It’s story time again here in the abattoir. Today’s short story originally ran on Great Hites. Philip is a co-editor at Flying Island Press and is an awesome creator and story teller.
This is another example of the sort of story we’ll be looking for. Enjoy it and please drop Philip a comment!
Jason held his own flashlight in one hand and ran his other over the uneven masonry. “I don’t know. And they didn’t do a very good job either. Look at these bricks compared to the walls in the stairwell, they’re not straight at all.”
Kevin stepped up close and shined his light into a gap between two of the poorly lain bricks. “It looks like whoever put the bricks here didn’t really know what they were doing.”
Kevin peered over the top of his flashlight, and tried to see through the small space between the bricks. The weak beam of light was quickly consumed by the thick blackness beyond the wall. After considering the wall for a long moment, he said, “but what’s weirder, is I’ve been on the 23rd floor before. My cousins girlfriend lives in 2318. I was over there just last week, and I’ve never seen this brick wall. This should be just two apartments away from her front door.”
Jason shined his flashlight on the stenciled number on the door. The faded white paint was barely visible in the beam of their flashlights, yet, it was undeniably 23.
“I know. Lets go up a floor and take the elevator back down to this one. We can come back and check this wall from the other side,” Jason suggested.
They leapt up the stairs, two at a time. They kicked up small clouds of dust with each step that eddied and drifted away in the wake of the boys rapid climb. Virtually abandoned since upgraded elevators were installed fifty years before, the stairwell remained ignored and unused. The emergency light above the door on each landing was dark on every floor they reached in the climb from Kevin’s apartment on the tenth floor. They had only the light from their flashlights and the dim glow from a small skylight, another dozen floors above, to light their way and note each faded, stenciled number on the doors they had passed.
They burst through the door marked 24 and raced down the hallway toward the elevator at the other end.
Half way down the passage Kevin shouted, “Jason, wait.”
Jason stopped and walked the few feet back to Kevin, where he stood, clearly confused, looking at an apartment door.
“What’s up,” he asked Kevin?
“Look at the apartment number, Jase,” Kevin said. “2310. The number on the door out there,” he said and jerked his thumb toward the fire exit, “is 24. According to the the apartment numbers, in here, we’re on the 23rd floor, now.”
Kevin turned and retraced his steps four apartments back along the faded maroon carpet toward the stairwell. “Twenty-three-eighteen,” he said with a funny half-smile, and one eyebrow raised at his friend. “This is Cindy’s apartment, like I said.”
He knocked three times on the drab, grey door. The hollow door boomed like a cannon as Kevin rapped with his knuckles.
In a moment the peephole darkened as someone inside viewed the two boys. The door opened and a slender teen age girl smiled and stepped into the hallway. She wore a loose, pink, button-down shirt that came to mid thigh on her knee length white capris pants.
“Kevin, what are you doing here? Is Will with you?” She asked and looked up and down the hallway.
“No, Cindy, Will’s not here. We were just coming up the stairway and ended up on your floor,” Kevin said, when Cindy cut him off.
“The stairway,” she said and wrinkled her nose in an adorable way. Her shoulder length golden curls bounced as she shook her head and Kevin knew what his cousin saw in this girl. She was about the prettiest girl he had ever met, but she was always kind and approachable.
“No one ever uses the stairway. What were you doing in there?” she asked.
“Oh, we were bored, and went exploring. We came all the way up from my floor,” Kevin said and wiped sweat from his forehead for emphasis. “But that’s not really what’s important. Have you never been in the stairway?”
“The stairway?” she asked. “No way. Dad said we should use the fire escape outside my window, if there was ever an emergency.”
“Cindy,” Kevin asked, an idea dawning, “can we go down your fire escape?”
“I guess so. Come on.” Cindy shrugged, waved them into the apartment, and asked, “why, what’s up?”
They walked through the small living room and down the hallway to her bedroom. Jason asked, as they reached her door, “do you ever hear people from the floor below you?”
Cindy stopped so abruptly the two boys ran into her.
Even as the color drained from her face, Kevin thought how beautiful Cindy was. A worried expression creased her brow. “Yeah,” she said, “once in a while I hear a child crying. She cries kind of loud, like her parents are ignoring her, and she’s locked in her room. It goes on for an hour or more, late at night. In the morning I’ve asked my parents if they heard her, but they act like I’m being silly. ‘You can’t hear through these floors, they’re five feet thick.’” She ended with a low-voiced imitation of her father.
They crossed the small but neatly arranged bedroom and pushed up on the spring loaded wooden frame. The window raised without difficulty. They climbed through, onto the fire escape and rumbled down the heavy, clanking stairs to the next floor down.
The three teens gathered around a window. They cupped hands around their eyes to visor out the sunlight and peered into the dark glass.
“I can’t see anything,” Jason said, “not even curtains, or blinds.”
Kevin shined his light into the window, the beam reflected back. “It’s painted black on the inside.”
Jason fished the flashlight out of the cargo pocket in his army surplus fatigues and shined it in each of the other windows within reach of the fire escape landing. “No luck,” he said, “these ones are all painted, too.”
“What’s going on,” Cindy asked, clearly shaken. “Why would someone paint their windows black?”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” Kevin said and pushed up on the window. If moved a fraction of an inch, but stopped.
“Hey,” Cindy said, “you can’t just climb in someone’s window, and besides, it’s locked. You’re not going to break it are you?”
Kevin fished through his wallet.
“Cindy,” he said, “this floor, right here, is the 23rd floor. Jason and I counted as we climbed the stairs. The door from the stairway on this level has a big ‘23’ painted on it. The door to your floor says 24. When we opened the door to 23 we found the hallway all bricked up. You can’t go in. So the elevator must skip this floor when you go from 22 to 23. The windows are painted over. Something’s hidden in there.”
He pulled his student body card from his wallet and said, “if the lock on this window is anything like mine, it’s not hard to open.
Kevin slipped the card through the gap under the window near one edge and slid the card along sideways. Almost halfway the card contacted something. Kevin smiled and withdrew the card a half an inch, slid it an inch further along and then pushed it forward again. There was a click. Kevin withdrew the card and returned it to his wallet.
Jason stepped up to help Kevin push upward on the window.
Silently and effortlessly, the window slid up.
A door slammed somewhere inside the apartment, though it sounded muffled by distance. Close by, a rapid, wet, thump-slap, thump-slap sound came as something hurried from the room.
The three teens were assaulted by the overwhelming reek of rot and putrescence.
“Ahhh,” Cindy gasped and turned away to pant rapidly. Kevin was only able to control his gorge by sheer force of will, while Jason wasn’t so successful and vomited over the edge of the fire escape.
Kevin’s head swam but he had to know what was so important that an entire floor was sealed off and hidden from the thousands of residents that lived right around it in the apartment building. He buried his nose in the crook of his arm to filter the noxious odor, and shined the beam of his flashlight into the room. In size and shape it was very similar to Cindy’s room one floor above. The walls of the room were black and shined as if wet with new blood. They seemed to pulse and flow, like the walls themselves exuded and oozed with ebony ichor.
A child’s crib stood, solitary, in the otherwise empty room, its wooden slats like charred firewood. In it stood the desiccated, blackened body of an infant, its empty eye sockets a silent appeal as the flashlight beam crossed its tiny jaws, frozen open in an eternal scream.
Kevin fell backwards onto the expanded steel of the fire escape. The flashlight slipped from his hand and skittered across and off the edge. He gasped and shuddered as he swayed, trying to regain his feet.
He was gibbered, “I dunno, I dunno, what the, what the, what the…”
Jason and Cindy helped him to his feet, and supported him under his arms as he stumbled precariously about the landing. No sooner had he found his balance that he lurched for the open window and reached inside and up to flip the latch. With both hands he slammed the window shut with all his strength.
Several cracks bloomed up and to the sides of the black glass. Three black, oily finger prints remained on the window from the hand he used to flip the latch. He stared at the rancid oily ink on his finger tips, unable to move, to wipe it off. He grasped the wrist of the offensive hand with the other and squeezed it as if to strangle a small rabid animal. He held it in front of his face and stared at the fingers like they were unimaginable, horrifying, foreign objects.
“Come on,” he heard Cindy urge as he slowly roused from the stasis. “I have something in my bathroom that should take that stuff off.”
Jason stabilized his wavering friend as Cindy lead Kevin carefully back up the narrow ladder to her own floor. He flinched when Cindy raised the window to her bedroom and urged him through.
“The baby,” he moaned and turned to flee back down the fire escape until he remembered the floor below.
Once Kevin was eventually coaxed back into the apartment, he sat at Cindy’s vanity and stared blankly into the mirror. Cindy scrubbed at his fingers with make up remover and made small talk, though her tone was stressed and her words stilted. Slowly the stains on his fingers began to fade.
Jason, who had remained silent since helping his friend into the bathroom, gave a frustrated sigh and said, “Kevin, you look awful. What did you see in that room?”
Even as he began to form his reply, something black closed off inside Kevin’s head. “I don’t know, Jase,” he said. “I don’t know.”
picture courtesy of Leo Reynolds