There’s a man hanging in a room on the second floor, and he’s been there for quite some time. He never talks to me, even though his eyes always follow me around the room. I rarely look into those eyes. The few times I did they seemed… curious.
Sometimes I can hear him breathe. It’s a soft and raspy sound; but there’s no gasping, which you’d expect from someone with a noose so tight around their neck. And it is tight—you can clearly see where it’s digging into the neck.
The man’s skin has a slightly grey or green tint, depending on the light.
He is hanging from the central ceiling beam, his feet about a meter and half from the floor. He’s always facing the door when I come in; the door that is never to be closed fully but rather left slightly ajar. Sometimes he’ll be swaying barely noticeably and I will hear the rope and the beam squeal softly. It’s always the same thing as I move around the room: every time I turn back towards him or just look at him out of the corner of my eye, he’ll be facing me.
There are two high glass windows in the room: one is always closed, and through the other’s raised shutters there’s always sunlight or moonlight, but also rain and snow. Once there’s water on the floor under the window, I’ll mop it; when there’s autumn leaves, I’ll sweep it along with the dust.
I always take my time with this room, although there’s really not much to do: sweep the wooden floor and the carpet under the writing desk, dust the floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I work slowly with the broom and duster, always under the hanging man’s gaze.
It’s quiet in the room and peaceful, and this is why I never rush. Other rooms that have been assigned to me are equally strange, some even stranger, but cleaning the hanging man’s room has become relaxing in a way. Nobody is asking me questions here, nobody’s shouting curses at me or making demands.
It reminds me of taking a walk in a graveyard: some might call it morbid, but graveyards exude a certain calm, giving the impression you’re detached from all the world’s troubles firmly on the other side of the stone wall.
I’ve never spoken to him. And what would I even say? “Hello” or “Good evening”? Absurd. And would he reply? Do I want him to?
“Slut! Whore! Shouting your wares like a fishmonger!”
“Do not pay her mind,” says the man in the white night shirt as the woman in the nightgown is hurling insults at me. This is nothing out of the ordinary.
In the staff dressing room there is a large corkboard and one of the notes on it is intended for all newcomers: Don’t pay attention to the married couple. The wife doesn’t have a kind word for any staff member entering the room and you should not take it to heart.
Their bedroom is sparse and lit by gaslight.
The man and the woman are always in the same position when I open the door: he’ll be sitting on the bed, facing the door and holding a bloody knife in his hand with a confused look on his face; she’ll be lying next to her husband, staring at the ceiling with a dull look of surprise on her face.
But the moment I step through the doorway, they’re both up and moving and talking. Well, the husband is doing the talking; the wife mostly shouts and screams, sometimes at him, sometimes at me, sometimes both.
The man’s lips are black, a side effect of the poison. The woman’s belly is caked with dry blood where he’d repeatedly stabbed her after discovering she’d poisoned his night cap.
The woman will often try to attack me. Of course, it never works but still I’m terrified each and every time that this time she’ll manage to claw my eyes out even though each and every time her fingers slide off some invisible barrier that seems to cover my face. Sometimes this will just stoke her fire, and sometimes she’ll go back to bed and lie down on her side, her back to her husband and me.
The man is never aggressive, but I think we all know the type: quiet, polite and the cause of neighbors’ complete confusion because they’d never expect him to axe his entire family to death, he was such a nice man, who would even think…
I always try not to engage in conversation with individuals in the rooms, but even so I managed to piece together enough of their story to know he’s sorry for stabbing her and had been sorry since he’d done it. She still hasn’t changed her attitude towards poisoning him.
The rules are few, but firm. The following is expressly forbidden: bringing into the house any objects apart from personal, who are then to be removed from the house upon leaving; removing from the house any objects that not the personal property of the person removing them; brining into the house and using any recording devices; mentioning in conversation the nature of the work, the nature, location or the existence of the house and what it contains or what takes places inside to anyone who is not a member of the staff or management. Breaking these rules will lead to immediate termination of work relations.
These rules aren’t at all hard for me to follow, especially since losing this job would be bad for my future. The pay is more than handsome and, putting aside the house’s bizarre nature; it’s actually just a cleaning job like any other.
In the staff dressing room there’s a long wall of metal lockers so I know I’m not the only one working here––there are days of the week and shifts that I don’t cover and there are so many rooms I’ve never been in. Someone also has to clean the hallways and the stairs not assigned to me, just as someone has to clean the other half of the large dining room on the first floor. Still, I’ve never met any one of them. Sometimes I wonder if there’s always just one of us staff members in the house at any given time.
I thought about waiting after my shift ends, taking a seat in the small parlor or leaving a message on the cork board… but I never did. That’s my curse: I want company but at the same time… I don’t. I think maybe what I really need is someone to nod to as I come and go, someone to chat to in passing. (“The guy upstairs still hasn’t said a word to me. What’s going on with the three-headed baby you clean after?”)
(There is no three-headed baby. I hope.)
Visitors will sometimes come while I’m still in the dressing room, getting ready to leave. I never see them, but I’ll sometimes hear them. Now, you must be wondering: “Well, what do they sound like?” To which I can only reply: I have no idea. It’s as if you’re listening to a conversation taking place on the other side of a closed door or a thin wall: you can make out the voices, but not the words. And to be honest, I should really be talking about “sounds”.
The instructions are very clear where this is concerned: Should a visit occur while you are on duty, please retreat to the staff dressing room or the adjacent parlor. We ask that you do not attempt, in any manner, to establish contact with the visitors. If you are unable to reach the dressing room or the parlor, a visitor group is always preceded by a member of the management—please defer to them and follow all their instructions to the letter.
And so I’ve never seen a visitor. Truth be told, I’m not sure I’d like to know who’s interested in visiting a place like this. The entire house is obviously some kind of a gallery of death and violence; maybe it’s a museum or maybe it’s a sideshow––maybe for humans, and maybe for some alien creatures. See the incredible murdering spouses! Listen to them argue! Have them insult you! Witness the hanging man! His eyes do follow you around the room!
And another interesting tidbit: the rooms are not part of this house. From the hallways it seems they are, but what you can see from one room’s window has nothing to do with what you’ll see from the next one. The entire house is a jigsaw puzzle, only each piece belongs to a different one, a different space––and time because, judging just by their clothes, the married couple and the hanging man are separated by at least a century.
I came by this work via recommendation, but I have no idea who to thank––or who to hold responsible. One day I received a letter––a proper, handwritten letter––inviting me to a job interview. It said my name had come to them with the highest of recommendations.
I met them in a small café on Korzo: a man and a woman, both finely dressed. They sat me in a small booth farthest from the café door as possible and offered me a job as a maid.
I remember managing to blink. A maid? Sure, I had recently found myself in dire straits, but I also hoped I could avoid having to sweep floors. And also, a maid? Was I supposed to bring someone their breakfast in bed?
I suppressed the urge to tell them to piss off and instead asked who they were and how they came by my name and address.
They didn’t answer. They did pay for the coffee––which we didn’t get to drink––and asked me to come with them and see the place of potential employment before making any decisions. They said it’s nearby and I went along with it because they didn’t seem like the sort to steal other people’s organs. Politeness forced me to at least give the place a look, although I already knew my answer would be no.
We turned from Korzo and just a few steps later…
I had never before seen the building in my life. Never ever. I’d walked that particular street hundreds of times in my life, at all hours of day and night but… I’d never seen that building, nestled between two others in the row I knew well. A building that didn’t fit in at all, architecturally speaking. I stared, mouth agape and then I turned around and it became obvious to me nobody else on the street was seeing anything out of the ordinary.
They asked me to follow them inside. They showed me two of the rooms. I changed my mind.
When I look back now, I think the fact I didn’t run out of the house screaming says a lot about me.
Four days a week, they said, Monday to Thursday. Five work hours per day, from six in the afternoon to eleven in the evening. If I’ve finished early for the day, I can’t leave the house before eleven, but I am free to relax in the parlor adjacent to the dressing room which they mentioned was equipped with a library, refreshments and very pleasant sofas and chairs, and also has a fireplace. They also mentioned they were working on implementing a wireless Internet connection.
The contract was for five years, after which I would receive a more than handsome retirement package. The figure was in the contract. I wouldn’t be swimming in cash, but I will still be able to live comfortably and not worry about the roof over my head, and my fridge will always be full.
Of course I was suspicious. Of course they assumed I might be suspicious so they gave me a list of names of persons I might contact in order to have my doubts eliminated. Everyone I called said the same thing. The offer is real. Take it. Not just because of the money but because of the unique experience as well.
Unique experience indeed.
The paper with the poem I found pinned to my work clothes by their decorative pin. The pin was, I was told, the most important part of the uniform. Without it I can’t enter the rooms that have been assigned to me even if I do have the keys to them; more importantly, without the pin I wouldn’t be able to enter the house. In fact, without the pin I wouldn’t be able to find the house on my own. I had tried––no pin, no house, no matter how long I stand there and stare at the place where it should be.
(I now have to disappoint you if you expected to hear about lace and mini-skirts: my work clothes––my uniform––is comfortable linen trousers with deep pockets and a silk blouse. Both are indigo and of an almost military cut.)
The paper was neatly folded and pinned to the blouse’s right pocket.
If at nighttime you walk with your candle
And suddenly you hear a creak
From the hallway or staircase that’s empty
Then the best thing for you is to sneak
Just hide in the nearest of places
And wait for the footsteps to pass
You’ll know it’s safe to come out
When gone is the tinkling of glass.
Of course I figured someone was hazing the new girl, just trying to freak me out to make me feel welcome. But I also realized that after reading the poem I would always stop and listen every time I heard a creak in a hallway or on a staircase. I thought about asking someone from management, but I didn’t want to look gullible.
On the fourth night of my first week, I heard a creak behind me. By that point I’d stopped paying attention to it because this is an old house and that’s what old houses do––creak, consistently. But this creak must have been different because it did make me pause. I was at the bottom of the stairs and had come down from the floor where there were only people who, I was told, couldn’t leave their rooms.
There was the creak again, and now I was certain it was coming from upstairs, and approaching fast. I remembered the poem.
In each hallway there are several large armoires with bedclothes we sometimes use and with clothes that haven’t been used in probably an eternity. In that moment I didn’t care if this was a prank by my still unseen colleagues; something inside me was urging me to run run hide and I was taken over by a fear so primal I barely managed to suppress it in time. Instead of running I opened the nearest armoire and hid among the hanging clothes. I pushed myself inside, in the stale air and dust and closed the door behind me. I covered my mouth with my hand a moment later when I realized I was breathing heavy and loud. My heart was thumping in my chest.
It’s just a creak, what the hell’s wrong with me?
The creaking now came from this floor and it was getting closer and closer to the armoire. Through the thin slit between the sides of the door I could see the light from the hallway.
I held my breath as the creaking came nearer still. That fear inside me screamed for me to close my eyes.
I held my breath for an eternity, hiding behind my eyelids.
I didn’t hear the creaking again. But I did hear another sound: a soft but clear tinkling, like glass on glass. Directly in front of the door.
Even with eyes closed I was aware the light suddenly vanished from the hallway.
There was the tinkling again, soft and irregular.
And then silence.
Once I finally realized the only sound I could hear was my own blood in my ears, I stepped out of the armoire. All my joints hurt and all my muscles ached from being completely locked by my primal desire not to move a fraction of a millimeter while inside the armoire.
It was the first, but not the only time I’d hear glass tinkling, hidden in an armoire or a broom closet, even though by the next time my primal fear was gone, replaced by a more rational one, easier to control.
One evening I’d asked one of the managers what had happened, but he refused to say. All that I could get out of him was that the house is safe and he isn’t in a position to discuss with me anything that isn’t directly involved with the performance of my duties. I told him that something lurking in the hallways definitely goes under “direct involvement”, but he said only that all employees are safe and any incidents are rare and an anomaly.
I couldn’t figure out if he didn’t want to or wasn’t allowed to discuss this, but I was certain I could either quit or do what the poem says.
That day I stuck a note on the cork board. “Thanks for the poem.” A day later someone had added to it, in handwriting: “You’re welcome.” The day after that the note was gone.
Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and then one night I was done with my duties and was going down a staircase, in my mind already home, in my bed with a cup of tea and a book for company.
At the bottom of the stairs I stopped and stretched, massaging my stiff neck and then, only because my head was down, saw the front of my blouse.
The decorative pin wasn’t there. Panicking, I searched all my breast pockets, hoping it was in one of them. It wasn’t.
This wasn’t good. This wasn’t good at all. I had to find the pin because I needed it for––well, everything. I retraced my steps, terrified that the pin fell between the floor boards and I’d have to explain to some manager how dumb and clumsy I really am.
I was back on the floor I’d just come down from and I was rounding a corner when I noticed something further down the hallway. A body. A body of a manager, specifically of the man who’d offered me the job.
He’s dead––no, his chest is rising and falling!
And then I noticed it.
It was standing maybe a meter from my unconscious employer: a person in a dark grey suit, an old fashioned, three-piece one. There was even a pocket watch chain hanging from one of the pockets. The person was tall and slender, and there was a white mask across their face, its surface smooth and without any holes for eyes or mouth. I saw all this and the person didn’t see me because they were standing with their profile to me, focused on something. Under the hallway lights the mask shone smoothly, like porcelain. The person then moved and even though the body looked human, as if there were human muscles and human bones under that suit, it didn’t move like a human body at all. Whatever it was, it approached a portrait on the wall and leaned close to the canvas.
Is it a visitor? Why is my boss on the floor?
What should I do?
I did what I thought best: I stepped back behind the corner and then tried to peek around it without being noticed.
The thing was now pressing its palms against the wall on both sides of the frame and its mask was so close to the canvas it must have been touching it. I could hear noises: soft and deep breaths of someone enjoying what they smell.
And then it grabbed the frame and tore the portrait off the wall and then started to beat it against the wall, savagely, furiously. Finally it threw the portrait on the floor, the frame broken, the canvas torn.
Then it bent what clearly weren’t human knees and knelt down on them and started tearing the canvas with what only looked like bare human, long-fingered hands.
And while all this was going on, I was considering my very limited options. I could run downstairs, all the way to the ground floor. I could hide, on this floor or another, but only in an armoire or a broom closet because without the decorative pin I couldn’t get into any of the rooms.
The tearing stopped. The creature was now holding a fistful of canvas strips. It reached with its free right hand, raised the mask enough to bring its left hand full of strips up, shove it beneath the mask and––take a bite?
I definitely heard chewing. The creature was nodding now, as if approving of the taste.
If it eats canvas, maybe it doesn’t eat people?
Something glittered on the floor, about a meter from me. My pin, reflecting the hallway lights. It might as well have been a kilometer away or behind an armored glass wall.
But I needed it. Because now I was wondering if the dressing room door would open if I didn’t have the pin. The dressing room that had the only bell (as far as I knew) you could use to request a meeting with one of the managers––or call for help, I guessed.
And so, bent as low as possible, my nose almost to the floor, I stepped forward and the floorboards didn’t creak and the creature didn’t turn to face me. It seemed fully committed to… its meal.
It was chewing, taking a new bite every few moments while I, step by bent and painful step, approached the pin.
I reached for it, finally, now not taking my eyes from the creature. I felt the pin under my fingers, closed my fist around it, felt it gently prick my palm.
The creature suddenly stopped chewing and then hissed, loudly and sharply, but it still didn’t turn towards me. It rose to its full height, facing the other side of the hallway. It hissed again, with a lot more menace now, and took a few steps like it was stalking something.
I knew that a small broom closet was just a few steps behind me, and I was walking backwards towards it now. For a moment I thought about charging down the stairs, but the way the creature moved told me it would catch up with me halfway down, if not sooner.
The broom closet door opened without a squeal and I stepped inside, leaving the door open just a bit, just enough to see what’s going on in the hallway.
The creature was facing my way. I didn’t breathe in. I didn’t even blink.
It opened its fist and strips of canvas fell to the floor. It approached my unconscious employers and in a creepily smooth movement it lifted him up and threw him over its shoulder like he was a sack of potatoes. Then it walked past my hiding place and a moment later I heard a hiss and then a muffled thump.
It’s on the floor below.
It jumped down the entire staircase.
I stepped out of the broom closet and decided there was only one place to go, really: as far away from that thing as possible.
I walked as fast as I dared, terrified a creaking floor board would betray me. If this house really was a museum, where was the security system? Why didn’t it react to the intruder? Why didn’t I have a way of raising alarm?
Maybe the thing really is a visitor and it attacked my boss in the middle of a private tour? Maybe I should hide in a room? Maybe one of them could help me?
I was on the hanging man’s floor. I was also on the floor with the room with two girls in red dresses and the room with the woman with the veiled face. My other rooms were on other floors: the married couple, and the room where there was someone under the bed who’d never come out while I was in the room but whom I could hear moving about under the bed and even catch a glimpse of their movement out of the corner of my eye, between the edge of the bed skirt and floor.
At least I thought it was a someone.
They can’t help me. If they could do anything, they wouldn’t be on display here.
I heard a creak from the floor below, a creak approaching the staircase. And then there was snuffling and the stairs themselves creaked.
Without thinking I opened a door and stepped inside.
The hanging man was watching me. He always held his head high but now I swear it was slightly tilted to the side, as if surprised to see me. Did he know the time? Or did he sense my fear? I was certain it was plain to see just how terrified I was.
And now what?
The closet in the corner? There was room under the writing desk. Maybe I could go out the window and along the ledge––no, I’d just fall and die down there in the thick forest. It was a good twenty meters, maybe more.
I heard footsteps at the door, followed by a soft snuffling sound.
Something rustled. The creature was running its fingers over the door––at least I thought that was happening on the other side.
The doorknob squealed gently, moving just a fraction.
I turned my back to the door, frantically looking for a hiding place.
My eyes stopped suddenly on the hanging man when I noticed the intensity of his gaze. Suddenly he looked to the left, as if giving me a sign to do the same. I was shocked he was genuinely reacting to me, but not so shocked as not to look.
Next to the door there was a small cabinet on which there was always an empty vase. Inside? I’d have to kneel and it would be painfully cramped.
The doorknob squealed, slowly turning. The creature obviously didn’t need a pin or a key.
I stuffed myself in the cabinet, straining to close the door. I was in total darkness now.
I could hear the room door opening. I could hear the floorboards creaking. I could hear the creature breathe––and then its breath catching. As if seeing something unexpected––say a man hanging from the ceiling.
Another creak, but different now. Not floorboards but a taut rope.
He’s moving and I can’t see it!
I could hear the creature walking––then stumbling. And then something slammed hard into the cabinet door.
I breathed, barely containing a scream.
I pressed my back against the back of the closet––and something was pressing into me there. I reached behind me, painfully bending my arm and finally I felt it under my fingers––a small, round doorknob. A doorknob that wasn’t there when I was getting into the cabinet just a moment ago.
I heard feet scrambling across floorboards; and then an unusual, high pitched and breathy sound followed by a deafening bang as something hit the floor so hard both the cabinet and me in it jumped.
I turned the doorknob. The floorboards groaned and a deep growl filled me with terror. But the doorknob gave and suddenly I was on my side.
I turned on my back, staring at the ceiling. My legs were still inside the cabinet and I now noticed the hidden door to this room was very ingeniously hidden in the pattern of the wallpaper.
A secret passage between the rooms.
What? How? Why?
A sound drew my attention then. There was a bed not far from me. A bed that I had a duty to make while doing my best not to think about the sounds coming from under it.
I was in the room with the thing under the bed.
I couldn’t be in the room with the thing under the bed.
Something slammed into the cabinet door again and there was a scratching noise––fingers, I was certain, trying to grab onto it.
I pushed myself backwards with my palms and feet and then kicked the hidden door closed. They clicked softly and then it was as if they’d never been there at all.
There was a sound from under the bed again.
I stood up, shivering.
Nowhere in the instructions was there a mention of a secret door or passage instantaneously connecting rooms in different parts of the house, nor was there a mention of canvas-eating creatures. There was no poem about those things either.
Did my employers even know about these passages?
I knew the thing under the bed was watching me. In fact, I had the impression it was as curious and surprised to see me after my shift as the hanging man had been.
I approached the room door and opened them. “Sorry for the interruption,” I said to the bed, even though I felt silly. “But there’s a monster after me.”
I was about to step out of the room when a soft scratching sound made me stop. I froze, but no hands grabbed me as I slowly turned. The room was as empty as before––for its given value of empty.
There was that scratching sound again––and this time it sounded… insistent? If that was something a scratching sound can convey.
I hoped I wouldn’t see anything terrifying as I walked over to that side of the room.
But there I saw just the usual: a night stand and a small rug between the bed and the wall and nothing more.
But the thing under the bed made the scratching sound again, this time calmer.
“What is it? I don’t understand.”
The hanging man had directed me towards a secret passage. Maybe the thing under the bed was trying to do the same?
With my foot I pulled the rug towards me. There were just floorboards under it.
I knelt and touched them.
I could feel it watching me. The thing under the bed was so close, any moment now it could reach and grab me––
One of the floorboards felt smoother than others. I pressed it. Nothing happened. Then I tried pushing it away, and then pulling it towards me––and it finally slid. It didn’t move much, but I felt something click under it and then a large section of the floor in front of me raised slightly. I grabbed the secret door with both hands and lifted––the hidden hinges were on the side opposite to me––and saw a well lit room below.
A room I knew well.
There was a crack of wood, and then something else thudded against the hidden door in the wall and they flew open, bits of wood flying. Arms too long and too thin and too limber to be human reached through the opening. Without thinking I jumped down the door on the floor, and then the door closed behind me with a thud as I landed on a mercifully soft bed.
I got up fast, followed by two pairs of shocked eyes.
“Your whore is here!” The wife screamed, obviously recovering from the shock of my sudden and unexpected appearance.
Her husband didn’t respond, just looked at me curiously. He raised his eyes to the ceiling, looked back at me. The wife was about to scream another insult but suddenly went quiet, raising her eyes to the ceiling. They went wide.
“Out. Now.” There was alarm in her voice, but not a hint of aggression. Which was about as shocking as seeing the hanging man’s eyes move.
“Go, girl,” she said and her husband nodded towards the room door just as the secret door in the ceiling started shaking as if something was repeatedly slamming itself against the other side.
I ran out into the hallway that was supposed to be there. Which meant I was still two floors away from the staff dressing room and––which was most important at this moment––the front door.
Could it follow me outside? Would it want to?
From behind the distant corner of the hallway I now heard a sound. Between me and the staircase leading down, glass was tinkling.
And then, as my eyes searched for a hiding place, my mind decided he had a plan.
As far as plans go this one was completely demented and stupid, but suddenly I was feeling the urge to fight this intruder. The room with the thing under the bed was on the floor above the married couple’s room, but not directly above it. Would the sound of glass follow me up the staircase? It was obvious it could move in ways I couldn’t––sometimes it would disappear in the middle of the hallway or halfway down a staircase.
I could lead the canvas eater to it.
It was just half a hallway and one staircase. Just that. There was a small square door under the staircase, leading into a tiny storage space. If I could fit into that cabinet, I could fit inside there as well. I hoped.
I ran towards the staircase, stopped at the foot of the stairs. The clinking of glass––irregular, persistent––slowly approached the corner. From upstairs I could hear scratching and then a loud thud followed by floorboards creaking. The canvas eater was in the hallway.
“Hey!” I shouted.
Loud thumps echoed upstairs and I knew the creature was running towards the stairs.
I pulled the bolt on the door under the staircase. It wouldn’t budge.
I pulled harder and harder, feeling myself give in to the rising panic. Something landed at the foot of the stairs very loudly and the bolt gave way and I crawled into the storage space on my hands and knees, the wooden beams scraping against my shoulders and back and head, feeling slivers of wood pierce my skin but none of it mattered, I just had to close the door before it sees me.
In the dark, painfully contorted, I breathed. Barely. I could feel dust in my mouth and nose, the stuffy air.
The door was closed but there was no bolt on this side—it wasn’t supposed to be anything but a place to keep—long ago—shoes or cleaning equipment.
It’s going to open the door.
The glass sound was closer now.
I could hear the canvas eater snuffling, loud and fierce.
And then the clinking of glass suddenly stopped. Too far away. As my insides twisted into a knot, I knew what had happened. It left.
The door burst open and the light was blinding and hands were reaching for me, fingers wrapping around my arms, pulling me out as they held like a vise. Canvas eater’s skin was clammy and feverishly hot. It dragged me into the hallway, was now kneeling with one leg on my chest as its arms wrapped themselves around my body. It was making no sounds, all I could hear was me struggling, resisting without hope of succeeding. My hands were free but it did no good. I wanted to scream but its arm was so tight around my chest I couldn’t even breathe in. I tore the decorative pin from my blouse and stabbed one of the tentacles that only pretended to be human arms, felt the pin pierce something like cartilage—but in vain.
I leaned its head towards my face, a head on a neck that was too long and too nimble. I grabbed its mask with my free hand, driven by pure instinct, wanting to tear it off and stab its eyes out, leave it something to remember me by—but the mask wouldn’t budge because it wasn’t a mask.
As if a piece of glass just hit a floorboard.
I closed my eyes on reflex.
A sudden squeal—of surprise but also terror, at least it seemed to me—and then those terrible limbs let me go, unwrapped themselves and suddenly the creature’s weight was off me.
I heard a wild thrashing, followed by a sickening crunch.
And then silence.
I almost opened my eyes, wanting to see it if this was really the end.
But nothing grabbed me. All I could hear, all I could feel was dead silence.
I was now aware my heart was pounding in my ears.
I opened my eyes. There was nothing looming above me, waiting.
I was alone in the hallway; there was just me and the torn storage space door––and on the floor near me, three shards of something resembling porcelain, with my decorative pin next to them.
I found my employer where the creature had left him when it started chasing me and I carried him––he was surprisingly light for someone of his size—to the staff dressing room.
I had no idea what to do except splash some water in his face, which luckily for me did bring him back to consciousness.
I told him what had happened—well, most of it. I “failed” to mention the tenants helping me and the existence of secret passages.
My employer seemed very impressed by the way I handled the creature that attacked me. He called it an intruder and didn’t offer any further explanations. He also didn’t comment on the thing—whatever it was—that was making the glass sound. He did offer me a substantial raise if I would stay on even though I almost died.
I said yes.
The parlor next to the dressing room always has a stack of books and a nice, cozy fire—it doesn’t matter what the weather is outside—and something tasty to nibble on. Sometimes I’d get coffee or a small sandwich, but I’d never stay in the parlor.
But that day, after a long shower in the dressing room I put on my own clothes, poured myself a coffee, grabbed an entire plate of sandwiches and sat by the fire. The shower calmed me a little, and I hoped the sandwiches and the fireplace would get me the rest of the way there.
I agreed to the pay raise not just because you never say no to a pay raise but also because––and I have to be fully honest here—I never seriously considered quitting. This tells you something about me, I guess.
But as I was showering and getting myself back together, I found myself thinking about something else and not just the fact I didn’t want to quit: I wanted to make a better use of the time I was spending here.
Somebody had left me that poem. I’ve seen various other messages on the cork board. They were never for me, but it was obvious other employees—at least some of them—were staying in contact, having some kind of a relationship. Nobody ever bothered me, forced me into anything, they were obviously all polite and had understanding for people who didn’t want any contact with their fellow employees.
But my workplace was what it was and my job was what it was, so if I’m not going to have some kind of a relationship with these people, who am I going to?
And so I decided to wait for the next shift to come in and see me sitting in the parlor. And if that person decides to come in and say hello, I’ll invite them to join me, offer them coffee and sandwiches. I even had a pretty good opener: So, one of mine hangs from the ceiling and follows me around the room with his eyes. What are yours like?
©Igor Rendić, 2020. All rights reserved.
Igor Rendić (1985) is a translator, writer, copywriter, and one of Rikon’s conrunners. He doesn’t understand the phrase “too many books for one person”.