It started on Tuesday. Early morning, 3:30 AM. I had been in bed asleep for a couple of hours when there were several knocks at the front door to my apartment. Not hand knuckle knocks, but jarring CLACKS from the cheap metal knocker. The knocks were loud enough to wake me even though the door to my single bedroom was also closed. I didn’t react at first, thinking I had only imagined the sound, but the knocking repeated. Three times: CLACK, CLACK, CLACK. I checked my clock and sat up in bed, worried. Maybe there was an emergency and it was the police or worse, a distraught friend or family member at the door. As I got out of bed to investigate, there were three more CLACKS. Maybe it was a neighbor. It couldn’t be family – wouldn’t they have called me first? And it couldn’t be the police – wouldn’t they be banging the door with their fists and announcing who they were?
When I reached the door, I did the smart thing and checked the peephole. There was no one at the door. The peephole gave me a pretty good view. I could see the brightly lit entryway, the wood paneling on the underside of the tiled roof, and the stairs leading up to my apartment on the second floor. I could even see the side street that passed in front of my unit building. But there was no one at the door. Unless they were about a foot tall since I couldn’t see all the way down to my doormat. But that would be ridiculous.
I started heading back to bed, chalking up my unknown visitor as some wayward (or perhaps drunken) soul who mistook my place for his booty call’s pad. Yet before I got halfway back to my bedroom, there were three more CLACKS. I darted back to the door and looked out the peephole.
There was a piece of paper covering the outside lens of the peephole.
I was a little freaked out. Was someone trying to hide from my view? I stood silently, staring at the deadbolt lock to my door. Should I just open the door and find out what was going on? If it wasn’t one of my neighbors – there was one apartment to my left, and two below me – the annoying CLACKS had to at least have woken them up. Maybe it was just a notice, a complaint about some noise that wasn’t my fault, or even a love note from that drunken fool looking for action. If so, then there was no reason to not open the door and retrieve the misplaced notice. But, like I said, I was a bit unnerved. Finding out what was on the door could wait. I shuffled back to bed and fell back asleep without any further interruptions.
7:15 AM. I woke up and the first thing I did (after a quick bathroom break) was head back to the front door. The paper covering the peephole was still there and it still unsettled me. Outside, I could hear traffic from the side street and kids and parents arguing about going to school. How ominous could a stupid piece of paper be? I had nothing to worry about. I unlocked the deadbolt to find out what had been left for me.
The first thing I saw were the moths. About a dozen, dead, grey moths were on my welcome mat. Thick, furry insects that looked like they had been killed in a jar and dumped on my doorstep. Affixed to the outside of my peephole with Scotch tape, was a piece of paper the size of a Post-it note. It had a typewritten message:
I NEED FLESH.
Below those three words were the numbers 3, 2, 1, followed by a purple smiling devil Emoji.
I crumpled up the note in my hand. It had to be some sort of lame joke. An early Halloween prank drummed up by a bored preteen hopped up on Ritalin and The Walking Dead. I threw the note away, grabbed my rarely-used broom, swept the dead moths off my mat, and got on with the rest of my business for the day.
I went to bed early that night, tired from the previous night’s interrupted sleep, but I woke up again at 3:30 AM from the same three CLACKS at my front door. I jumped out of bed and marched noisily over to the front door. Three more CLACKS sounded before I reached the peephole. I looked outside – once again my view was blocked by a piece of paper. I cursed out loud, quickly unlocked the door, and opened it so I could catch the prankster in the act.
The entryway was empty. As were the stairs and side street. But on my doormat were four dead birds. Baby birds. Their fetal bodies, withered and askew, were coated with dewy droplets of blood. A few of their nascent feathers had been plucked at scattered over the entire entryway. Repulsed, I turned to the note on my door.
I NEED FLESH.
The same words as before, but below them were only the numbers 2 and 1 along with that annoying devil Emoji.
This wasn’t some dumb kid playing a prank – this was the work of a budding psychopath. The work of a maladjusted freak, a misbegotten loner. Someone who knew there were nests (from swallows, I believe) tucked into the eaves of my unit building’s roof. Someone who could’ve thrown a rock and knocked one of the nests down. Scooped up the brood from the destroyed remnants, smothered any survivors (if necessary), and deposited the lifeless remains onto my doorstep like some sort of demented gift. If so, the sick son of a bitch probably wasn’t that far away. He might even be watching me.
I hopped over the birds and raced down the stairs, my eyes scanning the surroundings, looking for any movement. I didn’t see anyone. I stood silently and listened. Nothing, except a car drifting away in the distance.
I was no longer scared. I was pissed. I supposedly lived in a nice, family-friendly, apartment complex – no place for a budding Jeffrey Dahmer. There was even supposed to be a private security car patrolling the area – where was this rent-a-cop when he was needed? I thought about calling security’s emergency phone number, but that was probably reserved for “real emergencies,” and at best, my only recourse would be to lodge a complaint with the rental company management. Frustrated, I trekked back up to my apartment. I put on a pair of shoes and grabbed a plastic trash bag. I used the bag to pick up the tiny birds and feathers and threw the poor things and the new note into the unit building’s garbage bin. It was almost 4 AM and I was too irritated to go back to sleep. I tossed and turned in bed until the sun came up.
Wednesday. I slogged through the day, cranky and lethargic. Whoever was terrorizing me was being moronically time consistent. So I crafted a plan – I would force myself to be awake at 3:30 AM, standing by the door, looking out the peephole, in order to catch the jackass in the act. I NEED FLESH. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Was that lifted from some slasher flick – Freddy vs. Jason vs. the Predator? Googling the words only brought me to the lyrics of a Johnny Cash song. The words didn’t scare me, but I had to admit that it appeared the psycho was upping the ante. He had moved up from dead insects to dead birds in conjunction with the mysterious sequence of numbers dropping down, like a countdown. What would happen when all the numbers were gone and it was just the devil Emoji?
A dead body on my doorstep.
I shook away the preposterous, but disturbing image. This psycho was never going to get that far. When I caught him in the act at 3:30 AM, I was also going to have my cell phone in hand. Screw security – I was going to call 9-1-1.
At 6:30 PM, I ordered a pizza for dinner and after inhaling it, took a thirty minute nap. I wasn’t refreshed, but knew if I had slept any longer I wouldn’t be very coherent when 3:30 AM arrived. Besides, I was restless. I was ready to execute my plan.
The hours trickled by – I couldn’t even find anything worthwhile on Netflix to pass the time. When 3:00 AM finally arrived, I took my first look out the peephole. It was all clear. I figured I would look outside periodically for the next fifteen minutes then keep my eyes glued to the hole until 3:30 AM or whenever my “visitor” made his appearance. I checked my phone. Fully charged. I was ready.
3:20 AM. I had to keep blinking my eyes since staring out the peephole was making my weary, dry eyes lose their focus. 3:25 AM. I held my phone just below the peephole so I could check the time without having to lose my view to the outside. My nose started to run. I was painfully exhausted. I could feel the redness searing into the whites of my eyes. My feet began to tingle from lack of blood flow. Each second, I grew more anxious and more uncomfortable. 3:29 AM. I thought I heard footsteps near my door, but I didn’t see anything. I even moved my head so my eyes could examine the entire diameter of the peephole to view as much of my entryway as possible. I saw nothing. I forcibly blinked my eyes to give them a few milliseconds of rest before the minute elapsed.
3:30 AM. I didn’t actually notice when the minute turned over because my head had jerked away from the hole after the discordant sound of the three CLACKS. It was impossible. The door knocker was directly below the peephole – there was no way it could’ve been used without my seeing it move. Once again, I spun my eyes around the peephole’s diameter – nothing. There was nothing in the entryway. What was going on?
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. This time my entire body jumped back from the door. Another involuntary reflex after someone had pounded against the front door. Not my door, but the door to my next door neighbor’s apartment. It sounded like someone (or something) had used his steel-toe boot or his meaty, dense skull to bash against the paneling of my neighbor’s door. I returned my eyes to the peephole.
A piece of paper was covering my view. Shit! I had missed him! I slapped open the lock and flung open my door.
No one was in the entryway. Or the stairs. Or anywhere. But there was a tied up plastic grocery bag on my doormat. It looked like the same bag I had used to pick up the dead birds. As I bent down to peer through a gap in the bag, the door to my neighbor’s apartment opened.
Inside the bag was an overweight, calico cat. Sitting in a pool of fresh blood. A butcher knife protruded from its head.
It was my next door neighbor’s cat.
After stepping outside, my neighbor, June, a prune-shaped loaf of a woman about seventy years old, began battering me with questions. About the awful knocking at her door. About the awful time of night. About the awful plastic bag on my doormat. I ignored her, my eyes were roaming the neighborhood, searching for any sign of movement, any sign of the sick bastard who executed this heinous act. I was so intent on finding the psycho, I didn’t notice that June had peeked into the plastic bag until she screamed.
I didn’t have to call the police. Almost all of my neighbors in the unit building had heard June’s bleeding-lung scream and had called 9-1-1. Including June’s husband, Walt, a chain-smoking, barking lout who kept shoving his grey-haired nose in my face, demanding an explanation. I couldn’t even look at him, or his wife who was now blubbering and wheezing, without getting nauseated. I even started to lose sympathy over their dearly departed pet. I only talked to the police, telling my story to a stocky, humorless cop while his partner, a thin woman the size of a WNBA player, took notes. I shared the events of the past two nights, but left out the fact that I was staking out the psycho and had somehow missed seeing him. Along with the dead cat, the burly cop took the note on my door (which, of course, read I NEED FLESH, as well as the number 1 and the devil Emoji). Thankfully, the officers believed me, but it appeared Walt felt differently. I felt his accusing eyes as I explained the situation, and when it was Walt’s turn to speak to the police, he went out of his way to talk with them out on the side street, out of earshot. Before going back inside my apartment, I took one last look around the neighborhood. I could see the young newlywed couple living in one of the first floor apartments, watching me from under the stairs. Half a dozen wide-eyed faces poking out of the window blinds from the unit building across from me. And from behind the city police cruiser, the straight-outta-high-school private security guard who did nothing but stare up at me as he sat on the hood of his company car, his arms tightly crossed to accentuate his biceps. Whatever. I was only upset that the psycho was also out there. Watching me. And probably laughing his ass off.
It was 5 AM and even though I was beyond exhausted, I didn’t want to go to bed. I grabbed a beer out of the fridge and leaned my back against its cool metal door. The appliance’s gentle hum calmed me down better than the alcohol did. How did I miss seeing the psycho? How did he manage to drop off the cat, bang against my neighbor’s door, and completely disappear – all in the span of a few seconds? It was impossible.
Unless…unless the psycho was my next door neighbor? Could the old man (or old woman, no need to discriminate) be that twisted, that quick, to pull off the string of grotesque performances? Why would they kill their own cat? As I considered the disturbing answers, my eyes drifted to my kitchen counter top and the rack of knives sitting near the sink. There was an empty slot. The slot for my largest butcher knife. I dropped my beer to the floor. I checked the dishwasher and sink, hoping I had simply forgotten that I had used the knife earlier in the week. I couldn’t find it. I picked up my spilt beer and poured the rest down the drain. Had my knife been used to kill the neighbor’s cat? If so, when was it taken from me? Had the psycho been in my apartment? I tried to think back to the last time I had seen the knife, and the last time anyone had been in my apartment – I came up blank on both counts. But an icy thought curled through me. When I had thrown the dead birds into the building’s trash bin, I had left my door unlocked. I was only gone for about thirty seconds, but that might have been enough time for someone (like my next door neighbor, Walt) to sneak inside and grab the butcher knife. Wasn’t that a plausible scenario? Or could it have been someone else?
My eyes started scanning the rest of the kitchen. Was anything else taken? I started checking every item I owned, opening up the cupboard doors, taking mental inventory. As paranoid thoughts raced through my head, I started checking every room in my place, every closet, every drawer, checking to see if anything was missing. I even looked under my bed, the five inch gap between the frame and floor, as haunting images of some bony, homeless meth addict hiding out in my apartment crept into my brain. Two hours later, I found nothing amiss and my eyes started closing on their own. Before crashing into bed and giving up on the rest of the day, I texted two of my friends, Matt and Landon, and invited them over to my place to have a few beers and watch Thursday Night Football. It would be the perfect opportunity to fill them in on the events of the past few nights as well as request their help. I knew the psycho would come back to my front door, one final time (devil Emoji), and I would need their help to stop him. And with all my neighbors on alert, there was no way the psycho was going to escape detection this time.
Thursday evening. After telling Matt and Landon the events of the past three nights (or more precise, early mornings), we turned off the football game and watched episodes of The Shield instead. We dusted off a six pack and half of IPA and got really amped up before deciding to switch to water and coffee. The last thing we needed was to get completely hammered and go all Vic Mackey on whomever showed up at my front door. Landon had already pulled out my golf clubs from the closet saying they would make great weapons. It was always difficult to tell if Landon was kidding or not.
Matt brewed the coffee. He was the sensible one. Balding prematurely, he was married, owned his own home, and had one kid, a four year old daughter. He was certain that the psycho was not my next door neighbor, but some messed up teenager who lived nearby. He thought we should go door-to-door to see if any of my close neighbors had a suspicious-looking, drugged-out brat, but I disagreed saying that we would only piss everyone off, causing them to dislike me even more. Plus, we’d likely scare the psycho kid off and we’d never catch him in the act. Matt and I were usually on the same wavelength, having known each other for over ten years, but he was adamant and said that scaring the kid off was likely the best possible outcome. He also said if my neighbors didn’t like me, I should think about breaking my lease and moving out of the area.
On the other hand, for better or worse, Landon agreed with me. He said I needed to defend my turf. He said the psycho was definitely trying to frame me and we needed to prove my innocence. Landon was positive that the psycho would come back one more time and that would be his undoing. He also said that it’d be easy to catch him because the psycho was, without a doubt, old man Walt next door. He said he fit the “profile,” whatever that was. I had known Landon for only a couple of years, and Matt only knew him through me, but we both appreciated him for being a guy who would always have your back. Out-of-shape and proud of it, Landon liked to throw tact out the window with a simultaneous increase in the volume of his voice.
“The craziest people are aging Baby Boomers!” Landon stood up from the couch as if delivering a stump speech. “Strung out on Viagra and gin, ready to go half-cocked on anyone they see as a threat to their legacy!”
I tried to calm him down. “You’ve been reading too many blogs from unemployed Millennials.”
Landon continued, unabated. “Walt is a psycho! A lonely, bitter man who probably saw you bring a girl back to your place and blew up from jealousy and frustration! Guys, stop looking at me like that – it all makes so much sense!”
The coffee machine beeped indicating that it had stopped brewing. Matt spoke as he poured out a cup. “None of this makes any sense.”
“I need flesh? You know that means, right? You know what he’s trying to say? The old man needs some action! You know he’s not getting any from his wife. That’s why he took it out on the only pussy he could stick.”
“Oh, for shit’s sake. Here.” Matt handed Landon a cup of coffee. “You need this. I think it’ll actually calm you down.”
Landon sat back down on the couch and did lower his voice after taking a sip. “I’m telling you, old people are crazy. That point in your life when you just don’t give a shit anymore? That’s when you become a danger to everyone around you. First sign is when Grandpa uses an Emoji – it’s all downhill from there.”
I grabbed my own cup of coffee while Matt took a seat on the sofa next to Landon. “So you guys are cool with waiting up ‘til three-thirty to catch this guy?”
Landon nodded. Matt looked annoyed. “I doubt anything’s going to happen. Too risky. When I last looked outside, there were a ton of people milling around.”
I looked at the clock. 10:47 PM. “It’s still early. There won’t be anyone around when three-thirty arrives.”
Landon began scrolling through his iPhone. “So I Googled ‘dead cat on doorstep.’ There’s over 300,000 results. Psycho baby boomers – they must do these cat killings all the time.”
Matt grabbed Landon’s phone. “Islamic dream interpretations, Yahoo Answers – these are not serious results.”
Landon recaptured his phone. “Forget waiting. Let’s just pay a visit to old Walt and scare the shit out of him until he confesses. We’ll tell him that Viagra’s been recalled. That’ll get him sweatin’.”
Matt stood up. “Seriously, though. I don’t think I can hang out here much longer. The wife has already texted me four times. I don’t want to get a phone call.”
Landon let out an exasperated sigh. “The wife. Ha! Actually, I wish I had a wife.”
I walked over to Matt. “I know I’m asking a lot from you.”
Landon bounced back up from the couch. “What about me? Do you know what I passed up tonight?”
I ignored Landon’s questions and continued with Matt. “I’m really freaked out by all that’s happened. I need to know who’s been doing this to me, and I need it to stop. You’re right. I don’t know if anything’s going to happen tonight, but if something does….”
Like a dead body on my doorstep.
“If something happens, I’d like the both of you to be here. Please.”
Matt peered through the closed vertical blinds covering the window leading to my balcony. It gave a decent view of my immediate neighborhood. “It does look quiet out there now. Shit. You’re gonna owe me one, buddy. I should make you explain this to my wife.”
As I thanked Matt with a bro-tap on the shoulder, I heard the sound of my front door being unlocked. Landon was getting ready to step outside.
“You guys are getting lame. I’m going to have a little chat with Walt and this will all be over soon.”
I shouted at him. “Come on, Landon! Don’t be an idiot!”
Matt shook his head. “Dude, it’s almost eleven. He and his wife are probably already asleep!”
Before Matt finished his last sentence, Landon was already out the door.
We chased after Landon and by the time Matt and I were outside, Landon had already knocked on Walt’s front door several times. I reached out and grabbed Landon’s arm to stop him from knocking, but I was too late. My neighbor’s door cracked open.
“Can I help you?”
It wasn’t Walt. Or June. But another woman, around forty years old. Her face was thin and pretty, but pale and fatigued – it looked like she hadn’t slept for quite some time. Her strawberry blonde hair was a mess, and loose strands of hair covered the oversized faded black sweatshirt that covered two-thirds of her body.
Landon smiled at her. “Hi, are you Walt’s granddaughter?”
The woman let out a weak smile. “His daughter. Do you need something?”
“Yeah, can we talk to Walt?”
Matt stepped forward. “I’m sorry. Our friend here doesn’t realize what time it is. We’ll leave you alone.”
The woman looked over at me. “You live next door, right?”
“I’m Ali. We met last year, not sure if you remember.”
I nodded again, but I didn’t remember.
“Look, if this is about last night. I want to apologize on behalf of my father. He had no reason to blame you for what happened to Jeanie. The cat. He’s going through a rough time. All of us are. I’m staying with my dad tonight since we had to drop my mom off at the hospital – she has congestive heart failure and it’s only getting worse.”
Landon piped up. “Really sorry to hear that.” I couldn’t tell if his concern was genuine or not.
Ali ignored Landon and kept her eyes on me. “It’s been difficult since my brother passed away a year ago. He was always better at taking care of our parents than me. Especially my dad. As you know, my father isn’t too friendly and he needs someone to blame for all the sick deeds in the world. I think he thought you were an easy target. As if you could actually do something like that to a cat – you look like a sweetheart. So again, I’m sorry. Would you like a beer? My dad’s asleep and we can chat inside if you’d like.”
“No, that’s OK. I appreciate the offer, though.”
Ali nodded and looked at Landon. “Is there something else you need?”
Landon smiled. “Nope. Sorry about your cat.”
“It wasn’t my cat. I hated that damn thing.”
Ali shut the door and we marched back into my apartment.
Matt spoke first. “She was a little odd.”
Landon slapped me on the back. “But she’s all hot and bothered for you! Should’ve jumped at her offer! She had some sweet Jack Daniels breath.”
“Shut up, Landon.”
“Needs only a little TLC. A sponsored trip to Nordstrom and she’d be all right.”
Matt stepped in front of Landon. “Looks like that family has gone through hell. They might be assholes, but you gotta feel some pity for them.”
I took a seat on the couch. “I think you can cross off Walt as the psycho, Landon.” Matt sat down on the other side of the couch and pulled out his phone, calling his wife.
Landon took a seat at my dining table. “Yup. And Ali is now my prime candidate. You heard her – no sympathy at all for that cat. And her face was so pasty white. Like death.”
“A hard life will do that to you.”
“Plus if she likes you, there’s gotta be something wrong with her.”
Landon took out his phone. “Need to do some research.”
“Flesh eaters. Female vampires. That sort of thing”
“You’re an idiot. Good luck with that.”
Matt hung up the phone. “Fire up Netflix. Better find me a great movie because the wife just tore me a new one.”
It was eleven o’clock. Matt and I started watching The Master while Landon continued fiddling with his phone at the table, saying, “This is scary shit!” every so often. I didn’t feel sleepy, but I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew I was jostled awake by the sound of three CLACKS. My eyes scanned my living room as my consciousness came back online.
The TV was turned off.
Matt was asleep on the floor.
Landon wasn’t sitting at the table.
My phone was on the end table. Its clock read: 3:30 AM.
CLACK. CLACK. CLACK. He was back. The psycho was back at my door. I jumped off the couch and kicked Matt awake. I pointed at the door and forcibly whispered, “He’s here! He’s here!”
Matt rose from the floor and followed me to the door while the wood in my ceiling popped and cracked as if the temperature had rapidly dropped. I did feel chilled. When I reached the door, I noticed it was completely unlocked. I grew colder as a series of thoughts and questions flashed through my brain. Had I forgotten to lock it? I couldn’t remember. Or maybe Landon had unlocked it? Did he step outside? Why? What was I going to do? Maybe I should lock the door. Or open it and hope for the best. Maybe I should check the peephole first? Or only open the door a crack in case there was
A dead body on my doorstep?
My hand gripped the door handle and turned it as if the decision had already been made for me. I heard Matt grab one of my golf clubs that Landon had left out and I opened the door.
My entryway was empty. There was no one around, nothing on my welcome mat. I turned to look back at Matt and spotted another note on my door, covering the peephole. It simply read:
Followed by the purple devil Emoji.
I tore the note off my door and chucked it in the direction of my trashcan.
Matt put down the golf club. “Where’s Landon?”
I shrugged my shoulders and stepped back inside my apartment. I scanned the living room and the kitchen – no sign of Landon. Matt stepped outside, closing the front door behind him. I checked my bathroom, my bedroom, even my closet – no Landon.
I stepped back outside to join Matt.
Matt was standing a third of the way down the stairs, looking at his cell phone. When I got closer I realized it wasn’t Matt’s phone. It looked like Landon’s.
“Matt. Is that his phone?”
Matt looked up at me. He look confused. Scared. “Look at this – he was recording a video. It was still recording when I picked it up off the stairs.”
I grabbed Landon’s phone and replayed the video on the screen. It was a shot of my front door, and appeared to have been filmed from the bottom of the stairs. I heard Landon’s voice. “It’s now three-thirty and I don’t see nothing….” Landon had stopped talking when a blurry, black streak appeared in front of my door, shooting down from the top of the screen like an inverted lightning bolt and rebounding up out of view. Landon’s voice reappeared, struggling to maintain a low volume. “Holy shit! Holy shit! What the hell was that?” The shot of the front door grew closer and began to bounce as if Landon were scrambling back up the stairs. The black streak flashed at my door again, stopping Landon’s ascent. He spoke again, his voice weakened and out of breath. “Oh my God. Shit. Is that a tail?” The camera panned up, trying to focus on a wavy black line slithering over the edge of my building’s Spanish tiled roof. The “tail” swung towards the phone, apparently making contact with it since the video turned into a wild, fuzzy kaleidoscope scene, shot from every direction. Landon spoke again, from a distance, “The hell with this! The hell with this!” and the video turned completely black. After a couple seconds of silent black footage, three CLACKS sounded. After another couple of seconds, the sound of my front door opening was heard. I stopped playing the video and looked up at Matt.
“This is crazy. I don’t understand….” My brain’s decision making capacity was broken. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move.
Matt ran down the stairs. “Landon!” Matt kept calling his name as he raced into the side street. “Landon! Landon!” He jogged over to parked cars, his head darting from side to side. “Landon!” I could still hear him calling our friend’s name as he darted down the side street and out of view.
I finally managed to move my legs. I hopped back into my apartment, put Landon’s cell phone down on my dining table, grabbed my keys, went back outside, locked the door, and joined Matt in searching for Landon.
I hadn’t gotten very far (down the stairs and into the side street) when Matt came running over to me.
“I saw his car. Driving away. He bolted.”
“That doesn’t make sense – he wouldn’t just take off.”
“I don’t know. I also saw the security patrol guy – he said he didn’t seen Landon. He said he hasn’t seen anything and he’s been driving by your place all night.”
“That rent-a-cop is worthless! Landon was obviously outside for a while. If he took off, why did he leave his phone?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he got scared. Didn’t think.”
“Scared of what? The black thing on the video?”
“I don’t know! We can’t tell what happened.”
“You saw that tail! What could have a tail like that?” My eyes drifted to the roof of my building. I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t want to see anything.
“It wasn’t a tail. It could’ve been anything. A bug or something.”
“It wasn’t a bug! It knocked on my door!”
“You don’t know that! Everything was blurry! It could’ve been Landon’s finger, a falling leaf – he was probably the one knocking on your door.”
“You know that’s not true. Whatever he saw scared the shit out of him.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. Landon took off without explaining things. So there’s nothing we can do without him here. Maybe he’ll come back or maybe he went home.”
“Let’s drive by his place to see if he’s there.”
“No. I’m going home. I need to go home.”
“I’m tired and I want to be with my family.”
“You’re scared too, aren’t you?”
“I said I’m tired. Text me if Landon comes back. Otherwise I’ll check in tomorrow.” Matt began to trudge over to his car.
“Are you OK to drive?”
“I’m fine. Everything’s fine. I’ll text you when I get home.”
I watched Matt get into his car and drive away. He was lying. He wasn’t fine. He was as scared as I was. I started to shiver, realizing I was standing alone, out on the side street. And I felt like I was being watched. I looked around. Surprisingly, none of my neighbors appeared to be awake like the previous night. But I was certain someone was watching my every move.
Maybe something was watching me from the roof.
My eyes scanned the Spanish tiles. If there was something on the roof, some horrible killing creature, it would explain the dead moths. And the dead birds. And a calico cat that had climbed up the wrong place…what had Landon seen?
Something with a tail.
I had to shut off my mind. I ran back up the stairs to my apartment, trying hard not to imagine some hideous, black-as-night creature staring at me from the roof.
As I fumbled with my keys to unlock my door, I heard a lock unlatch. It came from my next door neighbor’s apartment. My neighbor’s font door creaked open a few inches.
“Ali? Is that you?” I wasn’t sure why I had said anything. I needed to finish unlocking my door so I could jump inside and feel safe. Safe from something I didn’t understand. Safe from something that moved lightning fast. Safe from….
Something with a tail.
“No. It’s June.” I saw an old lady’s fingers grasp the edge of my neighbor’s door before June’s puffy, wrinkled face came into view.
“Oh. I thought you were in the hospital?”
“Ali said you were sick.”
“Not anymore. I feel better now.”
“I’m glad you’re all right.” I finally managed to stick my key into the door lock.
“She likes you, you know. She really likes you.”
“My Ali. She likes you a lot.”
Crazy shit was going on in the middle of the night and June was trying to set me up with her daughter? “Can we talk about this some other time, June?”
“She’s getting older now and I can’t account for her taste. That’s why she didn’t feed on you.”
“What?” My hand fell away from my key stuck in my door.
“She’s had her eye on you for a while. Isn’t this yours?”
June stuck her withered, bone-white hand out the door. She was holding a flask. I inched closer and saw my engraved initials on the side of the flask. It was the groomsman gift from Matt’s wedding. I walked over and snagged it out of June’s hand.
“How did you get this?”
“She took it. Along with your knife.”
During my exhaustive search the other night and I hadn’t noticed that my flask was missing. It was supposed to be in cupboard shelf directly above my knife rack. So Ali had taken it? Ali had been in my apartment? Had she taken anything else? Done anything else? Landon was right – something was terribly wrong with Ali. I shuffled away from June, back to my own door.
“She was playing with you. Like those dead things she left for you. They were gifts. Letting you know that she was getting hungrier and hungrier as the time approached. I thought she was being ridiculous, toying with you like that, but she got so angry at me! She even killed my cat and gave it to you! I thought it was the hunger making her foolish and cranky, but then it dawned on me. She likes you! She likes you more than she does me.”
“I’m done talking to you.” I turned my key and unlocked my door.
“I’m sorry about your friend.”
I snapped my head back to June. “What about my friend?”
June chuckled. “It’s all so ironic. My husband tried to help you. Tried to convince the police that you were the one behind the gifts so they’d take you away. He wanted to make you safe from her. But they didn’t believe him.” June chuckled again. “It didn’t even matter! She couldn’t feed on you – she really cares about you. Might seem strange, but my daughter loves what she loves. So it had to be Landon.”
I took a step closer to June and raised my voice. “What about Landon? He took off in his car!”
“No. It was Ali who left in your friend’s car. She always goes on a little joyride after she feeds. But she’ll be back soon. She’ll come back for you. No matter what you do or where you go. She’ll find you.”
“Tell me what happened to Landon!” My eyes drifted up. Towards the roof.
“Oh, he’s not up there anymore. She’s not a sloppy eater. She only needs flesh, but she’ll eat everything. She feeds only once a year. At the same time, three-thirty. That’s the feeding time.”
“My God. You’re insane.” I backed away from the old woman.
“Here’s a tip. You’ve got plenty of time, but you’ll have to find her someone else next year. Otherwise you might end up like her brother. She loved him a lot, but she still ate his flesh when he disappointed her.”
“I’m calling the police. I’m going to tell them what happened to my friend.”
“Don’t be silly! They’ll never believe you! No one ever believes that my daughter is a devil.”
“You’re crazy! Your whole family! They’ll believe that!”
“Really?” A long black tail snaked through the open crack of her front door. “No one has ever believed that I’m a devil. Except Walt. It’s such a shame that he had to help you. I guess he outlived his usefulness. But like I said – I feel better now.”
My brain began to falter. Luckily, my body tapped into the primal instinct of survival. I bolted away from June, flung open my door, jumped inside, and slammed the door shut. I locked the deadbolt and backpedalled until I hit the couch. I flopped my body down into the cushions and sat there. Frozen. Unable to figure out if my life or my mental health was in danger. Maybe both.
My phone chimed. It was still sitting on the end table next to me. There was a text message from Matt. He had made it home safely. I thought about picking up the phone to call him back, to let him know what had transpired between me and June, but I wouldn’t know what to say. It was impossible to form the correct words. I didn’t want to talk, anyways. I didn’t want to move. It was comforting not to move. Not to think. So I sat on my couch, still and safe, and prayed that I wouldn’t hear another knock at my front door.