Outside the Body

Roy was used to finding all sorts of undesirable crap when the time came to evict a tenant, and most of it he could ignore or throw away, but when he opened the door to the abandoned apartment C2, he found bedbugs.

This was why he knocked on the door to his neighbor in C6. With a metal canister under his arm Roy glanced back from the second floor landing at the crumbling parking lot beyond and the other four buildings of his ancient complex. He tried to put a face to whoever lived in C6, but came up blank, and figured that was for the best. After a minute of waiting he pulled out his keys and opened the door.

“Hello?” he called out as he stepped inside. The front curtains were drawn and no lights turned on when he flipped the switch. From what he could tell there wasn’t any bulb in the overhead light. Aside from the darkness the living room was surprisingly clean given the usual sight his tenants left him with. Wasn’t much furniture to the place, but what there was looked decent enough, not a lot of clutter or trash to be seen, other than one large, overflowing trash can by the kitchen half of the living room. Empty cans of what looked like protein shakes were spilled over the floor and the cabinets themselves were opened and filled with the same.

A bad stink hung in the air, but it wasn’t anything rotting, Roy didn’t think, just a filthy odor that grew stronger as he reached the
back of the apartment. The light in the bedroom didn’t turn on, and so Roy stepped blindly into near total darkness, his hands out as he inched towards the wall, and finally found the cord to the blinds.

They pulled open and spilled sunlight onto the bed and the body.

Roy studied the younger man wearing a t-shirt and jeans lying peacefully on the bed as if lost in sleep. His chest moved just a bit
with each breath, though Roy had to stare to see it. His eyes dropped instead to the large stain soaked into the white sheets and the source of the smell. It looked like the guy had suffered the worlds greatest piss on that bed given how wide the stain was, his jeans turned a dark black from the liquid.

Roy took a step closer and nudged the man’s arm, shouted, “Hey,” but got no response. He wasn’t dead, and Roy didn’t think it would be good to spray with the man still sleeping. He made a mental note to come back the next day on his way out.

The thought of the man gnawed at him for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, thinking it hadn’t been natural, but shortly after midnight he heard the creak of movement through the thin walls he shared with C6. The sound made Roy smile a bit, thinking the man must’ve just been piss drunk, something Roy had been through enough over the years as his bulging gut could attest to.

Speaking of which, he thought, and pulled himself up from his recliner. The only light came from his TV and the infomercial for some
kind of knife collection some part of him wanted purely because he knew he couldn’t afford it. He navigated his way through the dirty clothes, empty pizza boxes, and whatever else covered the floor until he got a beer from the fridge and paused on his way back to the recliner with the can opened and to his lips. His eyes looked to the left towards his balcony door where the TV’s glow reflected off the glass, but beyond it Roy could see something else, the image of a person in the dark night.

He tilted his head and watched what had to be a man on his balcony leaning out on the guardrails watching the apartment complex. “The hell?” Roy whispered and walked up to the glass door, but by the time he grabbed hold of the handle and got a better look the balcony was empty.

He passed out to another infomercial for some classic rock collection, dreamt briefly about being a rock star himself and opening his door to all those groupies, but before he could do anything his belly sagged down, his hair fell out, and his teeth turned dark yellow. Roy woke up to that last image, sighed at it, unable to get laid even in his dreams.

He didn’t know the time but the sun hadn’t risen, and as the sleep first blinked out of his eyes he realized he could hear something,
footsteps on wood. To his left he saw something moving about on the balcony, stepping quickly, a person pacing back and force across his field of vision on the narrow landing.

An empty bottle of whiskey almost made Roy trip as he lunged for the balcony door and pulled the glass open. He saw, he swore, that shape pause and turn towards him, the haze of a face with dark circles for eyes, but a single blink left him alone. He sucked in the cool night air and ran his fingers through what little was left of his hair, swearing he’d seen it, and as he contemplated it he heard the door opening behind him.

Roy turned in time to see the outline of a man walking through his open front door, drifting more than walking, he thought. This time he did catch his foot on some wadded up jeans and smacked face first into the carpet, catching sight of a few bedbugs scurrying across the carpet in front of him. By the time he stepped out onto the landing outside his door there was nothing to see. Roy turned back to his dark apartment and realized what he’d seen crawling on his carpet.

“Well shit,” he whispered, and stepped back inside.

He sprayed every inch of his apartment, though he didn’t bother to pick up much or move out the furniture like he knew he should. Around one in the afternoon he knocked again on his neighbor’s door but still got no answer, and so for the second time Roy stepped into the man’s apartment.

This time he looked around, opening up the cabinets filled with the same protein drink, and kneeling down next to all the empty cans spilled across the floor by the only trash can.

“I’m looking through your shit,” he called out, but didn’t even hear the man stir at his shout. When Roy looked closer at the blinds by the window he saw something drawn on the white plastic. Looked like squiggly lines to him. He ignored them and pulled the blinds open for more light, caught sight of more of the scribbling on the back of the front door. “Some crazy shit,” he muttered on his way to the bedroom and the young man still sprawled motionless atop the bed, only now the piss stain looked a bit wider, stunk a bit worse.

Though the blinds were pulled up, Roy could see the same drawings on them as well. The biggest find was in the closet where Roy opened up a box full of cash. He stared wide-eyed at it, mentally counting what he could see of it, knowing there had to be a few thousand at least in there. Even though the man wasn’t moving Roy still swore he felt eyes watching the back of his head.

He stood by the bed with his fingers drumming on his gut. The only thing he knew for certain was that after looking up the apartment he knew the man’s name was Jack Haver, and the rent was automatically deposited each month from Jack’s bank account.

“Some kind of brain damage, maybe,” Roy said to Jack’s body.

Roy didn’t care what had happened to Mr. Haver so long as he kept getting money, and compared to his normal tenants, a comatose one didn’t sound half bad, especially one paying the rent on time. If anyone ever did come around looking for the man—or worse yet the man woke up—Roy didn’t feel like having to explain why he’d known there was a problem but hadn’t called anyone else or what had happened to a box of cash, so he closed the blinds and locked the door behind him. According to anyone who asked him, he didn’t know anything about Jack, and no one could prove otherwise.

With summer around the corner there was far too much to do around the complex. Roy didn’t finish up repairing the lawnmower until well past ten at night. Most of the lights in the parking light either flickered dimly or didn’t work at all. Roy walked beneath a cloudless sky up to his complex but paused in the parking lot.

He could see the back side of his apartment from where he stood along with the light he hadn’t left on in his living room and the shape of a man standing inside his apartment staring down. There was no denying the man stared directly at him, just far enough inside the place to keep Roy from getting a good look at him.

Roy dropped his toolbox in the parking lot and ran towards the building. He took the steps leading up two at a time.

He’d been so certain the door would be unlocked he slammed face first into it when the knob didn’t turn. A few seconds fumbling with the keys and he stepped into the empty apartment. The light was still on by his recliner and he could see a path in the trash on his floor where feet had pushed things to the side to walk through, the imprint of feet visible in the carpet by his balcony window, along with the outline of a dirty handprint in the glass.

The lock hadn’t been busted open. Roy locked the door and stared down at it. He was certain he had locked it.

Sound came from the other side of the wall. Roy looked towards it and saw a large stain running down the wall as if a portion of it had been soaked in dirty water. The tan wallpaper had turned almost black and peeled up.

His body was slammed forward into the dark spot. The hands that grabbed his arms and spun him around felt cold and wet and almost seemed to sink into him a bit like melting ice. One of those hands grabbed hold of his neck and brought him face to face with the man he'd see, or whatever it was, the hint of a human face floating amidst the dark shimmering image in front of him. It almost looked like a man underwater, the general shape of the image clear, but not the details, too lost to the movement of the water to make out, but the hand that dug deeply into Roy's neck was certainly real, as was the voice echoing in the air all around him.

“Where is the body?” the thing yelled at him, pulling closer, cold air flowing off of it onto Roy's face.

“What the hell are you?” Roy whimpered, eyes locked with the glowing orbs he assumed were eyes.

“I feel it near,” it said, but the words were harder to understand, just as the hand on Roy's neck was beginning to fade away, pass
through Roy's skin into nothingness. Within less than ten seconds the thing was gone completely, just Roy with his back to the wall, rubbing his hand over his stubbly neck, feeling the cold but no dampness still there.

As awestruck as he was by the encounter, reality came back to him, along with a clear thought. “You left your toolbox in the parking
lot,” he whispered.

He let out a sigh and walked towards the door to get it back before someone stole it.

The light was still on in his apartment but he couldn’t see anyone through the glass from the parking lot. He opened up the basement door and walked down wooden steps so rotted from age he had to step carefully or risk having them break apart on him. The basement ran the full length of the building, the ceiling full of rusted pipes, and two broken washing machines up against the wall he didn’t care enough to fix. He set his tools down on his worktable in the corner of the basement beneath one of the only working light bulbs.

A sound drifted through the large, dark basement. Roy turned, the light right above him, the basement almost nothing but blackness outside that small circle. Tilting his head towards the left he realized he could hear a voice.

“It ain’t nothing you can’t handle,” Roy whispered, put on the brave front he usually saved for when the surlier tenants weren't paying and Roy had to pay them a visit.  His mind showed him that bizarre thing from his apartment, and maybe it was the same thing, but hiding in a corner wouldn't help him any.

He grabbed a flashlight from the worktables and set out into the darkness, lighting up the smooth, cement floor covered in graffiti
from the days before he started locking the basements. The walls had floor to ceiling cages built into them for extra storage meant for each apartment, but that, too, Roy had decided his tenants no longer needed. In the far cage the door stood open and something shifted inside it in the corner. Roy stepped up to the open door and shined his light in on a man.

He was muttering lightly to himself, his arms wrapped around his legs, face buried in his knees, not acknowledging the light Roy shined directly on him, but looking closer the man looked off to him. The light itself seemed to almost pierce through him to the wall, the image shifting in and out of focus if Roy stared for long enough at the rocking form.

“Who are you?” Roy asked, had meant to yell, but he found his throat a bit too dry for that.

The rocking stopped and the man’s head tilted up to look directly at Roy, to show him the face of a comatose bed-wetter. “This is a
terrible place,” Jack said without moving his lips, his face frozen as it stared up at Roy.

“How’d you even get down here?” Roy asked.

Jack’s face fell away from Roy, looking at the floor instead. “There have been terrible people here,” he said. “So many horrible things.” His face shifted, was looking at Roy again even though he hadn’t seen the head move, the man’s expression tightening as it focused on Roy. “You can see me?”

“Are you a ghost?” Roy asked, the most likely thing he could think of given everything else he’d seen.

Jack rose from his seat on the ground, and as he did Roy heard the building groan up above him, looked up to see something crawling across the wood through the rusted pipes, almost like the wood itself was covered in snakes, only the image didn’t last and he saw instead the normal wood.

“You’ve been inside my apartment,” Jack said. He reached out quickly to Roy, a haze surrounding his body, the wall visible through him, but those hands were solid enough to grab hold of Roy’s shirt and touch his arm. The skin felt cold and wet like the apparition from earlier. At the man's touch Roy saw the world around him pulling away, people rising up from the cement ground, their bodies similar to Jack but less solid, countless eyes beginning to glow in the dark basement. Up above the ceiling changed completely, showed him the slivering forms crawling on top of each other, the walls thick with them, their wet movement filling his ears.

He jerked back from the man’s touch and when the hand left him so did the other world, nothing but cement below his feet.

“What was that?”

“It’s what exists all around us, a place we can’t physically exist in, but if one is experienced enough, they can project themselves into it. Entering my apartment and being near my body must’ve brushed just a bit of it off on you, letting you catch glimpses. I came here because I felt something unusually strong from this place, but I never imagined the horrible things, so much violence and death, and then it came for me, sealed me down here to take my body for itself. It can’t find my body, not now; the guards I put up on my apartment hide it. I always did that for protection. If it ever finds my body it’ll be all over. It can’t have it. You need to help me.”

Jack's shimmering hands reached towards Roy, his eyes seeping with what Roy assumed must’ve been tears, his expression desperate, and Roy backed away from those glowing hands towards the stairs out of the basement. “Look, he said,” inching away with each step, “this shit is way beyond me, and it isn’t my problem to begin with.”

“If you kill my body this ends. You just need to go in there and end it. I beg you please end it.”

As Roy pulled back towards the basement door he saw Jack's image fading, vanishing into the darkness, his hands still reaching towards Roy in those final moments, eyes wide and pleading for help. By the time Roy pulled up the basement steps Jack was gone. Roy ran the last few steps up into the spring night. There, standing in the parking lot, he took a deep breath and look up towards the calm sky, but then something else caught his eye, and he realized he could see the phantom again through his apartment window, staring down at him with those lidless, glowing eyes.

Roy hurried into his office on the first floor. He pulled out a bottle of whiskey from his desk drawer and drank half of it before being
forced to take a breath. Standing in the dark office, the bottle in hand, chin wet, he told himself the situation.

“Assume it's true,” he whispered. “Guy can leave his body, so he does, gets captured, can't go back. The thing that attacked you wants the body, but it can't get into the apartment, it just knows you were in there, and knows your apartment is next to it. The longer things go on the more it can hurt me. Hell, if it could choke me before, it might be able to kill me now, but if that body dies, it all goes away.” He took another swig, had another thought intrude in. “And if the guy dies, well, what happens to that money in his closet?”

A very good question, Roy thought with a smile creeping up on his face. He grabbed the key to C6 on his way out the door.

His own apartment door stood open when Roy shoved the key into C6. As soon as the door was open he felt something in the air, as if the air itself was solidifying, getting colder. He fell through the door into C6, the world dark behind him, a rush of air and the warbling cry of something beyond his understanding almost overtaking him before he could kick the door shut and seal it out.

Roy crawled up to the window in the dark apartment and peaked through the shades. The world outside was nothing but dim fog. It looked, Roy realized, like the image he'd seen when Jack had touched him, maybe pulling Roy himself more and more into whatever world Jack had found his way into.

A sound came from behind him. Roy spun hard enough to slam his shoulder into the wall, saw a person moving in the darkness by the kitchen. It took him a second to realize it was Jack grabbing one of the drinks from the cabinet, guzzling it down, dropping the container on the floor, and then turning to shamble back to the apartment. Roy followed him to see Jack crawl back onto the bed.

It dawned on Roy that some part of the body was still going through the motions of living, at least to give the body food, but it didn't know enough to go to the bathroom. This was all Jack had left.

“You're doing him a favor,” Roy said before opening the closet to confirm the money was still there.

Once that was done he went into the kitchen and found a knife in the drawer. Roy was careful to place it in Jack's own hands and use them to dig the blade into the wrists, not wanting any cops to eventually come around and look in Roy's direction. When his work was done Roy stepped back and watched the blood spilling out from the wrists, soaking into the bed above the piss stain.

He was about to turn to go when Jack's body convulsed, his eyes opening wide, a deep cry ripping through him. He pulled himself up abruptly, spilling blood down his shirt, looking with watery eyes at the ravaged wrists before his gaze rose to Roy.

“Thank you,” he whispered, reaching out towards Roy, his blood splattering onto the carpet. “I'm sorry for doing this to you.” He
slumped back on the bed, the words faint.

Roy pulled closer, said beside Jack's ear, “Doesn't matter.”

“Don't,” he began, licked his lips, grimaced as he tried to get the words out. “Don't understand. Apartment will protect you...but not
outside.” He seemed to try to speak again, but he could only mouth something before his body slumped back completely.

Roy frowned down at the corpse. “You're done with this,” he told himself.

He grabbed up the box of money on his way out. He peaked under the blinds by the front door and stared, white faced, at the thick air still filling the world beyond. Deep within it he saw the creature from his apartment, but it looked different, more defined, especially the look of hate etched into its glowing face.

Roy pulled back and closed his eyes. When he opened them he reached for the handle of the door and pulled it open just a crack. Freezing air rushed at him. Black tendrils snaked through the crack into the apartment, reaching towards his face, but unable to touch him before he managed to push the door shut. He looked through the blinds again to see the figure pulling away from the door, returning to its place within the mist as it waited patiently. Roy had a feeling that thing was willing to wait as long as it needed to.

He pressed his back against the front door and slid to the carpet. He looked absently down at the box of money in his lap. Roy pulled off the lid and started counting. He wanted to know what his life had been worth.