John heard a door slam in the apartment above. It was followed by the deep, muffled tones of the man. John couldn’t discern the words, he never could, but the tone was palpably aggressive. They were at it again.
John had never seen or met the couple who lived above him, but he knew their relationship better than he would’ve liked. That deep, threatening tone, often preceded by a slammed door. The soft, defensive responses. The escalating yells and the pathetic squeals of fear. That thick, wet sound of a slap, so sharp it cut right through the floorboards. The duller thud which John could’ve put down to the fridge door slamming were it not for the shrieks of pain which cut through the floorboards like the scream of a buzz saw. He often pondered the muffled accusations he couldn’t discern. A burnt dinner? Too much money spent? A furtive search through her phone that had aroused suspicion?
It all amounted to the same thing. But what could he do? Who was he, knowing nothing of them, to insinuate himself into their relationship? Sometimes, when the thuds began to form a beat and the shrieks rang in a chorus that rattled his ribcage and the soul within, his hand reached for his phone. But with his thumb hovering over the glistening screen, his thoughts stilled it. She’ll probably deny it… It’ll only make it worse for her… I’ll be in his sights as well as her…
His thumb always lingered so long that the screen turned black. By then, her shrieks had quelled into whimpers which assured him she was still alive. He could put his phone away.
This night’s performance was little different to the last. He had bought sound-excluding headphones months ago. He connected them to the TV and put them on, glad for the privacy. Game of Thrones was on, and he wasn’t going to let them ruin it for him. He settled into the couch and turned up the volume.
John ripped the headphones off, and his eyes darted around the room. He had heard the words so distinctly, and yet he was certain they had not come through the headphones. He sat deathly still and listened for the sound of movement in the apartment.
He heard more muffled shouts through the ceiling and, tone for tone, a voice seemed to yell right before his face.
“You worthless piece of shit!“
John sank back into the couch, shrinking from the bodiless voice which filled the room around him. He sat there, shrunken and frozen in fear.
“Everything I do for you! And this is what you give me!”
John felt the hot breath of this yell on his face, and spittle flecked his cheeks. He raised one cautious hand to his cheek, but it was bone dry. The boom of that voice emerged mere inches from his face, and he felt it storm over him. Tears crept into his eyes, but his instinct held. He pulled out his phone, but the voice growled in his face, quietly, with the edge of a knife in it:
“No, no, no. That wouldn’t be good for you, I promise you.”
John dropped the phone and looked around desperately once more, as if he could convince himself that this invisible voice were not right in front of his face. But the apartment was empty, empty bar the rhythms of violence that vibrated through from above.
He heard a soft, but sharp rebuke emanate through the ceiling, and immediately he heard and felt that thick, wet slap strike, and he found his head turned to the side. The hot pain rushed across his left cheek. He raised his left hand to his cheek, and he could feel the hot blood rushing out of his broken capillaries beneath the skin. He looked dead ahead, his sight blurred by the flood of tears, eyes locked on this invisible fiend.
“Why are you doing this to me?” he whimpered despite himself, as whimpers mimicking his own crept between the floorboards above.
Suddenly, an invisible hand gripped him round the neck, followed by two distinct but consonant screams, one of which came from his own lungs. He found himself dragged up from the couch and pressed against the wall behind.
“Because you just don’t listen!”
John’s cheeks were flecked once more with apparitional spittle. The voice sank in volume and tone, becoming almost soothing. “I’m just trying to help you, don’t you see?” With each stressed word he jerked John’s neck, driving him harder against the wall. “You could be so good, so perfect.” The voice took on a sharper edge. “But you just fight me and fight me. It’s always a fight you want, isn’t it?! You get a kick from it, I guess. It’s a fight you want, isn’t it?”
John tried to respond, but his windpipe was so depressed that he could emit little more than a squeak. “Nu!”
The voice sank down to a gravelly whisper. “If it’s a fight you want, I’ll give it ya.”
Suddenly, John’s neck was freed, and he sank down gratefully and gasped. But just as he had sunk into a certain comfort, he heard that familiar dull thud, but this time it was wrapped with a thick wet sound that sent his brain shuddering inside his skull as it was turned against the leather of the couch. Its concomitant shriek came from above, but his own vocal cords were stunted and silenced by the shock.
He righted his head and raised his hand to his violated cheek. He could feel the swelling already. The blood seemed to surge beneath his fingertips. That rush of blood sent a flood of rage swelling within him. Would he have turned the other cheek if it had happened to him in a bar? Would he have had a second thought for who the police might believe?
He dragged himself from the couch to the front door, the injury still smarting inside him. Then he thought again. He walked back into the apartment. Could he really do this? he wondered, raking his hair with his hands. The man hadn’t actually attacked him. But he’d attacked her, and John knew how she felt.
He’s too strong for me, John thought.
He went into the kitchen and pulled the biggest knife out of the block. He stormed out of the apartment, knife in hand. What’s their apartment number? he wondered as he stood in the elevator. He had no floor plan; he didn’t know the couple. How could he be sure?
He could only try. He slid the knife between his jeans and belt at his back to give himself time to think. Two doors from my apartment to the elevator, two doors from the elevator to their apartment. He knocked on the door. In a few seconds, a man opened the door.
John tried to align that voice with the one he’d heard muffled a thousand times, but he couldn’t tell.
“I heard a racket,” John said. He could see into the kitchen through an open door to the left. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, all’s fine,” the man said with an innocence that turned John’s stomach. But as he spoke those words, a woman with a red, tear-stained face walked through the kitchen.
“It’s really not,” John replied, pulling the knife from behind him. He grabbed the man by neck, just as he had done to John, and drove him up against the wall. “See what you made me do?” John said.
In a matter of seconds, the man’s eyes splayed wide, then they narrowed with vicious intent. But as John sank the knife in, his eyes—still alive—simply went dead, vacant, helpless. One. Two. Three. The knife went in and out silently—it was all so silent compared to what had come before.
“How does it feel?” John asked.
The man opened his mouth in reply, but only blood came out. John could hardly conceive that a death could pass so silently. Then he heard a familiar shriek. He turned and saw her there, framed by the open kitchen door. In spite of all he’d done to her, she stood there, her hands over her mouth, stifling her grief.
John froze. He closed his eyes and sighed. Fuck. He turned his head reluctantly and saw the thing. No more than two feet in height, a soother fallen at its feet. It stood there, the sweetest child, wanting only to run into its mother’s arms, but its dying father blocked the way.
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