Trigger Warnings: could be paranoia inducing, stalking in a sense
Apartments near campus were far too expensive and far too noisy, but she was excited anyway; it was her second year of college, she was officially living off-campus. No more dorms, no more shared bathrooms, no roommates, even. It was just her and a one-bedroom apartment, pre-furnished with a dining room table, couch, bed, desk, and dresser. Everything could be arranged exactly as she wanted it to be. Sometimes it was eerie being alone in her own place, but the nearly constant noises of partying and televisions on weekend nights were oddly comforting, even when she was sitting alone in her apartment, doors locked, comfortable in bed with her laptop, doing homework, or just goofing off.
She had heard that pranks were common in college, although she hadn’t actually experienced that aspect. She didn’t expect to be shoved into lockers or anything, but silly things like having her stuff taped to the ceiling while she slept seemed inconvenient at the least. Maybe because her friends weren’t creative enough for it or maybe they were just nice enough not to do that kind of thing to her or do that kind of thing to another unsuspecting victim with her, she never seemed to be on the receiving end of such practical jokes. All the same, she was starting to think that her neighbor to the right of her apartment was pulling some kind of prank. Sometimes when she played music louder than usual, she could swear that shortly after, she could hear the same exact music filtering through the paper thin walls. It was like they were listening to her through the wall and looking up her music just to mess with her. It was the same when she did the occasional jumping jacks in her living room when she wanted to wake herself up in the morning. The thump of her feet on the floor would start, and sure enough, a minute or two later she’d hear someone else thumping right back. The strangest thing was that other than those sounds, she never heard a peep out of them. She concluded that they probably just had similar schedules, and if they lived alone like she did, maybe there just wasn’t much noise to be made, or they spent most of their time at a friend’s house.
One night, after hearing the copycat playing the same music she was once again, she knocked on the wall twice, just to see if they would answer. She had mentioned the strange phenomenon to her friends, but they’d just laughed. She had laughed, too, when she heard it said out loud. It was a weird prank, but it seemed rather harmless since all it was was sometimes copying the noises she made or the songs she listened to. After all, maybe they just really liked her taste in music? And morning exercise routine?
She jumped, having almost forgotten that her neighbor might respond. but immediately chided herself for being unnerved. If someone had knocked on her wall, she would answer, too. When it was light out she would knock on their door and confront them about the whole prank, but for the moment she decided to try a quicker way of at least getting a peek at her neighbor. She unlocked her balcony, and stepped out into the night air. If she leaned over the railing just enough, she could see a sliver of the apartments to the right and left of hers. The blinds were open, she could see that much, but strangely, no lights seemed to be on in the apartment to right.
Nobody answered the door when she knocked the next morning. She thought she heard someone moving inside, but she couldn’t be sure; it was possible they really weren’t home, but she suspected they just knew it was her and didn’t want to be confronted about it because that would ruin the joke. She knocked a few more times, but to no avail, and eventually went back to her own apartment to study.
By the time Thanksgiving break rolled around, she had decided to stay in town.. Her brother had recently discovered Dragon Ball Z and talked about little else, her mother had taken up birding and had several trips planned to local parks that she did not want to join her on, and her friends and their teasing about her neighbor’s prank would die down for a while. It wouldn’t be so bad to have some time to recharge and mentally prepare for the inevitable stress of being around one or more parents and extended family around Christmas. The whole apartment complex seemed too quiet, like she was the only one there. She occasionally saw people walking around, but for the most part things were silent except for the sound of cars passing and the occasional dog barking.
She had ignored the neighbors for a long enough time while she was cramming for midterms, but when she went to get herself some breakfast on the second quiet morning, she knocked a mug off the counter, and it smashed on the kitchen floor. She sighed in irritation, and began to search for her broom. Smash. She stood stalk-still, hairs on her arms and the back of her neck standing up with goosebumps. Her neighbors would go that far as to break something just to freak her out? Despite her dislike of confrontation and the sudden uneasiness she felt about her neighbors, she decided they had left her no choice. She left the shards untouched on the floor, and instead put her shoes on and left the apartment, knocking again on the door, louder this time. No answer.
There was a doormat, and in her frustration, she checked underneath it for a key only to find nothing. It figured: they wouldn’t leave a key to an apartment in such an obvious place. But maybe… and when she stood on her tip-toes and felt blindly with her fingers on the top of door-frame, she felt something metal. Fed up with the prank and her neighbor for starting it, she wasted no time in unlocking the door with a click and opening it. The apartment wasn’t dark this time but no lights were on. The only light came from the open balcony. She left the door open behind her and crept forward. It looked as if nobody lived there: besides the furniture, the same pre-furnished table, and couch she had, there was nothing on the walls, nothing in the small kitchen that indicated anyone was there at all. There was one difference, though: there was a television set. And it was on. She approached it slowly, padding along as quietly as she could to crouch down in front of the set on the floor. Her stomach dropped as she recognized what was on the screen.
On the television was a static view of her apartment, including the main room where the kitchen and the living room connected. The smashed cup still sat on the floor, everything was perfectly still. She jumped, startled when she heard a faint knocking coming from the television. Jumping, she turned around to look at the door only to hear her own cursing as she had searched for the key under the welcome rug.
Oh. The recording was on a delay. That was just her.
That wasn’t any comfort, though. Looking around, suddenly far more unnerved, she scanned the room for any sign of her neighbor. What were they doing this for? Had the camera been there the whole time? She got up to check the bedroom, pull out her phone, punch 9-1-1 into her phone, and was ready to press send the second she needed to. She had almost made it to the bedroom, when she caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye; it was coming from the television set. She turned around, hair standing on end, and stared down at the screen. Coming from the direction of her balcony, someone was crawling into her apartment. They were on all-fours, and something was strange about the way they moved, as if they’d been crawling like that for longer than anyone should. She stared in horror as they crept through her apartment, from one end to the other, and she swore she could hear the scrape of fingernails on tile coming through the screen. Only they were too loud to have been picked up by the camera’s microphone.
Then she remembered. The two-minute delay. She turned towards the front door, too afraid to even breathe, and there it was. Not just at the door, but fully inside now, something on all-fours, long nails clicking against the tile, bulging, sallow eyes fixed on her from a gaunt and twisted face.