that would definitely do the job quick and good. There was only a forgotten box of razors in the medicine cabinet, left by the family who lived here before them. He had seen them probably a hundred times over the last month and never threw them out. Neither had Rebeca.

That family had troubles as well, he’d heard. They were bullied into moving away. He didn’t know all the particulars, but nasty rumors were all over the neighborhood and Rebeca had heard more than was good for her.

Yes, the razors were still there. He took one out and removed it from it’s brown paper sheaf. It was shiny and sharp.  He pushed it into his skin right above his wrist and in one quick motion jerked it toward his elbow. The pain was non-existent. He wouldn’t have cared anyway.

The second wrist was harder to cut because seeing his blood made his fingers unsteady, but he managed to put a deep gash halfway from his wrist halfway to his elbow. Pain had began to pulse in his right hand. Then he felt the first wave of panic hit him. The blood flowed faster as his heart sped up.

He felt dizzy immediately, but it was just the thought of dying that scared him. It was only a mild fear compared to living without his wife and child.

He looked at the bathroom floor and was surprised at how much red had pooled under his feet. Dark red footprints tracked his steps back and forth in front of the sink. The mess would be terrible he thought and laughed a little. The sound spooked him and the world seemed brighter than it should, as if a spotlight was directed everywhere he looked.

He walked to the tub and almost slipped getting in. He turned the hot tap on full blast.  Then, reached out and turned on the cold tap. The temperature was just right when the phone rang.

He had no need to answer it and he didn’t care who was calling.

Slowly, he placed his wrist under the  faucet and watched the bath water turn from pink to red.

On the third ring the automated message answered in Rebeca’s voice. “You’ve reached the Mallory family.” Steve’s chest hitched up and he started crying. He would never hear her voice again. “We’re not home at the moment. Leave a message and we’ll get back to you ASAP. Have a blessed day.”

“Steve, Rebeca,” an excited voice all but yelled. “Pick up will ya?” It was the landlady’s northern accent. “OK, look, I just remembered that I forgot to change the locks before you moved in.”

There was a moment of quiet. “I’m coming over directly and do it. I’m sorry, but I can’t put it off. It’s very important we do it today.” There was a pause. “I’ve received word that Harold was seen in your neighborhood. He’s the son of the family who used lived in your home. He could be dangerous, so call me back. I’m on my way to your house to meet the locksmith right now.”

Steve did not hear the entire message. A warm darkness came over him. As he passed out, he wondered if he locked the door. Rebeca would surely ask him first thing.

The End

So where do stories come from? It is our own fears trying to warn us or is it just random thoughts and we string them into stories assigning voices and sentences and places in an attempt to make sense of them?

I don’t know.