A Ghost for Each Room

Real estate is a tricky business in the city since lockdown. Everybody wants out, and so nobody wants to buy. There are no investments here, no renovator’s dreams, no place to call home. Everybody rents. I guess somebody does own the property, but I haven’t personally seen a landlord since the Massacre. The rental market is very competitive. As people are attempting to save what they can to buy their way out of the city, everybody is looking to rent places, mostly apartments, that are as cheap as dirt. Most of the hovels really aren’t fit to live in for any period, but that is how desperate some people are to get out. Most people search to live on their own. They know about the city and the plague that affects it. Few are willing to dare sharing a place just in case they become affected by it and kill themselves or each other in horrible ways. There is a catch to all of this though. Whenever a place drops in value, it means that the plague has taken another round of victims. Many people avoid taking the risk, fearing the remnants of what affected the previous occupants will echo and affect them.

My only problem is that I want out of the city. I’m tired of seeing people die in horrible ways. I’m tired of that Mandlebrot and his reptilian smile, his fake platitudes and sterile manner. I’m tired living in constant twilight not knowing what time of day it is. I’m tired of the screaming silence of this city. This place is cursed and we cannot leave.

The nervous real estate agent stood in the empty apartment with me. She did not want to be here. She held onto her folio-folder close to her chest, like it was a child she didn’t want to give up. She didn’t touch anything, even giving me the key to unlock the door. The entire tenement was made up of poured concrete; all the windows reinforced with steel mesh. The electrics and fittings look older than me. The paint is poor; I can still see where the shotgun blasted the wall, with tiny golf ball-like dimples in a spray pattern. Look long enough at the wall, and you can make out the blood spatter.

I looked into the face of the real estate agent, at any given moment she would run and never return, her job was driving her mad. She would force a smile, but it took effort to do that. I think she wanted out of this more than me. “I’ll take it,” I said. I had to tell her again, because she didn’t initially believe me. She was totally stunned. She forced another smile through, handed me the paperwork and quickly left.

I took the next day to move my things into the apartment. I didn’t have much. Most of which I have earned over the last several years has been eagerly saved. I have been acquiring this small fortune in the hopes I can buy my way out of this city. With the help of a few friends around this city, I should be able to finally leave this wretched place.

After an entire day of packing, moving and unpacking, I felt like taking a break. Normally, I would have no interest in meeting the neighbours, but they were making no noise. I’ve lived in tenement blocks before. And while I may never have conversation with another occupant, I would hear their movements, from making their trek from bedroom to bathroom, or moving furniture, and sometimes just sobbing. I would see them in the hallways, as we pass each other like ships in the night. Or maybe meet in the communal laundry and catch each other staring at each other. But here, there was none of that. The halls remained empty and the apartments around me were silent. So in my break, I decided to do a little exploring.

I walked out into the hall, locking the door behind me. The hall itself was no better than the apartment, grey concrete lit by naked fluorescent light. The carpet was so thick and industrial it was crunching under my feet. I walked to the next apartment and gently knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again. Still silence.

In my experience, with working with the police, you would at least get a terse “Go Away”. But there was nothing. I didn’t want to push it as the door was locked anyway. I continued down the hall, ears sharp for any signs of life. Not finding anything on my floor, I went up one. These tenements all looked the same, it was a wonder if you could find your place if you forgot the number in which you lived. I wondered down the hall, knocking on the occasional door, but still getting no answer. Then one creaks open as I knock on it. Unlocked, I gently push it open a little more. Aside from the sound of protest from the hinges, there is still silence. I knock on the door while surveying the entryway of the apartment. The place is exactly the same design as mine, even the accents on the breakfast bar. I say hello but there is still no response. I enter further into the apartment and find it empty. There is an odd smell that I can almost place. No furniture remains. There is no radio or television. Did someone leave and forget to lock up? No, there was something wrong here. I can still the markings in the carpet where furniture was once placed. I look in the bathroom, empty, not even a soap bubble. But it is the bedroom that tells the real story.

The moment I enter the bedroom, I realise what has happened here. There is massive fire damage in one corner of the room. The carpet is destroyed down to the concrete flooring. That would have been the smell, burnt carpet. The ceiling for most of the bedroom is sooty and it looks that the flames reached the ceiling. Moving closer to the destruction, it looks like the fire was fairly well contained to this corner, though I’m not sure whether it was the fire service and their rapid response, or something else. I see something in the ashes. Looks like burnt paper.

I leave the apartment, when it begins to dawn on me. This place, the entire block has been affected by a viral event. I wonder how many others combusted like this poor soul. No wonder the real estate agent wanted out, this place has become cursed and I was dumb enough to sign into it.

I return back to my new place to find the phone ringing. I pick it up and answer.

“Hi”, an odd voice says over the line, “it’s time, meet at the usual place.” I hang up the phone. I move over to a chest of draws and feel for the false bottom. The panel clicks open and inside is large bundles of notes. This is my share of the escape plan. I grab a kit bag, filling the bag with the notes and covering it with a few good clothes. Now that I think about the lease and the place, I don’t care. I’m out of here.

2 thoughts on “A Ghost for Each Room

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