Estimated reading time — 25 minutes
The sound of the alarm clock gradually bringing her back to consciousness meant she must have finally fallen asleep. She groaned, propped herself up on her elbows and brushed the long blonde hair out of her face so she could read the time. The last time she’d looked at it, it had read 7:34 A.M., and she had yet to get a lick of sleep. Now the clock read 10:07, meaning the damn thing had been buzzing for the past seven minutes…and that she had yet another night that may as well have been sleepless.
Kelly Baker let out another groan and reached out her left hand as far as it could reach, her slender fingers coming just short of the nightstand where the pesky clock laid. Her confusion wearing off and turning to frustration, she rolled onto her back, propped herself up against the headboard, and slammed the top of the clock with the bottom of her fist several times, hitting just about every button on the thing but snooze. Now beeping instead of buzzing, she grabbed it in both hands and yanked it towards her, tearing the power cord out of it’s socket. She was about to throw it across the room when she stopped herself short, gently placing the clock back onto the nightstand.
Sighing, Kelly rubbed her face. She had a headache that raged as fiercely as the alarm clock, and though she wanted nothing more than to crawl back under the sheets and sleep the day away, she knew it was as hopeless as her chance of having another steady relationship. She tossed the remaining covers off and climbed out of bed.
Kelly slept naked, and the cool air of the apartment instantly chilled her to the bone. Making her way to the windowless bathroom across the hall, she pulled the aspirin out of the medicine cabinet and tossed two in her mouth, reconsidered, and popped in a third. Normally a girl that would swallow them one at a time, she poured herself half a glass of water, and swallowed all three at once. She studied her tired face in the mirror for a moment before turning to the shower stall. She turned on the hot water in the shower, the pipes creaking in disagreement as she did, and exited the bathroom as the water warmed up.
Though Kelly had been living in the apartment for a week, she had done little unpacking and nothing was where it was supposed to be save for the furniture, which her dad had helped her put in place the day she moved in. Ordinarily, her living space was very neat and orderly, but the apartment was still in awry, boxes upon boxes stacked and placed wherever they would fit. The spare room was packed with them, a few had wound up in the narrow hallway or in the master bedroom, and the rest were upstairs in the middle of the living room. Despite having the past several days off, she had done virtually no unpacking, spending most of her days haphazardly going about, and today, in all likeliness, would be no different.
The Harwick Mill Apartments were a far cry from the lifestyle she was used to in her parents’ home. Built in the early 1900’s, the building had once been a textile mill at the center of the Harwick Brothers operation, and the entire town, for that matter. The sprawling brick building took up nearly an entire block, and with it’s three stories and countless large arched windows, at one point it had been the most awe-striking building in town, and probably was up until it closed down during the depression.
Over the years since they were abandoned, many of the old factories and warehouses associated with the Harwick Brothers Company had been lost. At least two burned to the ground, one only ten years ago, and several were demolished to make way for newer projects. Several more factories still lay in disrepair, overgrown, and with fences and and warning signs that seldom kept kids from vandalizing the properties into even further degradation, a poignant reminder from a time long passed that nothing lasts forever.
It wasn’t until the late 70s that the restoration project took place; the very restoration that turned the decaying Harwick Mill into the Harwick Mill Apartments. Several other buildings were converted into storage units, offices, and various small businesses. The buildings that once made this Connecticut town rich now served the needs of the lower income residents.
Apartment number 123 was on the interior of the building facing the courtyard, as were all the odd-numbered apartments, and she was glad for that, for she would take the green lawn over the parking lot any day of the week when she looked out her window. And though her apartment was a two-bedroom unit, they charged her the price of a one-bedroom unit. Probably because that was all it was worth, and judging by the lack of people around, she gathered they needed all the tenants they could get.
With the shower still warming up, Kelly briefly returned to her room, grabbing her undergarments and her outfit for the day, coming from the same cardboard box as the outfits from the past three days. The box was marked ‘sweats’ and today’s outfit (that being the one that was closest to the top) was her black and pink volleyball warm-up suit she hadn’t worn since her team made it into the semi-finals her senior year of college. That had been two years ago, when she was twenty-one and things were alright in the world. Well, in her world at least. She thought of the friends she had then, of her drive to do well both as a key member of the volleyball team and towards doing well in school.
The hot water wouldn’t last long, maybe five minutes if she was lucky, and she hurried back to the bathroom. She jumped in the shower, and directed the shower head at her forehead, hoping it would make the headache go away. A cold was coming on, for she’d had a sore throat all day yesterday, and a sore throat had always meant a cold was just around the corner for Kelly Baker. She got them at least twice a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. She thought of Brian, of how she was supposed to be moving in with him, not into this apartment. Doing so was the last thing she wanted to do, but with her parents moving up to Vermont for retirement, it was the best she could do on such short notice, for there were few places that even fit into her budget, and the Mill had been the most viable option, the closest to work. And it was the cheapest, though Kelly now knew why.
After drying herself off, Kelly donned her clothes, not expecting the warm-up to fit as well as it had two years prior, even though she was just as slim now as she was then. She’d lost a little weight since then, and she imagined she probably lost most of it in the past week. She zipped the jacket all the way up, fixed her hair with her hand, and declared herself ready for the day. There was no point in doing anything else if there was no one in your life to dress up for. Though she knew she should at least be happy her outfit fit her as well as it had two years ago, a sudden longing, not only for her relationship with Brian or for the comfort of her parents’ home, but for just being a girl.
Kelly was twenty-three, over a year out of school with a BA in English, and she knew it was passed time to grow up, but…well, being an adult sucked. Being an adult and supporting herself had always been in the future, a thing that never seemed like it would come. And when it did, she would have her steady boyfriend Brian Jackson at her side every step of the way. Or so she had thought, until he dumped her two weeks prior without really giving her a reason why, other than ‘it’s not working for us anymore’, which isn’t a reason.
Brian had gotten a job offer as a CPA up in Mass, while Kelly was still working as a waitress at Chester’s Grill, where she’d worked since she was eighteen, and she had just assumed she wasn’t good enough for Mr. CPA anymore. Initially it had devastated her, and she was heartbroken and didn’t understand what it was she had done. But over the past few days, those feelings had been mixed with bitterness and anger, some of it towards herself, but more and more towards Brian, and the other woman in his life she could only assume existed. She often pictured her as a slutty, bipolar nurse named Samantha. Good, she hoped it was true, because it was no more than Brian deserved.
Kelly made her way to the stairs, being joined by a draft of cool air the entire length of the hallway. She gave a brief glance at the hatchway on the landing halfway up the stairs. Located out of reach of what her five-foot-seven frame could reach without a stepping stool, she had yet to open it, and intended to put a picture frame over it, because a cold draft came out of there, too, it seemed. She supposed if she ever had something valuable enough, it would be a good place to hide it, if she ever felt inclined to get a stool and do so. Of course, if Brian was here, she wouldn’t need the stool. She scowled at the thought, and made her way upstairs to fix herself breakfast in the kitchen, which hadn’t been as warm as she had hoped.
Because of those windows. Kelly was no expert on the matter, but she would eat her panties if those windows weren’t original to the building. They were yellowed beyond belief, scratched, even cracked in some places, and the green paint looked like it hadn’t been touched up since the place had been restored. The four windows upstairs were terrible; the two windows closer to the kitchen had gaps between the frame and the brick wall large enough for her to stick her pinky through in places, and she could only imagine the amount of bugs that must get in when the weather was warmer. And whatever heat didn’t escape through the windows that were taller than her instead uselessly heated the upper portion of the ten-foot high ceiling of the upper level. While the two windows in each bedroom downstairs were smaller and slightly better fitted to let a little less air in, there was a constant draft of air being pushed down the staircase every minute of every hour of every day. And this was only late October. Kelly could hardly imagine how cold it was going to be come winter.
Aside from the windows, her biggest complaint with the place since she’d moved in had been the random noises she heard at all times of the day, but seemed to be particularly prevalent at night. Though some seemed to be coming from apartment 121, the unit behind her kitchen, most of them came from the floor above her apartment. She knew there was no one living up there, for all of the apartments on the premises occupied just the first two floors, but it certainly sounded like someone was constantly moving stuff around up there.
And then there were the statues. Even the unartistic eye like her own could see the great love and detail put into each and every one of them, and though they were fascinating, she also found them creepy and unsettling. Like she was being watched by them. Most of them were out in the courtyard, but she knew there were at least a few throughout the building. There were two of them in the lobby, of which she believed to be the Harwick brothers, and another of a young girl in the pool room. She knew it was irrational, for if you had bottomless pits of money as the Harwick family once had, you could collect whatever it was you wanted, as many as you wanted, and she gathered one of the Harwicks, or perhaps a descendant, had a love for such statues, and gotten them made in honor of those important to the business, and perhaps their loved ones.
Still, perhaps what she found most disturbing about them wasn’t the statues themselves; rather that the statue population seemed to be higher than the population of actual, living people. And frankly, she wouldn’t mind seeing more people about, especially at a time in her life when she’d never felt more vulnerable. She supposed what she really needed was a friend she could trust, and though she had acquaintances at Chester’s, she didn’t have anyone she really confided in as a friend since high school. Well, anyone other than Brian, and she supposed that had been her own doing.
Though the kitchen was probably the highlight of the apartment and fit her needs, perhaps Kelly’s favorite feature in the entire apartment were the shelves on the far wall of the living room area, which took up two thirds of the entire upper level. The darkly-stained shelves started about waist high and went up almost all the way to the ceiling. Even with all the books, movies and other knick-knacks she had, she didn’t think she’d ever have enough stuff to fill those shelves, which was a good thing, because there was no way she could even reach the top shelves without a ladder or climbing up the shelves themselves. Deciding she needed something to keep her mind occupied today, she reckoned she could do something with those shelves.
All she felt like for breakfast was a plain bagel, and walking around with it on a paper plate, Kelly found the two large boxes of books right off, and started with that, deciding to put the books on the far left corner away from the windows where she would likely spend most of her time reading in her chair. She would have to go digging up the lamp later to put on the table next to the chair so she could actually see the books when it got dark.
Kelly started with the paperbacks, which ranged from Stephen King to Nora Roberts, arranging each by author, starting on the lower shelves and working her way up. She thoroughly dusted and cleaned each shelf before placing her books neatly, and though it wasn’t much, it was enough to keep her occupied from thinking about either her headache or that dick. It had gone unhindered until she reached the fourth shelf.
Kelly had to stand on her tip-toes just to reach the fourth shelf, and without standing on the bottom shelf, she could do little more than dust the very edges. But when she began placing the books on the shelf, starting in the far left corner where the shelf met the brick wall wall, the book wouldn’t push in, as if something was blocking it, and Kelly pulled it back out. She realized she’d have no choice but to climb up there and find out what the obstruction was that was interrupting her otherwise steady progress.
Above her, something metallic clanked onto the floor, and she perked up, looking at the ceiling. She paused a moment, listening intently for any other noises, then shrugged it off.
Kelly nimbly climbed up on to the first shelf, which was solid enough to support her weight thanks to the brick ledge below it, and she nearly lost her balance as she did so, but was spared from falling when she grabbed onto one of the shelves that was thankfully screwed in tight. She squinted at the corner where the obstruction was, inching her way down, but still couldn’t quite see what was there, so she reached back there and withdrew whatever it was hiding in the shadows. She nearly screamed when she saw it, but then quickly realized it wasn’t real.
It was a mouse. Or a sculpture of one, at least. It was light as a feather, even though it looked heavy. Minus being entirely brown, the mouse looked every bit like the real deal. She jumped down from the shelf and blew off the dust and a cobwebs, and spent a good moment further looking it over. It was extremely detailed. Someone certainly put in a lot of work making the little mouse.
Kelly brought the mouse over to the kitchen sink, spending a moment to rinse the little guy off. She looked closer and was startled by it’s shockingly realistic little face, and for a moment she was convinced it was going to spring to life and chew her face off. She almost dropped the mouse at the thought, but then gathered her senses. It was just a decoration. Still, it had a uncanny resemblance to the human statues throughout the apartments, despite not being human, that is. While she was pondering this, there came three steady knocks at the door.
Leaving the kitchen, Kelly gingerly set the mouse down on the banister, and looked over at the door curiously. She wasn’t expecting anyone today, and her first thought was that it was Brian, and he would be in tears, begging forgiveness. Then she could slam the door in his face, to tell him she would never take him back, whatever would make him feel her pain. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she had the thought of seeing one of those statues from out in the courtyard on the other side of her door, and she hesitated a moment before continuing on. It wasn’t Brian in tears, nor was it an axe-wielding statue from hell coming to chop her up into pieces. It was Melinda Harwick, the owner and manager of the apartment complex.
Kelly thought she might have preferred the murderous statue.
Under ordinary circumstances, she would have felt chagrined to be seen looking the way she did, but these were anything but ordinary circumstances. That aside, she had little like for Ms. Melinda Harwick, as the sign at the desk in her lobby read, and cared little for what the snobby old hag thought of her. Short and stubby, the woman always wore her signature white Victorian hat, a large diamond necklace, and enough perfume to choke an elephant. Kelly was certain she could almost smell her perfume through the door, about the only thing in this place that was even remotely air-tight.
Kelly had twice visited the witch’s office since she arrived, once the day she arrived to get her key and be seen to her unit, and then to file a complaint only two days ago about whoever was upstairs making too much noise when she was trying to sleep. Ms. Harwick had explained that the noises were likely caused by her brother, Boris, also the maintenance man. When Kelly asked to speak to Boris about his hours of operation, Melinda had only commented that Boris was not much of a people person, but that she would pass the message along. Kelly had gotten the vibe that she had been little more than a waste of the woman’s time. The last thing the woman had said before Kelly had left, was: ‘You don’t come to live at Harwick Mill for comfortable living, you come here for the experience.’ Kelly had no reply to that, though reckoned her face had given away plenty of what she had been thinking.
Perhaps she had now come to apologize for her rudeness or to offer an explanation for said disturbances, if it was indeed her brother Boris. And the more Kelly thought about it, there just might be a correlation between her pompous attitude towards the tenants of the mill and the lack of residents therin.
Kelly contemplated seeing how long it would take for her to go away, but she found herself opening the door instead.
“Good afternoon, Miss Baker. Sorry for dropping by without notice, but it’s standard procedure for us to come by and check upon our tenants. May I?”
“Uh, sure.” Kelly said, gesturing to the boxes in the middle of the room “Don’t mind the mess, I’m still unpacking.”
“Oh, no worries, sweetie. I’ve seen my fair share of people moving in my day.”
The tea pot whistled, and Kelly had no choice but to mind her manners. “I was just making myself some tea, but there is probably enough hot water for two. Would you care for a cup? I have green and black.”
“No, but thank you, Miss Baker.”
“You can just call me Kelly,” she said, making her way to the kitchen. She wasn’t going to give up her tea on her behalf. “Would you like to sit down?” Though what she thought was ‘please leave’. “Here, I’ll move some boxes if you-”
“Not necessary, thank you Kelly. I’ve been sitting on my buttocks all morning. I need to stretch my legs for a while. Besides, I won’t be taking too much of your time, I don’t think.”
Kelly just nodded and took a sip of tea. The woman simply stood there for a moment, studying the younger woman, seemingly apprehensive about taking a single step further into the apartment, which was just fine with Kelly. Melinda broke the silence between them. “I used to play volleyball too when I was about your age. I was quite good, if I say so myself. Actually, I..” Melinda’s eyes focused on the top of the stairs, and she gasped. “Oh, my. Would you look at this,” She said, making a move to the top of the stairs, picking up the mouse from the banister. “Where did you get this?”
Kelly had temporarily forgotten all about the curious little mouse, and then pointed at the shelf which now held over forty Stephen King novels. “I just found it a little while ago, when I was arranging my shelf,” she took another sip of her tea. “I guess it must have belonged to the previous tenant and was left behind by mistake. Easy enough to miss, I guess, it’s small, and the same color as the shelving.”
“I thought he was long lost,” Melinda said, looking upon the mouse in awe. “Oh, sweetie, this is a good omen.” She paused a long moment, seemingly forgetting Kelly was even there, her eyes transfixed on the mouse, before she looked up again. “This belonged to my grandfather. My great-grandfather made this for him. This was his first casting.”
“Yes. Well, have you time for a little history?”
“Well, as you may or may not know, my great-grandfather was Edgar Harwick. He was the younger of the two brothers who founded Harwick Brothers, Herbert being the elder. They were in the textile industry, and beginning in 1901, the two of them constructed and operated this mill and many others in this area of town. Business flourished, and so did the town. Farmland gave way to homes for the families of the workers, and the town prospered, and for a time, was quite famous, at least in New England. It was such a beautiful town, then. Now it’s over-run by shopping malls and chain restaurants, the old mills and what they did for this town long forgotten. Many town residents don’t even know these mills exist.
“In the years before the Harwick brothers immigrated to the United States, Edgar had lived outside of England for a number of years, working as a blacksmith’s apprentice in Austria owned by a man I only know by the surname, Schmidt. I don’t know what drove him there, or what it was he did, but what I do know is it was there that Edgar developed his inspiration for what he would later accomplish.
“Anyways, Edgar had arranged for a private shop for him to be built before the construction began. Thus, before the mill even opened, Edgar began experimenting with making little toy animals, if you can consider them toys. He spent many a long night, as well as company time and resources, experimenting and modifying his own technique from what that Austrian fellow had taught him many years prior. He had set up his workshop, here in the mill, roughly right above your room here, actually, and spent more and more of his time there, making toy animals. You see, Edgar was never fond of the textile industry to begin with, it was Herbert who really drove the business forward, Herbert who had the vision and the work ethic. Though Edgar had gone along with it for a time, he had a different vision in using the company’s success to help fulfill his dream. And what Edgar saw as his own dream, Herbert saw as a useless hobby. He argued that the toys would net the company no money and that there would never be any money in it.
“You see, as detailed as they were, they weren’t statues of bronze or gold or beautiful sculptures carved from marble, Herbert saw them as cheap knock-offs of the real deal, kind of like how we view Chinese products these days, if you will. What they were actually made of, I can’t say. But no one was going to pay any kind of money for what Edgar was trying to do, and in that regard, Herbert was absolutely right.
“But he continued on in private, working only at night when his brother had gone home, until at last, he had his first success. This very mouse was the very first toy he made, sometime around 1904, and he gave it to my grandfather, Benjamin, when he was only a young lad of five or six. Needless to say, Herbert found out that his brother had indeed continued to work on his toy-making, supposedly saying what Edgar was doing was disturbing, and threatened him. He woud have to dismantle his workshop, or get ejected from the company altogether. Edgar begged for him to reconsider, but he did not, and he was given a week to comply.
“Herbert died in an accident, right here in the mill only a few days later, before the news of the disagreements between the brothers could become more public knowledge. And though Edgar was never considered in any investigation, some of us know better. That he murdered his own brother so he could pursue his dream,” she smiled softly, as if condoning her great-grandfather’s actions, and Kelly got an uneasy feeling from that smile, but brushed it off. She was intrigued.
“Go on,” Kelly said, leaning against the wall at the top of the stairs.
“I’m not sure I should. You see, most of the rest can only be considered a rumor. Little fact meddled with mostly fiction. I will go on, but only if you promise to keep this between just us girls.”
“I’m not a journalist. I won’t be twisting your words and reporting it to the world the way I want them to see it.”
“Very well then,” she cleared her throat. “What I do know is that a few weeks later, Edgar’s very first human statue was produced, that of none other but the late Herbert Harwick. He’d done it out of spite, of course, but he’d done it nonetheless, and he realized that if he couldn’t do it to make money, he would at least do it for his own enjoyment, and no one was there to stop him or tell him what to do. Rumor would have it that he exhumed Herbert’s body, and used his very body as the foundation for the statue, covering him in some kind of tar that made him look and feel like a metallic statue when it hardened. It was said that was how all of his products were made, and was how a novice like himself with little metal-working experience was able to make such accurate and detailed works of art. Ignorance at it’s best, of course, for no one could possibly accept that he knew something they did not. It was even said that he went around, murdering those he didn’t like or who got in his way and turned them into statues. Rubbish, of course, but it does make a good story, as morbid as it may be.”
There was a loud bump coming from above them, as if a table had fallen over. Kelly raised her nearly empty tea mug with an expression on her face that said ‘see what I mean?’ But the expression on Melinda’s face remained solemn, one that seemed to blame Kelly for the interruption of her story, not the noise that had actually caused it.
“Anyways, Herbert had left the business in good shape, and it was able to run with minimal effort from Edgar thereafter. Regardless of how they were actually made, he continued to make human statues, mostly of random people, or maybe people that never existed at all. He did make them of both his wife, who died of the flu, and teenage daughter, who drowned, both of whom sadly passed before his time. Edgar died in November 1920, a few months before the birth of his grandson, my father, also an Edgar. He left the business, and the secrets of his hobby, with my Grandfather, Benjamin. It was he who made the statue of Edgar himself, the very one that now sits in my lobby, along with that of Herbert, Edgar’s first statue. And though Ben too made several others and carried on the tradition for a time, he died suddenly in a car accident in 1929, thirteen years before I was born. Coupled with the Great Depression, Harwick Brothers began it’s rapid downwards spiral and was closed for good in 1932, long before my young father could learn the ways of things. So the business died with my grandfather, as did the family tradition in making these beautiful statues. But they’re all still here, a testament to the will of Edgar Harwick.”
Kelly was wide-eyed and Melinda had a look of satisfaction about her.
“I’m sorry. I’m sure that story won’t allow you to rest easier or help you get over your cold, any time soon, but truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve told anyone the full story and I feel better after telling it. Thank you for listening, and thank you for finding Wiggles.”
“Oh,” Kelly said, assuming she was referring to the mouse. “Sure thing.” She was going to ask Melinda how she knew she was feeling crappy, but supposed between the bags under her eyes and the sniffling, her body spoke for itself. Melinda was a sharp woman who didn’t miss a beat, even if she pretended to.
“I’m sorry, I came here to check up on you. Is there anything I can do for you?”
Kelly had already mentioned the noises, had already gotten an unsatisfactory answer and probably the best one she was going to get without going up there herself. And now that she heard the story, she really didn’t want to ask why there were noises coming from where Edgar’s private shop used to be. Or perhaps, still was. She decided to mention the windows instead. “It’s drafty in here, even with the heat cranked up. It’s always cold downstairs, and the draft actually blows my hair when I’m walking up the stairs. And in the upstairs windows, these ones here, there are actually gaps in-between the window frame and the brick walls in places.”
Melinda paused, as if considering. “If your mother ever taught you how to eat, you might welcome a little breeze,” she said, a thin smile forming on her lips. Kelly wasn’t sure whether to take it as a compliment or an insult, but decided it had been Melinda’s idea of a joke, and that it was probably meant to be both. Kelly smiled softly, unsure if she was supposed to or not, before Melinda continued. “I’ll ensure your windows get some fitted plastic molding to help resolve your issue. That should definitely warm it up in here some, it certainly did for Mr. Johnson down the hall, who complained of the same issue last winter. I do apologize for the inconvience. Is there anything else?”
“No. No, I guess that’s it really. I’m just…well, I’ll get used to it.”
“Yes, Kelly. Moving into a new and unfamiliar place is never easy. Despite whatever may be troubling you in your life, such a drastic change in lifestyle so suddenly can be a shock to the body. Especially here. It’s like taking a step back into history, to over a century ago. It certainly gives me that vibe, and you’re probably getting it too, whether you know it or not. But you’ll settle quite nicely. It might take a month or two, but you will.”
“You’re probably right,” Kelly said.
“I must get going,” Melinda said. “I’ll just leave Wiggles here with you for collateral. You keep him safe for now, and when your little draft issue is resolved, I will come and reclaim him. Deal?”
“Uh, yeah. Deal.” They shook on it, and Kelly wanted to tell her to take the damn rodent with her, but held back. She did want to have her windows fixed before winter came, and thought that rejecting the notion may offend Melinda and she would freeze to death this winter.
Kelly opened the door for her guest, to which she was not uttered a thanks, and Melinda was gone as swiftly as she had come. Sighing in relief, Kelly dead-bolted the door, top and bottom, and looked at the mouse that was once again in her hands. It had a very eerie presence to it now, and she strongly considered running down to the lobby and giving Melinda the mouse back, telling her how she wasn’t worthy of such a historical artifact or something to that effect.
She had never opened the inconveniently-placed hatchway above the landing of the stairs before, but decided now would be an ideal time.
Standing on the desk chair she placed on the landing, Kelly began prying at the hatch, and found it was more stubborn than she had anticipated. Alas, after several moments, the wooden hatchway door popped open and she was greeted with a blast of cool air.
The claustrophobic crawlspace was just big enough for her to crawl through and turn around on her hands and knees, if she so desired, and though it couldn’t go too far, she was unable to see exactly how far back it went without a light, and it did not have a switch built in that she could see. She couldn’t think of a more suitable place for a creepy little mouse, so she popped it in and, with less difficulty than it took to remove it, put the hatch cover back on, making sure it was nice and secure before she stepped back, satisfied. This way it would be both protected and out-of-sight. She could use the former as an excuse if Melinda ever came by asking where it was.
Outside, the storm began to pick up, and Kelly realized just how sleepy she was. She eyed the reading chair in the corner and made her way over, and snuggled into the chair, throwing the blanket on top of her. She listened to the rain pattering against the windows, and for the first time since she moved in, she slept for more than eight hours.
The loud noise of something crashing onto the floor had woken her out of a sound sleep, and Kelly sat up in the chair with a start, knocking the book resting in her lap onto the floor. The apartment was almost completely dark, the little light the storm allowed through the windows barely enough to light up the room more than a foot from the wall. Save for the light from the microwave clock, she could see nothing on the opposite side of the apartment where she’d thought the noise had come from.
Kelly listened hard for a moment, without moving, and not for the first time that day, she had the sense that she was being watched. But after a brief moment of waiting and hearing nothing but wind and rain against the windows, she risked getting out of the chair. She stretched her arms and legs, placing herself in front of one of the windows as she did so, and she started shivering. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she nervously toyed with the zipper at her neck, and turning towards the floor lamp in the opposite living room corner but she knew she was more likely to trip over her crap than reach the lamp without injuring herself. She headed towards the kitchen instead, her eyes seeing well enough so that she only bumped into one box, the one that contained the rest of her books, on the way there, cursing to herself as she did so.
Turning on the overhead light in-between the sink and the small island, she looked around the kitchen to see what had fallen. Whatever it was had been too loud and too close to be in the room above her, whatever it was, it was somewhere here in apartment 123. But there was nothing on the kitchen floor that looked out of place. She poured herself a glass of water, leaning against the counter. It ws just her mind over-exaggerating the noises she was hearing, making her think they were something other than they actually were. Placing the glass into the sink, she decided nothing might make her feel better than some time out of this apartment. It was too late for the pool and exercise room to be open, but just a nice walk up and down the halls might be good therapy.
Flicking off the kitchen light and the stairwell light on, she bent down at the top of the stairs to put her sneakers on, and then stopped short when she saw the black hole in the wall to her left, level with her head.
Her eyes shifted up a little to where the dark hatchway was now opened, then down at the landing where the panel lay, and swallowed hard. She had put the panel in quite securely, she was certain, and she froze in fear, unable to look directly at the hole in the wall for a second look. She didn’t only feel someone was in there, watching her, she knew. And they..or it…was done hiding.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw two large hands emerge from the dark hole, gripping either side of the hatchway, and the low-pitch grunt was enough to confirm she wasn’t going crazy and that was what freed her legs from their paralysis.
She dashed towards the door, a mere five feet in front of her. She undid the two deadbolts faster than she had ever done anything in her life, and though the doorknob turned in her hand, the door refused to open. Something was blocking it. She screamed in terror as she pulled on the knob as it slowly began to budge as the thing heavily walking up each step, breathing loudly. Then the thing was right behind her.
The cold hand got hold of the back of her jacket collar, pulling her off her feet and away from the door with supernatural strength and speed. Kelly struggled, swinging her arms wildly, knocking something out of the attacker’s hand as she did so, the object falling onto the tile. Without loosening it’s grip, her attacker slammed her body on the ground at the top of the stairs, where she had paused to put her shoes on. It quickly managed to get both arms pinned behind her back, and kept her body forced to the ground, his inhumanly gigantic hand wrapped almost entirely around the circumfurance of her neck. Unable to breathe, Kelly did have her legs free and kicked him in the back frantically, but he seemed unaffected, and despite her urge to panic, she knew it would only be a waste of her energy.
There was something on the ground to the left only a foot away from her face, and despite her situation, she was aware she had knocked something out of his hands, and had hope that it was a knife or something she could use as a weapon.
And when she saw it, she realized it was not a weapon at all. It was the mouse. The thing must have found it in the crawlspace. If she could wiggle her left arm free, she could grab it, and maybe, just maybe drive it’s face into his eye or something, giving her enough time to escape his deadly grasp. Ushering what little strength remained within her, she managed to free her arm and she went for it, but six inches before she could even reach the mouse, his much larger hand grabbed her by the wrist and held her arm there, incidentally knocking the mouse further away, causing it to roll right-side up.
The mouse had a chip in it’s back, just above the tail, assumably forming when it had fallen onto the tile, and Kelly’s already wide eyes grew wider still. Even in the low light, she could see the unmistakable strands of hair where it had cracked open.
Kelly’s senses rapidly began to fade, and as she slipped into unconsciousness, her discovery of the secrets the mouse revealed the last thought she would ever have. Long after she was still, the big man kept his grip firm around her neck, the dead girl’s wide eyes remaining transfixed on the mouse.
The massive, calloused hand gently scooped up the mouse and held it in the palm of his hand, staring at it with equal awe and respect as Melinda had earlier that day, tenderly rubbing the crack with his finger. After a long moment of doing so, he carefully placed the fine specimen in his pocket.
In the following hours, throughout apartment 123 and 121, if either had a tenant, mysterious noises could be heard between bouts of hollowing wind. In the walls behind the kitchen of 123, the sounds of something dragging across wood, the creaking of a door behind the hatchway that was once again covered as it had been before, and the noise of someone heavy ascending a staircase. And amongst sounds produced by the rattling of windows caused by heavy winds and the creaking of pipes, one could also hear the sounds from a room that hadn’t been heard in many long years.
*Two Months Later*
Richard Jones stepped off the treadmill and sat on the bench in the corner of the room, fetching his his towel, wiping the sweat from his brow. He’d only been here for a few days, but the exercise room was something he was certainly going to get used to.
Richard bent down next to the statue in the exercise room. It was of a young woman in a sweatsuit doing a torso stretch, with one hand behind her back, the other stretched across her body, and one leg bent up over the other, which lay flat. He studied the face, and the very detailed clothing the life-like statue was wearing. Though the girl was pretty, the statue gave him the heebie-jeebies.
He supposed he was going to have to get used to it if he was going to be sharing the room with her every time he came to exercise, but if it were up to him, he’d throw every last one of the damn things in the dumpster.
Richard threw the towel over his shoulder, grabbed his gym bag, and headed back to apartment 123.
Credit To – P. R. Harving
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