The most worrying part of the whole experience was that this isn’t something that happened in a strange place. It wasn’t too dark outside; it certainly wasn’t cold. Everything was normal, ALMOST everything…
Our flat in East London was surprisingly big, given our budget and the reputation of the area. Whilst I was skeptical of living in the so-called ‘Big-Smoke,’ our neighborhood felt more secluded, a smaller community within the confines of the city. It gave it a quieter feel. My two other housemates and I got along well. We kept similar schedules and, as avid cooks, shared meals in the evenings. It felt more homely and more ‘adult’ than the other places I’d been, where most evenings had consisted of drinking and video games in a messy house with way too many takeaways. In the new flat we ate healthily, we were active, and everyone was genuinely happy.
The Covid restrictions were beginning to lift, and now we could travel around the country. Both of my housemates, taking advantage of the lessened restrictions, had gone to their respective homes. I’d been left on my own at the flat for a week. I just so happened to have the week off work, too, as I was in the process of transitioning from leaving one job and starting another. I relished the silence for the first couple of days. I could kick back, watch films the others thought were too goofy and have some much-needed quiet personal time, something that’s hard to come by in a big city, especially when living with housemates.
By day three, I realised I was spiraling a bit, the food I was eating was unhealthy, and I was drinking a lot, telling myself it was to have fun before I got into a routine with the new job. By day four, I’d decided to have a break. I went for a small run, cooked something tasty but healthy and decided to call it an early night. It would be great to wake up without a hangover. That, however, was the first blisteringly hot night. It had been hot; the summer in London always is, but this was different. I was sweating even without the duvet, and by about midnight, having not managed a wink of sleep, I decided to sit in a luke-warm bath and cool myself down. My legs and upper arms were itchy, presumably irritated from constantly sweating over the last few days.
Making a last-minute decision to pour a large glass of wine to take into the bath, under the pretense it would help me sleep better, I settled into the cool water. The light in the bathroom had stopped working, it wasn’t a simple bulb change, the actual switch had broken, and I was still waiting on the landlord to send over an electrician. With my glass of red, and the bathroom door open to let in light from the hallway, I soaked in the cold tub, a desperate attempt to cool down whilst agonizingly trying to resist scratching my legs and arms.
I couldn’t tell you the time that had passed, but I do know that I was around two-thirds of the glass in when I caught a glimpse of something in the doorway. It seemed to disappear at the exact speed my reaction from fright had caused me to turn my head. “A trick of the eye”, I exclaimed out loud, giggling at the old English accent I’d put on. By now, the wine was taking hold. However, this silliness was more of a conscious decision to deal with my unease. Especially as that the figure had seemed small and just poking around the side of the doorway. It was only a few feet high, about the height of the door handle, almost too subtle to be a trick of the mind.
It was at my next large gulp of wine that I heard a light patter down the hall, this had caused me to sit bolt up, and when the lapping of the water stopped, I sat in dead silence listening. I was desperately trying to think of a source of the noise. We had people living in the flat above us, and they tended to stomp at times of the day. It was a Thursday night, and there was always the possibility that one of them was still up, if not on their way to the bathroom. Yes, I told myself, they were barefoot and getting out of bed, that’s why it was patter on the laminated wooden floor, “that’s what I heard!” I thought loudly.
The unease had taken its toll, however, and the bath was starting to cool. I hopped out and got back into bed, dry, hoping I’d done enough to hold off the blistering heat. A loud banging woke me violently, for me only to realise it was about seven in the morning on a Friday. The banging suddenly stopped, so I put it down to road works outside or the guys who were supposedly working on a leak in the flat next door. We’d gotten a complaint from the shop owner below us who had water coming through his roof. Luckily, we weren’t the culprits.
Despite the daylight and bustle on the pedestrianized street outside, the morning was odd to me. I couldn’t shake the unease. My morning bagel burned violently in the toaster, and I saw that it was set to ‘Max’, not ‘Medium’ where it usually was. The second issue was the fridge. It was turned up, so a large Ice block had formed at the back, engulfing the vegan Yogurt and jar of mayonnaise at the back. Surely, it couldn’t have frozen that quickly?
A short walk in the park nearby brought back memories of the night before. A child darted behind a tree to grab her football launched by her brother. I couldn’t help but see the similarities. Her disappearing behind the tree looked just like the figure behind the doorway the night before. Anyway, it was Friday which meant I had a viable excuse to get a case of beers, fire up the Playstation and get blind drunk. A bonus was that I would face no judgement from my active housemates, who hadn’t come around to the fact that video games are unbelievably enjoyable.
Perhaps it was the effect of my new, more wholesome lifestyle, but only a few hours into the evening, I was bored. No games or movies seemed to interest me, so I got cracking on the cans of beer, watching goofy shows, trying to get enjoyment out of it all. I was painfully aware of the use of alcohol for fun when one is alone. “Now wasn’t the time for that kind of thinking”, I told myself. Settling in for another night of drunken slumber and trying not to let in the feeling of a wasted evening, I was reminded of the soothing cold bath. “What the hell” I exclaimed as I breathlessly arose from the couch, “I’m gonna have a bath.” This time I closed the bathroom door, using my phone torch to chase the darkness into only the corners of the room. The last beer from the case next to me, I let the cold water work its magic on my hot skin and sauntered off into a doze.
I jolted awake as a colossal shadow engulfed the light above me, waves of shadows moving so quickly that it was over in half a second. I immediately turned in pure terror towards the light and subsequent source of the shadows, and there, there was nothing. I glanced around with an erratic heart rate, taking note of the corners where the light did not reach but still nothing. Then, to my relief, I caught sight of a mosquito. “Of course,” I thought, “the bug had crossed over the phone light, hence the large, strangely shaped shadow above me.” I chuckled, and realised it must have been late, for the beer in my hand was warm and the bath icy cold. However, the relief was quickly drowned out by the sound of a ‘patter patter patter’ in the hallway outside, and I felt that familiar sense of unease when I thought I saw a glimpse of movement in the hallway, in the light shining in below the bathroom door.
“Jesus mate”, I exclaimed to myself, get it together, you’re a grown man… I saw the irony of that statement whilst sitting cross-legged and shivering in a cold bath. I reached for my towel, knocking my phone over in the process and, adhering to Murphy’s law, like buttered toast, it fell light side down, and I was plunged into darkness. Reaching out my hand, I felt around on the floor, reaching for the crimson glow of the light coming through my red phone case and at that moment, I felt something I’ll never forget. It was like damp, warm fur, slightly warmer than skin temperature. It made me yank my hand back in terror. I jumped up fearing whatever it was, my mind ran from Rat to Dog and everything in between, still seeing the Crimson glow of my phone light, I reached for it as fast as I could avoiding the floor at all costs, and as I grabbed the phone, the light illuminated the dark green bathroom floor. It leapt up the walls to engulf the pale yellow painted room in white light. I glanced around manically, nothing. Not a single thing on the floor, not even a bathmat.
“Fuck me…” I thought, “that was terrifying,” I could still hear my heart rate as I walked into the bedroom wrapped in the towel. Just as my heartbeat felt like it was getting back to normal, I heard it. A faint giggle just behind me, only a metre or two, exactly where lay the open door of the darkness-ridden bathroom, I’ve always fancied myself as someone who reacts quick, someone who would charge at the threat or run in a split-second decision, but today I just stood there, I froze. I can’t tell what made me stop. It was as if I was statued in place. I couldn’t move at all. First, I focused on the sound, but before I could even try to guess its origin, I began to notice everything else, the hairs on my neck standing and the towel that had dropped to the floor. There was the realization that I was paralyzingly exposed and likely not alone…
There it was again, a giggle, starting faint, suddenly getting loud and then faint again, as if someone was running in and out of the room, but no other noise, no footsteps, not breathing, just the light-hearted, low pitched giggle. Regaining my senses and speedily turning, I was just in time to catch a glimpse of the exact figure from the night before. It was the height of the door handle and disappearing into the bathroom as my head turned. Only this time, I saw her hair, and her eyes… dull, faint, and dead.
My reflexes took hold, and I leapt into the bedroom, the furthest place from the entrance to the dark bathroom, slamming the door behind me. “What the Fuck, What the Fuck, What the Fuck” played in my mind… For some reason, my first reaction in the bedroom was to get changed. I can’t explain it, perhaps I just felt too exposed, but I just scrambled for shorts and a shirt. I guess it was the fear of exposure… In the seconds I’d gotten dressed, I realised my phone was still outside, having dropped with my towel. Fearing being cut off, I immediately ran for the door. I needed to get to it. At that moment, my foot landed on a discarded sock on the bedroom floor, it slipped out from under me and then darkness…
I awoke to excruciating pain in my head and a familiar scratching sound of keys in a lock from outside, the direction of our front door. As the keys finally worked their magic, there came a familiar voice from the hallway, “Bloody hell, there’s water all over the floor.” It was my landlord. I scrambled to my feet, avoiding the flash of sunlight coming in through the window, which my eyes were unbelievably sensitive to. I opened the door, ready to mumble an apology when he looked at me with shock on his face, “who the hell hit you? And how bad does the other guy look!”, “what?” I said, finally catching my reflection in the mirror. I saw the purple bruise along half my face from when I’d fallen the night before… “Oh, I… I fell” I fumbled the words out, trying to be as casual as possible.
Quick thinking allowed me to follow on with the sentence, “I uhh, I fell in the shower, that’s why there’s all the water on the floor” he looked at me puzzled. I suddenly remembered the leak, “I’m sorry, man, really sorry! It hasn’t affected downstairs, has it?” He mulled it over, “Nah, you’re all good, mate, but the last thing I need is another leak… and another bloody injury in this bathroom, Jesus, it’s like it’s cursed…”
It took me ages to register his words, “Wait… what? What do you mean, another injury?” He looked at me with slight regret on his face. “Oh, umm, the uhh… the last tenants had problems with the bathroom. Similar electrical issues, lights always going off and playing tricks on them, they kind of just up and left one day… Kept saying the flat had something wrong… Or that there were issues with the dark” He looked at me with a pause, “I’m sure a dodgy switch won’t scare you away, ey?” he chuckled. “Anyway, the electrician is over in a sec, and we’ll get this thing sorted in no time, wanna give me a hand with the mop?” I was so slow to register, it must have been the knockout, but as his words sunk in, the dread washed over me. It wasn’t a dream.
It’s now Saturday afternoon, the sun is beginning to set, the electrician and the landlord have gone, they haven’t been able to fix the switch, and it’s just me here. What the hell do I do? I’m terrified.
Credit : Ryan Forrest
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