Rob & I had been together for a year, when he decided he would move in with me. We lived in a very small flat with extremely orange walls & a floor that was missing in places & wonky in others.
After a few months of wondering if we would fall through the rotten floorboards, we looked for a new apartment & found one that was almost too good to be true. The photos looked good. It was well-decorated, it was in a nice location – close to the sea but not too close- & it wasn’t out of budget.
When we went to see it, we knocked at the front door & there was no reply. The door was already open, so we went in & found the landlord sitting at a large dining table in the bay window, staring out into the distance.
I coughed. He carried on staring out the window.
‘Ah, John?’ I asked.
‘Yes, sorry. I was mesmerised by the view.’ As he jumped up to shake our heads, I looked out to see the view. I saw the two houses opposite & between the two a thin sliver of grey-blue that may or may not have been the sea.
John showed us around, all the while telling us how sought-after the apartment was. The kitchen was cosy, the living room was huge but most of all, the walls were not orange. So we took it. The apartment came partly furnished, but we had quite a few items from our little orange flat. So I negotiated with John what would stay & what would go.
He allowed us to keep our own bed in the apartment, but he drew the line at the sofa. John was very proud of the sofa in the apartment. I don’t know why. It looked like it had been hoked out of a skip, possibly via another skip. It was brown. Not chocolate or caramel brown. But bog standard brown. Every time I cleaned or hoovered that sofa, I always thought I’d find a can of cider stuffed down a cushion.
The rest of the apartment we made our own.
Over the next year & a half, John would call once a month for the rent. Sometimes on his own, sometimes with his wife & twin girls. Always standing in the doorway, never accepting a tea or coffee but staying for over an hour for a catch-up.
When we eventually left, John would tell us we were the best tenants he’d ever had. He was quite drunk at the time, but I believed him, solely because he seemed to rent to anyone.
Our apartment was one of five in the building. We shared a communal hall & a front door. Rob & I had narrowly missed out on renting the two bed flat on the top floor. It would have been the penthouse if the place was posh. It wasn’t, so it was just the top flat.
John had rented it to a couple who had just had a baby. I had known the fella from coming into the shop where I worked. He always gave me the impression that he was the kind of person who’d nick the wheels off your bike while you were still sitting on it.
The flat directly above us was rented by a young, single barman. He would roll up to the flat at about 3 or 4 am. He’d then play Xbox until he fell asleep which was around the same time my other half would have to get up for work.
He usually played shooter games. I know all this because he played this at a decibel level reserved for rock concerts or Formula One racing cars. At least 3 nights a week I was jolted awake by the sound of gunfire. I felt like I was having flashbacks to a war I’d never fought in.
Then one afternoon, he had the cheek to bang on my door as I was playing music when he was trying to sleep!
He, though, was the least of our worries.
One time John called around & asked if we had seen our neighbour across the hall. We hadn’t really seen him for quite a while. He was a chef & mostly kept himself to himself. When we told John we hadn’t seen him, he looked mildly peeved.
‘He owes me some rent,’ John gazed over to the door.
‘How much?’ I asked.
‘Three months,’ sighed John.
Three months? Three months? I was worried when I was three days late in handing over our rent. I wondered why I paid rent at all if that was the case.
‘There’s been a weird smell coming from that flat,’ said Rob. I looked at Rob, Rob looked at John & John looked at me. We all looked at the door.
‘Do you have a key?’ I said at last.
‘I better go get one from home,’ John left quite quickly.
For the next twenty-four hours, I had pretty much decided there was a dead body in the flat beside us. John called the next day to let us know there wasn’t. There was, however, a mountain of takeaway food, a mattress in the living room covered in dirty clothes & a fridge full of rotting food. John made a few enquiries & it had turned out the guy had been sacked & took off to Spain for a new job.
All of this was fairly normal compared to the man in flat four. He resembled a living skeleton. Whiter than white, he was skin & bones. He was definitely mostly bones. He had long, dark hair & a matching beard. Even in the height of summer, he wore a black leather jacket.
When I first bumped into him in the hall, I had fused the electrics somehow & I was flipping switches, trying to get the lights to work again. I was kneeling over the electric boxes, when I turned around he was just standing there.
‘I fused the lights, sorry! It should be working now,’ I grinned. He didn’t say anything. I shuffled past him, into our flat & locked the door. I was going to make a cup of coffee but something bothered me, so I went back to our door & looked through the peephole.
He was still standing there, looking at our front door.
I was anxious, it would be an hour before Rob was home. I locked the back door & made my coffee. As I did, I heard a scrape at the front door. I popped my head into the hall & saw my doorknob turn. For the next hour, I chanted internally ‘it’s locked, it’s locked, it’s locked.’ As Rob’s car pulled into the drive, I unlocked the back door & ushered him in, in case he bumped into skeleton man in the hall.
I didn’t see him for a few days. Then one Thursday, I dashed out of the flat, late for work. As I got to the front door of the building, I swung it open, yelped & jumped back startled. Skeleton man was standing about an inch from the front door. I caught my breath, then made my apologies for being in his way. He said nothing again. I ran past him, not really thinking much of it.
I always worked a 2pm shift on Thursday & often left the house at 2pm exactly to run/walk ten minutes to the shop. So when the same thing happened again on the following Thursday, I put it down to a fluke. Skeleton man was probably on some sort of shift pattern, the same as I was.
The third time it happened, it was slightly different. As I grabbed my bag from the living room, I noticed a shadow on the curtain of our bay window. I realised it was him, standing at the front door. I decided to wait until he let himself in, instead of awkwardly dancing past him. I waited & waited, but the shadow didn’t move.
I went closer to the window, to make sure he was actually there. He was. He was standing there, again about an inch from the closed door, with his keys bunched up in his hand. The front door key sticking out of his fist like a weapon.
I rang Rob, told him what was happening. He agreed it was weird. If not a little terrifying.
I had to get to work, so I opened the back door as quietly as I could & ducked behind a wall so skeleton man wouldn’t see me. Then I ran fast, not looking back in case he’d followed me.
Shortly after that, Rob & I decided to move again. About a month after we had moved, the local newspaper ran a piece on skeleton man. He had been reported missing by his court-appointed psychiatrist. The article ended with the words ‘do not approach this man, he is known to the Police to be dangerous’.
The irony of it all is the house, before it was renovated, was a psychiatric asylum. Perhaps something about the place drew strange characters to it. Not least of all, me & Rob.