A few months ago, I started renting a new apartment. The prospect of moving in Manhattan is daunting. The rents are outrageous and the logistics of schlepping your belongings from one home to another in such a cramped and populous city filled me with dread. However, I found an ideal building with a perfect unit all at a “reasonable” price, and I decided to go for it.
As the last box was placed in the bedroom. I decided to take a well-earned break from my labors. With a smile on my face, I opened the door to my balcony and pulled out a cigarette. This had been the major selling point to me for moving here. A functioning balcony is a huge get for any New Yorker, especially a chain smoker like me. I took a few drags of my cigarette and experienced an overwhelming feeling of contentment.
I surveyed my new view. It wasn’t anything to write home about to be honest. I had a second story apartment that faced the street. Beautiful townhouses lined the sidewalk. Further down the road was a small park. It was late into the evening and a comforting silence permeated the air.
As I took my last drag, my eyes were drawn upward. A rather large building poked above the row of houses on the opposite side of the street. I was on 16th street and this building must be on 17th, I thought to myself. All the windows were dark save for one. A strange, red light emanated from it. I squinted my eyes, and I could see a figure standing near the window. He was facing me. I stared back for a moment, and not knowing what else to do, I eventually waved. There was no response. No movement. Nothing.
As I snuffed out the cigarette I looked back once more mesmerized by the red glow and the enigmatic figure that continued to stare at me.
Unsettled by the man and the strange red light, I quickly reentered my apartment. After a moment of contemplation, I mused that it was just some weirdo photographer who had a functioning dark room in his home. I checked my phone. It was 2:30 AM. Exhaustion overtook my racing thoughts. I crawled onto my couch to get some sleep.
I slept until 1. I eagerly got up and began the arduous task of unpacking all of my belongings. I was so engrossed in putting everything together it took until 8:30 PM before I realized that I had not eaten anything or had a cigarette for that matter (over seven hours without a smoke is a world record for me).
I ordered some delivery and made my way out to the balcony. The sun had set and darkness was descending on the street. I puffed on my cigarette as I people watched in silence. I lit up a second one and pulled out my phone. I briefly talked to my mother about how excited I was about my new lodgings.
After our conversation ended, I recalled what I had seen the previous night. With reluctance, I looked upwards. I saw the same red light coming from the building. Again, all of the other windows were dark. My heart sank as I spied that same motionless figure. Careful that the flash was off, this is when I took the above picture. This photo came from the shitty camera on my phone and is not doctored in any way (I apologize for the poor quality). At the time, I was just thinking it would be amusing to show my friends a photograph of my creepy neighbor. Little did I know, it would serve as the only true record of an incident that would leave five people dead. I pressed the button and heard a slight click.
Suddenly a loud banging sound filled the air. I jumped.
It took a moment for me to realize that it was just the delivery I had ordered. I answered the door. Though I wasn’t feeling the least bit hungry at this point, I ate anyway.
Periodically throughout the night, I would head outside, light up, and see the red window and the shadowy figure. The sinking feeling grew as he remained in the exact same spot, still staring daggers at me. The feeling was so intense that I became physically ill.
The following day my mind was consumed with the mystery of the man and the ethereal red glow. I decided to leave my apartment and investigate. I walked around the block to 17th street.
As I neared the building, my eyes grew wide. It was boarded up. Notices from the Department of Buildings littered the front entrance. The building had been condemned. Fire damage blackened the exterior.
I walked around the city in an attempt to clear my head. Eventually, I sat down at a Starbucks. As I took nervous sips of my coffee, I pulled out my phone and began to do some research. It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for.
A fire of uncertain origins had ravaged the building.
The cause was never determined.
As night fell once again, I made my way back to my building.
I ascended the stairs and opened the door to my apartment. Curiosity got the better of me and I rushed out to the balcony to once again look at the red window. To my complete and utter relief the light was gone.
I lit up my smoke and inhaled deeply. As I exhaled, I heard a noise behind me. I turned around to face my unit expecting to be greeted by darkness. However, a red light poked from under my front door. I blinked rapidly hoping that the darkness was just playing tricks on me.
Unfortunately this was not the case.
The red light grew brighter. It was the same impossible hue that I had been seeing the previous two nights.
Suddenly the door burst inward.
A blinding red light engulfed the interior of my apartment. The black figure lurched in my direction. I dropped my cigarette, climbed over my balcony, and dropped down to the street.
I ran as fast as my feet would carry me. All the while looking back to see my apartment go up in flames.
I have a long road ahead of me. Lawsuits and possible criminal charges are on the horizon. The building manager claims that an unattended cigarette coupled with my negligence in leaving the gas stove on started the blaze that took out his building and left five tenants dead.
This is hard to refute. If that isn’t the case, then what really happened? I’m going to sound like a madman if I explain the truth.
My mind continues to reel. Why did he come for me?
I’ve had a long time to think about it, and I know why now. My mistake, of this I am 100% certain, was taking this picture.
Whatever it is, it does not want to be seen.
Even now looking at the photo, in spite of the poor quality, I feel physically ill. Call me crazy, but when I look at this picture I can feel him staring back.