Sometimes we get more than a good deal; terrifyingly good deals.
I was on my last year in college and had a massive art project to complete. It was the norm for us final year students to have our own space, whatever it might be, to get through this last lap.
My apartment was definitely out of the question because i shared it with three others. It’d be far too noisy and it just didn’t have the space i needed to think. Naturally i searched on the net and was pleased with a promising result; not so much time and work and i was pretty excited with this stroke of luck. I had some time on my hands so i told the guy i’d drop by the following evening.
The entire walk to the studio i kept my eyes peeled and ears open. I guess i was sizing up the location. I wanted to be sure i was walking into a genuinely good deal and not end up in a dump of a street. It seemed alright… quiet, hardly anyone around.
I went up to the landlord’s door and knocked. I heard some movement and the door was opened by a middle-aged man who had an intense look about his eyes. If he were any older and his beard any thicker i might think him a seasoned war veteran.
‘Yeah, that’s me, hi,’
‘Right. Peter,’ and he stuck out a rough hand which i shook briefly before he stepped out of the room and signalled with his head for me to follow.
He spoke as we walked up the hollow steps to the third floor.
‘It’s just as you saw on the website, i haven’t touched it since that photo was taken. Which was quite some time back actually, hah. We ain’t got a lift here as you can tell but i’m usually around in case you need help bringing stuff up. It’s a quiet neighbourhood as you saw on your way in and we don’t see much of anything here,’
We go to the studio and he showed me around. It wasn’t much, but it sure wasn’t bad. Like he said, everything looked just like in the photos. I don’t think i hid my smile.
‘Well, that’s all about the place. Price is as you saw as well, no hidden costs whatsoever. So you want it?’
I didn’t really want to spend so much time looking for a place.
‘Yeah, sure, it’s what i need,’ i said as i gave the place another visual sweep.
Peter seemed apprehensive. He looked at me dead on.
‘Look, mate, full disclosure here. The place is going for cheap because nobody wants to stay here and even if they do they don’t stay for long,’
‘You might think me nuts but i’ll be honest. There’s… something not quite right about this place. Bottom line, everything is good but usually around 2 o’clock in the morning thee’s uh… something… weird. You’ll hear noises outside. It’ll scare the hell out of ya. Really. Whatever it is don’t go outside and don’t, whatever the hell you do, don’t look,’
Obviously i wasn’t smiling anymore. It sure sounded crazy, his story, but he didn’t look the part. I believed him. I could feel it, this strange thing he spoke of was playing in my head in dark shapeless forms and i could sense that it was a bad idea to hang around to find out what they were. And yet… and yet i wanted to. And to top it off the place was cheap to boot, and i wouldn’t be living here… not all the time at least. So i did the stupid thing and agreed.
If Peter was shocked then he hid it well. He just kept staring at me.
‘Alright, but here’s the deal. You pay up every week instead of every month, so if you decide to leave then you won’t lose a ton of cash. It’s the same price as advertised just divided by four. A week or part thereof, remember that, deal?’
It took me two weeks to get fully set up for work and in that entire time i was happy to note that nothing strange happened. That was probably totally because i made it a point to leave by ten every night.
Finally the day came, the first time i’d be spending the night at my work studio. I was very scared but extremely excited. I was definitely walking into a whole big mess, but i wanted to so badly. I guess that kinda explains why i’m a good art student.
I’ll cut to the chase. The closer i got to 2 a.m. the less i could focus and i ended up sitting down and staring at the clock for fifteen minutes. 2 a.m. A few seconds into the hour and i heard scraping noises outside. Then the whisper of a cough, and some loud banging that made me jump. There were a few other noises, nearly human, and then silence once more. I was frozen to my seat, breathing heartbeats, and hyper aware of my surroundings. Other than that i was alive and well, and also somewhat pleased that i had stayed through what was supposedly a scary event.
Since i was victorious the first time round i decided then and there that i’d be okay all the way, so cheerfully carried on staying over doing work whenever needed.
It was about three or four months later that i finally got too curious for my own good. Whatever it was that made those noises sure didn’t bother me, and after some time the sounds started becoming more explainable. I could picture something real and un-creepy making those noises, however random and disconnected they were. It was strange to picture a man dragging a heavy sack down the hallway at 2 in the morning, but after some time i guess i got used to it, the way you get used to a nasty smell in the room after some time. Those weird noises were now a part of my life and everything seemed… normal.
So one day i took a peek through the peephole.
It was a huge mistake. I screamed and ran as far away from the door as i could. I was hyperventilating and panicking, trapped in my own studio. I fell at the furthest corner of the studio, curled up and eyes wide open. I felt like it would come after me.
My idiot mind kept replaying that brief moment over and over again. I screamed again, bile rising in my throat as i felt terribly sick at what i had seen. I couldn’t even describe, it was purely visual yet it tore right into my soul, disturbed a part of me that i didn’t knew was there. I have no words still, no way to let you understand the horror of what i witnessed on that night. Even now, five years later, the memory of it will suddenly resurface at times and grip me in its black clenching fists, staring through to me from behind.
I didn’t think i could sleep the entire night. I sat there at that lonely corner for an exceedingly long time (or so i thought) before finally daring to move. Eventually i stood up and walked, so painfully slowly to the sofa, where i curled up, still looking at the door. The noises had stopped for a long time now but i could still picture it walking through the front door and staring at me. Eventually i fell asleep from the fatigue of waiting… waiting for what?
The next day i went to see Peter and he kept quiet for a bit. Then he looked up and asked in a matter-of-fact way, ‘Go home and get some rest,’
And so i did. In fact i didn’t return for three nights, after which point in time i no longer seemed too afraid to go back. The sight of it still haunted me, but i felt a deep sense of awe mixed with repulsiveness. That nightmare that i witnessed was so beyond anything i could ever imagine that i seemed to want to stare at it some more. I went back.
I did the stupid thing again. I was filled with terror like before, but some time after that my mind was bursting with inspiration. I had to put those feelings down.
And so begin my journey of staring into hell and drawing upon it for inspiration for my final project.
The entire time i never got used to it, never had enough of looking, and never could wrap my head around it exactly. I could only dance around the gaping hole that i saw, utterly helpless at describing its form or even what it was not. All i was left with was feelings and my mind’s groping in the dark for the thinnest strands of anything even remotely related. And with those impossibly thin threads i wove together my best work to date.
It left everyone who looked at it with a deep sense of discomfort, despair and just the faintest idea that something was not right. What they looked at was not of this world although pieced together with parts from it. I got a C for it but i didn’t care. My course coordinator hated it so much but still talks about it sometimes in his lectures today, and i know because on some nights he barrages me with a hailstorm of questions on what made me do what i did.
I’ve never gone back since. I didn’t speak to anyone about what happened at that tiny apartment. I’ve since moved to another city altogether but somehow, at the corner of my mind and the edge of my vision, where i can hardly make things out… At that border that is neither here nor there, which runs away every time i turn to look, i get the surest feeling that it has not left me.
Or maybe i have not left it. I don’t know.
But i’m still paying the rent for that small room, and i will continue to pay for it until i run out of money or die. Of all the people who have been there, i am the only one who has lasted this long, however distant i am from it now.
I get the feeling it’s proud of me in some warped, twisted way.