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Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
I’m a first year resident at the local hospital, so I often work long hours and I’m always sleep-deprived. I do make decent money, if not nearly as much as a licensed doctor, but on account of student loans I live in a crappy apartment.
The bedroom of this apartment is tiny and the only spot for my dresser is immediately to the right of the entrance. It’s just a bit too long for the space, so the door only opens halfway before it starts pressing against the corner of the dresser, and it makes an awful splintering noise when you’ve gone too far. This happened often enough my first month here that I’ve already left some big dimples in the wood. Outside, the bathroom is down the hall on the left, the living room to the right. The hallway is just wide enough for the bedroom door, with a couple of inches leeway on either side for the frame.
Why is this important?
About two weeks ago, the door to my bedroom moved. I’m not sure how else to describe it. I had just worked my second thirty-hour shift in three days, and on four hours of sleep I was getting up for another one. When I pulled open the bedroom door something struck me as off, and it took me a minute to realize what it was– the door had opened completely. I looked to see what had happened, discovering that while my dresser was still flush against both walls, there was an extra inch of space between the dresser and the door.
I shrugged, chalked it up to some fluke of the apartment walls, and proceeded down the hall to shower before heading into work. When I got home thirty hours later, exhausted and desperate for sleep, the door was pushing against the dresser same as always.
Nothing unusual happened for a couple of days, but on Thursday morning I was going out for another long shift when the door opened even wider. It looked like the doorway had shifted even farther left, far enough that I could see a half-inch of the hallway wall sticking out beyond the door frame. It was as though the contractor had miscalculated when he built the place, slightly displacing the doorway from the hall. An inch more and I’d have been able to see insulation and wiring.
I stared at that sliver of drywall for a few minutes, dumbfounded, while my mind tried to come up with some rational explanations. The building was old, settling, and this was just the result of natural wall tensions easing. This disjunction had been there this whole time, and I had been too busy or too tired to notice. I’d slept through an earthquake, during which my room got displaced a couple of inches from the hall. All of the explanations seemed plausible.
With work coming up in half an hour I really just wanted to get some coffee and get out of there, so I decided to call the super after I got off. However, when I got home the next morning the door was back to normal, and I was tired enough to not even care.
Everything was ordinary the next day, too.
On Saturday, I was headed to the hospital again when I found that although my door only opened halfway, grinding against the dresser as usual, the hallway itself had shifted a good foot. The entire wall and then some was clearly visible. To the left of the wall, where I should have been looking into my bathroom, there was this black, inch-wide gap. The light from my room only went a couple of inches into that shadowy space, but I could see a floor that looked to be made of concrete – smooth, featureless, and gray. This musty smell emanated from inside, like from an old, dry basement, or maybe an attic that had been left untouched for too long.
My first instinct was to just close the door. Clearly this was a hallucination brought on by working too many hours with too little sleep, but…the doorknob clattered against solid drywall. My door wouldn’t close.
Confused and more than a little disturbed, I initially thought to just leave. Get the hell out of there and worry about the details later. The need for a rational explanation, however, coupled with a morbid sense of curiosity, kept me from bolting out the front door.
I called out of work for the first time in almost a year, saying that a pipe had burst in my apartment and that I needed to let the repairmen in to fix it. Next, I called the super and asked him to come by. Then, while waiting for him to arrive, I shined a flashlight into that sliver of space.
There wasn’t much to see. The area ended at a cinderblock wall roughly where my hallway turned, and although I was blocked from seeing how far the room extended to the left, I got the impression that it was big, maybe bigger than my entire apartment. Even if I was wrong, though, the fact remained that there was a strange space where my bathroom was clearly supposed to be. I even looked to be sure – everything looked perfectly ordinary from my bathroom.
The super arrived less than half an hour later, but in the time it took for me to answer the door and escort him back to my room, everything had gone back to normal. As you can imagine, I got pretty agitated, even frantic. However, when the super saw how upset I was he actually asked me outright whether or not the walls seemed to be moving on their own.
While I gaped at him, he explained that the previous tenant – a young woman who had also worked at the hospital – had complained to him about something similar. She had claimed that the wall sometimes extended an inch or more past the frame of the doorway, but whenever he came to investigate nothing was out of the ordinary. The young woman eventually became hysterical, on the verge of moving out, but at his suggestion took a leave of absence from the hospital instead. After that, there had been no more complaints. She stayed until her lease was up and then left without incident.
The super gave me a sympathetic look after he told me this story, and asked whether I had been working particularly long hours recently, or perhaps also felt trapped by my work schedule.
I mean, what could I say to that? I agreed with him, informed him that I would be taking a break from work as well, and apologized for wasting his time. The super was cool about it, since I guess he had experience with this sort of thing, and even said that he was glad to help, that the hospitals work us residents too hard. After he left, I called work to let them know I’d be out tomorrow as well, and then decided to turn in early to make up for lost sleep.
It was nearly midnight when I awakened. I’d been dreaming about something – I don’t remember what it was, but it must have been a nightmare because I woke up with this sense of utter dread washing over me. It was like when you’re alone in the early hours of the morning, silence hanging over your room like a sheet, and out of nowhere you get the feeling that someone is in the room with you. Standing behind you. Watching you. That was the feeling I had upon waking up in the stillness of my bedroom at midnight.
And then I heard the scratching.
It was faint at first, so faint that I thought I was imagining it, but gradually grew in volume until it was clearly audible from across the room. Something was scratching at my bedroom door. That in itself shouldn’t have been so alarming – I’d had mouse troubles at the apartment before. I’d even heard them scratching at the walls at odd hours of the night. After the events of the previous days, however, the sound jolted me awake, that sense of dread deepening into real fear.
I slowly got out of bed and tiptoed toward my door. Up close, the sound was unmistakable – the scratching was coming from the bottom of the other side. Well, mouse or not, I reached over and, quietly as I could, locked the door. Then I grabbed the flashlight from the top drawer of my dresser, got onto my hands and knees, and shined it through the half-inch space underneath the door.
The scratching stopped almost immediately. Then something reached in through the bottom of the door. I was so startled that for a moment I didn’t even realize what it was, and then it felt like someone had punched me in the gut. Three fingertips curled against the bottom of my door frame, wriggling slightly as though trying to push the door open. The fingers were gray and skeletally thin, stained the rusty brown any medical student could tell you was dried blood. Their nails were long and ragged, clearly broken numerous times, with the splitting and pitting characteristic of malnutrition.
And then I heard something else coming from just outside, carried on that musty, dry-basement smell.
The voice was so soft as to be barely audible, but it was clearly a woman, and I could hear panic running through it, quiet sobs underneath the words. And then I could hear something else, a sound like soft footsteps approaching from somewhere far away. And all the while the voice continued whispering, never growing any louder but getting more urgent, more rapid.
“Help me…please, please, please help me…it’s coming…
Then the fingers vanished, as though whomever they belonged to had been violently jerked away. I could hear the sound of something being dragged along the ground, something scraping frantically against the concrete, but that noise quickly faded into the distance.
And then I heard the soft sound of footsteps approaching again. It stopped outside my door, and for a while there was only silence. Then, as I watched by the trembling light of my flashlight, the lock slowly began to turn. Somehow, it was being unlocked from the other side.
I jumped up and slammed my shoulder against the door, dropping the flashlight in my haste, and scrambled to lock the door again. Something resisted my frenzied attempts to turn that little dial, and my fingers were so sweaty that they kept slipping off. Before I finished turning the lock, the knob twisted in my grip and whatever was back there hit the door hard enough that the whole thing shuddered. Raw terror flooded my system, and I pushed back as hard as I could, my body leaned almost parallel to the ground even as I continued fumbling with the lock. Whatever it was hit the door again, harder this time, such that it actually opened for a split second. I was almost sobbing at this point, but my bare feet found purchase on the linoleum floor and I shoved back with all my strength, somehow slamming the door back closed. At the same time, my fingers were finally able to wrap themselves around the lock and turn it. Using the time that bought me, I ran to my dresser and dragged it in front of the door, then sat down with my back against it.
The pounding continued, even more strongly than before, but with my dresser in the way the door stayed closed. After a few minutes, it simply stopped, and there was another minute or two of silence before the soft sound of footsteps finally moved away. Still, I continued sitting in front of the dresser, back braced against it, too terrified to even think of opening the door or heading back to bed. The only window in my bedroom was too small to climb through, and I’d left my phone on the kitchen counter. There was nothing to do but sit and wait, which I did until the grayish light coming through my window announced the arrival of morning.
It took me a while to finally muster the courage to push the dresser aside, and even then I just stood there for a few minutes staring at the doorknob. In the end, the need to know overcame the fear of the unknown, and I pulled the door open just a crack. My hallway sat outside, same as always, with no sign that anything was unusual. Even the other side of the door was pristine, with no evidence that any violence had been directed toward it during the evening.
With the door halfway open, pressing against the dresser as usual, I slipped outside the bedroom and into the hallway, heart pounding even though I was already doubting my own mind. Could it all have been just a nightmare? Had I suffered a psychotic episode in the middle of the night, terrified of nothing more than a mouse scratching at my bedroom door? Did I spend the entire night camped out in front of my dresser on account of a hallucination?
As I stood there, doubting, I let my bedroom door close behind me, and my nostrils filled with that dusty basement smell.
I ran. I took off into the hallway, practically clawing against the wall as I dashed for the living room, and tore the front door open when I got there. Just before I launched myself outside, I heard the splintering noise of my bedroom door pressing against the back corner of my dresser.
It’s been over a week. I haven’t gone back – not for my things, my clothes, nothing. I’m crashing on a friend’s living room couch instead. He brings me takeout when he comes home from work. I extended my leave of absence from the hospital, citing a death in the family. I tried finding the woman that used to live in my apartment, the previous tenant that had also complained about the moving walls, but her address forwarding had long since expired. Searching for her by name turned up no results – not on any social networking site, nor search engine, nor people finder. The super didn’t know any of her friends or family. I even checked the FBI’s Missing Persons page, with no luck. I hope she’s out there somewhere, merely beyond my ability to find.
But I have nightmares every night, ones in which those emaciated fingers and soft, pleading voice reach out to me from a dark, endless space. Still, I insist that every door in the apartment stays open, because the last time I opened the front door, there was a tiny cross-section of wall exposed, as though the doorway had been displaced a half-inch from its usual spot.
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