*(Make sure you check out Clifton Manor Part I first!)
At first, she was mildly hesitant to use the office again, especially on the darker and colder nights. But after weeks of uneventfulness her fear subsided and Anh ended up dismissing her prior inhibitions as the result of exhaustion and paranoia. As tax season passed, and the days started to warm with the onset of spring, she had less and less use for the place anyway. One Thursday afternoon in May, out of the blue, a pipe on the second floor burst and nearly completely flooded two of her units. The days after were chaotic as she spent all her time on the phone with laborers, determined to get the issue resolved and the apartments back in living condition as soon as possible. The next week, after a series of costly repairs and updates, she once again sat in the strange office pouring over a plethora of bills and statements. The small clock on her desk showed the time to be just passed 11pm, as she scrawled numbers in her ledger, trying to figure out how she was going to pay for the major setback.
Rather suddenly, a cold breeze passed through the space, rustling the papers scattered over her desk. Anh looked around, confirming that the window and doors were still closed. Writing it off as a draft that crept in under the door from out in the hallway, she turned her attention back to her finances. As she was writing furiously with her blue pen, she felt a small pressure on her left shoulder, almost as though her muscles were cramping from all the scribbling. Reaching up with her right to massage out the knot, her hand failed to feel the warm fleece of the yellow sweater she had dawned. In its place, the skin of her fingers touched what felt like another hand. The fingers felt long and boney, their skin rough and cracked, almost like old, unkempt leather. Anh froze, the hair on her arms standing on end as she sat there unsure if she wanted to look or remain ignorant and simply bolt out the door. Despite her better judgement, she slowly gazed sideways at her shoulder. Sure enough, inches from her face, sat a hand unlike any other she had ever seen. The skin was black and grey as though its owner had been dead a long time, the nails thin, sharp and broken like the claws of a beast. The terrifying limb did not move or make any attempt to withdraw, and she sat there staring for several moments, utterly terrified, leaving her own hand in place as she was too scared to move.
She hurriedly mustered some courage, and wheeled around in her chair forcefully to face whatever beast was obviously standing behind her. As she did so the hand vanished, and she was left staring out the open window, no one and nothing else seemingly there. Her hair still standing on end, and a pit of terror now in her stomach, she ran out of the office into the hallway, leaving the door ajar. In that moment she so badly wished Mrs. Christer was still alive so that she could seek the comfort of another human, but all of her other tenants would not be nearly as hospitable, and would probably think her insane if she went banging on their doors at this hour.
Reluctantly she retreated into her own suite, securely locking both the deadbolt and the handle behind her. She grabbed a large chef’s knife and proceeded to barricade herself in the bathroom. She wanted to calm down and be able to write off the experience she just had as exhaustion, but the silence was getting to her, and she was unsure if she could hear movement next door or if it was just her mind playing further tricks. In attempts to drown out either the noise or her subconscious, Anh reached around and turned on the shower, slumping back down onto the floor with her back against the tub facing the door to the room, knife in hand as the sound of the running water began to soothe her ears. Eventually she gave in to her fear, and pulled out her cellphone dialling the number for her dad. Through brief sobs, she told him the story of what had just happened, and reassuringly he said he would come over shortly to keep her company for the night.
Feeling a bit better as she hung up the phone, Anh decided to stay locked in the bathroom until her father arrived. It seemed an eternity before she heard a faint knocking at her front door, and she slowly exited her refuge, knife still in hand. She peered through the peephole in the door, but could not make out her father, or anyone else for that matter. All that seemed to lie on the opposite side of the door was an empty hallway, before she noticed an unfamiliar shadow on the carpet to the left. It appeared as though it would be a shadow cast by a visitor standing right in the doorway, except for the fact that there was no one there.
Suddenly the whole door shook violently in its frame directly in front of her, causing her to scream and dash backwards. It continued to shake, the rattling so fierce it appeared that the hinges were moments away from breaking free of the wall. Anh continued to stare at it in horror, at this point accepting that she was no longer alone. As it quaked, there were several loud thuds as though whatever was on the other side was attempting to push through the cheap wooden door. Anh could see the wood bending inward with every thump, and with each lasting second her heart leapt further and further into her throat. She began weeping harder than she ever had, although no sound came out of her mouth except for mad gasps for air.
But then, as abruptly as it had started, there was again silence. Tears rolled down her cheeks, the blood in her veins running cold, her skin covered in goosebumps. Anh stood there frozen, not sure if she was going insane or if this was even reality. There was another knocking on the door, and her stomach dropped.
“Leave me alone!” she screamed, holding the knife out in front of her. Muffled by the wall and door between them, she then heard the voice of her father on the other side.
“Anh, it’s me. Are you ok?”
She rushed forward and opened the door, glad to see her senior father standing on the wake holding two thermos’s of hot cocoa.
“Was there anyone out here just now, when you came up?” she asked of him immediately, her terror obvious and apparent. The look on his face was a mix of confusion and concern as he noted the knife still clutched in her hand.
“No sweetie, there is no one out here but me.”
Anh pulled him inside the unit and locked the door behind them. They proceeded to the couch, where she reiterated the original story with the addition of the vehement door. Her father listened intently without interrupting, the look of worry on his face growing with every sentence she uttered. Eventually he convinced Anh to show him the office, and apprehensively they went over to find the door now locked. She opened it with her key, begging her father to go in first. Upon inspection, everything seemed fine, just the way it had been left.
Returning to the comforts of her living room couch, their conversation turned from the paranormal to the normal, and he asked her many questions about work, her sleep and eating habits. Eventually, after much debate, Anh agreed to take the next day off work as a sick day, and to accompany her father to the doctor to get checked. She had been working too hard, he claimed, and needed some rest. The pair spent the night sleeping in the living room; her father on the couch and Anh on the floor next to him. Everything was quiet.
The next day came and went, with the doctor chalking everything up to stress and sleep deprivation from being overworked. The surly physician prescribed her some medication to assist with sleep before bidding them farewell, instructing her to return should the hallucinations persist. Internally, Anh was furious. She knew that they had not been hallucinations; she had felt the door vibrating against her face as she peered through the eye hole and the hand on her shoulder while she had been seated behind her desk. Seeing no way to convince them otherwise, she gave in to the medical diagnosis, and opted to spend the next few nights slumbering in the comforts of her parent’s spare bedroom.
A week had gone by before Anh Ta returned home, and she still felt frightened as she walked through the front doors of Clifton Manor. Nothing had changed; the carpets were still red and musty, the lights buzzed loudly, although the love and pride she once held for the place was now gone. As she exited the stairwell on the third floor, she ran into the young couple from 302.
“We haven’t seen you all week. Is everything ok?” the male asked, somewhat intrusively.
“Oh yes, everything is fine, just been visiting my parents,” she replied as she put her keys in the lock. She hesitated, before she turned back around to face them.
“Have….have you guys heard anything strange lately. Any loud noises or anything like that?” she inquired.
“No not at all,” they responded simultaneously as they smiled at her. “Everything has been nice and quiet since we moved in.”
Anh did not return the smile, and entered her apartment. “Glad to hear it, have a good night,” she mumbled as she shut the door behind her. Maybe the doctor was right, maybe she was overtired. In her mind, she remembered the door shaking so viciously and was sure that someone else on the floor would have heard the raucous. She began to undress as she walked down the hall of her apartment towards her bedroom at the end, intent on putting on her comfiest pajama’s and losing herself in the pages of a novel. As she entered the bedroom, now in nothing but underwear and a bra, she immediately saw the opening.
In the wall which adjoined the office on the other side, directly above her bed, was now a gaping hole that had not been there the other night. The edges of the gap were charred black, as though it had been carved out with a smoldering hot tool of fire. Oddly, through the opening, she could not see the office she knew to be on the other side, or even anything at all for that matter. There was simply blackness and darkness within it, and the fright that accompanied the sight of the thing was overwhelming. Anh turned on her heels to flee, but the bedroom door swung shut aggressively in front of her, and when she reached for the knob, the brass was burning hot to the touch and burnt the palm of her hand. She fiddled with it despite the pain, but it would not budge. After shouldering the door several times, Anh realized it was no use, and turned her attentions to the window as a means of escape.
She turned around and took a step towards the closed window pane, before she noticed the hole come alive. The darkness within it began to swirl around as when one pulls the plug out of a tub full of water, and a musty haze began to emanate from within it, filling the room. Anh froze, unable to process what was happening, letting out a deep, uncontrolled sob as a figure began to emerge from the opening. First, out came the hand that she had seen so closely the other night, the long, cracked index finger pointed directly at her, almost beckoningly. Slowly the arm attached to the hand emerged, and it was not long until a beast of utter dreadfulness stood before her. It was shaped much like a human, only much larger in stature and build, as it stood at least double her height; it’s mighty, bald head almost touching the ceiling. It seemed to not have a neck, the peak of its back and shoulders slouched forward noticeably. The skin of the thing was black to match the hand, with lacerations and oozing boils all over, and appeared to be as thin as paper, with every bone and vein within visible underneath. The face itself was truly terrible to behold, with a long hooked nose, a smiling mouth with thin lips and needle sharp teeth, and huge reptilian eyes of red and black. In place of ears were simply two holes on either side of the face, offset by a pair of hugely sharp horns aimed forward passed the eyes. The thing was completely naked, and it did not have a single hair anywhere on its body. Between the massiveness of its stature and its disgustingly ferocious appearance, Anh knew something dreadful was about to happen.
As it moved towards her, Anh could do no more than stare the creature in the eyes in anticipation of her looming fate, her nakedness making her feel that much more vulnerable. Although huge in size, the steps of the beast were soft and noiseless, and gave an air that the creature could be incredibly agile and quick if it needed to be. The room filled with a smell which she felt was emanating from the brute, a combination of burning flesh, sweat, and somehow the scent of the outdoors on a freezing cold winter day. It placed both hands on her bare shoulders, the touch so cold it stung her skin, before using the long, skeletal fingers of its left hand to stroke her hair as it began speaking, almost affectionately, though the voice was deep and haunting.
“Thank you for freeing me Anh,” the thing boomed as it continued to smile down at her through rows of jagged, razor sharp teeth. Its breath made her want to vomit, the stench of which she could not place. “It was the witch across the hall you should have feared, not me! Although once you opened the barrier I made quick work of the hag! For that I owe you a debt.”
The beast motioned towards the gapping, black hole in the wall, which hadn’t stopped spinning and spitting smoke. The room, now dense with haze, still smelled of rotting tissue. For whatever reason, Anh allowed the beast to guide her towards the gap, and as she stood before it, staring into its blackness, she could feel the cold hands against the bare skin of her body as it picked her up by her waist. Strangely, the figure then cradled her in its arms, as if she were not more than a baby to it, as it continued to grin in a sinister fashion at the look of fear on her face. She could feel a solitary tear run down her cheek as the monster began chuckling to itself. Slowly, it began to step into the abyss with Anh in its arms. Something inside of her knew that she was going to die, that she would never see the world she had grown up in again, and somehow, for reasons unbeknownst even to herself, she was at ease with the notion, almost describable as a calming fear of the inevitable. As they continued further and further into the void, she could see the remnants of her bedroom growing smaller and smaller, the voice of Mrs. Christer resounding in her head, You should have left well enough alone!Who was the old lady really?
The loud honking of the car horn roused her quickly, and Anh Ta sat up in the car seat with a cold shiver running through her body. She looked over and saw James McGregor in the driver seat beside her, shaking his fist at some other car that was peeling away.
“Some people drive like such idiots,” he exclaimed, as he continued through the intersection and pulled the vehicle alongside the curb further down the road. Anh remained quiet.
“I have just one more property to show you Anh. I know you’re tired, but I think you are going to like this one. It’s right in your price range, and should offer you fairly substantial profits especially if you are willing to put in some work,” James continued, smiling at her warmly. She realized suddenly that she was freezing cold although covered in sweat, even though the thermometer in the dash of James’s Range Rover indicated it to be a balmy 24 degrees inside the car. Anh pulled her yellow cardigan tight around her, noticing a blister that had formed on the center of her palm.
“What do you think?” James inquired, as he beckoned outside to her right. Anh turned her head to look, and let out a shriek of terror that made the elderly real estate agent nearly jump out of his seat.
Clifton Manor sat there in all its magnificence, the old red bricks of the exterior and white painted balconies basking in the warm sunlight of the spring day. It looked much like the other apartment buildings that lined the street, and there was an older lady at the front door with a few grocery bags in her hands fiddling with her keys in the lock that turned and waved affectionately at them. The top floor showed only 6 windows, the same as the other floors, and everything about the place seemed cozy and rustic. The look of fear on Anh’s face seemed unwarranted to most, as the building was nothing more than just that, a building.
There was however, a patch of brick work next to the third window on the top floor that did not match the rest. It was not overtly visible from the curbside, or even from the base of the structure, but if one were to get a ladder and examine the masonry up close, a slight black fungi could be found growing amongst the mortar between the bricks. It’s harmless, an inspector would say. Just a bit of mold from the damp weather which won’t do much more than smell awful rank if you disturb it. Perhaps the bricks should be knocked out and replaced, to see what is growing behind.
* Copyright © 2018 by CAPA Literature.
* Image borrowed from https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/362962051197274394/?lp=true