I first got in contact with Jack, my former landlord, a little over a year ago when I answered his newspaper ad. I was in a rush to move out as I had just broken up with my significant other, whom I shared an apartment with, and Jack was renting out the furnished basement of his house. The location was good and the price was a steal, and I moved in with a few boxes of personal items four days later.
The house was old and the floors were creaky – Jack was the eternal bachelor, interested in nothing but cars, certainly not interior decorating or hardly even basic upkeep for that matter – and when he got up to go to work at 5 A.M. he would often wake me up, since I am a very light sleeper. However, as the months passed by I got accustomed to waking up early.
I cannot tell you the exact moment I realized that something wasn’t right.
Over a number of days, a thought slowly crept into my conscious mind and settled; I hadn’t heard very much noise from upstairs lately. There was the occasional creak or bang, like in all older houses, but the heavy footsteps that I woke up to and sometimes heard during the evening had seemed to disappear completely. Perhaps Jack was sick, I thought. Perhaps he hadn’t worked in a few days, perhaps he worked different hours. The man was a real loner and kept to himself, so it honestly didn’t seem strange to me. I only really talked to him when I went upstairs to give him his rent money on the first of every month. He was never unfriendly or rude, but short with me, didn’t have much to say.
I looked out the window and saw that the light was on in the garage. The blinds were closed, but someone was moving around in there. Jack must be working on his car. I felt relieved. His car was his baby – a powerhouse customized from scratch in the body of a 1930′s Ford. He’d shown it to me once. It was still just barely drivable but had already won prizes. He spent all his free time working on it.
The last couple of days the truck that he drove to work had been sitting in the driveway when I left in the morning, but the following day it was gone. That same evening, the new noises started.
It was around 5 P.M. I was on my computer, when from upstairs I heard what could only be described as shuffling. Like something covered in cloth was being dragged across the floor in short bursts. Then the sound of something heavy, like a big dresser, being moved. More shuffling. I heard the phone ring multiple times, but nobody picked up. A few minutes later, I could hear Jack slam the front door shut and walk towards the garage. As he passed by my window, I looked outside.
Now, I have to say that Jack was not a man who cared a great deal about the way he looked – his hair was grey and disheveled, his clothes often had holes and oil stains and I had never seen him even remotely close to clean shaven – but this, this was different. There was something unnerving about his gait, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong. Arms hanging at his sides, he was looking up into the sky. I couldn’t see his face, but for a moment it looked like his mouth was wide, wide open… was that his tongue bulging out, swollen and black? No, of course not, it couldn’t be…
I closed the curtains and locked my door. Never before had Jack frightened me.
That night, I woke up from screaming upstairs. Not frightened screams, or calls for help, but angry. A man’s voice, loud, shouting in rage. I couldn’t make out any words. Was it Jack? I stumbled out of bed and fumbled around in the dark for my clothes. Not really knowing what to expect, I looked around for something to defend myself with, and grabbed a knife from the kitchen. With shaking hands I called the police on my cell, ran upstairs and beat my fist against the door.
There was no answer. The house was dark and silent. Jack’s truck was there in the driveway, cold, sleeping. After a little while a police patrol drove by, and I talked to the officers briefly in the driveway, but they left after looking around outside and not finding anything out of the ordinary. Useless cops. So useless. I turned around, and the house loomed in front of me like only houses in the dark can. I thought I saw movement behind a curtain.
After an hour or so I crawled back into bed. I did not sleep. I just laid there, quiet as a mouse in the dark with my covers up to my eyeballs, listening for any noise or movement upstairs.
There was only silence.
Thankfully, I was not scheduled to work the next day. It was late summer and a lovely day, but I was afraid to go outside. I did not hear Jack all day – however, the phone rang multiple times. Nobody picked up. I spent the day with millions of thoughts running through my head, jumping at every little sound the house produced, kitchen knife never out of reach. Had there been a knock on my door that day I would probably have suffered a fatal heart attack.
Nightfall brought a sense of despair. I did not see anyone walking by my window that evening, but through my curtains I saw the lights come on in the garage. I started to wonder whether I was losing my mind.
Sleep came late, and when it did, it was filled with terrible dreams. It was one of those long nightmares that you never really seem to be able to get out of. In my dream, Jack was standing by my bed, looking down at me. I remember his face – foreign, cold, filling me with a deep feeling of dread. And then, something had roused me from my sleep. I looked up and that lingering feeling of dread escalated into paralysing fear, violently wedging an icy spear into my spine – because for a few terrifying seconds Jack was right there, mouth open so impossibly wide, like a ghostly image burned into my retinas from looking into bright light. I screamed, and the vision faded away. Just then, as if something upstairs had heard me scream, a response came in the form of a heavy thump. Something rolled across the floor. I think I cried.
Looking back, I think that was the turning point for me. Everything about this was so, so wrong and I couldn’t continue letting this happen, whatever it was. I needed to not be scared anymore. This needed to end. When dawn finally came after what seemed like an eternity, I looked outside and felt my heart skip a beat when I saw something moving around in the lit garage. This was it. It had to happen now. I needed to know the truth. I grabbed my trusty kitchen knife and climbed out my bedroom window, which was not visible from the garage.
Crouching, I sneaked around to the front door and held my breath as I turned the smudged brass knob. It wouldn’t budge – the door was locked. Is it possible to be both relieved and disappointed at once? My sweaty hand tightened around the handle of the knife as I went around the side of the house. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins, eyes in the back of my head like a startled deer. Please-don’t-let-him-see-me-please-don’t-let-him-see-me.
The kitchen window was open. It was open… I still remember every terrible detail so clearly. After picking together the last bits of courage I could muster, I stood up and looked inside. The fluorescent light over the sink was on. I could see that the refrigerator door was slightly ajar.
Then… The smell. That awful, disgusting stench, wafting out through that window slit. And there, on the floor, next to the broken dishes… God help me.
I did not go back inside. I didn’t stay. I drove away, and I called the police from my car. I did not want to gamble on that thing, whatever it was, staying put in the garage until the police arrived. I drove until I was too tired to drive any further, then I pulled in on a side road and slept.
I never went back to the house.
A few days later, I found the article in the local newspaper. It stated that a 58-year old man had been found dead in his home on 112th and Dunsmuir. Cause of death was unknown. An autopsy was going to be performed. Foul play had been ruled out, however. The coroner estimated that the man had been dead for about three weeks before he was found by his tenant. It also spoke of some unusual findings around the property, especially in the unattached garage, but I did not read any further.
The worst part is, sometimes when I wake up I can still see Jack standing beside my bed, draped like a blanket over something far more dark and sinister.