I really wanted to write this after I thought of the title. That's how it usually starts with me...
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Jeremy Bowens was curious to see what his new tenement would look like. Yet, it being a tenement, his curiosity was not born of high expectations. His knowledge of the world outside that of his hometown, high school, parents home, and regular hangout spots with friends, was limited at best. Yet it wasn’t completely nonexistent. He knew what a tenement was, and he knew he would be staying there due to his ineptitude at choosing an appropriate career to follow. Always expecting to get that big break
right out of college whilst relying heavily on his writing skills to pull him through, he majored in literature, all the while answering the unending probing of questioning friends about what he will do with his life. And the answer was usually the same: “I’ll figure it out”, or, “It’s fine; I’ll get a job easy”, or, “What do you mean ‘wasting my life’?” Yet despite the great amount of support he was not receiving from his friends, he continued down the path of several page long essays, late nights reading up on long dead poets and authors, and an overall sense of dread that his friends were right. Yet that last obstacle was not fully known to Jeremy, as he kept it locked away, into the farthest corners of his mind, refusing to acknowledge it. So, here he was, looking up at the large, dark, and overall decadent building with a growing sense of “what the hell have I gotten myself in to”. He wrapped his coat more tightly around his person, as to protect himself from the mid-winter chill that came with living in New York. Having moved here from his hometown a few hours away, he was anxious to finally get a taste of big city life. Unfortunately, this is not what he had in mind. Glancing up and down the street, as if to find some sort of escape to his troubles, he stared long and hard at what was to be his new home. It was an old building, that much was obvious, with a sort of dirty and grimy feel to the entire expanse of the buildings face. Almost as if touching it would leave you wondering what alien life form was clinging to your hand. Almost all the windows were boarded, which would have led most to believe it was abandoned, yet some were free of such barring, letting light spill out of the occupied rooms, revealing that this place was in fact, habitual. All of the windows, none excluded, had and even darker shade of either filth or scorch marks around the edges, leading one to wonder if said building had endured a fire many years before. Jeremy made a mental note to ask the land lady. All in all, it was an almost magnificent sight, in the sense of foreboding macabre that washes over all of us from time to time.
And so, with one last sigh of defeat, the young man whisked up his bags, and entered through the unlit entrance, letting the darkness envelope him fully.
Once inside, he looked around grudgingly, trying to make out what dark shapes he saw in the grim hallway. And then almost immediately, he decided he didn’t want to know, as he passed by what he was sure was an unconscious homeless person. He had been informed his room was on the fourth floor, very far end of the hallway. And so, as he was instructed, he trudged up the seemingly ancient and untrustworthy stairs, to what he affectionately referred to as, “his doom”. Of course, this may have been heard incorrectly, as he was in fact heading to “his room”, but one can never tell in these cases. Once he had traversed the stairs, navigated the dimly lit hallway, and finally found his door, he was ready to turn and run out the front, back to the safety of his parents and friends. Yet just as he began to seriously contemplate this, he was ambushed by a woman who seemed to be as ancient as the building he was standing in.
“Why hello young man, you must be Jeremy, the one I spoke to on the phone! It’s so nice to finally meet you.” she greeted him, in the most precious old woman voice Jeremy had ever heard.
“Ah yes, hello Ms. Weeks. Its, uh, it’s great to meet you to.” He said with a little less sincerity then he had intended.
Even though she was a harmless old woman, he was still unsure about her. She was odd, as if ever too happy. At least, that’s what she sounded like on the phone, and just now Jeremy mentally kicked himself for jumping to conclusions after having only conversed with her twice.
“It’s so great to finally get some people in here, apart from the usual tenants. We’ve had so little business the past few years. I’m not sure what’s wrong.” She frowned at him, as if expecting him to corroborate her statement.
Yet Jeremy was sure she at least had an inkling of what was wrong with her building.
All Jeremy could do was smile and nod, hoping to get this awkward exchange of dialogue over as quickly as possible. Ms. Weeks sighed, produced a ring of keys from somewhere on her small frame, and plucked one off.
“Now listen Jeffrey, this key goes to your apartment, and it’s very expensive to make extra, so don’t lose it.” She said, her eyes boring into his, as if peeping into his very soul was the answer she was looking for.
“Yes, of course! I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it.” Jeremy assured her, trying to get away from the woman as soon as possible. She smiled at him sweetly, and focused her attention on the door.
“Well then, with that out of the way, let’s get you into your new home!”
And, with an expectant look on her face, I took the small silver key she gave me, and slid it into the lock. The key had caught my attention from the second she drew it from the key chain. The length of it was a cylindrical shaft of metal, with a few smaller pieces branching off at the end at a ninety degree angle. It was an old fashioned key, that much was for sure. Which meant this building was indeed, very old.
After a few seconds of forcing the key in, it finally slid all the way in, and with a bit of force, I turned it in the lock, with an audible click. I grasped the rusty iron door knob, and turned it, letting the door open with a long, ominous creaking sound pervading the hallway.
The room beyond was bathed in thick darkness, as if entering it would send me swirling into the unknown. Oddly enough, that’s exactly what this entire endeavor was: the unknown. I was a college kid, fresh out of school, barely past the age of twenty, and not entirely sure I was ready to “Take on the world” as my parents put it. But, I was here, so I decided to try and make the best of it.
Ms. Weeks hurried past me, disappearing into the dark void for a few seconds, her shoes clicking softly on the wood floor. I merely stayed at the doorway, wondering if I should follow her. After several seconds, the lights within the apartment blared to life, revealing a beaming Ms. Weeks by a light switch on the wall. I stepped into the threshold, taking in the surprisingly modern suite I was to be living in. mind you, it wasn’t a penthouse or anything, but much better than I expected. The walls were a strong, yet not distasteful, light coffee brown, with red trim upon the bottom of the wall. The floors, as I said, were hardwood, treated, and shining as if new. By the looks of the place though, it wouldn’t surprise me. I walked cautiously down the entrance hall, into the living room, taking in the pleasant sight.
Ms. Weeks had informed me that furniture would be provided, and that was what I dreaded most. Someone else’s used furniture, left to collect dust and parasite. Yet the furniture before me now was beautifully rendered in modern taste. A large three cushioned couch lay in the center of the living area, with a similar, yet not exact, light coffee color to it. A recliner was in the corner, facing what was to be the entertainment center. The only thing missing was a television, but I wasn’t really into television, so I didn’t mind. I dropped my bags near the door and moved to the recliner. Just as it’s dark, clean caramel color suggested, it was extremely comfortable. I could definitely get used to this. I glanced to the other end of the living area, and noticed that the kitchen, while small, was in the same fashion as the rest of the apartment. It all seemed too good to be true…
“Ms. Weeks, I have just a slight little question.” I said to the still beaming Ms. Weeks, who had apparently noticed how impressed I was with the status of my new home.
“Yes dear, is something wrong?” She replied, her smile slowly ebbing, worried that something was not to my liking.
“What’s with this place? Seriously; the outside looks like it can barely stand, there are vagabonds in the entrance way, and the lighting is reminiscent of a Dracula movie.” I proclaimed, not entirely thinking of how she might take that negatively.
And of course, I’m sure she did. But to my immense surprise, she merely donned the smile once more and uttered a short little laugh.
“Oh, that, I was afraid you were displeased with the residence. Well, it’s a bit of a long story.” She conceded, as if I wasn’t at all intrigued. And I was, of course.
“Ms. Weeks, I have the time, as long as you do.” I said, hoping that was enough.
Ms. Weeks sighed, and said, “Well, if you must know.” She then walked over to the couch diagonal from where I was sitting in the recliner, and settled in, as if the story was going to take a while. I started fearing that it would, remembering just minutes ago when I wanted to be out of her company. Too late now, I realized.
Ms. Weeks cleared her throat and began in a low, slightly melodramatic voice.
“Several years ago, when my husband was still with me, and we were running this building together, we were the talk of the town. Well, not really the talk of the town, but we were popular nonetheless; People who moved in, stayed, and people who left usually didn’t want to. Business was at its best, and we had been partners in crime for the better half of fifty years.” Ms. Weeks’ eyes had drifted beyond me, to memories drifting past and better times with a man she had known most of her life. It really was sad to see the old, albeit lively woman, act in such a way. I almost missed her regular self.
“For more than twenty years we lived the good life. Plenty of friends, plenty of money, financially sound in every way, and we were happy, with our business and each other. So naturally, because we had had so much good in our life, we were destined to have some bad.”
I sat up straight, as a warning from my brain telling me I might not want to hear the rest, sent an ominous chill up my spine.
“One day, in the middle of winter, there was a fire; Simple as that. Yet, what wasn’t so simple was that it took my husband from me. He didn’t die a noble death though: asphyxiating on smoke, dying in his sleep, something like that. He was burned alive, right in front of me.”
I was utterly shocked. This was not what I had been expecting at all.
“That explains the scorch marks around the windows.” I said softly, hoping she wouldn’t take offense at the fact that I had noticed.
“Yes, that’s right, very observant of you.” She said quietly, a bit of her old self returning to her.
“Now where was I?” She asked no one in particular. “Ah yes, husband burning alive right in front of me. Anyways, that’s what happened. We were living here at the time, in the best suite that we had, feeling we had deserved some luxury. I’m still not so sure what caused it: a socket short circuiting, someone left the stove on. No idea. But, we noticed the smoke, and jumped out of bed. I ran to the door to get it open, but it had problems sometimes. George, that was my husband’s name, had said a hundred times he was going to fix it. So before I knew it, the fire was all around us, and there was nothing we could do. Then suddenly he grabs me and lifts me up towards the vent on the ceiling. I hadn’t even noticed it in the panic. I barely managed to open it and crawl into the ventilation, before George fell. I also hadn’t noticed that while he held me up, the fire had tasted him, and wanted more.”
“I sat in the ventilation, as my husband writhed on the ground, aflame, and there was nothing I could do. After the fire, everyone moved out. They knew what had happened to George, and they were all close to him, as they were close to me; we tried to be as friendly as we could. But, they knew what happened to George, and none wished to remain. I knew this place would never be as popular as it once was, so I never bothered to fix the exterior.”
“Yet, I fixed up some of the rooms inside, in the event anyone would want to live here, so that they would at least have a nice place to stay.”
I sat in the chair in complete and utter horror. The fact that such a gruesome even had happened to this sweet, creepy old woman, gave me cold chills. I had never talked with someone who had witnessed the death of their spouse. Sure, I knew people who lost a brother or dad, but that was usually due to car accidents or disease. This woman had witnessed her own husband’s demise, and such a gritty death at that. After a few moments of silence, and of Ms. Weeks staring forlornly down the hall that led to the rest of the suite, I finally broke the silence.
“I’m so sorry, Ms. Weeks, I had no idea. Really, it was foolish of me to bring up such a topic.” Ms. Weeks finally snapped herself out of her melancholy trance, and looked at me as if nothing happened.
“Oh don’t be silly, I’m just an old croon with no one to talk to. You’ll forgive me if a few dusty memories come tumbling out from time to time.” She flashed another trademark smile, showing off all her teeth, all gleaming white, despite her age.
With that, that she stood and stretched, starting off towards the rest of the suite.
“Now, on with the tour!” She proclaimed in an overly optimistic voice. I suspected there was more to the story, yet I didn’t push it, not wanting to offend.
I stood too, already missing the comfort of the recliner, and followed her back there. Once I reached the hallway, I stopped in my tracks.
It was an ordinary hallway, as ordinary as they come, with a door leading to the left, and a door leading to the right, presumably to a bedroom and bathroom, or perhaps a closet. Yet, at the very end, was a door unlike any I had seen so far in the suite. As I stepped towards it, I noted all the odd markings around the edge, the blackened appearance, and jagged cracks that ran throughout the frame. And then, the door knob: blackened as well and just as rusty as the one outside, and on the other doors. I assumed the blackened appearance was from the fire. Yet I had no idea why, in such a pristine living space, where everything was as modern as possible, this one door would resemble all the others.
With Ms. Weeks chattering in one of the bedrooms about the history of the neighborhood and all that, I extended my hand to the handle, feeling the suspense in the air. My heart was beating in my chest, for I knew something I most likely did not want to see was behind this door. I grasped the handle, which was oddly warm, and began to turn the knob.
It was locked.
I looked at it in confusion, rattling the doorknob in frustration; all that buildup and nothing to show for it. I sighed, hoping Ms. Weeks would tell me. And as I turned to ask her, I found a very happy looking Ms. Weeks standing right behind me. I hadn’t even noticed the chatter stop.
“Is there something you’re looking for dear?” she said sweetly, yet at this point I was more than a little bit freaked out.
“Um, yes actually, the key to this door.” I said, trying to look as innocent as possible.
She glanced past me at the door, shrugged and said, “Doesn’t have a key.”
I stared at her for a few seconds, wondering if she was pulling my leg or not.
“What,” I asked incredulously, “All doors have keys. Or, at least, I would imagine they do, if they’re locked.”
“That one doesn’t.” She remarked, nodding to the door. I didn’t know what to say, so I just stood there, letting the awkwardness seep into my very clothes, hoping she would just leave.
“So then, what exactly happened to the door? I mean look at it, it looks like it’s been through a war, let alone a fire.” I said, motioning to the jagged cracks that ran throughout The Door.
“I’m afraid the last tenant that was living here went a little, stir crazy; he ended up tearing the door down” She replied. This was a very odd building indeed.
“So what happened to him then?” I asked, eager to find out. Ms. Weeks just smiled and simply said:
“He was evicted.” I looked at her for several moments, wondering what to make of her strange ways of describing past events. After several more awkward moments, she finally burst into a wide grin, unable to control her laughter.
“Oh my, you must lighten up Jeremy, really kids these days, no sense of humor. The door has a key; I just don’t know where it is I’m afraid.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. For a moment, I was worried that I’d be living in an apartment building with a surprisingly threatening old woman.
“So what’s through the door then?” I asked, anxious to hear. She glanced at it once more, taking in the question before finally answering:
“Memories, I suppose.”
I stood there, taking in her oddly philosophical answer, and wondering exactly what it meant. She smiled again as I thought, and patted me on a cheek, as all old people do.
“Well, that’s the tour. Don’t fret about this door, it’s nothing; like I said, only memories in there. It belonged to a couple before the fire.” She said to me, turning to walk back to the living area.
I followed her, strangely comforted by those words.
“So where do you live now? Still staying in one of the suites?” I asked.
“Oh no, I’ve long since moved out, couldn’t face this place every morning. But that was close to ten years ago, I don’t know why I don’t move back in. could do me some good, facing my past.”
I smiled, secretly hoping she would. She was indeed a very sweet old lady, even if our first encounter proved to be somewhat, odd, or creepy, either one.
“One more thing, Ms. Weeks, before you go.” I said, just as she was about to get up and leave, off to do whatever she needed to be doing. She looked at me, expectantly, making it clear I could go on.
“Why, though, keep the place so modern, so nice looking.” I said, expecting an answer as odd as she was. What I got surprised me a bit. She smiled as she stood, and began walking to the door, stopping just in the hallway, turning to face me.
“Because dear, I miss having this place so full of people. If someone moves in, I want to make sure they’ll never leave.” She flashed another brief smile, gave me a small wave, and continued down the hall, the door sliding shut behind her.