The walk down the hallway with a full basket of freshly washed clothing was a long one. The pretty college student held a laundry basket against one hip, the other hand clenching her Android tightly, with which she was responding to a text from her friend still living back home.
She was homesick, definitely. She’d left the family home mid-summer, got her apartment, settled in, and was a month into school. So far she’d made friends, liked her roommate, and was still trying to find a part-time job to supplement the costs of university. It felt busy, stifling, and freeing.
Her smartphone played a little tune, and she glanced down, steps slowing while she read. Goin to Jax w Glen. Msg u l8r.
She smiled at the little screen then tossed the phone on the pile of clean laundry, shifting the basket’s weight to both hands for the final yards. If only she were heading to the bar with friends instead of trying to make heads or tails of a physics textbook.
She put her hand on the doorknob of her apartment then jumped as something creaked in the hallway just behind her. She spun, wrist hitting the door knob painfully as her grip on the plastic rim of the basket tightened. She ignored the flare of dull pain as her eyes swept the corridor. Nothing was there. The only sound in the hall was a cross-section of her neighbors’ television habits, sounds drifting in to the hall much like the smell of everyone’s supper usually did.
She gave a light “Ha!” out of embarrassment and nervousness, even though no one was around to see her overreaction. She opened her apartment door, shoving it with her hip to get the laundry through first. As she lugged the load down the thin apartment hallway she heard the door click, and reminded herself to lock it once she set her clothes down. Her room was dark but she dropped the basket where she knew her bed was, and returned to the door, snapping over the dead bolt and shutting off the hallway light. She could almost hear her father: “We don’t own stock in the electric company, you know.”
After the slightest of hesitations, she put her eye to the peephole, but a fish-eyed empty hallway was the only thing out there. Nothing was stirring.
She turned her bedroom light on, grabbed the T-shirts off the top of the pile and moved to the closet to hang them up. As she was putting the first hanger on the bar, there was a thud against the door, like a single, heavy knock.
She frowned, frozen and listening to see if the knock would sound again. Once she was thoroughly acquainted with the sound of her blood pounding in her ears, she gave the same nervous laugh and walked over to her iPod dock to turn on some music.
The laundry stowed away, she returned to the hallway, lights off in her bedroom. As she passed the door, the hair on the back of her neck stood up. There was no cause for it. It made her stop mid-step as a chill raced up her bare arms. She ran her hands up and down them as she wondered if she’d left the patio door in living room open. As she was about to start moving again, that same, dull thud sounded against the door, right next to her.
She jumped, maybe even squeaked in alarm. She put her eye to the peephole, but it was blocked. Nothing but black.
She backed away from the door quietly, making her way in to the dimmed living room where only the light of the TV, sound off, showed her where her furniture was. The cordless phone was on the sofa, and she picked it up with one hand while throwing the lock on the patio door. She called the police by the 7-digit number, not really sure if someone playing a prank counted as an “emergency.”
The dispatcher sounded pleasant as he listened to her story, which ended lamely with, “I’m sure it’s just a prank, but either way I think someone’s in the building that doesn’t live here.”
She was promised that someone would be by to check it out, and she gave him her buzzer number so she’d know when the police arrived.
She hung up the phone, turned the volume up slightly on the TV and watched out the patio window as a guy on a bike rode by. Otherwise, the street was empty in the gold glow of the light standard.
The thud came again, making her jump. She got to her feet and from the entryway said loudly, “The police are coming. If you have any brains at all you’ll get the hell out of here.”
She jumped higher this time. The noise had been louder, and she heard all the metal of the lock rattle with the impact.
“I mean it,” she said, not sounding at all threatening. “The cops are coming. Get the hell out of here!”
The sound of splintering wood was the last thing she heard before a swirling darkness knocked her to the floor.
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