• Tom Batt

No Place Like Home

The apartment was of a low standard, but it met Tim’s budget and came fully furnished with a couch, coffee table and dining table. The short stumpy troll-like landlord showed Tim around the small abode gesturing toward the kitchen and bedroom. Tim felt unease in the man’s presence with his shaved bald head and dark shadows around his eyes making him resemble the Batman villain, The Penguin. However he had already lost out on several other apartments and wasn’t willing to let another slip from his grasp, after all how often does one see the landlord?

‘The previous tenant left rather abruptly leaving her furniture behind. You’re welcome to keep it,’ he offered with a creepy whisper.

‘I can’t say no to that,’ Tim replied gratefully.

He approached the couch and pressed the seat cushion with his hand testing its comfort. ‘Very nice,’ he said turning to the landlord and smiling. Tim made his way over to the window and peered out. He found being on the first floor perfect. High enough to deter burglars, but not so high to avoid going up and down several flights of stairs every day.

'What do you do for work?’ the landlord pried without shame.

‘I recently got a job as a postman. So I’ll be home most afternoons.’

‘I see. What time do you wake up?’ the landlord continued his interrogation.

‘4am. If you can imagine that,’ Tim replied, smirking.

‘My goodness, that is early. I hope it pays well.’ The landlord was starting to ask too many questions now, thought Tim, but felt he knew what the landlord was getting at.

‘It does, so I won’t have any trouble with the rent,’ Tim answered, hoping that would put an end to the landlord’s questions.

‘So, you are interested?’

‘I am,’ Tim was keen to wrap this up.

The landlord grinned showing several teeth missing. He extended a sweaty palm toward Tim, who reluctantly took hold of it and shook.

‘You have a firm grip,’ the landlord said admiring the handshake.

Tim laughed nervously.

A couple of days later Tim had moved in and despite the many boxes stacked around the living room the place was starting to feel like home. It was late in the evening after a long day of lugging possessions upstairs.

Tim was sat on the leather couch watching television, a half-eaten Chinese takeaway spread out on the coffee table. He glanced up at a clock on the wall to see the time was 7:00pm. With work the next morning, he felt it right to get an early night.

He switched off the television with the remote and made his way into the bedroom. It was a quiet night. Tim was appreciative of his silent neighbours and he managed to drift off with relative ease. However his sleep was broken in the early hours of the morning and as he opened his eyes he was surprised to see a beam of light bleeding through under the closed bedroom door. His eyes opened wider and he lifted his head for a clearer look. He frowned with concern. He was sure he switched off the light.

Just as he was about to pull back the duvet a shadow cut through the streak of light as if someone was standing the other side of the door, shifting from side to side. The sound of a muffled cough startled him. He had now sat upright staring at the moving shadow in fear, desperate to remain silent in case they came in. His heart started racing as he waited for the door handle to turn. Suddenly the shadow moved on before the light itself disappeared. Tim’s breathing was getting heavy as he froze with fear. There was definitely someone out there, but who?

He pulled back the covers and slowly slid out of bed. He picked up a nearby baseball bat, clenched tightly in his fists as he raised it. He reached out with one hand and slowly turned the doorknob. Pulling the door slightly ajar he peered out into the darkness. All seemed calm and quiet. He pulled the door open wider and cautiously stepped out into the cold hallway. Flicking on the light with the bat ready to swing, Tim was relieved to find nobody in the apartment. He checked every corner, but nothing. He took a deep breath and calmed himself, before a smirk of laughter broke from his mouth. He shook his head in embarrassment and switched off the light.

The alarm clock went off at 4.00am, the soothing song on the radio easing Tim awake. He showered hastily, but was halted by something that caught his eye. He leaned in for a closer look. On the white tiled wall a tiny blob of red. He picked at it with his finger nail until it crumbled off and dropped into the bathtub, washed away with the flowing water. He wondered where it could have come from. The walls were a turquoise green so it couldn’t have been paint. He discarded the thought and continued to wash.

Tim was in the kitchen mindlessly eating a bowl of cereal when he realised the time was coming up to five o’clock. Eyebrows raised, but still munching, he slammed the bowl down on the counter, spilling milk. He grabbed his rucksack and headed for the front door at a quick pace. He pulled at the door handle, but was surprised to find the door did not open. He tried several more times but nothing. He pulled his keys from his trouser pocket and thought maybe the door was locked, but found it to be the opposite. It definitely was unlocked, so why wasn’t it opening? The sound of a door closing in the outside hallway piqued his interest and so he knocked on his own door to alert them.

‘Hello? Is someone out there? I need help. My door is stuck,’ he called.

There was no reply. He peered through the peephole to see if the person was still present. What he saw frightened him to his very core.

A young woman with a shocked look upon her blood covered face stared back at him, looking deep into his eye. Tim jumped back from the door startled. He took several short breaths as he contemplated what he just saw. His mind wouldn’t accept it, maybe it was just tiredness. He leaned in again for a second look and found nobody out in the hallway. He shook the horrifying image from his mind.

Trying to call for help with his mobile phone didn’t help. He found that strangely there was no signal. He could have sworn he was told it was a strong area for network coverage. The landline didn’t prove any better with just the dead line tone whining in his ear.

‘What the hell is going on?’ he asked himself, hoping to conjure up a reasonable explanation.

Approaching the window he attempted to push it open, but found even after unlocking it with a small key that too would not breach.

He caught glimpse of a young woman down below walking past along a narrow pathway in the dark. He wasted no time banging against the glass hoping to garner her attention. The young woman stopped beneath the orange glow of a street light and turned to look up at him. As she revealed her face, he could see the blood dripping from her chin. She stared at him, shaking her head slowly, eyes wide open in fear. It was the same woman he saw through the peephole. Tim couldn’t help but stare back at her in shock. He shook his head in disbelief and pried himself away from the window. Who was this woman? Why was he seeing her everywhere? He cautiously leaned forward to find the woman was no longer out there. He needed to stop watching horror films, he thought. They were having a profound effect on his imagination.

He looked around the room in distress. There had to be a way to get out. A small table lamp caught his attention. An idea formed in his mind. He picked it up and threw it across the room at the window. He grit his teeth in anticipation of the glass smashing, but the lamp merely bounced off and crashed to the floor. Pieces of porcelain scattered past his feet. He frowned in frustration at what he’d just witnessed. Was it toughened glass? Why would that be necessary?

After trying all the windows in the apartment he was beginning to get very frustrated and a little scared. He paced around the room calling for help as loud as he could, but it didn’t seem like anyone could hear him. He banged on the neighbouring walls in the hope of hearing a thud in return, however nothing but silence replied. His screams were becoming strained and his throat was getting sore. He tired himself out and collapsed down onto the couch in exhaustion.

As he took some deep breaths and recomposed himself the glow of the television set lit up his face. He paused in confusion glancing over at the remote control sitting lifeless on the coffee table. The snowy static and crackling sound sent a shiver down his spine. He reached out for the remote and tried to switch it off, but it wouldn’t. Suddenly a shot of the blood covered woman appeared on the screen making him jump. She screamed so loud through the television speakers, he thought his ear drums would burst. He covered his ears with his hands, hoping it would stop. He got his wish and she disappeared, but was followed by the words ‘It’s too late’ in scratched lettering as though it were carved into the glass itself.

Tim dropped his hands to his lap and stared at the words. What does that mean? Blood then began to run down from the top of the screen dripping onto the carpet below. The blood continued to gush spreading out across the carpet. It then drained from the walls filling the room with red. Tim stood and backed away from the ever approaching liquid. A loud thumping echoing around the room like a heartbeat. Tim turned and bolted for the front door. He desperately tried to pull it open, but it was sealed like a bank vault. He barged it with his shoulder, kicked it with his feet. Anything to try and loosen its hold.

He paused a moment to catch his breath leaning his back against the door. He slid down onto the floor and buried his head in his hands. It’s all a dream, he thought. It had to be. But if it was, surely he would have woken up by now. If it wasn’t a dream, what was going on? Was someone doing this? Was it part of some prank? His mind was running a million thoughts through it, but none seemed plausible. He felt a cold presence in front of him and looked up to see a shadowy figure standing before him at the end of the hallway. He clambered to his feet as the figure approached slowly. He pushed back against the door as they neared. The young woman stepped into the light, blood glistening as it dripped from her face. She had a cavity in her chest, splintered ribs protruding from torn flesh. She held something in her cupped hands and presented them to Tim.

‘Who are you?’ he asked, not sure if he wanted to know the answer.

She didn’t reply. She merely opened her hands to reveal a beating human heart within them. Tim looked down in shock, the door still preventing his escape. She dropped the heart to the floor and it burst like a balloon, splattering blood up the walls. Tim was shaking, failing to remain calm as he almost passed out from the heavy breathing. The young woman placed her hand gently over his chest. His heart was pounding beneath his crawling skin. With sudden ease, she punched through his ribs and he could feel her cold hand clench onto his heart. He let out a bloodcurdling scream.

He opened his eyes to find he was in a different room, lying down on a metal table. He could feel a chill in the air. He tried to look around, but he couldn’t move his head or his eyes. He could feel he was stripped down to his boxers. He tried to gauge his location from what little he could see. There were grey stone walls and wooden beams across the ceiling. A single fluorescent strip light above flickered. It looked like a basement, but whose basement? Before he had a chance to contemplate his situation, the landlord towered over him wearing surgical attire.

‘Ah, you’re awake,’ he simply said.

Tim tried to move, but his body wouldn’t respond to his attempts. The landlord could see Tim was in distress.

‘I’m sure you’re wondering why you cannot move. I have given you a paralytic. I need to make sure you won't squirm,’ he whispered sinisterly as he pulled over a tray of operating utensils. Tim could only mumble and stare up at the ceiling, but his attention was caught by a polished surgical knife in the landlord’s hand hovering over him. ‘Don’t worry, I just need your heart.’ The landlord grinned before covering his mouth with an anti-bacterial mask. Tim watched the knife shift down toward his chest and felt the blade rest on his skin, as it began to cut into his chest all he could do was scream through sealed lips.

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