520 South - Chapter One
Knocks in the Night
Moonlight filtered through the blinds. How long had she been at the computer? Helen supported her weight on her hands and pushed up hard against the wooden arms of the chair so she could stand and stretch. It felt good to be out of the chair. Her feet slapped on the floor as she crossed the room. When she stood at the window the stiffness in her legs had almost gone. A haze of light clouded around the half-open blinds. Helen flipped up a blind slat and peered out at the moon. She inhaled deep.
The sight was breath-taking. One half of the moon shone in a blue-black sky, the other half dissolved into the dark. On similar moonlit nights in the past Helen had shut off lights in her apartment, pulled up her blinds and turned on the music of The Moody Blues. There had been times, when the moon was full, she’d even poured herself a glass of red wine. But tonight she was tired. She closed the blinds.
Music seeped in from the apartment below. She’d never met the guy who lived there, but she heard him when he walked back and forth on the hardwood floor from room to room, as well as snippets of his conversations, usually on hot days when everyone in the building opened windows. Many times the electronic plucking of a guitar came through the walls. Maybe he was a songwriter. Once she’d heard him telling his friend how “they were going to make millions”, his voice loud with excitement. That had been during the summer, before the heated shouting match Helen heard weeks later between him and possibly that same friend. She’d stayed at the window and from below unmistakable sounds of crashing and furniture scraping drifted up, and a surprised voice yelled, “Are you going to hit me? Are you kidding? You’re going to hit me?” Since then the downstairs apartment had been reasonably quiet, no voices, only music and occasionally the sound of what Helen thought was sobbing, but it was loud and erratic so she wasn’t sure if it was the whimpering of a dog left alone or that guy crying.
Whenever Helen heard the sobbing, whimpering noise downstairs, she didn’t know if she should knock on her neighbor’s door to make sure he was all right or stay out of his business. She didn’t even know who he was. What if he was some weirdo? She stayed out of it.
There was no such noise from below on this moonlit night. Helen switched off the computer and prepared for sleep. The clock near her bed glowed 10:00pm. She set her alarm for 5:00am; a heavy workload was planned for the morning. Helen couldn’t stop yawning. She grabbed her pillow with both arms and closed her eyes.
Long, loud blasts disturbed the quiet of the building. Helen opened her eyes wide and sat upright in bed. Blinking, she tried to see the time. It was a blurry 3:07am. The building’s fire alarm continued to blare outside her apartment door. Why did that thing always go off so early in the morning? It rattled her nerves. She followed the same routine whenever the alarm sounded; she felt around the floor for slippers and then tiptoed to the door. Peering through the peephole into the building’s hallway she didn’t see anything unusual. No one was in the hallway. It was three in the morning. She was amazed every time how no one seemed to react to the building’s alarm, especially when it went off early in the morning. Oops. Wrong. The young guy next door opened his door, peeked out, then closed it seconds later. It made Helen feel better that at least someone was checking out for a possible emergency. She clicked on her bedroom lamp. Less than two hours before she had to get up. If this night was going to be the same as in the past, the building’s alarm would be turned off only to sound again two or three more times before the night was over. Maybe she should have some coffee and wait for the morning. Watch some television. The alarm went silent in mid-blast.
Helen yawned long and wide. She sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed her eyes. Distant sounds of knocking could be heard in the quiet of the building. Helen sat up straighter. Maybe there was something wrong. She listened for any sounds in the night. More knocking. Closer. She jumped to her feet. There was heavy pounding at her door. Loud. Someone was using their knuckles. Helen didn’t bother to use the peephole, she unlocked and opened the door.