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From Inside the Dark Vault of Dreams

(This is fiction. It’s not about me. Enjoy~)


Not existing, that’s what scares me the most. Have you ever been lying on your bed, looking at the ceiling, thinking about the day and suddenly, like a flash of lightning, you wake up? You had fallen asleep at some point, as quickly and painlessly as someone pressing pause on a DVD player. That’s what I fear the most, that instant when existence ends. What scares me the most is that I won’t even know when it happens.

I live in the present. Obviously, you say, but most people—I suspect—have a sense of where they come from and where they are going. Not me. For me, all of life is a precarious balancing on the crest of a wave—a breathless, headlong rush with an abyss of nothing before and behind. That’s why I worry about my existence. At any moment, the wave could collapse and then, well . . .

I live in an apartment building, on the third floor. I don’t know who lives above me. Below me is Miss Second. She mostly stays in her apartment, moaning loudly enough for me to hear as I walk past her. I can’t tell if it’s from ecstasy or from pain, but I’m too embarrassed to knock and ask. And so, I tiptoe past her apartment, vaguely aroused, vaguely repelled, unsure of myself on her floor.

Below her is Mr. First, the drummer. He is constantly making rhythm with everything in his apartment. The sounds filter up through the pipes, sometimes grating, sometimes hypnotic, sometimes so beautiful I want cry for something I have never seen or felt, but which is hinted at in the music.

Then, there is Mr. Under, who lives in the basement. I never go down to see him and he never comes up, but from the crack in the basement door, I hear and smell things that hint at the horrors that go on down there, down under the building.

I feel bored, I wander the halls, afraid to knock on doors, too lonely to go sit in my apartment. I am drawn to the door of Mr. Under. Who does he have down there? I know them, don’t I? It sickens me, but still, I want to know.

The shrieks and screams rise as I approach. I peer through the crack in the door and in one mind-searing instant, I see what he is doing. I am repulsed and I flee up to my room. But I only live in the present and even as I do, I am still peering through that crack, into the heart of evil; still tiptoeing awkwardly past the door of Miss Second; still standing mesmerized by the beauty of Mr. First’s drumming, with tears streaming down my face.

The sun is rising. The first rays stab into my apartment and I look out, out of my small corner of the universe into something so much vaster, where all the answers are revealed. I take a step—

Outside the Tower: Update on “It Only Takes Once”

As you had probably guessed (by the “fiction” tag), the story I wrote a while back, It Only Takes Once is fiction. However, as I mentioned in the comments, it does take place in the apartment I’m currently living in. As I sit at my computer, I can look into the bathroom and see the window where the hand appeared. This one:

The following is true, by the way. Just so there’s no confusion. A few minutes ago, as I was sitting at my computer, alone in the dark,  the light went on in the hall. The motion-sensor light. I suddenly heard this “squeak, squeak, squeak” over the sound of my music and I looked into the bathroom. Through the frosted glass window I could see my neighbor’s door moving back and forth really fast. Maybe it was just sitting in the dark alone like this, but it reminded me of the rapid, jerky movement of the haunted rocking chair in the movie The Woman in Black.

After about 20 seconds, the door slowly closed and the light went off. I’m sure there is a perfectly natural explanation for it all, but it made me really excited, because what if there wasn’t?

Bloody Neighbors

Don’t you hate upstairs neighbors? I cannot tell you how long it took for me even to get a sniff at an apartment like mine—how many real estate agents I had to suck up to, and how much networking it took. Finally, I got it though, the whole first floor of a beautiful old building on the Lower East Side. Every inch of it was mine and I made it my castle. It was perfect, except for the guy living upstairs.

There were only three floors in the building—three apartments total. The upper apartment was occupied by an elderly couple—the Gerards, according to their mailbox. They looked well-off, but kept to themselves. I probably wouldn’t have minded being under them. The guy on the second floor, a Mr. R. Hart, was in his mid-thirties, single and active. I could hear every step he made: from bedroom to bathroom, from kitchen to living room. It drove me crazy. It was worse when his girlfriend stayed over, and almost unbearable when he decided to have a party for all his friends—yuppies or hipsters or whatever that type is called these days. I would go to sleep with headphones on, willing the strains of Aaron Copeland to drown out the blare of dubstep from above me.

Our building had a dedicated elevator—you needed a key to use it. That was one of the things that drew me to the apartment. It meant that it could only go to one apartment at a time, since only one key would fit at a time. I loved that feature more than anything. It meant no awkward elevator rides with neighbors that I had no desire to speak to—talking about the weather or some other nonsense. Sometimes I would come home to find one of the other neighbors waiting for the elevator and I would pretend to check my mail until they had gone up.

The elevator opened into my entryway, just off my living room, but I had a box rigged up in the kitchen with a call button and a display to show the floor the elevator was on. So, even though I never met my neighbors I knew a lot about when they came and went. The Gerards never went out after seven, except on Sundays. Mr. R. Hart came and went at all hours, but once he was in for the night, he usually didn’t go out again. And just like me, they never visited each other.

One night I was up late, reading Kafka in the living room with a glass of wine. I got up for another glass and saw that the elevator was moving. It went up to the third floor. It was just after midnight on a Tuesday and I suddenly became worried. The Gerards were elderly and anything off schedule couldn’t be good. I looked outside for an ambulance, but the street was deserted.

I finished my third glass of wine and was bringing the glass into the kitchen when I saw the elevator going down. It stopped on the second floor. Probably Mr. R. Hart had called it. I watched for it to go down to the lobby, but it never did.

There were several footsteps above me and then a thump. There was another thump and then a crash. Normally, I didn’t think anything of any sounds coming from the apartment of Mr. R. Hart but with the mystery of the elevator, I was getting seriously anxious.

There was another thump and then another. Then the sound became rhythmic—thump, thump, thump—and I realized with a flash of relief and disgust where I had heard it before: it sounded just like a headboard hitting the wall. Right away, I could picture the scenario. Mr. R. Hart had had a woman over. He had called the elevator for her to leave but they had gotten caught up in the throes of passion again and started crashing around up there. I had heard similar, and worse, from his place before.

The thumping continued, on and on, while I clenched my fists and ground my teeth. I grabbed a broom and started pounding on the ceiling.

“Hey, jerks!” I shouted. “Quit rutting like a pair of drugged up hyenas. Some people are trying to sleep. I just called the police—they’ll be here in a few minutes.”

The sound stopped abruptly and I gave a smug smile. A moment later, the elevator started moving down to the lobby.

I rinsed out the wine glass and was just about to turn off the light, when I heard a sizzle and smelled a hot, metallic smell. I looked up at the light, just to see a large drop fall from it and splash in a tiny red puddle on my polished oak floor. I called the police.

By the time the police arrived, blood was dripping down my light and the towel I had put down was soaked.  I was almost in hysterics—not something I like to admit, but I blame the wine. The police called the landlord and found Mr. R. Hart dead on his living room floor. His skull was crushed and blood was everywhere. The police estimated that the killers must have smashed his head against the floor at least fifty times.

The Gerards were dead too—brutally beaten to death and all their valuables taken. Based on my testimony, the police determined that the perpetrators had gone there first, then down to the apartment of Mr. R. Hart. No one knows how they got in, but the police suspected that they used a set of keys that the landlord admitted to losing several months earlier. Nothing was taken from Mr. R. Hart’s apartment. It seems the burglars had gotten scared and fled the scene. No one mentioned it, but I could only think of where they would have gone after the second floor.

*         *         *

The apartment building is silent now. The burglars were never caught and the two apartments above me are still active crime scenes. The police confided in me that even if they were arrested today, it would be years before the apartments could be rented again. I would never move though. I changed the locks, upgraded my security system, and now I sit, alone in a building that is two-thirds crime scene, while the ghosts of neighbors I never knew disrupt my sleep with their silent steps.

I almost wish I had gotten to know them.

It Only Takes Once

(This is the first story I have posted that I  consider a “Midnight” story. Slightly more creepy than my other stuff.)

There are some experiences that carve such a large hole in our lives that they affect everything from then on, for good or bad. The best defining moment of my life was when I stepped off my boat after sailing solo from New York to Cherbourg, France. The worst defining moment was shorter, but had a greater impact.

I was living in Korea, teaching English for a year for the experience of living abroad. My apartment was apparently designed by voyeurs since the only window in the bathroom led to the outside hallway. Flip the latch, slide the frosted glass window and I could have talked with my neighbors as they were coming home and as I was taking a shower. Needless to say, I never opened the window.

I got up one night around 3:00am to use the bathroom. I’m not normally skittish, but that night, I kept looking behind me.

The motion-sensor light in the hall came on—one of my neighbors coming in late, most likely drunk. I didn’t hear any doors open and a few seconds later, the light went off. I was just washing my hands when I glanced up at the window and saw a hand pressed against the glass.

The fingers were long and thin and the whole hand had a greenish-grey tinge to it. It was pulsing slightly—stroking at the frosted glass window with its fingertips and wherever it touched, it left greenish smudges on the glass.

My heart started to pound and I backed out of the bathroom. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. The hand slowly slid down the glass and out of sight until all that was left were five long smears.

I was not near the living room light switch but I reached into the bedroom and turned on the light there. At the same time, the motion-sensor light in my small entranceway came on.

I was starting to seriously freak out. Maybe it’s just a short in the wires, I thought. I knew my outer door had been locked. The entranceway light went off, but then a second later it came back on. I saw a shadow of something come across the light through the frosted glass windows in the closed entranceway door. The knob began to turn, silently.

I thought I was going to pass out from panic. I had nothing close by to use as a weapon. In a second, the entranceway door would open.

“Go away!” I shouted, although my voice cracked absurdly. “Go away now . . . in Jesus’ name!”

I wasn’t a Christian at that time, and I had no idea where that came from. It just came into my head, suddenly.

At that moment, the light in the entranceway went off again, which made things worse. I backed a little further into the lighted bedroom, waiting for movement to turn the entranceway light back on.

But it never came back on. The waiting became unbearable. I had no idea if the person was gone or if they were lurking there in my entranceway, not moving and not triggering the light. An hour went by before I got up the nerve to venture out and turn the living room light on. From its light, I could tell that the entranceway was empty. I opened the door and saw that my front door was open too.

There were many things I could not explain. I swear that I had locked my front door—I did so automatically whenever I came home. The outer door was big and creaky, but I never heard a sound. The entranceway was covered with bits of dust and tiny clots of greenish-grey dirt. The strangest thing—and what made me shiver in terror—was the sight of one of my steel-toed boots, crushed almost flat and covered with green dust. I could not imagine what could have done that, and silently too.

I have never seen anything like that since, but once was enough. I could not sleep in that apartment again. I slept in a hotel for two weeks until my school arranged for a new apartment for me, one with a pass code to get into the building. I would have thought it was all a horrible dream except for the dirt and the filthy smears on the window that were still there the next day.

Since that time, I have never had an apartment on the ground floor or one where the windows were at all accessible from outside. Still, whenever it is dark and I catch a glimpse of a window, I shudder to think of another hand pressed again it, smearing it with green-grey filth, or even worse…

…a face.

When Opposites Attract…Like Matter and Anti-Matter

Back when I lived in Vermont, I knew a married couple called the Harringtons. They loved each other, as far as I could tell, but when it came to their genetic thermostats, they were like black and white.

Mr. Harrington always ran cold; his hands were as chill and clammy as a dead fish and he wore sweaters up into late spring. Mrs. Harrington, on the other hand, could melt icicles just by pointing at them. She was constantly flushed and sweating. I once saw her walking in a blizzard in short sleeves and she was still red in the face.

It turns out that Mrs. Harrington liked to sleep with the covers on, even though she was always hot. Something about the air on her skin made her feel violated, she said. As you can imagine, summer was hellish for her, and as the temperature rose, she kept the air conditioning on more and more. Little did Mr. Harrington know that his wife had hooked up an extra tank of super-powered Freon to the unit. She had bought it from a Russian spam email and it was apparently not intended for home use.

The first night she used it, the temperature in the bedroom fell to below freezing and icicles starting forming on the drapes. Mrs. Harrington slept like a baby, only waking up from the crash of Mr. Harrington falling on the floor in hypothermic convulsions. To this day, he remains the only case of July hypothermia in Vermont history.

Of course, it didn’t help that Mr. Harrington couldn’t sleep with the covers on. He felt like he was being suffocated and woke up hourly, screaming about being buried alive. As you can imagine, winter was a living hell for him, if hell indeed froze over. He would crank the heat as high as it would go until the Harringtons’ gas bill rivaled the GDP of a very, very small country. The gas company had one whole department dedicated to the Harrington account.

With an Exxon Valdez-worth of natural gas pouring into their house every day, Mr. Harrington could finally get comfortable and sleep through the night, but Mrs. Harrington, on the other hand, was experiencing a much more classical picture of Hell. After she was rushed to the hospital in January and treated for heat stroke, the Harringtons knew that something had to change.

They didn’t want to divorce and the idea of separate bedrooms seemed lonely and the quitter’s way out. One day, Mrs. Harrington found a revolutionary type of bed on E-bay. It allowed each side of the bed to regulate its temperature separately by dividing it with a high-pressure air curtain. Mrs. Harrington clicked Buy it Now without even looking at the price.

The bed was sealed and pressurized inside a big glass box. It worked like a charm: Mr. Harrington could turn the heat up all he wanted and Mrs. Harrington could cool her side down until she could see her breath. The first night they used it, they found that it worked too well. As the temperature difference between the two sides of the bed approached eighty degrees, mini storm fronts broke out along the dividing line. A tiny hurricane swept the length of the bed around 4am, pelting them with a thimble full of rain. Still, neither one wanted to stop using it.

“Giving up on this bed would be taking the quitter’s way out,” Mr. Harrington said.

“Plus, it’s non-refundable,” Mrs. Harrington added.

So, now the couple dresses in their rain-slicker pajamas every night and Mrs. Harrington puts on her sleep mask with the small umbrella attached. Mr. Harrington swears that the tiny lightning bolts don’t even wake him up anymore and that the thunderclaps are as soothing as a kitten’s snore.

It wasn’t easy to adjust, but it was a compromise, and isn’t that what marriage is all about?

Ants Go Squishie!

Leroy put down his toothbrush and watched a column of ants brave their way up to the summit of his bathroom faucet. They reached the top and milled around a little, slipping off to a watery demise in the sink below or trying to make their way back down to the counter. On the counter, another group seemed to be making a base camp around his mouthwash bottle.

Leroy hated ants, but lately he had given up. What was the point? He couldn’t kill them all and when he killed them they left messy smears everywhere. He had put down poison, but it had been roach poison, and apparently ants were stronger than roaches.An American bathroom of a freshly renovated ho...

He went out and shut the bathroom door in an attempt to keep the invaders contained. As he walked outside, all he could think of was some way to kill the ants. The air was hot and near his building was a new street vendor. A huge sign read “Mango Slushies”.

“Hey buddy, get a free mango slushie!” the red-headed twenty-something behind the cart yelled. He even wore a slushie-looking grin. “Today only!”

How to kill the ants…how to kill the ants. Leroy’s mind was filled to capacity, trying to think of a solution.

“Don’t you want a free drink? Hey buddy, I’m talking to you.” Leroy kept walking, trying to block out the annoying noise.

“Yeah, keep walking, jerk!” the slushie guy yelled finally. “Ignore the best thing that will happen to you all day. It would probably poison you anyway.”


Leroy stopped. He turned around. “Did you say poison?”

The red-headed boy suddenly looked uncertain. “Yeah, I said it would poison you, probably.”

“Would this stuff poison ants?”

The boy gave a short laugh of disbelief. “Uh, yeah, sure. Why not. I’m sure it would explode their little heads.” With an effort, he pulled the grin back from the corners of his mouth.

Leroy gave him a long look. “Okay, I’ll take three.”

“Well, only one is free—”

“Then I’ll buy two more. How big are they?”

“Uh, they’re a liter each.”

“Sounds good. Can I get them to go?”

So it was that Leroy walked away a moment later with three huge plastic cups of mango slushie, perilously stretching out the plastic bag the boy had put them in. Leroy walked back up to his apartment and opened the bathroom door. The ants had scaled his small shaving shelf and had discovered half a sandwich Leroy had forgotten the night before when he had gone in to use the bathroom. They were busy disassembling it and belaying it down to waiting sandwich sherpas below. Leroy took it and put it in the tub, plugged the drain and waited for a crowd to form.

“See you in insect hell,” Leroy said, and poured all three liters of mango slushie into the tub, pausing only to shudder at the idea of seeing anything in insect hell.

The ants went crazy. Leroy shut the bathroom door to let the poison do its work.

Between work and going out afterwards with the guys, Leroy did not have an occasion to open the bathroom door until the next morning. He pushed it open a crack and peaked in.

The walls and sides of the tub were black with ants, but his elation soon crashed when he saw that they were still moving. Not only were they moving, they were busy. It looked as if thousands of ants had drowned in the slushie, but tens of thousands more were pouring down into the tub in ordered lines to drink at the shore of the slushie lake. They had apparently gotten into his toothpicks and dental floss and several tiny rafts were floating on the sticky yellow surface. He watched several ants float by in the cap of his toothpaste tube. He stared in dazed disbelief for several seconds before giving the whole thing a miss and shutting the door again.

He spent the rest of the day moping around the apartment and avoiding the bathroom. It felt eerily quiet. Outside of the bathroom, there was not a single ant in the rest of the house. When he went to check the mail, he heard other people in the building commenting on the sudden lack of ants and praising the landlord. He felt slightly cheated by this and printed up signs that read:

ANTS SUDDENLY ALL GONE? THANK LEROY GOOGLEHEIM IN APT. 5F! Several people did thank him and asked his secret.

“Special poison,” he said.

The only thing that was worrying Leroy now was the idea of the slushie in the bathtub running out. In his uneducated guess, there were now several hundred thousand ants in his bathroom, glutting themselves on mango-flavored slushie goo. If that were to run out, there would be a veritable wave of 6-legged sugar freaks rampaging around looking for their next fix. He went to visit the slushie cart.

“I need more of that slushie stuff,” he said. “A lot more.” It was only then that he noticed the red-headed slushie guy packing up the cart. “Where are you going?”

“I’m out of business,” the boy said. “It turns out I wasn’t far wrong when I said these were poison. The yellow dye— it causes cancer in lab rats. Are you feeling okay, by the way? You had an awful lot of that stuff.”

“Just peachy,” Leroy said quickly. “Listen, where is the rest of the slushie mix?”

“I guess I’m going to throw it all away,” the boy said sadly. “I couldn’t pay people to take it now.”

“That’s not true,” Leroy said. “You can pay me. You can give me ten bucks for the whole lot.”

Ten minutes later, Leroy was in possession of forty gallons of concentrated slushie mixture and ten bucks. He dragged the plastic jugs to the roof of the building and rigged up a tube that he fed down through his bathroom vent. A little adjusting and he could refill the tub without ever going into the bathroom again.

He sealed the bathroom door with duct tape and fervent prayers and abandoned it. As the days went by, people from buildings all around the neighborhood were dropping by to congratulate him on fixing the ant problem. He even got a commendation from the mayor and the title of official Neighborhood Ant Exterminator.

The only bad part was that now he had to use the bathroom in the McDonalds down the street.

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