As I stepped toward the apartment, I felt a very particular sense of sadness. It was a dilapidated and weary building, one that had seen the sorrows of a dozen years and never spoken of a single one of them. The rain gutters were falling off, a few of the windows were boarded up, and there was evidence of re-plastering in some places. There were 6 mailboxes out by the door, hanging on the wall. Apparently, anyway. Numbers 1 and 4 had fallen off, and it was clear no one was going to put them back on.
To make matters worse for this already wretched building, it was essentially isolated. Any other buildings that used to be nearby seemed to have been leveled, for something to be built in their places. Nothing was ever erected, and odds have it nothing ever will be. The closest building to this apartment is at least a block away. Why Roderick chose to keep living here despite how terrible the place is made no sense to me.
The porch of this particular building had two doors. One of those doors led into a small hallway, visible from a small window in the door, and the other led to a stairway that went up, also visible from a small window in the door. The hallway contained apartments 2, 4, and 6, leading me to believe apartments 1, 3, and 5 were upstairs. A cold breeze blew through my jacket, making it clear that I should head inside.
The small hallway was still chilly, but it at least protected me from the breeze, which was a gift. However, the air was musty and filled with dust, which couldn’t have been good for my lungs. Thus I elected to get into Rod’s home as quickly as possible.
I walked down the end of the hall to the door labelled 6. I knocked on the door and waited for Rod to answer. I held my jacket up to my face while I waited, to keep the dust out. However, after a couple minutes and two more knocks, there was no answer.
I went to the other doors and knocked on them, too, but they threw up dust as if protesting my hand rapping against them. Obviously no one had used those doors in a long while, and the rooms were unoccupied. I sighed behind my jacket, and returned to Rod’s door. I knocked on it once more, louder than before, and waited.
Moments later, Rod opened the door up.
“Ah, you’re here!” he exclaimed.
“I am,” I replied.
“Come in, come in,” he said. “God, it’s been too long since I’ve seen you. High school sure has been a long time ago, huh? Even college, as a matter of fact.”
Rod led me into his house. His front room was poorly adorned, filled only with a blue love seat and a small desk with an old computer and some other device I was unfamiliar with. It must have been providing him with internet. The desk had a wooden chair seated at it.
He walked into the kitchen, which was cleaner and better furnished than the rest of the home. For one thing, there was a dining table there with 3 chairs, matching that of the one by the desk, as well as a proper refrigerator, stove, oven, and various cupboards.
“Rod, what’s up with this apartment? It’s empty and abandoned except for you. I’m honestly surprised the place hasn’t been torn down yet,” I said.
“Take a seat,” Rod said, pulling a chair out for me. “And yeah, that’s true. I’m basically squatting here. The landlord died, and the city is still looking for his most recent relatives. Or were, anyway. It’s been 4 years and they haven’t found anyone, or they gave up and haven’t bothered the place. Either way, home sweet home. This place provides for all we need, free of charge. Electricity, water, and heat. The only thing I have to get myself is food and a stable internet connection. Food is fine, I just walk up the street with a shopping cart I keep hidden behind the apartment and head to the local superstore. There’s also a prescription place in there so that I can keep Maddy medicated.” Roderick paused and looked wistful. “Or, well, so I could keep Maddy medicated.”
Madeline was Roderick’s twin sister. They were only fraternal twins, so they didn’t look too similar, but they had always been by each other’s sides. Their family was very wealthy, and the two of them lived through all of high school without either parent after they died. Rather simply, they’ve been independent for basically all of their lives.
“What happened to Maddy?” I asked.
“She got sick,” Rod began. “She has some sort of heart condition. I can’t leave her alone for too long or she might do something drastic. You know what I mean.”
I shook my head. “I’ve never heard of a heart condition that would make someone,” I put up my hands to make air quotes, “‘do something drastic.’” I cocked my head at Rod. “Are you sure she isn’t just depressed? Or anxious? There are plenty of therapists she could talk to about this. Keeping her isolated in a place like this can’t be good for her.”
Rod shook his head, looking somber again. “No, she had a heart condition. She’s dead.”
“Oh,” I responded. We both sat in silence for a few moments, heads hung low. Eventually I spoke up again. “What should we do with her?”
Rod looked back up. “Well, I tried talking to her about a last will and testament, but all she ever told me was that she never wanted to go anywhere. Now that she’s dead, I have to interpret what that means myself, and I think she wants to be buried in this house. I prepared a place a little bit in the basement, but I’ll need your help actually putting her to rest.”
I stood up in indignation. “You want to bury your sister in this abandoned old apartment? No, she deserves a proper burial, or at least to be cremated. Maddy shouldn’t just be thrown into a basement and forgotten. She was a good girl, you know this.”
Rod sighed. “She told me what she wanted.”
“She’s mentally unwell, Roderick. You can’t just take her word like that.”
“You know the ill still have will. We’re obligated to fulfill her request, even if it doesn’t make sense.”
I stepped backward, once. “I’m not following through with this.”
Rod sighed. “You can either help me with this and stay the night, catch up with me a bit, or you can just go. I don’t care which you do. To be honest, I can bury her myself. I called you here because I’ve been feeling lonely.”
I clenched my fists and stared Rod down. He made no motion to move. I sighed and let go of my hands. “Fine, Rod. I’ll help you. It’s… unfortunate that this happened. I feel awful.”
Rod stood up and put his hand on my shoulder. “Me too. Hopefully things will get better once this is all said and down. I’ll probably leave after tonight, anyway. Too many painful memories in these halls.”
Rod walked further into the apartment, and I followed him. He led me into a bedroom, where his sister laid on her bed, over the blankets. She was utterly still, and her cheeks were still flush with blood.
“My. She died recently, hasn’t she?”
“Yes,” Rod answered. “I called you just after I heard her last breath. I cried for a good while too. My tears are dry now, though. I just want to see this through to the end.”
I nodded. We walked over to her, and I picked her up, cradling her in my arms. She was still warm, too.
“It’s unfortunate that death plays these tricks, isn’t it? She still feels so lively.”
Rod nodded vigorously. “If I hadn’t heard her stop breathing, I would have thought she was still alive. Death isn’t kind to us.”
Rod led me out of the bedroom and into a hallway. There were two other doors and a stairway leading down. Rod went down the stairs, and I followed him. Downstairs, I saw a washing and drying machine, but not before I noticed a huge section of the wall had been pulled aside, revealing a hole behind it.
“You built Madeline a tomb,” I stated, aghast.
“Well, digging into the floor wasn’t going to work. At least this way I can seal the wall back up.” Rod pointed to a bucket of plaster he had next to the wall. “Just lean her into there, and then help me push the wall back.
I gently laid Maddy into the tomb. It felt as if she had sighed as I put her down. I shuddered at the thought. It must have been her body settling and releasing gasses from when she was alive.
I helped Roderick shove the wall back into the slot where it was meant to be. There were thin cracks on either side, and Rod took to filling them in with the plaster rather quickly.
“Plaster doesn’t seem like the right solution for this stony basement wall,” I said.
“Likely not,” Rod replied, “But it’s the best I’ve got. This place is abandoned anyway. I doubt anyone will notice or care.” Rod sniffled. “It’s what she wanted,” he finished.
He finished sealing up the wall, and kneeled in front of it for a while, silently. “I’m sorry, but could you give me a few moments alone?” He asked.
“Yes,” I replied. I walked back upstairs, and returned to sitting at the kitchen table. He returned after a few minutes as well.
“It’s going to be a night before I’ll be able to sleep again,” Rod said.
“Maybe we could pass the time watching a movie?” I suggested.
“I don’t know. I just feel awful. I don’t know if anything can really help me.”
“Let’s give it a shot anyway,” I said. I pulled out my phone and started looking through a couple apps for a suitable movie.
I found something. “Have you seen this movie?” I asked.
Rod shook his head. “I haven’t been watching many films.”
“Perfect,” I said. I turned the movie on and set my phone up so that we could watch it together.
Not even after the opening credits had finished did I hear a loud sound coming from downstairs. “Did you hear that?”
Rod chuckled to himself. “We made a mistake, friend.” He said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’ve heard those pounds many times before.” Another pound. “She’s been pounding at the door of this place for months now, desperate to escape. She’s wanted out more than you or I could ever understand, but I was scared.” The pounds continued in earnest. “I didn’t want Her to leave me alone in this wretched place. You see, it wasn’t Her who held me here, but the other way around.” Every time he referred to her, I could feel some sort of intensity behind the words. “I gave Her pills to reduce Her will to fight me and to break out of here. I had been drugging Her to keep Her in a nearly infantile state so that She may never leave me, and now I’ve done something much worse. I’ve buried Her alive in that basement. If I couldn’t have Her, no one could. Now here we are, and She rattles in Her grave to escape.”
I heard one final, deafening pound from below. I stood up in shock. “You mean to tell me that you knew she wasn’t dead, and you had me bury her anyway?”
“She’ll be here any moment now,” he replied.
I picked up my phone and stepped away from him, and toward the exit. “You mean she’s-” I didn’t finish my thought, as she was standing in the doorway. Her clothing was bloodied and covered in stone and dust, as were her arms similarly bruised and bloodied. Stone jutted out of various wounds in her body, but she simply stared at us with an intensity I never knew nor could ever know. There were bags under her eyes and bruises on her nose and forehead that made me shiver in their utter grotesqueness.
I stumbled backward as Roderick laughed, his mind broken, and Madeline jumped atop of him and began to strangle him with her beaten and broken arms. His cackling was replaced by death rattles as she crushed his windpipe with her bare hands.
I turned heel and fled that building, plowing through doors and rushing back to my car.
I jammed my keys into the ignition and turned them. The car failed to start twice, during which I heard a scream so inhuman that I could never attempt to describe it again. On the third attempt, my car started and I sped away from there faster than I had ever driven before.