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Snap

I live alone and I like it that way. My apartment isn’t anything special. I can’t afford grandeur, but I have this loveseat that’s a soft green velvet, and every Sunday I let myself buy a more expensive fifteen dollar bottle of wine. I like to think I’m okay with the life I’ve built so far.


My apartment is a rent-controlled studio on the west side of Chicago. My neighborhood isn’t very safe, but I’ve never been afraid. I can walk from the front door to the window at the opposite side of the room in ten paces, so I really don’t have room for the green velvet loveseat. But I’m not willing to get rid of it. I found it on the curb one day a few months ago, back when it was covered in a scratchy brown fabric that smelled like cat pee.


It took me two hours to push it all the way home by myself without damaging it. My whole body hurt and I was exhausted when I finally got home, but I knew it would be worth it. I had watched a bunch of YouTube videos about restoring furniture. It didn’t turn out exactly the way it looked in the video and I ended up losing the fingernail on my index finger, but I still think it’s perfect.


The green velvet loveseat sits smushed against the wall next to my bookshelf, which is actually just two milk crates stacked on top of each other. I snagged those from the alley behind the grocery store three blocks over. I used to just stack my paperbacks straight on the floor, so I feel like this is an improvement.


Plants hang from the ceiling near the windows, which don’t bring in much light because they look out into an alleyway. I chose plants—a cast iron, a snake plant, and a monstera—that didn’t need a lot of light for this reason, and now all the leaves are this bright healthy green. It brings a lot of color into the place, which reminds me of the park near the house I grew up in. I used to spend a lot of time hiding there when I was waiting for my father to leave the house for the day.


I used to have a roommate. Her name was Lucky, or at least that’s what she called herself. Her hair was long and curly, and her nails were always painted black. She was beautiful. When she moved into the apartment a year ago, it was just my name on the lease. I preferred living alone and having complete control over my own space, but my landlord was getting antsy about the backrent that was starting to pile up. I needed help with the rent. We did our best to turn it into a flex one-bedroom. Lucky hung up this dirty shower curtain on the hooks where the plants are now, and my bedroom was just the size of my mattress.


The last time I saw her was eight months ago. I don’t know what happened. I tried to call her a few times, but it went straight to voicemail, and after a month the number had been disconnected. Against my better judgment, I went to the police. The officer listened at first, taking down notes in a notepad. Then it had gone south.


“You don’t know your roommate’s legal first name?” he asked, and my face got hot.


“She never told me,” I insisted. “She just went by Lucky.”


The officer nodded, but his lips were pressed into a thin line. It didn’t seem to be going well.


“Do you know where she worked?” he continued. “Did she have a boyfriend? Anyone you think might want to wish her harm?”


“I’m pretty sure she was a sex worker,” I explained. I was completely sure she was a sex worker. She told me when she moved in.


“Ah,” he said. His whole demeanor changed as he sat back in his chair. It was at that point I knew the Chicago PD weren’t going to be any help. This was not a surprise.


“What did you say your name was again?” the officer asked, and his hands hovered above his keyboard to type my name into their system. I ended our conversation.


It’s summer now. Today marks eight months since Lucky last left the apartment. The police haven’t tried to reach out, and I doubt they’re putting the full might of the force into looking for her.


Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only person in the world who remembers that Lucky existed. It took me two weeks to take down the shower curtain around my bed. I started taking clippings of plants I passed on my way to my job at the diner, and they started growing quickly. Lucky’s mattress was replaced by the green velvet loveseat a month or so after that, and after a while, it was like Lucky had never been there at all.


I would never tell anyone this—not that I have anyone to tell—but I think that Lucky got mixed up with something bad. I think that Lucky is probably dead, and maybe years from now her body will wash up somewhere after a storm, or some dog will dig it up in the park. I’ll have to be the person to identify her, even though she’ll be rotted and decayed and unrecognizable. The Chicago PD will bring me in and I will tell them that yes, this is my missing roommate, and the officer I spoke to will be forced to admit that I was right.


Until then, though, I’m keeping my head down. I don’t want any trouble.


My landlord is a greasy looking man named Joel. I’ve never seen him smile, and whenever we’re forced into each other’s company, he won’t look me in the eye. I’m back to paying the full rent, which is getting harder every month, and I think he’ll confront me about my late payments soon. I’ve started sleeping with this old aluminum bat under my bed, just in case he decides to show up when I’ve got my guard down. I don’t think I could ever hit someone if it came down to it, but it makes me feel better to know it’s there.


Sometimes I wonder if I should be doing more to help find Lucky. It only took me two months to erase her existence from my apartment, and I wonder if I should feel bad about that. I think about if it makes me a bad person to like living alone as much as I do, or if everyone would feel the same way in my position.


As I sit on my loveseat sipping from my Sunday bottle of wine, I think that there must be something wrong with me. A normal person might have tried to get to know the individual they were living with, or at least know their real name. A normal person would have followed up with the police officer, and maybe even looked for clues herself.


A normal person would have cared.


I know that. I know there’s something that’s not quite right in the way my brain works, a cog in my mind’s machine that’s just a bit stuck. My father knew it too, I think, before everything changed.


It was around the time my father disappeared that I started seeing things. I knew it wasn’t normal, even then, so I kept it to myself so I wouldn’t get into more trouble than I already was. All of a sudden there were people following me home, waiting for me outside of school. I heard their voices in my head, loud and talking over each other, begging me for help. No one else seemed to see them, and they didn’t try to speak to anyone except for me. I got good, quickly, at acting like I was just the same as everyone else.


I’ve never told anyone that before. Lucky never knew because we didn’t talk about anything important, nothing beyond how much it drove me crazy when she slammed the door coming into the apartment and could she possibly stop buying groceries with such pungent odors because it made the entire apartment smell bad.


I don’t know why Lucky is on my mind today when I’ve hardly spared her a thought since I went to file the police report. Eight months isn’t a significant anniversary when it comes to missing persons. I know from all the true crime documentaries that Lucky used to blast from her laptop when I was trying to sleep that the most crucial first 48 hours are long past.


The first time I hear it, I’m not sure if I’m still dreaming. It’s early enough in the morning that the sky is dark, and there’s still a few more hours before my alarm.


When I do eventually notice it, blinking sleep out of my eyes, I freeze. I hold my breath and cock my head towards where I think it’s coming from, and stare at the wall that separates my apartment from the one next door.


It’s a scratching noise, long and continuous, and I feel a chill go down my spine.


The walls between the apartments have always been thin, and the couple next door used to have loud and angry fights that lasted long into the night. I had taken to wearing earplugs on the nights before I had a morning shift at the diner, but Lucky used to sit up in bed and stare at the wall until it stopped.


“Do you think it ever gets violent?” I asked one night. It was one of the few times we’d ever talked about other people together, and I felt like I was doing something wrong even voicing the thought aloud.


Lucky had an unreadable expression on her face that I could only just see in the darkness of the apartment. “If it ever does, I’m going over there.”


I shook my head. “You’ll get hurt.”


“It doesn’t matter,” Lucky said. She was still looking at the wall. “I’m going over there.”


It never did get violent, at least as far as I could tell, and the couple moved out a month later. I never spoke to them, didn’t know their names or if they moved somewhere else or if they broke up. I’d never discussed it with Lucky again.


The apartment has stood vacant since then. Our building wasn’t in a good neighborhood and I often thought it should be condemned by the city, but it’s still an anomaly to be on the market for this long, especially when Joel had a knack for finding the most desperate tenants to fill each of his units.


Lucky went missing at around the same time the couple moved out. The quiet between both my apartment and the one next door was something that I’d gotten used to quickly. Once, a few months ago, I’d gone next door just to check it out. I had heard Joel complaining on the phone about a terrible smell in the unit that he couldn’t get rid of, which was why no one would move in. I couldn’t smell anything. I was curious, and the lock on the door wasn’t anything I couldn’t crack with a bobby pin.


It was a normal one bedroom. There wasn’t anything remarkable about it. It was completely empty and clean, save for the typical marks on the walls and this dark stain in the middle of the floor. I brought over an extra topsheet that had belonged to Lucky to cover it, and the floor looked good as new. I still couldn’t smell the odor that Joel was talking about. Everything seemed normal to me.


But now this scratching. I still lay frozen in my bed, now painfully awake.


It sounds like fingernails moving back and forth against the drywall. It’s familiar but not quite the same, this scratching that’s followed me throughout my life. It started when I was little, and none of my foster parents had believed me when I went to them crying in the middle of the night. I used to lay in bed just as scared as I am now.


They sound like human fingernails. Acrylics, long and pointed. I’m not sure how I know, but as I continue to listen, the mental image of these acrylic nails against the wall is so strong and clear that I feel it must be true.


Eyes glued to the wall, I’m struck with the memory of something long forgotten from when I was a teenager. After my father disappeared, I was convinced that I was being watched by something just out of my line of sight, breathing down the back of my neck. It always felt angry, and for a while I carried a small pocketknife in my pocket in case whatever it was decided to come for me.


This noise, this thing, holds a different kind of anger. Before it was white hot and violent, pulsing. This is steady and confident, sure of itself. It’s getting louder and louder until I think that it must be close to breaking through the drywall, and I am terrified.


And then it stops. All at once, the apartment is thrust into silence once more save for the pounding of my heart. The sun is beginning to rise on the other side of the window. Light is starting to creep in.


I let myself breathe.


This goes on every day for the next week, and by the seventh day I’m exhausted. I’m barely sleeping, flinch at every noise in the apartment, and my manager says I need to get it together or he’ll start cutting my shifts. I know he’s been looking for a reason to get rid of me because he thinks I’m weird. I can’t afford to lose this job.


I decide to act. When the scratching at my wall starts for the seventh time, I’m already sitting up in bed. The dented aluminum baseball bat sits in my lap, my hands shaking as they clutch the handle.


The scratching sounds like it’s been getting closer over the past few days. It’s louder, too, becoming more and more clear. My hope that it’s only a trapped animal has vanished. I’m sure that I’m dealing with something a bit more sinister. Something human, like before.


“Is someone there?” I ask quietly. I have always been non confrontational by nature, and this small act of defiance makes my teeth chatter.


There’s no response, but for a moment, the scratching pauses. I grip my bat tighter, staring into a darkness that doesn’t seem to hold any answers.


I jump when the scratching resumes behind my bed, and the bat goes clattering to the ground. I’m shaking so badly that I don’t know that it would have made much of a difference anyway. Slowly, holding my breath once more, I turn my head to the side. I’m not brave enough to turn all the way around.


“I know who you are,” I state with a bravado I don’t feel. I don’t know anything, actually, I have no idea what this thing in my walls is or what it wants.


The sun starts to rise, and all at once, the scratching stops its torment of me for the night. I collapse against my pillows and squeeze my eyes shut against the tears that are forming. I know that I will not be getting sleep tonight, and instead my mind begins to wander. I spent my entire childhood afraid. My fear consumed my every waking moment, from the sound of keys in the front door to my father’s breath in my face. Entire pockets of my life before this apartment are lost to me, hidden in my mind and inaccessible. The doctor used to say it was due to trauma. A defense mechanism.


It’s the first time in a long time that I allow myself to remember this. Usually, I try to keep this angry presence from my childhood locked in a compartment of my mind that I refuse to access. It’s easier this way. It lets me pretend like I can be someone else, someone better.


There’s something about this scratching that reminds me of the first haunting I experienced all those years ago, and this is why I am afraid. I know it’s a matter of days before it all comes to a head and whatever is hiding in my walls will make its presence known.


I know this because I’ve seen it before. My father had not done anything quietly, even in death.


It can’t be him, though, not now. The anger is different, the presence in my apartment not as heavy, and I feel that I would know his rage anywhere. This is something new. The unknown is what scares me the most.


Eventually my alarm goes off and I’m forced to greet the day. I stumble through my morning routine in a haze, burning my mouth on my coffee and dripping toothpaste all over my uniform before I’m out the door. I can feel my manager’s disapproving stare throughout my shift, and I know the customers are noticing my odd behavior because I hardly make any tips. I can’t bring myself to care.


There is a clock counting down in my mind that leads me to my fate. I don’t know what will be waiting for me in my apartment tonight, but I do know that it’s pointless for me to try and stop it. I return home that evening and continue to go through the motions. I shower, change into my sweats, heat up the leftovers I stole off one of the cooks as I was leaving work. The food is tasteless in my mouth. I stare at the wall behind my bed.


Just before the sun begins to rise, the scratching returns, the loudest it’s ever been. It moves from the wall behind my head down to the floor, and it takes everything I have in me not to look down. This time, I am afraid because I know. It’s all catching up with me, again. Just like last time.


“I know who you are,” I say again, and my voice cracks.


Somewhere in the hours I’ve spent paralyzed in my bed the thought came to me, a memory escaped from its locked compartment. I can’t wrestle it back in no matter how hard I try.


“I know you,” I repeat. The scratching stops, and then there’s a weight pressing down on the blankets at the edge of my bed, moving closer, and I know what’s coming. I can’t breathe.


“Are you sorry?” the voice is familiar whispering in my ear. I shiver. She is beautiful, even in death, even if I can’t see her. I swallow, shut my eyes.


“No,” I respond. “No, I love living alone.”


 

Katie Moats

Katie Moats likes to write about relationships that just don’t work. She has a BA in English from Penn State and an M.Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin, and when she’s not writing, she likes to travel and cheer on her favorite sports teams. Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Katie is currently trying to figure out where she’ll put down roots next.

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