's 2018 Horror Write-off:

The Apartment

Submitted by Mitchell Bennink (email)

She was running the vacuum cleaner when the phone rang.  Setting off the vacuum to answer, Alex dashed to the phone stand on the table.

“Alex speaking, what’s it to you?”

“Al? Hey, it’s Will. Just settled in, and thought you’d like to know.”

 “Well, it took long enough, but congrats.  Maybe we’ll have a little hovel warming party.” 

After 2 years of college, Will had bought a new crib at the SunPocket apartment complex down in Burlington. Alex could always tell he wasn’t comfortable at home – his brother would disappear for long periods of time, and everyone had to chip in just to pay his dad’s gambling debts. They had gone for therapy, but addiction of any kind was hard to shake.  She was happy for her pal, but even over the phone, she could feel his guilt.

“You’ve checked this place out, huh? Think it’s your style?” she inquired.

“Well, that place has been standing since I was 12. It seemed pretty freaky back then, but what doesn’t at that age? It’s like getting to know the old man from Home Alone! You hear creepy stories, but then you start bonding when you actually see them up close.” 

Alex hadn’t heard any “creepy stories” but she was just glad he was settled and wanted to see the new digs for herself.

“You know what? How about I come over this weekend? We could hang out and see if it’s good for parties.” 

Will was enthused. “Wow, sounds great. Though, we probably want to chill with the “parties” idea. “

Alex’s folks weren’t using the car that Saturday.  She was delighted when her mother gave her the keys, but when she mentioned SunPocket apartments, her mom looked a little grave. 

“Ally, I’m really happy how you and Will are getting more independent. But that place...I’ve heard things.” Alex was a little surprised she hadn’t heard these “things” more frequently.

“Mom, it’s an old place. Some domestic issues, a few kids fooling around, how’s that different from any other hood?” 

“Well, it’s easy to overlook on the news, but a man died there recently.” That shut Alex up. “By all accounts, he was in perfect health. His heart had just stopped. And then Regan told me her cousin’s story. He says he had lived there for a few weeks, and then one night he woke up to some kind of sleep paralysis.  But there were marks on his body when he woke up.  When Regan came to help him move out, there was something wrong with the elevator. It kept opening on different floors, when no one was coming in.”

“It’s all too random and infrequent, but still…those stories make me shudder.”  Alex thought back to the odd little phenomenon they called “Building Sickness”, where health problems in residents are linked to the poor conditions of an apartment or work complex.  “Sounds like this place needs some serious repairs.  I’ll tell Will if it makes you feel better. But Mom, all these old places have their problems.  Someone’ll work them out in a few months.” 

Her mother seemed satisfied, and soon Alex was off.

Will’s residence was certainly spruced up. Some weird little cats stared up from the welcome mat, and the entrance gave way to a spacious living room.  Several movie and TV posters decorated the walls.  The kitchen blended nicely with the main area.  Will had poured some wine and laid out some snacks.  “This is a new hangout,” he grinned. “Might as well start treating it like one.” 

Within seconds, the two friends were crashed on Will’s couch, telling silly stories, laughing about things on TV, and even broke out some of the old green weed, or as Will called it, “the stuff you can take without destroying your life.”

They even got into a semi-stoned discussion about drugs and art. “I think it’s undervalued, you know? I mean, it’s a big risk, but so many artists can thank it for their craft. Samuel Coleridge was on opium when he wrote that weird poem about Xanadu and Kublai Khan.  And I can’t help but wonder if today’s cartoon creators do something like that. Adventure Time, Flapjack…they feel like dreams, ones you only get if you’re flying on a whole other level.” 

Alex decided to bring up something that was barely on her radar now. “Hey… you ever hear any spooky stories about this place? Cause some people have some really weird feelings about it.”  Will tried to shake himself out of his half-baked glaze.

“Well…people do come and go pretty quickly, from what I hear. You don’t think it’s haunted or anything, right?”  In spite of herself, Alex chuckled.  “When the walls start dripping blood and long haired ladies start showing up, you might want to check out.”  They went back to flipping channels, but soon came to a halt.

Filling the screen of this particular channel was an abnormal shape.  One could call it a head or a face, but it was so far removed from that concept.  From the upper half of the strange visage protruded two writhing, tubular stalks, like on a mollusk, but with an almost artificial quality.  The lower half was divided into two vertical mandible-like structures that snipped open randomly, like the automatic doors of a supermarket. It’s head was draped in what seemed to be a hood. You couldn’t tell if this was a face or a mask.  As they watched, the thing backed away from the lens to give a slightly better look at its body. It had a hulking frame, clothed in what seemed to be a mechanic’s vest, with at least four powerful looking arms, baring wrinkled reddish flesh, like an elephant’s trunk.   

It stood like that a bit longer, and Alex  started to giggle nervously. “The SyFy channel’s effects are getting better…That thing looks too good for TV movie schlock!” Will did not return the joke.

A mixture of confusion, awe, and fear was etched into his face. “This isn’t a movie…this is the building security feed.”  As the words sunk in, Alex turned back to the screen and saw what he meant. The thing had crawled down from its position in front of the security camera and sure enough, the entrance of Sunpocket Apartments came into view.

And there were three other visitors lounging about, mostly identical, but showing traits of different species. The thing from the camera walked into view to join the others, a stout, ape-like thing with six red appendages indistinguishable from arms and legs.  Another  resembled a plant, it’s arms and legs clusters of slithering tendrils, like roots. The largest was built like a Yeti, with blue “fur” coating it’s limbs and no visible finger or toes.  The last one was a slender figure, with what seemed to be steely gray pants, and hands in it pockets. Seemed the most human, but that wasn’t saying much.

Yet all four boasted the same bizarre hooded insect-snail “mask", and strange vest covering their torso. It was like a congregation of different worlds.  Will and Alex had only now noticed the man reading the paper on the bench.  The group was crowded around him, and he didn’t raise his head once. The tall one peered down at the ignorant reader, and took a ghastly looking claw device from his pocket.  No, his hand.

The creature placed it’s claw on the man’s head, he barely shifted. Then, the vine thing slithered up and shoved its tendrils into the man’s face. It was plugging the man’s nose and mouth.

Both kids at this point wanted to turn off the TV, away from this nightmarish display. The things must’ve knew they were watching, wanted them to see. “Turn it off.” Will finally found his voice.  He leapt to his feet and flipped it off, as the red spider-thing and the furry brute walked off frame.  

It was Alex’s turn to react. “Jesus, this isn’t real. It’s gotta be some kind of fucking performance. I’ve seen weirder.” But she knew what she saw.  “L-let’s just lock the door.”  Still reeling from the shock, the two did just that and propped some chairs and a shoe rack to be safe. 

At Will’s behest, they chose different hiding places. Will rushed into his closet, while Alex dove to the bathroom and slumped in the tub.  Several minutes passed at a drawn out pace. Alex kept her breathing steady as she lay in silence.  But as she lay back to calm, she began to feel the vibrations of the thing’s footsteps as it moved through the third story hall. There were dozens of people living here…who would it come for?

Her question was answered as a scream rang outside the flat.  Short but sharp, even threw these walls.   The footsteps carried on a bit more, and stopped. There was a knocking from the front door.

Alex’s blood froze.  Yeah, they knew they were being watched. They wanted to preserve the fear. The knocking grew louder, and then turned to pounding. The thing wanted in. It’d got one victim, but it  wanted more.

And with the force of a tornado, the door gave in. She listened to the footsteps as the creature shoved the barricade astray and moved from the foyer to the main area.  It was searching the apartment, and when it reached the bedroom, they were dead.

No. No, they couldn’t let that happen. They had to protect each other, not just die like punks in a slasher film.  Bracing herself for a fight, Alex crept from the tub with careful tread.   As she left the bathroom, Will was waiting, crouched against the foot of his bed. Without a word, he motioned her and held out the swiss army knife his dad gave him. With a solemn nod, she took the weapon and gestured him to stay put.  Creeping to the door, she shut her eyes as she slid the door ajar. Thankfully, it made hardly a sound.  Whatever was in here was occupied with the furniture.

You could tell by half of the couch tilted in midair. A cry died in Alex’s throat as she  slid into the kitchen. Great, an invisible monster.  The couch lowered and dropped with a resounding thump, and the footsteps began to move toward the bedroom.  It had noticed the open door.  Alex’s mind raced,  and then something went off in her head.

She whipped out her phone and put on camera mode.  From behind the counter, she aimed it in the unseen presences’ direction, and sure enough, captured in the lens was the blue-furred hulk from downstairs.  The thing stopped, jerked back, and to her horror, turned its attention to the kitchen. Then it hit her…these things could pick up video signals or something, like they had done at the  As she gripped the knife, prepared to bury the blade the moment the thing reached the counter, a loud grunt, followed by the resounding thud of hitting the carpet.  Will stood in the doorway, having pitched the little gargoyle in the direction of the monster’s steps. On the phone screen, the thing turned to look at the man who couldn’t see it, but was poised to fight either way. It paused it’s advance, as if it couldn’t decide between prey.

By now they noticed the commotion outside. Another knocking, clearly from the ruckus heard from the halls. The brute looked at the door. Would it settle for the visitor?  Alex held her breath as the knocking continued.

Soon it would answer the door and there’d be a scream as the-wait, no.  It had turned the opposite. On the screen, the thing was lumbering towards the window at the back. 

“Hey! What’s going on in there?”  She shook off her confusion, and reluctantly, they went to answer the door.  Alex took a glance backwards and saw the window was ajar. As she told herself the thing was gone, she opened the door to a confused middle aged woman living across from Will.

As Will explained, a bird had flew through the open window and they were trying to scare it off.  The lady said she had seen the door open and close by itself.  They replied that they had actually tried letting the bird fly in the halls, to which she chided their irresponsibility. 

As it turned out, the man who had screamed earlier had recovered. He had no memory of such an event. He told his neighbours he had just come back from the store, and then he had just blacked out.  Of course, Alex and Will knew he was not the only other person affected by these visitors. But no one was speaking out. Perhaps the things had got to them.

Some time later, after Will had gone back with his folks, Alex heard from her mom that Regan’s cousin was having night terrors. And that he would have frequent memory lapses where he couldn’t tell what he’d been doing for the past few hours. Alex probably knew a bit more about that. Her and Will, along with a few other tenants who couldn’t speak out in fear of the things that came once in a while to do their unknown work.  But  one thing was certain. She made it clear she would never go back there again.