Dark Hours // Sample Chapter

Dark Hours by Ashlee Craft - Cover

April 25, 12:04 a.m.

It was just after midnight. The hallways of The Singing Bird apartment complex were nearly empty, and a deep silence filled the walls.

Suddenly, a scream rang out through one of the rooms in the nearly-vacant apartment building.

This scream was followed by an eerie silence, the sinister type of silence which leaves you both wondering and fearing what has just occurred.

The apartment complex, called The Singing Bird, but colloquially referred to as Stifled Bird, would be vacated and torn down in two weeks due to its age and the lack of funds to keep it properly maintained. A major property company had bought the land to build a factory on it, and as no one but the tenants really cared about the building, this idea was met with little resistance. Anyone who still remained in the complex would have to move somewhere else, and the property company hoped that these residents would move to one of the fancier and higher priced complexes that they owned.

Singing Bird was an old brick apartment complex with fire escape platforms and ladders covering the sides. The entire five-story complex was enclosed, and you had to enter the front door of the building to get to the hallways which led past each apartment. It was relatively secure, except for the fact that many of the ladders on the fire escape were down, so it would be easy for someone to climb up them and access the apartments if they wished to. The complex was surrounded by tall bushes, and beyond that, a grassy area which had once been well manicured, but was now overgrown and unkempt. A parking lot was situated in front of the building, and across the street was another apartment complex that was much newer.

When the Singing Bird Apartment Complex was built, the area was considered reasonably high-class, but as fifty years came and went, crime from the surrounding areas began to seep in, and soon surrounded the entire building. The complex had once been one of the most popular in the area, but once time had taken its toll, many people had forgotten the building was even there. Nearly all of the tenants moved out because they didn’t feel secure, and some of the gossipers that used to live in the building had speculated that someone was running a meth lab in one of the rooms. As no one except the gossipers felt this way, nobody cared to investigate this further. Regardless whether this fact was true or not, no one in the building felt safe.

Families with children and higher-income residents moved out. Because of this, the value of the building went down, causing the middle class to move out as well. The only people who remained there were those who had little money or had lived there a long time and didn’t care to move. As desperate times called for desperate measures, ready or not, these remaining tenants would have to move out at the end of the two-week period remaining before the building was demolished. The 150-unit apartment complex only contained nine tenants now, not including the owner, Ms. Waters, and her son.

Grace Roe lived in apartment #78. After a long night out spent dancing at local clubs, as she often did, she was tired and hungry. Although she was in her early sixties, she still was filled with a vigor and energy often unmatched by people half her age. She wasn’t retired yet, as she believed that work is good for one’s soul, and that working well into your elderly years helped keep you young. She worked a part time job at the local parks and recreation department, teaching people how to play volleyball. Grace kept herself in excellent shape, and often her students, who became exhausted relativity soon into their lessons, were amazed that Grace wasn’t even out of breath yet. When she told people her age, they were surprised to hear that she was at least fifteen or twenty years older than they thought she was.

Grace’s feet hurt. She blamed it on her new high heels, which were covered in blue glitter. They were probably too tall for someone her age to be wearing, but she didn’t care. Age was just a number, as the old adage went, and Grace thoroughly believed this. She did things her own way, wore what she wanted to, did what she wanted to, and didn’t care what others thought of this. She wasn’t the type to follow the crowd, and she’d always prided herself in this independence.

When she was a teenager, she’d gone against the current fashions and stereotypes, creating her own fashion trends by taking the things she liked and putting her own spin on them. She was often singled out in her school as being the unusual one, but Grace had never cared, and wore this label with pride. She was happy that her classmates didn’t think she was just like them, and when they called her odd or weird, this pleased her, as it meant that she had succeeded in staying true to herself. When her classmates were trying to impress their crushes, Grace had been more concerned with her education. When her classmates were busy discussing what they’d wear to prom, Grace was sitting quietly in the corner reading Shakespeare or books on philosophy. When her classmates were out partying and drinking late into the night, Grace stayed home to study and work on her homework. Grace’s hard work and determination paid off, and when she left high school, she was able to go to college. She majored in dance studies, graduated with flying colors, then went to go work at a florist shop. Grace danced, played sports, and traveled the world every chance she got, living a life which was more satisfying than she would have ever imagined was possible.

At the time, when she’d decided that she would live the way she wanted to, she was somewhat concerned that others would find her strange, or that she was making a mistake. Perhaps they were right in following the crowd, the time-tested formula that many went for. After all, picking a lifestyle was more important than picking how she was going to spend a particular evening. But now as she looked back, Grace was more and more thankful with each passing day that she’d chosen to forge her own path. This sense of gratitude increased each time she heard her friends complaining about what they wish they had done when they were younger, richer, or more beautiful. When Grace looked back on her life, she had no regrets whatsoever.

Grace entered her apartment and removed the painful shoes as soon as she was in the door, tossing them unceremoniously towards the shoe rack. It was silent in her apartment – too silent – so she decided to put on some classical music. Beethoven was her favorite composer, so she removed one of her Beethoven CDs from its case and placed it in her CD player. Moments later, the beautiful music drifted into the air, and Grace smiled.

She walked barefoot across the cool linoleum of the apartment, noticing just how good it felt on her sore feet. She flexed her toes against the floor, massaging them from their stiffness. When she entered her kitchen and headed for her tiny pantry, she removed a box of fettuccine pasta. Smiling with the afterglow of her night out, she filled a pot with water and set it on the stove. Pasta was a good thing to refuel on after a night out.

At that moment, a scream rang out across the silence, stopping her in her tracks.

Heart pounding, she was unsure of what to do. She’d never heard a scream so terrible in her life, yet she didn’t want to worry the cops about something insignificant, in case the scream had not been a scream of pain, but rather a mere scream of joy. However, when she considered how horrible and how desperate the scream sounded, she decided to call the police. It was better to report it and find out that it was nothing than it was to refrain from calling and wish that she had. If the scream was relevant and she didn’t call, someone could be harmed worse than they already were, and Grace would then feel somewhat at fault, aware of the fact that her call could have saved this person.

She rushed towards the phone and dialed 911. When the dispatcher answered, Grace told them what she’d heard, and the dispatcher replied that they’d be sending someone to check the apartment complex out, saying that they’d received several similar calls already. It was around this point that Grace began panicking. It wasn’t just her who thought the scream signified something worse. What if whoever had killed someone – and that was Grace’s biggest fear regarding what had happened – what if this person was coming for her?

She hurried into her kitchen, opening the knife drawer and removing the largest, most dangerous looking blade. If the murderer tried to harm her, Grace was strong enough to fight back.

Heart pounding quickly, she proceeded to stand in her apartment near the front door, waiting for either the arrival of the police or of the killer.

Old Ms. Waters, who owned the building and had lived in it for the past thirty years, was down in her kitchen on the bottom floor of the apartment in her kitchen adding some milk to her coffee. The sugar was already dissolving in the bottom of her cup as she stirred the cream in. Sugar and milk, just the way she liked her coffee.

Her thoughts were turned towards her son, Matthew, who was 30 years old and lived down the hallway from her. He wasn’t married yet, but Ms. Waters hoped that would soon change. It had always been her hope that her son would marry and have children. Ms. Waters, who was in her early sixties, frequently dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, to have her son and daughter-in-law live down the hallway, to be able to see her grandchildren whenever she wished. She could see herself taking them to the circus and the pool and baking cookies with them in the afternoon.

Growing up, Ms. Waters’ grandparents had been a large part of her life. Her parents had been busy, hardworking people, and while to this day, Ms. Waters still admired their determination, she still wished they would have been around more while she was growing up.

This wasn’t that bad, however, as every morning when her parents would head off to work, they would take Ms. Waters and her two sisters over to her grandparents’ house. They were the grandparents on her father’s side, and they reminded Ms. Waters very much of her father’s enthusiastic, gentle demeanor.

Ms. Waters’ grandparents were everything she could have hoped for in a grandparent, and more. Her grandmother would spend long hours teaching Ms. Waters, whose first name was Joan, how to do cross stitch projects. Together, they’d made many beautiful things, including a particularly intricate cross stitch featuring a design of flowers surrounding the word Love, a word which was written in even smaller flowers. Ms. Waters still had the cross stitch to that day, although it was faded and yellowed by the years. She kept it in a plastic bag in her dresser, and when she was feeling nostalgic about her childhood, she would look at this and it remind her of the happy and peaceful hours she spent with her grandparents.

Ms. Waters’ grandparents would take her and her sisters to school each day, and when the bus dropped them off, it dropped them off not at their house, but at the house of their grandparents. Her grandparents would help her with homework and entertain the children until six in the evening, when their parents would come to pick them up.

Thank you so much for watching them.” Ms. Waters’ mother would say.

It’s our pleasure.” Ms. Waters’ grandfather would reply, beaming with pride.

Ms. Waters’ grandfather had taught her many things too. She had been somewhat tomboyish as a child, so her grandfather found it fitting to teach her to do a variety of skills, such as fishing and carpentry.

One of the proudest moments in Ms. Waters’ childhood was when she built a chair out of old scraps of wood. She’d was ten years old at the time, and her grandfather had helped her with the building process every step of the way. When the chair was complete, Ms. Waters had told everyone she knew about that chair, and everyone was amazed at how well she’d done in building it.

If only she still had that chair now, she thought. This remembrance caused her to feel a stab of yearning for her childhood and the chair that symbolized it. The chair had broken long ago, broken when Ms. Waters was moving to a different house. She was 12 years old at the time, and she still remembered the heartbreak she felt about that little chair getting broken in the move.

Despite the fact that they lived a little further from their grandparents, Ms. Waters and her siblings still got to visit them a few times a week. She and her grandfather had rebuilt her chair after it broke, but it had never been the same.

The chair can never be the same as it was.” Her grandfather had told her. “But it can still be okay.”

Her grandparents had been there through her teenaged years. They had told her the different variations on the above quotation throughout these troubled years. When a boy she liked broke her heart, her grandmother would say,

Your heart can never be the same as it was. But it can be okay again.”

And when she got a bad grade on an important test, her grandfather said,

You can’t change the results of that test, but next time you do a test, you can make it better.”

It was one of the worst days in Ms. Waters’ life when her grandfather had died, and an equally horrible day when her grandmother died just months later. Her heart was shattered. She had been just as close, if not closer, than she had been with her parents. They were an integral part of her youth, and now, they were gone.

But as she’d sat there, broken hearted and crying, she remembered what her grandmother had said about broken hearts:

Her heart could never be the same as it was, but it could be okay.

This statement helped her many times in her life. When her relationships didn’t work out, she remembered this. When her husband died, she reminded herself of these words constantly, and they helped her get through these sorrows and remind her that there were still many things to be thankful for. She had repeated her grandparents’ quotation to her son when he was going through a difficult time in his life.

When Matthew joined the military, she had feared she was going to lose him too. As she’d tearfully said goodbye to him, he finally repeated to her the words she’d always said to him.

His mother would be okay.

Matthew Waters spent several years in the military, and during this time, he won many metals. Ms. Waters was incredibly proud of her son. When neighbors would come over to her apartment, she’d often relay the story of how her son had saved many fellow soldiers with his quick thinking.

Although she was proud that her son was fighting for his country, fear was her constant companion the entire time her son was overseas. Every day, she’d feared that she would receive news that he had been injured or killed, and this fear often became paralyzing when she heard that troops had been killed in the area where her son was stationed. She could think of nothing worse that could possibly happen than losing her son, and it still made her heart ache to think that this could have happened. Thankfully, after several years of fearing for her son’s life, she received the news that he was coming home. Soon afterwards, life returned to normal, and Ms. Waters, who had thought she’d lost her son so many times, found herself loving Matthew more than ever before.

Unfortunately, things could never be the same as they’d been in the past. Matthew’s experience in the war had left him with PSTD and a permanently nervous disposition. He frequently suffered from nightmares, and Ms. Waters, even in her apartment down the hall, could hear him screaming in his sleep. Sometimes, Matthew could become violent while suffering from an episode of PSTD, and he had frequent panic attacks. His panic attacks would often become so paralyzing that he could nothing but wait for them to pass. Eventually, Ms. Waters convinced him to go to the doctor, and he returned home with medication for his issues. Still, despite his mother’s prompting, Matthew would often forget to take his medication.

Ms. Waters now took a sip of coffee, and thought about her son’s love life.

Through the years, Matthew had many girlfriends, but his relationships never lasted more than a few months. Sometimes, they’d break up with Matthew due to his nervousness. Other times, Matthew, who would begin dating someone out of desperation and loneliness, would soon realize that this relationship would not work out, and despite his best attempts to keep it together, him and his newest girlfriend would soon break up. In all of Matthew’s life, there had only been three exceptions, three women that he’d stayed with longer than a few weeks. Every time this happened, hope would well up inside of Ms. Waters, and despite the fact she knew this was unlikely, she would begin hoping that her son might get married soon.

Tonight, Matthew was on a date with a woman named Sara Thorton, the daughter of Ms. Waters’ friend who had recently passed away. Sara and Matthew had been dating for more than five months, and Matthew had told his mother that Sara was down to earth, friendly, and beautiful. While she sounded nice, Ms. Waters took what Matthew said with a grain of salt, as Matthew said this about every woman that he dated. That night, Matthew and Sara were going to a local restaurant called The Flying Fish, a quaint little place situated in the downtown. Live music was played there every night, and The Flying Fish was well known for being one of the fanciest restaurants in the city.

All of a sudden, a scream echoed within her walls, shattering the silence.

She dropped her coffee spoon on the floor. It clattered loudly, piercing through the violent silence that followed the scream, the building suddenly becoming eerily noiseless, just as the night sky becomes dark after the lightning’s flash has faded.

The nine tenants who lived in the building were generally quiet, but every once in a while, a homeless person or young hoodlum would enter the building and cause trouble. A few years ago, a violent fistfight had broken out in the hallway, a fight which resulted in the police being called in, and ten years back, a string of robberies had occurred. Aside from these occurrences, life in the apartment complex was rather uneventful.

Until something like this happened.

Despite the glow that had seemed to surround the night just hours earlier, things had taken a turn for the worst.

Ms. Waters had never been more afraid in her life.

Her hand trembled as she decided to call her son, and she dialed in the number, desperately hoping that he’d pick it up. She didn’t want to be alone in the building. If someone had been attacked, their assailant might be coming for her next.

She reached her son’s voice mail, and her spirits sank. She left a message for him to come home as soon as possible, as she was afraid something horrible had happened in the building.

Suddenly, she heard the sound of her front door open, and a moment later, close.

Terror-stricken, she was paralyzed for a moment, and something horrible occurred to her. Someone was in her apartment. She felt glued to the spot, unable to go see who had entered her apartment.

Should she scream? Would anyone hear her if she did? Did whoever enter her apartment even know that she was there?

After a few minutes of deafening silence, Ms. Waters finally worked up the courage to peer into her living room to what was going on.

There was no one in her living room.

Ms. Waters reached for her cell phone and shakily dialed 911.

Mr. Klaus had just awoken from a deep sleep. Immediately, he noticed a sharp pain in his back and sighed. His back occasionally pained him during the night, and unfortunately, tonight was one of those nights. It was about time him and his wife got a new mattress, but that would have to wait until after they moved from the apartment complex. When they moved, they were going to throw this old mattress out, and purchase a new, more comfortable one.

Carefully, he moved his wife’s hand off of his shoulder. She opened her eyes slowly.

Where are we?” She asked him quietly.

He smiled sadly at her.

Dementia. She had dementia and usually couldn’t remember very much about what happened. She was liable to say strange or incoherent things, and this pained Mr. Klaus greatly. Every time she forgot something, he felt an incredibly pity filling him, a pity which was mixed with great affection. He loved his wife more dearly with every day, and would do anything to make her happy. If Mr. Klaus could have one wish, one impossible wish, he would have wished for Mrs. Klaus to be coherent and healthy once more, but wishing could not change the sad reality.

Mr. Klaus still remembered how beautiful his wife had been when he’d first met her, and he was thoroughly convinced that as the years went by, she just became more and more beautiful.

He’d met his wife, whose first name was Emily, when she moved in next door to him and his family. Karl was only nineteen at the time, and she was eighteen.

Despite the fact that they had met 53 years ago, Karl still remembered this day as though it had happened only recently.

The sun had been shining brightly that day, and Karl had been out in the yard, tending to his vegetable garden with his mother. Their house looked the same as many others in the neighborhood, and was a simple one-story home with a loft. The outside of the house was painted white, and the roof was a creamy rich brown, although the color had faded in the sunlight over the years. Several large old trees shaded their house, and in the back yard was a medium sized vegetable garden, which Karl’s mother had planted long ago, before he was even born. Ever since he was old enough to help, he had done so, and enjoyed every moment he spent out there, tending to the earth with his mother and three siblings. In the garden, the five of them had many wonderful and interesting conversations together, and Karl had always looked forward to working in the garden when he got off from school. As Karl and his siblings had been born and brought up in the midst of World War II, their family garden was one of the few things their mother could do to give them stability in this time of crisis. She once told Karl, “No matter how uncertain things are in the world around you, some things in life will always be the same. Gardening is one of these things. No matter how many people are at war, no matter how much sorrow and hatred there seems to be, plants in a garden will continue growing. That’s something you can depend upon.”

The day that he’d met Emily, the day had seemed typical, as some of the most wonderful days in our lives do.

He had been shaken from his concentration in weeding the bed of carrots by the sound of a rattling engine pulling up out in front of the house next door to him. He looked up and saw that in the trailer of this truck was furniture, and immediately wondered who his new neighbors would be.

This question was soon answered when a man, a woman, and two young women emerged from the cab of the truck. The two girls, who he assumed were the daughters of the man, stared in awe at their house and commented upon how beautiful it was. At that moment, the elder of the two daughters looked over at Karl, and their eyes met for a second.

That was the beginning of their love story.

Karl got to know the elder daughter, who he learned was named Emily. They fell in love, sharing many romantic dates together, going to eat at restaurants, going to spend a day in the town, or sitting on the hillside and watching the sun set. Karl frequently brought roses to Emily, and together, they would admire the beauty of the flowers. A year and a half after they first met, they got married, which was the happiest day in either of their lives.

Their love story, while it was great, was not without many difficulties. Poverty and bad luck plagued them frequently, but Karl and Emily stuck together through it all, knowing they could make it through anything as long as they had each other. 28 years after they were married, they managed to immigrate to the United States. When the heard that there was a vacancy at the Singing Bird Apartment Complex, they rented the place, and the two of them were thrilled. They began their new life together here, and both of them were happier than ever before.

But now, after 25 years of living here, they would have to move. It made Karl Klaus sad to think that after all this time, they’d have to move. His wife wasn’t always sure of where they were, even after their lengthy stay here, and he hated the fact that she’d have to get used to a new place all over again. They had a comfortable life at the Singing Bird, and as they were both retired now, Mr. Klaus feared what the future would bring for him and his wife. They had picked out a small one-story house nearby, and when they could stay in the apartment complex no longer, they would move there. The move would be hard on Mrs. Klaus, but they had no choice in the matter, and therefore, Karl could only do all he could to make his wife comfortable.

Still, one memory pained him especially so. Upon moving into their apartment complex, Emily had said something which now filled him with sorrow:

This place is perfect!” She had looked so happy as she said those words. “I want to live here forever.”

Karl often thought about this statement, especially after he learned that they would be forced to move. Emily, dear Emily who didn’t even know where they were, would lose the little stability that still remained in her life. But, just as they’d discussed to many years ago, with their love, they could get through anything.

We’re at our apartment.” Karl told Emily gently, swinging his legs over the edge of his bed and grunting when his back pained him again.

Carefully, Mr. Klaus got up to go to the bathroom.

Where are you going?” Mrs. Klaus called softly.

To the bathroom. I’ve got to take a painkiller.” He replied.

He made it to the bathroom and filled the glass near the sink with water, reaching for the bottle of painkillers that sat on the counter. He poured two of the painkillers into his hand, tossed them into his mouth, and took a swig of water. In a short period of time, the painkillers would kick in, and Mr. Klaus would be able to go back to sleep.

At that moment, a scream shattered the peace of night.

He jumped. Had he been holding the bottle of pills, he would have dropped them. Adrenaline rushed through him, followed immediately by fear. Who had screamed? The scream had sounded awful, worse than any scream Karl had ever heard.

He rushed from the bathroom, heading back into his bedroom to comfort his wife, who undoubtedly would be be frightened by his sound.

Mrs. Klaus was nowhere to be seen, and the front door of his apartment was hanging wide open.

His breath caught in his throat.

What if it had been Mrs. Klaus who had screamed?

Mr. Klaus had been afraid many times in his life, but he’d never been more afraid than he was at this moment. He refused to think about the horrible possibility that Mrs. Klaus could have been harmed, and yet, some small part of his mind believed it could be true. Instead of thinking of this, he tried believing that perhaps Mrs. Klaus had screamed, but she was unharmed, or that the scream had come from someone else altogether.

Mr. Klaus rushed into the hallway, rushing barefoot down the hallways, searching frantically for his lost wife. She couldn’t walk that fast, but if she evaded him, she could go downstairs, leave the apartment, and go out into the street. Karl didn’t even want to think about what could happen to her if she got outside…

Emily!” He called. “Emily!”

He didn’t want to call too loudly and wake up the few remaining tenants, but he was desperate to find his wife. It took great effort to hide the fear in his voice, and despite his efforts, this fear was still audible.

What if he couldn’t find her? What if she’d been hurt?

He pushed these thoughts from his head and hurried down the hallway, not sure if it was the right way to go or not, but knowing that he had to do something. There was no time for hesitation. If he couldn’t find his wife on one of the lower floors, he would head back up and look on the topmost floors for her.

He walked as fast as he was able to, calling out to Emily, searching the halls. Every time he called out to her, he listened closely, but heard no response.

All of a sudden, Karl saw his wife emerging confusedly from a room that had been apparently left unlocked. When she saw him, her face lit up.

Emily!” He cried with relief.

She rushed into his arms, crying and repeating his name.

Are you okay?” He asked her.

She nodded.

Immediately, Karl wondered this: why had Emily been in this room?

He pushed these thoughts aside. Regardless of her reason, she was safe and she was with him again. That was all that mattered.

Did you scream?” He asked her.

She shook her head.

They’re coming for you.” She said softly, her eyes wide with fear.

Karl swallowed hard, still feeling the effects of the adrenaline coursing through his veins.

Let’s get you back home. I’ve got to call the police.”

Together, they headed back to the safety of their apartment.

In the darkness, Jenny Sampson made her way over towards the fire escape, walking her bike alongside of her. The night around her was silent, and the only sound she could hear was her own breathing and her footsteps upon the grass. Her bicycle tires squeaked a little as they spun slowly, and grass brushed against the spokes. The grass, which hadn’t been mowed in months, almost reached Jenny’s knees, and it tickled her skin as she walked through it. She still remembered how nice the landscaping had once been, when someone had actually cared about maintaining it. That was right after most of the residents moved out, leaving Jenny and only a handful of other people behind.

The night seemed so peaceful. Jenny remembered how beautiful the blades of grass had been when she’d walked across the ground early in the morning, the grass sparkling with dew in the sunrise. It was moments like this that filled her with a quiet sense of joy, and despite the stresses and poverty that she faced, she found joy in simple things like grass in the morning light. She admitted to herself that she was poor; living very much paycheck to paycheck, she had to do whatever she could do to get money for essentials like food and rent, and to be honest, she didn’t know where she was going to go when she was forced to leave. Jenny assumed that most of the other tenants would leave in the next week or so, but she would stay there as long as she possible could.

You could always go back home, Jenny reminded herself, although the thought made her cringe. She became angry that this thought even crossed her mind anymore, and yet the fact that she might have to go back home angered her even more. She had promised herself that she was never going to go back there, and if she went home because she had no place to live, her mother win.

Three years ago, Jenny had been eighteen years old. Certainly, she was wild, rebellious, and unruly, but her mother had always been unnecessarily harsh on her. This, and the fact that Jenny was certain she could make it on her own, influenced her to leave her house that evening.

The evening had been typical, at least for Jenny. She’d gotten off from work, came home, and got a bite to eat. She had eaten pizza, she remembered. Pizza with mushrooms and peppers. She’d sat down at the kitchen table with a slice of pizza and a diet soda, and her mother had entered the room.

How did work go?” Her mother asked.

Jenny’s work usually went well, but tonight, there was one difference. This decision was simultaneously one of Jenny’s greatest triumphs and greatest mistakes at the same time.

Jenny, swallowing the pizza she had in her mouth, had taken a deep breath. This was the moment she had been waiting for, and yet, she was dreading it. Her heart did a flip-flop and began pounding, and for a moment, Jenny had the urge to lie to her mother and tell her what she wanted to hear.

But she didn’t.

Work was okay.” She replied. “But today…today, I quit.”

The words hung in the air. Jenny, not wanting to see her mother’s expression, had looked down at her plate and put a few stray peppers back on top her pizza. The silence in the room was suddenly overwhelming. All she could hear was the constant sound of the clock on the kitchen wall ticking. This moment seemed to last forever, although the actual duration was only seconds.

What did you do?” Her mother screamed, her voice filled with rage.

Jenny suddenly lost some of the courage she’d had. Still, what had she expected the reaction would be? She knew her mother would hate this decision. After all, it had been her mother who got her the job at the fast food restaurant. Her mother had always been absolutely opposed to her dream of being a famous dancer, and if her mother couldn’t understand that before, she certainly wouldn’t understand that now.

Jenny replied to her mother,

I quit my job today. I don’t want to work at a fast food restaurant. I want to be a famous dancer. It occurred to me today that if I don’t work towards it now, I might never get to do it. I’ll be just like a lot of people, people who work soulless jobs just because they think they have to. I’ve decided I’m not going to do that.”

From that point on, Jenny’s mother started cursing, insulting her and telling her that she would never be successful. Jenny responded by insulting her mother, telling her that she didn’t know anything and she was too stupid to understand.

Jenny and her mother shouted and screamed at each other for some time, before Jenny finally made her mind up.

I can’t stand you! I’m leaving. I’m moving out, and I promise you that I’m never coming back.”

Her mother started laughing.

Sure, sure you are. You’ve got no job, almost no money – what are you even going to do?”

Jenny stormed off to her room, ignoring her mother and starting to pack her bags. Her mother entered her room and said,

Fine, leave if you want to. But I bet every penny in my bank account that someday, you’re going to have to come back here and live with me. You’re going to run out of money, you’re going to be homeless, and you’re going to come back begging for my forgiveness. And you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to laugh at you. I’m going to laugh and tell you that I was right and you were wrong.”

Jenny responded,

I would rather be homeless than live here with you again.”

She finished packing her bags, then got into her car and left. With the last money she had, she managed to rent an apartment in The Singing Bird Apartment Complex, and she’d lived there ever since. Three years later, her and her mother were still on bad terms with each other, although her mother called her every few weeks to find out how her daughter was doing. Jenny suspected that her mother only called to find out if she’d failed yet, and it always pleased her greatly to be able to say that she was doing fine, that she was becoming successful at dance, that she was doing what her mother said she could never do.

But the money she earned from dance wasn’t enough to provide the funds for a down payment on another place. The rent at her current apartment was inexpensive, and she was afraid that when she was forced to move out, she might really have to be homeless.

Jenny had never regretted her decision to quit her old job and follow her dreams, but now she was regretting some of the things she’d told her mother, like the fact that she’d rather be homeless than live with her. Because if she went back now, went back after all she’s said and promised, her mother would laugh at her. Her mother would be right, and Jenny would be wrong.

No matter what happened, she would have to find a way to make things work for herself. But she could never go back home. She could not let her mother win.

Jenny now began locking her bicycle to the metal of the fire escape, balancing the five pound bag of cat food on her leg as she did so.

Ever since the lock on her door had suddenly broken a week ago, the fire escape had been her means of getting into her apartment. While she understood it was risky to leave her fire escape window unlocked, she was unable to afford a locksmith, and therefore had to make the best of her situation. Besides, there was no point in fixing her lock when she would be moving in only two weeks.

Jenny was now trying to connect the bicycle lock. There was very little light around, the only illumination coming from the moonlight above. It was a full moon, luckily, but it was still almost too dim for her to correctly lock the bicycle up.

Why did she have to have so much trouble with locks?

Damn.” She cursed quietly, fumbling in the darkness.

She would have gone and bought the cat food earlier, had she not been teaching a ballet lesson that had gone on until until seven thirty and after that, had to practice at the studio for the upcoming ballet she would be dancing in. By the time she was finished, it was ten thirty at night. She then had to ride her bicycle back to her apartment, change clothing, and go out again to buy food for her cat.

The young blonde dancer finally was able to lock her bike up. When she was certain it was secured, she began climbing the fire escape ladders, carrying the cat food under one arm, and her bicycle helmet under the other.

Halfway up the stairs, she heard a muffled scream ringing from within the apartment complex.

She froze, her heart skipping a beat.

Her mind sprang to the conclusion that someone had just been killed. That had to be it. She was aware that she could be dramatic at times and assume the worst, but this time, she was sure she was right.

Jenny was paralyzed with fear, and felt like she was glued to where she stood. Many questions plagued her, and yet she wasn’t sure what was right to do. Should she go up or down the ladder? If she went up to her apartment, the attacker of whoever screamed could possibly be in her apartment. If she remained on the fire escape, she could still be harmed. What if the murderer climbed out onto the fire escape to get away? What if there were others on the ground, or on the fire escape?

She told herself not to be so dramatic, and tried to reason logically with herself that she was probably overreacting. The scream had sounded horrible, but perhaps it was all a joke. Maybe one of the tenants had played the sound effect through their speakers loud enough that she could hear it outside. Maybe someone had screamed, but it was only from surprise and now the person was smiling and laughing. Maybe she was just jumping to conclusions, expecting the worst when there was really nothing to worry about.

But what if there was a murderer? What if someone had really been killed? She had to act as though this was a possibility. The scream had sounded horrible, and she had goosebumps on her arms.

She suddenly realized how eerily quiet it was out here, and this made her feel even more frightened. It was like she was in a horror film or something, like at any moment, something horrible was going to happen.

Jenny decided to take her chances and get back to her apartment as quickly as possible. Scrambling quicker than before, she climbed onto the third landing of the fire escape and shoved her window open. She clambered in and locked the window behind her, heart pounding in her throat.

Swiftly, she made sure that all of her doors and windows were locked, then proceeded to call the police. Her hand was shaking as she dialed the number.

The phone rang through to the local emergency department.

911, what’s your emergency?” The dispatcher had asked.

Police.” Jenny said in a choked voice. “Someone just screamed in the apartment complex where I live. It sounded like someone was being killed.”

Travis Harrison had been outside, speaking to his beautiful girlfriend, whom he’d just been speaking to. This encounter left him feeling lighthearted and happy, the way he always felt after spending time with Hannah. He felt the same way after speaking to her on the phone, or receiving a text from her, but after actually spent time with her, this feeling was the strongest. It was an indescribable, warm, fuzzy feeling, a feeling that made him feel as though he was glowing.

Every time he spoke to Hannah, he loved her more and more. Just when he thought he loved her as much as anyone possibly could, he found himself falling even deeper and deeper in love. Often times, he hardly felt like it was real at all, and he couldn’t believe that something like this was really happening to him. As cheesy as it sounded, it was like their love was a fairy tale. Hannah often said this to him, in the moments when they were cuddling on Travis’ couch, watching television or a movie together. Travis’ arm would be around Hannah, and the two of them would be under the quilt Travis had bought at a garage sale when he was a teenager. The quilt was well worn and was dark blue with green stripes. Hannah loved the blanket. It was cozy, and she said that it reminded her of a hill by a lake.

Often times, in these special moments of theirs when they were just sitting there, talking to each other, it would occur to Travis, stronger than ever before, how much he loved Hannah. Apparently, it occurred to her too, as she frequently told him how much he meant to her.

Everything is so perfect right now, Travis. I wish we could stay in this moment forever, but if we did, I’d never get to see how much more I’ll love you tomorrow.”

When Hannah said things like that to Travis, he knew that he had found his true love. To him, true love had always been a figment of fiction, but after he met Hannah, everything changed. He now knew it was true.

He’d met Hannah at a party three years ago, when both of them were only twenty-two. She’d been dancing alone off to the side, smiling and glowing under the dim lighting of the club. Travis had watched her from across the room, enthralled by her beauty and the glow of joy that seemed to surround her. When he saw her face, something he’d never felt before came over him, and he started to believe that love at first sight was real.

Travis had approached Hannah, excited and nervous at the same time. The fear of rejection haunted him as he walked across the floor. But when he approached her, she spoke first and introduced herself to him.

The two of them had then proceeded to flirt. Both of them were equally attracted to the other, and Travis’ soul soared when he realized this. All fear of rejection was now gone, and by the end of the night, the two of them had made plans to go out to the movies the next night.

There was and always had been a certain rebelliousness in their relationship, something that made everything they did seem even more romantic. Hannah’s parents didn’t approve of Travis. In their opinion, he was just a poor mechanic with big dreams. Travis wanted nothing more than to own his own mechanic shop, and to Hannah’s practical nine-to-five parents who believed in conformity, this didn’t seem like a reliable thing to believe in.

But Hannah believed in it. She believed in Travis with all of her heart, a heart which was filled with utter affection for the kind and gentle Travis. Although Travis was tall, broad, and muscular, he was the type of person who always stood up for those weaker than him, and he used his strength to help others. Others found him intimidating, something which had once bothered Travis. He sometimes seemed unapproachable due to his size, and this made him feel self conscious. Eventually, he came to terms with the fact that he would always look intimidating, and soon learned that this fact could be used to help others. Once, Travis had been heading back to his apartment late at night, and he’d seen some men laughing and dangling a tiny, helpless kitten in front of their giant dog’s snapping jaws. Without hesitation, Travis had approached the men and ordered they give him the kitten immediately, standing up as tall as he could, his hands formed into fists. When the men saw the menacing look on Travis’ face and realized that if they didn’t comply, it could be very painful for them, they handed the kitten to Travis and hurried off.

The tiny kitten had mewed in Travis’ broad hands, and he was in awe of this tiny, fragile creature. How could anyone want to harm something so innocent as a kitten?

That was the time when Travis truly realized that he was very lucky to have been built as tall and strong as he was. Had he been shorter and less intimidating, he would have been no match for the group of men who’d been tormenting the kitten. Thanks to his size, he was able to save the kitten’s life.

Travis was allergic to cats and couldn’t keep it himself, so he decided to give it to Hannah. That night, the kitten stayed with Travis, and the next day, he went over to Hannah’s apartment. For the past several months, Hannah had been talking about how she wanted to get a second cat, so the kitten was the perfect gift for her.

When he’d showed up at her doorstep, he said,

This is for you.”

Her eyes lit up and she exclaimed happily,

Aw! It’s so adorable! Thank you so much!”

Travis had handed her the kitten, and the kitten began purring when Hannah scratched the tiny black and white bundle of fur behind its ears.

When Travis told her the story about how he’d got the kitten, Hannah fell even deeper in love with Travis than she already had. After that, Hannah had told him that the cat was a female, and that she was going to name her Buttons. Hannah nursed the cat back to health and cared for Buttons ever since.

Now, Travis stood and watched Hannah get back into her car. As she drove off, they waved at each other, and when she was out of sight, Travis went back inside.

He climbed the stairs slowly, but with a bounce in his step. He couldn’t wipe the grin from his face as he walked. Someday soon, he was going to ask Hannah to marry him. He knew she loved him just as much as he loved her, and was sure she’d say yes to his proposal. She was the one for him, he was sure of it, and the very thought of marrying her made his heart flutter.

He was on the second floor when he heard it.

A long, drawn out scream filled the air.

It was the most horrible scream that Travis had ever heard.

Travis froze. Immediately concerned for whoever had screamed, he rushed forward. Mentally calculating that the scream had rushed to the fifth floor, he ran past his own apartment on the fourth and up the stairs. His hands were clenched in fists, prepared to take on any assailant and help whoever was in trouble. If there was someone in danger, there was a good chance that he was the only person in the entire building who could, and more importantly would help them.

When he reached the fifth floor, he found nothing. He didn’t know whether he was frightened or relieved by this fact. If there was nothing here, perhaps nothing bad had happened, but if someone had injured someone, they could be anywhere. This murder could have happened in any of the apartments here. Someone could have broken into one of the apartments and murdered someone. They could be lying there, dying, at this very moment, and if Travis could find them, there was a chance that they might survive.

He had to find whoever had screamed. Taking little regard for his own safety, he searched through the hallways, focusing only on saving whoever had been harmed.

No matter how much he searched, he could find nothing conclusive. The place was utterly silent. There was nothing around, no sign that anything sinister had occurred.

But despite the false calmness of the scene, Travis knew what he’d heard, and he knew that something was wrong.

With that, he hurried back to his apartment, dialing 911 as he did so.

Nina Wentz, who lived in apartment #114, was flaming mad. In fact, she’d never been more angry in her life, which was saying something. Her husband – that good for nothing loser who she still lived with for some reason – clearly was cheating on her. Again. It had happened before, quite a while ago, and she’d forgiven him then. Why she’d done so, she still had no idea. She never should have given him a second chance. She should have divorced him right then and there. She should have said she didn’t believe him when he lied that he would never be unfaithful again. Her husband wasn’t known for being honest. So why had she believed his promise? Maybe it was because he looked so honest as he got down on his knees and vowed he’d never cheat again. Maybe it was because she couldn’t be bothered to make the effort to divorce him yet. Maybe, for some unknown reason, she’d thought he actually deserved a second chance.

Either way, she certainly wasn’t going to forgive him again. She had forgiven him one too many times. This really was it. Their relationship – and even that was too respectful a term for it – was really and truly over. Right now, he was most likely drunk and making out with some random chick he’d just met at the bar, or worse.

She hated him.

Flinging her belongings into her suitcase, she rushed around the apartment, making sure to get everything that she needed. As she packed, she cursed to herself, spewing off every expletive she could think of. When she had ran out of curse words, she began combining them and forming new ones.

Nina never wanted to see Don after she left him tonight, except when she brought the divorce papers to him so he could add his signature. Maybe she could just mail the papers to him. That would probably be more effective. At least she wouldn’t have to see his stupid, worthless, loser face again.

She shook her head and sighed as she shoved her makeup bag in amongst her belongings. Why did she always fall for the wrong men? She’d fallen in love with several others like Don before, and each time she vowed she wouldn’t do it again. She’d meet a man at a party, or through a friend, or by some other means. The man would seem nice enough – he’d put on an act and pretend that he was caring yet strong, the qualities that Nina liked best in a man. She would believe this act, believe his false tokens of affection, believe him when he said that he really liked her, liked her more than any other woman he’d ever met. She’d believe him when he brought her roses and said that she was the best thing in his life. And yet, sooner or later, this veil of falsity would shatter, and Nina would see the true man behind the veil. Sometimes, he’d do so by cheating on her, other times, she would be the one to realize that he didn’t truly care about her.

When she met Don, she thought everything would be different. She thought that she’d finally found someone who would be loyal to her, someone she could always trust and depend upon. He’d seemed so caring when she’d met him, and he’d once discussed with her how much it angered him when his friends cheated on their girls. Nina had believed him.

Upon thinking this, she began cursing again as she packed. Why had she been so stupid? Although she was angry, she couldn’t entirely blame the situation on Don. She’d fallen for him. She’d believed him.

She knew enough now that she promised herself she would never make this mistake again. She would not fall for the wrong type of man. She would scrutinize everything he said and did, searching for hidden motives. Only when he’d proven himself worthy would she agree to even date them.

While that sounded like a good plan, even Nina knew it wasn’t quite foolproof. She was aware that she was likely to fall for a similar type of man again. After all, she had made this promise to herself before. She’d made it to herself just a few weeks before she met Don. She had promised she would never do it again, and yet, she did.

The main problem was the fact that it was so difficult to tell the true personality of someone. Don and her had been married less than a year ago, and Nina had thought she was in love. She thought she’d found “the one”.

But no. She hadn’t. Don hadn’t been that knight in shining armor, that true love that she’d dreamed about finding. She’d thought that he was different. She thought that he was the one she’d always been looking for. But in the end, after all this time, she was finally able to see who he really was, and who he’d always been. Don was just another one of those men who drew her in with a smile and then showed her that they never cared for her at all.

She hated him. She couldn’t stand even thinking of him.

Well, at least her parents would be happy now. They always thought that she should settle down with some nice, well mannered man, not the strong, slightly wild type that Nina adored. Maybe that’s what she’d do now. Maybe she’d find a nice, down to earth man, the type even bordering on boring, and fall in love with him. The type of man who hated parties and would rather sit around at home reading or watching television than go out in the evening. Maybe a man like this would be the perfect match for her. As that old phrase went, maybe opposites would attract.

Nina tried thinking about how her parents would respond when she told them she’d left Don. They were the kind of parents who would congratulate her decision, and although they’d always hated Don, they would not say that they told her so.

That’s where she was going tonight. To her parents’ house. When she’d married Don, right before they got into the car and headed off for their honeymoon, Nina’s mother had whispered to her,

If he ever gives you any trouble, if you ever want to leave him – our front door and your old bedroom will always be open.”

Nina had thanked her mother, but informed her that she didn’t think that would be necessary. She was in love with Don, totally and completely in love. What could go wrong?

Now, thinking back on this moment, Nina was incredibly thankful that her parents had told her she could come back any time she wanted to. Some people’s parents would have been opposed to their children coming back, particularly if they’d made a mistake like Nina had. Some of them would say that they always knew this was going to happen, but Nina was happy her family was different. They would be angry at Don right along with her, and she could stay with them until she found another place to live. It wasn’t like she was going to be living in this apartment complex much longer. Someone was going to tear it down to build a factory on it. Nina hadn’t cared about that fact weeks ago when she’d learned this, and she cared even less about it now.

At this moment, she heard a scream. Thinking little of it, she continued filling her suitcase. It was probably just some teens messing around or trying to scare each other in the empty and sinister looking hallways of the apartment. When she was a teenager, her and her friends had done a lot of stupid things like that. They would go to a cemetery or somewhere else eerie in the middle of the night, hide behind stuff, and jump out to scare each other. Regardless of why the person who’d screamed had done so, Nina was too angry to care.

All she cared about was getting as far away her pathetic excuse for a husband as soon as she could.

Henry Jackson’s whole body hurt. He ached deep down inside, from his head to his toes. But the worst pain in his body resided in his mind. After all that had happened to him in the past few days, he didn’t want to think. He just wanted to drown it all out, to forget about it. Everything was just so painful.

Earlier that evening, his beloved girlfriend, Wanda Richards, had broken up with him.

He thought they’d had something going. He had really thought that she’d be the one, the one that he’d marry. He loved her more than he’d ever loved anyone in his whole life. She was beautiful and special, the most wonderful person he’d ever known.

In his mind, he was making a list of all the little things he had loved about Wanda. Her eyes sparkled so beautifully when she was happy. She had the prettiest laugh in the world; it sounded like music. She could be gentle when she needed to be, and she could be strong when she wanted to. She always wore the same color of beige eye shadow, which she started doing after Henry complimented her upon how beautiful she looked wearing it. Blue was her favorite color, and when she wore he blue dress with sequins, she looked like a movie star. She had made him feel important, she’d made him feel loved.

And now, all of this was gone. Gone forever. All his hopes, all his dreams, all the love they had, just gone. Gone like a wisp of smoke in the air. It had always seemed like Wanda had loved him back, but now he couldn’t stop asking himself this: had there ever been anything between them at all? When they spent quiet moments sitting next to each other on the sofa, or snuggled next to each other in bed after she spent the night over, Henry had felt like she’d loved him as much as he loved her. He felt like she’d cared. She acted like she cared, and if actions really did speak louder than words, then how could he have been so wrong? Had she ever loved him, or had she merely found it amusing to play with his heart like a cat plays with a toy on a string?

He didn’t know. And, to be honest, her reason didn’t matter, not at the moment. She was the girl he’d planned on marrying, and just days ago, that idea had seemed so real.

He could see all of it in his head. He could picture himself holding her hand and walking down the aisle with her, could see them buying a house together and raising a family. He could picture how she would have looked, how she would have glowed with happiness, when he asked her to marry him. He could see this all perfectly in his mind, as vividly as though it had already happened, and yet it never had, and never would.

Now, rather than thinking about how happy they would be together, as he had done most nights recently, a different image played over and over again in his head. It was the image of Wanda softly saying,

It’s over, Henry. I’ve got someone else – someone that I love – who wants to propose to me tonight. It’s time we both moved on.”

His mind ached with the pain of it all. How could there have possibly been anyone that she loved more than she loved him? Henry knew that Wanda had other boyfriends before him; sometimes, she’d bring them up and say how she loved Henry more than she’d loved any of them. Henry also knew that Wanda had been in love before. This fact didn’t bother him; he had been in love before too, but never as deeply as he’d been in love with Wanda.

But who could Wanda have loved more than him? Hadn’t she repeatedly told him that no one she’d ever dated was as kind or as wonderful as he was. Hadn’t she repeatedly listed off all the faults with everyone else she’d ever dated before? Hadn’t she said that none of them could compare to him. Why had she suddenly decided that she didn’t love him anymore?

Flipping through the channels on his television, he became more agitated with the realization that nearly all of them had something to do with romance, the last thing he wanted to think about at the time.

How could Wanda have let him get his hopes up? Hadn’t they spoken about spending the rest of their lives together? Hadn’t she assured him that she’d always love him? Still, more importantly, hadn’t she shown him, over and over again, how much he meant to her?

And yet, her words hadn’t stopped her from doing what she’d done. Her words and her actions apparently meant nothing to her.

But they meant something to Henry. They meant heartbreak and pain. They meant having his whole life, having all his plans and dreams and hopes, shattered right before his very eyes. Those words meant sleepless nights, anguish deeper than any he’d ever felt before, they meant not knowing what to do anymore.

All Henry wanted to do was hide.

He continued flipping though the channels angrily, eventually finding a reality show . He turned up the volume all the way, as if this was the only way he could drown out his pain. Even this wasn’t very loud, as his television was small and old, and the speakers were microscopic. The television wasn’t loud enough to drown out his thoughts, but it was better than silence.

Henry sat like that for a while, his mind numb and replaying through each memory he made with Wanda. He kept picturing what could have been, what would have been if only he hadn’t been so stupid, if only he hadn’t made mistakes.

There were so many things he could have done differently. There were so many times that he could have texted a good morning to Wanda, or could have called her on the phone just to say hello. Why hadn’t he brought her flowers more often? Why hadn’t he kissed her more frequently, told her that he loved her, asked her to marry him sooner?

This was all his fault. All his fault.

How long had Wanda been speaking to this ex-boyfriend of hers? Had she loved this other man for weeks or even months before she finally broke up with Henry? Had all her words of love been lies? Had she ever loved Henry at all?

Furthermore, what did this other man have that Henry didn’t have?

Henry was anything but rich, but this fact had never bothered Wanda before. She had told him this much before, that how much money someone had was nothing in comparison to who they were. One day in particular, when Henry had been feeling especially bad about not having enough money to take Wanda to fancy restaurants, she had said to him,

That’s okay, Henry. There’s nothing wrong with not having a whole lot of money. In fact, I’d rather be with someone who was poor, and who was kind to me and cared, than be with someone who was rich and didn’t. You may not have a lot of money, but you have a lot of love for me, and that’s much more important.”

After that day, Henry had rarely felt bad about being poor. He’d rarely felt the shame of the fact that he worked part time at a fast food restaurant.

Until now.

Because now, he had to question whether this man that she had left him for was rich or not. If so, did words really mean that little to her? Had she suddenly changed her mind and decided that she didn’t care about Henry any longer, that marrying someone with a lot of money was actually very important?

Henry was only interrupted from these reveries when the police pounded loudly on the door, demanding that he opened it.

Fear filling him, he made his way across his messy apartment, his mind still a blank shock from all that had happened, and all that was happening now.

When he answered the door, he saw several police officers standing out there and asked,

Is there a problem, officers?”

One of the officers replied,

Many residents here have heard a scream. Did you hear it?”

No.” Henry said. “I didn’t.”

Francis Quinn sat inside his apartment, listening to a meditation CD and sitting in the middle of the floor, calming his mind. This was something he did almost every night, but tonight, there was a difference. Tonight, he was filled with fear, filled with the sorrow of his mistake.

Breathe out, breathe in.

Breathe out, breathe in.

His mantra. The only thing which would calm him. He focused only on his breathing and the slow beating of his heart, losing himself in the calmness surrounding him. It was all coming back, all coming back to him, and it was horrible. He couldn’t stand the thought of it. He couldn’t stand the thought of what he did.

Breathe out, breathe in.

He tried repeating this, tried blocking out the images and sounds that filled his mind. He tried ignoring the memories, tried to shut it all out with those four words, but he could not. The memories were too loud tonight to do this.

How could he have made such an awful mistake? His heart was still pounding, and despite his attempts to calm it, his heart wasn’t obeying and continued racing.

And at this moment, he desperately needed to calm down.

Finally, his heartbeat began slowing once more, and Francis felt the familiar feeling of calm that overtook him when he meditated. The world around him faded away, disappearing, and instead of the fear he usually felt inside him, her felt only utter peace.

Meditation had helped him so many times before. He’d started meditating when he was a teenager, as a girl that he liked meditated, and he thought that if he did so too, he could impress her. It turned out that she was already dating someone, but Francis still found himself meditating even after he lost all hope of impressing the girl. Meditation had been the one certain thing in his difficult adolescent years. Francis had never been a very brave person. In fact, a good portion of the time, he was terrified of something or another, whether it was gaining the approval of his superiors, or whether or not he would fail at something. When his anxiety became especially bad, he would meditate. That was the only way he could break through his fears. Even just a few minutes of sitting somewhere, silent and focusing on his breathing, eyes closed, was enough to reset his level of fear, allowing him to feel somewhat brave for a short period of time afterwards.

And on nights like tonight, meditation was essential.

Breathe out, breathe in.

Breathe out, breathe in.

His silence was shattered.

A scream pierced though the air, destroying Francis’ silence.

Everything froze, and his heartbeat raced once more.

Francis wailed something incomprehensible and flung himself to the ground, sobbing and screaming. His sobs were so violent that his body shook and heaved, and the tears poured down his cheeks.

It all came rushing back to him. Every single thing. His mind was reeling, and the images filled his head once more. It was anguish. It was pure torture. The pain filled him as acutely as it had before. The pain. The pain worse than any physical pain could ever be.

His breath caught in his throat. Feeling as though his world were crashing around, he could do nothing but sit there, immobilized by his fear. Francis’ heart pounded wildly in his chest, and he was sure he was going to die.

Several minutes later, he regained his composure somewhat, and when he thought about the scream, it occurred to him that he should call the police. His hands shaking terribly, he managed to coherently call the police, explaining to them what he had heard. When he hung up, he broke down once more and began saying the incomprehensible words to himself once more.

It was all happening.

It was all happening again.

Within ten minutes of the scream, the police showed up. The lights from the three police cars danced across Ms. Waters’ kitchen, reflecting in the shining painted wood of her cupboards.

Ms. Waters stood up, relief filling her, although she was still shaking violently. She heard the police enter the apartment complex’s front door. Knowing that she’d be safe now, she fled from her apartment, making a beeline for the front hallway, where the police were standing. After briefly explaining what she’d heard to them, an officer remained downstairs to check her apartment for intruders.

The remaining five police officers walked up the creaking stairs slowly as they checked in each vacant apartment room using the keys Ms. Waters had given them. Ms. Waters had said she estimated the scream came from the fourth or fifth floor, the floors where all but one of the residents lived.

While three of the officers checked the empty rooms on the forth and fifth floors, the other two went and knocked on the apartment doors to speak to the residents. All except one resident admitted to hearing the scream.

The vacant apartments contained no evidence of violence or struggle.

The only exception to this was Apartment #90, where the officers found a small pool of fresh blood.

That was when they called in Detective Davies.


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