One Good Night Will Make Up For All The Rest
by Fel Kian
Terence lived on the shrieking floor, otherwise known as the sixth floor of the Overlook apartment complex. What it overlooked, from his sixth floor balcony, was a semi-lush conservation area, spoiled somewhat by a golf course that had been carved out of it a few years after he had moved in. It was calming to look at the remaining forest but disturbing to contemplate how much had been destroyed to make way for the golf course; Terence had only ever spotted two golfers on the green in the past four years. He regarded the tenants on his floor with similar severity.
For the most part his neighbours on the sixth floor were amiable, polite and quiet. One couple had a toddler, but only occasionally did he hear that keen baby call, like a lone wolf. He was a freelance journalist, so he worked mainly at home, when he wasn’t out hunting uninteresting people for uninteresting interviews.
A week ago the bitch down the hall had begun to shriek.
Terence had a set routine. Any deviation from it resulted in missed deadlines, angry phone calls, and sorely-needed paycheques lost. In the mornings he shaved and showered and sipped black amaretto coffee while listening to a rock station. This geared him up for the day. A quick glance at the papers (prelude to a more thorough examination during lunch) and he got down to work: housecoat and slippers were prerequisites for the start of a three to four hour marathon at his laptop; emailing, writing, researching and printing.
The noises began in the morning and intermittently carried on through to the afternoons. They began as muffled cries, distantly made out as an incoherent mangling of someone yelling "Yeah!" Terence imagined an overzealous sports fan, exclaiming at the top of his lungs at his TV. But consistency of the cries soon deterred him from that theory. The interval between them was too short. Perhaps this fan was mentally unhinged. Terence felt the tingle of mental strain as well. He was on his third attempt of an article that simply did not want to live. It trotted happily along for three, four pages, then suddenly collapsed into its best imitation of a lifeless trout. Each attempt shortened its life-expectancy.
As if that wasn’t frustration enough the cries progressively grew louder, and more random. He’d lost his train of thought more than once. His nerves suffered as well. He had earplugs but they irritated him after a few minutes or so. And they effectively blocked out all sound, which made Terence paranoid. The phone could ring with important news. Someone could come to the door. The fire alarm could go off, and an accident at the age of five had permanently damaged Terence’s sense of smell; audition had replaced olfaction, and the former sense was now quite acute.
This, of course, made the cries that much more terrible. But Terence persevered. He was not a confrontational man by nature. What were a few disruptions here and there?
Half way through the week the audible disturbances flared up in the early hours of the morning, pre-dawn -- Terence’s favourite lap in REM.
Terence pinpointed the origin of the problem. It was the apartment a door down the hallway from him. The resident was a middle-to-late aged woman who lived alone. Terence had exchanged pleasantries with her in the elevator, but nothing more. He was not on communicative terms with anyone in the building and he preferred it that way. He valued his solitude (having grown up in a house too small for a family of six: him and three brothers) and necessity had not forced him to befriend anyone on his floor.
He took the initiative and asked the woman living across from him. She was a hefty girl, two chins and a rounded potato-like physique, but her face was absolutely radiant. And she was a blonde -- Terence had a thing for blondes that made him want to wear a trench coat and hat while balancing a cigarette on the corner of his lips. Maybe others had a more explicitly sexual reel of fantasy, but Terence was a film noir romantic at heart.
Her name was Pauline. She had an uncharacteristically quiet Pomeranian. Terence prided himself on being a dog person. On two separate occasions he’d almost nearly considered adopting a miniature schnauzer.
He apologized for bothering her and explained that he lived across the hall. Pauline said she knew. She’d seen him carrying bags of groceries. He was a carnivore, and he liked breakfast cereals; so did she. Her dog sniffed curiously at the gap between his trousers and shoes. Terence explained that he could never get pants his size. He was an inch over six feet, and either they were too long or too short, and he couldn't bear to pay for alterations.. The conversation volleyed back and forth like this for forty minutes, when Terence suddenly realized that he was sitting on her sofa, starring at some gorgeous ink prints of beautiful African women while he spoke to her.
"Did you do those?" Terence said.
"Yes. Do you like them?"
"They’re…just beautiful. You’re an artist."
"Only an amateur," she murmured. He thought she was blushing but it was hard to tell on her rosy complexion. "It helps me wind down on the weekends. Although it’s been hard lately because of that screamer."
"So you’ve heard her too. I thought I was hallucinating. I haven’t heard anyone else on the floor say anything about it."
"It’s a her? I’m not here most of the time. I figured it was some rowdy student or something…I don’t know. Anyway, I guess we should complain to the super."
Terence regrettably had to cut the visit short. Work was accumulating and every minute he spared it was time he could not afford. They were both glad he’d finally broken the ice.
Another week followed while the shrieks grew louder and more random, as if the woman jumped into the hallway for a moment to emit three bursts of agony and then leaped back in and shut her door. Meanwhile Terence slept three, four hours at most each night, subsequent interruptions abound. The bitch (now capitalized to Bitch, for such was the name Terence bequeathed upon her) had mastered the art of fucking up Terence’s circadian rhythm, and, in general, his life. Two articles so near completion it made his angst vein -- the one that stuck out on his forehead -- throb missed their deadlines and were dropped. Two paycheques lost. And the sickly article he’d been painstakingly trying to revive this past month finally flatlined.
Going to the superintendent proved a fruitless endeavour. The most he could do, apparently, was to give a notice of complaint to head office. Otherwise Terence was to call him up to the sixth floor whenever the Bitch began to scream. This way the super could come and hear it for himself. Explaining that the outbursts had gotten more random and smaller in duration did no good. The super was as arrogant and thick-headed as an eighty-year-old veterinarian who categorically denied the self-evident success of homeopathic treatment.
The super also claimed that no one else had complained about any such noise on the sixth floor, which left Terence as speechless and paranoid as he’d been a week ago. What about Pauline? He caught himself before he asked, realizing they had spoken Sunday night and she probably had not found the time to file a complaint.
This left one alternative. Perhaps there were other alternatives Terence had not considered, but in his present frame of mind he could only conceive of one, and that was alcohol. Cognac with cornflakes, whiskey with lunch, and a steady drainage of beer before, during, and after a rather light dinner. Consequences be damned. Like reliving his college days; minus the dorm, a studious roommate and final exam in the morning.
It was Friday night. He could look forward to talking with Pauline on the weekend and trying to get this matter resolved. Two heads, indeed.
Terence got up at 3:59 am.
He was wrapped head to toe in alcohol-induced gauze.
His brain raced. Had there been a scream? No. There was a silence, preternatural in quality. Almost as if a lack of sound had activated his body and thrust him into consciousness. He was standing in his sleeping attire. He moved towards the door.
He knocked over an empty beer bottle. The sound was deafening. It vibrated like waves drumming into the shoal inside his skull. Terence flicked on the overhead and wondered why he was unlocking his door, stepping into the silent hallway, heading towards the door he’d been avoiding like a plague, when he should be dreaming the night away in a Raymond Chandler dream.
He reached the door in three strides. It was ajar, which was peculiar enough since each door was rigged with a device that prevented it from remaining open. A soft moaning emitted from the blackness inside.
Terence shook his head. He looked at his bare feet and for some reason this confirmed the belief that he was not dreaming. He needed to turn right back around and go home and trim his toenails. He looked at the open door. He visually retraced his steps back to his own door. The situation was so absurd it defied reason, so Terence took a deep breath and walked in. He had seen enough horror films to expect the worst. 4 am, and he was creeping into the apartment of a woman who’d spent the last few weeks wailing for her demon lover, or begging release from the demons raping her corporeal form, bit by ugly bit.
What did Terence expect? Fire and brimstone; shit and blood. Moonlight streamed in curtain-less windows. Terence slipped a few times on rubbery, wet rags. The floor was littered with them. On impulse he picked one up. Human flesh, sloughed like dried candle wax. Yup, he anticipated something this disgusting. The bit in his hand had fine hairs on it. He could only make it out by touch. The wetness was probably blood -- Why not? he thought.
Terence sighed. He chewed the inside of his lower lip, considering his options. He had so little to consider. Curiosity inevitably won out. That’s why the heroes and heroines in the movies followed and siren’s song to their doom, time and time again. Curiosity was a universal affliction. It drives us to perdition, and it drives us to live day by day when hope seems so flitting, and therefore is a testament to the existence of this hope. Terence had to know, even if it meant his own gruesome death. He had not crossed some line he could not turn back from. Such things did not exist: life was too complex.
The sound was coming from the bathroom. He could tell, even in the dark, because the apartments were identical. He would go in, but damned if he was going to fumble in the darkness. He hit the light switch as he stepped across the tiled threshold.
The yellow-white glow blinded him for a few seconds. Then his pupils contracted and he focused on the scraps of flesh trailing to the tub. There was blood everywhere, but rust-toned, so mostly dried. Who knew how long she had been lying there, immersed in water?
She was partially submerged in the filthy bathtub. A few bits of flesh floated like clumps of whale fat around her. Her lips were slightly parted and he was breathing raggedly, as if getting used to a new set of lungs; a pair that fit her new body.
This was not the woman Terence had seen. Amidst the wasteland of shed flesh she was reborn, young, slim, absolutely breathtaking. The water made the nightgown she wore cling to her like a soapy film, revealing everything. And everything -- from her hairless pudenda, over her indented navel, up her firm breasts, to her parted lips -- turned Terence on. He stood knee deep in filth, and the sight of her made it hard to swallow.
She reclined in the tub with her eyes cast at the ceiling as if unaware of any other presence. And then the piece of flesh Terence has picked up slipped out of his numb fingers, and she turned.
The process had nearly finished, but not quite. The right side of her head, now visible to him, had yet to fully shed its old flesh. In that remaining horror Terence recognized the hair and eye of the old woman turned nymph.
In that briefest of moments Terence made up his mind. The beauty of her form did not reach her eyes; within those sockets he saw Hell. Perhaps a Hell that reflected something within himself, for in the next instant he reached out and slammed her head on the rim of the tub, then shoved her head beneath the water. His hand covered her face. The blow must have knocked her unconscious. She did not struggle. He held her like that for quite some time. The filthy water climbed up to his elbows.
He thought of horses who only slept a few hours, and standing up. Animals in the open slept less than those safely sheltered. Elephants functioned with little sleep. But the wrinkles in their flesh spoke of age. Terence knew that one good night in bed would make up for the weeks of unrest. He imagined Pauline next to him. Her large breasts pressed to one ear, her soft hand over the other, keeping out the noise.
One good night was all he needed.
© 2007 Fel Kian
Bio: Fel Kian has been writing since childhood, with two young-adult novels completed at the age of 8(!). More recently, Fel's work has been published in Ascent Aspirations (both online and in their Premier Print Issue), Nocturnal Ooze, and Black Petals. Fel also has a story in the Mini Mocho Press anthology "Cats, Cats, Cats and More Cats" (proceeds to benefit Hamilton (Ontario) Pride Rescue); that story won the "Cat Lit." award for the best story in the collection.
E-mail: Fel Kian
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