THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR

By Marta Abromaityte

The reverberation from the storm shook the windows of Lucy’s flat whilst she sat in darkness, silhouetted by her battery powered lava lamp. The light from the lamp illuminated Lucy’s tear filled eyes and for the fifth time that night, the fierce storm cut out the electricity in her 16-storey building. Leaving Lucy petrified, clinging to the one source of life and light that had been left for her in the tenacity of this unexpected thunderstorm.

 

The constant low rumble of the thunder grew louder and louder with each passing crack of lightning and Lucy sat, as still as a dormouse clutching at her most treasured copy of The Snow Child. Praying silently and fervently that the assault of the skies would cease.

 

Finally, the patter of the rain and the incessant grumble of the thunder slowly subsided and Lucy looked up, noticing that the light bulb in her bedroom was beginning to throb with life. It was not long before it illuminated her bedroom entirely, flooding her with a bright light.

 

Lucy let out a long awaited sigh of relief, stood up and threw her copy of The Snow Child onto her unmade bed, ruffling it’s already worn pages. She then proceeded to make her way to the kitchen, along her elongated, barely lit hallway. Lucy hated the stillness of the night; she hated the silence and the deadness of it. Living alone frightened her.

 

On nights like this, she would often invite a few of her friends round to alleviate the drag of empty hours and the unsettling hush of the flat. But she was new to London, and that night what few friends she had in the city had neglected to come to her rescue, perhaps repelled by the pleading and desperate tone that dogged her voice when she called.

 

Their rejection made her feel much worse, it made her feel all the more alone. And yet, she was not alone, not quite. A fact that always made her skin crawl a little. Strangers, on either side, above and below, surrounded her. The only thing that separated her from the unfamiliarity of these people were a few walls, walls that may as well have been paper thin with the amount of noise that managed to trickle through. She heard the murmuring of their TVs and the thump of their steps. More often than not, she heard the taps being turned on, beds creaking and the onset of the occasional argument.

 

The emptiness of Lucy’s life was daunting and at times too much to bear. She learned to live vicariously through the lives of the many strangers surrounding her, despite, at times, hating them with every fibre of her being. She hated the obliviousness with which they lived their lives and despised herself for not being able to live as frivolously as they did. She sat in her kitchen with a cheap off-brand beer bottle in her hand, pondering and overthinking, which was her favourite pastime. She often thought of her mother and her baby sister and what she could have done to prevent how things ended. She thought of John and of how much she despised him and his inability to comprehend her feelings, which resulted in them falling apart and her having to then move to this hell. And most of all, she thought of how meaningless her life was, she thought of how she would never get the job that she wanted and how strenuous it was for her to enjoy or even tolerate going through the motions of everyday existence. Lucy raised the bottle to her lips for the umpteenth time but when nothing touched her parched tongue, she had realised that she had finished her beer without noticing. The lights flickered again but the storm seemed to have abated momentarily so losing light failed to cross her somewhat intoxicated mind.

 

Lucy got up and retrieved another bottle of her beer from the fridge. Walking into the living room, she prepared to collapse on the couch, eager to drown the silence of the flat with a bleating TV, but something made her stop in her tracks. A sound.

 

Drip, drip, drip. She paused, listening intently. It was coming from the direction of the hall, though it was so startlingly loud that it felt as if the tap dripped inside her own head. In the deadness and the soundlessness of her abode, the noise was deafening.

 

Lucy suddenly became aware of her heavy breathing, the smart watch that John got her for her 28th birthday a few years ago indicating an accelerated heartbeat. I just left the damn tap on, she scolded herself, marvelling at the tightness with which her nerves were wound, that a drip could disrupt her so thoroughly and so abruptly.

 

With a shaky sigh she made her way down the dark hallway towards the bathroom, and with a deft flick of a switch flooded the small, grimy room with light. It was still and quiet, the taps dry.

 

Drip, drip, drip. Her eyes shot to the bathroom wall, the white tiles edged with an angry black mould. It was coming from the flat next door. She wondered why it disturbed her so, and perched on the edge of the bath, next to bottles of bubble bath, shampoo and a pale pink ladies razor that she began arranging in a neat line. A small, sudden sob from the adjoining wall made her hand close around the razor, and her veins fill with ice. She sat very still, her ears straining. The dripping resumed.

 

After a few minutes, the noise of the tap was accompanied by a shuffling of feet. At first the steps were slow and calculated, but after a while they hastened, becoming a loud, confused stumble. Lucy frowned, slowly released the razor and edged in closer, her ear brushing the cold marble. The sound of the tapping grew even louder, the shuffling quickly turning into stomping and Lucy thought she heard limbs swiftly striking water. The sound of glass smashing against the wall was sudden and Lucy felt the wall shudder from the impact, making her jump to her feet in disbelief. What the hell? She thought to herself, slowly backing away from the bathtub.

 

The noise of the tapping continued and she heard glass smash again and again, it was overbearing and it made her eyes water, she sunk to the floor, clutching at her ears and just as quickly as it started, the sound ceased and complete silence filled her ears once more. A soft whimper escaped her lips and Lucy swiftly crawled back into her living room, took an eager swig of her beer and covered her face with her hands.

 

The rumbling of the thunder slowly brought Lucy back from unconsciousness, groggy and stiff and deeming that last beer a mistake. She stood up slowly, wiped the dried drool from the corners of her mouth and rubbed her cumbersome eyes. Her mouth was as dry as a dessert and she needed a glass of water. She swiftly headed to the kitchen, consciously avoiding the bathroom, and standing at the sink splashed icy water on her face, gulping water from the palm of her hand.

 

It was then that she heard that faint dripping noise again, coming from within her bathroom and this time, it was much clearer. Her face damp and dripping, she turned around slowly. The hallway was shrouded in complete darkness, the only source of light blaring from the open door of the bathroom. I must have forgotten to turn it off, she thought. She walked quickly toward the bathroom, feeling ridiculous for allowing such ordinary and abstract sounds to disrupt and unnerve her so much. She stepped inside before she had a chance to think.

 

Once again the noise sounded like it was coming from beyond the wall, alongside the bathtub. It was the same dripping that she had heard several hours before, faintly audible and yet somehow impossible to ignore. Then it suddenly ceased and was replaced with a ferocious streaming of water.

 

With clarity returning to her sleep and beer addled mind, she found a new resolve to ignore the sounds. She sighed deeply, and turning on her heel, reached for the light switch, her finger poised to flick it, when the sound of a woman’s heavy sobbing filled the small room.

 

The cries were harrowing and slowly began to grow in volume and suddenly Lucy’s ears were overwhelmed by a disturbing and blood-curdling scream. She rushed to her phone and began to dial 999 but instead of hearing a dialling tone, Lucy heard static, a disjointed crackling. She could feel the panic bubbling up inside her once more, but forced it back down, attributing the failed connection to the storm. She replaced the handset and tried again, this time however, amidst the static, she heard a familiar voice calling her name. It was John.

 

’Lucy, are you okay?’

 

‘Lucy?’

 

Before Lucy could answer, John’s voice faded and was replaced with a deafening crackling tone that forced Lucy to slam the phone down. The sobbing and crying continued to drift from the bathroom and Lucy, gripped by fear and uselessness, walked to her kitchen and fumbled through a drawer, her shaking hand closing around a knife. Frozen at the front door, she listened to the incessant cries increase in volume and desperation, fighting the overwhelming compulsion to intervene. She hesitated, stood, knife in hand and was about to turn around when she heard a piercing scream, a scream that continued for what seemed like an eternity. Lucy opened her front door and the screaming suddenly ceased.

 

She began to walk towards the neighbouring flat but noticed immediately that the door was ajar, revealing a dark interior. She approached tentatively, pressing a hand to the wall to steady her shaking body. The light from the corridor brightened the dim hallway inside and Lucy recognised the layout to be identical to hers, almost to the detail.

 

She hesitated to enter but the remnants of the woman’s screams lingered in her mind and compelled her to continue. Feeling her way along the wall, she slowly made her way toward the source of the disturbing sounds, which she knew to be the bathroom. Amidst the darkness and the eerie silence, Lucy began to feel uncertain about anyone actually living here. The flat was empty and completely devoid of any life or sound, to Lucy, it oozed with hollowness and death. Scared, she stopped and took several steps back, wanting to leave. Then, she heard a whimper, a quiet sobbing emanating from the bathroom ahead of her prompting her to once again continue on.

 

Lucy passed several rooms, they were all barren and she was intensely frightened but felt determined to find the bathroom, to seek out the answers she knew resided in there. She walked on, the darkness following her, until she reached the bathroom. She fumbled on the wall with trembling hands until she found a switch, and with her heart in her mouth, flicked it on. When the light flooded the small white room, a gasp escaped her mouth. It was empty. The smooth, white tiled floor chilled the soles of her feet as she realised that she was barefoot, the bathtub, glistened and stood untouched. The tap remained unturned.

 

She walked in and stood in the middle of the room, unable to comprehend the current mayhem plaguing her mind. As she stood there, she heard a sound, a sound that struck a terror deep within her heart. It was coming from beyond the wall, next to the bathtub. Lucy identified the noise as dripping, the sound of a tap that someone had failed to turn all the way off. Then amidst the noise of the droplets, Lucy heard a faint and familiar sobbing. She realised instantly that the sounds were coming from the bathroom in her own home.

 

It was at that moment that a deep fatigue flooded her body, and she felt all her muscles weaken and go slack. The knife fell to the floor with a loud clatter and Lucy swayed on her feet. She glanced at it on the white tiled floor and a tremor passed through her as she saw it glistened with blood.

 

Her eyes moved to the sleeves of her sweatshirt, noticing that they were caked with blood, the colour a menacing deep red. Darkness begun to creep at the corners of her vision, the light danced in her eyes. With what strength she had left she began to scream, a deep guttural sound, like that of a perishing coyote. And the sound pierced the walls and floors of the building, reaching the people who sat in front of televisions with their families, who wished to intervene but held themselves back, wanting to protect themselves and their loved ones from the horrors of the night.

 

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