by Sean M. Thompson
The apartment building stared down at him, leaning like a horny drunk that wanted to do terrible things. Its angles seemed wildly erratic, like the set of a German expressionist film, rather than by the harbor in Boston. Every apartment window was an eye, unblinking, staring at him with a still and silent fever soon to break, like ocean waves during a heavy storm. The grey concrete building seemed impossibly tall, its thirteenth floor disappearing into the clouds.
A humble place for humble men to sit and breed and bring the end.
Was that a poem by someone? Cort couldn’t remember. It seemed fitting when applied to the sight of his apartment building. Had it always been this tall? He would’ve known if it was this massive. Skyscrapers were the kind of company this apartment building should keep, so high in the heavens, leering down with implacable contempt.
No one was outside the building, and he counted his blessings for that. Double checking his shirt, he confirmed there was no blood on his sweater. His mind arrived back at the assault of the old man: the way his face has resembled a raw steak, purple, wet. Except – he was asking for it, he insulted me…but had that really happened? The events were growing hazy, the order of things, the chronology suddenly hard to piece together. In his mind, images of the older man pushing him and giving him the finger came, but for the life of him, Cort couldn’t remember what had prompted the altercation.
Before his nerves could get the better of him, Cort pushed through the front door. He stood before the locked entryway, jittery. His keys were deep in his pocket, taking him a full minute to retrieve. The sensation was bizarre, like his pocket went all the way down to his thighs. Had he somehow been drugged at the walk-in clinic? Maybe someone had dosed him while he was at the supermarket. He had hit his head pretty hard, maybe the effects of it were more serious than the idiot doctor at the clinic had realized.
What an asshole. I’d like to dump his bloated corpse in the Charles.
He immediately wondered why he had such a visceral reaction to the doctor. He wasn’t amazing, but he didn’t deserve to be murdered, that was for sure. Key entered lock, and the mechanism clicked over as he thought I wonder if that bitch on the first floor is around, the one with the big ass. Maybe I could give her trouble sitting for a –
Wow, he was really in a mood today. What the hell was up with him? Sally was a nice woman, and he was pretty sure she was dating someone anyway. Cort found himself disturbed by his newfound aggression, and once again repeated to himself that he’d hit his head pretty hard, so perhaps he should go lie down.
Shit, but I have to get ready for Janet to come over. And if I play my cards right I could rip her in two like a –
Whoa, no “ripping in two” was ever going to occur, even if he did get lucky tonight! Christ, he was in rare goddamn form this late afternoon. The mail room was empty, and he unlocked the tiny metal box, retrieving a single piece of junk mail from Triple A, which he put in the trash. Despite his horror at how crude his thoughts had been when thinking about his downstairs neighbor Sally, there was a stirring in his loins, which both alarmed and invigorated him. Cort pictured her as he’d last seen her: getting her laundry, bending to retrieve her clothes from the dryer in a stretchy pair of yoga pants, which compressed and lifted her thighs in a glorious way. She’d caught him staring, and he’d coughed, and had never really been sure what the point of the cough was, other than to signal that he, in point of fact, was a living being with lungs.
I’ll eat her like a four-course meal, he thought, and he couldn’t help it, he laughed to himself, and it felt good to laugh, laughter was the best medicine after all, and Jesus he should really lie down.
That was when he heard the noise, echoing from the stairs. The sound bounced off the hallway, which wound around and down to the basement level. With tentative steps he called out, asked if someone was there, and nothing and no one replied.
Cort held his breath, and waited. He closed his eyes, and focused – hearing the pipes bringing heat to the apartments above, the whirring of a dryer, the thump of the clothes in the basement.
Probably just something in the washer or dryer down there. Nothing to be worried about.
There it was again, though. No mistaking it now. The sound was an animal chittering, reminiscent of the noise a raccoon might make. He should really just go, call the super and have animal control or something take care of it.
You should go upstairs and cook the groceries.
He looked down and realized he’d left the groceries outside. Truth be told, he’d forgotten about them entirely. He went back outside, and sure enough, there was the brown paper bag, left by the bushes. Cort picked up the bag, and tried to ignore the tugging in his guts, the fear like stomach cancer burning up his insides. He rushed back in, ran up the stairs to his apartment, hearing another animal noise – but screw that, it wasn’t his problem to take care of whatever was in the basement.
Inside the apartment, once the food was in the fridge, he checked his phone, and saw a text from Janet.
What had he texted her? When had he texted her? Jesus Christ, had he sent her something last night after he’d hit his head? Wait, no, that would’ve been earlier today, right? His sense of time was completely out of whack.
A noise through the wall alarmed him, a woman moaning. He’d never heard any of his neighbors before. One of the things he liked best about the apartment was how thick his walls were. So, if he was hearing this woman moaning, she must really be belting it out. The moans continued, obviously sexual; he’d heard the same in all manner of pornography he’d perused while drunk and bored.
He noted the time, and felt another vibration on his phone.
He frantically took the swordfish and the lemon juice out of the fridge. Almost without thinking he preheated the oven to 425 and began to unwrap the fish. He took out a baking sheet and sprayed the fish with lemon juice.
When did I learn to cook swordfish?
You learned after reading that recipe earlier, remember?
But when was that? He’d…he’d hit his head, and gone to the doctor…wait, maybe he had hit his head last night. Yes. Yes, so he must have read the recipe last night. He was pretty sure that was what happened, almost positive now.
The doorbell rang, and he shook his head, checked the timer on his phone. He only had a few minutes left on the fish –
Wait. Didn’t I just put the fish in?
He checked inside the oven, and the swordfish was the nice white brown he was supposed to have cooked it to. Christ, had he just been staring at the wall for the last half hour? Cort vowed to get a good night’s sleep, to check in with another doctor for a second opinion the next day, which was…Sunday?
The buzzer again, and he ran off to let Janet in.
“That was wonderful,” she said, having another sip of wine.
“Thank you. I was surprised I pulled it off.”
“You’ve been very surprising lately,” she said. “Like that text the other day. I liked it.”
“Yes. Well…I was just saying how I felt.”
Sweet God, what had he texted her? Why couldn’t he remember?
“Yes, I sure meant it,” he said, desperately trying to gauge her reaction, for some sort of hint as to what he’d texted her.
“I bet you did,” she said, a lascivious smile on her face.
“Just so we’re clear, what did I text you again?”
Her smile faltered a bit.
“That you wanted to eat my ass like it was a tasty melon.”
The wine in his mouth was spit out in short order.
“Are you okay?” she asked, standing up, walking towards him.
“Fine, sorry, wrong tube,” he said, wondering again at exactly what time he’d said this to this woman he was swiftly falling in love with. Good lord, he rarely ever said anything like that! He might have thought it, but he never would have texted it!
“There, there,” she said, and he stopped coughing, which was good, as Janet was rubbing his back.
He felt very relaxed, and planned to have a lovely conversation with her.
Janet unzipped her jeans, and stepped out of them. Cort forgot what he wanted to talk with her about. Up, and he was kissing her deeply, touching her body, and she was smiling, laughing as they made their way to the bedroom, as he thought I’ll rip her in half, I’ll eat her flesh and Christ, he was certainly in a weird mood, but I am going to get laid finally, yes as they entered his bedroom, and break her spine from – hold on a second, no, no spine breaking.
They lay on the bed, and he felt warm, wonderful, and he drifted away, wholly unaware.
The knife was clutched in his hand, so tight his knuckles had gone white.
“What – ”
His comforter was covered in blood, and there was something under it. Down stuffing from the blanket, crimson, stuck to the floor, his hands. He wondered where Janet was.
He noted how he felt: sexually satiated, relaxed. So they’d had sex, and he wondered where she’d gone. Was she hurt? And what was under the blanket?
Why was he holding a knife? Jesus, God, why was he –
The knife fell to the floor.
Please, no. Please, no, oh, god, no, no, no. Please.
The shape under the blanket –
Cort retched. Took a few steps away from the blanket, and fell to the floor, the strength going out of his legs. He vomited crimson, like the stained feathers, like the stains on his bedroom floor.
A single, pale hand led out from underneath the comforter.
Yes, he thought.
Something was terribly wrong.
With him. With his mind. With the world.
The name, damning him, cursing him for all time. He retched again. Took a shaky breath in, focusing on his breathing, failing, struggling to get oxygen. Ten minutes before he could work up the strength to stand.
His steps were heavy with the weight of dread and sorrow. He felt his footsteps echo down the echelons of a new path – a path of torment, evil, madness.
Cort slowly lifted the blanket.
In death, Janet’s eyes were lightless.
Her naked torso was covered with knife wounds.