SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
October 3, 2010

“He’s Inside the House!”

 

It was about ten o’clock Tuesday night when I heard the footsteps above me again. That just wasn’t right.

            A few weeks earlier I had been unnerved by the sound of wee stomping feet and high-pitched giggles and screams coming through my ceiling from a supposedly vacant attic apartment. I was well past the point of letting my mind run wild with this when I learned these weren’t the ghostly sounds of dead children sealed in the walls, but real children back for a visit while Santos, their father, picked up a few things they’d left behind.

            These weren’t children’s feet I was hearing now. These footsteps belonged to an adult. And they weren’t stomping—they were creeping. There was obviously an effort being made to tread lightly.

There were two possible logical explanations for someone walking around in the attic at ten on a Tuesday night. It was either my former neighbor Santos again, back to pick up yet more stuff, or Enrico the handyman making any needed repairs. I’d been told he would be around. But this late at night? What kind of handyman is fixing things at ten p.m.? What’s more, having known them both as long as I have, I can tell you that neither Enrico nor Santos are known for “creeping” or “treading lightly.” They were both heavy, flat-footed types. I dismissed both ideas as ridiculous.

            No, the footsteps, I figured, were either those of a previously unknown ghost—perhaps even a minor demon—or a psychotic knife-wielding crackhead squatter who’d somehow found his way into the building.

            Great, I thought. That’s the last thing I need right now.

            After Santos and his family moved out leaving me all alone in the building, I had taken to keeping a number of weapons within easy reach at all times. There was a switchblade on the shelf near the front door. I picked it up and slipped it into my pocket. I’d already nearly stabbed my landlord once with it, but at least after that she let me know whenever she was in the building. You just don’t want to take any chances with an armed blind guy.

            I continued listening to the footsteps, and for a moment contemplated going up there myself to find out just what the hell was going on. Then I realized what an utterly foolish notion that was. I wasn’t going up there to ask a psycho crackhead what he was doing in the attic.

            Then for another moment I considered calling my landlord to ask if she had any idea who might be up there. It was possible, after all, that there was some simple explanation. But it was too late to be calling the landlord to put my blubbering paranoia on display.

            I bet it’s a giant squirrel.

            Instead of doing anything I went to bed (making sure I had several weapons within reach). There I slept fitfully, one eye open as they say (as if that would do me any good) convinced whoever it was would be kicking his insane, murderous way through my door at any second.

            By morning I had almost forgotten about the previous night’s footsteps. There were other things to worry about now that the sun was up. Then at about eight I heard the footsteps again, still creeping, still trying to avoid detection. Whoever it was had obviously been up there all night. I’d heard no one come through the front doors or walk up the stairs. There was no other way to get up to the attic, except maybe to sneak in through the roof.

All right, I decided, it was clearly a psychotic squatter who’d come in through the roof somehow. Either that or it was Santos, back again after being tossed out of his new apartment. Or it could still be a demon. Daylight or not, it could still be a demon.

Maybe it’s the Ninja Burglar, I thought—but even I knew that was stupid. Whatever it was, I figured it was probably best to call the landlord to let her know she had a new tenant.

            I waited until a more reasonable hour, tracking the footsteps around the attic. I didn’t want them to disappear on me. Last thing I needed was to convince the landlord I was, you know, crazy. I picked up the phone and dialed her number.

            “Uhh, hi,” I said when she answered. “Say, I don’t want this to sound too insane, but do you know of anyone who might’ve been walking around upstairs last night and this morning?”

            “You heard someone upstairs?”

            “Yeah, um, that’s the—yeah.” If she told me that no one had been up there, I was gonna be pissed.

            She thought about it for a moment. “It might’ve been Enrico—he’s supposed to be fixing a few things over there. Or it might be Santos stopping by to pick up a few more things. I’ll give them a call to find out, and let you know what I hear.”

            I thanked her and hung up. Of course those choices almost made sense. I’d known the handyman to work strange hours before, and Santos, well, I never knew what to expect from him. Maybe she was right, and maybe I’d been wrong to dismiss them as possibilities earlier.

            An hour or more passed when there was a knock on my door. Shave and a haircut. That didn’t strike me as the kind of knock a psycho would use, but you never know. I grabbed the knife.

            “Yeah?” I called through the door.

            “It’s Enrico,” he said. I recognized the handyman’s voice and opened the door after pocketing the knife.

            “I’m working upstairs,” he said.

            “Oh, good,” I told him. “You had me worried.”

            “No it’s just me.”

            Well that answered that, then. Me and my stupid brain. I went back to work, no longer concerned about the footsteps above me. I could set the knife aside and relax.

            At a little after one that afternoon the phone rang again. It was the landlord.

            “When did you hear someone up there?” she asked.

            Uh-oh.

            I tried to play it cool, like I wasn’t really worried about the demon. “Oh, I’d say it was about ten last night. Then again about eight this morning.”

            “Really? How many people did it sound like?”

            “Just one.”

            “Because it wasn’t Santos, and Enrico says it wasn’t him, either. He didn’t show up until later.”

            Aww, shit.

            “I need to talk to the realtor,” she said. “I know she left the back door open once. I need to remind her that she has to lock every door before she leaves.”

            Aww, shit.

            “But we’ll get to the bottom of it,” she promised.

            I hung up the phone thinking two things. First, my landlord was now convinced I was probably just drunk and hearing things. It’s inevitable, isn’t it? I felt like a fifties teenager trying to convince the local sheriff’s deputy that the aliens had landed out behind the old Burkhardt place.

Second—also an inevitability—I guess I knew from the start there was no way I could live alone in a creepy old house without it turning into a horror movie of one kind or another. Whether it was The Sentinel or Wait Until Dark was yet to be seen.

Well, that’s it then. There was either a demon or a psycho squatter upstairs. Whoever it was, I was going to be killed. But you know, way things have been going lately, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad option. And Lord knows there are more boring ways to go.

 

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