On Sunday morning we were awakened by a persistent tapping. My sleeping mind thought “Huh, is there someone at the door? Who would be at the door?” but it didn’t sound like the door. It sounded like someone tapping on the wall. We live in a two-story apartment, in the middle, so the tapping could have been coming from either side I suppose.
It stopped, and I drifted off to sleep again.
Than a pounding started. I jerked awake, and realized it still wasn’t the door – which was good, as I was not about to get up and answer it.
The pounding had an odd rhythm; not a quick pounding but a pound-pause pause-pound. Sort of like the person pounding had to gather his/her strength up to swing the hammer. Very odd.
“What the hell?” my mate asked, sleepily rolling over.
“I have no idea. I wish it would stop,” I replied, snuggling down into the warmth of the sheets.
It stopped. I drifted off into jumbled dreams of woodcutters or woodpeckers, or maybe woodpeckers who were woodcutters.
The pounding woke us both again.
After a bit, when we were both fully awake and down in the kitchen, we speculated on the source.
“We have that weird new neighbor,” my mate said, sipping her coffee.
“He’s not weird,” I said. She raised her eyebrow at me.
“Okay, so he seems a little strange, but hey, this neighborhood is a little strange.”
She shrugged agreement to that.
“Do you think he had to fix something? Like an emergency repair of a pipe or I don’t know, a broken window?” She got out eggs and a sirloin, and pulled out a frying pan.
“The pounding didn’t sound like it was on metal, and the rhythm seemed odd.”
She agreed that the rhythm seemed odd. “Do you want cheese?”
The pounding and tapping passed from our minds until that night. We both had busy Mondays coming up, and so tried to get to sleep early.
The noise started at about 1:30 a.m., and my mate – never a happy person to be awakened – grumbled.
She stopped mid-sentence and held up a hand.
We listened intently.
“Do you hear a voice?”
Normally, thankfully, we couldn’t hear any voices from the other apartments – which meant that they couldn’t hear us either. Privacy in a not so private world; we treasured it.
“Maybe,” I said. Then we looked at each other in the dimness of the room.
“Where’s the cat?” We asked at the same time.
I flipped on the light and we both sighed to find the cat asleep under the chair next to the closet.
The light off again, we settled back down to sleep and I’d just drifted off when my mate’s hand clutched my shoulder.
“I definitely hear a voice.”
“Shhh,” she said, putting a finger over my mouth. I kissed it. That lead to some distraction and although neither of us got much more sleep that night, we woke happy.
The night after, the pounding/tapping turned to scratching and definite cries.
“This is really disturbing,” my mate complained.
“Did the strange neighbor have any kids?”
I thought back to when we watched him move in. I hadn’t seen any signs of children. No sign of a wife or girlfriend, or visitors for that matter.
“Should we do something?”
“What? It’s the middle of the night. Maybe he’s watching a really loud movie.”
“No.” She got up, flicked on the hall light and put her ear to the mutual wall, where the stairs were.
She motioned for me to join her.
“This is silly,” I said, but pressed my ear to the wall. I didn’t hear anything at first, but then I heard a clink of metal and a moan.
My mate’s wide eyes met mine.
I stopped her. I knew what it sounded like. The image of some poor soul chained to the wall came to mind.
“Bondage?” I said, to lighten the mood.
She made a face at me and said, “Not now darling, I have a headache. Do you think we should call the cops?”
Privacy. When do you invade someone’s privacy based on a sound and a general impression?
I scrubbed my face with my hands and got dressed.
“I’ll knock on the door and see what happens.”
My mate, as fierce as her red hair suggested, got dressed also and twitched her lip at me when I suggested she stay. She had her cellphone in hand, ready to dial.
The neighbor didn’t answer. After a few minutes of standing around in the cold, we gave up and went back inside.
My mate tapped on the wall and waited for a response. There wasn’t one.
I shrugged and took her back to bed.
The noise didn’t return and we went about our lives. The strange neighbor came and went as normal – whatever his normal was. We put the noises out of our mind.
Until the newspaper, about two weeks later, listed a missing teenager.
I came home one evening to find cops, an ambulance, and fire truck blocking the parking lot. My mate stood next to our other neighbor on the sidewalk, watching.
“I called,” she whispered.
Of course she did. I wanted to complain. After all, we required privacy and probably made strange noises too. We had a somewhat “alternative lifestyle”; especially when the moon was full. And the missing teen had been from the rich side of town – she was probably in Mexico with her pervy gym teacher. Looking into my mate’s eyes, I didn’t say any of that.
“She’s dead.” She buried her face in my shoulder and I wrapped my arms around her – getting as much comfort from her as she got from me – that is, not much.
The detective told us later that the strange neighbor had changed the missing girl to the stairs, stuffed her mouth full of rags to silence her screams, and methodically broke all of the bones in her arms and legs using a ball peen hammer. The cops thought he strangled her on the night we knocked on the door.
Guilt-ridden, we’re going to therapy and my mate told me that we’re moving to a different part of town. Something less strange and less private.