I hadn’t even finished unpacking when it started. At first it was just odd stuff like the fridge not staying closed or pictures falling off the walls. Typical weird apartment things. It was annoying, but nothing I was really worried about. I mean, I couldn’t complain, I knew how shitty the apartment was from the get-go, and it wasn’t like I could depend on the drunk super to fix any of it.
I’m getting ahead of myself. My name’s Ben Jensen. I was on the Metropolitan Police Force for twenty-five years, most of that in burglary and homicide. My wife divorced me somewhere around year seventeen. I guess I sort of lost my zeal after that. When I started the job was about walking the streets and talking to people. Now it’s about stats and press conferences. I could tell an old-fashioned guy like me wasn’t wanted anymore, so I left on my own terms. I already had my full pension, so why the hell not? Turns out six months later they reduce everyone’s pensions, part of “across-the-board cuts.” So I took the PI exam.
Two years into being a PI I had to switch apartments twice cause I couldn’t pay the bills. My wife took most of my monthly pension check for the kids. I had to keep an office downtown in a strip mall for my almost nonexistent clients, so that shithole was the best I could afford at the time, unless I wanted to stop smoking and drinking, which I didn’t.
So anyway. I moved this new apartment in an old building downtown that used to be a hotel. It was pretty well-known to us on the force since there’d been a murder there back in ‘91. I was still patrol back then so I never saw the crime scene, but we all knew about it: the Granger Case. The theory was that Roy Granger, a wealthy playboy, killed his young wife Tess. Only problem with that theory is neither of them had any wounds and they were laying on opposite sides of the room. It was like both their hearts stopped at exactly the same time. How do you explain that?
Well, the hotel folded in ‘97 after the “haunted hotel” mystique wore off, and a real estate developer (by which I mean slum lord) turned it into apartments. I’ve never been a superstitious man, so when I needed a cheap pad fast and the haunted apartments were the cheapest around, short of a crackhouse, I thought, hey, why not?
Which brings me back to where I started. Like I said, it was typical weird apartment things. I didn’t think much of it. The fridge door kept coming open at night, and I was started to get worried my milk would spoil. My pictures — all two of them, both of Batman — kept falling off the walls, no matter where I hung them or how much sticky tack I used.
But then something really weird happened. I cut my landline in ‘07, but I still had an old cordless phone just in case I changed my mind. It was buried in a box after I moved in, but one night it started ringing. No joke: it was ringing. I wasn’t sure what the sound was at first, since it was in a box under a blender and a crock pot, but after I dug it out there was no mistaking it. It was one of those old models with the little green digital readout that tells you who’s calling. It hadn’t been charged in years, but there it was, all lit up and blaring. The readout only had a bunch of ampersands and asterisks, nothing intelligible. I swallowed hard and stroke the “answer” button, but before I got up the gumption to press down the ringing stopped. The light went out, as if it’d never happened.
Now this was at about eleven o’clock at night. I’d already been drinking, so I thought for a moment I’d finally snapped. I even thought about going to some meetings. Then one Batman pictures fell off the wall again — only now it wasn’t Batman. It was a weird abstract art piece, with some grey blobs and a red square, all covered in a filmy black haze. Whatever the hell it was, this was not my collectible Dark Knight artwork. I sat down on my ratty old couch and had another whiskey.
I thought to myself Let’s say I’m still on the force. I get called to this apartment, and the washed-up ex-cop there tells me his phone is ringing. I think he’s crazy, obviously. But he seems really spooked, even though he’s drunk. So I ask him some questions.
“Have you noticed any unusual activity lately?” I asked myself out loud. “Oh yeah, my fridge keeps coming open. And my Batman pictures keep falling down. What’s a guy to do?”
I shook my head. It was crazy. I was starting to contemplate going to meetings again when a man walked out of my bedroom. He was dressed in a cream-colored suit and had a slicked-back, prepossessed hairdo. The man looked me in the eye, raised one eyebrow curiously, and looked back into the bedroom.
“Tess!” he called. “There’s something odd going on.”
“Well, what is it, Roy?” came a woman’s voice from the bedroom.”
The man — Roy — opened his mouth to answer, but hesitated. His eyes went wide and he drew in his breath audibly. I followed his gaze to a spot behind me where two walls met the ceiling in a corner. The dim light of the room seemed to warp there, and as I watched an oily shadow coalesced, rippling as a distinct spherical form took shape. I looked back at Roy, who was shuddering now. He let out a wail. I heard a whoosh of air as the shadow thing rocketed through the air beside my head. Roy dove back into my bedroom as the thing blasted towards him.
I hesitated for a just a moment before instinct took over. This was the weirdest goddamn thing I’d ever seen, but my police brain shoved all the fear and disorientation down. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins. I belted down the whiskey and ran towards the bedroom as a woman screamed from inside it.
When I rounded the corner through the doorway I saw a room that wasn’t my bedroom. Instead of my pathetic twin bed, there was an enormous four-poster queen. Instead of my dingy particle board dresser, there was a solid oak armoire. The man was kneeling in front of the bed, eyes transfixed on the shadow thing that hovered in the air above him. An oily tentacle had snaked out from the thing and plunged into the man’s chest. His eyes turned glassy and blank as I watched. A woman in a stunning blue evening gown — Tess — stood on the other end of the room, both hands clasped over her mouth, eyes contorted in horror. The shadow thing rippled and extended another tentacle, which zipped through the air like a scorpion’s tail to bury itself in Tess’ chest. She gave a strained gasp and collapsed to her knees, her eyes glazing over like Roy’s.
“Fuck!” I shouted. I tried something more subtle: “Fuckity-fuck!”
The shadow thing oozed and twisted in the air, and somehow I knew that it had turned its attention on me. I took a step backward, holding up my hands defensively, and lost my footing. As I toppled backwards a third tentacle shot out, narrowly missing my head. I fell through the doorway into the hall and smacked my head on the wall. Everything went black.
When I opened my eyes again I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but my head was pounding, half from the whiskey and half from the blow I’d given myself. Fortunately it wasn’t bleeding. It took me a foggy minute to remember my experience with Roy, Tess, and the shadow thing. I crawled into my bedroom, which was indeed my bedroom again, and breathed a sigh of relief. I checked my Batman picture next, and sure enough, the Caped Crusader had returned, banishing the weird abstract art. But I couldn’t shake the lingering horror, the glassy look in the Grangers’ eyes, and the sickening knowledge that somehow I might have been responsible for their deaths — or at least failed to save them.
So that’s my story, folks. Sounds like bullshit, huh? You probably want an explanation of what the shadow thing was, or why it was in my apartment, or why it killed Roy and Tess, or why I could even see two people that died over twenty years ago. Well, tough shit, friends, I got no answers for you. Even I could find an explanation, I’m not sure I’d want to know it. I got the hell out of there as fast as possible and lived in my office for a few months. Life goes on, and mine certainly did. I only know what I saw that night, and now you do too. Make your own decisions about it.