I was so terrified the first night I had to be alone in the apartment that I tried to keep busy, and even to tire myself out.
I took two loads of laundry back and forth from the communal laundry room, which was frightening in itself. A laundry room in the basement of a public building? Perfect bloody crime scene. It was a dim, colourless and chill room, despite the running of the dryers. There were no windows and one of the two lightbulbs was perpetually out, so I could barely see my shadow as I unloaded the last pile of clean clothes into a basket. I gagged at the combination of the First Day of Spring dryer sheet smell and the scent of damp dust that clogged the ventilation screen.
There was a thin film of grime on the concrete floor: Did no one ever clean this place? And for some reason there was a large once-clean plastic tarp stuffed in the corner of the room. I tried not to imagine what it was for, or consider that someone might have placed it there with deliberation, for a future purpose.
There was one entrance to the laundry room through a heavy door which was supposed to lock but didn’t. Once closed, no one in the building could hear a person scream.
Oh lord. I ran up the stairs with my basket of laundry, didn’t even take the elevator, and then slammed the door so hard once safely upstairs and in the apartment again, that the dishes in the kitchen cupboard rattled.
I vacuumed the apartment and cleaned out the inside of the dishwasher with a pitcher of water mixed with Alka-Seltzer, since I couldn’t remember what my sister told me about some naturally fizzy cleaning solution. I tried to phone her but there was no answer. I hoped she would call back, even if she thought I was asleep. As if I could sleep.
They say some serial killers operate over 10, 20, even 40 years, stalking their victims and getting to know them just enough to gain their confidence. Then boom! Look out. I didn’t care who came to the door, I would not open it. Not even if it was the kindly old woman who lived on the first floor, and whom I nodded to if I saw her in the hallway. I had never seen her face close up. She could have been anyone.
Sometime the serial killers took souvenirs of their victims. God, I didn’t want to think about it. They usually liked a type. Were there any murders over the past 40 years of young, freckly, red-headed women? I was almost sure there was. I was a type, a popular murder-victim type. Shit.
You couldn’t talk them out of it either. They were psychopaths, or something. They didn’t care. You couldn’t appeal to their conscience or sentimental side because they didn’t have either. I could say I had to live because my child was in the Intensive Care Unit weeping for her mother. A serial killer would laugh. You just had no chance. You had to hope your serial killer would at least be quick, not one that keep their prey locked up and…
The phone rang. Thank god, maybe it was my sister. Maybe she would come over. But when I got to the phone, there was no one there, just a dial tone. A dial tone!
It was after 10 pm, who would call and just hang up? No one I knew would do that. The security guy in the lobby at work, the older one with the comb-over and the big hands, would have access to my phone number, and he had been staring at me. Yesterday he had started to wave at me, but I was distracted and ignored him. Maybe that triggered something. It didn’t take much to trigger a psychopathic serial killer.
But maybe it wasn’t a serial killer. Who wanted me dead? My mind raced. Gregory at work didn’t like me. I got promoted before he did. I didn’t like him either; he wore too much cologne. Was lusting after a job enough motivation for a brutal murder? It was in films and TV. Some people were just very ambitious.
I took a hot shower to calm my nerves. That was a bad idea, for obvious reasons. I showered with the bathroom door open, and the shower curtain undrawn, so water got everywhere and if the killer was in the apartment he would have seen me naked. How was that supposed to help?
When I started to dial my sister’s number, I realized it was now close to 11 pm. She would be in bed, and start to worry about a call so late, and for what? Her younger sister, with a foolish, overactive imagination, panicking about nothing. Calm down, you silly bitch. Calm. Down.
So I watched a recording of Love, Actually before I went to bed, to get my mind off the dark and onto the frothy, but I discovered I hated that movie. What was I thinking? Hugh Grant was just a big pain in the ass. They all were.
It was too warm in the bedroom, but I dared not open a window.
A sleeping pill. No, better not. I was tired, my bones ached from weariness. It had been a long day. I was desperate for sleep. But who could sleep? I was a common serial killer victim type. They took souvenirs. I was completely alone. Someone was stalking me by phone.
Who had called? Did Gregory want me dead? Was the old lady really old, really a lady? Why hadn’t I been more friendly to the security guy at work? What was that noise? Why didn’t my sister call back? What was that big plastic tarp doing in the laundry room? Was I about to die?
…Finally, morning. Finally. Finally, daylight.
I put some coffee on, my hands trembling and weak, then went to get the newspaper. When I opened the apartment door, I noticed something. In my rush to get back into the apartment from the laundry room, I had left my key in the lock of the door. There was a pink feather dangling from it, and my key to the mailbox, and a mini-flashlight.
My key was in the lock of the outside of the door, and had been there all night.
I immediately called my sister, who, in her always empathetic way, shared my complete horror at my mistake, and didn’t laugh when I burst into tears.
Still, why had my serial killer spared me? I pondered this for the entire subway ride to work.
- Original Prompt: Misstep, March 12, 2016