Leslie Collins was the first, and the last, to mention apartment 4A. She lived in the unit next door, along with her drug-addled mother. It was the morning of Halloween, and we had been passionately discussing the neighbors who gave out the worst candy.
“Mr. Sykes is horrible! He gives out raisins,” I scrunched my nose in disgust.
“The worst? Not even close,” Leslie scoffed.
I crossed my arms and sighed. Leslie was a notorious one-upper and liar. She always had to get the last word, and it always had to be bigger, better, and more extravagant.
“Ok, Leslie. Who is the worst then?”
“Nobody knows its name, but there’s something evil living in Apartment 4A. It stays hidden all year, only revealing itself on Halloween.” She paused for dramatic effect, “On Halloween, it lures unsuspecting children into the apartment. Some say it sucks their souls through its nose. The slurping noises echo down the hall. Others say it devours the children alive, limb by limb. But they’re all wrong because the truth is far, far worse.”
My older brother, Jared, opened the door and leaned into the hallway. He was a self-professed asshole, and the only person he loved mocking more than me was Leslie.
“Couldn’t help but overhear the bullshit you’re telling my brother. You trying to scare the baby?” Jared mimed crying.
“Shut up, Jared! If you know what’s good for you, you’ll listen up too,” Leslie retorted.
“Ok, Ok. I’ll listen; I do love your dumb stories.”
Leslie fully extended her middle finger at Jared. Turning back to me, a glint of hate in her eyes, she continued, “The thing in Apartment 4A doesn’t eat you or take your soul, it takes everything; when it’s done with you, it’s like you never existed.”
Trembling like she was standing in a snowstorm, tears began falling down Leslie’s cheeks. She wiped a strand of snot from her nose; Jared snickered, plunging his hands into his pockets.
“What do you mean, never exist?” I asked with genuine curiosity.
“It means the whole world forgets about you, except your blood; that’s a bond it can’t seem to break.”
“Oh, for fucks sake, Leslie. Can you make it a little more believable next time?” Jared pinched my cheeks before I swatted them away, “Plus, you’re gonna give him nightmares. He pisses the bed enough as it is.”
“I can prove it,” Leslie gritted her teeth.
“I’d love for you to prove it…Tonight.”
Jared and Leslie were locked in a staring contest, and while the former had a goofy grin plastered on his face, the latter looked like she was ready to charge into battle.
“Meet me in the east stairwell at 6:30pm. If you’re late, I won’t be there,” Leslie stomped into her cramped apartment.
“Jeez, what’s up her ass?” Jared mumbled.
Later that night, a zombie pirate, lady vampire, and an army ranger met in the east stairwell. I was the army ranger, and I think you can infer the rest. Holding up his ‘bloody’ hook, Jared imitated a wailing ghost.
“You hear that? That’s the scariest thing that’s going to happen to us tonight,” he looked at Leslie scornfully.
“We’ll see,” she muttered under her breath.
Our apartment building was divided into eight sections and four floors. Apartment 4A was in the first section and top floor, but that didn’t make it a privileged or desired location. From top to bottom, the building was in dire disrepair.
The fourth floor was empty. A faded yellow carpet stretched down a hallway, painted a muted grey. The lights that worked were dim and covered in dust, but far more were out or flickering. The other floors were bustling with trick-or-treaters, but the top floor was bathed in eerie silence.
“Which one is 4A?”
The unit numbers had been scratched off, replaced by deep gashes in the wood. Jared’s eyebrows were cocked in perplexion, a bead of sweat dripping down his brow.
“Take a guess. I think you’ll be able to figure it out,” Leslie responded matter of factly.
As I peered down the hallway, one section immediately stood out. All of the lights above this door weren’t just burnt out, the glass had been shattered; the darkness seemed to radiate in waves. Shadows were attracted to the door, shadows bending unnaturally to reach it. I had no doubt that I was looking at apartment 4A.
“That one,” I pointed a shaking finger at the ominous door.
“Could be,” Leslie tapped my brother roughly on the shoulder, “So Jared, are you brave enough to find out?.”
Wiping a look of fear from his face, Jared mustered a half-hearted smirk. “Not a doubt in my mind. This is just another shitty apartment, on a shitty floor, with shitty residents who don’t care anymore.”
Jared grabbed me by the scruff and began pulling me towards the apartment. I tried to squirm away, but he was much stronger than me. My heart plunged into my stomach, fear traversing through my veins.
As we inched closer, shadows began to twist around us; the darkness enveloped us, capturing us in its cold embrace; and a low, baritone humming emanated from behind the door. Despite it all, Jared was unwilling to ‘lose’ to Leslie, no matter the cost. His eyes burned with a fragile pride, his ego teetering on the edge of collapse. A handful of my shirt firmly gripped in his hand, we marched right up to the worn-down door.
“Knock and say the words,” Jared’s growled, pushing me forward.
“I can’t — please. I don’t want to be erased…”
Before I started to cry, Jared smacked the back of my head. The slap reverberated down the hallway. Leslie didn’t flinch, unmoved by Jared’s abusive behavior.
“If you don’t do it, you’ll be wishing you were erased. Understand me?”
Jared cracked his knuckles menacingly, placing his index finger over his throat and pantomiming slitting his throat. He wasn’t bluffing; I knew that from first-hand experience. Torn between the devil I knew and the devil I didn’t, I rapped my fingers softly against the door.
“Trick or Treat,” the world tumbled out of my mouth, barely audible.
The hallway remained quiet, other than the everpresent humming.
“Again!” Jared’s voice was filled with poison.
“Trick or Treat,” I shouted, my voice carrying down the hall.
A loud boom reverberated on the other side of the door, followed by a series of violent crashes. Soon after, a ragged shriek followed. Hoping to save himself and use me as bait, Jared threw me to the ground and fled.
A screeching, high-pitched whining sound, like metal scraping against metal, tore through the apartment. Coming straight for me, the sound grew louder and more vicious. A trickle of pee ran down my leg. Struggling to get to my feet, I stumbled into the wall, like a mouse backed into a corner.
The screeching reached its apex, and the door flung open. A pale white light flooded the hall, momentarily blinding me. Whispering a pathetic last prayer, I waited for existence as I knew it to grind to a painful halt.
“You damn kids and your Halloween! I didn’t sign up, and I don’t want your grubby hands all over my property!”
An ancient, wrinkled man, sitting in an even older wheelchair, wheeled himself against my feet. His face wretched into a sour expression, he waved his cane as he spoke.
“If I see you again, I’m calling the police. Now scram, and stay scrammed!” Wheeling back into the apartment, the man left me slumped against the wall, pants wet with urine, and jaw slightly agape and trembling.
Jared jogged back down the hallway. Out of breath, he began cackling in between wheezes, “I told you, Leslie. My brother’s a pussy, and pussies wet themselves.”
Jumping to my feet, I took a swing at Jared. He caught my fist easily, twisting my arm until I fell to my knees.
“You ran like a bitch!” I spit in Jared’s face.
Without hesitation, he punched me squarely in the solar plexus. Intense, throbbing pain snaked through my chest, doubling me over in wailing agony. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, gasping pathetically for air. Leslie stood to the stride, arms-crossed and expressionless.
“Know your place, Lil’ bro,” straightening his pirate hat, Jared snatched up his bag of candy, “Leslie, you’re either as crazy as your mother or the best prankster in the city. Who am I kidding? We all know you’re fucking crazy,” howling with laughter, Jared strode to the apartment directly across from the old man’s apartment, “Hopefully someone on this floor has good candy.”
Flakes of paint cascaded to the floor as he pounded his fist against the door. Plodding footsteps, like duck’s feet against tiles, responded to my brother’s knocking. He winked at me, holding up his middle finger.
A pompous look still plastered on his face, the door to the apartment burst open, and a scaly, clawed hand seized Jared’s throat, dragging him beyond the doorway. It happened in an instant; his faint cries echoing as the door swung shut.
Like puzzle pieces falling into place, blocks of plaster materialized out of thin air, stacking on top of one another until there was no door left.
Her lips curled into a triumphant smile, Leslie knelt beside me, “By the way, you guessed wrong,’ she whispered ominously,