Katie Marie

The September Editor's Pick Writer is Katie Marie

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by Katie Marie

There was something in the apartment.

I had known about it for a while but had refused to believe it. My friend and roommate Christine had known about it as well. The difference between us had been that she believed it. She had begged me to help her find out what it was, to help her find a way to get rid of it. But, being the fantastic friend that I am, I had shrugged it off at first, and ended up driving her to the hospital at the end.

When I got back, I climbed out of the car and slammed the door behind me. My mind focused on strange things, wondering how I would get all of Christine’s blood off my back seats rather than focusing on seeing my friend die. I turned and looked at our building; it was a standard building, pale colored, and three stories, there was absolutely nothing remarkable about it. I stared at it for a long moment, not wanting to go inside, but where else could I go?

Inside the hallway I could hear the children from the family on the ground floor. They were always crying. Always, every time I came in or out those kids were always crying, or even screaming. I saw the dad sitting on the stairs in the hallway as I trudged past. I pulled my coat tighter around myself, not wanting him to see the blood on my clothes.

“They never used to be like this,” he muttered, not looking up at me. “It’s only in the last six months, since we moved. We thought they’d get over it.” He glanced up at me and stiffened.

I had forgotten about the blood on my hands and face.

“Christine,” I managed, my voice thick. “She uhh, she had an accident.”

“Is she okay?” he asked. I shook my head and went upstairs before he could ask anything else and I started crying, just like my neighbor’s kids.

I hadn’t locked the door on my way out, and it swung open with a little push. I stepped back into the flat, the smell of blood hit me hard and bile rose in the back of my throat.

I stood in the hallway staring at our flat for a moment, not sure what I was supposed to do now. Ever since Christine had started on about something being in there with us, I had fantasized about being able to come home to some peace and quiet. But now the quiet felt oppressive. I felt watched, as if something was judging me and had found me wanting.

“Ludicrous,” I said, shaking my head. I went into the kitchen and opened the cleaning cupboard. I pulled out the bleach, the bathroom cleaner, and the box of old cloths. I walked to the bathroom quickly; I would get in there fast before I could lose my nerve.

I made it into the bathroom but dropped the cleaning products the moment I stepped inside. I was on my knees a moment later, emptying the last of my dinner into the toilet.

It wasn’t the blood that upset me. I’d dealt with blood before, never this much admittedly, but it wasn’t the blood. I was shaking as I leaned back from the toilet and felt the guilt writhe in my guts. I had been here, I had heard Christine talk for weeks, had heard her becoming more and more desperate and I had done nothing. I’d left her completely alone, all the while standing right next to her. She had been so alone that the only way out she could see—was to do this to herself. I was a terrible person.

Eventually I managed to control myself enough that I could move away from the toilet and over to the bath. The bathmat was a total loss; I went back to the kitchen to get a roll of black bin bags. The bathmat and the towels all went into the bags. I’d have to wash the floor as well the bath was the bigger issue.

I didn’t want to stick my hand in the bathtub, but the plug had to come out. The water was frigid cold, and stained my hand and arm pink. I felt my stomach roll again and tried hard not to think about what I had my hand in. I pulled the plug and jumped up to the sink to rinse my arm off.

“You’re just getting blood on the sink,” I muttered to myself. I turned the water on harder and rubbed the porcelain, luckily the pink smears came of easily.

The bath had drained by the time I finished. The bulk of the bloody water was gone, leaving only scummy remains. I turned the taps and shower and watched the clean water rinse some of the blood away. When it became apparent that elbow grease would be needed I climbed in, not turning the water off or getting undressed. My clothes were a loss anyway…who cared if I got them wet now.

The bleach left my fingers with a dusty white coating and the stench of the bathroom cleaner would haunt me till the end of my days. I’d never be able to use that brand again. The stray thought that it was a pity because I had really liked lemon scented cleaners until now made me chuckle. The chuckle turned into a full blown laugh which turned into hysterics until I was sitting in a semi clean bath, hugging my knees to my chest and sobbing.

The hot water running out was the only reason I climbed out of the bath in the end. Not wanting to get the rest of the apartment covered in soggy footprints, I stripped down and threw my sodden clothes into the black bag. I stumbled into my room and pulled on a pair of house pants and an old t-shirt before heading back to the bathroom and shutting off the water. I covered the bath in bleach again and set about trying to get the blood of the tiles and the floor.

It took me the rest of the evening to get the worst of the blood up. No doubt I’d be finding spots for weeks, but at least now the bathroom didn’t look like a scene from a horror movie. I opened the window to let the stink of chemicals and blood out and dragged the black bag into the kitchen where it would sit and stink until I could summon up the effort to take it down to the bins.

I was staring listlessly into the fridge, trying to make myself feel hungry, when I spotted the note.

My stomach rolled again and I shut the fridge. I was not going to be eating anything this evening.
With a deep breath, I went to the counter and picked up the note. I wasn’t sure what I expected, perhaps an account of how terrible a friend I had been, how alone she had been, or maybe a story about whatever the hell it was that she thought was in the flat with us. But that wasn’t what I got. Instead I got two words, repeated over and over until she had run out of paper.

“I’m hungry. I’m hungry. I’m hungry.”

I turned the paper over in my hands and saw exactly the same on the other side. Christine’s writing, usually tiny but legible deteriorated over the course of the back page, until by the time she finished it read like she was screaming.

I folded the note and put it back on the side. I wanted to throw it away, but the police or the hospital or her family might want to see it. I picked it up again and shoved it into a drawer so I wouldn’t have to look at it. I pulled the bread out of the bread bin and shoved a couple of slices in the toaster. Hunger or not, I had to put something in my stomach; I had to do something relatively normal.

Waiting for toast has always been a pet peeve of mine; it takes forever to cook if you watch it but seconds to burn if you don’t. I looked around the kitchen and spotted Christine’s handbag on the side by the microwave. I glared at it and stomped over to it. Not opening it, I lifted it and went to her bedroom.

“Always leaving stuff lying around,” I muttered, suddenly enraged by the handbag. “Can’t just put it where it belongs.” I had to walk through the living room to get to the bedrooms and picked up one of her cardigans on my way. I swore a lot, and almost kicked her bedroom door down when I reached it. “Put your fucking stuff away,” I screamed at the room before falling silent, my eyes wide.

Inside the bedroom was chaos.

Christine had always been something of a slob but her room was never this bad. She’d been untidy, sure, but untidy in the way that you could still expect most things to be put away. Books were normally piled on the book shelf, clothes folded in an around the wardrobe. This…this looked like someone had torn the place apart. Stuff was everywhere, thrown at random around the room.

“What the…” I managed when I spotted that the curtains were torn. I stepped into the room and immediately stepped on something soft, it was a top, and or rather it had been a top before it had been shredded.

It looked like someone had broken in here.

“Christine,” I whispered. “What was wrong with you?”

The smell of smoke and the sudden beeping from the fire alarm reminded me that I had toast burning. I ran back to the kitchen and pulled the blackened bread out of the toaster, burning my fingertips and threw it in the sink. I opened the window and pulled the battery out of the smoke alarm.

“Holy hell,” I muttered unplugging the toaster. “Give myself a heart attack.” I went to the fridge and pulled out a can of coke. Opening it I turned to face the kitchen again and flinched. The note Christine had left was back on the counter.

I frowned; I could have sworn I put that thing in a drawer. I lifted the paper and nearly dropped it again when I saw that it was not the same note. Now there were three words repeated over and over in Christine’s deteriorating handwriting.

“I’m still hungry. I’m still hungry. I’m still hungry.”

Had it changed, or had I read it wrong the first time? I decided I didn’t want to keep the note after all. I tore the paper apart and dropped it into the recycling.

I went over to the sink; the toast had cooled enough that I could put it in the trash and I was doing so when someone knocked at the door. I tried to straighten my damp hair and hoped I didn’t look as terrible as I felt and answered the door.

I didn’t recognize the woman immediately but after a moment of blank staring I realized she was the mother from the family on the ground floor.

“Um, Michael, that is my husband, said your friend had an accident,” she said. “I’m so sorry to hear that.” She held out a crock pot and I took it not knowing what else to do. “Um here, sorry it’s not something more useful but were down stairs if you need us. Um anytime,” she offered a wobbly smile. “Don’t worry about waking the girls, they hardly ever sleep anymore.” And with that she turned and headed down the stairs.

“Thank you,” I called out as she walked away. She turned, hesitated for a moment then came back.

“Don’t think I’m silly,” she said dropping a chain around my neck. It held a crucifix. “I don’t know what good it will do you, but it’s not helping us much.” And then she left, faster this time.

I went back into the kitchen and put the crock pot down, taking the lid off the smell of warm lamb rose up and my stomach rumbled which surprised me. The stew smelled amazing, and reminded me of home. I glanced at the phone and made a decision. I called home.

“Peterson residence, Julie speaking,” Mum said picking up on the third ring.

“Mum,” I said.

“Gemma?” Mum said. “Hello Sweetie, how are you? It’s nice of you to call.”

“Mum!” I started crying, I couldn’t help it; hearing her voice was enough to break the last of my resolve.

“Gemma! Gemma, Honey, what’s wrong?”

“Christine’s dead,” I said. I heard Mum’s sharp intake of breath. “I…I came home and she was in the bath.” I started sobbing again; I leaned back against the fridge and slid down until I was sitting on the floor.

“Gemma, what happened?” Mum asked. I heard her pull the handset away a little and call my dad.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I came home from work and she was in the bath, there was so much blood.”

“Did she fall?” Mum said.

“No, she cut her wrists,” I couldn’t get a proper breath in; my lungs kept hiccupping.

“Oh Sweetheart,” Mum said. The handset must have moved away, because Mum’s voice was quieter. “Jack, Jack you need to go get Gemma right now,” she paused and I heard dad shout something although I couldn’t hear him properly. “No, not in a minute, now, right now. I’ll reheat your dinner.”

“I’ve got stew,” I mumbled. “The lady down stairs gave it to me.” I fingered the necklace she’d dropped onto me as well. “And a crucifix.”

“What’s that, Honey?” mum said.

“Um…I’ve got some stew.” I said.

“That’s nice, Dear. Look, you go put some clothes in a bag. You’re coming home. Your dad’s just putting his shoes on.”

“Thanks Mum,” I whispered. “I love you.” I hung up the phone and stood up, my legs shaking. “Right,” I said, putting the lid on the stew. “You’re coming with me.” I had no idea why I was taking the stew but it felt wrong to leave it here.

I went back to the bedrooms and slipped into mine. I pulled my overnight bag down from the top of the wardrobe and started throwing clothes in. I was putting my phone charger and laptop in the bag when I heard the thump.

I froze. It sounded like something had fallen over in Christine’s room. I shook my head and settled my lap top down on top of my clothes. I knew I would need toiletries but I wasn’t going back into that bathroom for anything. Mum wouldn’t mind me borrowing shampoo. I turned back to my desk and stared at it hard trying to figure out if I would need anything on it.

The second thump made me jump and spin around on the spot. That one was louder. It sounded like a box falling over. I let out a shout of surprise. I picked up my hockey stick, left over from my secondary school days, kept for sentimentality and a reminder that I needed to do more exercise.

“I’m armed,” I called out, feeling instantly foolish, “and I’ve already called the police.”

There was no response and I stepped out of my bedroom. All the lights were on, but I couldn’t see anyone. I stepped forward again, crossing the small space between the bedrooms.

Christine’s bedroom was exactly as I had left it. A disaster area. I couldn’t tell if anything new had fallen over. I stared at the room, waiting for something to happen, hockey stick raised up.

“Come on you bastard,” I hissed. “Just you bloody dare.” After a while my arm got tired and nothing had happened. I started to feel less afraid and angry and more and more stupid. “Damn it Gemma,” I muttered and lowered the stick. As I went to turn around Christine’s phone fell off the bedside table. I yelped and raised the stick again. But the phone just sat there.

I thought for a moment, I should take the phone. I would need to let people know what had happened. I also didn’t know her parent’s phone number; I hadn’t gotten it off them in the hospital. The doctors had called them from the number on Christine’s records. I would need to speak to them about getting Christine’s things.

I stepped forward and shivered. I walked to the bedside table and picked the phone up off the floor. It vibrated once; I dropped it and swore at myself.

“Stop it, Gemma,” I snapped at myself. “That’s probably why it fell in the first place.” I picked it up again and tapped in the unlock code. Christine had the same code for everything, I could have gone nuts with her bank cards had I been that type of person. Fortunately for Christine, I was not a thief, just a god-awful friend.

The phone came to life in my hand, a couple of missed calls; they looked to be from the store she worked at. I’d call them back tomorrow. A couple of reminders came up; I deleted them and frowned at the wallpaper now visible. It was a selfie of Christine in her room, but her face was almost entirely off camera, instead what filled the picture was her room. After a moment the wallpaper changed again to a similar picture only this time I could see something dark in the background and Christine was crying.

I went into her photos and scrolled through to the most recent ones. There were dozens like this. She had taken pictures of her bedroom.

In the photos, her room looked normal, a mess but not the chaos it was right now. There was nothing odd in the pictures. The pictures that made my stomach tighten were the selfies; these pictures had Christine in them and her bedroom behind her.

She’d taken dozens of pictures like this all through the apartment. In the kitchen, living room, bathroom, and my bedroom and in every single one there was something in the room with her. It was difficult to make out; at first I thought she had just a screwed up the picture, but it was in every single one. Even Christine couldn’t mess up every single picture. In all of them there was a black spot, a shadow in the background, shapeless and dark.

I scrolled through the pictures, getting to the more recent ones. I watched as Christine deteriorated in the images. Each picture, the dark circles under her eyes got more and more pronounced. She was crying more and her cheeks were starting to become sunken as she stopped eating. And in the background of each picture the shadow got bigger. The closer the date got to today, the bigger the shadow in the pictures became.

“No,” I said softly, when I realized that the shadow wasn’t getting bigger. It was getting closer to Christine, and the closer it got the worse she looked.

I yelped and dropped the phone when I saw the last picture. She’d taken it in the bath, the water clear, the razor sitting next to her and a long-fingered, black hand was on her shoulder.

“But…” I swallowed. “How?” I glanced at the door to the bathroom, visible through the open bedroom door. “How did the phone get back into the bedroom?”

The bedroom door slammed and something behind me fell to the ground landing loudly. I screamed and spun around.

Nothing was there. I spun on the spot, looking around the small room…nothing was there. I was alone.

I sniffed and took a step toward the door, but stopped when the curtain moved. It moved gently, as if caught in a breeze. But the room was perfectly still.

I fumbled with the phone, picking it up again, and acting on impulse, I took a picture. It appeared on the phone screen and showed nothing, just curtains.

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I turned my back to the curtains My hands were shaking so hard that I failed to take the picture. I tried again and almost dropped the phone. I managed on the third attempt.

I looked at the picture and started to sob. There was a hand on my shoulder. “I’m still hungry.”

Katie Marie is a small, noisy creature currently living on the Norfolk coast in the UK. She has been published in several anthologies, and her first novel Grey Wings was published by Dream State Drive in 2013. Her second novel is due to be released in 2017. You can find her HERE