by Alice Mulconry
(Battle Creek, Mi USA)
We lived in an apartment that no one wanted. The lure of cheap rent wasn’t enough of a draw for even the most desperate. We were a family on the margin . The margin of opportunity, money and sanity. We were the working poor ,with a questionable pedigree. Housing had always been an issue, because of finances... and other matters of social delicacy. Our last chance was waiting, we had been disappointed before by landlords who were ready to rent until they saw us. The 1950s were not ready for my very blonde mother and dark complexioned father. My parents were shown dismal cold water flats fit for vermin, in industrial slums. To get rooms above a store on the avenue would take a miracle. Miracles are heaven sent, while evil likes to disguise tainted gifts that come with hefty price tags. At a shabby real estate office, there existed a listing with no takers. The rent was a steal at $50.00 a month. Eight large rooms above an old saloon . This was a place that liked secrets, where suspect people with poor pocket books could live. There was a downstairs tenant in a similar layout and the saloon had a separate entrance. Eight rooms where my alcoholic older brother could rant and rave away from prying eyes. After all who would bother calling in a disturbance that occurred in a saloon unless it spilled into the street? The rooms were wide with tall ceilings, ornate gas fixtures on those ceilings, pocket doors and each bedroom had a closet . There were two ornamental gas fireplaces that did not work, a pull chain toilet and claw foot tub. The bedrooms facing the avenue were sun lit most of the day, while the central hallway and rest of the bedrooms were steeped in a greasy darkness. The wall at the end of the hallway was oddly bowed to accommodate a closet from an inside bedroom, one of many design quirks that were part and parcel of the place. There were windows and doors that led to brick walls or narrow shafts. A boarded up dumbwaiter that we used to hold our trash can, contained a skylight to the roof. One could hear voices coming from that shaft. My parents said it was just the voices of bar patrons. Strangely, when the bar was closed the cacophony of sounds seemed louder somehow. We never heard much noise from the street or the saloon for that matter, the apartment was it’s own world, a vacuum. Loud crashes and faint scratchings happened at all hours, perhaps mice in the walls or rats in the basement knocking over wooden crates...at least that was the sensible explanation. There was no logical explanation for the misty forms that glided down the hall just out of reach or the ice cold spots that traveled from hallway to stairs. One of my earliest memories was watching from my crib as a wraith made an appearance. She glided
into my room from a darkened corner, just a smoky mist at first , then a shimmering as she became solid. I remember her face was that of an old woman. She was smiling and held out her arms to me, but just as quickly as she appeared she vanished as my mother entered the room. As a child I became accustomed to the strange comings and goings in the apartment. Many times at play I would chase a rustling skirt or boot heel around a corner, never finding the hide and seeker. Not every ethereal visitor was playful or harmless. At the witching hour , the blackness would come out. The first 14 years of my life were spent in those rooms and I don’t remember ever sleeping well at all. At night , in the wee hours the place took on a demonic feel. The darkness would pitch itself blacker than black and suffocate the dreamer. I knew my tormentors , two large shadow beings , whom I called “Red Eyes” and “Green Eyes”. On any given night either one would stalk the hall or invade my room. They would stand and stare at me as I lay paralyzed with fear. They stood floor to ceiling, bigger than a human, silent and stinking of rot. They glowered with their burning eyes. I feared “Green Eyes” the most, he was a breath stealer. I would squirm under their glare until I could hurl myself out of bed into my parents room. Once between my parents in bed , I could rest, they wouldn’t get me there. This may have been my active imagination, but the thought of those childhood nights still send a chill thru me. We as a family went through some hard times living in that cursed place. Trouble followed us . No one ever wanted to linger in our home, those that did often said that they couldn’t remember when they had ever felt so helpless. The downstairs tenants didn’t seem to fare any better either. Death and sorrow were their constant companions too. After a tragic renter left, the place would remain empty sometimes for years. The building seemed to feed on sorrow. Any pet that I brought into it never lasted very long. One day the dog, cat, bird , turtle or fish would be happily playing only to be found dead the next morning. Doors, cabinets , faucets, would often be found open and once gas was hissing from the dormant chandeliers. When the gas company showed up to turn it off the shaken mechanic came up from the cellar to say that the pipe was not connected to anything , there couldn’t have been a gas leak. So many years have passed since I lived in that place, it still exists. In it’s new configuration there are four apartments where once only two. I’m sure the rent is no longer $50.00 a month....evil after all ,comes with a hefty price tag.