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The prominent anchors beneath the man's chilled blue eyes told a story of disturbed sleep and grainy risings. His brow held together a canyon of wrinkles that sat complacent on his square face. Drowning on the horizon, the sun casted an auburn glow over the vintage furniture in Georgie's apartment. His silhouette, cradled by the window's light, crawled along the floor as he inhaled.
Georgie dreaded the fall of day. This was when the ventilation system came on. His patchy hand laid on his cane and sweat stained his collar. His shirt was tucked into his burlap pants and handkerchief, slightly damp, was shy in his pocket. Never had he been driven to complaint. He would sooner go back to lumbering boxes of Follie's Magazines on his crooked back than speak on his wishes, but that smell. That. smell.
It marauded the peppermint accent of his living room's cozy entrails and seeped onto his ashen wooden floors, slithering through the rustic vent adjacent to his pinch pleated lamp. The encumbering draw of stench that filled his room when the vents opened, drove him to madness. He looked to the door. He knew the odor drifted from the room below, but he couldn't move his stubborn legs. The thought of confrontation made him ill.
Georgie sauntered to the adjoining kitchenette where the table stood dark and sturdy. An envelope, weathered and curled at the corners, laid cowering under his cholesterol tablets. The deliverer had neglected to close his mail slot, soaking his letters and medicine in a puddle of murky rain water. He never mentioned it, even when he saw the other tenants' box's closed, secure, and dry.
"It happens." Georgie would say. " There's no need to shout at thunder for crashing so loud."
The letter crackled under his brittle hands as he peeled the envelope open; it smelled like lavender-soap, Darlene. It read:
To my dearest father,
The money you sent isn't nearly enough! I'm getting the feeling you don't care for me at all. You send Mariana whatever she asks for and I never get a dime. It's been exhausting, Jared's been gone most of the time, leaving me to do all the work. I wonder if that man even knows what a paint brush is. I thought the money you sent was a jest at our kindred relationship, so I bought a new pair of shoes instead. It's been nearly three weeks and I haven't received a response. What am I to do in this empty house? You owe this to your eldest daughter to see to it that she is happy. I am not happy Father.
Georgie sighed, craning his neck to the antique clock above his TV. He thought of the petite Darlene who he adored above all his daughters, even if he would never say so. He shuffled to his desk behind the armchair and made a note to send off more money to Darlene. He wouldn't stand for her unhappiness.
"Maybe if I cut back on my medicine." He mumbled, flipping through his account book; his finger sliding down each line of numbers and scribbles.
A BANG echoed throughout the living room. Georgie flinched. He straightened his flannel shirt and walked to the door, now quiet and still.
Through the peephole, he recognized the woman from the ground floor. He held his breath as he opened the door.
"Good afternoon George!" She sung. "I am dreadfully sorry for intruding on your-." she glances into his room. "busy schedule, but I have to inform you about a recent death in the building."
Georgie looked upon the woman. Her curls, controlled by layers of frizz free hairspray, laid evenly on her youthful face. She is quite young to be a landlord. Her round eyes stared back at him.
George's eyes widened "Who was it?" he asked.
"Miss, Gomontry from the room below yours." She answered leaning in; her high voice dropping low. "She fell from the third story stair case. I haven't the slightest idea why she was up there. Mr. Fontier said he heard her rummaging on belligerently. Talking about voices whispering in her ear. I always thought she was so pretty. What a way to go." Mrs. Muar whispers staring off to the staircase, lost in thought.
Georgie leaned on the door frame for balance “What are they going to do with, you know, with her things? Doesn't she live alone?" he inquired moving the conversation out to the hallway.
Mrs. Muar coming to her senses said. "Oh yes, her aunt will be over tomorrow to pack her things. I was informing the tenants of her death. Since there is only a few of us left, I feel as though we are family." She laughs. "Imagine us, seven.... no six-people living in a 30-roomed mansion. Small and quaint."
Georgie and Mrs. Muar talked for two minutes more before she left. Georgie, alone in his apartment sat in his armchair, thinking of Miss. Gomontry. He thought of her smile as he passed her outside. She owned a small dress boutique next door and would wave whenever he went to his bus stop down the road. He wondered what finally cracked her sanity.
Madness had a way of creeping into unsuspecting people after dark. Could she had fallen victim? Georgie sat perplexed under the shadowy room. He leaned over to the lamp, moving to click it on, but stopped. The malignant odor crawled from the vents and made Georgie reel back in disgust.
"If she is gone," he muttered clasping his hand over his nose. "where is that God-awful smell coming from?"
Georgie stood and caught his reflection in the refrigerator door. His face was dull and eyes sad. He yelled in abhorrence for the helpless man in the mirror. He could not lay ideally by like some decoration on his walls. He was a 65-year-old man still frightened of a reflection in the mirror. He was tired with sleeping through thunder. He wanted to scream over its booming sounds. Georgie left his apartment. He didn't know what he would do when he reached Miss. Gomontry's room, but the fire in his stead was not going to be exhausted with planned action.
He snatched the red satin from his pocket and gave a dab along his neck. His head was burning, and his cheeks were flourished. He realized how fleeting his feelings of bravery were as he came to the vacant room. He never should have left his apartment. The radiant comfort of his deep-seated armchair and humming TV set beckoned from the room above. He huffed. 22A Stood before him, a Burch entrance with a polished knob and brass lettering.
22A wasn't a door, not a wooden block that stood alone. It expanded and contracted like a cool breath in mid-morning, spurring with it a frosty inhale into the lungs. Like the wispy trail of a ghost, it haunted Georgie.
Maybe it was the window being open at the front desk or a breeze of the ventilation. Or was it the eyes of the deceased bestowing upon Georgie their judgement. He shivered.
He turned the knob. It opened. Georgie didn't know how, but he didn't wait outside.
The familiar odor met him at the entrance. He used his handkerchief to cover his mouth as he ventured in. He scanned the room and found a golden bird cage centered on a small table. White bodies laid slackened against the pelted floor. Two birds, wriggling with maggots overflowing from their feathers, laid small and sullen.
Georgie staggered back. He rammed into a bookshelf, leading to a roar of books flailing over. A small red box fell from the shelf, breaking in half and scattering a lustrous pearl necklace.
The white pearls shown upon Georgie. He listened for others around, but heard nothing. His eyebrows creased as he thought of Darlene's letter. "She would be so happy." He reasoned, reaching for the pearls. "I have lived long enough in the shadow of others' happiness, Miss. Gomontry owes me. That putrid smell from her foul birds is enough exchange for these beauties." The pearls were stashed in his coat pocket as he exited.
Georgie's eyes darted from door to door like he could catch ominous eyes peering at him through a crack in the darkness. The hallway elongated to a hacked staircase layered with tarnished red brick. He watched a body crack against the floor; the movements were disjointed as the arms went slack against the cool surface. The crimson reflecting from the sporadic light fixtures revealed the horror-struck face of a woman. Red tears puddled the floor.
Georgie yelped. He hastened to the staircase at the other end. Three taps. Tick Clack Clack. It echoed through the hall. Tick Clack Clack. He felt fingers at his collar. He heard her whispering in his ear. He was nearly crawling up the stairs.
He reached the top, a final Tick Clack-. A horrific scream rang up from the second floor, and then the 1st floor and then...... a crashing like thunder. The white pearls rolled in red.