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The bright sun hung low in the sky, its oppressive face far past the tops of the trees. The street was eerily quiet for such a beautiful day. There should have been children running about, chased by dogs, parents watching. No one stirred. Leaves blew across the street, not even a car passed. Something sinister hung in the air. Perhaps it was his imagination. Perhaps it was something else. The air had the taste of infectious excitement. A squirrel chattered loudly, breaking the silence and drawing his attention to a gnarly tree beside the house. Hanson rang the doorbell and checked his reflecting in the opaque window. His image smirked back at him, its confidant look overshadowing the gleam of fear in his eye. Fear of what he would find.
The glass was spotless. The mahogany trim on the door frame shined with a brilliance that comes only from frequent polishing. A small, elderly woman answered the door, her knitting needles poised at her side, seemingly casual, but her stance was not.
“What do you want?” the woman called out in a feeble voice.
“Mrs. Felton? It's Mathew Hanson. I called about the apartment.”
The light of recognition lit in the ancient eyes, but the hostility didn't completely dissipate. The glare of the sun off of her gold-rimmed glasses made Hanson squint.
“Ah, yes, Mista Hanson. Please come in.” The door swung open silently, well greased and cared for. Hanson stepped inside the door and took a discrete look around. Everything was impeccably clean, almost reminding Hanson of a museum. There was a ball of yarn in a basket beside the couch, but no evidence of any knitting actually started, furthering Hanson's hypothesis that the needles were being used both as a threat and defense. They stayed gripped in the old woman's faded hands as she hobbled down the hallway. A speck of dust wove through the air uncomfortably, as out of place as a farmer at a fashion show. Hanson blew at it, causing the woman to turn. He smiled, but she didn't return the favor, her suspicious look never leaving her dusty face. She continued to lead him down the center of the house. Each doorway he passed, he did his best to take a peek around. Every room had one thing in common, it was eerily clean. Hanson picked up his pace to keep up the woman as she twisted through a succession of hallways to red painted stairway. She turned to make sure he was following.
“It's just up this stairway, Mista Hanson.”
“Ah, yes, thank you. Tell me, Mrs. Felton. Do you keep this house yourself?”
“I do.” was her curt answer.
“Tell me, have you had trouble getting anyone to rent this apartment?”
“Getting them to rent it isn't the problem, Mista Hanson. It's getting them to stay.”
They arrived at the top of the stairs and Mrs. Felton pushed open a heavy mahogany door. Hanson stepped into the apartment and immediately a shiver slid down his spine. The room was exactly as he remembered it, though the couch was up against the north wall, instead of the east. The smell of bleach met his nose and Hanson noticed the room was much cleaner than the last time he had seen it. The rings in the dust on the coffee table were gone, the fingerprints on the window gave way to a sparkling clean. The floor was still worn down the middle, but the cobwebs in the corners were gone. Hanson felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise up as he tilted his head slowly up towards the ceiling, afraid of what he would see. The bright, burning words were gone. The claw marks were ever so faintly visible on the wallpaper on the north wall. Hanson forced his eyes to draw a straight line down from the marks to the floor. The couch was in the way. It was as if she had never been there. The shadows on the floor lengthened as the sun sunk lower.
“Do you mind if I just have a minute alone?” Hanson asked, trying to ignore the shivers running down his back as his voice reverberated off the walls and back to his ears.
Mrs. Felton almost seemed bored. She shrugged her shoulders and shuffled out of the room, closing the door behind her. As soon as he heard her footsteps on the stairs, he crossed the room purposefully to the edge of the couch. His footsteps rang loudly in the silence. He leaned down and pushed at the couch with all his might. Its slid slowly, being much, much heavier than it looked. Hanson stood for a minute, trying to breath evenly. He looked down on the ground. He was on top of it. He jumped away from the wall. His breathing became ragged again. Deep breaths only succeeded in making the room spin. He gathered his courage and looked back down at the dark red stain on the hardwood floor. Seeping and ugly, like the sin of mankind, the stain screamed at him. Hanson felt his resolve breaking and he collapsed to his knees. His fingertips touched the stain, then ripped away as if burned. He slowly became aware of a shrieking, mournful cry, like a dying animal. He wondered subconsciously what it was. He reached up and found his face wet. It was his body that was emitting the awful noise, but he wasn't completely aware of it. As his screams slowly subsided, something strange caught his eye. A flicker of light in a dark, spotless corner. He turned slowly, his chest still heaving. There was nothing there. As the room became silent again, a whisper caught his ear. It couldn't be. So sweet and melodious.
“You're dead.” Hanson spoke numbly through his teeth.
“Yes,” the voice replied. Suddenly the window flew open and a soft breeze cascaded into the room, brushing against his hot face. “Mathew.”
“I love you.” he whispered.
Her flickering form gradually took shape before his eyes. She stood stationary in the middle of the red stain, as if the blood was coursing down her small frame. She was wearing that same breezy summer dress that showed a little more of her golden tan than was modest for a married woman. He glanced immediately to her chest. It was gone.
Her laugh was sweet. “It's not there, Mathew.”
He reached for her, but his hand moved through her as easily as the air.
“He killed me, Mathew.” Her face grew hard. “Avenge me.”
“I can't, Adelaide.”
“The law has never stopped you before.”
“I'm a doctor, I can't kill people.”
“You killed me.” Her voice was cold and cruel.
“IT WASN'T MY FAULT!” Hanson screamed furiously, the guilt showing on his desperate face. The doorknob turned and Adelaide glanced to it, and dissipated. The door opened and revealed Mrs. Felton. The knitting needles had been replaced with a long sharp knife.
“You talking to yourself in here, Mista Hanson?”
Hanson tried to remain calm, his eyes flickering from her face to the long knife. “I'm sorry to be so disruptive, Mrs. Felton. Just reliving bad memories, I suppose. I don't think I'll take the apartment any way.”
She opened the door for him and he moved out into the hallway. She inspected the apartment for any damage he might have done. Her eyes caught on the red stain. Her mouth twisted into a grimace and she crossed to the couch. She pushed the heavy couch back onto the stain easily and went to leave. As she closed the door, she thought she heard someone crying. She figured it was one of the other tenants, and she shuffled down the stairs to show Mr. Hanson the door.