When my bedroom door is securely locked, I rush to my desk, push my MacBook Air aside, and lift the heavy Olympia onto the desktop. It was considered a “portable” typewriter in 1957, but hulking next to my laptop, it looks about as portable as my desk. That’s okay. I don’t need it to be portable; I just need it to work.
Just outside my bedroom door, I hear the joyful shrieks of three children as they romp around the hall. I had locked the door just in time. A minute later and I would’ve had to see them. I hate closing the door in their faces, leaving them out there alone. But I can’t leave that door open, not after nine.
It occurs to me that the man in the apartment directly under mine isn’t banging on his ceiling. At least, not yet. He’s always home on Monday nights, and he hears everything. I can’t even take a shit without running the sink. I’m hoping that his television is turned up too high or that maybe he’s taking a nap. But if my neighbor doesn’t start banging soon, if he can’t hear them at all, then I’ve got bigger problems than Mother.
I remove the typewriter’s hardshell cover and feed in a sheet of paper. I begin typing out every detail of what’s happened, starting with the ominous blackout at eight fifty-five. The work is slow and clumsy at first, but I pick up a steady rhythm as I go.
One of the children falls hard against my door and whines. The other two ignore him and continue their play. The child who fell sniffles and tries to open the door.
“Daddy?” the child says. I think it’s one of the boys, but who can tell with kids? Anyway, he can’t be more than three. “Daddy, I fell.”
I want to say, No, buddy, I’m not you’re daddy, and you need to get your brother and sister the hell out of here posthaste. But I’ve learned it’s better to keep my mouth shut. It doesn’t change anything. The knob twists again, and when the door refuses to open, the boy slaps it. I hear him rejoin his siblings, like it never happened.
But it did happen. If only I had an audio recorder or a video camera to prove it… I have both on my phone and my laptop, but even they go dark after eight fifty-five. Nothing electronic works during these blackouts, charged batteries or not.
I type out what the child had said to me and then note that there’s now a fourth pair of feet, stomping out of the kitchen and into the hallway where the children continue to roughhouse. I know exactly who those feet belong to, and the thought of her sends a chill slithering up my back.
“Enough! Enough! Enough!” a woman screams, each word getting louder and more frenzied as she approaches the children. It’s Mother. My knees close together, and my elbows tighten against my ribs. I know what’s coming next, but I need to keep typing if I want to get it all.
The children keep right on playing, despite Mother’s protests, crashing and laughing, caught up in the ecstasy of their play. But Mother will put an end to their noise. She always does. I blink away the film of tears blurring my vision.
“Why can’t you just listen!” Mother continues. “Just stop it! Stop it! Stop it!”
The children do not stop. They never do.
Now, my neighbor is banging on his ceiling. Good. If he didn’t hear it by now, he never would. Thank God for small favors, I think. But I can’t thank God. Not until this mess is sorted out. It’s his fault this is happening in the first place. It makes me wonder who’s really running the show.
My fumbling fingers punch the keys until the margin bell chimes. I return the carriage to a new line—zip—and punch the keys until the bell sounds again—a miniature prize fight happening at high speed.
Then comes a sickening thud, the sound, I’ve come to understand, of Mother’s fist colliding with one of the children’s heads. The child begins crying loudly. The other two join in, like backyard dogs spreading a bark at night. It’s a piteous, heart-jabbing sound, a sound that would make even the worst parent fall to their knees and embrace their child. But this is Mother, and that just won’t do. The children’s cries enrage her. Thud! Smack! Thud!
My hands shake as I struggle to keep up with the action, typos and misprints abounding, the type bars jamming up every few words.
“You—will—wake—your—father!” she says, each word punctuated with a violent strike. “I’ll—teach—you—to—listen!”
The children’s mixture of cries and screams grows louder with each blow. Mother shouts and strikes, shouts and strikes, shouts and strikes. I don’t know how much time passes before the first child falls silent, but it seems like forever. Moments later, the second child’s screams are cut short, followed closely by the third. All that’s left is the heavy breathing of Mother.
I’ve broken down completely, sobbing like I’ve just been beaten myself, blindly slapping the keys, terrified, outraged, and confused. She beat them. She beat them until they were quiet—until they were dead.
But Mother isn’t finished yet. With a feral scream, she attacks the bedroom door, pounding and scratching. The doorknob rattles like crazy. I’m paralyzed with fear. The first time this happened, I wasn’t prepared. She came flying in through my open door, her face a study in misery and rage. “It’s your fault!” she had bellowed. “You made me kill my babies!”
I’m sure the door’s locked, but will it stop her? Can it? If the door does give way, I don’t know if I’m more afraid of Mother getting in or of having to see the children’s bodies again. Their faces, I know, are bloodied and mashed, their bodies twisted and huddled. The youngest, a little girl, is crumpled under her brothers—the first to go—her Batgirl skirt pulled up and wet.
Mother suddenly runs from my door, wailing as she heads into the kitchen. This is the final stage of this waking nightmare. Drawers crash open. I hear silverware clatter to the floor (I don’t even own silverware; I use the plastic picnic ware from Smith’s). After a few seconds, she finds what she’s after. Mother gives a final, grief-stricken howl. It lapses into a gurgle. I hear her body collapse to the floor. It will be another ten seconds of listening to her squirm while she bleeds out on the linoleum before she dies—again—and the bodies disappear. Then—and only then—will I open my bedroom door.
The ten seconds pass as I finish typing my record. The apartment falls quiet, except for my neighbor, who has launched a second assault on his ceiling. The lights flicker on. My MacBook Air’s screen wakes up. My phone beeps in my pocket. It’s over.
When I finish typing, I’m nauseous and sweating and still crying. I force myself to get out of my chair on watery legs and go to the door. My hands are shaking so hard that it takes me several tries to unlock the door. I pause for a moment, noticing for the first time the remnants of what might have been a latch on my bedroom door, the metal setting and holes covered over with a thick coat of white paint. I shudder. Whether it was installed by the children’s father, or the previous, unfortunate occupant of this apartment, I don’t know. I pull open the door and let out a sigh. The bodies are gone. Mother is gone. They’re all gone.
Every night since last Friday, I’ve been haunted by these spirits. I’ve tried telling my friends and my parents, but they all think I’m just trying to scare them. I have no desire to live here anymore, but I just signed my lease, and I can’t break it without paying fifteen hundred bucks. I can’t exactly cite “murdering ghost” as a reason to violate my rental agreement.
But I don’t care if I’m paying rent. I got my record. The neighbor heard it. It’s real. Until I can find someone who can help, I’m staying the hell away from this place. I guess it’s back to living with Mom and Dad.
That’s okay. I could use a little parental love right now.
I hope you enjoyed reading this short story sketch. I spent three days and around six hours on it. I would like to keep polishing it, but I don’t have the time right now. I’ve been very busy working on two novels, and I haven’t had as much time as I would like to post on this site.
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