In this creepy apartment story, a college graduate moves into an old apartment building in New York City, and finds that something entirely evil lurks beneath.
How did I get here, locked away in the mental health ward of the New York City Hospital? I shouldn’t have told my parents what happened, or have gone to the police when they refused to believe me. I know that what I saw was real, but the doctors have planted seeds of doubt in my mind. I must write this down – to organize my thoughts. There must be a way to prove to the world that what I experienced was real, and to protect others from sharing the fate that I so narrowly escaped. Evil lurks in the darkest, deepest corners of New York City, and it is only a matter of time before innocent people are killed.
It was the first day of work and of course I was late. Rushing through my morning routine, trying to ignore my apartment’s rattling and gasping pipes as I showered and brushed my teeth. The last thing I needed was for a pipe to explode in the apartment I had just moved into. I navigated unopened cardboard boxes as I made my way to the ancient oak wardrobe that had been left in the apartment by the previous tenant. “Thank God I took the time to iron my clothes last night.” I muttered as I pulled on my best blouse, a grey pair of slacks, and slipped into my favorite pair of black flats. I checked myself in the mirror, fixed my posture, and forced a smile while trying to ignore the paint peeling from the walls and cardboard chaos laying on the floor behind me.
If only I could go back in time, back to the carefree days of living in luxury dorms with my friends at New York University. Unfortunately, I graduated, and the fairy tale of college was over and I now had to face reality. I took out too much in loans to afford NYU, and now I was living in a rundown apartment building in the worst part of Brooklyn. My friends, most of whom had wealthy parents, moved on to luxury apartments in trendy Manhattan neighborhoods – they promised me that they would visit, but I knew that would never happen. My new apartment was only a few miles away from them, but the divide between New York City’s rich and poor meant that I might as well have been living in China.
I took a deep breath, resigning myself to my new life, and stepped out of my apartment, hoisted my fake designer bag onto my shoulder, and walked down the hallway towards the archaic elevator. “Being an adult sucks” I muttered.
My apartment building, Washington Terrace, was all I could afford. I tried to imagine the building when it was first built, back during prohibition, but I could not see past the blackened and sagging wooden floors, crumbling plaster walls, and rusted metal pipes that always seemed to be moaning, hissing, and dripping. I lived alone on the thirteenth floor, and apart from my landlord and a few monstrous cockroaches, had not yet met any of my neighbors.
Standing at the doors to the elevator, I pressed the button for the ground floor a few times before I realized that the button lights were burned out. I passed the time waiting for the elevator by trying to guess how many apartments were on my floor. I counted twelve doors on my floor, which meant that there were likely two-hundred and forty separate units in the building. I’d only lived here for a few nights, but it seemed strange that I hadn’t seen or heard any of my neighbors. No loud music, footsteps from the apartment above, or any children running down the hallways. Maybe it was mostly retirees that lived here, that might explain the deathly silence.
There were technically two elevators servicing the twenty floors of the building, but the landlord, Ms. Leary, told me that elevator “one” had been out of service for years. She would not give any details on when, or if it would ever be fixed. Not that it matters much, since no one else seemed to live there.
I stood staring at the elevator doors, lost in thought, and jumped as the elevator doors slid open with a loud bang to reveal a tiny elevator with clouded mirrors covering all three walls. I stepped in, and pushed the black button with the letter G, for ground floor. A minute passed, and the elevator doors had not closed yet. I pushed the button a few more times with my thumb, but nothing happened.
“Great, just great.” I muttered to myself.
I sighed, and began to step out of the elevator, resigning myself to finding the stairs. The elevator dropped a few inches as I was halfway out the elevator. One foot in the hallway, one foot still in the elevator. I stood there for a what seemed like an eternity, frozen with fear, terrified that any sudden movement might cause the elevator to drop again. At that moment, the brass light fixtures lining the hallway began to flicker. Randomly at first, then together. On, off, on, off. I looked down the hall, and saw Ms. Leary, the landlord, standing at the end. No, not standing, hovering. I remember closing my eyes tight, not believing what I saw, and praying that I would open my eyes to find that this was all a bad dream, that I would soon wake up and find myself in my dorm at NYU. I opened my eyes again to see that Ms. Leary had moved a little closer. A long white gown hung limply from her thin, pale body.
The lights continued to flicker, Ms. Leary somehow had moved a little closer each time the lights turned back on. Her head hung forward, chin to chest, grey, matted hair covering her face. I willed myself to move, to run down the carpeted hall in the opposite direction to the staircase, but my legs refused to cooperate. I stood there as if in a trance, paralyzed with fear. The lights began to flicker faster and faster, bringing Ms. Leary closer and closer until she hovered directly in front of me.
The smell of death and decay stung my nostrils. Her off-white gown loosely draped over her frail frame. Ms. Leary stood – no, hovered, with the tips of her toes lightly brushing the dirty floor. The elevator shuddered again, and at that moment, Ms. Leary’s head snapped up. An unseen force pushed me back into the elevator at the exact moment that I heard a loud snap from above. I slammed against the back of the elevator and crumpled to the ground, the elevator dropped a foot, and I looked up at Ms. Leary to see her face. She no longer had the face of the sweet old lady that had given me a tour of my apartment. Ms. Leary looked down at me with empty, worm-filled eye sockets, and a lipless mouth sneering at me with a permanent grin.
There was another loud snap, and my stomach flipped as the elevator hung in midair for a moment before hurtling downwards. Time seemed to slow down as the elevator flew past each floor. I remember counting each floor through the open doors as the elevator rocketed through the shaft. Emergency brakes activated at the lobby, and showered me with sparks as the elevator car screeched to halt. I crawled out of the elevator, choking on a noxious cloud of dust and smoke.
I rubbed my eyes with the back of my sleeves, and peered through the settling dust. Now out of the elevator, I slowly rose to my feet, with one hand on the concrete wall for support. A sharp pain shot up my leg as I gingerly tried to move forward.
“Not broken, just sprained.” I whispered through clenched teeth, trying to ignore the pain in my ankle. I hobbled forwards with one hand on the wall. Somehow, I was calm, the initial rush of adrenaline had left, and now I was only left with a feeling of grim determination. I could only move forward, and hope to find a staircase leading out of the basement.
A cold gust of wind blew down and out of the elevator shaft, carrying the sound of laughter with it. At first I thought it was the sound of the wind blowing through the elevator shaft, but it became louder and more hysterical with each passing moment. I quickened my pace, ignoring the sharp pain in my leg, and tried to control the fear that threatened to overwhelm me as I moved through the dark corridor.
I stumbled along in the darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust, desperate to find some way out. A faint, pulsing light caught my attention, and I walked towards it like a moth being pulled towards a porchlight. I stood before a solid concrete wall that had a large hole in it, like something had burrowed through. I stepped through, into a large room with slick stone walls illuminated by a glowing door. The floor was littered with personal effects – clothes, purses, wallets – some looked to be over a hundred years old.
I gingerly stepped over a cracked pair of horn-rimmed glasses, kicked away a faded newspaper with a headline reading “Pearl Harbor Attacked!” and placed my hands on the door, and was surprised at the warmth radiating from the wooden surface of the door. My hand explored engravings in the wood worn smooth by time. At the top of the door I found the faint imprint of letters. Standing on the tip of my toes, I allowed the tips of my fingers to trace the letters carved into the smooth, wooden door. As if I were reading braille, I discovered,
A cold gust of wind pushed me against the door, and I heard the faint sound of laughter from behind me. I moved my fingers across the words more quickly, hoping that my salvation lay in whatever message had been engraved into the door.
all… who…enter… here.
A rotting hand, blood caked under impossibly sharp finger nails, reached over my shoulder and pushed a lever hidden within the door. I watched as the door slowly opened, revealing a narrow spiral staircase. The hand withdrew, lightly brushing a fingernail across the side of my cheek. A moment passed, and I gathered the courage to look back. There was nothing. I was alone in the empty room once again.
I had nowhere else to go. I traced my steps back to the elevator, and checked every nook and cranny in the corridor for another way out. The only way out was down the staircase. I made my way back, and descended into the pitch-black staircase, one hand on the smooth stone wall, the other hand reaching out blindly in front of myself. I knew that I was deep beneath the streets of New York City, that this staircase led to somewhere very ancient.
The spiral staircase descended into a cavernous hall illuminated by smoky torches set deep into walls stained black with soot. A coldness washed over me as I stepped into the room, despite standing in between two large torches set on either side of the entrance into the hall. Heavy oak coffins lined the walls of the hall, lined up tall against the stone walls. As I walked down through the hall, I found that some of the coffin lids were open, but thankfully, they were empty.
“Welcome to the Hall of the Dead, my friend. You may call me the King.” Said a deep voice, with the slightest hint of an accent that I could not place. I spun around, looking for the source of the voice, but the hall appeared to be empty, well, except for the coffins lining the walls. A soft glow appeared toward the end of the hall, opposite form the staircase I had entered from.
“Yes, walk closer.” Said the voice in a soft whisper.
I obeyed, and fought the urge to look over my shoulder, terrified of what might lurk behind me.
A robed man, with tattooed skin and hair so white that it seemed to glow, sat upon a tarnished silver throne. “Welcome to my Kingdom, step closer, my dear.” He said, beckoning me closer with his hand. My body began to move towards him, even as my mind screamed silently in terror.
My trance was broken by a muffled scream rising from the closed coffin to my right. The coffin began to rock back and forth and the sound of fists and feet pounding against the lid of the coffin.
“Hmm, he still has a little fight left in him, now doesn’t he? He’s been in there since yesterday, he had just moved into the apartment besides yours.” Said the figure sitting passively on the throne.
“Ms. Leary, would you be so kind as to open the coffin to the right of Mr. Newton, so that he might have some company?” said the man, with a sly smile.
The skeletal Ms. Leary appeared from behind the Duke and glided toward an empty coffin that stood next to Mr. Newton’s coffin. She opened the coffin lid and turned to face me; her empty eye sockets staring at me.
“I hope, for your own sake, that you make this easy. Ms. Leary can be very… persuasive if the need arises.” said the man. Ms. Leary flexed her fingers, her razor-sharp fingernails somehow glimmering in the dull torchlight.
I began to shuffle towards the open coffin, with my head bent down, pretending as if I had accepted my fate. Ms. Leary, rather, the thing that used to be Ms. Leary, stepped towards me and opened the dusty coffin door a bit wider. Now five feet from the coffin, I decided that I had to try something – anything, or else I would die a slow, painful death within one of the coffins, or worse yet, end up like Ms. Leary.
I pretended to stumble, falling towards coffin containing Mr. Newton. My hand found the latch holding the coffin lid in place. Mr. Newton, or what was left of Mr. Newton, flew out of the cage, more animal than human. His hands were mangled beyond recognition, as if someone had taken large bites out of them. His cheeks were painted black with dried blood; empty eye sockets stared in my direction. He took one unsteady step towards me, and then raised his nose to the air. He sniffed once, and let out a blood-curdling scream that I will never forget. He charged towards the man on the throne, and dragged him off his chair. Ms. Leary stood in front of the open coffin that had been meant for me, her torn face staring blankly ahead. I realized that she must only act on the direct instructions of the tattooed man, incapable of independent thought.
This was my chance. I dashed forward, and pushed Ms. Leary into the open coffin, recoiling in disgust as my hands sunk into her rotting flesh. I slammed the heavy oak lid, and made sure the latch was securely fastened. I turned around to see Mr. Newton’s face burrowed into the pale neck of the tattooed man. As I sprinted past the pair, I gathered enough courage to glance down at them, and saw the tattooed man smiling up at me.
“What is dead cannot die. No one can remove a King from his rightful Kingdom!” He whispered as I darted past him. A loud roar came from behind me, echoing loudly in the hall. I paused to look over my shoulder, and saw that every coffin had opened, and that figures in various states of decay were beginning to emerge. “Finish him!” cried the tattooed man. A hundred corpses collapsed on top of Mr. Newton, muffling an inhuman cry of despair.
A surge of adrenaline rushed through my body, and I took off running in the opposite direction. I found an open door behind the throne, and rushed through it and up the first set of stairs that I came across. I eventually found my way out of the labyrinth, through an abandoned subway tunnel, and into sewer. I climbed up the first ladder I found, and collapsed onto the street in front the apartment building. I slumped to the ground, and sat on the curb in front of the entrance to the building, ignoring the pouring rain that was beginning to soak through my clothing.
A sleek black car pulled up in front of me, with an Uber sticker in the window. The rear window rolled down, and I could see three of my best friends from NYU sitting on the plush leather seat, phones in hand, and dressed according to the latest New York fashion trends.
“What on earth are you doing out in the rain? We’ve been calling you all day! We wanted to celebrate your first day of work…” said my old roommate, Lindsey.
“I… uh… well it started…” I began to say, but was interrupted by Rosa, who said, “Your cheek is bleeding, it looks like someone cut you!”
Still dazed from the morning’s terror, I put my hand to my cheek and winced as I feel the deep groove of a cut. “Let’s get you up to your apartment, get you cleaned up.” Said Lindsey.
They got out of the car, and began to lead me back to the entrance of the apartment. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Ms. Leary standing behind the glass doors of the entrance. Except this was the original Ms. Leary, the sweet old lady with blue eyes, and that smelled of lavender perfume. She smiled at me, and for a split-second I saw her as she truly was: the servant of the tattooed man, with the razor-sharp fingernails, rotting skin and empty eye-sockets. Something snapped inside me. Without a word to my friends I took off running down the street, running as fast as I could, knowing that I just had to get as far away from that apartment as possible.