I end up staring at my phone for several seconds straight.
What the fuck is going on?
I check the street down below again. It does look more deserted than usual. The air smells normal when I crack it open, trying to listen. Maybe it’s riots? But why would anyone be rioting in the streets? Fire makes more sense but the sky is dark—or as dark as it ever gets here. I don’t hear ambulances or firetrucks going in the distance, but then it is the middle of the night, and I’ve only been listening for a few seconds.
Should I be calling someone else? The CDC? 911? I’m not quite sure if paranoia and one weird phone call warrants a state of emergency. I don’t want to turn into one of those “I called 911 because my pizza delivery was late” memes.
Kelly or Mario might know more. Or they might know someone who can make more sense of this.
Plus, they are my friends. Doesn’t it make sense to stick together in times of crisis?
I’m also not the kind of person who has a bag packed, ready by the door, to leave in the blink of an eye. I mean, who does that? Certainly not me.
I feel rather stupid as I trudge across the hallway and knock on Kelly’s door. There’s a good chance neither of them will be awake, or I’ll get flashed in the next ten seconds.
I pound harder.
Surprisingly enough, none of our other neighbors bursts out of their door, telling me to shut the hell up.
Finally, I do hear something inside, which makes me pause, then drop my hand. Staring at the peephole, I try to see if maybe light comes on at the other side of the door. The sound repeats itself—a bump, as if someone knocks over a chair, or runs into it. I wince. I hate when that happens.
I hate it even more when nothing more happens. The entire house around me is as silent as it ever gets.
Annoyed, I try the door, surprised to find it open. That’s strange. I tell myself they must have been starving when they got the food I left for them earlier and forgot to lock it. It happens to the best of us.
The apartment is almost as small as mine. The main difference is that mine has an open floor plan with just the bathroom sectioned off, while Kelly has an actual kitchen-den-bedroom setup. You enter through the kitchen, then take the door into the den, and to the right side of that is the cubbyhole she calls her bedroom. Some of the sex-related noise pollution hails from the fact that the bedroom is so tiny that the bed rocks against three of the walls when you get some good momentum going—her words, and she’s not wrong, as she has proven on many accounts.
Why am I rambling about that in my head now? Because the second I step into the kitchen, I can tell that something is wrong.
My first clue is the stench. And I mean stench, not just some light odor from forgetting to do the dishes for a few days mixed with some sweat and pheromones. As soon as the door swings open, I get blasted with a truly vile combination of urine, feces, spoiled food, and something else.
Maybe now would be a good time to call 911 after all?
As I think that, I automatically grope inside the door for the light switch.
It’s only then that I realize that the entire building has no lights, or at least our floor doesn’t. Sue me—I need blackout curtains because of the streetlight right next to my window, so during the night I usually just pull them to the side a bit and move around in the resulting gloom. The hallway lights are hit-or-miss on a good day. But Kelly’s apartment should have lights.
While my mind is still obsessing over this, I realize that there’s a lump on the floor next to the cabinets, right in the darkest part where no light from the window in the next room over streams in.
Since my phone is already in my hand, I turn on the flashlight mode.
Harsh, bright light floods the room, making me squint at first.
That’s a body on the floor all right, but it’s considerably more clothed and older than I expect—obviously not Kelly or Mario.
What the fuck happened in here?
My throat is tight with dread. Did someone come here and murdered my friends, then escaped down the fire escape when they heard me pound?
Or did they just pretend to, and I’m next?
Just as my brain starts screaming at me to haul ass into my apartment, lock myself in there, and then call the cops, I recognize the soiled yellow shirt the body is wearing. A quick check to the head—finding a gray-black braid—confirms my guess: this is Mrs. Ortega, Kelly’s neighbor on the other side. She’s a nice, elder lady, thankfully partly deaf. We often help her with small errands and she cooks for us in turn.
In the harsh light, I see that the deeply tanned skin on her face, neck, and right hand is dark with something… something that has spread to most of her usually bright-yellow shirt, now mottled brown-black.
That’s a pool of fucking blood that she’s lying in!
I want to scream but my throat refuses to work—and it gets worse when I hear another bumping sound coming from around the corner: Kelly’s bedroom.