It Haunts: A short short paranormal story
DRIVE-BY STORIES #23
The girl's voice stayed flat in the stale basement air when she spoke. "This is it."
The fluorescent tubes hanging from the bare plywood ceiling buzzed incessantly. The basement apartment's concrete walls drank in the light as shadows stretched and filled the spaces between what furniture it held. A box spring and mattress sat on the floor, blankets a tangled sweat-stained mass, while the pieces of the bed frame leaned against the wall. From the mismatched couch and chairs, scuffed round table dividing the kitchen area from the rest of the space, and the movie posters plastered to the wall—this was a college student's apartment. One without money for anything better and probably lucky to have this musty space.
But the mess, it was more than just a slovenly student. Ashley's appearance concerned Clayton more than the apartment's. She stood in front of the apartment door after letting him inside, like she was afraid of getting close to him. Her skin tone was grayish as if the color was being washed away. Her hair hung in greasy curls in a mass around her shoulders. Her clothes, a thin school shirt, torn on the left shoulder, and gray sweat pants, hadn't been washed. Sweat rings showed in the folds. The skin of her lips was chapped and she chewed at the peeling skin, dark eyes flicking around the room.
Two doors stood closed on the opposite side of the small space. He pointed. "Those?"
Her hand jerked vaguely at the left-hand door. "Laundry room, stairs. I have to pay to use the machines. Like a laundromat. But I don't have to leave, so that's good."
Maybe not so good. She had to get out of this space.
Another convulsion of her hand indicated the other door. "Bathroom."
Under most conditions, Clayton would suggest they sit, but that'd take moving trash off the furniture and he didn't want the smell of the place on his coat. At least no more than necessary. Boxes, cans, empty and unopened, littered the counters in the kitchenette until there wasn't a spare inch open. Surprisingly, no empty beer bottles. Those would have lined the counter back when he was in school. A long time ago.
Better to get to the point. Sooner he helped her, the sooner he could leave. It wasn't like this girl was going to be able to pay him, but she needed the help, that much was obvious.
"Ashley," he said. "Tell me about it. What's been happening?"
Her shoulders jerked toward her eyes. She looked at the floor. "It haunts me."
For an instant Clayton heard it as it hunts me, but then he heard the difference. "How do you mean?"
She pointed at a wardrobe, which he realized for the first time was turned around backwards, the doors pressed up against the wall and only the smooth wood back facing the bed a few feet away.
"It started in there," Ashley said. "Knocking, scratching, crying sounds. It kept waking me up. I'd turn on the lights, check, and find nothing. It'd start again as soon as I was about to sleep."
Clayton crossed his arms, coat bunching around his shoulders. He shifted the strap that held his bag. "Did you do anything about it?"
She shook her head. "Not right away. I thought I was either going crazy, or it was nightmares, you know."
For a split second she glanced at him, then looked down again. "It wasn't."
Clayton waited, giving her time. The silence lasted several long seconds. Her shoulders jerked again.
"I started hearing it beneath my bed. Breathing. Then sounds like nails scratching on the wood," she said. "I tried sleeping on the couch but I could feel it under the bed watching me."
"That sounds terrifying," he said. It did, but that didn't mean this was a supernatural problem instead of a mental health crisis. "Did you try to get help?"
"Counseling? Sure. I knew how it sounded. I took my prescriptions. None of them helped. I put the bed on the floor so it couldn't get underneath. So it locked the door."
Locked the door? Clayton looked at the apartment door behind her and pointed. "That one?"
Ashley's greasy hair fell around her face with her small nod. Her shoulders jerked again. "I figured it out. It didn't want me to leave. If I went out, it'd do something, bang the cupboards, stop the bathroom door from opening—whatever it took to keep me awake. But when I stayed here, it'd let me sleep a few hours at least. I could get everything I needed online. I didn't have to go out at all."
Agoraphobia? Not his area of expertise, but it could be related. Clayton said, "And things got better, when you didn't go out?"
"Sort of. I could always tell it was there, you know? Watching me. Laughing—I couldn't hear it, but I could tell—when it scared me. But it backed off enough to let me do what I needed, to get some sleep. I can't take it any more, you know?"
"That's why you reached out to me?"
Ashley nodded. She took a deep breath. "It's gotten meaner. I think it's bored with me."
She took a step backward and gripped the knob. "It wanted someone new. It said it would let me go, if another took my place. I can't thank you enough for helping me."
Ashley opened the door and stepped out. She stepped back, away from the door. Her lips moved, mouthing, I'm sorry.
The door slammed shut without her touching it.
In an instant, Clayton covered the few strides to reach the door. He tried the knob. It wouldn't budge. It didn't rattle. It felt immovable beneath his hand. The laundry room door. She said there were stairs.
It took him less than twenty steps to cross the apartment to the laundry room door. He grabbed the knob and it was like grabbing onto ice. Extremely cold ice that burned against his hand.
He jerked away and left some skin behind.
Night fell before Clayton dropped onto one of the kitchen bar stools. He was exhausted and hadn't found a way out of the apartment. The doors out wouldn't budge. He'd spent a long time fruitlessly looking for tools he could use to remove the hinges and came up empty. He was tired to his core but he couldn't give up. His phone was dead, apparently a drained battery and he hadn't found a changing cable in the place. Nothing he could use.
Pounding on the doors and shouting gained him nothing but sore hands and throat. Ashley's landline phone lacked a dial tone. He couldn't get out. Not tonight, anyway. Maybe not at all.
Clayton pushed aside that thought. Whatever haunted this place, he'd figure out how to deal with it. Then he'd get out. Nothing would stop him. He didn't care how much it haunted him.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!
This is a new challenge. I’m writing short short stories, under 2,000 words, many under 1,000 words. I’m sharing them to my Instagram stories several times a week. They’ll drop off that, but premium READINARY subscribers can read the full archive of stories here. When I have 100 stories, I’ll publish a collection of them all.
Best wishes, always — Ryan
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