Oct 2, 2015
(Based on true events)
My apartment block has a rectangular floor-plan with the elevators and stairs on the inside of the hallway and the apartments around the outside. From the door of my suite in the centre of one side, I can only directly see the entrance alcoves of the two corner suites. For this reason, my neighbours immediately adjacent to me are 'known' whereas the rest of the occupants on the floor are, to me, psychologically a collective of people from around the corner or 'over there'.
The majority of this collective of people are simply neighbours who receive a non-commital nod of recognition or a salutory 'Good evening' in passing to or from the elevator. One, however, a young woman of unspecified age is pleasant enough that occasionally we pass a few moments in conversation before continuing on our respective paths.
On this particular Sunday afternoon, we met in the hallway waiting for the elevators; I on my way to do some grocery shopping before the start of a busy week and, she in her Canada Post uniform heading to do her shift. I nodded, said, 'Hi' and she returned in kind.
“It's too bad you don't do delivery,” I offered. “Such a beautiful day.” She smiled ruefully.
“The day's are getting shorter.”
I agreed. “And cooler.”
The vague blue light on the elevator call button winked out and, with a low chime, the door beckoned open. I gestured and, following her, we stepped in. She pressed the button for the atrium. Chiming again, the door slid shut and the elevator slipped downward.
“Did you sleep well last night?” she asked. I laughed. Her question echoed another conversation we had one day after the fire alarm had sounded at 1:30 in the morning.
“I don't know what the heck was happening or what time it was but that was sure a lot of fire trucks going down the street.” She looked quizzically at me, not following.
“No, I meant the screaming.”
“Oh,” I said. “That.” I thought and then added, “Most people just ignore it.”
“Ignore it? How?”
“Did you call the police?”
“What did they say?” Clearly, she was becoming confused.
“They'd look into it.”
“Yeah. Sometimes they come – just to make sure.”
“How do you mean?”
“You don't know the story, have you?”
At that moment, there was a chime. The door slid open on the empty atrium. We exited moving toward the front entrance. I was starting to put two and two together. Outside, the early afternoon sun was bright and warm. A cool, refreshing breeze put the leaves on some old apple trees to gently nodding.
“You had never heard it before, right?” In fact, she and her husband had only moved in – insofar as I was aware - some months previously. She paused, uncertain whether to continue on her way. Finally, she made her decision.
“No,” she said flatly. “What story?” she repeated.
“Do you have a minute?” She nodded – perhaps a little impatiently. I could understand.
I scratched my head, thinking, and reached for my cigarettes. I offered and she refused while studying me as I lit one. Likely, she was evaluating if my information could be trusted. After all, I was just 'some guy' living on her floor.
“The apartment is up there,” I began and gestured upward with the end of my cigarette. “The fifteenth floor. It has been empty for some years.”
“Come on...,” she began.
Again, I could understand. Those of us who knew of the story and had been occupants for a few years, took it at face value. The management justifiably did not encourage the information to be disseminated.
At the same time, I had to wonder at the potential effects of recounting the story to this person. She and her husband were evidently employed and wanting to have a stable place to live. Perhaps they wanted to begin a family. The building, though old and requiring constant maintenance, offered spacious suites with a lot of window light - ideal to a young couple starting their path together.
“I looked it up after I moved in. I've also seen the apartment.” I hastily added, “Apparently, it all happened just before I came to live here.”
“What 'all happened'?”
“I haven't answered any of your questions yet, have I?”
“Not yet.” She was a sharp one.
“Here's what I know – some from research and some from quizzing the Superintendent of the building.”
“It was the Autumn of the year before I moved in – that would be about... uh... five years ago now. Around this time of year, actually. Apparently this woman lived alone. Just guessing, I would say she was maybe 10 years older, or a little less, than you are now.” I indicated her as punctuation to the phrase and then stubbed out my cigarette.
“She was a working girl and, by all accounts, a good, quiet neighbour. No one ever saw or heard anyone else coming or going. I think she worked as a teller in a bank. She had lived here for about two or three years – I never managed to understand which it was.
“Anyway, it happened in one night and nothing else was ever found out. Residents heard screaming at about 2:00 in the morning and the police were called. The Super was also called out. It was our Super – the same one who still works here, by the way – who unlocked the door when there was no response from inside. The security lock – like the one that is currently installed in all the units – was in place so the cops had to break the door-frame. It was about 2:15 or so when they got in.
“Evidently, it was quite a mess inside. Things were thrown around and broken, glass on the floor and the whole nine-yards as though there had been a huge fight. The balconey doors were closed and locked because it was a cool night like we've been having lately.” I paused to light another while she checked the time on her cell phone.
“I'm almost finished,” I reassured her. “I don't want to make you late.” She nodded gratefully. “So, there was no one in the apartment.”
“Yup. Place was empty. However, there was a large quantity of blood on the floor in the bedroom. Police – or detectives, investigators or whoever - estimated that it was a sufficient amount to state that the occupant had either died or been in serious threat of death due to exanguination if not tended immediately.”
“Yeah. Sorry. Bleeding to death.” The girl frowned, disgusted. I drew on my cigarette.
“What's more odd is that there were two sets of footprints through the blood; one belonged to the occupant and trailed all over the place, the other was just smears in the blood and nowhere else. Weird.”
“Are you sure about that?” Her voice was tinged with scepticism.
“Our Super told me herself and she saw the scene. Also, the papers reported that police were searching for a second individual but they had no description.”
“That is weird.”
“So, the case went cold and they never found her – let alone anyone else involved. She is still listed on the police website as 'Missing'. You can look it up for yourself.”
“But the apartment is empty. What did we hear? We were terrified last night!”
“I completely understand,” I said spreading my palms, conciliatory. “What other response could you have?” I smiled in reassurance. “It shakes up anyone.”
I paused for a moment to think if there was any more to add. Maybe I had already said enough.
“At the same time,” I continued, “after you ignore it for a while, it won't even wake you.”
“That's why people ignore it – there's nothing else to do,” she answered, matter-of-fact.
“Nothing meaningful.” I checked the time on my cell phone. “You should get on, we've been talking for a few minutes.”
“You're right,” she said, nodding her head and likely glad for an exit. “Thanks – I guess.”
“No worries. Have a good afternoon.”
I watched her jog toward the parking spaces in the back of the building and disappear. Again, I had to wonder what she would think of me or, indeed, how she might retell this to her husband. Would they leave just because of an odd story? Or would they leave because of the odd fellow who told it? I don't go out of my way to tell old-wives'-tales but she was seriously concerned; she and her husband had been justifiably terrified by something that they didn't understand. I suppose now they have the information.
However, in the world, I believe that there are stories that need to be told – they instruct us and provide information despite that they may be abstract, symbolic or esoteric.
I looked upward again. The windows of the apartment on the fifteenth floor reflected a brilliant blue autumn sky with some lazy clouds crossing high above where the falcons fly. And yet, I had to admit as an unexpected shiver crawled up my spine and I purposefully dragged my vision away from the building, perhaps some stories want to be forgotten – even when they continue to resurface.