It was not until I leaned my ear against the wall that I heard the screams. I had moved to Brattleboro, Vermont for a fresh start. I had just been hired as a journalist for the local newspaper and I was ecstatic. I had finally made it. I did not become the product of my environment despite my disgusting family life. I was not pregnant and already having two children. I graduated university and I had my life together unlike the rest of my family.
I found the apartment listing for cheap on Craigslist. I thought that $500 a month for rent and utilities was suspiciously low, but being a new graduate, I could not pass it up. I was starting my job the week after and I needed a place as soon as possible.
The moment I opened the door, I could feel that something was off. The landlord smiled at me but would not come into the room. Mrs. Tibby, a middle-aged woman with graying hair, winced like a timid mouse as she fiddled with her fingers. She looked around the room as if she had not looked at it for a long time.
“Apartment 502. Here are your keys,” she spoke softly. She already was turning to walk away before I yelled back at her. “Wait!”
“Yes?” she replied, annoyed.
I didn’t have anything to say. I felt alone for the first time, even though I had triumphed over all my doubts. I felt alone at that moment. I wanted to talk to someone. She looked like a mom, but with her cold expression, I knew that was not possible. Usually parents help their kids move into their first apartments, but mine was probably drunk on the floor of her own apartment in Quincy.
“Nothing,” I responded awkwardly.
“Congratulations,” she said, with finality as she hurriedly exited down the stairs.
I walked back into my room and looked around at the bare floor and walls. I only had a mattress, table, and a chair. It was all I could afford working minimum wage at a retail job over the summer. All of my savings went into the deposit and a car. The dust was thickly settled over every surface. I sneezed. In the back of my mind, I had hoped there were no bedbugs. That would have explained the low price. I took out my laptop and began to work on a novel I was writing in my spare time about a city hidden in shadows. The people who lived in the city never saw light, only darkness.
I wrote for two hours before closing my computer and blowing up my mattress. It took about twenty minutes for me to figure it out. Vermont was not much of a change from living in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. It was quiet, peaceful, and unsettling at night. The town I lived in was not well lit, and an eerie fog would come from the hills after sunset and dawn. I lied on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I counted the dots and cracks until I closed my eyes.
It was not more than three hours of uninterrupted sleep until I heard the screams coming from Room 503. I opened my eyes and listened.
“Please! Stop! Please! Not in front of her!”
I jolted out of my bed and listened more intently.
“You’re not yourself. Martin, please. Don’t do this!” The echo of a loud smack and a thud of a body hitting the ground rang throughout the silent night. The front door slammed outside the apartment room.
Was no one else hearing this?
Then I saw it, this small hole in the wall. It was about the size of two quarters. I looked through it peering into the other apartment. Inside the room were a shabby baby crib, television, and a battered woman on the floor.
“Hello?” I called out to her. “Do you need help?”
The woman controlled her weeping to respond. “No, I’m fine. My husband is just…upset. He’ll cool down.”
“Are you sure? Do you need me to call someone?” I asked urgently.
“No. Don’t call anyone. I’m done. We’re done. I have to go.”
I looked through the hole once more time and saw her grab her baby and walk slowly to the bedroom.
I sat back down in my bed, unsure of what to do. Sleepiness overcame my worry and I fell to my mattress once again, this time undisturbed.
I woke up that next morning and immediately knocked on the door of 503. I heard nothing. I knocked again.
The door of room 508 down the hall opened, and out came an older man with a newspaper and coffee in his hands.
“Good morning,” I quickly said.
The old man looked at me shaking his head disapprovingly.
“Who lives in this apartment?” I asked.
The old man laughed. “They never told you?”
“Told me what?”
I walked over to him and he looked at me up and down.
“You’re young. No one’s lived in apartment 503 for twenty years, and no one lives in yours for more than a month.”
“What are you talking about? I saw a woman and a man in there last night with a child. It sounded violent.”
The old man’s calm demeanor slowly turned serious.
“It was violent. Worst case of domestic abuse this town’s seen in years. No one’s lived in that apartment since the woman that lived there jumped out the window and killed herself.”
“No, I saw her. I saw her last night.”
“That’s what they all say, the people that move next to room 503. There’s dark energy in that room. The kind of darkness that is alive. You know what I’m saying? Ghosts.”
He turned away from me and walked back into his apartment, closing the door.
I walked back into my own room and sat down on my mattress, unsure of what had happened or what I had seen. I quickly got back up and looked through the hole again.
This time, what reflected back at me was a bare and empty room shadowed in dust.