The Halloween Project 2022 - Story 3: Seeing Through the Dark
Roger didn’t sleep well that first evening it all began. His glance at the bedside clock told him the time exactly. 2:17. He moaned and stared at the ceiling. The old Whirlpool air conditioner hummed and filled the room with a rhythmic undercoated buzz.
But there was something else.
He crawled from sleep slowly, a hand over hand emergence from solace and tried to listen harder. He decided against his hearing aides. It was, after all, now 2:18. But he still heard something else, something beneath or beyond the sounds of cars on the street outside.
It was voices.
Of course, that was crazy. Muffled voices. He was certain of it. Coming from the apartment downstairs. It had been empty for a long time, six, maybe eight months. The last tenants had been very nice. They were both nurses at the city hospital. Sometimes they made soup, the aroma wafting upstairs, and when the soup happened they never failed to bring him a mug. Chicken soup. Not quite as good as Izzy used to make, but good enough.
“Izzy is my wife,” he said aloud to the ceiling in the darkness. “Was… my wife…,” he corrected, again aloud. Izzy had passed six years ago. Give or take. Long time ago. They’d been married for 61 years. 61 good years. She had passed right here in the house. She’d been failing but not real bad until her heart gave out. Sitting in the sun parlor reading one of her magazines.
The nurse girls, “What were their names?” Roger tried to remember. They even gave him suggestions how to deal with his gout when it flared up now and then. But they moved out. Nancy, it might have been Nancy, got engaged and moved in with her fiancé. The other found an apartment closer to the hospital and moved in with some friends. Roger just never felt like renting out the downstairs again. Too many hassles. Finding the right person. Hearing their T.V. This two family was peaceful and quiet inside even if the street out his windows was busy at all hours. At 87 he just didn’t need the headaches. Just as soon leave it empty. With his cough and aching bones he didn’t want to bother. What was that other nurse’s name?
The house had been in his family for 96 years exactly. His great grandfather had it built. That number he always remembered. Lots of renters had come and gone during that century. He had moved away, had his own home with Izzy, no kids, and they had moved back here 20 years ago. Lots of renters. And probably lots more to come when he was eventually gone. The house would go to his niece or nephew and they would probably sell it. But that was fine. Two family homes were made for landlords. And he was done with that.
But there were the voices again.
Damn. Muffled but still there. Like someone talking underwater. Downstairs. A little clearer now that he was more awake. And not just one, at least three, maybe four, or even more.
Roger pulled himself from the bed, hacking the phlegmy cough from his throat. He padded from bedroom, to hallway, through the kitchen, passed the dining room table. Lights were unnecessary. Managing this second floor apartment for the past two decades he knew every step, each piece of furniture, all the old photos of his and Izzy’s parents, her brothers and sisters. Almost all of them gone.
He stopped abruptly short of the coffee table. Turned and looked at the blank screen of the TV in the gray dark, one small red light staring at him.
Then it came again. A bit of laughter, perhaps even a giggle, like the sound a child makes playing under a blanket. He listened intently. Roger re-traced his path, coughed once and cleared his throat into a paper towel. First he stopped at the bedside table and hefted his hearing aides to his ears. He made his way to the back stairs, grasped the handle and walked down the two flights to the first floor.
Even in the dark he could tell everything was just as it was supposed to be. Shadows from the streetlight repeated through the blinds, reflecting stove, fridge, cabinets; all familiar.
He moved easily through the layout, a mirror image of his place upstairs. Through the dining room, into the living room. “Parlor” he thought to himself, always liking the word, then he froze.
There were voices. Softer now, even with his hearing aides. And shapes as well. Not quite shapes, but swirls of shadow. One in the nearest chair, two on the couch, another darkness in the big chair in the sun parlor and one last, fainter, standing near the window, peering out.
And the voices. Muted conversation just beneath his hearing. A tinkling of glasses, perhaps a joke?
“I’m dreaming,” he said aloud.
The next morning he sat upright quickly, the dream still fresh. He rubbed his head and noticed his hearing aides still in his ears. The coming weeks proved much the same. If he kept the television on, no voices emerged. With it off, there was something soft, something speaking. Not one, but several. Always in the darkest part of night. He coughed, took his medicines and the pills his doctors recommended and continued his vigil. A trip downstairs became a nightly ritual. September turned to October. The darkened swirls, transformed into shapes. People, clearly people. Maybe seven in all. Three men, four women, he could tell distinctly. Dressed nicely, and sometimes very nicely. Different styles. Roger could never quite make out what they were saying but he still listened.
One night, long past 3 A.M. Roger stood, once again, amidst a distant, yet friendly party in the downstairs apartment. A shape approached him, actually walked up within a foot or two. It solidified for just a moment and raised a small martini glass, first to its lips then to him and nodded. It was a woman. He imagined it was a woman. The shape lingered, wafted, then merged into air.
Two weeks later, he continued his nightly descent. The shape beckoned him and repeated; converging into an ephemeral person. A sip from the glass, a gentle tip of the cocktail to him. This time it gestured to the figure by the window.
When he woke the next morning, he remembered that the shape had whispered something to him. Perhaps whispered, perhaps had not said a word.
He thought she said, “Not quite yet.”
Two days before Halloween he walked the three blocks to the local 7/11. He bought two bags of candy knowing that the little kids, holding hands with their parents would come ringing the doorbell. He’d go down the front steps and set up a chair on the small front porch. He had a light up plastic jack o’ lantern and that attracted the little witches and goblins. When they were gone he’d shut off the light and go back upstairs. The hell with those teenagers.
That night he went to bed tired to his bones. The walk had done him in. In the darkest part of the night the voices emerged through the floorboards. Roger arose and continued down the stairs, through the apartment into the living room.
There were no more shapes. The room was filled with seven people. Three men, four women. Their clothing hinted at a Halloween dress up affair. Here were three people dressed in attire that spoke of the 1920’s or 30’s. A man was clearly in U.S. Army garb of World War II.
The woman approached him once again, this time carrying two cocktails. She sipped, nodded and handed him a glass. Roger thought his dream was too real, too immediate. He took a sip.
The woman leaned forward and said, although softly, “Now you can join us Roger,” a slight pause, “and look…” she gestured with her other hand.
The woman who had continually looked out the sun parlor window turned and smiled at him.
“Izzy,” he said aloud for the last time.