As young newlyweds are forced into finding a new home, Chris and June Black find a deal worth taking. Everything seems to be going well, though with strange circumstances arising from the shadows. They'll never see how bad of a deal they actually got.
"Here it is, folks!" the landlord barked gruffly. "A comfy little abode to establish your lives together.” As he opened his arms wide, practically touching the walls on either side of himself with his outstretched fingertips, he grinned, revealing his polished pearly whites; very much the same way a car salesman would. "Whaddya think?" he coaxed, "Look like a good fit for you two?"
Standing nearly shoulder to shoulder, the young newlyweds peered over the decrepit room. From their observations, it was obvious that the previous tenants had not taken very good care of the place. The walls were chipped and peeling; sloughing off like an old sunburn. Dull bulbs flickered relentlessly; strobe lights hiding minor deformities. A reek of stale smoke and sour cat piss filled the air, assaulting their senses. And to top it off, both the refrigerator and the stove appeared to be from a completely different time period altogether. To most it would be a dump; for them, the place was a perfect fit.
"I absolutely adore it!" June excitedly exclaimed. "It may not be cookie cutter, but it has so much charm and potential. I bet we could just touch it up a little here and there…" she swung her arms around, pointing and decorating the place in her mind. "And it’ll be home. What do you think honey?"
Standing beside her, arms crossed tightly like some stoic statue, contrasting June’s supernovae of emotion, was her husband Chris. "Well Hun, it certainly does have charm… If that’s what you’d call it" he replied. Letting out a drawn out sigh, he asked, "How much would this run us again, Mr…?"
"It’s Kharnes." The landlord answered. "But please, call me Tom. The unit is four-hundred and sixty-five a month, and that includes all of your utilities paid. Not to mention that the move-in price is simply the cost of your first months' rent. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal than this." Tom made another wave of his arms to encapsulate the room, another grandiose gesture. "Especially considering today’s market."
Chris couldn’t believe this. Even though the apartment was a little ramshackle, the price seemed outrageously low. In all honesty, it was probably the only place they could afford, and unfortunately, the luxury of time wasn’t on their side; the lease at their previous residence ran out in three days time. He’d have to decide pretty quickly. Glancing down into June’s eyes, aglitter at the prospect of refurbishing this old cubbyhole, he knew what had to be said.
"Alright, Tom, Looks like you’ve got a couple of new tenants." unfolding his arms, Chris offered his hand, which was quickly snatched up. "Good, Good!" Tom praised, sweat beginning to drip down his egg shaped head as he ferociously shook Chris’ grasp. "The place is ready whenever you are." Pulling a damp sheaf of paper out of his jacket, he handed Chris an elaborate pen to seal the deal. "Now, if you’ll just sign here… and here… Good." A throaty relief oozed from his gullet. "So, are there any questions?"
From the way that he looked, Chris was aware that Tom wanted to leave, but he did have a few curiosities.
"Yes, just a couple of questions there, Tom. On my way in there was a door to the right of this apartment, one with no numbers on it. I was wondering where that led to?"
The landlord's eyebrows rose, apparently surprised with himself for not mentioning this detail. "That would be the door to the basement where your washing facilities are located. We have a state-of-the-art washer and dryer here for your convenience." Reaching deep down into his pocket, he produced a rusty old key; the kind you’d imagine would be used in some long forgotten castle. "This will let you down whenever you’d like. Were there any other questions that you had?"
"Yeah…" Chris said. "I’m just curious. Who were the last tenants who lived here?"
Tom’s bright smile faltered a fraction. "Umm..Uhh…" he fumbled over his words. "Yes, the last tenants. Well, it was an elderly lady by the name of Mrs. Richardson, and her son. Is there anything else? I’m really in sort of a rush." With that, he opened up his face again into that massive smile of his, wiggling his second chin in the process.
"May I ask why they vacated?" Chris prodded.
Tom’s bright smile all but vanished, leaving behind only a grim visage. He regretted having to recount this story for the umpteenth time. "You see…” He regrettably began. “Mrs. Richardson had, let me say… an ill son. He was a bit slow, if you get my meaning. He had a pet, one that he loved dearly. But Mrs. Richardson hated animals, and I’ll tell you, they hated her just as much! One day she’d had enough of old Pinky, and threw her out. When her son couldn’t find his only friend, he became hysterical, like a toddler that accidently rips their teddy bear in half." He chuckled a little at that. "Well, one night he left to go looking for it and never came back. All alone, Mrs. Richardson got into a little accident. With no one around to help her, she…" Tom paused, averting his eyes from the couple. "She drowned in the bathtub. I haven’t seen her son around since, so the apartment went up for sale. I couldn’t just let this place sit around. You’ve gotta pay the bills, you know?"
The young couple was petrified, aghast at this morbid recount. No wonder it was so cheap. Chris was first to respond, shattering the thick tension like ice. "That’s terrible! Why didn’t you tell us about this earlier?"
Swaying back and forth, Tom couldn’t raise his eyes to either of them. He looked guilty, the first real emotion he’d shown thus far. "You see, you aren’t the first prospective tenants, there have been quite a few others. But every time I tell them about Mrs. Richardson, they turn tail and run. Now, it’s not a bad apartment, and the rent is as low as I can bring it." Stopping, he breathed in deeply. "Are you still wishing to rent?"
Looking defeated, the married couple could see why he had been so aggressive in his sales tactics.
"Well…" June spoke up, "Let the past be the past" Her face lit up again. When she wanted something, she rarely let it slip through her fingers.
"Ok, Tom, we’ll be seeing you again in a month." Chris confirmed.
"Thank you, Mr. Black. I really think you’ll enjoy the place. At the moment, I have some other properties I need to go check on. If you have any problems, just give me a ring. You two have a wonderful day." Giving the couple a final nod of the head and a quick wave, he was out the door in a rush to his next appointment.
Placing his hands on his hips, Chris gazed over the room, somewhat resembling Peter Pan. Drawing his attention to June, a gentle smile spread over his face. "It really does need a lot of work, you know. But I think it’ll be fun." Wrapping his arms around his wife, she gently spoke up to him. "Of course it will. Everything I do with you is fun, baby. Hey, how about you and I christen the place?"
"Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. June Black?" Chris asked playfully.
"Maybe I am." She giggled. Strutting over to the door, she gently closed it, snapping the deadbolt into place.
* * * * *
"And that’s the last of it." Dumping the duct-taped cardboard box into the hand-me-down sofa, Chris stretched back, popping his spine with a few gratifying snaps. Once the place had filled up with their stuff, it looked a good deal less worn-down than the first time they’d toured it. It was theirs now. It was home.
"So, finally…done…" Chris trailed off, expecting June to be right behind him. She was, wasn’t she? Walking out the open front door, he started retracing his steps back to the moving truck. He found her half way there.
"God mother-fucking damn it!" June cursed at no one in particular. "Why the HELL doesn’t Tom pave this goddamn path?" Scattered across the mud, the contents of the box she was carrying created an amalgam of mud-caked toiletries. Her new blouse had also become a victim of her spill.
Chris simply stood there, a slight grin on his face as he watched the fuming show play out in front of him. "Well Hun, looks like we’re going to have to get you out of those clothes…" he said, raising his eyebrows suggestively.
"Oh quit it, Chris!" June snapped, upset over her misfortune. But like countless other times, her anger was short lived. Breathing in a couple of deep breaths, she raised her eyes to Chris, giggling her sweet laugh. "Why am I so clumsy?"
"Aww, it’s cute babe. Don’t worry about it. This just gives me an excuse to take your clothes off."
"Are you always horny?" June inquired.
"Only when you’re around, babe."
"Ohh, how very sweet of you." she mocked.
"Alright, go get changed. I’ll gather this stuff up." Making her way to the door, June hurriedly walked inside, eager to get out of her mud-splotched clothes. Chris gathered up the remains of her little accident, and watching his step, proceeded back inside. He placed the box next to the front door to be salvaged later, not wanting to muddy up the place on their first day. June appeared in the open doorway a moment later wearing an oversized t-shirt reading "Princess" in bold pink letters. Chris eyed the shirt and chuckled.
"Can I be of any assistance, me lady? He teased.
"Come on Chris, all of my clothes are packed. Cut me some slack." She pleaded.
"Alright babe, lets go put that blouse in the wash." Finding the rusty key lodged in his pocket, he pulled it out, holding it up for both of them to see. "Hope it’s not spooky…" he nervously joked. Taking the key and putting it to the lock, it was obvious that it wasn’t going to fit. "You’ve got to be kidding me…" He said, irritated by Toms mistake. Trying the house key, he found that it too would not fit. Noticing his frustration building, June shoved him out of the way and tried the handle. The door swung open in a smooth arc.
"Sometimes you just have to try the obvious." she scolded.
Peering down into the basement, only shadows met their gaze. The place was incredibly dark. Old, rickety stairs led down to what seemed like an eternal abyss. It gave Chris the chills, but he was determined to help June out. "Why don’t I go down first?" he said a little worriedly.
"Oooh, scared for little ol’ me?” June said.
"No, it’s dark down there, and you know…you ARE clumsy…"
"Lead the way!" She responded, rolling her eyes and waving him on.
Slowly, Chris began to descend the wooden steps, each footfall producing a litany of creaks sending shivers up his spine. After a few careful steps, the darkness completely engulfed him. After a few more, he had reached the bottom, feeling cool, hard concrete beneath his soles. The room was deafeningly quit, and cold as death; an ancient mausoleum. Searching the walls for a light switch, he felt something rub against his face. Leaping back in surprise and swatting at the air, he soon realized that it was only a pull string.
"You ok down there?" June yelled from the lit alcove above. "I thought I heard you jump?"
"No, I’m fine…" Chris nervously answered back. Jerking the pull string, the incandescent light slowly flickered into life. The naked bulb reached its brightest after a few seconds, illuminating the musky tomb and carving sharp shadows across the gray floor. Half of the room was left in oily darkness.
"You can come down now, June," Chris yelled to the top. Studying his surroundings, he tried to penetrate the shadows. This place was definitely not comforting to his soul. Definitely not home.
"Boo!" June shrieked, grabbing Chris by the waist and making him start in terror.
He turned about face with a look of utter seriousness. "Don’t do that, June!" he demanded. "This place gives me the fucking creeps." Turning back to peer into those jet black shadows, he tried to imagine what could lurk in the farthest corners of this dusky cellar.
June placed her hand on his shoulder, trying to reassure him with her soft touch. "Hun, don’t be scared. It’s just a little dark. You aren’t afraid of the dark, are you?"
"No, I’m not afraid of the dark. But that lock up there doesn’t work, which means anybody could simply saunter on down here and hide out, waiting to victimize the next person that wants to wash their underwear." He was dead serious.
"Or their blouse?" She looked deep into his eyes, a smile slowly playing across her face. "You have an overactive imagination, you know that? Don’t worry. No one is going to do anything down here except wash their clothes. Now let me just put this in the wash and I’ll come down later to get it, alright?" Her eyes pleaded him not to worry.
Chris relaxed, dropping his tense shoulders. "Alright, alright. Let’s go have a drink and celebrate our move-in.” He pulled her tight against his body. "Then, after that, we can christen the place."
"We already did that!" June giggled.
Chris planted his lips on hers, kissing her passionately. "Second time’s the charm."
* * * * *
A week passed by, and all was well. Chris was back at work pulling in some good cash, and June had started writing again, drawing inspiration from their new dwelling.
By the time Chris arrived home, which was usually around six p.m., June had ordered pizza and was watching the local news. Chris dropped himself down into the sofa, weary from a hard day’s work. Leaning over onto June he inquired, "What kind of pizza, babe?"
"Pepperoni with extra olives."
He scrunched his face disgustedly. "Olives, you know I hate olives!" This depressed him. He needed sustenance!
"Don’t worry hun. I got one for you, too." She looked him straight in the eye, holding him in temporary stasis. "Meatlovers. Extra bacon." His face cracked into a huge, carnivorous grin. Leaping from the couch, he raced to the kitchen to grab himself a slice. Anything with extra bacon was worth the work.
Shuffling back with a handful of heart-attack, Chris plopped down, focusing on the T.V. "Watcha watching?" He said with a mouthful of processed cuisine.
"Local news, looks like there’s a killer on the loose. A murderous rapist, actually." An artists' rendering of a fortyish looking grizzled male vagrant panned onto the screen.
("He is extremely dangerous. Women of any age should not walk the streets alone at night. It is imperative to stay in a group…")
"Great. Another psycho wandering the streets." Chris admonished, meat tumbling out of his mouth leaving greasy smudges down the middle of his work shirt.
"Chris! Now you’ll have to wash your shirt." June scolded. "But that reminds me. I completely forgot about my blouse and I’m going to Becky’s party in a couple of days. I wanted to show her how good I looked in it. Here, why don’t you give me your shirt and I’ll throw it in with my blouse." Chris didn’t respond, still munching away on his slice of heaven, intoxicated in its deliciousness.
June cursed him, grabbing a hold of the bottom of his shirt and yanking it right over his head. "Hey!" Chris protested. "I’m sorry. I’m just absorbed by this pizza. Or rather, I’m absorbing this pizza!" He gave June a hearty smile, causing her to giggle at his foolishness. "Don’t worry about it." June assured. "And you’re welcome for the pizza, by the way!"
"Yes, thank you! You know how I love meat!" Chris blurted, giving them both a good laugh.
"Well, I’m gonna go take care of this before I forget again. If I’m not back in five minutes, come looking!" June said jokingly. Stepping over Chris, she made her way to the door and departed, leaving it slightly ajar.
Chris spread himself on the couch, flipping to a new channel. Listening to news about murderers and rapists was always so depressing. If something like that ever happened to June, he didn’t know what he would do. He’d probably go bat-shit insane.
Finishing off his slice of pizza, Chris’s stomach growled for more. After inhaling another two pieces, he realized that it had been more than five minutes. In actuality, it had been closer to ten. He started to worry. But no, she was probably just playing a joke on him, right?
Erupting from the television, a thundering boom from an automobile accident reverberated throughout the tiny room. And hidden underneath, what sounded like a scream. A woman’s scream. June’s scream…