Horrific Neighbor

Dark stairway
Publish Novellas 8 November 2023


An optimistic new tenant soon discovers unsettling and mysterious sounds in her midst. Will she, like others, remain passive or will she confront her fears?

⚠️ This short psychological thriller includes domestic violence. Continue with discretion.

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Three Over One

A young twenty-something woman left a troubled single-parent household with an alcoholic father as soon as she turned eighteen. Now she’s living with a roommate while answering phones at a manufacturing company that has satellite offices throughout the country.

It’s difficult for Sally to contain her excitement after receiving a new job in a different city of intriguing enchantment. Her employer is even paying relocation expenses. Rather than spend the entire budget on a lavish apartment with expensive furnishings, she decides to obtain an austere abode and pocket the remainder.

At half the rate of snazzier apartments on the other side of town, Sally has her choice of two accommodations within a four-story building that’s just a mile from her office. The first-floor unit is an easy-access studio apartment. The third-floor unit, with an inoperable elevator, adds a bedroom for $50 less rent. In Sally’s mind, that equates to a $600 annual salary increase, plus a free “gym membership.”

She tells the landlord, “I’ll take apartment number 314. Where do I sign?”

With two month’s deposit, she becomes the newest tenant of mysteriously affordable accommodations. Renting her first solo apartment is a major accomplishment that demonstrates progress from the nightmarish childhood requiring years of therapy.

The advertisement said the unit is moderately furnished. That understatement turns out to mean there’s a spring-shot sofa, small wooden coffee table, hidden closet Murphy bed, gas stove, and tiny refrigerator. You can count the number of items on one hand. On the walls, the garage-sale portrait paintings with eyes that seem to follow her are curious bonuses.

Make it Home

With a week before beginning an exciting job position in this remote city, Sally becomes her own interior decorator. After shopping for paint, bedding, dishes, and small things that she can carry upstairs, she orders furniture online for delivery in three days. That gives her time to paint the walls.

As Sally makes it back to her mid-twentieth-century dilapidated brick building she notices the landlord peering through one of the first-floor apartment windows. She figures it must be another vacancy and shouts a greeting that startles him to hurry away without a response. To satisfy her own curiosity, she peeks in briefly, bags in hand, catching sight of a female silhouette. This disturbing discovery increases her appreciation for living on a higher floor.

Chinese takeout food
Restaurant Asian cuisine keeps Sally from cooking.

Thinking ahead, Sally had purchased Chinese food on her way home. It reminds her of the joyful meals she shared with her roommate. But the first night there, she discovers that she’s not alone in her apartment. Her heart races as she considers running. New in town, with no one else to call, she phones the landlord.

“I have a serious problem,” pausing to catch her breath, “as soon as I set my food down on the coffee table, crawling ants begin encircling it.”

The calming voice on the phone promises to spray the next day. In the meantime, she places her drink cup within a bowl of water, and does the same with her meal. This creates a moat of water around her food. After a few bites, she puts the remainder in the refrigerator.

With a big day behind her and a bigger day ahead, it’s time to climb into what must be the tiniest of shower stalls to rinse off the perspiration and apartment dust. Of course the water is tepid, but Sally adjusts.

As if emerging from a dark past, she pulls the Murphy bed down from its hidden crevice. After spraying it with linen-scented Lysol, she covers the discolored mattress with a zip-on plastic cover and fresh sheets. She then falls face down onto her makeshift slumber haven, fast asleep.

The next morning, she warms some Chinese food in a pot on top of the stove while taking her prescription medication. There are definite disadvantages to living on the upper floor. Looking down from her window, the only view she has is an alley. A ground-floor apartment would allow her to make quick coffee runs and prevent a steep climb at the end of a long workday.

There’s no time for regrets. This is drop-cloths-and-paint day. Just before she begins, there’s a knock on the door. It’s the landlord with bug spray. Hopefully all the fumes from the spray and paint won’t cause her to hallucinate, or worse. The landlord advises, “Keep the windows open through the evening.”

Sally acknowledges the suggestion and cranks up her music to begin painting. After removing the drapes and electrical outlet plates, she covers tricky areas with masking tape. Then she cuts the corners with a paintbrush and fills in the large areas with a paint roller.

Bump in the Dark

Late in the evening, with periwinkle paint splashes on her face and hair, she lays on the lumpy Murphy bed. While looking forward to retiring for the night, Sally hears loud grunts and thumps next door. At first she smiles and turns up her music, assuming it’s vigorous intimate activity.

After hearing a woman’s shrill, she turns down the music and listens more closely to the aggressive thumping. With loud exhalations, it sounds like someone is hitting a punching bag, or perhaps a body is bumping against the walls.

In an effort to think of logical alternatives, Sally reasons, “Perhaps my neighbor is lifting weights or moving furniture.”

With the moonlight casting a shadow across her face, high above the streetcar traffic sounds, Sally tunes her ears to what’s going on. There’s a distinct cry for help between loud thumps against walls.

As a child, she recalls her father’s blows to her mother that transmigrated to herself. In time, Sally became adept at defensive maneuvers. Her hearts sinks with the thought of someone else enduring similar torture. So she phones emergency services without giving her name.

Officers are on scene within ten minutes, knocking at the next-door apartment. There’s some mumbling in the hallway followed by an outburst of hearty laughter. Pressing her ear against her front door, she hears the echo of one officer say something about a video game. Then the police leave within less time than it took to arrive.

Horrific Neighbor

It’s now past midnight. Sally figures that either the matter was a misunderstanding or the fumes interacting with her medication are enhancing her imagination. In a darkness obscuring hidden secrets, she lays her head down, as slumber quickly drags her into submission.


Return twice weekly for miniseries. Any relation to actual persons or events is coincidental. Login provides the most immersive experience. About 1900 total words. Audio may include sound effects that alter reading time.

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