“Evening, Wilbur.” You greet the cheap plastic skull that sits on your dining room table, one of the few pieces of decoration in this sparse studio apartment. There’s also a signed drawing from Jim of his comic’s main character, Godpunch Lightning Fucker, as well as a framed photograph of you, he, and your friend Victoria. You haven’t actually seen Jim in months, not since his web-comic was optioned and turned into a real strip, which was then grabbed by a hungry movie studio. From what you’ve seen online, the shoots are going well, even if Jim has gotten in trouble for passing out in a few public places.
Although your one window mostly looks out on a nearby brick building, there is a small sliver that shows you the city beyond. Right now, it’s a sea of twinkling lights, since you were at the office all the way to sundown. The last shards of sunlight were fading when you entered your building, and it seems they vanished entirely during your fourteen story walk up the narrow stairs. You pause to appreciate the view before heading to the freezer and yanking out a microwaveable meal.
Mr. Parden had been pissed that you put him on the backburner. It was only by promising to come in tomorrow, off the clock of course, and work that you managed to somewhat ameliorate the situation. Too bad, you might have liked to go out tonight. Sheryl had even dropped off a Post-it with the name of the bar they’d be hitting. But there was no way you could show up hungover tomorrow, even if you were technically unpaid while in the office. If the work you turned in wasn’t perfect, you’d be out on your ass, and finding this job had been hard enough to begin with.
As your meal turns in the microwave, slowly approaching the point of being edible but never actually reaching it, you look at the framed photograph once more. It’s from Halloween, actually. How did you forget that? Plain as day, there you all are. Jim dressed as Bowser, Victoria as a witch, and you wearing that cheap wizard costume you cobbled together at the last minute. Except… where’s the hat? There was a hat, you know there was, that’s what kicked off all of the… the what? Did something happen that night?
Loud buzzing from the microwave breaks your concentration and chases away whatever odd thoughts you were entertaining. Grabbing your “food” you head over to the couch and turn on the television, trying to distract your senses as much as possible while you shovel food into your gullet. There’s a handsome announcer dressed in a cheap Dracula outfit, talking about a Halloween parade that’s going on later that night. It sounds like fun, yet another thing you might like to participate in but ultimately know you can’t. Those crazy, drunken wild times that you never seem to quite remember were part of college. With that piece of life behind you, it’s time to grow up.
You’re just finishing up the microwaved food when the entire room goes dark. No, not just the room, there’s also no light coming from anywhere else in your apartment either. However, you can see light from other nearby buildings through your sliver of a view, so it looks like only your building is affected. Probably everyone plugging in lights and spooky decorations for their Halloween parties flipped a breaker. Geez, don’t they know some people have to work in the morning?
After half an hour of waiting, you begin to suspect that perhaps the maintenance man is also taking the night off. Wouldn’t be the first time he got deep into revelry and left all of you tenants to fend for yourselves. You know what apartment the guy lives in, and it’s not too far away. Maybe he just needs someone to wake him up. Then again, you also know where the breaker box is, the damn thing hangs above one of the washing machines in the basement, impossible to miss. It might just be easier to go fix the problem yourself so you can have a little time to relax tonight.
Going to your closet, you yank open the door and grope around. For an instant, in the pitch black darkness, you forget what you’re looking for. You almost expect to find some cobbled together rack of trophies and keepsakes from a myriad of impossible adventures. But you don’t find any of that, because that would be crazy. Instead, your hand closes around the cold metal of a flashlight, and when you turn it on there’s nothing to be seen but your few sets of work clothes, freshly pressed and waiting to be worn.
You head over to the front door, flashlight making the trip much easier, and pull it open. More darkness there. Except for the flash of movement you see out of the corner of one eye. It’s fleeting, so quick you’re not sure it was even there in the first place, and if not for the weird skittering sound that echoes from the walls you would probably be able to dismiss it as a trick of the light. When you sweep your flashlight around though, there’s nothing to see. Just more empty hallway leading to those damn narrow stairs.
Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is there, watching you. You take deep breaths and assure yourself that it’s all in your head, a strategy which makes you feel more sane but does nothing to lessen the sense of being watched. You know what? None of this is really your problem in the first place. You pay your rent; it’s the building staff’s job to deal with these sorts of issues. You could go back in and leave it to them. Or wake the handyman up so you know he’s on task. Or just go deal with the breaker box so that the building will have light and these creepy sensations will go away. Really, any of them are good options, but standing in your doorway like a dumbass isn’t, so time to choose a path.