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Authors: Greg F. Gifune

Apartment Seven

BOOK: Apartment Seven
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FIRST EDITION

Apartment Seven
© 2011 by Greg F. Gifune

Cover Artwork © 2011 by Daniele Serra

All Rights Reserved.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

DELIRIUM BOOKS

P.O. Box 338

North Webster, IN 46555

www.deliriumbooks.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Greg Chopoorian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Blamed it on Original Sin. Said there’s a part of us that remembers what we were like before the Fall—good, in a good world. Then something happened, he said—changed. Trying to cope with the new conditions—evil, pain and disease…that’s what it does—drives us all mad—some more, some less. Fish out of water, he said—alive but—well—out of our minds with the pain of adjustment…He said that evil doesn’t spring out of madness—that it’s the other way around.”

 

—William Peter Blatty,

The Ninth Configuration

 

 

 

-1-

At dusk, I tired of the silence. I took a final drag on my cigarette then crushed it out in a small plastic ashtray already overflowing with butts. A rickety bed, an old wooden chair, a scarred little desk and a garage sale nightstand constituted my entire living quarters. The rented room was bare bones and dilapidated, just the way I liked them. It was the kind of place I could pick up and leave on a moment’s notice any time of day or night. The building, a decrepit old flophouse, was a haven for the lost, forgotten, abandoned and unwanted. I never believed I’d be any of those things. But then, who does? The neighborhood was far from the best, but during daylight hours, save for the typical underlying din found in all cities, it was relatively quiet here. Now that night was on its way that would soon change. I could feel and hear the rest of the building coming alive all around me, and just outside my filthy window the city was beginning to shift. Soon it would transform into the creature it became after sundown. And why shouldn’t it? In the dark, nothing remains the same.

I pulled on a black knit hat, slipped into a heavy pea coat then headed out to meet the coming night. Just beyond the front steps of the building, I ran into Mabel, a rotund homeless woman who spent her days out front and her nights in the adjacent alley. She’d found a sturdy plastic bucket since the last time I’d seen her and was using it as a stool. Clad in a housedress, sneakers and several layers of sweaters, she was fiddling with an unopened can of beans someone had apparently given her. Atop her unusually large head, she wore a hunting cap with earflaps. Tufts of silver hair jutted out from beneath it in unkempt tendrils. As her wild eyes found mine, she waved me over. Mabel seldom spoke to anyone, but for some reason felt compelled to interact with me every chance she could. Maybe she saw something in me.

“Maury,” she said in a gruff voice, “we need to get someplace safe.”

Though I’d repeatedly told her my name was Charlie, for some reason she insisted on calling me ‘Maury.’

“It’s not safe here.” She held up the can of beans. “Got a can opener?”

“Sorry.”

“Who gives a homeless lady a can without a flip top?” She laughed, cackling hysterically and opening wide her toothless mouth. Her breath trumped the other array of horrible odors wafting from her. “Crazy bitches!”

“What happened to the coat you had?” I asked.


Thieves
,” she said with a conspiratorial frown.

“Too cold out here to be without a coat, Mabel.”

“They stole it last night while I was asleep. Just like the demons out here, they’re no different. They steal everything, even your dreams. They use the shadows. That’s how they sneak around. They’re everywhere, all around us.”

“You need a coat, it’s supposed to be freezing tonight.”

Though she was old enough to be my mother, she stared at me with the detached innocence of a child. What in God’s name had happened to this poor woman? Where was her family? Was anyone looking for her, or had they given up years ago? Did
they
even exist? She’d been a child once, a person for whom the possibility of such a life probably seemed remote. After all, no one was born with
Homeless
stamped on the bottom of their foot. Yet there she was, broken and just barely hanging on, living in an alley.

“Need to open our eyes and get somewhere safe, Maury. Not safe here.”

“Take this,” I said, digging two twenties from my wallet.

She snatched the cash from me, stuffed it into her sneaker and quickly scanned the street for anyone else that might’ve seen the transaction. “Don’t give nobody cash money like that on the street, hell’s wrong with you?”

I pointed to a Salvation Army store across the street. “Go get a coat and a can opener and whatever else that’ll buy you before they close. You hear me?”

“I hear,” she said. “I hear everything, and none of it’s good. Mostly it’s screams, Maury. You hear them too.”

I wanted to nod but didn’t.

“They’re watching, you know, the demons.” She put her head back and closed her bloodshot eyes. “They’re waiting to see what you do. They see you being nice to me. Pisses them off, even when it don’t mean nothing.”

“I’ve got to go.”

With Mabel still calling after me about thieves and demons running amok in the shadows, I headed off down the block, the surrounding city gray and bleak and looming over me like a judge and jury gone mad. So dreary, I thought, so congested with the wandering, bustling souls of so many, and yet still so desolate somehow. In the heat and vibrancy of summer I felt more alive, more connected to everything around me, but in winter it wasn’t just the air that grew cold. People retreated into themselves, hunkered down and stayed hidden from brutal storms of snow and ice and wind. The world became a more barren place, and as the city drew its cloak in tight and shuffled its feet to stay warm, the parasites feeding on it shivered in the cold and drifted helplessly away to a frostbitten slumber from which many would never awaken.

Certain that there were worse ways to spend a cold winter night than slumped over a bar drinking vodka in a seedy little joint where no one gives a damn about you or your story, I found a place I hoped might support that theory, settled in and had a few drinks.

I remembered better times, as people in bars tend to do, but soon focused on one particularly beautiful summer day. The day everything fell to pieces, and when I first came to understand there were two realities in this world. Things were still good when it all went down. Or maybe it was just easier to remember it that way. I was happy, successful and content. I’d spent the afternoon relaxing on the patio, enjoying the sun and reading a nonfiction account of a diving expedition gone wrong in the Indian Ocean. The harrowing struggle for survival of the two divers involved was riveting, and while I’d never been diving myself, the concept had always intrigued me. A hardcover I’d found in the discount bin at the local bookstore, it was a fascinating tale of two men, their lives, dreams and friendship. One man, the author, survived the ordeal. The other, his friend, did not. But in the end the book was really a celebration of life, of
being alive
, a study in how even when faced with horribly traumatic situations, some human beings have it in them to rise, to ascend those dark waters to the promise of light lingering just beyond the surface. I’d once believed I was that kind of man. Had you asked me, I’d have assured you I always landed on my feet and managed to find the good in others and in life. I was tough as granite and had the track record to prove it. Nothing could break me, or my spirit.

I was wrong.

That day turned out to be the final act in a play I had no idea I was a part of. Far as I knew, my life was going along just fine. My wife Jenna and I had nestled comfortably into middle age. We were happily married (and had been for twenty years), successful professionally and had a great brownstone with a garden and patio all our own. While we weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, we were comfortable and financially secure, and as I approached fifty I felt I’d reached a station in life where I could finally sit back, relax, and maybe even coast a bit. In the past Jenna and I had some problems with things we should never have been playing around with, addictions that began in college, and within a few short years it had nearly ruined us. But we’d kicked those demons years ago and turned it around even before we’d been married. While the danger of falling back into such things was always a looming danger for addicts like us, we’d done remarkably well, and those problems seemed so far in the past that I often wondered if they’d ever existed at all.

I didn’t know it then, but I was already condemned, already dead. Nothing had been stolen from me. I’d given it away long before. It’s just that sometimes when you’re in the moment, in the dark, memories don’t always line up as they really were, or play out the way they should.

That night Jenna and I had a cookout in the garden, just the two of us, hamburgers on the grill and a freshly tossed salad. After dinner we stayed out on the patio, split a bottle of wine, chatted and watched the sun go down. She told me how happy she was and how much she loved me, and I told her the same. It was wonderful. Eventually we went inside, cuddled up on the couch, watched Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in
Charade
, then turned in for the night.

I awakened an hour or so later, shaken and racked with the sensation that something was not quite right. At first, as I lay in darkness staring at the ceiling and listening to the silence of the apartment, I wondered if perhaps I’d had a bad dream. But I had no recollection of any such thing, only the distinct impression that I’d been wrenched from sleep by instinct rather than nightmares. It almost felt as if I’d forgotten something terribly important, something just beyond my reach. The usual steady cadence of Jenna’s faint breathing was absent, so I reached for her. She wasn’t there. I lay there a while and considered the possibilities. It wasn’t unusual for Jenna to get up in the middle of the night for a drink of water or a snack, so I listened more intently. Though she kept the volume low so as not to disturb me, she always turned the television on if she planned to be up for any amount of time. She was afraid of the dark, had been ever since I’d known her. As a very young child she’d once been locked in a dark closet by a sadistic babysitter and had suffered such fears ever since. As my ears tuned into the subtle sounds of night, I made out the soft drone of someone’s voice. It was not the television. Even in soft near-whispers and at what was a considerable distance, I recognized the voice as Jenna’s.

I rolled over, groggily slid my eyeglasses from the nightstand and slipped them on. The digital numbers displayed on the face of the alarm clock blended into focus. 3:33.

I sat up, stifling a yawn, and swung my feet around to the floor. I sat there a moment, slumped over and still hazy. Every few seconds I could hear Jenna’s voice but nothing in response, which likely meant she was talking on the phone. Had there been an incoming call I’d have heard it, and apart from a family emergency, I could think of no good reason for her to be carrying on a conversation at such an hour.

With equal parts confusion and apprehension, I pushed myself to my feet and toddled out into the hallway. Like some barefoot, bare-chested assassin in cotton shorts, I stealthily crept along the short hallway until I reached the head of the stairs. I hesitated a moment and listened some more. Jenna’s voice was clearer now, and I could tell from the inflection she was attempting to speak as quietly as possible, but I still couldn’t make out anything she was saying. I peered down into the shadows and darkness below. From the way the shadows had formed around the base of the staircase, it appeared the only light on downstairs was the lamp next to the coffee table in the den. That meant Jenna was either talking on the cordless down there or using her cell.

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