01 Feb I now live in a one story house
There were two rules we had to follow, when we were living on the second floor of the old apartment building. First, lock your door at night, and second, be very careful at the top of the stairs. These were natural rules, since despite the front door being locked, you had to be really sure of two full floors of neighbors to leave the door unlocked, especially during the night. As I understood it, the management of the house used to be really strict about the locked doors thing, and had put up signs all over the place telling people to lock their doors. I heard from the man next door that they sometimes even went around at night and rattled all the doors, making sure that they were all locked, but of course they completely denied being so invasive as that. I had never heard them at it, but I had been known to sleep perfectly content through an earthquake, so that was no indication. As for the stairs, it was just a simple reminder; they were steep and slightly tricky stairs, and I heard there had even been a couple of deaths from falling down them. It was good to remind people. Nothing wrong with that.
Besides, my sister and I were happy there. Leanne had been fortunate enough to get the room directly across from mine, and we were old enough to actually enjoy each others’ company, despite the traditional feud that comes between an older brother and his younger sister. To tell the truth, the feud still existed, but had become more of a cheerful rivalry than anything else. We were happy. Just… happy.
Things weren’t perfect, granted. We were in an area that had constant thunderstorms, and the power was as often out as it was functional. My room had a continuous smell of strong soap, and although that isn’t at all the worst thing it could smell of, it was a bit tiresome after a while. Leanne’s room developed a troublesome lock, and half the time the bolt would click out the moment someone pulled at it. We wanted to move out, sure, but we also wanted to wait until we could each be sure that the other could, too. If only we had known, if only there had been even the slightest flicker of menace, but there was none. There were no cold spots, no abnormal shivers when passing over a certain area, no strange noises but for the occasional rattling of the knobs in the night. Nothing. Not until that night.
I awoke in the middle of it simply out of thirst. I first tried my sink, obviously, but the power was out, so the pump wasn’t running. Annoying, but the landlords kept a tank full at the top of the stairs, exactly for this purpose. Really, I should have thought to fill up my own jug whenever there was a storm warning, but however many times I had thought of it, I never quite managed to go through with it.
I went out to the landing, torch in hand. Halfway to the tank at the top of the stairs, I tried to click it on and found that it was dead, but that mattered little. There was ambient light, and lightning frequently flashed through the skylights with which the architect had a love affair when designing the building. I got to the tank, and began filling my bottle, when out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed movement halfway down the staircase. As I looked, there was nothing, though it was that kind of nothing that happens when you’re staring at the object you’re looking for, that sense of it being right in front of you, if only you could see it.
Then, by the flash of the lightning, I saw what was really there.
It was crawling. It had to, as it had no legs that I could see. It was like a torso, cut off right above the hips, reaching out with both hands and pulling itself up the stairs one slow, painful step at a time. Black tatters …shrouded it, I suppose, because clothed wouldn’t fit right on that thing. It was shrouded in the black tatters, and where they failed to cover, blank space showed, not black, and definitely not white, but rather a simple absence that I still cannot think of without my stomach rising in protest. This space was not empty, as the vacuum beyond our planet is, but rather it was less than empty; it was hungry, it sucked in, it was the opposite all that was material and physical.
Then, the lightning flash faded, but I could still somehow perceive its shape, continuing up the stairs. Even as I turned to run, another flash lit the room, and as though it had sensed my intent to flee, it lifted its head, and –
I’m sorry, but I cannot, I will never set to word neither spoken nor written my full description of its… face, for lack of a better word. It was simply all that a face should not be, and since this time, there has been no sight so horrible, so fearsome, so terrifying, that has impressed itself upon me in the least, for how could it compare? That is the one… triumph, I suppose, that I bring from that night, out of all its horror: I shall never again be cowed by the sight of evil, for the worst done by man is but the palest reflection of the visage that faced me then.
I ran. What else could I do? I ran to my room, as fast as I could, and began fumbling with my keys, all the while becoming aware of a faint, slithery drag-thump, drag-thump coming from the stairway. How far up had it been? Halfway? Two-thirds? How many steps did it have left?
Finally, I forced my key into the lock, yanked the door open, dove in, locked it again, and collapsed, the adrenaline suddenly gone. I had no time for introspection, however, as I suddenly realized that I could still hear the thing, now up on the landing! It was still crawling; I could hear the hand-over-hand slither of it as it came straight to my door. The handle moved! It rattled for a moment, then went still. Even as I started to let myself relax, I heard the door of the next room over rattle, but it too was locked. I heard it go down to the end of the hallway, rattling each door in turn, testing the locks. I sat, and prayed that none of the other tenants had left their door unlocked, leaving themselves open to that terror.
Then, as it had come back and was almost across the hall from me again, I thought: Leanne. Please, no…
Its slithering movement was clearly across from me. I listened, hoping, praying for a rattle.
The lock clicked, and the door creaked.
I couldn’t help it. I grabbed the useless flashlight as a club and threw open the door. At the same time, there was a clatter and an all-too-familiar scream from the direction of the staircase. I ran towards it, other tenants opening their doors and peering out, working torches lighting the hallway. There was yet some glimmer of hope in me, some faint wish that if I got there fast enough, she would be alright.
There, at the bottom, crumpled like a broken toy, the marks of hands fast fading from her ankles, was Leanne.