Mrs Dorian died in apartment 13F. I didn’t know her, her neighbours didn’t know her, nobody knew her, yet it seemed everyone who lived in the building felt a pang of sadness to see her go. When I took the apartment, I saw her being carried out. It wasn’t a welcoming sight, but the people who stood in their apartment doorways made up for it. I was greeted with kindness and heart-warming compliments.
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All-in-all, it was the most unusual building I had ever lived in, but I had to admire it. Everyone was quiet, considerate and had all the best qualities of the ideal neighbours. The sweet smell of baked goods wafted from their apartments into the halls, the doors were often held for me, so I ended up doing the same for them. I never had conversations with strangers, but these people approached me, introduced themselves and told me stories up to my floor.
Within a month, I felt like I knew them so well, better than the people I worked with.
Yet, that kindness seemed only to be a facade for something sinister. I was lured into the building’s embrace, only to find it throttling while I smiled ignorantly. As time passed, I noticed that there never seemed to be a moment where they weren’t smiling. Always happy, never having a bad day. It was curious, but when I saw one smiling tenant climbing the stairs with heavy shopping bags, I soon realized the gravity of my situation.
The shopping bags broke, all contents spewed down the stairs, many were broken and poured out onto the carpet at the bottom. All that the tenant did was smile wider, to my horror, as if the pain thrilled him. Yet, I could see the resistance in his face, as if someone told him to smile at gunpoint.
Of course, being a simple-minded person, I didn’t think too much of it. It was weird, but when something weird happens in your everyday life you just tell your friends about it later and move on. Unfortunately, this was what I did instead of investigating. Another month passed before I knew it and once more, I found myself acting the same way.
I was kind to my neighbours whenever I could be. I even began learning their schedules, mentally readying myself to go help my neighbour in room 13E with his dog walking, since he had more than a single dog. Such good-natured helpfulness was infectious and it had a profound effect on me. Yet, I didn’t seem to notice how strange it was that I would sit by the door and listen to the soft clicks of dogs' nails on the corridor floor.
It was thanks to my friend that I noticed something was off.
I was having coffee with them one day. Upon taking my coffee from the barista, I turned without looking and bumped my arm on my friend. The coffee spilt on me, which of course, caused a lot of pain. I felt it, my emotions were raised, I thought I was freaking out like I normally would, but I wasn’t. My friend pointed this out when we left the coffee place.
According to him, I simply embraced the pain somehow. I was even smiling, but my eyes didn’t seem to be smiling at all. It wasn’t like I was acting tough, but more like I was afraid of showing any kind of negative emotion. Understandably, I realized the madness of it and recalled a similar experience. I thought back on that neighbour whose grocery bags broke and I was shocked to see the similarities between our stories.
You would think I would just start watching myself closely or even move to another building, but my curiosity got the better of me. I was more interested in why they acted that way, not the effect it was having on me. Not knowing where to start slowed this investigation down, but it was thanks to a conversation with one of my neighbours that I learnt more.
“That old tenant, Mrs Dorian, so unlike you,” the old woman began. “Lacked the spirit. Always so glum about everything, but never mind that, how are you doing on sugar, dear?”
I tried to learn more about Mrs Dorian in this conversation, but I was blocked from discussing it further by more pressing questions and concerns from the old woman. Her kindness was overwhelming, as always, so I found myself lost in a delightful conversation about delightful things.
However, my curiosity was undying. By the time I realized the old woman had spoken circles around me, I was in my apartment with her chocolate-chip cookie recipe. With determination, I decided to confront the other tenants on different floors, to see if they knew anything. I was wasting my time knocking on their doors to receive no response. It seemed everyone was away on holiday, or simply there weren’t any tenants on the other floors.
The gravity of that fact hit me and I decided to speak to the apartment building owner, who confirmed this fact.
“Renovations,” he told me simply. “Floor 13 is the only one with adequate conditions for tenants. The others don’t meet regulations, so there are no tenants.”
“How long have the renovations been going on?”
“Uh...long time now, I have to get back to work,” he mumbled, lowering his gaze to papers on his desk. “If there aren’t any complaints, do you mind leaving me to it?”
It wasn’t just his bad lying that bothered me. Renovations on every floor, not a sound of construction and a manager unable to tell me how long they’ve been going on. There were way too many holes in the story, more than I could accept. I was afraid that my stop at the manager’s office would be another dead-end, so I decided to take action.
“Yes, there’s a problem with my door, I’m having trouble getting into it,” I told him.
“And you came to ask me about the other floors?” the manager muttered as one of his eyebrows raised. “Should have just started with that.”
“I was just making polite conversation, but I do need you to deal with it now, as I am going to work now, and I left-”
“Yes, yes, I will see to it now.”
The manager pulled himself up, popping a cigarette in his mouth as he left. I listened for his footsteps and when it was safe, I dived towards the filing cabinets behind him. Everything was sorted out alphabetically, which made it much easier to find Mrs Dorian. Taking the file, I hid it in my jacket and moved to the exit. As I went, I bumped into the manager, who told me the apartment door seemed to be working fine.
In a brilliant show of quick thinking, I took out my keyring, blaming the key I chose, knowing full well it wasn’t the right key to the apartment. The manager rolled his eyes and pointed this out, vaguely amused. I laughed it off as I left, thanking and apologising as I went, with a big floor-thirteen smile.
Reading Dorian’s file, I found her emergency contact number and phoned it straight away. The woman who picked up was Dorian’s sister, who was more than surprised to be talking to a stranger about her late sister. The sister told me that she often received calls from her sister telling her about all the strange happenings.
What seemed to concern Dorian most were the neighbours that were vacating the other floors, more than the unusual behaviour of the floor 13 tenants. Dorian mainly remarked how she never got to say goodbye, she had no clue they were leaving. It appeared to her that they simply disappeared into the night, as she stopped seeing them during the day. Before Dorian died, her sister discussed a diagnosis from the doctor, a terrible disease. Not wanting to press her further on the subject, I left the conversation there.
That was enough for me to know that something was up with the other apartments and I had to find out what.
With an old trick I learnt as a kid, I was able to jimmy the lock to one of the apartments and get inside. I discovered a terrible smell and an occupied noose.
I fell to the ground, disgusted and horrified. Seeing a dead woman being carried out of my apartment was different, for one she was covered and from what I could tell, simply died of old age. A rotting corpse hanging from the ceiling was something else. Revolted, I crawled out of the room, closing the door firmly behind me.
I wish I would have just left there, but I checked the next apartment and the apartment after that. Slit wrists, a bathtub of blood. Next, a poisoned man lying in a pool of blood.
No more, my mind was tortured by the sight of it all. I had to leave, so I did. I returned to my apartment and started gathering my things. Overwhelmed by horror and sadness, I found myself placing stuff back, confusingly wondering where things were and then losing all care. I felt a sadness seep inside of me, a sadness that seemed to grow stronger by the second. I couldn’t smile even if I tried, I couldn’t find the energy to do anything to keep me positive.
Next, I was playing with knives. I was leaning far out of a window...I was doing things that scare me now just thinking about it. The room seemed to grow darker, despite the day. I felt a presence all around me, sinister, but I wasn’t scared. The only other emotion I felt aside from sadness was emptiness. An indifference, a lack of interest, a lack of joy. I found myself feeling what I can only describe as agonizing depression.
I was suffering in nothingness.
I felt hands drag me.
I felt them slap me.
I seemed to wake up from a trance, seeing one of my worried friends and the roof of an ambulance. It seemed I chose to jump from the window, but without looking, I had collided with a large, bushy tree. I felt pain, but more than that, joy. That place had taken everything from me the moment I felt down, the moment I felt truly unhappy.
It seemed to relish that pain and take it further. I felt what so many lost tenants felt and learnt what the tenants on floor 13 knew. The only way one could survive in that place was to force a facade, or they welcomed cruel darkness. The darkness that fed on their misery, ravaged them in moments of emptiness and had the remains dispose of themselves.
What was there was beyond me and I didn’t return.
“That’s another,” 13A laughed as she fed her cat. “Silly, silly, isn’t it silly. It’s amazing how much you can eat, sprinkles!”
“Yes, yes, but you know it’s nothing new,” 13G replied. “I find it amusing nowadays, seeing them struggle with it. Must be my youthful spirit that keeps me going!”
“Oh, more than your youthful spirit,” 13B murmured. “It’s your sheer wonderfulness. You did so much for him, it’s a shame he didn’t appreciate it when he had the chance.”
The three friends smiled at each other, their eyes telling of their misery, but the rest of their being fighting the sadness. It was torturous, breaking them slowly. In those moments, they collectively felt a unique sadness before it was dashed by 13C who brought her chocolate chip cookies into the room.
“Now listen, my darlings, don’t eat too many, I’ve got some wonderful lasagna in the oven,” 13C told them. “Just a snack until the cheese is all gooey.”
The three tenants looked at 13C with grateful eyes and immediately the mood lightened. Distracted once more by simple things, the tenants of floor 13 repressed the fundamental human emotions that made life meaningful.
Wearing a bitter facade, they persisted.