~ By Isaac Marion ~
Harrison Platt is not
an uptight man. He enjoys music, he enjoys gin and tonics, and he has
social get-togethers from time to time. He is not uptight, he just values
his privacy. He doesn't judge anyone for what they do in their own homes,
whether it's illegal drugs, internet gambling, or sexual experimentation.
It's only when people's personal lives begin to intrude on his existence
that he takes issue. He has never had an argument with a neighbor until
The music starts around 9:00 pm. The
walls of his apartment are thin, so it doesn't take much for sound to
filter through from adjacent units. The music is soft at first, just some
nondescript jazz played at reasonable volumes. He finds its audibility
mildly annoying, but he ignores it and carries on with his business. He is
preparing sandwiches for the rest of the workweek.
as Harrison is brushing his
teeth, the music abruptly switches to a thumping house beat, and the
volume increases dramatically. He pauses his brushing and closes his eyes,
taking a slow, calming breath. He will not let this get to him. He will
wait it out with utmost courtesy.
At 10:30, Harrison undresses down to
his undershirt and white boxer shorts, and climbs into bed. The beat
causes the glass of water on his nightstand to rattle slightly. He lies in
bed and stares up at the ceiling with a scowl.
the sounds of wild love-making penetrate the walls. A woman screams
rhythmically, sometimes shouting obscenities or lewd suggestions, and
Harrison can just make out the
animal grunting of the man, his thrusts keeping time with the pounding
beat. Harrison rolls his eyes and mutters to himself in disbelief. As the
woman's wet, gasping shouts begin to crescendo, Harrison can't help
developing an erection, despite his annoyance. The noise occasionally fades for a
brief rest, but quickly picks up again more frenzied than before. It
begins to sound more like murder than lovemaking.
Finally, at 11:45,
an hour and fifteen minutes past his bed time,
Harrison grits his teeth and knocks on
the wall with two knuckles. The roars of pleasure do not stop or even
hesitate. So promptly that it seems like a response, the music's volume
jumps up. In addition to the relentless beat, a whomping bass line enters
the mix, as well as some jagged synth stabs. Harrison wonders how anyone
could dance, let alone make love, to such an apocalyptic soundtrack.
By 12:00, their frantic intercourse
shows no sign of stopping, and the volume is such that the couple might as
well be coupling right there in Harrison's bed. He throws his covers off and stands
up, clenching his fists. "This is ridiculous," he says out loud. He is quite
certain that when he and Brenda used to make love here, the neighbors
would never have been aware of her gentle whimpers or his silent
thrusts, and the only music they ever played was Vivaldi or, if they were
feeling adventurous, Stravinsky. Harrison goes into the kitchen to fix a
midnight snack, noting that this is the first time in months he has been
awake at midnight.
He brings his peanut butter and honey
sandwich into the living area of his tiny one-bedroom unit, and sits on
the couch taking big, angry bites and scowling at the blank television. He
knows he's going to be exhausted for work tomorrow. Even in the best of
situations he does not sleep well, and always wakes up badly no matter how
many hours he gets. Even with a solid eight he staggers through the halls
of his gray, flickering insurance office taking constant pulls from his 32
ounce coffee thermos. Tomorrow is going to be hell, and he will have to
deal with more than the usual amount of ribbing about hangovers. This is
all the more annoying considering he has never had a hangover in his life.
Harrison finishes his sandwich and
flips on the television. He is hoping to wait out the neighbors' orgy and
go back to bed when they eventually stop, if they ever do. He watches
infomercials for another 30 minutes, and then stares at the dividing wall
in amazement. It is now 12:30. They have been pounding wildly, with only
momentary lulls, for an hour and a half.
Harrison stands up indignantly, his
face scrunched into a look of angry disbelief, and bangs on the wall with
his fist as hard as he can. He has never done anything like this in all
his countless years of living in this apartment complex, but the noise is
jarring his brain to jelly. He bangs ten times, then waits, breathing
heavily. For about twenty seconds, there is no change. The couple
continues their business, and the bass continues to throb. Then, to
Harrison's amazement and alarm, the music rises a solid ten decibels.
Harrison remembers a night a long time
ago when he visited his sister in the bigger city to the south, and she
forced him to go with her to a downtown nightclub. She wanted him to meet
some girls, get drunk, "have a good time". She told him his life was
depressing her. She said she couldn't take it anymore. So they walked into
one of those frightening clubs with the long lines and dress codes and
hulking doormen, and when Harrison stepped inside, the bass almost emptied
his bowels. He felt dizzy and nauseous, and stumbled back against the bar
while his sister rushed the dance floor. He ended up spending the whole
night in a bathroom stall, sitting on the toilet with his pants still
buckled, feeling the beat pummeling his internal organs, until his sister
finally found him there and drove him home.
Now, here in his apartment, the volume
thundering through his wall is easily on par with that nightclub. His
plastic ferns shake as if dancing. All his kitchenware rattles like a
Harrison can't think. He covers his
ears with his palms and flees the apartment. Outside his door is the long hallway of other
apartments, units 6001 through 6100. The
noise out here is dramatically quieter, and disperses down the hallways so
that Harrison can't tell exactly where it's coming from. The building is
of such a size that most units have six neighbors: one above, one below,
and one on each wall. Harrison doesn't know how many units deep the
building is, but only the lucky ones in the outer layer have windows.
Given that he is on the 60th floor, he imagines the view would be
spectacular, but he can not remember what it would look out upon. Trees?
City skyline? Perhaps a brick wall.
He briefly considers knocking on the
door of one of the other units and asking them what they should do about
the noise situation, but he doesn't. He has never had an encounter with
anyone in this building. Just brief glimpses of people disappearing around
corners. It is an unspoken rule that it is bad form to attempt to
interact. It is a quiet building. People like to be left alone.
Harrison gets in the elevator,
deciding he will have to wake up the on-site manager. The elevator
plummets, a tiny, glowing dot in the dark, cubic expanse of the building.
He remembers a weekend a long time ago
when his sister invited him to the city to see her new apartment. She met
him in the lobby and gave him a warm, hard hug. They got in the elevator
and she talked the whole way up, smiling and gesturing and laughing at her
own stories. Harrison smiled and said little. She gave him a tour of her
place, offering delighted descriptions of each room like a museum guide. It was a 1930s
building, appointed in a quaint retro style. Harrison's sister had only
lived here a few days but her apartment was fully decorated and already
felt lived-in. Harrison sat on the loveseat and sipped tea while she
talked about her career and her love life. Her hands flew as she spoke.
Her eyes sparkled. Harrison sat there soaking it in, nodding and smiling,
taking deep breaths of the cinnamony air. He stayed for dinner, and
delayed leaving until late at night. Now, standing in the elevator alone,
hurtling down floor after floor to the foundations of his building, he
finds he can not remember the name of the street his sister lives on.
The easy-listening jazz playing in the
elevator sounds directly inspired by the unbearable techno from upstairs.
Thumping drums and jagged synths rearranged for fretless bass and alto
sax. Is he imagining this?
He arrives at the ground floor. The
elevator doors open with awkward slowness, making him stand there and
wait. He is in such a state of agitation that he almost grabs them and
forces them open. They squeal as if badly in need of oil.
The lobby is too large. The light
provided by flickering overheads is too weak to support this much space,
leaving dark, sucking shadows in the corners.
can't recall the last time he has been down here. He usually takes the
elevator directly to the parking garage. There are posters and brochures
everywhere advertising the building, but there are no words on any of
them. Just amateurish, flash-lit photos of empty bedrooms and long
hallways. Harrison can't recall what originally attracted him to this
complex. It was so long ago.
The reception desk is smothered in a
thick shadow. Harrison is not sure but he thinks he sees the black
silhouette of someone behind the desk, slumped over it with head resting
on arms, sleeping. He approaches uneasily, taking quiet, cautious steps.
Even standing directly at the desk, he can't make out the person sleeping
in the shadow, but he can hear low, extremely slow breathing. Each
exhalation seems to take twenty seconds.
Harrison squints at the floor-plan map
to find the manager's room, then hastily retreats from the desk. As he
walks down the poorly lit hall toward the manager, he remembers the look
on his sister's face when she burst into the men's bathroom. When she
threw open the stall door and looked down on him like a vengeful goddess.
She was covered in sweat, her hair hanging loose, pulled free of clips and
ties. She hadn't said a word, just shook her head, grabbed his hand and
pulled him out. He can't remember the last time he has talked to her.
He reaches the manager's room and
bangs on the door. He knows this is well outside protocol for this
building, that he may be waking the manager up, but this feels like an
emergency. No one answers the door and there is no sound of stirring
inside. Harrison tries the door, and finds it unlocked. He pushes it open,
and goes in.
This is…not right.
The lights are out, so he can only see
weak outlines from the hallway light, but this room is clearly not an
apartment. He sees the edges of desks. Computers. File drawers. He
recognizes these features. This room is his insurance office. He hears the
sound of slow breathing from the distant corners of the room.
Harrison closes the door and turns
away, staring hard at the floor, his brow deeply furrowed. He walks back
toward the elevator. At the far end of the hall, he can see an open door
with a velvet rope across it. In the shadows clinging to the corners, he
can just make out the shape of a large person with its arms crossed over
its chest. Its head is slumped forward, and its shoulders rise and fall
slowly. Multi-colored light emanates faintly from inside the door, but no
music. The club is closed. Harrison remembers it being open till 2:00 am,
but… But wait. That was there, not here. This is neither here nor there.
Harrison gets in the elevator and
returns to his floor. He can hear the music again, pounding and echoing in
the halls. He goes to the neighboring unit where the sound is coming from,
and hammers the door. There is no response. He can still hear the gasps
and moans of ecstasy underneath the throbbing beat. Gritting his teeth,
takes the knob and shoves the door open.
The music stops. The moaning stops.
There is total silence.
The room is empty. There is no
furniture. No bed. No occupants. Stale, musty air wafts into Harrison's
nostrils. Cobwebs tickle his hair. The room is vacant.
An extremely low hum rises up through
the floor and then saturates the walls, as if the hallway has become a
massive speaker cone. The droning pitch wavers up and down, rattling
Harrison's ankles. He grips the doorframe to keep his footing. Droplets of
cold sweat pop out of his forehead. He leans over and dry heaves, vomiting
in empty gasps that produce only strings of clear fluid.
At that moment, every door in the long
hallway bursts open. An ecstatic fanfare of brass and cymbals blares out
of every room, a frenzied medley of a Sousa march and "Hail to the Chief".
The low hum churns beneath it discordantly, like thick, dark oil.
Harrison turns around in the vacant
room's doorway and faces the hall. From out of the open doors, slowly, as
if dragging through the deep molasses of the low hum, human figures stream
into the hall. Their arms are raised and waving. Their mouths are open in
silent cheers. Some of them are applauding. Their faces are blank,
featureless, just empty spaces with mouths. They are moving towards
Harrison, their arms waving, their steps thick and slow.
"What?" Harrison shouts at the
advancing crowd. He backs into the vacant room, feeling the cobwebs on his
Confetti explodes out of the air
vents, filling the hall. Some of the figures are carrying flags and
pennants. All their mouths are open, but the only sound is the music,
deafening, frenetic, distorted. Their teeth glisten in the faint light.
"What?" Harrison screams. "What?"