~  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 today.

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.

At 10:00, 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.

At 11:00, 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 room-sized tambourine.

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. Harrison 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. This is…

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, Harrison 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 neck. "What?"

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. They advance.

"What?" Harrison screams. "What?"