First Drafts, Short Story, writing

She Always Looked Good In Red (rough draft)

She always look good in red. I remember the first time I saw her, leaning on a bar, curled amber hair framing her face perfectly. The red velvet of the dress she wore clung to the smooth curves of her waist. It cascaded down from her hips and pooled at her feet. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, I was lost in her. I remember our eyes met across that bar, her eyes shining in the lights, rose painted lips parting in a smirk over her white teeth. The man she was talking to fought to keep her interest, but her eyes kept finding mine and she excused herself from him. She made her way over to me, a perfect and elegant series of movements, her bare hand caressed mine as she slid onto the seat next to me. I felt the sweat bead on my forehead and she laughed at my nervousness. When she laughed she threw her head back, exposing the ivory of her throat; the pearls on her neck rising and falling. She took a sip of her whiskey, running a hand along my face.

I never thought much of myself until her. I still don’t, but I was willing to pretend to make her happy. I would do anything to make her happy. And she knew that. Money spent, parties thrown, expensive dinners eaten; all for her. All to see her shine. At first I couldn’t believe she’d want to be seen with me. A balding man in his late thirties such as myself didn’t deserve a spot in her life. But there I was. Illuminated in the brilliance that was her.

I didn’t think she would say yes, when I asked. I figured she was just with me until she grew bored but I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I asked, she said yes. We said our vows in an ice chapel and honeymooned around the world. Anything for her.

When she found out she was pregnant, I noticed a change in her. Not the normal change I had seen my friends and their wives go through. She became withdrawn, gaunt, almost never eating. Her amber hair dulled and began to fall out. She refused a doctor, telling me a doctor could not help her. The visitors she kept during the pregnancy were strange and quiet. Much older women, dressed in blue, would come and pray with her for hours at a time. I wasn’t allowed in the house when they were there. My wife would beg me to leave, she said they were to only ones who could help her now. I was soon sleeping in the spare room of my own house and then, after a time, I found a new place to stay until she was better. Until, until the day…

She called me, asking me to come home. I hadn’t heard her voice in weeks, only the women in the house communicating with my via phone called. I was so happy to hear her voice, so happy I cried. A baby cooed on the other end of the line, somewhere in the distance. She asked me to come home and I did, and I wish I hadn’t.

When the elevator reached my floor, a sudden wave of dread surrounded me. I tried to shake it off as nerves. The most beautiful woman in the world was waiting for me with our child. Our lovely new child. Something we had created together. Anyone would have been nervous. I slid my key into the lock, turning the knob, and entering the living room. But it didn’t look like a living room anymore. The ground was covered in newspapers and old containers of food. The curtains were drawn and when I reached for the lights, nothing turned on.

I called out for her and when I didn’t get a reply I called again. A soft moaning came from the back of the apartment. Turning on the flashlight on my cell phone, I navigated my way through the accumulated filth, gawking at the awfulness that filled my abode. I couldn’t understand how this had happened. I called for her again, only receiving moans in response. The door to our bedroom was closed, it took so much for me to open it.

What happened next seemed to move in slow motion. My hand grasped the crusted knob, stomach turning as I did. My nose protested the wall of smell that hit me as the door swung open. What I saw next will forever be burned into my mind.

A black creature stood on the heap of mattress that used to be our marital bed, crouched over a small bundle. It was sinewy and thin, each of it’s limbs caked in black dirt. It’s eyes darted to me as the door opened, reflecting like mirrors in the dark. It gathered the bundle in its clawed hands and shrieked at me. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t find my feet or my courage. This thing, this thing just stared at me. It made a clicking noise in it’s throat. It cautiously stepped toward me, it’s toenails grinding on the wood. As it drew closer, I realized the impossible. It was her. Under the filth, I could see her. The creature’s face was inches from mine, No, her face was inches from mine. I stumbled through saying her name. The creature pulled back and clicked again, returning to the bed, holding the bundle to it’s chest. The bundle gurgled.

I took a meager step into the room, doing my best to avoid startling her as she brought the bundle to her breast. The mirror was broken, a shard of it was within my reach. Whatever this creature was, it wasn’t my wife anymore. I winced as my hand closed around the glass, I felt it penetrate.

I said her name as I approached her, slowly and gently. The babe suckling at her breast, I heard her humming softly. I told her I was going to sit down with her, I told her I was going to touch her hair. Fighting repulsion, I laid her head on my chest. I stroked her hair, tears streaming down my face. I told her I loved her, my lips pressed against her forehead, the shards of glass cutting deep into her neck. I heard her choke and she pulled away from me, thrashing and screaming. The bundle was dropped as she writhed on the floor. The blood spurt from her throat, but soon she was still, and silent. The red washed over her, removing a layer of grime. I stood, shaking, and walked out of the apartment. I was on auto pilot. I don’t know how I got to my apartment without someone noticing the blood on me. I’ve called the police to tell them what I’ve done. But I won’t be here when they find out. Whatever that creature was, I can’t live on with the knowledge of it.

I see her face now, her reflective green eyes staring into my soul as I backed out of that room. It was true even then. She always looked good in red.

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Movies, Picture Post

My Favorite Japanese Horror Movies To Get You Through Halloween

So, as many  of you know, I love horror movies. And as I struggle to come up with things to talk about on this blog (and it turn justify paying for it) I figured I would share with ya’ll my  favorite Japanese horror movies. Now, as a disclosure, I’m not saying these are the best or most well made movies out there. I’m saying I watched them, I liked them, and have/will watch them again. The list isn’t in any particular order,just my favorites! I’ve also not gained any sort of profit from companies for talking about these movies (that would be really super cool though because watching movies for a living in legit my life dream). If you disagree with my list, that is fine. I’m not writing it to persuade you to have all of these become your favorite, just what I enjoy and things ya’ll might like. Let’s get this party started!

I do wanna say that this post is dedicated to the late Isao Yatsu, he appears in more J-horror than the average person watches and the genre will never be the same without him, even if his roles were always small. Just something about him made the movies better.

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Ju-on/The Grudge Movies

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I’m sure most of you have seen or heard of these, but they still give me nightmares. The original Japanese version is based off of novels by the same name, Ju-on. The Grudge is the American version staring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, and Clea DuVall. There are some other rather large name actors in this one, but one casting decision that I really like in that the use Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki in both movies (Takashi Matsuyama is also in both movies BUT, he doesn’t haunt my dreams. Takako does hand the role of Kayako over to Aiko Horiuchi in The Grudge 3 and to Misaki Saisho in Beginning of the End; but it was her decision).

Courtesy of IMDb
((Yup, this is the face that haunts me))

They also take different paths, the movies. The American version starts with Gellar living in Japan and visiting a sick woman in the super haunted house, everyone is being haunted, and everyone dies. Although the Japanese version starts in a similar fashion, there are mutiple off shoots of what happens in the films. At one point, it’s even a different house. If you want to watch them in the order they were made (as explain all the different points of each movie would take forever and I want you watching movies, not reading plots) the timelines goes: Ju-on: The Curse, Ju-on: The Curse Two, Ju-on: The Grudge, Ju-on: The Grudge Two, Ju-on: White Ghost, Ju-on: Black Ghost, Ju-on: The Beginning of the End, Ju-on: The Final Curse, and finally but not least, Sadako v. Kayako. The only one I haven’t seen is Sadako v. Kayako; the reason being that my Japanese isn’t that great yet and I can’t find a version with English subs… yet. The Curse and The Grudge are two separate things, as are White Ghost and Black Ghost. But if you want a fun weekend I recommend ALL of them; they explore a lot about the story of Kayako.

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If this doesn’t scare you I don’t know if we can be friends.

I know she isn’t real, but if I turn my back to a darkened hall way, leave my closet open at night, or the light turns off in the bathroom(auto-timers kinda suck); she is the first thing to pop into my head and my immediate reaction is to get out.

Ringu/The Ring Movies

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For a lot of people (from who I’ve talked to, no real research went into this), The Ring was a lot of people’s first J-horror movie. I remember discussing this on the bus in grade 6. It was one of the first released in the states. As with The Grudge/Ju-on movies Ringu and The Ring start out quite similar in story line. With this one I prefer Ringu myself. In the American version I feel that there is to much emotional commitment between the characters and it hurts the effect of terror. You feel sorry for Samara (Sadako) instead of fear, and I don’t think that’s a good method to try to use in that kind of horror movie. There are sequels to Ringu and The Ring; The Ring’s more based on the emotional need of the ghost and her killing to get what she wants. Ringu two is more about outrunning Sadako, protection Yoichi, and staying alive.

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I also enjoyed the Ringu 0: Birthday prequel to Ringu. It describes Sadako as a college student and what led her to be a vengeance murder beast.  It doesn’t quite fit with the Ringu/Ringu 2 style of haunted video tape, but it goes more into Sadako and why she does what she does. That’s one thing I like about Japanese horror, it takes the time to develop their ghosts, but not in a way where we feel sorry for them. Just so that we understand them.

Art by chi nasagawa on DeviantArt

One of my favorite parts in Ringu is the very first scene, which was borrowed by The Grudge during it’s final scene. Watch it and find out

One Missed Call

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Alright, another movie with an American counterpart. This one is apart of a trilogy, but as with most trilogies, the second movie isn’t really the same as the first, and the third is WAY off. However the first movie runs really well. Yumi’s (who owns a creepy cuddle pillow) friend receives a call from her own cell phone number and the voice mail left is of her last moments alive before something kills her. This continues to escalate and it’s up to Yumi to figure out what is happening to everyone. The movie touches on topics such as abuse, which is an overlying theme of the whole movie. A lot of people say they don’t like/don’t understand the ending, but I’m not gonna talk about it because I don’t want to spoil it. Because I think it is a little silly, but it returns to a theme that is mentioned earlier on which I can appreciate in film.

Just like all the rest so far, the American version starts there and takes a turn for not better (I wouldn’t say worst, because it definitely could have been worse). Similar to The Ring, the first American version of the film takes the best parts of the first two original films pastes them together and then tries to salvage a second movie out of it. Thankfully they didn’t get to make a second one for American audiences. If you prefer the American version then please, by all means, watch it. It’s just not my cup of tea. I like to have people watch as many horror movies as they can manage.

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There are many more movies that I’m going to mention that have American remakes, but I’m not going to get into the remakes as much. I’m sure if you want the American version, you will watch it, but this is about J-horror!

Kairo (Pulse)

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This movie is older, but is only dated by the technology. It’s about technology too. The movie follows two different groups of people. The first group compraised ofMichi, Junko, Yabe and Taguchi and the second, Ryosuke and Harue. Michi works at a plant shop and when Taguchi stops showing up for work she goes to his apartment where he promptly kills himself. Ryosuke begins his story by signing up for the Internet with a CD and a manual (like I said the movie is dated and as soon as he is connected to the internet is shows him a lot of different people, sitting in dark roooms, acting strangely. Now days, we call that Chatroulette, but in the movie it spread ghosts between users which resulted in the user committing suicide.

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I like this movie for a few reasons. It explores technology in dark way, hinting that it leads to an apocalyptic sort of future. Maybe we are headed in that direction… slowly? Who knows. I like that the characters are constantly looking for hope in a dying world. They look out for each other, even when people throw themselves from tall buildings. The red tape in this movie seems to serve a different purpose than in the American version. In this one it seems like the red tape is to keep things in, whereas the tape in the American version is meant to strictly keep things out.

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If you want to second guess your webcam and turn your monitor away while your not using it because you’re afraid. I recommend this film.

Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman

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This movie is based on an urban legend from the Edo period about a woman who covers her face with a scarf, fan, or mask and goes about asking people if she pretty. If the person answers yes, she removes her covering which reveals a huge gash across her mouth. She asks again and if the person screams or says no, she kills them. If they say yes, she lets them go, only to kill them later on that night in their home. So that’s a fun person to party with. In the movie she is depicted as a woman wearing a beige coat and mask and she carries a giant pair of shears. She kidnaps children and hides them away, while a couple of school teachers investigate and try to find the children.

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I think this movie does really well because the majority of it is shot during the day. There are hardly shadows for the ghost to hide in. And that lends an element of realism to the story, as to say that abductions can happen at any time; even by ghosts.

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Carved  does have a prequel/sequel that came out after the first movie called Carved 2: The Scissors Massacre. It’s the story of a girl who gets acid thrown on her face after an old lover of her sister’s gets jealous after the sister’s wedding. That story is more about her descent into madness and her taking revenge on unforgiving classmates. Also a good watch.

I’ve listen 5 movies here that I think you’ll love this upcoming Halloween, hey you could even start early, there are enough prequels and sequels to get you started. A lot of these moves are available on sites like youtube.com, 123movies.to, or netflix. Happy watching and stay scared!

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First Drafts, Short Story

Knock Three Times (Part Three)

 

She woke up on the floor of her apartment, but she almost didn’t believe it. She was warm, the sun was shining into her apartment. Yonkers meowed from in front of his bowl. Everything seemed normal. Not at all how the world had been last night. Matilda sat up quickly, smacking her head on the knob.

“Ah.” She cried, holding her head in her hands. She cursed softly under her breath and stood, shakily. She felt like she had been hit by a truck; sick to her stomach, head pounding, and every joint in her body ached. She continued to look for anything out of place, anything at all. The house was silent and still; it was rather off putting. Yonkers cried again, this time from her ankle, pawing at her leg. The noise he made echoed strangely in her head, like someone yelling down an empty can.

As she poured food into his bowl, she swore she could each each granule hit the porcelain bottom. It was like a hangover, although the source had been the nightmare scourge that has chased her into her apartment. The brief and fuzzy image of the beast surfaced in her memory again and her head throbbed in protest.

She slowly sat on the floor, her back against the fridge. She rested her head on her knees. Yonkers swished his tail over her toes as he happily ate, his soft fur felt harsh on her skin. She moaned into her lap and tried to remember what had chased her. Before she could even summon it in her mind, her brain throbbed again.

She moaned again, her breath hot against her thighs. The pressure was intense and unforgiving. Steadying herself again, she leaned up against the fridge and used the opposite wall for balance. She decided that she didn’t know and she didn’t want to know what had chased her down the hallway, at least for right now. She made it to her couch before collapsing, each fiber of the couch stabbing into her. There was no comfort to be had, but her eyes closed and her mind drifted into a dark void of nothing.

Matilda woke up to the song playing. It wasn’t a quiet start, as it had been the passed two days. It was loud and near, no longer sourced through the vent; it played fully through her apartment now.

If you look out your window tonight.

Matilda shot up on the couch, her muscles and joints screaming in pain. Frost had began to form on the windows and she could see her breath. A loud thumping came from the upstairs apartment, interrupting the music. She looked around for the source of the sound. She stood, her body trembling, and stared up at the ceiling. Bits of plaster fell with every thud that made the house shake.

Read how many times I saw and how in my silence I adore you.

Matilda leaned up against the fridge, unable to locate the source. She glanced at the clock, it read seven. She touched the wall across from her to steady herself and quickly pulled her hand away. The wall buzzed with the vibration on the bass of the song. The blue paint moved in time and felt alive under her fingers.

Matilda belted out a outrageous laugh. The overwhelming tumult of the last few days escaping her in a crazed and maniacal cackling. She slid down the appliance, and bashed her fists into the floor. She hit the wall in front of her, her laughter turning into tears. She picked up Yonkers’ bowl and threw it against the door. The thumping above her stopped for a moment. The music skipped, and began repeating the same phrase.

you want me…you want me…you want me…you want me…

The pounding gained direction and she heard it move towards the door of Mrs. Flintman’s apartment. Bits of plaster continued to fall as the mass moved faster. She heard it hit the door above and clamored to her feet. Clenching her fists, she opened her door and stared out into the dark hallway. The record began to skip again.

meet me in the hallway….meet me in the hallway…

She heard the wood of the door start to break and took her chance on the front door of the building. She rushed to it, the doorknob was slick and the glass was covered in frost. The knob wouldn’t turn and when she pounded on the door it barely made a sound. The door was frozen in place.

Matilda felt a chill up her spine, the cold was setting in faster. She held her breath as she heard the door upstairs give way and the creature begin to move through the trash. Staring at the upstairs landing, a mound began to push its way forward. The music jumped again.

Only in my dreams the wall between us was apart.

The slapping wet sound started to emanate from the landing and Matilda felt the familiar fear set into her mind. The world began to bend at the edges and her vision started to blur. Her heart rattled against her ribs, her breathing was sharp and shallow in her chest. The music began to echo around her and a growling started to grow from the landing.

I love you, I love you, I love you…

The mound of trash began to cascade down the stairs, the beast descending behind it. The light from her apartment only illuminated so much, but it was enough to renew the terror. Matilda scrambled toward her door, slipping on the ice growing on the floor. She could see the head of the beast, the light glinting off it’s greyish green flesh. A white viscous slime dripped from it’s jowls, and it’s large white fangs glimmers. She noticed that it walked on two legs, and had multiple tendrils. Matilda flew through her door and a large tendril wrapped itself around her ankle. She fell, adrenaline shooting through her. She cried out as she hit the floor, her head smacking into the hardwood. The beast began to pull her out of the doorway.

Oh my darlin’…

Matilda screamed and thrashed, her opposing foot made contact with the beast’s head and it shrieked in pain. The tendril ripped from her ankle, small punctures dotted her skin. For a moment she was freed and she pulled herself along the floor, tears running down her face. She grabbed the door and tried to close it, but the tendril shot back around the door. The head of it flexed open and exposed rows of sharp teeth. Matilda flung the door closed on the tendril, the entity shrieked again and seized. It tried to latch onto her again, this time it found her wrist. Matilda screamed again as it dug its teeth in, ripping at her flesh. She slammed the door again, piercing the skin of the beast. It left go of her and returned to the beast itself. Matilda finally had the door closed. She started to weep as the beast threw itself again the door. It shrieked again and Matilda heard walk away from her door. She stood up and limped to her bathroom. The light of the bathroom was dim, but she could see that the damage to her wrist and ankle were vast. She did her best to wrap them tight, hoping the pressure would stop the bleeding. The light in the bathroom flickered, and the bulb went out. The creature’s crying returned in full volume. She grabbed a blanket to keep out the cold and collapsed against her front door. The door was her last line of defense.

The room was dark. The windows were covered in a solid sheet of frost and snow covered the floor. Matilda shivered and wrapped herself tighter in her blanket. She held her back to her door, as the creature pushed against it.

Hey girl, whatcha doin’ down there?

The song had started over again. There was nothing to block it out anymore, it was if the song itself had consumed her thoughts. The clock on the wall still read seven, it hadn’t moved since she had taken cover in her apartment.

One floor below me, you don’t even know me, I love you.

The wood was cracking behind her, the creature was gaining purchase. She was exhausted. The gauze on her wrist and ankle had soaked through before they froze. All the light bulbs in her apartment were dead, popped one by one as she listened to the beast pace the house.

She had faded in and out of consciousness as time had gone on. Her original plan had been to wait for morning, but at this point, it seemed morning no longer existed for her.

A rather hard swing to the door splintered the wood over her right shoulder. She cried out again.

“Stop. Please stop.” She croaked, crying into the door. When the blow didn’t come again, she opened her eyes.

“No.” A gargled growl came from the other side. “, You knocked.”

The final blow broke through the door and a thick arm ripped through the wood. The smell of the grey flesh riddled Matilda’s nostrils with the smell of death, the mucus of the beast covered her. Matilda struggled meagerly against the arm. Failing, she disappeared into the darkness of the hallway. The music cut out. The house fell silent.

~

A car pulled up outside of the freshly painted building. A well dressed man stood outside the door, waving at the passenger of the vehicle. The driver got out of the car.

“Hey, sorry we’re late. Traffic is terrible this time of day. I’m Derrick, this is Melanie.”

“That is alright, I’m Jason. I think you will love this apartment. Small, but cozy.” The man shook hands with them and waved them ahead. Derrick and Jason continued to talk about the traffic, but Melanie had stopped and stared into the window of an empty apartment. A white cat stared back, licking its jowls.

 

Picture Courtesy of google images
First Drafts, Short Story, writing

Knock Three Times (Part Two)

Matilda woke up a few hours later, her apartment quiet and cold. Stuffing her feet into her slippers, she shuffled to the thermostat. It was still set at the seventy mark from earlier, but the room temperature read about thirty-eight degrees. Matilda tapped on the thermostat and selected the outside temperate. It read sixty degrees.

She exhaled sharply, her breath steaming. She walked to the window and tried opening it, but the window was stuck. She pulled up on it with more force which only made the wood groan.

Fuck.” She smacked the window sill with an open palm and winced; grumbling in pain. Her breath fogged up the window. It was dark outside, the clock in the kitchen read seven. It was strange for it to be dark this early in the summer. A frozen gust traveled passed her ankles and she stepped back from the window. Kneeling down, she held a hand next to the vent on the floor. Cold air blew up from the vent; glancing back at the thermostat, she noted that the blue light for the air conditioner wasn’t on.

Matilda grimaced. With Mrs. Flintman gone she wasn’t sure who she should call to fix the air system. What about her son, a tiny voice in the back of her mind spoke. She dug through her desk, looking for any scrap of paper. Under a notebook she found a scrap of paper with the words ‘Flintman, son’ written on it. She grabbed her phone and dialed the number.

She got a busy signal. Frustrated, she hung up the phone and tossed it to the floor. She plugged in the kettle and while it warmed up, she dug out a hat and scarf from a wicker basket by the door. The kettle whistled and she switched it off. She began to pour the water into a mug when something stopped her in mid movement. Something that was almost familiar.

The beat was almost not there at all. For a moment she suspected that it was in her head, until it grew louder and she could hear the lyrics.

Knock three times, one the ceiling if you want me. Twice on the pipe, if the answer is no. Oh my sweetness. Means you’ll meet me in the hallway, twice on the pipe mean you ain’t gonna show.

She turned and looked into the rest of her apartment, scrutinizingly, as if blaming the room for the noise. Her eyes found the grate on the wall. It was louder than it had been the night before, cutting eerily through the frozen air. She knew then where the noise was coming from, although fixing the problem made her feel sick. The noise was coming from the basement.

Matilda paced her apartment, her slippered feet sliding across the hardwood. It had only been a dream after all, but just something about it had stayed with her. It was only Jason down there, maybe he didn’t realize how loud the music was, maybe she should just go knock and ask him to turn it down. The vision of the door to the basement stairs surfaced in her thoughts and she felt her breath catch in her throat.

Get a hold of yourself, for christsake you’re an adult. It’s a basement. We aren’t freezing to death listening to seventies music because you’re scared. Angrily, she stomped her feet, balled up her fists, and faced her front door. In a jolt of angry courage she pulled open her front door and stepped into the hallway. The hallway was colder than her apartment, but it didn’t deter her from walking toward the back of the hall, where the door to the basement would be. The music was in the hall too, up through the same grates in the walls. A low rumbling gurgle joined the music the closer that Matilda got. Her paced slowed as it got louder and changed into something more recognizable. It was a growling noise and it was moving on the other side of the wall. She shuddered and put her weight against the wall, her legs betraying her.

Only in my dreams did that wall between us come apart.

Her moment of courage was gone and she felt her knees start to buckle. The hallway began to rotate and twist. The growling continued ahead of her, she trembled. The music was blaring through the building, but she could hear something moving up the stairs. It was a soft and sludge-like sound, it made a slapping noise with every movement. The lights flickered and Matilda suffered with the music. The lyrics forced themselves into her brain scrambling all of her thoughts. She felt more dizzy and disorientated than she ever had. She heard the door to the basement swing open with incredible force.

I can feel your body swayin, one floor below me you don’t even know me.

The lights in the hall started to pop, going out one by one away from the basement stairs and sprinkling glass shards into the carpet. She felt a stone drop in her stomach and turned back to her apartment. She struggled to walk to the door, her entire body fighting her on moving; terror seizing her limbs. Tears were freely flowing down her face as she grabbed at the door knob. Whatever was in the basement was close behind her, she could hear it moving across the carpet. She could feel heat from it on her calves and the smell of rotting flesh filled her nose. She pounded on and forced her weight against the door, as it became harder and harder to breath. She screamed into the darkness as her door burst open.

Matilda fell inside and pushed the door shut with her foot. But not before she caught a glimpse of what was behind her. Green eyes that glinted in the darkness. She scrambled to lock the doors and sat with her back pressed it to, sobbing into her hands. The last thing she remembered before passing out was the music cutting out almost instantly, the growling stopping, and a soft, wet tap on her door.

First Drafts, Short Story, writing

Knock Three Times (Part One)

I do not know the original photographer, if you do please let me know.Matilda sat alone in her ground floor apartment. Her eyes followed the lines of the book, but her mind followed the footsteps of large and loud Mrs. Flintman upstairs. She heard that woman everywhere and was beginning to think Mrs. Flintman was loud on purpose, although one look at the woman would change the mind of others. Mrs. Flintman was a rotund woman, with a voice reminiscent of crows cawing at passersby; things that would be very hard for someone to change at the drop of a hat. Right now she was dragging her feet across the floor and Matilda was sure she saw dust fall from her ceiling. It was distracting and disruptive, but there was no way around it. Rent was only four hundred a month with full utilities and they were close to downtown Portland. Matilda couldn’t afford anything else at the moment, and, on the rare occasion when Mrs. Flintman was sleeping or out, it was quite peaceful.

It didn’t help that Mrs. Flintman owned the building either, or Matilda would have complained. She tried not to let it bother her and would do things out as much as possible.  She never brought people over though, for the sake they don’t ask why the hall staircase had orange shag carpet and smelled of cat pee. No one was ever really in the building but the two of them. There were only three apartments and the basement apartment had been empty ever since Matilda moved in. Mrs. Flintman’s son would come over sometimes. He was an average 30 something business man with a nice car. When they saw each other, which was rare, he would be pleasant with her. But she never got his name; he mostly came over to check on his mother. She asked him for money a lot, Matilda heard their conversations through the fan in her bathroom. He always suggested that she rent the basement apartment if she needed more money, which would upset her, and she would start to cry, which was his cue to promise to deposit money into her account as soon as he got to the bank.

Matilda was never sure what Mrs. Flintman used the money for. Groceries and things, for sure, but those were all delivered and never more than a few hundred dollars a month. Matilda had the working theory that the money went to online shopping and cats. There were so many cats and unopened packages in the building. Matilda had never minded cats, but now it was at a point where she struggled to get out the front door in the morning.

 

She came home from a busy day at work one day to the sounds of shouting. She recognized Mrs. Flintman’s, her son’s, and a second female voice she didn’t know. They were shouting about the basement apartment. Matilda had stopped in the hall to listen, her key in the lock. A great, white, and fluffy cat pressed itself up to her calves and purred. A slamming door upstairs made her jump and she quickly unlocked her door and stepped in, just in time for the unidentified voice to gain a face.

“We’re renting out the damn apartment.” The woman mumbled harshly, kicking the cat out of her way. The cat yowled and bolted through Matilda’s open door. The woman slammed the front door so hard that the dirty window cracked. Mrs. Flintman’s son rushed down the stairs after her. Matilda heard the whaling moan of Mrs. Flintman upstairs, and shut her apartment door.

Over the next few days, cleaning men and builders were in and out of the basement apartment. The carpet on the stairs and in the hall got pulled up and a new beige commercial carpet was laid down in it’s place. A week later, a moving truck showed up. Matilda had mulled over who her new neighbor would be in her mind so many times that she decided to be absent during their move in. She didn’t want to disappoint herself. A neighbor other than Mrs. Flintman, it was like a dream come true. She had imagined a woman her age and they could watch movies in the basement with popcorn and talk about how much they wish they could afford a better place. A whole apartment to buffer the sounds of Mrs. Flintman.

When Matilda did come home again, there was no new car in front of the building. The basement windows had acquired curtains though, a sliver of light passed through the part of a pair. She decided that she would let whoever it was get settled before she went down with a bottle of wine to welcome them to the building.  

Mrs. Flintman must have been asleep, Matilda didn’t hear the television upstairs or the woman herself. She sighed happily and dropped her bag on the chair next to the door. The cat that was laying there protested and jumped down. The white cat hadn’t left the apartment after the woman stormed out, and Matilda hadn’t bothered to get rid of it. Instead she gave it a name, Yonkers.

“Sorry.” Matilda muttered to the cat, falling onto her dark couch and kicking her shoes at the door. She stared up at the ceiling, her eyes heavy from a long day. That’s when she heard it.

Knock three times, on the ceiling if you want me…

It was very faint, almost a whisper. She turned and saw the source of the noise was the old furnace grate in the wall. Meaning the sound was coming from under her.

Twice on the pipe if the answer is no…

She continued to stare at the grate and grimaced. Her hopes of having a younger neighbor had been dashed. The song was so old, that they were probably old too. Matilda picked up a pillow and faux screamed into it. She went to bed that night with headphones in.

Her dreams were terrible. She was trapped in her building, the doors and windows were nailed shut and snow pushed against the outside. The lights were dim and she was filled with a sense of dread. Her last memory of the dream was sitting in the corner of the hall watching the door to the basement, hoping that it wouldn’t open. The door was opening and she was hit with a fantastic and terrible smell.

Matilda jolted awake in bed. Sweat poured down her neck and face, her heart thumping in her throat. Yonkers jumped up on the bed and meowed at her. She looked quickly around her room and registered no threat. Her clock read three.

She kicked off her blankets and hung her legs over the bed; Yonkers waddling through the mountain of discarded warmth. He laid down and purred. Matilda got up out of bed and walked to her front door. None of the locks looked out of place, but a raw nerve in the back of her brain wasn’t satisfied. She held her breath as she slowly turned the handle, the sound of the latch disengaging seemed to echo in the quiet of the building.

She pulled the door open and glanced back and forth down the hallway. No one was there and Matilda let her breath out slowly. She shut the door and re-locked it. She pressed her back up against it and realized how cold her apartment was.

Matilda checked her thermostat. It read the room at about forty -two degrees. She turned up the dial and pulled a blanket from the back of her couch. She turned on her kettle and pulled a mug from her shelf. The small window above the sink started to fog as the kettle grew hot and started to boil.

The furnace kicked on and Matilda felt the warm air flow over her toes. She looked at the clock and it read three thirty. Plucking a tea bag from the box, she poured the water into the mug, and steeped the bag.

The tendrils of the nightmare hadn’t dissipated by the time the sun rose, but Matilda pushed it as far back into her mind as she could. She did her best to distract herself, but by the time she should have heard Mrs. Flintman roaming from her bedroom to the kitchen, Matilda sat in silence with her thoughts.

She made a silent list of things she was going to do with her day; groceries at the farmer’s market, maybe stop by the book stall, grab a cup of coffee with a friend. And not go in the basement, the small voice in her head said. Yonkers was curled up in a loaf on the ottoman, his head raised as he watched out the window.

Matilda was restless the entire day. She felt as if something was watching her where ever she went and she caught herself looking over her shoulder more than once. She felt as if the world was pressed in around her and rushed home. Once she had the front door of the building close, she felt a tiny bit of relief.

The building was eerily quiet. Matilda couldn’t place what was missing until she realized in was Mrs. Flintman. Or the lack of her, really. Matilda didn’t think the absence of noise would be off putting, but it made her uncomfortable. It had been almost a full day since Matilda had heard anything from upstairs; and considered checking on the old woman just to be safe. She recalled how upset Mrs. Flintman had been after her fight with her son.

Matilda sighed and walked up the stairs, her conscious telling her to do the right thing and go check in on the old woman. Matilda had never been on the upper level of the building and the smell was the first thing to reach her. Rotting trash and cat smell, among other things, made their presence known to her nostrils and she shuddered. The door to Mrs. Flintman’s apartment was down a narrow hallway that was even smaller due to the amount of trash. Matilda kneed a table in the hallway and swore under her breath. She heard a shifting sound from further down the hall.

“Mrs. Flintman?” Matilda asked loudly, she moved the table out of her way and continued her way down the hall. Matilda finally got to the door, which she only could assume was one color at some point, and knocked. “, Mrs. Flintman?”

There was no response. Matilda knocked again, this time holding her ear to the door. Still, no noise. The smell in the hallway was getting intense, the bevy of smells changing steadily. Matilda pounded on the door now and it budged open, just the slightest. Matilda tried to situate herself to see through the gap, but Mrs. Flintman’s apartment was dark. She thought she heard the faint crinkle of plastic and a shadow move across the floor. Something about it made Matilda’s blood run cold, the shadow kept moving along the floor.

“Mrs. Flintman?” Matilda whispered urgently. “, Mrs. Flintman, are you there?”

The feeling of dread got worse, Matilda started to feel sick. She swear she heard a soft tearing noise followed by an even softer chewing sound. Her ears were flooded with a static noise and her breathing quickened.

“Mrs. Flintman?” She whispered even more urgently. Nothing, but the shadow on the floor, moving back and forth. Matilda felt the need to get off the top floor, her heart raced. She stumbled to her feet and tried to turn around. She lost her balance and caught the wall to steady herself. She didn’t take her eyes off of the gap in the door. The gap grew darker and she tried to walk away from it. She maneuvered out of the trashed hallway, catching her breath once she had room. She crouched slightly and tucked her head between her knees, taking deep breaths. A hand landed on her shoulder.

Matilda screamed and thrashed out to what ever was behind her.

“Woah. Woah.” A male voice shouted, grabbing one of her thrashing wrists. She realized it was a person and gasped in shock.

“Who,” She breathed deep. “,Who are you? What are you doing here?”

She pulled her wrist away sharply, looking at a man she didn’t know. He laughed.

“Don’t laugh.” She said harshly, rubbing her wrist where he had caught it.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I just, I didn’t think we’d meet like this.” His laughter subsided and he held out his hand. “, I’m Jason, I just moved in to the basement apartment.”

She stared at him and then his hand. She took it cautiously and they shook. Matilda looked him up and down. He was rather attractive; dark hair and tall, with piercing green eyes. She lingered on his eyes, there was something almost unnatural about them. They had been standing in an awkward silence when Matilda  broke it.

“I was looking for Mrs. Flintman, I haven’t heard her for a while and I was worried. Do you know where she is?” She asked him, speaking quickly. The feeling of dread hadn’t left her and she glanced down the stairs nervously. He looked over Matilda’s shoulder.

“Oh, didn’t she tell you? She went on vacation.” He continued to stare over her shoulder and she glanced behind her.

“Vacation? Mrs. Flintman?” She asked skeptically and then said quietly. “,That sounds impossible.”

She chuckled nervously.

“Yea, I spoke with her yesterday on her way out. She said she’ll be gone for a while.” His eyes moved from behind her to down the stairs. “Anyway, maybe we can get together one night and get dinner. Like a neighborly thing?”

Matilda’s brain was still swirling with information and she didn’t fully hear or understand his question.

“What?” She asked.

“Dinner? Get to know each other? We’re the only two that live here, it might be nice to have a buddy.”

“You mean, other than Mrs. Flintman?” Matilda continued to stare at his face.

“What? Of course. But I’d rather have dinner with you.” He chuckled again. He pointed down the stairs. “,I’ve, uh, I’m gonna go, I’ve got pasta on. But I’ll see you later right? Neighbor?”

“Yea, sure. I’m just gonna go close her door. It opened when I knocked. See you later.” Matilda turned back towards the hallway and began the adventure back towards the door. Her heart was still racing, as she moved between the towering piles of trash bags. The journey back down the hall wasn’t as bad as the first one, the air didn’t feel as heavy. She felt freer in the claustrophobic hallway.

As she reached the door, she noticed that it was closed. Puzzled, she reached for the knob and tried to jiggle it. The door knob held fast. The metal was warm under her fingers. She let go and told herself it must have been the wind that closed the door, that Mrs. Flintman must have left a window open. Probably so the cats could go in and out of her apartment while she was gone. She hadn’t fully convinced herself of that, but she decided it was the only thing that made sense. She worked her way back out to the stairs, descended them, and inhaled the fresher air at the bottom of the stairs. She slid her key into the lock on her door and entered her apartment. She went to her bathroom and took an aspirin, the stench up stairs had given her a headache. She felt gross, stepped out of the clothes that had brushed up against so many unknown substances, and stepped into her shower. With the curtain drawn she felt a sense of safety. With the new feeling of security, she allowed herself to cry, the water rushing over her; they weren’t tears of sadness, but tears of relief.

Matilda stepped out of shower, wrapped herself in her bathrobe, and laid down in bed. Yonkers curled up on her feet, and she closed her eyes against the world.

 

((to be continued…))

 

Short Story

The Typo

There is a typo on the hospital menu this morning. What is usually a carefully proofread and elegantly written list of bullshit has somehow been printed with an error. Maybe it was deliberate, maybe it was put here to tell me something. Tell me how to get out of here? Maybe. I’ve tried to make it appear as if I have no wish to escape here anymore, I can’t take the sedation and isolation. But this typo, there are never typos. It must mean something. But what if it’s a trick? What if it’s them trying to get my hopes up? I can’t let them think that I’m trying to get out. What if it’s from my wife? Poor Katherine. I haven’t seen her in weeks, she must be worried sick. They’re monitoring my calls, writing things down. It’s not safe to call home anymore, they’ll know I’m trying to get out. I think my eyes are giving me away, one of them is looking at me.

“Ah, wow, Salisbury steak today. Yeah? My favorite.” I speak loudly and clearly, that should cover up any suspicion that was placed on me. I smile as one of them passes, showing my teeth and nodding my head. They’ll think I was just excited about the menu, right? Yes, of course. There may be a lot of them, but I can’t speak to their intelligence. I can’t stare at the menu any longer, I’ve got to move or it’ll be suspicious.

I get into line behind one of them and one of them behind me. I can feel their eyes burning into my skin as they stare at me. I won’t, no, I can’t make eye contact. They speak to each other, over me. The one behind me clapping me on the shoulder as they laugh, the one in front had told a joke. I must hold myself up under the weight of it’s massive hand. I can’t show weakness to them. I know they’ve been drugging me so I can’t escape. But if I don’t eat they punish me. Toting around great containers of green mucus they say will help me get my energy back. I’d rather eat the drugged food. A ladle appears from behind a Formica counter and dumps a heaping pile of slop onto my tray. A chunk of what I can only imagine is their version of a Salisbury steak is dropped on top of it. It makes a thick and wet sound as the chunk settles into the slop. I want to be sick, but that would be weakness.

The typo is still there. I’m back at my table. I wasn’t seeing things. They are all preoccupied on their food, but I can all feel their real intention of trying to catch me looking for escape. I’m staring at my plate, I haven’t touched the food. The menu has been snuck under the table and I’m ripping it as quietly as possible. I need the typo, it must mean something, I’ve got to figure it out. Riiiiiiip. Oh no. That was loud. Why have they all stopped talking? They’re all looking at me, I can feel it.

I can’t slip up like that again. They’ve returned to each other, for now. I’m definitely not safe now. I know it. They’ll find the clue in my pocket, I just know it, they’ll take my jack-

There is a hand on my shoulder.

“Doctor? Doctor Hoffman? Are you alright?” One of them asks. With a voice familiar and a face familiar but it’s someone I don’t know. “Doctor Hoffman? Let’s get you some rest.”

They’ve pulled me into a standing position. Their taking me away again. But I’ve got the clue memorized now. They haven’t yet found a way into my brain. Yet.