The Man Who Wasn’t There :
Rumor had called this section in the vast city where I found my dwelling Old Hope, and it was often said that dreams of industrializing and modernizing the untamed Western coast had been rooted here by humble Americans. Those of the past had toiled under the hot sun shedding blood and tears to erect the small town that, with age and determination cultivated into an ever expanding city. There was, in the mindsets of these fabled bright eyed pioneers nowhere else where the ideals of hope could exist. If they could have foreseen current times, however, they would have never ventured here from their homes.
Absurd was the idea of this place having any connection the words like old and hope. Old implied that this section should be worthy of class, wisdom, culture, and elegance. Such things were only shadowy impressions left by condemned buildings past their grandeur. Hope, if such a word ever existed here, had been violated brutally and left to die alone in the gutter. Old Hope itself was but a symbol of an embalmed corpse left on display for mockery.
I had not come here by volition but by necessity. Lacking the proper experience to be thought of as professional in lines of employment, I had been numerously and cold heartily rejected from over fifty jobs I had applied for. Salvation came from this decaying Old Hope as I had been hired as a bus boy for a modest bar in the evenings, whilst my afternoons were spent as a stock boy for a local market. The pay was meager, but sufficient enough that I soon gathered surplus. Soon I was able to acquire a $400 apartment in Old Hope, surmising it simpler than journeying by bus.
Grateful though I was for work after such disheartening rejections, the atmosphere surrounding daily life there was vile and repugnant. I likened it to a cancer that not only wore on the buildings by weathering and dilapidation but marked itself on its very residence. Their faces conveyed the doldrums of never changing repetition, eyes without expression, living but dead. Those, who were not native to this section of the city like me, always seemed hesitant of interaction as if keeping silent was an unwritten law of Old Hope.
Solitude colored my nights in my humble apartment as floor I lived on lay vacant, although I was told Room 17, the one across from mine, was in-use. I had never seen anyone besides my landlord and his family enter or exit the apartment. Sleep came easily enough; despite the howls of dogs and the low roaring whistle of nearby cargo trains.
In the back of my mind, there was a constant and nagging sensation that seemed to warn me that something was nightmarishly twisted about the very streets I walked daily. It was an intangible phantom waiting to pounce at every corner.
It was dread.
Accumulating, slowly and hauntingly, with each passing day.
No matter the time or hour.
I spent what freedom I had away from Old Hope. Horizons became limitless for me in such small hours, for I could go to places far from that rusting pit, where people where alive and talked freely without showing fear. Despair always crept back upon me, as the buses did not run past six on the weekends and the walk back to what I called ‘home’ from the closest stop was not shot.
Hence, my sense of normality was always crippled by that dark truth. I did not fear Old Hope at dark, for I loathed it in all aspects equally. Night brought no peace to it just as day did. Even looking upon a starlight sky became a phantasmal horror, for it seemed as flickering stars were giving their dying breaths. The moon, when it shined down upon the long forgotten spires that lined the skylight conveyed the ghoulish crypt of a rotting kingdom.
All of this was but a prelude to the true, tangible fear that caused me to recollect and write. The hour is of no importance; only that the day had been hot and overbearing. I was working in the market, stocking a few packs of cigarettes and matches behind the counter. At first, I thought it was only an illusion conjured up by my mind after dealing with daily paranoia and overwork. Glancing again out of curiosity with more attention and at greater length, my eyes widened in fear, my mouth drying, sweating beating down my brow as I began to tremble in shock.
It was an old man in a very dirty brown suit with a crooked pattered tie that was loose around his neck like a twisted noose. Atop his head nestled a tan cowboy hat whose tassels whereas tattered as his suit. He wore thick rimmed glasses that would look more akin to an older woman than a man. Worst of all, his face was badly battered in burns and scabbing that looked to be rotting away.
I stifled a scream but it stuck to my throat and sunk back down into my lungs. The man grinned wide, showing a moth full of yellow teeth and crawling maggots. I felt my stomach churn in pain watching this cadaver of death parade itself.
I knew this person…
I had loved this person…
It was my own grandfather who had not died a year ago!
Holding my sides and gasping for air, I snapped into panic when a hand placed itself on my shoulder. It was my co-worker Terrence who looked concerned at my gestures and crazed stare I had given to the window. The apparition gone, I sighed deeply telling him I was just feeling unwell; that the heat was getting to me and I should get some rest. Being a kind friend, he agreed to let me off early so I could go relax.
Peaceful sleep did not come for me that night nor has it since. For always in my dreams was the disfigured form of my grandfather, swarmed by files as he breath his miasmal vapors of the tomb, leaving me in a frenzy of sweat and tears when I awoke. Daylight brought only more visions of the specter: first outside the market, then the corners of allies, to the dim lit bar’s parking lot, and even beyond Old Hope where there had been peace to me.
Always was it just out of focus in my sight, haunting me eternally.
Then brought the visitation that ended it all.
Up to this point, I had never seen it in my apartment complex, albeit it loomed in the neighboring street near the train tracks. It was early in the morning when it occurred. I had been resting dreamlessly before being awaked by the sharp slam of the front door to the complex.
Always being a deep sleeper, I had found it odd that I could be roused by such a trivial noise. I had almost drifted back to sleep before hearing loud footsteps on the stairs that echoed in my room. Odder still was the fact they sounded not only heavy but wet, as if they were strutting through mud in rubber boots. Tension soon mounted as a lay still in my bed, for the noise was drawing closer and closer into my very floor before stopping just outside my door.
Out of a morbid fascination, I slowly crawled up from my bed and to the door on mouse -ike movements, drawing what courage I could to stare through the peephole. To this day, I regret ever getting out of my bed and curse myself all the more for even coming to Old Hope. For what I saw cannot be described fully to any other human being.
For, indeed, it was the specter that had followed me always.
But it was different now.
Its head lay at the back of a broken neck that stretched to snake-like portions. It limbs where that of a beetle, and they frequently convulsed in fits of unnatural fury. Its body was bloated to such an unreal size that I wondered how it fit into such a small hallways. Worst of all came when I saw it head, for its eyes were those of a fly, while the head remained a melting skull spewing tar like liquid in its wake.
It stayed there but for an instance before liquefying in a whitish illuminated slime, slithering its way under the door into Room 17. This transfiguration was too much for human senses and bewildered by what I had seen, my body gave way to fainting. I found myself on the floor at sunrise, determined with all my energy to see what lay behind the door Room 17.
I pounded loudly on landlord’s door and it was apparent from his glassy-eyed look that he was rather surprised by this unexpected visitation so early in the morning. Not one to mince words, I simply told him it was urgent that I see Room 17. Giving me a puzzling look, I simply repeated myself without changing my tone. Sighing, he accepted my request and we soon found ourselves standing outside the door.
Nothing of the previous night had lingered in the hallway. There were no signs of the strange black liquid or sickly white pus. I assured myself that the answers to all of this lay behind the door, no matter how outlandish or wicked; I assured myself. Soon the key was placed into the lock, the knob was turned; and all was laid bare before us.
How could I possibly describe what was there? Nothing could have prepared me for it, even my grimmest imagination.
There was nothing unordinary about the room.
By contrast, it was a perfectly normal to me.
For everything in that room belong to me.
There where surrealist paintings of insects and otherworldly nightmares that Terrene had given me. There were unwashed hung suits that I had worn several times out exploring, the one closest to the door a tattered brown suit on a coatrack. There were the pictures of my family and grandfather I had kept since childhood. Most of all, there lay in stacks next to my antique typewriter stories of horror I had mused in bleak, sleepless hours.
I had forgotten this room was my study…
That I had the key in my wallet…
That I had invented my hauntings purely by daydreaming and not taking my medication…
All of my fear and paranoia was a lie…
There remained one last detail to this that makes me doubt if it was all just a hallucination brought on by my masochistic negligence.
While I have long gone on with my life, it remains.
Wondering what I really experienced.
For I had truly not been in my study since forgetting to take my pills, freshly printed words lined a page inserted into the typewriter.
Though I had heard them before; only now do I think deeply on them, for it read:
“The truth is always an abyss.”