“A surfeiting of terror soon makes terror a cliché.”
-Richard Matheson, “I Am Legend”
Dora’s ghost and Jill’s ghost left the basement at midnight, dragging chains all the way up the apartment building’s thirteen floors. The chains were Dora’s idea. “If we’re going to haunt people, we should have chains,” she said. Jill thought it was silly, but she didn’t argue. Dora had always gotten her way when they were alive, and some things never changed.
While they haunted the apartments, they told scary stories.
“…and when the boyfriend came around to open the door, the er’s y hook was dangling from the handle,” Jill said. After a moment, she added, “See, because when he drove off—”
“Yeah, I get it,” Dora said. “I heard that one in the second grade. It’s not scary.” She stopped to howl into the air vents, so that the sound would carry into every apartment in the building. “How about this one: There’s a woman driving alone at night, and the car behind her won’t stop flashing its headlights—”
“Because there’s a er hiding in her backseat,” Jill said. “I heard that one in the second grade too.”
They banged on every door in the seventh floor hallway and left y handprints on every wall.
“My brother told me it really happened to a teacher of his,” said Dora.
“I heard it happened to a friend of my dad’s. But I don’t think it ever really happened to anyone.”
“Yeah. Nothing scary ever happens around here.”
They drifted into an apartment on the eighth floor, stopping to push the closet door open with a long creak, upset everything on one shelf, and leave more handprints on the walls and ceiling.
Dora said: “How about the one where the girl hears someone breaking in in the middle of the night, but feels her dog licking her hand in the dark, so she thinks it‘s all right, until the next morning when she finds—”
“No, tell that one.”
“…I just did.”
“I think I heard that one before anyway. Is it true?”
“Probably not," said Jill. Dora sighed.
“It’s almost Halloween, can’t we think of anything scary?”
“Maybe we’re just not trying hard enough.”
They scribbled scary messages backwards on all the mirrors in the apartment. (Dora insisted that you needed to write backwards on a mirror so that people could read it. Jill was pretty sure that wasn’t how it worked, but said nothing.) Finally, they hovered over the bed of the youngest of the apartment’s inhabitants, a teenage university student who had moved out of her parent’s place two months ago. The girl tossed and turned in her sleep while the ghost ren peered at her with faces blue from livor mortis (they’d died facedown) and dragged y fingers over her sheets.
“People tell those stories all the time, but they‘re not real. What a gyp.”
“Yeah. Nothing’s really scary anymore.”
“Okay: one, two…”
And they both screamed right in the sleeping girl’s ear.
Laurie had just put her suitcase down and was about to call her mother when she stopped and looked at her new roommate, wondering if she was being made fun of and, if so, what the proper way to react was. “What do you mean ‘haunted’?” she said.
“Just what I said. By ghosts, you know?” said Helen. She was a senior, tall and pretty. Laurie was a freshman and she felt like a dwarf standing next to the tall, lithe girl. “Everyone on campus knows. That’s why nobody wants to live here. Why do you think the rent is so cheap?”
“You live here,” said Laurie.
“I’m moving out once I find someone to take over my part of the lease.
It was a Saturday morning, and yellow sunlight streamed into the apartment’s bay windows. Laurie had all of her worldly possessions in a truck downstairs and she had just figured out there was no elevator in the building (was that even legal these days?) and that she would have to bring every box up all 13 flights of stairs. Now she was being told that her new roomie (first-ever roomie!) was in the middle of moving out because of…ghosts?
This must be what they tell every new freshman who moves in, Laurie decided. I’ll play along. “What kind of ghosts are they?”
She brought her suitcase into the room Helen said was hers. It was nice enough: small, white, big windows, hardwood floor. She put the luggage on the bed and began unpacking and refolding all of her clothes. Helen opened a Coke and gave her one too (“Do you want anything in it? Rum? Jack?”) and sat in the only chair. The light coming in the east window made her hair look like a blond halo around her head. “Two s,” she said. “They were ed in the basement, back in the ‘70s I think.”
Laurie’s jaw dropped. “Did that really happen?”
“Of course. I mean, it’s what everyone says. Now they haunt the entire building. I guess just haunting the basement would get boring.”
“Have you ever…seen them?”
“No. But I hear them sometimes. And they get into everything.”
“How bad could it be if they’re just s?”
“Wait and see.”
Laurie wanted to laugh, but Helen didn’t sound like she was joking. She’s really selling this, Laurie thought. Is she studying to be an actress? Because she’s really good.
“Anyway, I just hung out to say hi,” Helen continued.
“Oh,” said Laurie. She tried to hide her disappointment. She’d hoped they might be able to spend tonight getting to know each other. She guessed if the older girl was just going to move out anyway it didn’t matter, but still. “Where are you going, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Out of town. Tomorrow’s Halloween and there’s no way I’m staying here. Those little monsters are going to raise hell.” She paused. “I just thought I’d—”
“Warn me, yeah, got it.”
“I don’t know if you know anyone in the city, or…”
“I do. In fact.” A lie, but what else was she going to say?
“Great! I mean, that’s really lucky. You don’t want to stay here. After Halloween it’ll get…well, a little better, at least.” She shrugged. “I’m sorry, I just don’t want to lie to you. I wish someone had been this honest with me when I moved in.”
Laurie snapped her empty suitcase shut. “I’ll bet,” she said. Then she smiled, hoping it would take the sting out of it. She wondered where all this was leading. Some neighbor boys popping out of her closet with sheets on in the middle of the night, maybe? Whatever it was, she’d stick it through. Because I can handle this, she told herself again. Whatever happens, I can handle it.
They chatted for a few more minutes, Helen apologized twice more, and then she left. It was just Laurie, alone in the apartment. There wasn’t even much furniture—apparently the previous roommate had taken most of it. She flopped down on the bed and looked up at the crinkles of the plaster ceiling. I’m really here, she thought. I made it.
She’d missed more than half of the first semester, of course, because of the hospital stay, and that was time she’d never get back. But it didn’t matter: She could start in the spring, and for now she was finally away from home and her mother and everything else. It was the city and the school she’d picked, and she’d driven the whole way here herself, because she’d insisted on doing it that way.
She called home: Yes, I made it just fine, no problems on the road at all. No, I didn’t feel dizzy even once. Yes, I have all my pills, and if I feel lightheaded I’ll take one and then call you right away. Yes, I love you too.
Eventually she could put the phone down. What to do on her first weekend in her brand new, very first apartment? Unpack, she guessed; she had to return the truck to the local drop-off Monday morning. But it still felt like the occasion called for something special. Helen had ditched her and she didn’t know anyone in this city at all yet. She wanted to go out; she wanted to have fun; she wanted—
Laurie almost screamed when she opened the front door. The boy standing there looked frightened too. For a second they just looked at each other, wide-eyed and startled…and then they burst into helpless laughter.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I was about to knock and you just flung the door right open.”
“It’s all right,” she said. “You just startled me is all. I wasn’t paying enough attention.” She leaned against the doorframe, trying to look and sound as casual as possible. “Are you looking for Helen?” In her head, she prayed: Please don’t be Helen’s boyfriend, please don’t be Helen’s boyfriend…for that matter, don’t be anybody’s boyfriend!
The stranger scratched his head. “Yeah. Are you the new roommate? She told me she was getting one. I live on the tenth floor. She and I are kind of friends. Just friends. I came to see if she had any plans for tomorrow. You know, Halloween.”
“She went out of town. With some guy, I think. It’s just me here.” She added, silently: All alone, all night, in case you want to come over…
“Oh, okay. Well, hey, I know we just met, but do you want to come by?”
“I’d love to!” Laurie bit her tongue. “Tomorrow, right?”
“Yeah. It’s just a little thing for people in the building who don’t really know anyone yet. A lot of people in this building are new. I guess nobody stays very long.”
“Well, you know what they say about this place. I’m Laurie.”
“John. Tenth floor, apartment one, tomorrow night. Come by anytime.”
“Yeah, okay, great. I’ll see you there.”
She just barely stopped herself from winking. The wink would have been too much: She’d have died of embarrassment and never been able to see him again. Once the door was shut and she heard his footsteps down the stairs she waited for her heart to stop fluttering. She was humming to herself as she tromped down the stairs to start hauling all her things up to. Don’t get too excited, she told herself: He just invited you to be polite. It doesn’t mean he’s interested.
…but you can get him interested. You can do anything you want now that you’re on your own. There’s nothing stopping you. It all starts now. “It all starts now,” she said out loud, into the lobby mirror.
She paused when she passed the basement door, remembering Helen’s story. It had sounded silly, but she wondered if the s really had happened, or if it was just something people believed because everyone else said so? For a second she wondered if she should go down there and…what, look for evidence of a 40-year-old crime? Or a couple of little girl ghosts?
Laurie laughed. She had a lot of work to do before tomorrow night. No time to worry about whatever silly thing was going on down there.
Dora sat on one side of the board, Jill on the other, with their fingertips on the pointer. The table was covered in burnt-down candles; the girls on the sixth floor had been trying to use the Ouija board to “contact” spirits in the building, but neither Dora nor Jill had been interested in any of their questions and hadn’t bothered to respond. Now, long after midnight, they sat at the board themselves.
“All right,” said Dora, “what about the one where the car breaks down and the boyfriend goes for help, but he‘s gone for a long time, and then the girlfriend hears this sc noise over and over, and when she gets out she finds someone has hung the boyfriend’s dead body from a tree, and the sound is his feet sc the roof? Did that one really happen?”
The pointer trembled for a second and then slid across the board:
“What about the one about the woman who picks up the old lady with the grocery bag who’s hitchhiking, but for some reason the old woman makes her really nervous, and finally she realizes that it’s actually a man in a wig, and the police arrest him and find a knife in the grocery bag and tell her he’s a er who escaped from jail?” said Jill. “Did THAT one really happen?”
The pointer paused, slid one way and then the next, and then finally came to rest at:
“Oh! What about the escaped mental patient who gave poisoned Halloween candy to all the s who trick or treated in one neighborhood, and all of them got sick and a lot of them died?” said Dora. “That one totally happened. Right?”
The pointer shot across the board:
“Darn it. None of these old stories are any good at all.” Dora threw the board across the darkened apartment and went off in a huff. Jill followed. “I don’t get it,” Dora said. “Everybody hears those stories all the time. How come none of them are true?”
“It’s just the way things are. Like how people say you and me were ed by a maniac down in the basement, but actually it was just a gas leak. Or how they say we pushed that sophomore off the balcony last Halloween but really he just fell talking on his phone. People always want to believe thing are scarier than they really are.”
“But nothing’s really scary unless it’s true.”
“Well, WE scare people.”
“Those people are just scaredy-cats,” said Dora. She went into the apartment on the twelfth floor with the doll collection and twisted all the dolls heads backwards, so it looked like they had broken necks. “None of this stuff is really scary. What’s really scary is maniacs with knifes and escaped mental patients and guys hiding in your house and your car, or that movie Mom wouldn’t let us watch with the guy with the knife and the white mask and the babysitter. Not dumb old stuff like this.” She indicated the dolls.
Jill shrugged, and her chains rattled. “Tomorrow’s Halloween. I guess we’ll just have to try to be as scary as we can. Maybe—”
Jill paused. Dora had a look on her face. Jill knew that look: It was the same one she’d had back when she said they should play in the basement in the first place even though Mom and Dad said not to.
“I’ve got an idea,” Dora said. “I can’t believe I never thought of it before. I know how we can be REALLY scary.”
Jill trembled. “Dora, maybe it’s not a good idea. Maybe we shouldn’t try to be scarier than we are already. Maybe—“
Dora grabbed her by the arm. “You haven’t even heard the idea yet. It’s going to be great.” She squeezed a little harder. “This is going to be the best Halloween ever. Trust me.”
Like John said, it was a small party, only about ten guests, all but two of them freshman and all of them people who had just moved into the building this semester. Nobody wore a costume and the only decorations were a few pumpkins John’s roommate had carved (even those were looking a bit on the saggy side; he’d carved them nearly two weeks ago and didn’t have money to buy new ones by the time Halloween rolled around). But the building was kind of spooky at night anyway, and two guys from the first floor had gone trick or treating across the street as a goof and actually got a lot of candy, which they spread out on the floor and split between everybody, so the place had a nice Halloween night atmosphere after all.
Naturally, the conversation turned inevitably to one topic:
“Of course they SAY the building is haunted, but I haven’t seen anything,” said a girl from the fourth floor, around a mouthful of Milk Duds. “I think it’s all made up.”
“No way!” said one of the first floor guys who had brought the candy. “It’s totally true. I wake up every morning with all my sheets and blankets pulled off my bed.”
“That’s because you kick in your sleep all night long. Last time I stayed the night I woke up with bruises on my shins,” said a girl from the ninth floor. “That’s why you’re sleeping on the couch if you come over tonight.”
“Somebody messed with our Ouija board last night. I mean, after we went to bed, we found it on the other side of the room,” said a sixth floor girl. “Jess says it was the wind, but I don‘t think she believes it. She seemed really creeped out.”
“Wait a minute,” said John. “Blankets, Ouija boards, that’s all small-time. I’ve heard really crazy stories: y handprints, voices screaming, windows breaking. Hasn’t anybody seen something like that? You know, something good?”
There was a pause. “Well, I heard all that too,” said John’s tenth-floor neighbor. “But I think the people who really see shit like that move out. Wouldn’t you?”
“Hell no,” said John. “I’d love to be that scared. Nothing that scary ever really happens. I wish it did.” He looked at Laurie. “What do you think?”
The question startled her. She stalled by taking a swig of pumpkin beer (she was still on her first one, but it went right to her head). She was sitting next to John on the couch—not too close, but not too far away either. After taking a second to think, she swallowed (careful not to wince—this stuff was actually awful) and said:
“I just got here last night, and nothing happened in my apartment at all. But…hell yeah, I’d LOVE if something scary happened. Especially tonight. That’s the whole reason I moved into this place.”
John grinned and clinked their bottles together. He even sat a little closer on the couch. Laurie’s heart fluttered again.
An hour passed, then two: the jack o’lantern’s candles burned lower, the empty bottles piled higher, the bag of candy disappeared bit by bit, and, subtly, the space between Laurie and John grew ever smaller. One by one, the other guests floated off to their own apartments, and John’s roommate retired with his date. Soon John and Laurie were alone on the couch, and the sickeningly sweet essence of pumpkin beer was swirling around her head. They’d been making out for ten minutes and his lips tasted like lingering pumpkin spice mixed with the faint, underlying sweetness of chocolate.
Laurie shimmied lower on the couch and John scooted a little bit up to lay half on her. She ran her fingers through the short bristles of his hair as he panted against her open mouth. Oh my God, she thought, this is really happening. His hand glanced down and across her left breast, squeezing a bit through the fabric of her sweater. She grabbed him and pulled him in, twisting her legs around his body (which pinched a bit—she’d intentionally worn jeans that were too tight). She stabbed her tongue into his mouth and all but pulled his hands full down to her breasts, where he squeezed until she squealed.
She pulled her sweater off and tossed it onto the floor. John’s hands moved to the hooks of her bra, and she let them. She crushed her naked chest against his, and his bare skin felt achingly warm in the draft of the apartment. The last jack o’lantern had burned its candle down to a nub, and the flickering orange glow of its face was the only light in the room. At first she’d felt self-conscious: Am I doing any of this right, she thought? Back home she’d only ever kissed one boy. (Also one girl, as a dare, but she didn’t think that counted.) She knew the things to do, but had never had the opportunity to try them out. Now she found it was a lot like the first time she danced: Just let him lead.
His lips found a sensitive spot on the side of her neck and she bucked and squirmed, fingers digging into the couch upholstery. As he lay on top of her she felt a distinct bulge down in his pants, and blushed. Holy shit, this is really going to happen. Did she want it? She did…she was nervous, of course, but yes. She’d wanted it for forever now, and she hadn’t dreamed she’d get the milestone out of the way so soon after she was finally away from Mom’s watchful eye. She flung her arms around John and pulled his body even tighter against hers. The room had been drafty, but now it was getting SO hot…
A momentary panic accompanied the sudden wave of dizziness, and Laurie worried she might black out then and there. She couldn’t speak, so it was a second before she could signal to John that something was wrong (she slapped his back a few times). He came up looking confused and she rolled off the couch and onto her knees on the floor. Just breathe, she told herself. She’d left the pills back in her apartment—a stupid thing to do, but she resented having to take them everywhere and relished the freedom of abandoning them. Now she wished she hadn’t, but she talked herself through the attack slowly: Just breathe, she reminded herself. One breath at a time and you’ll be okay. Just breathe…
In about a minute, it passed. She sighed, relieved. Then she remembered John was still there and, embarrassed turned to look at him. “I’m sorry. I’m okay. It was nothing you did. I just have this…condition.”
“Oh. Oh! Is it serious?”
“No!” she said. “It’s not. I just get these panic attacks sometimes, and when I do I have to slow down. It’s no big deal.”
“I get it,” he said. Half-undressed on the couch, he looked a bit awkward. “I was moving too fast. If you need to go—”
“I don’t,” she said, and took his hand. “That is, if you don’t want me to?” He shook his head. She smiled, relieved. But now, a puzzle: How to do this without running the risk of exerting herself too much? She eyed his sitting position and said, “Stay right where you are. I want to try something.”
He half-jumped when she undid his belt buckle, but then settled back in. That bulge was still there. In fact, it even looked even bulgier now. She scooted his jeans down his hips and he obliged. Laurie pulled the waistband on his shorts down with mock reverence. When she saw what popped free, she was…surprised, and also completely unsurprised. She knew what to expect, of course, and had seen pictures and videos, but the real thing was still different.
Now, let’s see if I can figure out the right way to do this, she thought. A cousin had explained it to her, but she was still a little unclear: Wouldn’t she ? Shortly she found that, yes, she would, if she went too quickly. She decided to take it one step at a time, first wrapping her fingers around it (it was springier than she’d expected, but also less flexible). She slid it against her palm from one end to the other and was pleased to hear John give a kind of growl. Trying it again, she found she could make him squirm in his seat quite easily, which as fun. Finally she worked up the nerve to extend her tongue and touch just the tip to him. She licked him up and down, rubbing the grain of his skin first against her tongue and then against her lips. It was cooler than she’d thought it would be.
John grunted deep when she slid the tip of him into her mouth. That was the part that had always made her the most curious: On the Internet it always looked shiny and juicy, and she imagined it would practically pop in her mouth. Instead it felt heavy on her tongue, but when she prodded it she found he went a little wild. The slit at the top dribbled and there was a spark of salty warmth on her palate.
Very, very slowly, she eased him inside one bit at a time (mindful of the common advice about her teeth). It bulged wider than she’d thought, and the feeling of it was totally unlike what she’d expected, but she didn’t stop or slow down. Even when it went all the way back and she felt her gag seize up again she just slowed down and did it in even smaller bits, wrapping her lips around it as tightly as she could and massaging with her mouth.
I’m really doing it, she thought. It felt…strange, to be honest. But thrilling. This was the most secret, salacious thing she’d ever imagined; to be confident and daring, like the women she’d seen on the computer or the older cousins who had explained certain things to her. She’d felt she’d never be able to make things work with a guy until she knew how to handle him this way. Now she was, and it was easier than she’d imagined. She slid her mouth over and down him again, bobbing her head and letting her tongue dribble all along the underside. She heard the upholstery tighten as he dug his fingers in. Her hands were free, so she reached up and cradled his balls, careful not to squeeze them too hard. He responded by jerking upwards in a motion that almost d her again, but also made her giddy.
The darkness of the room and the intimacy of the single candle made it easy to forget everything else. I must look really, really hot like this, she thought. She was still wearing her too-tight jeans, but that was okay; she liked the idea that if anyone else walked in they’d still be able to check out the way the fabric hugged her ass and thighs, even while her breasts bounced free and her mouth swallowed John up and inside. He was dribbling like crazy now and she heard his breathing becoming faster and shallower. Was he really going to—? Yes, she decided in a second, he really was. And she was going to let it.
When it came, it was quicker than she thought it would be: barely any warning, and then a warm gush and a strange, salty, slightly bitter taste filling up her mouth. John twisted and wriggled in his seat and Laurie pushed herself down all the way on him, letting him squirt in her throat and feeling the hot, surreal sensation of it sliding down as she swallowed. When she came off him, his cock was dripping with spit, and her mouth felt like a hot, satisfying mess. “Oh my God…” she said. “That was…”
Liberating was the word she was thinking of, but she didn’t say it. Too weird.
“Yeah,” said John. “It was.” He paused. “I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have. I didn’t know if you wanted to—”
“Oh, I definitely wanted to.”
“Right, but now I can’t…I mean, if you wait a while, maybe…”
She wanted to giggle. “No problem, tiger.” Tiger? Is that something people really said? “You know where to find me. You know, tomorrow, or anytime. If you want.” The truth was, she did have a particularly troublesome itch that she guessed she’d have to go scratch on her own now. But that wasn’t so bad.
“Yeah. Yeah!” John said. “Okay, definitely. Do you want another beer, or…”
“I think I’m at my limit. Oh, where did you throw my bra?”
“Back here, over here. Your sweater is—”
“I’ve got it.” She put the sweater on but simply carried the bra, swinging it back and forth a bit as she went to the door. “Thanks for the invitation. I had a really good time.”
“Me too. Yeah. I’ll see you around?”
“I hope so.”
They kissed at the door (briefly—she suspected he didn’t want to taste what was still lingering in her mouth). She took the stairs two at a time. She felt…well, a lot of things, actually. But one of them was a strange kind of relief. None of this was hard at all. It wasn’t all some strange, foreign thing reserved only for other people. She could do it too. She could do anything. Tonight had confirmed all of her best expectations.
Laurie paused when she got to the front door. It was open, just a tiny crack. Had she forgotten to lock it? Or…well, any burglars who came in would have left disappointed, since there was hardly anything to steal, unless they wanted to unpack all of her boxes for her. And what thief would climb all the way to the top floor anyway? Probably she’d just left it open. “Or else the ghosts did it,” she said out loud, and laughed.
She locked the door behind her, kicked off her shoes, and weaved her way somewhat unsteadily toward her room. She wondered if she should stop by John’s place tomorrow, just to say hello? Or maybe I don’t want to, she thought. Maybe I just want it to be a one-nighter. I could go out and meet other guys instead. I could meet a guy every night. She flopped onto the bed and giggled. There was nobody to tell her no. There was nothing—
She hadn’t bothered to turn the lights on, so it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. A moment for her to notice the dark shape looming over her on the bed. A moment to recognize the gleam of cold steel in the intruder’s hand, and detect the subtle shuffle of boots on floorboards. And then another moment to remember how to breathe, but even then she found she couldn’t bring herself to stand, or run, or scream, or do any of the things that she knew she should do. All she could do was stare.
It wasn’t until the black shape actually raised the knife up that her body began to obey her brain’s frantic commands. She rolled off the bed (she meant to stand, but her knees were too shaky), scrambled across the floor, pulled herself up using the doorframe, ran to the living room window (open, although there were bars on it), and screamed as loud as she could:
A noise behind her. She saw the intruder slip out of the bedroom and into the hall. The bare moonlight coming through the window accented the blade in his hand. He made scarcely any noise at all, his footsteps padding ever so softly on the floor. Laurie stumbled backwards. She had to run, she knew. There was still time to make it to the door, but soon he’d be too close. Even though her heart was pounding and adrenaline in her veins made her feel crazy, her feet dragged when she tried to move them. Oh God, she thought, my condition; I still don’t have my pills. The lightheadedness was coming on.
If she blacked out now she didn’t stand a chance. I have to take three deep breaths, she thought, but she didn’t have time. Two breaths, then, and then I run. Only a second had passed, but the man with the knife was that much closer. I’ve got to go, she thought, but first she herself to breathe. Breathe, she told herself, come on and breathe. Another second. No more time. Any longer and he‘d be right on her…
Bare feet sding on the hardwood floor, Laurie bolted. The man with the knife lunged to grab her, but his movements didn’t seem to have much strength behind them. She felt the tips of his gloved hand brush her wrist…but by then she was already passed him and to the front door. She jerked the doorknob, threw it open, and was about to sprint out into the hall and escape—
And then the door slammed shut. It happened so fast it nearly knocked her in the face. The door swung smack shut again as soon as she’d opened it, and when she grabbed the knob she found that it wouldn’t turn. The lock was undone, but no matter how hard she struggled it wouldn’t budge. Oh God, oh God, what’s happening, she thought? She heard footsteps behind her. I’ve got to get to the window—no, there were bars. Was there any other way out? Could she get back to the room and lock herself in? Could she—
A gloved hand touched her hair. Laurie collapsed, screaming, to the floor, hands over her head. This was it, but she didn’t want to look. This can’t be happening, she thought, this can’t be happening. This can’t—
And then she heard it: Two voices, very quiet but very distinct. They sounded like ren. “Dora, that’s enough. Don’t be mean.”
“Shhh! She’ll hear you!”
“Just stop it now, okay? She’s scared enough.”
“All right. You’re no fun…”
And that was all. She heard the rustle of fabric and the clatter of something heavy on the floor. The intruder didn’t grab her or haul her up by the hair or cut her throat. He didn’t seem to be doing anything at all. After a few agonizing seconds, she herself to look, and when she did she saw…
Nothing. She was alone. The room was empty. No, that wasn’t quite true: On the floor in front of her was a crumpled pile of black clothes. A pair of sneakers sat orphaned nearby, with nobody’s feet in them. The intruder, whoever he was, had vanished.
It was some time before Laurie could bring herself to move again. When she did, she found the room seemed to be heaving back and forth, and when she tried to breathe she couldn’t. Oh, right, my condition, she thought. Now that she knew she wasn’t about to be ed, the stress caught up to her body all at once. Should she try to get her pills, or was it too late for that and better to call an ambulance instead? In the end it didn’t matter, because before she had even a second to make up her mind everything went black, and she crumpled with one last heavy thump to the floor.
Although the building was mostly empty, there were still enough neighbors home, awake, and sober to hear the screams and call 911. The police found Laurie unresponsive, but she regained consciousness in the hospital a few hours later. Her statement, when she could make one, was rational enough, but it didn’t explain any of the strangest things they found in the apartment.
In the bedroom they discovered a digital camera had been set up, and on the floor around the bed it appeared the intruder had crudely painted a circle with a crisscrossing star pattern in it. “One of those, what do you call them, pentagrams,” said one of the responding officers. “The kind those Satanists use.”
“Think so?” said another one.
“Of course. It’s Halloween, so one of those nutso devil worshipers broke in here and planned to this poor girl as a ritual sacrifice. Then he was going to tape the whole thing and sell it to perverts on the Internet. You know: a video.”
“Oh, yeah, I heard of those.”
“Sick fuckers like this do that kind of stuff all the time,” the cop said. “I tell you, it’s a shame what’s happening to this country.”
“I don’t know,” said another cop. “Have you ever actually heard of devil worshipers ing anyone? Not just a story, I mean, but ever picked up the paper and seen that in there, with names and photos, or talked to another cop who worked the case? And I always heard that nobody ever really finds any tapes whenever they try.”
“But everybody knows that kind of thing happens,” the first officer insisted. “That kind of shit happens all the time. I mean, just look at this mess here. It all makes sense.”
Even the skeptic was to agree. Except a few things still didn’t make sense: Why the suspect had apparently run out of the apartment and left all his clothes behind rather than finish the deed, for example. And how an apparently naked stranger had been able to flee down thirteen floors and out into the night without anyone seeing such a thing remained a mystery as well. Neither could anybody explain why the attacker had apparently dressed himself in clothes from the victim’s own closet.
In fact, all the evidence left turned out to be things from the apartment: The knife (a harmless prop, upon closer inspection, part of a disused Halloween costume) belonged to the victim’s roommate. The pentagram was drawn with nail polish from the bathroom medicine cabinet.
“It’s a crazy world,” was all that the talkative cop concluded.
As the night wound down, Dora was looking at the police tape over the door with a bright, brittle grin. Jill moped nearby.
“I still say that was mean,” said Jill. “You shouldn’t have put all that gross stuff in the bedroom, nor done that thing with the clothes. You could have really hurt that girl…”
“Yeah, but she’s fine. And she was SCARED.”
“It wasn’t any scarier than the normal stuff we do.”
“But nobody believes all that stuff. Everybody think it’s just stories; all made up, like the other ones. This story people will believe—and it’s actually true.”
“Well, sort of,” said Jill. She made some of Laurie’s other shoes walk a few feet by themselves again, and then made another pair of pants float up and join them for a few steps more. It was an easy trick. Both ghosts yawned as the sun came up, and dragged their chains back down to the basement.
“What do you want to do tomorrow night?” said Dora.
“I don’t know,” said Jill. She paused. “Hey, did you ever hear the one about the guy who wakes up in the bathtub full of ice and—”
“You told that one already,” said Dora.
“Oh,” said Jill.
Another pause. “But…you could tell it again.”
“You want me to?”
“Might as well,” Dora said. “It’s not like anything scary is going to happen around here.”