– ‘…a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behaviour and failure to recognize what is real.’ – Wikipedia
Elizaveta is normal.
She likes to sleep, likes to watch TV, likes to dream. She thinks of love and life like a normal person, goes to the store like normal person, rents an apartment like a normal person. She has a job, albeit not a very well-paying job, but a job nevertheless.
Elizaveta is normal.
It has stopped raining; the sky gods have decided to take mercy on the pitiful humans below. From a rift in the silver clouds above, a small sliver of sunlight peeks through, casting oblique rays of sunlight into the small bedroom and onto a small figure curled up like a shrimp under layers of blankets. A small digital clock sits on a dusty bedside table, green numbers blinking 8:53.
8:53. Someone is late for work today.
The clock beeps mournfully in its strangled little voice, and a pale hand extends from underneath the mountain of duvets to silence it for the twenty-third time that morning. But the hand is sleepy and disoriented, and instead of silencing it, the little clock tumbles to the cold wooden floor with a loud clang, faded green lights flickering from abuse. The little clock ceases its little song, instead opting to lying dejectedly on the ground.
Above the clock, under the mountain of duvets, a messy bedhead emerges, peeking sleepily around the room. Dim brown eyes scan the room to settle upon the numbers flickering weakly on the ground, before widening in shock and dismay.
I tried to tell you, the little clock seems to say, numbers blinking dolefully. 8:55. 8:55.
A choked shriek makes its way into the room as the bedhead suddenly grows a body, long gangly limbs frantically pulling back covers to reveal a human. Clothes are pulled on in a frenzy, teeth unbrushed and hair uncombed before she leaps out of her little home. The little clock lies crushed underfoot on the cold wooden floor, green lights dimmed and looking sadder than ever.
Two floors below, a dishevelled young woman tears down the streets on foot, her coat flying behind her like a pair of wings. She is still disoriented, still sleepy, still unnourished. Her stomach grumbles in discontent at the lack of food, and her throat is dry. All she knows was –
I’m late for work I’m late for work I’m late for work now my boss is going to kill me –
And how will I pay rent? I’m so screwed –
She is so disoriented, her mind still reeling from shock, that she doesn’t notice the person in front of her until she hits him head on. Apologies tumble from her lips automatically and her eyes rake upward, trying to find the poor soul she has so carelessly barrelled into, only to meet with –
Green eyes, tousled brown hair, an apologetic smile, and “I’m sorry, are you okay?”
She stops and stares dumbly, her mouth opening and closing like a fish.
He rubs the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’m Antonio. I’m sorry I crashed into you. I think I’ve seen you before. You’re the girl who lives on the third floor, right? I live on the second floor. What’s your name?”
Her mouth opens and she tries to say, ‘I’m Elizaveta’, but then she suddenly remembers that she forgot to take her pills that morning, and in the midst of confusion, and she ends up saying,
“My name’s forgotten to take my pills.”
He stares at her blankly before smiling brightly, revealing row on row of sharp, glistening teeth. They spin, whirring and purring, his maw opening grotesquely wide, and then –
And then she’s standing, petrified, a scream caught in her throat, choking her, drowning her. It takes several seconds for her to realize what she should be doing. And that, namely, being running for her life.
As she sprints down the sidewalk like a impala running from a lion, she realizes that she is heading the opposite way of where she should be headed, which meant that now that her boss is really going to kill her if she doesn’t get there soon. Maybe she really should have taken her pills that morning. But then, she decides, she could just take two pills the next time she took her medicine. That way it would make up for the missed dose. Yes, she thinks, I’m a genius. Proud of herself, she makes her way to her destination.
It seems that Fate isn’t in a good mood today, because her boss informs her, with a strangely red face, that she is fired. You’ve been late too many times, he says crossly, and that is not acceptable.
She tries to tell him that she has only been late seven times that month, and that’s a lot better considering how many times she was late last month, but he doesn’t seem to want to listen. Shoulders shrugging, she strolls out of the building. She would just have to find a different job.
As she contemplates how the rent would pay itself, she makes her way back home, back to the little bedroom with the dusty bedside table and back under the mountain of duvets. After all, Elizaveta really does like sleeping.
Days pass and Elizaveta finds herself perched in front of her bedroom window – the small, rectangular window overlooking the busy sidewalk below. There is a pattern, she notices, of Antonio’s daily walks. Every morning he seems to pause right below her window and stares right through the window, into her home, her safe haven. It was as if he knows that she is in there, and he’s waiting, like a wildcat waiting in the dark thrushes for its prey to stroll in, oblivious to the danger in its path. And here he was the wildcat, and she the unsuspecting rabbit.
And true to habit, there he stands, right underneath her window, head tilted upwards. He looks like a handsome young man waiting for his girlfriend to come downstairs to join him for a date – except he’s not what he looks like, and she’s not his girlfriend. If anything, she’s the dinner to his dinner date, if those sharp spinning rows of teeth mean anything. He’s waiting, waiting for her to make the first step, the final leap. He’s waiting for her to come downstairs to finally satiate his hunger. She knows once she steps a foot outside of her safe haven, those lips will part, and sharp rows of spinning teeth will engulf her, grinding her to little bits of flesh as he consumes his meal.
She won’t let him win. She’s normal, and she won’t let a monster destroy her life. She’ll just stay in her little safe haven. The bottle of pills lies on its side on her dusty bedside table, ignored and dejected. She doesn’t need them; she doesn’t want them anymore. She needs to be alert, not stoned, when she waits for the day Antonio launches his attack.
This anxiety runs her down, and her nerves stretch thin. Every waking hour is spent pacing up and down her little room, listening to the walls whisper and the carpet carol. At one point she is convinced that her closet is a gateway to a parallel universe full of fire-breathing dragons, and that the ghost of her alarm clock blames her for its death. The tables lecture her, the chairs reprimand her, the clocks talk to her. Everything seems to be against her, and she decides that Antonio is at fault. He must have been channelling some dark energy to possess her furniture.
As all this madness wears her down, she finds that the only place where she feels safe is underneath the mountain of duvets, when she’s asleep. So she sleeps whenever she can, and the dark abyss of unconsciousness becomes her safe haven.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
There’s a tapping at the window. It is very, very, very irritating. Elizaveta wants to pick up something – preferably something heavy – and lob it at the offending noise. But she’s too tired, too sleepy, too disoriented, and she didn’t want to move. Not yet.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
She can feel her patience start to dwindle. This tapping – it is very, very, very irritating. Maybe she will pick up something heavy and chuck it at the window. But she doesn’t want to have to pay for damage, not with the rent paying itself.
Instead she opts for sitting up, the mountain of duvets sliding off her torso, and screeching, “Will you shut up already!?”
Then she stops and stares, because she’s met with –
Green eyes, tousled brown hair, and a bright smile.
You’re the girl who lives on the third floor, right? I live on the second floor.
Those soft lips part, giving way to row on row of spinning sharp teeth, whirring and purring, and she wants to scream but her throat is constricted and fear seems to have gripped her heart in its icy fist. A strange feeling of déjà vu creeps in and she is reminded of the creepy vampire books she had read as a teenager about creepy stalker vampires that watched people as they slept.
In a frenzy, a pocket knife is swiped off the table, and she dives at the offending creature in a blur of black and silver.
And then she’s stabbing, stabbing, stabbing.
Ivana likes her neighbor. She really does. Sure, Elizaveta seems slightly off her rocker, but for the most part Ivana likes her neighbor. At least Elizaveta minds her own business.
But not today. Ivana really doesn’t like her neighbor today. Or rather, tonight. Because tonight, Ivana is under a single duvet cover, and a pillow is wrapped around her head. Because the noises won’t stop. They just won’t stop, and it’s been going on for half an hour already. Half and hour. And it’s three in the morning. Ivana needs her sleep. She has to go to work in the morning, unlike some other people. And unlike some other people, her alarm clock isn’t going to be silenced forever.
Gritting her teeth, Ivana grabs a coat and stomps outside. Her neighbor’s door is unlocked, and she steps inside-
Only to have a blade whistle past her ear to land a mere inch away from her face.
“Okay,” she says, forcing herself to calm down. Yes, Ivana, it’s just an ordinary night – I mean early morning, and my neighbor is throwing kitchen knives at me. Yes, Ivana, everything is fine and dandy. I’m not about to die.
“Okay,” she repeats. “Calm down.” She isn’t sure whether she’s talking to Elizaveta or herself.
Elizaveta stares at her, brown eyes wide and vacant, lit with a crazed light that frightens Ivana. Her hair is a mess, brown strands tangled in a mess bearing more resemblance to a strange brown cloud than a head of human hair. Her light blue pajamas, dotted with little pictures of fluffy white dogs, stick to her lean figure, and her forehead is slick with sweat. In her hand she grasps a large butcher knife, bits and pieces of broken wood dotting the silver blade.
Deciding that her neighbor looked rather repulsive, Ivana turns her eyes away from her, opting to stare at the wall. She has always preferred non-sentient objects over sentient beings .and – ooh, bad choice.
Now Ivana has made several bad choices in her life. She has chosen the wrong classes to take in university, has chosen the wrong programs, has chosen the wrong future. But this – this could top her list. The wall – is it even a wall anymore? – is riddled with hundreds of thousands of little holes, soft maroon wallpaper torn to pieces, revealing the bare wood underneath. The kitchen cutlery has left deep gouges into the wall, and Ivana can just imagine the landlady throwing a well-deserved tantrum. The whole room appears as if a bomb has gone off, items scattered, items torn, items broken.
“Okay,” she says for the third time. Her voice is thin and it wavers dangerously. She holds up her hands, as if surrendering to the enemy, and steps back. Back, out of the room, out of the apartment. Today, she promises herself. Today I’m going to pack up my things and move. Move away from this apartment, away from this town. I’m going to set up somewhere far, far, away, and then I’m going to drink myself to oblivion and then I can forget all of this.
Yet deep down she knows that it would never happen.
“Okay,” she says again. She sounds stronger this time. Good. “Drop the knife. Please, drop the knife.”
To her pleasant surprise, Elizaveta drops the knife, and says, almost disbelievingly, “I’ve forgotten to take my pills. Again.”
“Okay. Good. Now take your pills.”
“I’ll have to take two of them. To make up for the missed ones, I mean.”
“Whatever you need to make you okay. Now, if you need anything, you know where’ll I’ll be. Just give a call.”
“Okay.” As Ivana turns to leave, she calls out, “Wait. Do you know Antonio? You know, the guy who lives on the second floor. He was here earlier. He was trying to kill me.”
Ivana turns back, and deadpans, “Nobody lives on the second floor, Elizaveta. Nobody. It’s been vacant for years.”
Elizaveta lies on her bed, lies under the mountain of duvets. It’s started raining again, the sky grey and the room dark. The soft pitter patter lulls her to sleep, calls her to Dreamland. She happily obliges, lets herself go under its spell, lets herself drift away. Two little pills sit on her dusty bedside table, the only splash of color in the midst of chaos. She knows she really should take her pills, but she’s tired. So, so tired. And so, so cold. The mountain of duvets seemed to have failed its mission at keeping the shivers at bay.
It’s all Antonio’s fault, she decides. He must have turned the heater off.
But she’s too tired, too cold to leave her woven nest of blankets, and the soft pitter patter of rain is calling her to Dreamland, pulling her under, to a land where everything is good and nothing bad happens. And she’s too tired, too cold, to want to leave.
And so she sleeps. She sleeps until the sun rises, sleeps until the sun loses its nightly battle against the moon and recedes into the darkness. She sleeps until the moon arises, triumphant over the sun, and until the sun pushes the moon back into the abyss to reclaim its spot on the horizon.
She sleeps until her kind, dutiful neighbor comes to check on her to make sure she’s still alive. The loud footsteps disturb the rhythmic pitter patter of the rain, ruins the music, destroys the peacefulness. She stirs and slowly wakes up.
“You haven’t taken your pills.”
Elizaveta emerges from under the mountain of duvets. Ivana stands before her, a hand on her hip and her lips pursed. She frowns.
“I was tired.”
“That’s no excuse. I know you’re tired, but you have to keep track of your health. And that includes taking your pills.” She sighs, looking defeated. “I was checking if you were alright. I mean, you did kind of break down last night…”
But Elizaveta isn’t listening anymore. At least, she isn’t listening to Ivana. She has her head cocked to one side, like a barn owl trying to find its prey. She’s detected a soft noise, a noise that isn’t the pitter patter of the rain, the blah blah blah of Ivana, or the hmm of the dead heater.
“Hush!” She cries, and Ivana falls silent. She stops and listens. “Can’t you hear that noise? He’s coming, he’s coming for me again.”
Ivana frowns. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” A pause, and a sharp gasp. “Elizaveta, what happened to your arm?”
Elizaveta glances down at the white bandages wound tightly around her arm. “Those were from Antonio,” she says mildly. “From last time. And he’s coming for me again.”
“No. Elizaveta, listen to me. Antonio doesn’t exist. Okay? Nobody lives on the second floor. You need to see a therapist!”
“You’re lying to me,” she mumbles back. “You’re lying. I see him everyday. He walks on the street, everyday, and stops right there, under my window. He stares through the window, and he knows I’m in here. He’s after me, I swear.”
“No. No, he doesn’t exist. Can you hear me? He doesn’t exist.”
Elizaveta isn’t listening anymore. And truth to be told, she can’t hear Ivana either.
Sometimes Ivana doubts her own actions. Sometimes Ivana admits she might be going insane.
Today is one of those days.
As she stands in her neighbor’s dishevelled room, she wonders why she even bothers. Why she even helps. It’s not because she’s kind at heart, it’s because she knows one of these days the people she helped will owe her one. Yet she knows for a fact that this one will never repay her. Frankly she doubts that Elizaveta will live another month.
At least she’s correct in that aspect.
Elizaveta seems to have lost it. One look at her apartment and Ivana knows that she’s too far gone. The walls seem to have collected dozens more gouges, and all of the windows are covered and bolted. Even the TV is positioned to face the wall, a heavy black cloth draped over the screen.
Yet some invisible force seems to be pushing her forward, urging her to speak. Though Elizaveta is as lifeless as a statue in front of her, Ivana is speaking, trying to convince her to stop, to see, to hear. But Elizaveta is too far gone, and she can’t stop, can’t see, can’t hear.
“Elizaveta, no one lives on the second floor. Antonio doesn’t exist.”
Yes, he does. He’s behind you.
“Elizaveta, can you hear me? Elizaveta!”
Elizaveta’s brown eyes are wide with astonishment, her mouth agape. Her arm lifts almost mechanically to point at the wall behind Ivana, and she turns around to see –
Nothing but the wall, covered in deep gouges –
Antonio, his eyes a feral green, his mouth open grotesquely wide. Row on row of sharp teeth glisten in the moonlight, coated with a thin sheen of saliva.
Ivana turns back around to face Elizaveta, a frown on her face.
Ivana falls to the ground with a blood-curdling scream of pain, dark streams of blood pouring from the puncture wounds in her back.
If possible, the creases between Ivana’s brows deepen, creating even deeper valleys. “What?” she asks. “Elizaveta, what is going on?”
“You MONSTER!” Elizaveta shrieks, fingers clumsily grabbing a large kitchen knife from the table. “You killed my neighbor!”
Antonio grins widely, sharp teeth flashing blindingly. Specks of blood spray off of his jaws and onto her shirt.
Ivana looks back, confusion written all over her face. The confusion burns away, melting into fear as Elizaveta charges towards her, brandishing the knife. Ivana can picture the headlines on the newspaper – ‘Unfortunate young woman slaughtered by insane neighbor while trying to help’ – and ducks, screaming, her eyes scrunched closed. She waits for the pain, waits for the darkness, but it never comes. Incredulous, she looks up, only to see Elizaveta furiously stabbing the wall.
Okay, she thinks to herself. Just an ordinary day. My neighbor’s gone insane, there’s an invisible man living on the second floor, and the landlady is going to throw a fit. And to top it off, I just nearly got killed.
What she does next becomes the best choice Ivana has ever made in her life. In that second, she just saved her mental health and her life.
She walks out. Calmly. She goes back to her apartment and packs up what few possessions she has.
And then she flees into the night like a fugitive in a war.
The landlady is a kind woman. She really is. All you have to do is pay your rent and keep your area clean and tidy. Oh, and did I mention, undamaged? Any damage caused will have to be fixed. But of course, if you are dead, then you don’t have to pay rent. Or pay the costs to restore the building. After all, last I checked, dead people don’t have the ability to pay rent.
Except this particular inhabitant isn’t exactly dead yet. But she’s in no position to be paying either. In fact, no one knows exactly where she is.
Maybe that dark pit underneath that bush can tell you where she is. Or maybe that shovel in the garden shed – oh wait, it’s not there anymore. Looks like you’ll have to ask the dirt where this inhabitant has gone to. Too bad dirt can’t speak.
Perhaps the rent will have to pay itself.