By Tom Lin
She always stared at her, every single day.
No matter which time of the day it was. No matter which time of the night was.
She was always there.
Tori couldn’t understand it, but she didn’t really want to. She never liked nosy people, and she hoped that she would never become one. It would be hypocrite of her to judge others before judging self.
But something still creeped her, the way the neighbor upstairs seems to always be there, standing behind the glass window, just looking out at the window, just looking out at her.
Well, she wasn’t sure if she was looking out specifically at her, but Tori always felt like she was being watched at all times, whenever she went in and out of her apartment, which was unfortunately located just below the creepy neighbor.
Just her rotten luck.
Of course, it wasn’t surprise at all that the neighbor would be staring out at the window again, as Tori got out of her car with her art supplies fresh from the overpriced snobby campus art store.
Although she tries to, Tori still couldn’t break the habit of looking up at least once at the neighbor. At first it was just curiosity, but now it has become a routine so normal, that she would just instinctively look up at the window to see if the neighbor was there or not.
Like there was any other day that she wasn’t there.
The neighbor was there, of course, her hair unruly as always, half of it covering up her pale face, wearing the same clothes that she seems to have been wearing for the years that Tori had stayed at the apartment.
Tori still couldn’t help being freaked out every time she sees her neighbor. Although she tries not to show it, she would always just sort of shake herself to get the fear away once she was inside the house.
“Brrr.” She muttered with disgust as soon as she entered her home, shaking as if she was in a heavy snow storm without any coats, or as if someone had just splattered icy cold water onto her.
Her half finished painting greeted her in the living room, standing there as if it had been waiting for her the whole time she’s been gone, an impatient pet waiting for her company again. She smiled as she looked at it.
Just a bit more, she thought to herself.
As she headed over to the table with her loot, she noticed a torn piece of paper just waiting there.
‘Sorry, we weren’t able to hook up your cable today.’ she read the note, the handwriting scribbled in a hurry and barely readable. ‘Your landlord seems to have placed the main cable lines right under the stairs, so we have to get his permission to take those out and replace them tomorrow with ones for digital.’
“Ah, great.” She said with disappointment, wondering what else could go wrong today.
The computer lit up the room when she turned the monitor on, looking at her collection of CDs, she picked one out and was ready to place it into the CD tray, when the AIM window lit up.
“Hello” the ping resounded in the silent room.
Tori smiled at this, it was from one of her regular AIM buddies, Lan. They had met a few years ago on a forum, and had been pretty close since then.
“Hey, what’s up” Tori replied on her AIM.
“You’re not going to believe it!” The reply was quick, as always, Lan seemed to be the fastest typist Tori has ever met. “I did just what you told me”
Tori let out a surprised giggle. Lan had this ex that she was still in love with, but haven’t talked to in almost eight years. It took Tori months to just convince her to try to contact the dude again, to see if he still have feelings for her, to see if they can patch things up again.
“LOL I did” was the reply. “I finally was able to get ahold of Jeff last night”
“And? And?” Tori typed the question as fast as she could, an excited smile on her face.
But then, her attention was quickly sapped away by a loud noise in her closet. She stared at it in silence, until it restarted again. The noise pounding over and over again, as if someone was driving a hammer right through the walls.
“Damn it!” Tori screamed to herself, annoyed, as she turned around and typed “GOD, she’s doing it again!”
“The neighbor upstairs.” She typed as the noise continued uniformly. “She’s pounding the stairwells again.”
The way to the upstairs apartment was through a stairwell right besides Tori’s apartment door, which went right above the living room closet. Although the stairwells were reinforced enough, if you ran or pounded on them hard enough, you could hear it resonating through the stairs.
“I swear, she must be a psychic or something.” Tori continued. “She only seems to be pounding the stairs whenever I’m talking with you.”
“I don’t think you should let that bug you too much” was her reply.
“I know, but it just gets on my nerves, you know?” Tori shook her head as she typed this. “But anyway, screw her, let’s get back to you and your ex” The smile returned and plastered all over her face. “So? SO? How did it go?”
“;)” was the return. “Jeff is back with me now”
Tori laughed joyously, triumph echoing in her voice. “I knew it!” She laughed at this, before typing up furiously. “Didn’t I tell you it would work?”
“I know, I know, you did.” Tori read it, the pounding now routine enough to ignore, even when it started to change the beats and strengths. “I got to thank you so, so much, Tori. Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”
“Aww.” Tori purred at this touching moment. “You deserve all the praise, babe, you wouldn’t have been able to do it if you weren’t courageous enough to do so.”
“Thanks” she replied.
“Man, I wish I could be there to give you a hug myself.” Tori wrote.
“Same here.” The pounding continued. “But don’t worry, I might see you soon”
The last pound on the stairs was loud enough to make Tori jump up in surprise. She had almost forgotten that the pounding was going on. After looking at the closet in puzzlement, she went back to AIM. “Really? You coming over to Columbus?”
“Probably” she typed back. “Only some walls stopping me from going there, you know?”
“Right” Tori nodded in agreement.
Pound, pound, pound.
“Hey, want to see my boyfriend?” Lan typed back.
“Sure, you got his picture or something?”
The window for ‘Open direct AIM connection’ came up. Tori clicked it.
The AIMs connected.
Her media player jumped up immediatedly, as if she had clicked on something to start playing.
But she didn’t.
Whatever it was, it started playing right away.
It seemed like it was shot on a really, really bad camera, the frames skipping and the world blurry and slow as the camera focused on something, on someone.
When Tori first saw the face that appeared, she had to squint to see it clearly.
The guy was looking down at something, not moving, his face expressionless.
Tori didn’t know what it was, but it was creeping her out.
Enough to make her jump and scream when the pounding continued again.
Looking back at the screen, the fear didn’t get any better. The guy had moved while she was looking away.
He was staring straight at her.
Afraid, her hands unconsciously shaking, she moved her mouse to click the ‘x’ on the media player’s corner.
The face disappeared, but her fear didn’t.
She could still feel him staring at her.
The pounding was getting louder and louder now.
“I’m sorry he scared you” The AIM came back. “He’s usually not like this. You should have met him while he was still back in Columbus”
The pounding kept getting louder and louder, so much that it was impossible for Tori to ignore it anymore. The noise was now drilling into her eardrums.
“The hell…” She said to herself, as she got out and started towards the exit door.
If she had only stayed for another second looking at her monitor, Tori would have seen the media player boot up again, the guy from the screen now replaced by a girl, her hair half covering her face.
The face of the neighbor upstairs.
“Hey” The screen came on, the AIM typed by Lan.
Tori looked outside her door, ready to just face her neighbor and ask her to stop.
But as soon as she stuck her head outside, she realized something.
The noise wasn’t coming from the stairs next door, it was coming from inside the house.
“I’m almost there” the AIM continued.
“What the…” Tori uttered unconsciously, as she turned to look inside.
“Just a bit longer” The message flashed.
Tori followed the source of the sound, the noise slowly leading her towards the closet.
“Almost” Lan typed back.
As Tori pressed her ears against the side of the door, she could hear it.
It was coming from inside the closet.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she slowly turned towards the door.
The handle felt strangely warm to the touch.
“Hey” the message came on, the movie of the girl still playing on Tori’s monitor.
Tori slowly opened the closet, looking inside as she reached for the lights.
“Tori” the AIM flashed.
Tori turned on the light, everything looked the same, but the noise was still going on.
It was deeper in her closet, much deeper.
Right under the stairs.
“Are you there?” The message came on.
Leaning closer, Tori had to bent down to not hit her head on the declining stairs.
“Tori” Lan typed.
And as the message appeared on AIM, the pounding stopped.
The whole apartment was eerily quiet.
Tori was surprised at how abrupt the noise stopped.
But that wasn’t all.
Something else seemed to be creeping out from the darkness under the stairs.
She didn’t want to believe it, but she couldn’t help herself, she just had to turn her head to confirm her own fears.
And within seconds, it appeared.
A white hand slowly sliding out from the darkness, snaking its way towards her.
The room was quiet. The AIM no longer pinged. The media player long been left blank.
It all just happened too fast.
Whoever, whatever, that came after Tori, rushed out with such speed, that she could only catch a flash of it as it sped towards her face.
Darkness was such an understatement.
September 3, 2006