It was a sad, uneventful Saturday night. I was supposed to be out of the flat by seven, but my friend decided last minute that she had better company to keep than my own. I’d had speculations that there was a new boy involved, so I wrote it off as a onetime thing and let her get on with it without a second thought. Instead I fed myself and my cat, Ludwig, some leftover chicken from the day before, and fell asleep on the couch to some serial killer documentary from the 90’s – something about rope, a plastic bag…Texas…
…I woke up just before midnight to a dull pounding and Ludwig scratching at the door. The sun had been set for a while, leaving the room choked of light. If it wasn’t for the television, I would have been in complete darkness. Instead, all I saw were silent images of a rumpled, bearded man sat in a jail cell – probably another documentary on one of America’s many murdering psychopaths. Nothing like some light entertainment before bed time, I remember thinking to myself as I wondered why the television was muted.
I composed myself, switched off the television, and opened the door to the hall. This was when I realised that the banging I heard was coming from the kids downstars because from here I also heard their erratic, drunken wailing that shadowed it. The ceiling was practically rattling as I entered my room, so I closed the door tight in an attempt to isolate some of the noise. Their brazen voices I could still slightly hear (no thanks to the paper-thin walls of the apartment) but the banging was muffled almost to the point of not existing. I opened the window slightly to let the cool midnight breeze pour in from outside, stripped down to nakedness, and embraced my welcoming bed for what I hoped would be a good night’s rest.
I wasn’t even half asleep when the banging returned. This time they were like footsteps, sporadic frolicking of tipsy twenty-something year olds bored of the inside world. I stared irritably at the blank wall in front of me and waited as the din of the typical Friday night march down to the town ran its course. After one harsh slam of a door, there was silence. I waited, and still there was silence. Eventually, my body could relax knowing that the next noise to disturb me would be of soft Sunday morning traffic or the chipper calls of a songbird. And then, just as my head was sinking into the pillow, the entire room seemed to jolt and shudder as the desperate sound of running made its way across the entire building from above.
I should have been mad, but the pace they seemed to be going was almost unnatural, I was more confused than anything else. Was someone left behind? Had someone woken up in a bathtub and realised their friends were missing? Then my mind turned to more dark thoughts as I recalled details of that documentary I’d been listening to in my half-awake state: victims kept prisoner in their killer’s home before being found dead on the streets months later. I imagined a rakish young woman running for her life down the corridors barefoot, her gaunt legs barely supporting her diminished body, a torn grey shirt hiding her skeletal chest and bruised skin. I blinked away the grim thoughts, cursing my over imaginative mind for creating such saddening ideas. Besides, someone in that situation would surely be screaming for help. I allowed logic to prevail in this fictional game of ‘what if’ and shut my eyes again.
Not a minute had passed before that same intense running made its way across the hall, yet this time it came from the other side and finished where it had originally begun, as if someone was running a late-night relay down the hallway. The pace was, again, unnaturally quick, but I doubted someone was doing this to annoy us – there was far too much frenzy in their steps. Plus, what would running up and down the place achieve? Of course, I didn’t know anyone who lived upstairs so I didn’t know what sort of characters were up there, but if there was some message in this sprinting then I’m sure I would have heard it before, but it has always been silent up there. Not one click of a heel.
Before I asked myself any more unanswerable questions, I flung the sheets off me, yanked on some clothes, and opened my bedroom door to the cold, empty hallway. I stared at the decaying ceiling, waiting in apprehension for the running to return. And it did, but without my bedroom door blocking some of the sound, what I could now hear was not a person running. Everything originally pointed to some annoying neighbour with a heavy foot, but under the ceiling of the hollow corridor, the steps were more percussive and sharp, but not dainty like a high heel. They were more like hooves.
The ceiling groaned under this constant back and forth sprint that was happening mere metres away from me. I couldn’t be the only one hearing this so I looked through the peephole of my door to see if any of the other residents had congregated in their good old neighbourly style to ponder and complain amongst one another.
Not one person was stood out in that hallway, it was as empty and silent as it should have been at that time of the night. It was then that my confusion either left or turned into something else entirely, because that’s when I realised the running had stopped. In the brief moment that I’d looked through my door for someone as confused as myself, it had stopped and was yet to return.
It was so quiet, in fact, that I could hear my breathing. Short and sharp, yet forced and heavy under my now bullish heartbeat. I took one long, stifled breath to calm myself, and I headed to the kitchen for some water. I entered the front room after walking down what seemed like an endless hallway, and headed to the kitchen area at the back.
Where I lived wasn’t exactly luxurious, but one of the things that really drew me to the place were the large windows. They took up most of the back wall and let a lot of natural light in during the day, which helped me balance my electric bill with the somewhat unreasonable rent for the place. For the first few months that I lived there, I didn’t even bother getting curtains for them because I knew I’d never need to use them. I’m now glad that I did. At night the windows are nothing more than black holes in the wall, voids that seem to lead to nothingness, though I know that there is a whole football field and dog-walking park beyond them. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have made a second glance, but with the decidedly abnormal situation that was taking place above me, I anxiously began to feel as though I was being watched from the outside, the windows that usually gave light were only letting in more darkness, and who knew what was hiding among it all?
I hastily closed all of curtains in the room whilst accepting that my fear was both irrational and baseless in its logic. Still, I couldn’t help but feel undeniably safer in the privacy of my own home. I filled a glass with water, walked over to the couch facing away from the window, and sipped quietly; my legs rocking restlessly. I stared into the glass as I drank, listening to the faint hum of my breath echoing inside it, watching the clear liquid ripple and wave under my grasp. My trance was interrupted by another noise, something much more soft and subtle, but by something in the room.
I stared across the room from the couch. The door to the hallway stood right in front of me but it didn’t come from there. I slowly turned my head, analysing the rest of the room until the source of the noise was found. I released my held breath with a laugh as I watched Ludwig jump from the kitchen counter underneath the table to his usual sleeping spot. I assumed he followed me to my room earlier but he mustn’t have ever left.
Suddenly, a horrific bang detonated from the hallway, I felt the walls vibrating from the impact as my head turned hot and red. My fingers dug into the arms of the couch with a force I have never before felt. My nails began to bend under the pressure and my teeth chewed on my bottom lip that was warm and dry with the blood that exploded from my thunderous heartbeat. My eyes quickly dried as they fixated on the corridor before me. A small vertical window on the door allowed me to see the entire middle section of the hallway – or it would if the lights were on. All I could see was the green FIRE EXIT sign above the front door that dimly lit the otherwise vacuous darkness around it. And even that seemed damaged: part of the ‘FIR‘ and the ‘IT‘ were replaced by spiked holes in the wall. My apartment had been bombed. This would explain the bang and perhaps even whatever was going on upstairs. I felt utterly powerless as I heard Ludwig crying a shrill meow from under the table. I was in the open with no object around me except a glass that had become lost in all the chaos; I imagined a group of masked people shuffling down the corridor, gun in hand, ready to kill me in the first instance they could. My head thought of a million things at once, but I remained frozen in my seat, heavier than I’ve ever felt.
And among the cry of the cat, and the hush of my breath, I slowly began to realise that this was not the case. No one was coming for me, not even the door below the fire exit sign was damaged, or else I would have been able to see through to next door. That was when I realised something different. Some far-fetched and hideous possibility that entered my thoughts and stayed there. I continued to stare at the damaged fire exit sign at the end of the corridor, and noticed that the spiked holes were slowly moving in the slightest back and forth manner – as if they were breathing. This was when these spikes began to resemble more and more the horns of a bull, curved and rough.
The grey light of the corridor flickered for the briefest moment, confirming my fears. With my mouth wide open and tears filling my eyes, I stared into the darkness where a dreadful creature with the head of a bull stood tall on two legs, hidden. My head hurt with disgusted confusion. My closed throat allowed only piercing shrieks to be made as I quivered with absolute fear. The last thing I heard was a fast stomping that headed my way. The floor rattled beneath me, beneath those deep, sharp footsteps – the hooves.