The noise interrupted her reading. An odd thumping, scrabbling, scraping, too-big-to-be-a-rat noise. She pulled the blind away from the window to look into the courtyard but saw nothing. Then, at the entrance to the west wing of the apartment building there was something, but what? Was it possible a drunken neighbor had come home and was trying to trap a lock that kept moving away from their carefully positioned key? She turned off the light to see better outside.
At first all she saw was jerky movement. The motion sensor light flickered as the trees between it and her line of sight waved in the wind. It made her think the movement was nothing more than shadows created by leaves and branches. But it was unlikely that the motion sensor would be activated by leaves and branches, after all, weren’t they programmed to ignore that?
She stared harder at the entrance door. One of the women in the building had – she suspected – a drug problem as she was prone to pace and fidget in the courtyard at all hours, often with a cigarette in hand jabbering away on her cell phone. Sometimes the neighbor would stand still or sit and doze off, leaning further and further forward, but never quite toppling over. She’d seen the crack in the neighbor’s bum with the little butterfly tattoo above it almost more times than she’d seen her own son’s bum changing his diapers. As the neighbor was friends with the landlord she never said anything, but now she wondered if the “maybe” druggie was the one trying to get into the apartment building. It wouldn’t be the first time she wasn’t able to make her key work properly. On the other hand, the movement in the light wasn’t the same as the neighbor’s usual lethargic movement; it was much too frantic.
She squinted and wished the breeze would stop so she could see clearly. Her wish was granted and she had a clear view of the person. Whoever it was, was definitely NOT the neighbor: A male she thought, long and lean – almost impossibly so – and obviously needing a bathroom. He kept lifting one leg and then the other, then bobbing and ducking, feeling at the door, rattling the latch, twisting, tugging, always in motion. But not using his key. Perhaps he’d lost it?
Then he did something very odd. He began feeling at the edges of the door; poking them, digging at them with his fingers, scraping at them. He even bent double to inspect the weather stripping at the bottom of the door. When the stripping didn’t give he spread his arms from one side of the door to the other and did the same with his legs. He used, from what little she could see, the gap between the door and the jamb to shimmy to the top of door and dig around up there. He worked that door with his arms, legs, fingers and feet, again poking, climbing, upright, upside down – poke, poke, poke, scrape, scrape, scrape. It was unnerving.
That’s when she realized something; he wasn’t clothed. She didn’t know if he heard her gasp, but he dropped into a crouch and his head swiveled toward her, cocked, listening; ready. Even though she couldn’t see his face she felt he was looking at her. She swallowed her breath. With those long legs she was sure he could leap across the courtyard and up to her second floor window in seconds.
Still crouched he lost interest in whatever he’d heard and went back to digging at the door.
She forced herself to let the blinds slowly and silently shut. Once they closed she collapsed into her chair. He had no clothes on. His skin was a tone she’d never seen. It reminded her of an oil slick on water. And he was hairless. He, it, couldn’t possibly be human, let alone a neighbor.
She tried to remain calm but as she lifted her now cold tea to her mouth it spilled all over her bathrobe her hand shook that badly.
Then the sounds again. The thumping, scraping, scrabbling slid across the courtyard and through her double pane windows. She wished her ear buds weren’t broken; maybe they could help drown it out, no matter how faint. She thought of turning on some music but if she could hear him, could he hear her?
Now a new sound joined the others: a chittered, whispered keen with an angry, anguished clicking under it that clearly said he wanted in that building and he was willing to do anything to breach the door.
No, no, this wasn’t a neighbor she didn’t know. This wasn’t the woman with the suspected drug problem. She had no idea who this was. “What” this was. Not “who”, oh no, never in a thousand years “who.” Definitely a “what” or an “it.” But not a “who.”
She wanted to scream, she truly did, but didn’t. Fear told her if she did, this thing not 50 feet from her would surely seek her out.
Plus she had open windows. By all the saints of all the religions, she had open windows facing the courtyard. The realization sucked the air from her lungs.
She didn’t dare use her cell phone, the light might attract attention. With the knowledge of those open windows her thoughts focused completely on not attracting attention.
She managed to calm down enough to take another look through the blinds. The thing – she didn’t know what else to call it – continued to work at the door. She tried to compare its look and movements to something she’d already seen. She thought that would give her a better perspective of what was before her. Did it look like shadow puppets in the hands of an unskilled puppeteer? No. Maybe a stick insect? That was close, but it was moving fast and it had a bulbous head.
She realized that if it could make sounds it must have a mouth. Even though it was feeling its way around the door it would stop occasionally and move that horrible head closer to what it was digging; she wondered if it couldn’t see what it was doing? She suppressed a gag at the thought of what its eyes were like and was grateful for the small mercy of not being able to see its face.
It worked at that door as if its life depended on gaining entrance to the building. Four long sticks of sinew moving fast, slow, then fast again; violently jabbing long fingers into the space between the door and jamb. When she saw a chunk of wood from the door drop to the sidewalk she let the blinds slowly drop again and backed away from them.
She had to close her windows. Before she did anything she had to close – somehow, without being seen – and lock those five entrances into her apartment.
Then she’d call the police, but would they believe her? If they came at all, what would they find? There was the chunk of door on the sidewalk, but what would that say? Nothing. They might scare the thing away and she didn’t think they would spend any time looking for it. Their arrival might reveal to the creature the fact she was the one who called them. But most likely they’d chalk it up to the imagination of an old woman, possibly senile and/or lonely, craving attention.
She might be old, but she wasn’t senile or lonely. If she wanted attention she knew far better and more productive ways of getting it. She could feel the panic in her rising as her resolve to do something overtook her initial fear; but not the revulsion. Somehow she had to A) get a picture of this, B) protect herself, and C) warn people. She had a fleeting thought about how to kill it but rejected the idea in favor of someone capturing it.
It took her an hour before she managed to close and secure her windows without attracting attention. In that time the thing, the creature, the abomination, had concentrated on removing the weather stripping at the bottom of the door. The small space that it created still wasn’t big enough to allow it to get in.
Once she felt somewhat safe she propped up the bottom of the blind on the window with the clearest view of the door and settled so she could at least be physically comfortable while she sat vigil on the couch through the night.
A low roll of thunder announced the rain the TV weathergirl had promised earlier. Surely the creature would leave now. But it didn’t. It flayed its arms at the pelting drops but at least it stopped making noise.
She couldn’t stand it anymore and retreated to the back of her apartment to call the police. She knew they wouldn’t believe her if she told them what was in the courtyard so she lied saying she thought there was a prowler trying to enter the building.
Their appearance, of course, sent the creature loping off into the shadows. She tried to see where it went but the shadows were too thick and the rain made it even harder to see. The storm picked up force and the rain was a near deluge by now. Predictably the police left when they didn’t find a prowler walking toward them, hands outstretched ready to be arrested. Frustrated she held her vigil. She was convinced that thing would be back.
The sound of angry voices woke her and she sat up on the couch, stiff and aching. Daylight showed through the blinds into the kitchen where the cat sat next to the automatic feeder waiting for her breakfast kibble to drop into her plate. The automatic coffee maker offered up the tantalizing smell of fresh brewed coffee. At first everything seemed to be as it should be; but the memory of last night ruined the feeling.
She parted the blinds to look out. The neighbor she suspected had the drug problem was arguing with the landlord and apartment manager. Behind them workmen with tools and wood and glowering looks waited.
The woman was offering to swear on her mother’s grave that she was not responsible for the damage done to the door in the night. Her midnight jaunts in the yard were well known. She had no idea what ripped out the weather stripping on the door and suggested it was rats. After all, this was the city and cities have rats.
Her mother, who obviously wasn’t dead and in her grave yet, opened her window a floor up to yell down at them that she and her daughter had been out of town arriving home only an hour ago so they’d better damn well look elsewhere for the culprit.
The argument went on some more. Bored, she wandered away from the window into the kitchen for coffee and to decide what she was going to do about the situation. Obviously she should tell someone, but whom? She had never put anything on the neighborhood watch blog so maybe, she thought, she should submit the information to them. That was it. That’s what she’d do.
Over breakfast, with windows wide open to fill the apartment with fresh air to lessen the feeling of dread, she went online to read how to submit information to the blog. It couldn’t be done anonymously. She didn’t want to put her name to it for fear someone would point a finger calling her crazy. But there had to be a way to let people know what was going on. There just had to be.
While she thought about it she readied herself for the night. Everything that needed to be charged up and ready was; from her phone to her laptop to her external backup batteries.
In the yard workmen tried to fix the door for hours. Eventually they replaced it; the creature had done that much damage. She managed to sleep through all the construction noise, awakening in the late afternoon ready to stay up all night. Vaguely she thought about taking the baseball bat she’d bought for her grandson’s birthday on a little adventure at night, but she knew it was a foolish thought: although it did make her giggle a little about turning vigilante to protect her home.
Between late afternoon and twilight she went online searching for mythical and/or urban legend creatures in the area. She thought up every keyword she could think of and used every hashtag she came across. At one point she told the cat that there was a “whole lot of crazy” out there, but she kept looking for information. Unfortunately there were no urban legends or ancient creepy crawling creatures known in the vicinity.
She sat back and stared at the laptop screen. So this was something new.
It was then she decided not to be afraid tonight.