(A scary story about neighbors.)
After her husband left, all she did was cry. Cry, cry cry. Noon: cry. 10:00pm: cry. 3:00am: cry. Her pitiful bleating would pour through the thin wall between our apartments and drive me out of my mind.
I couldn’t sleep. My work suffered. I stared, eyes wide with restless hatred, at the ceiling in my uncomfortable bed as night after night was stolen from me.
Pounding on the wall did nothing but cause her to cry harder. Calls to the obese building superintendent brought castigation; not to my neighbor, but to me.
“How dare you be so heartless,” the super chided. In the rare cases she wasn’t speaking around a mouthful of food, it still sounded as if she were. “Her husband abandoned her!”
“I can’t sleep. I can’t even think!” I protested.
The thing on the other end of the line huffed. “Get some earplugs,” she suggested, and hung up.
This went on for months. Like any man in my situation, I reached the end of my rope. And, in a way, so did my neighbor.
Three weeks ago, I knocked on her door. I was holding a bouquet of flowers. The teary wretch let me in. Her eyes were red. Her nose was chapped and peeling. Used tissues littered the floor. Disgusting.
When the door closed behind me, I was on her. She was tiny and weak; no match for a man of my stature — a man of my strength. I produced the rope I’d hidden in my coat. I looped it around her neck and hanged her from a beam in the kitchen. Before I left, I placed a chair on its side underneath her. It was more effortless than I’d fantasized.
After that, she didn’t cry anymore.
I slept like a baby for the first time in longer than I can remember.
A few days later, I was sitting at my kitchen table, enjoying a meal in peace. I heard heavy footsteps coming down the hall. I knew those quaking footfalls. It was the monstrous superintendent. She stopped at the neighbor’s door and knocked. She waited a few minutes and knocked again, calling her name. When there was no answer, I heard a key in the lock.
The door creaked open, and a few clomping steps later, I heard a scream. I was delighted; I’d been worrying the corpse would begin to stink up my apartment if too much time went by.
The creature stopped screaming after a few seconds and galumphed out of the apartment and banged her meaty fists on my door.
“Mr. Peal! Mr. Peal! Please, let me in — something terrible has happened!”
I wiped my mouth and folded my napkin, then let the thing in.
“Mrs. LaSalle hanged herself!” the superintendent bellowed. Her wet eyes bulged with shock.
“We should call the police,” I proposed, doing a very passable impression of a surprised and saddened man. “That poor woman.”
The police came and went. The superintendent told them all they needed to know. A suicide. Case closed. Problem solved.
My following days were peaceful and productive. I slept easily and woke rested.
For a time.
The last few nights, my slumber has been disturbed by noises that, until recently, were too soft to identify. They crept in on the edges of my hearing threshold; gentle, but insistent – just enough to keep me from drifting off.
I called the porcine superintendent and was unsurprised by her unwillingness to investigate. “Probably the pipes,” she belched, and let the matter die at the hands of a dial tone.
The other night, the sound was louder. I pressed my ear to the wall I’d shared with the sobbing wretch and heard nothing remarkable. I rose from my bed and walked through the house. Once in the kitchen, a whisper hissed like a rush of steam.
I jumped and bristled. “Who’s there?” I demanded.
The whisper didn’t repeat.
I checked the door. It was still locked. The windows were shut. I made a final loop of the apartment, then returned to bed. My sleep was uneasy.
Yesterday was uneventful. My day was productive and night fell without incident. I went to bed without thinking of the previous night’s whisper.
Around 4:00am, my sleep was disturbed. It was that indefinable sound again. Now it was coming from a direction I recognized. It was the other side of the wall. My former neighbor’s wall.
I pressed the side of my head against the sheetrock and heard what I swear was laughter. Innocent, gentle laughter. In the darkness of night, however, the innocence in the sound was sinister. Ominous.
I knocked on the wall. “Who is in there?” I asked. My voice was timid and demonstrated a weakness I loathed. There was no response aside from more laughter.
The sound moved to other parts of the neighbor’s apartment. My head ached from pressing it into the wall, but I needed to know who had the audacity to taunt me. Was it the disgusting superintendent? Had she gotten into the whiskey again?
The laughter dimminshed as it moved into an area too far into the neighbor’s apartment for me to hear from my bedroom. I got out of bed and went after it. It followed the wall we shared, and soon it was just on the other side of my front room.
The hissed whisper came from outside my front door. I leapt to the peephole and looked through. No one was there. The laughter persisted. It was loud now, and it rang through my apartment with such intensity my wine glasses rattled in their cabinet.
“Who is it?” I shouted? “Who’s there?”
I swung open the door, ready to confront the bastard who dared to terrorize me. The laughter ceased. The hall was empty.
“Don’t test me!” I called to no one in particular. “Don’t try!”
I stepped back in and slammed the door. My hands shook. I needed a drink.
I passed through the front room into the kitchen, toward the liquor cabinet. I stopped in the doorway. Hanging on the beam in my kitchen was a rope. At its end, dangling like a rotting pear on a tree, was a noose. A sinister giggle came from the direction of the rope.
“Soon, Mr. Peal,” a voice hissed in my ear. “Soon.”