[After her casual walk reveals a corpse, Ella suspects her new neighborhood has some unpleasant secrets. Fanny, a tenant one floor down, comforts her with tea and sympathy. To read previous installments, start with https://susanbassmarcus.net/first-paragraphs-of-a-new-scary-short-story]
Fanny made excuses about an appointment. “Sorry, can’t go in this robe. Your tea still warm? Take the mug home. I know where to find it,” she said with a small smile while showing me to the door.
“Thanks, Fanny. I appreciate your company…and the tea, but that business around the trash-burner was so strange.”
Fanny whispered, “Strange. Yes. Anyway, you’re welcome.” She paused and gazed into my eyes. “Watch out for Officer Falk,” and she closed the door. I heard her turn the deadbolt.
I spent the rest of the day cleaning, always a therapeutic exercise. After mopping the floors, I scrubbed kitchen counters, stripped the bed, washed and changed sheets, then poured myself a glass of pinot grigio and sank into my red, barrel-shaped wing chair. I swung my feet onto the matching hassock and sighed. A few sips of wine would add a layer of self-medication against my anxiety. I looked forward to the sweet sensation of a loosening spine. Longing to lean back and close my eyes, I glanced at the digital clock on my kitchen counter to calculate my inevitable nap. Almost 5:00 p.m. That day went fast.
I thought about the morning’s strange events, about Fanny’s warning, and Falk’s rushing me away from the incinerator site. Why scold me about ‘my’ neglected cat when he’d just seen a corpse? Musing, I drifted into a hypnogogic state: a pack of dogs was chasing me. I shrieked, “Stop!” and they all sat down, covering their heads with their paws. Just as I saw a big, hyena-like beast emerge from the pack and circle toward me, the phone rang and woke me. I was grateful for its insistent, cheery samba.
Officer Ferguson was calling, asking if I was OK. He thought I sounded frazzled when I picked up.
“Oh, no. I’m fine. Why did you call?”
“I’m asking you to come in to describe the site, tell us what you saw and heard there. Can you make it tomorrow, say at 9 a.m. or is that too early?”
“Not at all, I mean, I can make it fine. Where do I go?”
Ferguson gave me the details and I entered them into my phone’s calendar. He ended the call by telling me a community alert was going out. The local stations had run the story on the morning news and the police department was fielding a lot of calls. “I’d like to hear your side of the story, Mrs. Volkman. What does your husband think?”
I thought, the morning news? Then Fanny would hear about the body, and so would Dave—if they watched the news.
“No husband. I’m a widow.”
“Damn, no, I mean, I’m so sorry. Thoughtless of me. Anyway, tomorrow at nine.”
“Right. See you then.”
I hung up and that was that. Oh joy. A trip to the police station.
Not hungry yet, I picked up an old The New Yorker magazine (a stack of unread issues sat shaming me on my bedside table). Immersed in Adam Gopnik’s essay about his daughter’s imaginary friend, Mr. Ravioli, I didn’t hear the noise at first, but after a few sips of wine, there it was, that light scratching against the wall. Hardly more than a month had passed since I last noticed it. I picked up my wine glass and went into the kitchen. I crouched and, peering into the cabinet where I’d repaired the wall I held my breath and listened.
Scritch-scritch. Scritch-scritch. The sound was distant. I put down my glass and went out into the hallway. Something was scratching at the door of 2A. I hurried inside my apartment, grabbed my keys, and ran down the stairs to Dave’s. I knocked hard at his door. King started barking. I called, “Dave,” but no one answered. He must have been out.
I crossed the hall to Fanny’s. She didn’t respond. Alone in the building, I didn’t know what to do. Looking at Fanny’s door again, I remembered her warning about Falk. That’s silly, I thought. Now that I hear something, he can help me. Maybe a sick or dying animal is trapped in there. I climbed the stairs and back in my place I found Falk’s card on my kitchen counter.
Every so often, the light scratching resumed. I tapped in Falk’s number. His voice mail came on. Rather than leave a message, I decided to text him. Possible abused animal in unit next to mine. Can you investigate? Ella Volkman
In a few minutes, my phone whistled. His text message read: Sounds like probable cause. Will be over soon. Address?
I texted back the information and waited in the building’s vestibule.
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To read previous installments, start with https://susanbassmarcus.net/first-paragraphs-of-a-new-scary-short-story