When I moved into my fully furnished apartment I cried. This was the last piece of the puzzle. I had got a job as a copywriter for a hugely popular website and was finally living in the city. It was my American Dream.
My friends Anne and Joe were helping me move. They placed boxes in the living room and saw me on the balcony.
“Oh honey, what’s wrong?” Anne asked.
“I’m fine,” I said, “I’m just so happy.”
I watched the taxis and cars shuffle people to and fro, and the pedestrians filtering past each other on the sidewalk. The living and breathing city came to life before my eyes.
Anne rubbed my back.
“They look so small,” she said following my gaze.
“We are all very proud of you, Becky.”
“One more trip should do it,” Joe said, he seemed eager to finish.
“I’m sorry,” I said and we took the elevator down to the ground floor.
When we returned, the elevator opened and I strolled to the apartment. The door was ajar, I pushed it with my foot and piled my box on top of another. A man in a suit sat aimlessly flicking through channels on the television before stopping on one where a stock ticker scrolled along the bottom of the screen. A news anchor pointed to a graph, the volume too low to hear what he was saying.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
He briefly turned to me, then back to the TV.
Slightly nervous, I returned to the elevator to see my friends struggle.
“Can you only carry one box?” Joe asked.
“I wasn’t thinking,” I said apologising, then picked up the heavy ones to make up for it.
“Something weird guys,” I continued as I struggled with the weight, “there’s a man in the apartment.”
“Maybe it’s the super?” Anne said, following me along the hallway.
“He’s a bit overdressed if he is, look.”
I kicked open the door.
He was gone.
“He was right there!” I said.
I put the boxes down and caught my breath.
“I don’t see anyone?” Joe replied.
“It’s been a long day,” Anne said, “You’re exhausted, maybe you’re seeing things?”
“Are you going to be okay?”
“I’ll be fine, I just realised I haven’t eaten today. That’s surely not going to help.”
“If it’s okay, I’m going to go,” Joe said.
“Thank you so much.”
I opened my arms and hugged him.
They left and I closed the door, turning the lock.
I peered around my apartment. The awe I felt before returned, and I felt so lucky.
I woke from a short nap and returned to the living room. I found the crate that had kitchen on the side in Sharpie. I ripped off the tape and pulled out a bottle of wine. I searched for a glass and thought, screw it. I sat on the balcony and opened the wine.
A warm evening breeze brushed my face and I drank. The night was clear, the moon shone back a luminous white. I couldn’t believe how large the balcony was. There was enough room for a table and chairs, and a place to grow some vegetables.
A sound deafened me, I squealed and crunched my eyes shut, my ears began to ring. I looked down to see a metal object had landed on the floor next to me and chipped the concrete.
“Miss, are you okay?” I heard from above.
Disorientated, I stared at the metal thing, it appeared to be a clasp of some sort.
“I’m fine,” I said without thinking.
I gazed up to see a man peer over some scaffolding.
“I’m so sorry,” he shouted.
“Accidents happen,” I yelled back.
My gaze returned to the metal clasp. It was obvious now, it was supposed to be part of the structure above.
I returned to the living room, leaving the balcony door open. I drank more wine and opened the fridge. There wasn’t much there. Only what I’d bought on the drive here this morning. I grabbed the pasta bowl and sat at the breakfast table to eat.
The phone rang.
Curious as to who it was, I picked it up.
“Is that Miss Green?”
“This is David Watson, the building superintendent. I cannot apologise enough for what just happened. There are building works on the thirty-fifth floor. I promise the necessary action will be taken and any damage will be repaired free of charge.”
“Thank you,” I said, still in shock, “there’s a small crack on the balcony, but I wasn’t hurt.”
“I’m very glad to hear that,” he said, there was obvious relief in his voice, “I do hope you enjoy your time here.”
“Say, can I ask a question?”
“You weren’t in my apartment earlier were you?”
“No, ma’am. We’re not allowed to enter without prior permission, unless there’s an emergency.”
“So you don’t wear a suit?”
He chuckled, “I think I’d ruin one quite quickly if I did. Have a nice evening, ma’am.”
I replaced the phone. I stared at the TV and thought about the man I saw. The wine bottle was half full, the alcohol was already taking its toll and I felt sleepy. I retuned it to the fridge and went to bed.
The sound of voices woke me. I panicked at first. The unfamiliar environment catching me off guard. After spending my whole life in the country, I was not used to living with shared walls. I laid awake listening.
It sounded like a TV with the volume up. I thought about banging on the wall, but decided against it. I’d not met my neighbours yet, and I wanted to get off on the right foot.
My mouth was dry and I was parched. I got up to get a glass of water. I opened the door and the noise from the television caused me to jump. The man in the suit was there again. He turned down the volume and stared at me.
“It’s all gone, Jenny, all of it. How could I have been so stupid?”
He stood up and paced.
“My God, what are we going to do? They said it was a sure thing.”
The stock ticker scrolled along the bottom of the screen.
“What are you doing here?” I said, my heart racing.
“Jenny, don’t you realise? I’m a fucking dead man.”
Blood trickled down the man’s face.
“I can’t pay them back! I’ve got nothing!”
“I think you’re in the wrong apartment,” I said shaking.
I shuffled into the kitchen, getting as close to the phone as I could.
“I’m so sorry, Jenny. Please forgive me!”
He fell to his knees and begged. Blood matted the man’s hair and flooded down his face. His dislocated jaw clicked as he talked.
“I should’ve never brought you into this.”
Slowly I moved my hand to the phone, lifting it out of the cradle.
The flesh on his face grew bloated and purple, he held his right arm to his chest, the fingers splintered and bent. He rose to his feet, dragging a crippled leg as he approached the balcony.
“I’m sorry, Jenny. I love you so much.”
Without a second thought, he leaned on the wall and fell.
“No!” I shouted.
“Hello?” I heard a muffled voice from the handset.
“I’ve had an intruder in my apartment. He’s jumped. Call an ambulance!”
The lights of the emergency vehicles painted the buildings across the road. I told an officer what happened. I started to explain about the man’s behaviour before he jumped. The cop flipped his pocket notebook shut and his concentration waned.
“What, you don’t believe me?” I said irritated.
“You realise it’s a felony to prank call emergency services in this State?”
“I’m not lying.”
I heard his radio crackle.
“Yeah?” he said.
“It’s a negative,” a distorted voice said.
The cop walked out without saying another word.
“Wait!” I said, but he ignored me.
I ran to the balcony to see the ambulance pull away and drive down the street, its emergency lights now dark.
People flooded back out now the vehicle had left. There was no mark on the sidewalk, no evidence that someone had jumped.
“Miss Green?” I heard from the door.
A man in his fifties stood in a blue boiler suit, waiting to be invited in.
“Hi,” I said, still confused.
“I’m David, the super,” he said.
“I know what I saw.”
“It’s okay, ma’am. I believe you.”
I slunk down into the chair the suited man had sat in earlier, and for the briefest moment, it felt warm.
The superintendent strode through the apartment, checking it out as if it were an ex-girlfriend.
“Where did you see him?” he asked.
“He was sitting here,” I said, pointing to myself.
Suddenly I didn’t feel comfortable sitting anymore. I jumped to my feet.
“He was watching the TV, then when he saw me come out of the bedroom, it was as if he recognised me. He called me Jenny, then started to beg for forgiveness. Without a second thought, he went to the balcony, told me he loved me and then flopped over the edge. That’s when I spoke to you.”
David was peering over the edge.
“There’s no chance he could have walked away from that,” he said before his eyed glued to the clasp on the ground.
“Is this what fell?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“It didn’t hit you in the head or anything?”
“No,” I replied, rubbing my head, as if looking for a bump.
“Are you 100% sure?”
“I don’t think I was. I have no pain.”
He picked up the metal part.
“Again, we’ll fix the floor. You cannot imagine how bad I feel about this.
“Get some sleep. I can come by tomorrow to check on you if you’d like?”
“No, that won’t be necessary,” I said.
I thanked him for the concern and re-locked the door.
I didn’t sleep much for the rest of the night.
My first day in work was hard. The lack of sleep and exhaustion from moving were really taking their toll. I was shown to my desk and asked to shadow a guy called Jesse for the day. The job I had worked so hard to get now didn’t feel so important. I only wanted sleep.
In the afternoon, I wrote my first piece. I was dreading handing it over, that they’d see through the effort I had made to appear awake, and be disappointed with the article.
“This is pretty good,” Jesse said, “for someone who looks like they haven’t slept in years.”
“Is it that obvious?” I said with some relief.
“A little,” he said offering me a smile, “look the city can be a bit of a change for some people, it can take some time to get used to the twenty-four hour noise. When you do though, you’ll wonder how you did without it.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Really looking forward to what you can do when you are 100%, good job today.”
I thanked him and left.
My hand hovered in front of the keyhole as I contemplated going inside. I took a deep breath and in one swift movement opened the door and stepped in. I sighed with relief as I saw it was empty.
I placed the groceries, I had bought from the store, in the fridge. I stared at the open bottle of wine and placed it on the counter. The TV stood blank in the corner. I approached and reached around the back to unplug it. The loose cable dropped from behind and onto the floor. I shivered at the realisation that is was unplugged. I draped the throw from the couch over the top of the TV, momentarily satisfying my fear.
I collapsed into bed, and instantly dropped off.
Later, I roused to the sound the television from the living room. My mouth was parched. I ignored it and tried to fall back to sleep.
“Jenny, wake up!” a voice next to me said.
I kept my eyes shut and lay perfectly still.
“Jenny! I saw that financial advisor today. He said loans are so cheap now, if we get one for $125,000, we can secure it against the apartment. We can invest it and double our money within a couple of weeks! There’s no downsides. Jenny, wake up.”
I felt the bed rock. Panicked, I opened my eyes.
The TV was now silent. The bedroom empty. A cold sweat had gathered on my forehead. I got out and anxiously opened the bedroom door. The living room was quiet.
I pulled a glass from the cupboard and turned on the tap. I placed my hand in the stream, waiting for the water to run cold. I filled the cup and knocked it back before filling it again.
I turned around and dropped the glass. It smashed on the vinyl floor.
“Help me Harold, I don’t want to live anymore, I’m in so much pain.”
There was an old woman in a nightgown, her face creased with fear.
“Who are you?” I asked, backing into the counter behind me.
“You know who I am, Harold. I’m scared.”
She walked towards the balcony. The glass door now open, the curtains blowing in the wind.
“I always adored the view from here, bye Harold.”
I ran through the living room, skidding to a halt outside.
I didn’t look, I knew she wasn’t down there. I should have felt petrified, but I didn’t. I half expected these visions to be hallucinations caused by a lack of sleep. I wasn’t going to take the chance though. Tomorrow I was getting out of here.
There’s a point when you are so tired, you feel awake. Like the calm before a storm.
“I’m fine,” I told Jesse, “I promise.”
He took me to one side, “We can’t publish what you’ve written.”
Hurt, and a little scared I’d lose my job within a week, I pleaded, “What’s wrong with it? Is it the subject, I can re-write it?”
“No, it’s not that. I don’t know if I should call someone?”
His eyes darted around the room. He knew how happy I was to get this job. He also knew, handing my article into the editors would get me fired.
“I’ll be blunt. It’s gibberish. It’s like the ramblings of a mad man.”
He showed me a print out. That wasn’t what I’d written. I was sure of it.
“I think I need to get some sleep.”
“You go do that, I’ll cover for you.”
“Thank you,” I said, holding back tears, “why are you doing this for me?”
“I like you,” he said, squeezing my hand.
For the first time the apartment felt empty, really empty. My eyelids hung heavy. I dialled the number for the real estate agent.
“Hello, Brown and Associates?”
“Hi, this is Becky Turner.”
“I was going to phone you to ask how you are getting on,” the agent said.
“Not too great.”
“Oh no, what’s happened? Is the place too small, too loud?”
“A little loud, yes.”
“Well, it is in the city, you have to expect that.”
“That’s not what I mean…” I trailed off, “Do you have anywhere else?”
“You’ve signed a six month lease,” she said.
“Please, I’m desperate, I haven’t slept in days. A piece of metal almost hit me on the head on my first night from some work they’re doing on the building.”
“That’s good. I didn’t mean it like that. Something like that though can probably get you out of the contract. Especially if we threaten legal action.”
“No, don’t do that,” I said, thinking of the nice superintendent.
There was a pause.
“Checking my listings, there’s an apartment of similar size a couple of streets down, $3,700 a month. How does that sound?”
“How much? That’s over three times what I’m paying.”
“I’m sorry, you’re in the heart of the city. Real estate doesn’t come cheap.”
“Can you phone me if anything else comes up?”
“I sure can. Was there anything else I can help you with?”
“No,” I said disappointedly.
I phoned Anne and asked if she could stay over, a girls night in. She said she’d be here straight after work.
I wanted to go to bed, try and catch up on some sleep, but I couldn’t, not when I was alone.
When I saw Anne smile, I realised how lucky I was to have a friend like her.
“I’m scared,” I said, pouring myself another glass of wine.
Her face fell.
“What’s wrong?” she said putting her hand on mine.
“You’re going to laugh.”
“I promise I won’t.”
I stared into her eyes and saw an innocence gaze back.
“I think the apartment is haunted.”
Her hand moved to her face to stifle a chuckle.
“Stop it! You said you wouldn’t!”
“I’m sorry, it’s not something I’d expect to hear from you. What have you seen? Someone in white sheets, going oooooo.”
“Cut it out!” I demanded.
“I’m finished, I’m finished.”
“You know that man I saw on the day I moved in?”
“I’ve seen him again, and an old woman.”
“Have you locked your door? Maybe it’s some crazy drunk people.”
I hung my head in embarrassment.
“Look, I’m staying the night. If anything happens, I’ll be here.”
“You’re genuinely scared, aren’t you?”
I nodded, and began to cry.
“It’ll all be fine. It’s the first time you’ve lived on your own. And you said it yourself, you haven’t slept much.”
Anne lay in the bed next to me. It was only minutes before she began to snore. I felt safe. Her rhythmic breathing was a lullaby to me and I drifted off as well.
“Wake up, Jenny!”
“Wake up, Harold!”
I cracked my eyelids to see the suited man sitting on the edge of the bed. Dark brown liquid seeped out of the wound on his disfigured face. His dislocated jaw clicked as he talked. The old woman stood at the end of the bed, her neck cricked to one side, a purple bruise grew and enveloped her face. Her eyes swelled and became bloodshot.
“The shares aren’t doing so hot, Jenny. I’ve been told it’s a waiting game, but the bills are due any day now, and we have a larger mortgage to pay, too. Jenny? Talk to me please?”
The sound of the TV blared so loudly, I hoped it would wake Anne, though she continued to snore.
“Harold, I’ve taken all the morphine tablets. It won’t be long now. Please hold me. Harold, please speak to me?”
“Anne, wake up,” I said, pushing her.
She stirred and moaned, rolling over to face away.
“I’m going to fix this. I love you,” the suited man said.
“Anne, please wake up! They’re here!”
She elbowed me in the jaw. A stabbing pain shot through my skull.
“I can feel the pills working, Harold. I’m going to go get some fresh air, I love you,” the old woman said.
“Anne! Please wake up!” I said, shaking her as hard as I could.
“What, what is it?” she replied, sitting upright.
“Who are? I don’t see anyone.”
And nor did I. It was silent, except for my cries.
“They… I… I’m not going mad!”
“Oh honey, it’s probably just a bad dream.”
“It felt so real.”
She put her arms round me and coaxed me back to bed.
“It’ll all be okay,” she said, running her hand through my hair.
I sniffed and involuntarily gasped as the adrenaline coursed through my veins.
I opened my eyes to feel the warm sunlight on my face. I was still exhausted, but for the first time in days I had slept. I heard a distant knock.
“I think someone’s at the door,” Anne said.
“I don’t care.”
I closed my eyes, my mind focusing on the knocking absentmindedly.
“Don’t you think you should answer it?”
“No, I’m going to try and get some more sleep.”
“I’m going to have to leave in thirty minutes, are you going to be okay?”
“I think so,” I said.
Anne got out of bed and disappeared into the ensuite. I wished she could stay every night. But I knew that wasn’t possible.
I drifted in and out of light sleep, cherishing every extra minute I afforded myself.
Warm humid air entered the room as Anne left the ensuite.
“Do you want me to make some breakfast?” she asked.
“That would be nice, thank you. I don’t have a lot though.”
“I’ll come up with something. Say, I can still hear someone knocking. I’ll see who it is.”
She left the room, leaving the door open.
“There’s no one there,” she said puzzled.
But the noise continued, now quiet and less frequent.
“I think it’s coming from the balcony.”
“What is it?” I said, darting out of bed.
Anne stood in front of the balcony doors, holding a curtain in one hand. A woman hung upside down, wrapped in some sort of netting. Blood dripped from her broken neck. Her eyes were vacant, not long for this world. Her hand tapped the glass with the only effort she had left.
“Oh my God,” I said frantic.
I called the emergency services from my cellphone and was asked to stay on the line. I picked up the apartment phone and dialled the super, it rang and rang.
Anne was still holding the curtain, staring at the woman who no longer knocked.
“We can’t do anything for her,” I said, wrapping my arm around her and ushering her away from the balcony, “let’s wait outside.”
We stood in the hallway and Anne shook uncontrollably.
“Was that the ghost?” she asked.
Paramedics arrived soon after. We watched as they rushed in and closed the door behind them. I thanked the dispatcher and hung up.
“Are you okay?” I asked Anne.
She shook her head.
I phoned work and asked for Jesse. I told him what had happened. He offered to pick me up, that I should stay at his house until I could sort something out. I thanked him and said I needed to be with my friend for bit, to make sure she was okay.
“I’ll be fine,” Anne reassured, and I said goodbye.
We had spent the day in the coffee shop a few doors down. She had long since stopped shaking.
“Call me when you get in?” I asked.
I watched her get in her car and leave.
“Rough few days you’ve had,” Jesse offered.
We drove in silence, leaving the main part of town, entering the less desirable outskirts.
“It’s a bit of a mess,” he said, opening the door.
The stale smell of weed wafted out.
“You can stay on the couch as long as you need.”
“Thanks,” I said, rubbing my arm nervously.
“My roommate has gone AWOL, so if he isn’t back soon, you can stay in his room.”
“Where is he?”
“I have no idea. He went up town on Saturday, and I’ve not seen him since.”
I sat on the couch. Small burns decorated the fabric.
Jesse laid down on the sofa opposite.
“I’m worried, to tell you the truth. He’s never gone this long. Though he is very flakey.”
Something caught my attention from the corner of my eye. There was a man, an open wound on his neck bled, blotting his T-Shirt.
Jesse didn’t acknowledge him.
“I’m sorry, I was an idiot. I should’ve stayed away, like you said.”
Jesse didn’t respond.
That’s when I realised what I needed to do. That’s when I realised why I saw ghosts.
“Jesse, I have some bad news,” I said.