Cody, be careful, echoed in his head as he woke. A shadow shrunk from the doorway down the hallway, he caught a glimpse, but it was enough to make his chest tighten.
Slowly, he craned his neck, and leaned to the side, so he was able to see down the empty hallway. Cody held his breath, listening intently to the quietness of his apartment. His head and chest began to throb from the lack of oxygen. Exhaling the stale air, he gulped fresh oxygen into his lungs, extinguishing the stars flashing blaring in his skull.
Shaking his head, he stood from bed, and stretched, trying to release the tension in his well-formed muscles. Fatigue still held him as he shuffled down the hallway, while looking for anything out of place in front of him. Of course nothing is out of place, he chided himself. “Stupid dreams,” he muttered, entering the bathroom.
After emptying his bladder, he peered at himself in the mirror. Though he had been going to bed early the last few nights, he looked like he hadn’t slept in a week, and older than thirty-three. His dark hair stood in matted spikes around the crown of his head, gray bags drooped below his bloodshot hazel eyes, and his skin was blotchy. On top of what was visible on his skin, his joints and muscles were tight and sore. Rubbing his cheek, then chin, he decided a shave was in order.
Water stung the strange crosshatch scratch on his back. Gently, he patted the strange wound, looking in the mirror at it while twisting his body uncomfortably, unsure how he came to have it—three scratches down and four across. Showering had boosted his energy, and he dressed humming a song he didn’t know. He grabbed his bag, and headed out the door. Pulling the door closed behind him, the shattering of glass found his ears.
He stepped back into his apartment, looking toward the kitchen.
“What the hell?” he said, cautiously returning inside his apartment. The overhead light flickered on, filling the small kitchen with a sterile-fluorescent glow.
Scanning the kitchen, he found nothing broken on the counters or floor. He opened the dishwasher, which contained the dirty dishes from the night before, but nothing broken.
Next he opened each cupboard, not finding anything out of place, even in the refrigerator.
Child’s laughter came from the open front door. He turned with a jump, staring at the door.
The neighbor children passed his door on their journey to the elevator. Back at the door, his attention zoomed around the living room, seeing nothing disturbed there, either, he shook his head and closed the door.
Returning home from a noneventful but exhausting day, he dug through the kitchen cabinets for something easy to eat in front of the TV. Three light raps came from the door, pulling him from the world in the television show. He wasn’t expecting anyone. With a scrunched brow, he glanced over his shoulder toward the door.
Cody pulled open the door to an empty hallway. He shrugged, closing the door, then returned to the couch. The picture on the TV flickered to black, back to the show, to static, then black again without returning a picture. The remote control buttons he pressed didn’t remedy the problem, no matter what channel he went to nothing showed on the screen.
Again three raps came from the door.
Grumbling, he stomped to the door, and flung it open. The hallway was quiet, but filled with an overpowering stench of rot, making him gasp and cover his mouth and nose. He went to the end of the hall where the smell dissipated. The door to the trash chute was closed, and he noted the smell in the small space didn’t match what had met him when he opened his door. Loud voices and gunfire blasted toward him through his open apartment door as returned home. His neighbor cracked her door open.
“Your TV’s very loud, Cody,” she snapped.
He waved at her door in passing, quickly moving down the hall, and back into his apartment. Deliberately pressing the buttons on the remote gave no relief to the ear shattering volume. Nothing he did changed anything with the TV’s tantrum. After a few seconds of futility, he tossed the remote on the couch, went to the TV, and tried the buttons on the side, but nothing quieted the deafening volume. He reached behind the TV and pulled the cord from the socket.
At first he didn’t think the TV was going to concede, as the noise blared through its speakers for a moment after pulling the plug, then with a pop, the room went silent. He glared at the TV while his head pulsed with the memory of the loudness from seconds before. After turning the power plug over, examining it for a moment, he let it drop to the floor with his decision to watch something before bed.
Turning on the bathroom light, he found toothpaste and shaving cream escaping their containers into the sink as though an invisible hand squeezed the tube and pressed on the button. His feet stumbled backward; his back found the hallway’s wall opposite the bathroom. The light in the bathroom dimmed, leaving the bright, zagging lines of the coils inside the lightbulbs, then they went black.
Three heavy knocks came from the closed bedroom door. Slowly, the knob turned and the door swung open. Cody didn’t expect the spectacle he found inside. His heart branded a tattoo in his chest, finding a darkness he had never expected to find in his apartment. It moved toward him through the open door. Behind the wall at his back, something frantically scratched at the Sheetrock.
He ran down the short hallway into the living room then to the front door. Laughter chased him. The doorknob didn’t budge. Grabbing the knob with both hands, he shook it.
Voices whispered around him in an unidentifiable language as the temperature in thevapartment plummeted causing his skin to prickle.
From the corner of his eye he watched the darkness from his bedroom move closer tovhim. It took the shape of a man’s shadow stretched at sunset; its head reaching the ceiling. After a moment, the darkness swirled, breaking its form. Maniacal laughter of several voices erupted, then as quickly as it started was silent again.
“The one,” a voice whispered close to his ear, followed by a multitude of voices agreeing in hissing sighs.
The darkness retreated to the bedroom. Cody forced himself to move from the door to watch the smoky mist dissipate as it crossed the threshold, and disappear, leaving the bedroom in a silvery glow from the streetlight. The bathroom light flashed on, causing Cody to jump. The light flowed across the hall through the open bedroom door, giving him a better view of its interior.
Reaching inside, he flicked on the overhead light. The small silver statue of Jesus, a friend had brought him from Rio, lay face down on his dresser; otherwise nothing in the room was out of place. Hair on his arms stood, and a twitch shook his body. Without his feet crossing the threshold, he grabbed the doorknob, and pulled the door shut—he decided to sleep on the couch, so long as the TV didn’t decide to turn back on and blare sound through the speakers.
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