Elisa Standings stood drenched in the hallway in front of a plain white door.
If it hadn’t been for the unnerved tone in Jeremy’s voice, she never would have braved the rain to come to the cheapest apartment she had ever seen.
She prided herself on her willingness to do the right thing, though, and he didn’t have anyone else to help, as he was new to town. The door handle rattled in its fixture as she knocked twice.
As she attempted to knock a third time, the door flew open to reveal Jeremy, though it took Elisa a second to recognize him.
He looked as if he had spent the two weeks since their date doing nothing but meth.
Sunken eyes, oily hair, pale, thin; she never would have talked to him if he had looked this way when they met.
He made a half conscious effort to tuck in his wrinkled shirt, and gestured for Elisa to enter. “Thanks for coming,” he mumbled.
Moments later they were talking on a couch which wasn’t in much better shape than he was.
She probed Jeremy’s face with her eyes, but saw no hint that he was joking. She saw tension, fear, exhaustion, but no levity resided there. “You’re scaring me. Stop messing with me.”
Jeremy’s face barely moved as he replied, “I’m one hundred percent serious. My apartment is haunted.”
“No it isn’t, and if you thought it was, why would you bring me here to tell me?!”
“I don’t think she likes it when I leave.” thunder rumbled and the lights flickered, as if in assent.
“You should have told me on the--wait--she?”
Jeremy nodded slightly, and shot a glance at a black and white photo on the coffee table: a happy turn of the century family, with a father, son, daughter,
and an empty chair intended for the mother.
“The little girl?” Elisa tried to wrap her mind around Jeremy’s delusion.
“The mother? This was taken after her death?”
“No. I mean, it is her, but the chair isn’t always empty.”
“I think we should go to the hospital,” Elisa was becoming anxious about Jeremy’s well being, but more about being alone with a hallucinating addict. The lights flickered again.
“No, I don’t think she’d like that.”
“Then why did you ask me to come? To get out of this situation, right?”
They took a taxi together downtown, and the hallucinations were plenty to get Jeremy admitted to St. Timothy’s. Elisa left her information at the reception desk, and went home.
The incident was barely considered for the next couple of days.
Elisa’s life, filled with work, friends, and family occupied her mind, so she was a bit surprised when she received a call from the hospital.
She agreed to bring him home after work, and arrived promptly at 5:30.
Jeremy was chatting with one of the doctors until he saw her, and waved her over with a smile, looking as good as the day they had met nearly three weeks earlier.
“Thanks for this, If there’s anything I can do…”
“Don’t think I won’t take you up on that,” Elisa was beginning to tire of everything this acquaintance had put her through this week.
Perhaps doing the right thing was more hassle than it was worth.
“Totally. I’m ready to go out and move around. Feeling WAY better.”
“And you’re not going to go back to whatever it was you were taking to put you in that situation?”
“Actually, Ms. Standing. Mr. Land had no drugs in his system,” The doctor interjected, and looked to Jeremy for approval to fill Elisa in. He gave it.
“Our best guess is that Jeremy here was under a lot of stress from moving to a new city, a couple strange coincidences happen to put him over the edge,
then everything was coming up ghosts for him. When he came in, he was malnourished, exhausted, and really scared. It isn’t unheard of.
” Jeremy sheepishly avoided eye contact while the doctor spoke.
“I’m really sorry about everything.”
Elisa glossed over the apology. “We should stop by the store on the way back to your place.”
When they finally made it to the apartment, night was beginning to fall. Jeremy unlocked the door, turned the handle and gently pushed, but the door stopped after opening a couple inches.
He set down the groceries and shoved, opening the door and exposing a ransacked apartment.
Considering how little Jeremy had in the apartment, it was impressive how well it all got spread around.
“Whoa.” Jeremy went white.
“You were robbed!”
Jeremy looked down at the key he had just used to unlock the door, then to the unbroken windows, “Yeah. Yeah, that’s what happened…”
Half an hour later, the police had promised to send someone by in the next couple days and the apartment was cleaned up. Nothing was missing, which was no relief to Jeremy.
“I hate to impose, but would you mind if I crashed on your couch for a couple nights? Until I find another apartment?”
“Actually I would.”
Jeremy sat silently, staring at the bag Elisa had stuffed the picture in. She had hoped to sneak it out when she left.
His behavior affected her, and she knew she had to do something to help him out one more time. “I could crash on your couch tonight, if it would help.”
Jeremy lightened up a bit, “It would. Thanks.”
There was an air of nervousness around the apartment that night. Jeremy made ramen noodles for dinner, and it struck Elisa just how pathetic he must have felt at that moment.
He only knew one person in this city, and she pitied him. He was penniless and nervous in his own home.
The more she empathized, the more she picked up on the little actions that betrayed his inner thoughts.
Though he engaged in small talk about Elisa’s work and the city, he would notice every noise in the room.
He shot glances behind himself, into dark corners, and especially toward the grocery bag containing the photo. He wasn’t nervous, he was fearful for his life.
Finally it was an acceptable time to retire. Jeremy retreated to the one bedroom, and Elisa used an extra blanket on the couch.
Sleep didn’t come easily for Elisa, but eventually she succumbed. With sleep came nightmares. Disembodied hateful voices urging her to leave, not to come back.
She awoke, instantly sitting erect. 2:13am. All was silent in the apartment, the door to Jeremy’s room was closed. All being well, she sunk back into the couch and fell asleep again.
Another dream. A woman sat knitting on a familiar looking chair, and looked up to address her.
“You have to leave.”
“You are a terribly bad influence, getting him to leave for so long. I have to train him all over again now. He was nearly domesticated.”
“He was nearly dead. And he isn’t an animal.”
“Yet you saw how he behaved. Like a guilty puppy when it leaves a wet spot on the floor. He knew I had forbidden leaving, but you convinced him.”
“If I don’t leave?”
She set down her needles and scowled, “Then there will be consequences.” With that she shot out of the chair and lunged at Elisa. Elisa, in turn, lunged into the waking world. 5:43.
All was still quiet, but Jeremy’s door was open, and he was sitting at the dining table staring at her.
“I don’t think I was delusional,” he had that statement waiting for the moment she woke up. “This place is haunted.”
Elisa was indignant to this invasion of privacy.
“I know you are! It was obvious all last night, and you’re dragging me to craziness with you! All your paranoid ticks are contagious, now I can’t get any good rest!
You need professional help, I’m done. Goodbye, don’t call me again,” she shouted.
“Please don’t leave. I need your hel-”
“I have gone way beyond anything our relationship calls for. We went out once. I was barely aware you had a last name.
I should have pointed you to an asylum when you first called me over,” she stormed out, leaving the bag with the picture in it.