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The Midnight Guest

the midnight guest


Estimated reading time — 16 minutes

The apartment building is quite old. Originally there were two buildings built in the late 80s, both perched above the steep bluff of a small river which runs right through the center of the city like a mini fjord and ends up in a bay in the North. Both were permanently abandoned in the mid 90s when a political riot erupted during which many people lost their lives, including those who died when one of the twin buildings caught fire. It happened in the middle of the night during which many of the tenants were already asleep, unaware of the danger. The other one left intact then dubbed the Green River apartment by the locals who still remembered the fire incident, was repurchased, renovated and turned into a modern regular resident in the early 2010s.

Evan had been looking for a small, comfy and affordable place for himself when his father found an ad in the local newspaper. It didn’t take him long to make up his mind and his father had agreed to help him with the down payment. During his first weeks living there, he got to befriend some of his neighbors; the quiet pale-looking German guy across from him and the married couple with a teenage boy next door. The German guy mostly kept to himself. The family next door were friendlier and they had become quite well acquainted with one another that they sometimes had a long conversation in the corridor while their son played with Evan’s dog, Pedro.

One night around 2 am, he was awakened abruptly by the muffled sound of someone knocking in the corridor. It was coming from the other end of the corridor which opened to a small balcony overlooking the river. It was not loud enough to awaken the whole floor, but really persistent as if whoever it was was keen on being let inside. They kept knocking all night and then quieted down after a while.

It was only when the morning came that he was informed of the origin of the mysterious knocking by his friendly neighbors. He ran into the husband and their son at the top of the stairs. He was a portly man in his late 30s with an ever-present friendly grin on his red face. His son looked exactly like a slimmer and younger version of himself. They both had curly fiery red hair.

“The elevator acting up again?” he asked Evan with a grin.

“Yeah. Bummer!”

“Thought so.”

“Someone was having a good laugh last night, don’t you think?” Evan remarked, shaking his head.

The man frowned at him.

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“Didn’t you hear the knocking? Were they drunk or what?” asked Evan again.

Suddenly the man looked pale as if Evan had just said something that bothered him immensely.

“Oh goodness. I forgot to tell you. Jo would kill me if … oh never mind. She told me to talk to you about this as soon as you’re settled.” He narrowed his eyes at his son. “Keep your mouth shut, okay son?”

“Told me what?” Evan stared at him in confusion.

“There hadn’t been new tenants for months when you moved in. So it’s understandable that I forgot.”

“Man, what is it? What did you want to tell me?”

He motioned for his son to leave then took a deep breath before he managed to pull himself together.

“There’s an unspoken rule here in this building among the old tenants. If you hear a knock at your door after midnight, don’t open it, ever. Ignore it. The rule includes no talking to it or acknowledging its presence. It will eventually move on to the other doors. Sometimes it would stay longer on one door, sometimes it would only knock once or twice before moving on. Sometimes it would come earlier too. But everyone knows the rule. Don’t open the door!”

It was Evan’s turn to frown at him now.

“Why not? And who is it? What do they want?”

He motioned for Evan to lower his voice and looked around nervously as if wanting to make sure that nobody was within earshot.

“We don’t talk about it. We moved here about ten years ago. Caleb was still a baby then. And the old woman across from us, she already moved out to live with her son last year, well she told us about the rule and the tragedy that happened years ago.”

“Oh the fire, yes. I know about that.” Evan told him, still unsure where he was going with his story.

“You know, the other building, the one that caught fire, it was demolished shortly afterwards and the place where it once stood is now the parking lot. The lady also told us that the people who lived in this building back then started to experience strange things a few weeks after that. Disembodied voices asking for help in the middle of the night, and people smelling what they described as burning flesh. And then the knocking started and it drove everyone insane. It didn’t happen like every night, but whenever it did, they knew not to open the door. It happens less and less frequently these days so yeah, kinda hard to believe it.”

“Are you telling me that this building is haunted and shit?” Evan looked at him in disbelief. “By the spirits of those who perished in the fire?”

“That’s what they believed.” He shrugged.

“What if it’s just a prank? Some stupid kids trying to mess with you?”

The man sighed and shook his head impatiently.

“They did think of that possibility. They had already checked the security cameras and found nothing. Nobody was wandering the corridor when it happened. It was empty.”

“How can you tell if it’s not just … maybe a friend or a family member wanting to see you?”

“In the middle of the night?”

“You said it shows up early sometimes? Like how early? Seven? Nine? So how can you tell?” Evan demanded, still feeling skeptical.

He clenched his jaw a little while looking Evan dead in the eye.

“You’ll know. You’ll hear,” he replied mysteriously.

“Have any of you ever opened the door to see who or what it was?”

“Yes.”

“Who? What happened?”

He opened his mouth and paused, glancing out the window toward the parking lot which looked almost deserted with only a handful of cars soaking up the morning sun in it.

“Okay, Jo doesn’t want me to tell you this. But you need to know. Happened last year. It was shortly after midnight. I was about to fall asleep when I heard a blood-curdling scream coming from the new tenant next to us. The poor guy had just moved in a week before and nobody had bothered to warn him. Those fuckers! We would have, but we had been away visiting Jo’s parents in Denver. We found him kneeling on the floor in his doorway, shaking all over, sobbing like a little girl, his door wide open. We asked him what’s wrong but all he could say was that it was coming to get him and he’s going to die. He moved out the following morning, haven’t heard from him since.”

“It’s my apartment, wasn’t it?” Evan asked him.

He gave Evan a look that was meant to say that he was sorry and didn’t mean to scare him.

“Has anyone told the landlord about this?” Evan pressed him.

“Told him what? That a restless ghost is haunting the building?” He let out a mirthless laugh. “He wouldn’t even care if this whole building were infested by a herd of zombies, that old cow!”

“Well, you just told me that this building is haunted by some restless ghost and it’s been disturbing the peace …”

“Ghosts,” he corrected Evan. “Listen, man. You don’t believe it, fine. But don’t you start pulling a Sherlock on it now. Ignore it if you ever hear it. Whatever it is, it means more harm than good. Don’t invite it in. We like you very much. Well, especially Jo. You remind her of her younger brother who died in an accident many years ago. You look just like him. You know, lanky, a bit awkward, dark curly hair. We like having you as our neighbor.” He patted Evan on the shoulder. “Gotta go, now. Jo’s waiting.”

And just like that he started walking down the corridor to his apartment in unhurried fatherly strides, leaving Evan befuddled in his wake, not knowing what to make of what he had just told him. Evan decided to brush it off as people being paranoid due to living next to a ‘phantom building’ where many lives were lost.

Two days later Evan woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of his front door being knocked on lightly. This time, he could also hear heavy rugged breathing wheezing in and out as if whatever was making it were on the verge of dying. He didn’t get out of bed, or even so much as twitch, but listened intently. They knocked a few more times while whispering something that did not make any sense at all under their breath, then moved on to his neighbor, the friendly couple next door. They lingered there for a while, knocking slightly louder and more persistently while Evan was wondering if his neighbors were wide awake or asleep, unbothered by the mysterious midnight disturbance. The knocking had woken up his dog Pedro as well. His ears perked up while he glanced at the bedroom door as if sensing something outside. Evan stayed up until late in the morning listening to the knocking as it quieted down, feeling uneasy and apprehensive about the whole thing.

It took him about a month to finally settle down and get used to every corner in his new apartment. He loved his new bedroom. The window opens to an amazing view of the river below with willow trees and small patches of flowering bulbs lining up on its steep bluff. It was a cold and windy day, he had just gotten home, hungry and exhausted, but thrilled to have a few days-off off work to enjoy himself. He decided he might be up for a little post-work hook-up. All thoughts about the door to door haunting had already been forgotten.

He had just cleaned up the whole apartment and rearranged the furniture and was fiddling with his phone on Tinder in the living room with Pedro, when a notification blipped on the screen. Somebody matched with him. He tapped on it and the picture of a dark-haired girl with a freckled face popped out. She had that sort of look which made it tricky to guess her age. She looked like she was in her early 20s and late 30s all at the same time. On her profile it said she wasn’t looking for anything serious either but would let herself go with the flow if somebody piqued her interest. They exchanged numbers and chatted for a bit then he invited her over and she said yes. He was so excited that he hopped off the couch, heeled off his shoes and stormed into the shower immediately. It was twenty minutes past ten.

Exactly thirty five minutes later, he heard a light knock at the door. Mating call!

“Coming!” He tried to sound like he hadn’t been too excited waiting for her to arrive, just in case she decided that he was a loser (well in a way he was, a little) and booked it before they even met face to face. He rushed into the living room and down the narrow hallway leading to the front door, almost knocking down stacks of old thick magazines and newspapers piled up against the wall in his hurried state.

Then another knock was heard. It almost made him stop in his tracks. It sounded hollow and flat. For a split second, his neighbor’s warning from the other day flashed into his head, but he chose to ignore it. He was expecting a guest anyway. He swung the door open, trying not to grin like an idiot, and saw … nothing. The long corridor outside looked eerily empty and deserted. No pretty brunette standing in front of his door beaming up at him which he’d been imagining for the last few minutes. Well, that’s weird, he thought to himself, stepping out into the corridor. He left the door ajar behind him and walked towards the elevator. The digital display told him that the cars were still on the ground floor. Nobody had used the elevator. A gust of cold night breeze blew in through the open balcony and he began to shiver a little. It was more unpleasant than invigorating.

Who the heck had knocked at his door? A ghost? He felt chills which had nothing to do with the cold night air and shrugged it off. He was about to step back inside when he heard Pedro let out a shrill angry bark that he had never heard the dog make before from somewhere in the kitchen. Pedro barked again louder and whimpered, then Evan saw him poke his head out from behind the sofa in the living room as if checking if he was there with him. As soon as Pedro saw him, the dog instantly scampered across the hallway and ducked in between Evan’s legs.

“Hey, buddy. What’s wrong with you?” Evan picked the dog up and kicked the door shut behind him then walked back into the living room. “Nervous about our guest too, huh? Want some snacks?”

He grabbed Pedro’s empty Donald Duck plate from under his desk in the corner and filled it with the dog’s favorite meal, who sniffed it a little and then turned his head to look at Evan confused and started whimpering again.

“What? Please, buddy. Not now.”

Pedro scurried under the desk and let out a long sad howl which made Evan scratch his head in confusion. The dog seemed a bit on edge for some reasons and Evan had no idea what had caused it. He sighed and proceeded to crouch down on the floor and reach out to give Pedro a reassuring pat on the head, but to his surprise the dog bared his teeth at him as if not recognizing who he was.

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“Jesus, princess? What’s with the attitude? Been sniffing my shoe polish again, have we?” Evan shook his head at Pedro in disapproval. But the dog ignored him and kept glancing back and forth into the hallway and over Evan’s shoulder toward the kitchen.

“For God’s sake, Pepé. Are we going to do this all night?” Evan scolded him. “Go to your room! Now!”

Evan stood back up and narrowed his eyes at Pedro, who took a last glance into the kitchen, ducked out from under the desk and again, to Evan’s surprise, rounded the big table in the middle of the room, which took him a bit longer to get to the bedroom, instead of making it through the narrow space between the long sofa and the kitchen doorway.

Evan spent a few seconds staring into the enclosed darkness within the kitchen, feeling befuddled, and proceeded to make his way across the living room when somebody knocked on the door again for the second time that night. Having completely forgotten about his date plan, he shuffled quickly into the hallway ready to teach whoever it was a lesson they would never forget. He opened the door and to his surprise, found himself standing face to face with a dark-haired girl in a periwinkle sweater and jeans. He must have looked like he was about to murder someone because she raised her eyebrows quizzically at him and shrugged.

“Hi! I’m Julia!” she greeted him casually. “Changed your mind already?” she continued with a subtle hint of uncertainty mixed with humor. She did not sound like what he had expected. Her voice was deeper and a bit throaty for someone so petite and sweet-looking.

“Oh, no. No no. It’s uh … the kid next door was pulling a prank on me. Getting on my nerves really.” He explained himself and contorted his face into a friendly yet awkward smile at the speed of light, which he was pretty sure made him look like Bruce The Well-Meaning Shark from Finding Nemo. “I thought it was him knocking on my door again.”

“Oh you’re expecting another guest?” she asked again, amused.

“No. God, no. It’s not like that. Sometimes the kid next door loves to play pranks on the people who live in this building.” Evan rolled his eyes and she let out a really cute laugh which kind of reminded him of a sexy animé character from a TV show that he used to watch a lot growing up.

He opened the door wider to let her in but suddenly a loud growl, followed by a long guttural bark erupted through the hallway. Pedro was standing on the threshold of the bedroom, barking his head off. He arched his body and his hackles went up.

Evan sighed exasperatedly.

“Whoops! Looks like somebody isn’t too pleased to see me!” She sneered.

“Oh, it’s just my dog.” He hurried back into the living room, looking back and forth at her and Pedro. “Dunno what’s got into him. Been acting strange tonight. Come in. Please shut the door again.”

He stared at his dog in frustration, who stopped barking immediately and started to whimper as Evan clenched his mouth and gave him a scrutinizing look.

“What did I tell you about being a good boy when we have a guest over?” Evan fretted, shaking his head in disbelief. “Go to bed and don’t come out until I say so!”

Again, the dog let out a low whining noise but slowly retreated inside.

“I’m really sorry. I don’t k―”

He stared into the hallway and gasped in surprise. The front door was still open but Julia was nowhere to be seen.

“Hello? Julia?” He hurried back to the front door, feeling a bit hurt and confused. But she was gone. He looked around the now empty corridor and the metallic clanking and groaning of the elevator descending told him that it was no use chasing after her. He stepped back inside and kicked the door shut in frustration. She must have thought that he was one of those weirdos or reclusive perverts who spent most of their time talking to their dogs, and decided to book it at the last minute.

Evan stormed off into his room to find Pedro lying in bed looking up at him with those big brown eyes of his. He huffed and raised a finger to the dog’s face.

“That wasn’t nice, young man! Not nice at all!” He lowered his voice so Pedro knew that he was angry. “Of all the times and you’ve chosen to be a naughty boy now? When I was about to uh … I mean …”

Then somewhere in the hallway, several dull thuds echoed off the walls. Evan’s blood froze instantly. Somebody was in his apartment.

“Stay there!” He said to Pedro in a barely audible whisper. The dog just stood there on the bed in silence, as if understanding the magnitude of the situation they were in. Evan tiptoed into the living room, trying not to make any noise and alert the intruder. The living room was eerily silent and empty, devoid of any sign of trespassing. He stared into the darkened long hallway and saw the heavy stacks of magazines scattered on the floor, as if somebody had just knocked them off in their haste to get inside. But the door was still closed.

“Hello?” He called out hesitantly. He started to walk across the living room towards the magazines but then he felt a gust of air on his back as if somebody was darting past behind him. He yelped and instantly whirled around to see nothing. The kitchen was dark, a square-shaped mass of blackness engraved into the white wall.

His breathing grew louder as he walked slowly towards the dark opening, squinting his eyes to catch the slightest movement or outline of something hiding in there. Deciding to end this terror quickly once and for all, he stepped inside and lunged for the light switch in the far corner, already feeling creeped out, and right before he flicked it on, he sensed movement off to his right and then something cold and wet brushed against the tips of his fingers.

He gasped and cringed away in great terror as bright blinding light flooded the whole kitchen. He stood there bewildered, scanning the whole room, looking for anything out of the ordinary, his heart thumping in his chest, a chill running down his spine. What the hell? There would have been a little chance of not being seen in such a small room if somebody had been there, now wouldn’t there? But there he was, staring at the fridge and the stove suspiciously, questioning his own sanity as if he had only been imagining things.

Just then he heard a loud buzzing sound from behind him and he cursed at himself for being easily scared by practically anything. It was his phone which he had left on silent on his desk. He reached out to grab it and was surprised to see Julia’s name flashed across the screen. He picked it up, still feeling awkward about her abruptly leaving, but also confused and creeped out by what had just happened.

“Hi Evan, sorry I just left like that. But you didn’t tell me you’re that kind of person. You could have told me, you know?”

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He stared at his phone screen perplexed. What the heck was she talking about?

“Listen, if it’s the talking to my dog thing that threw you off, I 100% get that. But he’s family. So he gets to stay. There would be no working around it even if you had decided to stay tonight.” He explained himself, still feeling a bit embarrassed but trying to play it off.

“What?” She sounded confused. “No, you didn’t tell me that there’s someone else there with you in your apartment. I thought it was just gonna be the two of us, you know, having fun. Talking and stuff.”

“What the hell? If you hate dogs so much then I don’t think we can―”

“God. Stop talking to me like I’m retarded. So what? You and your friend are looking for a guest star to spice up your night a little bit?” she said in an accusing tone.

“Jesus! What are you on about? Is this a joke or something? You could have told me that I looked ugly in person. I’m fine with that. Not one of your typical lovey dovey pale green-eyed dudes, huh? You didn’t have to call me and pretend like you’re a saint or something and didn’t want to hurt my feelings and―”

“Come on now.” She let out a mirthless chuckle.

“I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”

Evan heard a loud bark and saw Pedro standing on the threshold of the bedroom looking up at him as if demanding to know who he was speaking with. Evan raised his index finger to motion for Pedro to be silent.

“Don’t play games with me now. It was that fucking ugly bitch standing behind the couch.”

“Are you drunk or something?”

“So you’re telling me that you live all by yourself? You’re all alone? I mean I know there’s your dog. But you don’t have a girlfriend or anybody else in your apartment now?” she said in a lower voice as if just realizing something.

“Of course not!”

“So who was that girl in your kitchen …”

“What girl?”

“The one wearing the dark sunglasses …” Her voice trailed off. He could only hear her raspy and heavy breath on the other line for a few seconds and then … “Oh my God … Oh my God, Evan.” He could hear her voice quivering as she spoke. “She … she wasn’t wearing sunglasses. Those … those were her eyes.”

“W-wwhat are you…”

“Get out! Get out of there, Evan! Get out of your apartment! Get the fuck out RIGHT now!”

Then Evan heard a sound that was almost inaudible. It was so faint but still distinguishable from anything else. The soft clicking sound of the light switch being pressed. All the hairs on his body stood on end as he turned his head slowly to glance into the kitchen, once again the entrance into the dark realm. This time, he could faintly make out the blurry and vague outline of a person standing eerily still in the corner next to the fridge, like it was only a part of the wall, blacker than the darkness it was in. An overwhelming smell suddenly filled the room, it was emanating from the kitchen, unmistakably the stench of burning flesh, followed by a deep, ragged breathing.

“Fuck it!” he yelled and immediately rushed into the hallway as fast as he could, grabbing a dazed Pedro with two hands, careful not to hurt the dog, who let out a surprised whine but Evan pulled him into his arms and threw the door open. Behind them he could hear the sound of heavy feet stomping hard and fast across the living room following them. He ran faster towards the stairs, not bothering to look over his shoulder or even to use the elevator. His apartment was on the 4th floor but he did not care. He didn’t stop until he arrived in the parking lot.

He’d been staying at his parents’ for two weeks now. He told them what had happened and they did not question him more. Last night, he was fast asleep in his old bedroom when he woke up to somebody knocking at the door. For a moment he just lay there staring at the door, shaking all over. It was already inside the house. It knew that he knew it was there. It was toying with him. It’s only a matter of time before it opened the door and let itself in.

It’s almost three in the morning now. He feared falling asleep. He was already on the cusp of passing out again only a few minutes ago. So he lit another cigarette to stave it off. He’s afraid that by opening his apartment door that night, he had invited something evil not only into his apartment, but also into his life.

He took a long drag on his cigar as another knock on the door echoed off the walls of his darkened room. He scrambled to a sitting position, eyes locked on the door, overwhelmed with numbing fear. His fight or flight instinct kicked in. He grabbed his father’s old golf club from under the bed and clutched it tight. It was the closest thing to a weapon he could use to protect himself.

Another knock. His breath wheezed in and out around the cigarette filter clamped between his teeth. He took a long final pull on it and blew smoke out through his nose. Then his bedroom door swung slowly ajar with a loud screech, revealing the darkened hallway behind it.

He quickly lit another cigarette and smoked it in quick inhalations until he felt light-headed. The door swung wide open and a charred hand protruded from the darkness. His own hands suddenly went limp at his sides and he fell asleep almost instantly.

He was already deep in slumber when the fire started.

Credit: Eoghan Ferguson

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