Well, that didn’t work so well. As the tingle of fear fades, I’m feeling a little ridiculous for being scared at all. I looked in the mirror before I went out, but I didn’t shave the two-day stubble I’ve grown. I figured I was just going out for a quick cell phone call. I did change my shirt, though, because it was lunchtime, and I guessed that I’d run into at least one person I knew. That didn’t end up happening. I wish it did.
When I went out, I opened the door to my small apartment slowly. A small feeling of apprehension had somehow already lodged itself in me, for some indefinable reason. I chalked it up to having not spoken to anyone but myself for a day or two. I peered down the dingy grey hallway, made dingier by the fact that it was a basement hallway. On one end, a large metal door led to the building’s furnace room. It was locked, of course. Two dreary soda machines stood by it; I bought a soda from one the first day I moved in, but it had a two year old expiration date. I’m fairly sure nobody knows those machines are even down here, or my cheap landlady just doesn’t care to get them restocked.
I closed my door softly, and walked the other direction, taking care not to make a sound. I have no idea why I chose to do that, but it was fun giving in to the strange impulse not to break the droning hum of the soda machines, at least for the moment. I got to the stairwell, and took the stairs up to the building’s front door. I looked through the heavy door’s small square window, and received quite the shock: it was definitely not lunchtime. City-gloom hung over the dark street outside, and the traffic lights at the intersection in the distance blinked yellow. Dim clouds, purple and black from the glow of the city, hung overhead. Nothing moved, save the few sidewalk trees that shifted in the wind. I remember shivering, though I wasn’t cold. Maybe it was the wind outside. I could vaguely hear it through the heavy metal door, and I knew it was that unique kind of late-night wind, the kind that was constant, cold, and quiet, save for the rhythmic music it made as it passed through countless unseen tree leaves.
I decided not to go outside.
Instead, I lifted my cell phone to the door’s little window, and checked the signal meter. The bars filled up the meter, and I smiled. Time to hear someone else’s voice, I remember thinking, relieved. It was such a strange thing, to be afraid of nothing. I shook my head, laughing at myself silently. I hit speed-dial for my best friend Amy’s number, and held the phone up to my ear.
It rang once… but then it stopped. Nothing happened. I listened to silence for a good twenty seconds, then hung up. I frowned, and looked at the signal meter again – still full. I went to dial her number again, but then my phone rang in my hand, startling me. I put it up to my ear.
“Hello?” I asked, immediately fighting down a small shock at hearing the first spoken voice in days, even if it was my own. I had gotten used to the droning hum of the building’s inner workings, my computer, and the soda machines in the hallway. There was no response to my greeting at first, but then, finally, a voice came.
“Hey,” said a clear male voice, obviously of college age, like me. “Who’s this?”
“John,” I replied, confused.
“Oh, sorry, wrong number,” he replied, then hung up.
I lowered the phone slowly and leaned against the thick brick wall of the stairwell. That was strange. I looked at my received calls list, but the number was unfamiliar. Before I could think on it further, the phone rang loudly, shocking me yet again. This time, I looked at the caller before I answered. It was another unfamiliar number. This time, I held the phone up to my ear, but said nothing. I heard nothing but the general background noise of a phone. Then, a familiar voice broke my tension.
“John?” was the single word, in Amy’s voice.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Hey, it’s you,” I replied.
“Who else would it be?” she responded. “Oh, the number. I’m at a party on Seventh Street, and my phone died just as you called me. This is someone else’s phone, obviously.”
“Oh, ok,” I said.
“Where are you?” she asked.
My eyes glanced over the drab white-washed cylinder block walls and the heavy metal door with its small window.
“At my building,” I sighed. “Just feeling cooped up. I didn’t realize it was so late.”
“You should come here,” she said, laughing.
“Nah, I don’t feel like looking for some strange place by myself in the middle of the night,” I said, looking out the window at the silent windy street that secretly scared me just a tiny bit. “I think I’m just going to keep working or go to bed.”
“Nonsense!” she replied. “I can come get you! Your building is close to Seventh Street, right?”
“How drunk are you?” I asked lightheartedly. “You know where I live.”
“Oh, of course,” she said abruptly. “I guess I can’t get there by walking, huh?”
“You could if you wanted to waste half an hour,” I told her.
“Right,” she said. “Ok, have to go, good luck with your work!”
I lowered the phone once more, looking at the numbers flash as the call ended. Then, the droning silence suddenly reasserted itself in my ears. The two strange calls and the eerie street outside just drove home my aloneness in this empty stairwell. Perhaps from having seen too many scary movies, I had the sudden inexplicable idea that something could look in the door’s window and see me, some sort of horrible entity that hovered at the edge of aloneness, just waiting to creep up on unsuspecting people that strayed too far from other human beings. I knew the fear was irrational, but nobody else was around, so… I jumped down the stairs, ran down the hallway into my room, and closed the door as swiftly as I could while still staying silent. Like I said, I feel a little ridiculous for being scared of nothing, and the fear has already faded. Writing this down helps a lot – it makes me realize that nothing is wrong. It filters out half-formed thoughts and fears and leaves only cold, hard facts. It’s late, I got a call from a wrong number, and Amy’s phone died, so she called me back from another number. Nothing strange is happening.
Still, there was something a little off about that conversation. I know it could have just been the alcohol she’d had… or was it even her that seemed off to me? Or was it… yes, that was it! I didn’t realize it until this moment, writing these things down. I knew writing things down would help. She said she was at a party, but I only heard silence in the background! Of course, that doesn’t mean anything in particular, as she could have just gone outside to make the call. No… that couldn’t be it either. I didn’t hear the wind! I need to see if the wind is still blowing!
I forgot to finish writing last night. I’m not sure what I expected to see when I ran up the stairwell and looked out the heavy metal door’s window. I’m feeling ridiculous. Last night’s fear seems hazy and unreasonable to me now. I can’t wait to go out into the sunlight. I’m going to check my email, shave, shower, and finally get out of here! Wait… I think I heard something.