This is a short story I penned a couple of years ago. I’m not sure if I really like it because it was a fun mental exercise when my upstairs neighbor was driving me batty or because it has some promise!
“Yes, so there were three bangs, and then I heard a woman scream, and then three more bangs.”
“Were those gunshots, ma’am?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I hear banging up there all day long. All night too, they’re really really loud, but-“
“So this is a general noise complaint? Ma’am, you need to call the non-emergency number for that.”
“No! Listen,” Alice rolled over so she wouldn’t have to endure the glare coming from her husband’s side of the bed. Unfortunately, she still felt it drilling into her back. She knew he thought she was crazy for calling, but something about those noises had seemed wrong to her. “Now it’s quiet up there. That’s the strange thing. It stopped, after that, everything stopped. It’s never just quiet up there, not when they’re home, and I can see their truck out front…”
“Ma’am, for noise complaints you need to call the non-emergency number. We’ll send a constable by to check, but in the future this line needs to be kept clear for emergencies.”
Alice sighed and pressed a fist against her forehead. “Yes, fine, alright, “ she murmured before hitting the off button and handing the cordless handset to her husband, who silently sat it into it’s charger before turning the glare back her way. She was still on her side, so she couldn’t see it, but she knew it was there. Ten years together could do that to you.
“So?” she heard him murmur behind her, his voice neutral.
Alice winced. “So they told me to call the non-emergency number for noise complaints. And they’re sending over a constable to make sure everything’s okay.”
“I told you it’s fine. They maybe just dropped something, broke something – it’s their bedroom and storage room up there.” She rolled over in time to see her husband pointing at their bedroom ceiling.
Alice fought the urge to sigh again, and instead forced a smile. “I’m going to get my robe in case they need to talk to me or something,” she offered, squirming out of bed and making her way around the huge posters of the bed as she wrapped herself in ratty blue terrycloth. “You know, since I was the one who called and all…” She forced a smile, then headed up her husband’s side of the bed and leaned in to press a kiss to his temple. “I’m sorry, it just sounded so strange. And now it’s so quiet. “
She watched him grunt and roll over before murmuring that he loved her anyway as she crept out of the room. She peered out the front window; the truck was still there, and yet normally it didn’t quiet down upstairs until four or five in the morning when he was home. The condo was silent except for the soft snores of their elderly dog, flat on her back in her bed and surrounded by dog toys. The dog never could sleep until they were asleep upstairs. This definitely was off-kilter somehow.
Alice had been begging to sell the condo for months; ever since the upstairs neighbor, a snowbird, had headed to California for the season and left his teenage son alone. The noise had become a constant; she could only escape it with earplugs or the earbuds and her iPod, but some days even that didn’t work. When it was particularly noisy, her dog thought it was thundering out – something that terrified the trembly little ball of fur – and cried incessantly while pacing the house. This, in turn, upset the cats who mewed plaintively and followed her around, apparently begging her to calm down the dog. The cycle went on until the kid upstairs either went out or went to bed. The nights he stayed home, there were often drunk girls hanging out on his balcony, shrieking and giggling til all hours, and once even puking over the railing into Alice’s tiny yard. Lovely morning that had been, when she’d gone to let her dog out for an am pee and had to clean very messy paws afterwards.
Thinking about it made her furious all over again, and she flopped onto the sofa, tugging open her laptop and pulling up her blog – AngryNeighbor – to vent once again, this time over tonight’s events. She eyed the new comments icon on her control panel. Usually it was just a spam bot, but those came in fives and tens, and this was a single comment. Curiosity got the better of her, and she clicked.
“Mission accomplished. Payment due. Will contact with details.”
Alice re-read the anonymous comment multiple times, blinking curiously. Mission accomplished? What on earth did that mean? The post in question was a couple of months old, and she couldn’t remember what she’d been writing about that day. She clicked to pull up the entry as a harsh rap came to the front door. The dog flipped in her bed and yapped once, excitedly. “Shhhhhhh….” She murmured and pushed the computer aside, wrapping the robe more tightly about herself as she made her way to the front door, the little fluffball following her every move, snuffling curiously.
When Alice opened the door, she saw a single, small blonde officer in uniform. The lights were flashing on her vehicle at the curb. As Daisy – the dog – danced in pure ecstasy about the constable’s legs, the woman held a finger to her lips in a shushing gesture. Alice frowned and bent to scoop up the dog. “Are you the person who called this in?” the officer asked in a whisper.
“Yes,” Alice began, starting to step out onto the small front porch. The constable stopped her with an outstretched hand that nearly sent Alice backwards down the stairs. She blinked and grabbed the stair railing for support as the woman stepped onto the tiny foyer landing, looking about.
“Is there anyone else in the house with you?” the officer asked, her face serious.
“Well, yes, my husband. He’s sleeping, but-“
“Okay,” the woman cut her off with a sharp, low voice. “Stay inside. I’ve called for backup. It looks like the door has been forced.”
Alice felt her brows crawling up her forehead as her eyes went wide. “The door was… wait, what?”
“Just stay inside ma’am. Someone will be back to take your statement shortly.”
Alice pushed the door shut as the officer retreated down the walk to her car at the curb. She slid both locks home, instead of just one, and practically ran back down the stairs, bolting into the bedroom with such force that the door ricocheted off the wall with a bang. Her husband sat up in bed, looking confused in the low light. She dumped the dog onto the bed, then flipped on the bedside light on his side. “Oh my god!” she murmured, then shut it off again. What if whoever broke in upstairs was out there and saw their light go on?
“What the…? Her husband shoved back the covers and turned the light back on, prompting a small squeal from Alice as she flipped it off. Then she realized flashing lights might cause more attention that just light, and reached to turn it back on before her husband grabbed her hand – both of her hands – in his, and pulled her in between his legs where he had sat up on the edge of the bed. “Alice,” his voice was calm and steady, like always, a contrast to her breathy wheezing. “What is going on?”
Alice tipped her head to look at the ceiling, feeling both shaky and liquidy on the inside all at once. “The officer said to stay inside. She said the door was forced. She… she… she…” Alice took a breath that sounded almost like a sob, and swallowed hard.
“Okay,” her husband nodded, “So the police are here and maybe someone broke in upstairs. Or maybe the stupid kid forgot his keys and forced the door himself. We already know he’s an idiot, right? So maybe the banging you heard was him forcing his way in. Right?”
Alice could feel the warmth of him through the legs of his pajamas, even through her nightgown and robe. His steadiness always calmed her, and as always she could feel her breath starting to slow. She managed to meet his eyes and nodded.
“There’s nothing to panic about, and nothing to be scared about, okay? I’m right here with you,” he added, freeing one of his hands and reaching over to snap on the light, filling the room with a warm yellow glow and blotting out the flashes of light that had been creeping around the blinds on the opposite wall. She could almost believe that they weren’t out there now. Almost. But then she heard footsteps, loud ones, on the stairs that ran along their bedroom wall and up into the upstairs condo, and she pressed herself against him, wrapping her arms around his head.
Half an hour later, she was back on the sofa, clutching a steaming mug and staring into the stern face of an older detective. Her husband was beside her, and she leaned into him as she answered the questions about what made her call tonight, when she’d never notified the police before, and whether or not she’d seen anything – of course not – and whether or not she knew her neighbor well – again, of course not, he was horrible, who would want to know him? She felt defensive, and she knew her answers were coloured by emotion, and she knew, logically at least, that the detective wasn’t trying to blame her for this, but the guilt and shame were almost too much, because the first thing she’d felt when he’d come to the door and told her the kid upstairs was dead was a wave of relief. Followed, of course, by terror and upset, but she couldn’t deny that horrible, awful initial reaction, and she was afraid it had shown on her face.
After her husband had seen the detective out, he’d fetched her another cup of tea and tried to force her to bed, but she was still so wired and shaky that she knew there would be no sleep for her tonight. Instead, after he vanished into the bedroom, she reached for her laptop, her first instinct to write about what had happened.
Instead, as the screen came to life, there was the old entry she’d written a few months ago, one that was livid and full of vitriol, written after they’d had a party upstairs and people had come to the door over and over again, not knowing the right unit number for the upstairs condo. She’d ranted and railed, awake at four in the morning, about how she was just about at the point where she’d do anything to cure the “neighbor issue.” She’d looked into having him evicted, but being the son of a resident rather than a traditional renter made the issue cloudy. She’d looked into levying fines for noise, but she and her husband had quickly come to the conclusion that if it was enforceable on one complaint it could quickly turn into an issue with retribution going on with complaints from him. They’d even tried the old solution of banging on the ceiling with a broom handle, only to have them bang back even louder from upstairs, cawing with spiteful laughter. At the very end of the post, she’d jokingly added “Anyone know a hit man? I think I’d give up my savings for the new house down payment if this one could be quieter!”
“Oh. Oh no. No no no no no no no…” Alice scrolled down the the comments. After a few from sympathetic friends and family, there was the new one from tonight, “Mission accomplished. Payment due. Will contact with details.”
No. That couldn’t be about what happened upstairs, could it? She checked the time stamp; 12:42 AM. That was right about the time she’d been on the phone with the police. She’d rolled over, toward the wall, and had seen her clock on the nightstand. It was, what, maybe five or ten minutes after she’d heard the noise? Just as she was getting off the phone with the police. It had to be a coincidence. Right?