"It's really quite an affordable studio given the size," the landlady said. "I know it's got some scuff marks, but that's inevitable in an old building like this. Aren't those curtains charming? The last tenant brought them in. When she left I didn't have the heart to remove them. Imagine the place after a good deep clean, it'll be like living in the center of Paris."
Calvin went to one of the windows lining the far wall and looked out through the long pale curtains, down at the city below. There was a faint brown tinge to the curtains that was probably due to being neglected. The apartment had been on the market for over a year. He realized too late that the landlady was waiting for him to say something. He started to open his mouth but too much time had passed and he had no idea what to say.
The landlady continued on when he didn't say anything. "It's a very quiet place, really. Well, the usual city noise at night, but we're all used to that, aren't we? You'll barely see the other tenants, they like to keep to themselves. "
Calvin turned away from the window. "How soon can I move in?"
The landlady almost dropped her notepad. Recovering swiftly, she said, "I'll need you to fill out an application. Then I'll need a security deposit for first and last month's rent if you decide to sign the lease."
"Let's get on with it then," he said.
When move-in day came, he set his bed up by the windows. He unpacked and hung up his few clothes and threw the moving boxes away. He swept the floor and dusted the shelves and gave the curtains a good vacuum. By the time he was finished cleaning, the apartment looked like it had never been disturbed.
He wasn't quite sure what to do next. He paced the floor for a while. Finally he got out his phone and got onto the Local Haunts website and put in the apartment building's address. He read the article over again:
…a history of violent incidents, starting in 1930 up until 2018. The first supernatural sighting was recorded in 1968, but local legend suggests that phenomena appeared much earlier. Recorded phenomena includes auditory disturbances in the hallways and apartments, sensory experiences, and visual phenomena variously described as 'demons' or 'ghosts.' Most of the visual disturbances are of past building residents but other more monstrous apparitions remain unidentified.
He'd read the article over and over before he'd moved in. He'd tried to imagine what the noises would sound like, what kinds of apparitions he might see. In the back of his mind there was always the thought that he might not see anything. He didn't have much experience in finding ghosts.
He woke up and heard someone screaming. He got out of bed and staggered to the door, realizing too late that he should have grabbed some sort of weapon beforehand. He flung the door open anyway.
The lights in the hallway were flashing on and off, strobing on the ugly flowered carpet. He shaded his eyes with his hand. He blinked and there was a white girl in an oversized t-shirt kneeling on the floor and staring at him. Her long dyed hair was twisted around a gloved fist that didn't seem to belong to anyone. He had a vague memory of seeing her face before, in one of the news reports about the apartment building – some sort of accident, the name Billie something, a black and white photograph of a baby-faced girl.
"What –" he started, but the fist jerked and snapped the girl's head back, bending her almost in half. He took a step forward but there were invisible hands wrapped around his arms, fingers sticky with latex and forcing him to his knees. The fist holding the girl's head jerked her head to the side; her mouth went slack. The fist yanked her backwards and she was flying down the hall under the flickering lights, feet dragging on the carpet. Once she disappeared, the hands let him go.
He waited for her to come back. He stayed awake until the sun rose, hoping to hear something outside the door or in the apartment. He looked up summoning spells on the internet, but the thought of doing them made him feel silly and he couldn't go through with it. He tried to be patient, knowing he wasn't the one in control here.
He was lying in bed staring at the ceiling and listening to the sirens outside when he heard the floorboards creak. He wanted to get up and look, but he didn't want to scare anyone off either. He kept staring at the ceiling but said, "Billie."
"You know that you're in my apartment," she said.
He fought the impulse to turn his head. He could feel her standing by the side of the bed, looking at him. "I didn't know it was your apartment."
"Liar," she said. "Maybe you didn't know it was mine, exactly, but you knew someone was here before you, and this building doesn't like anyone to leave once they're here."
"All right, I knew that," he said. "I just wanted…I had to come here."
She bent over him. Her hair hit his face and he could smell a coppery, chemical sweetness coming off of her. "And why'd you have to come here, huh? You some kind of haunted house groupie?"
He steeled his nerves and looked at her. Her white shirt fit her wrong and her eyes didn't seem to have any irises. He said, "Come here."
She ignored him. "If you're not getting your rocks off, you've got no reason to be acting this way. You're not even scared of me, are you?"
"Should I be?"
She shrugged a shoulder. "I'm irrational. That's what they tell me, anyway. Liable to snap at any minute."
He thought for a minute. "I'm not scared of you," he decided finally.
"You're a goddamn weirdo."
"Well, I don't know what to do about that."
She looked silently at him. Then she blinked and for an instant he saw a flash of blue behind the darkness. "So you already know my name's Billie. What's your name?"
"I don't know what to make of you, Calvin," she said, and turned to go. He could see something on her back imprinting through the flimsy fabric of her t-shirt.
"What's that?" he asked.
"On your back."
"That's doctor's orders," she said and flipped up her shirt. Syringes studded her back in neat lines, the light from the streetlamps outside glittering on the needles.
"Billie," he said, but she was gone.
The screaming started up just after three. He hadn't gone to sleep so it only took a few minutes for him to get outside.
He stepped out into a room he didn't recognize, stark blinding white, smelling of antiseptic. He could see Billie further away from him, her shirt hanging off her in tatters, what seemed like a dozen hands holding her down and sticking needles into her body.
"Don't – " he said and started forward, but someone he couldn't see jerked him backwards off his feet and held him against the wall in a grip he couldn't break. "Billie," he said.
She was moving now, but it was all wrong, her shoulder blades sharp through her skin. The hands grabbed onto her and pulled her around; her mouth was hanging open and her eyes had rolled back in her head.
"Billie," he said again. "Billie!"
Something shoved him onto his back, hard, and he felt his head knock against the floor. When he opened his eyes he was back in the apartment.
He found her under the bed. He had just undressed for bed and turned the lights off when he saw a shadow across the floor. He dropped to his knees and looked under the bed and saw her quietly resting her head on her hands, silver necklace glinting.
"What happens to you when you're not in the apartment?" he asked.
"You've seen some of it," she said. "I don't know why it happens. It just started one day and didn't stop."
"Could I help?"
"Don't know," she said. "Nothing seems to happen when I'm here, though. It was always like that. My own little pretty prison."
"Come out from there," he suggested.
She didn't move. "You know you can't leave this place now that you're here. I've seen others try. They can never get away."
"I don't have anywhere else to go."
"Are you some sort of orphan? No family? Friends? Girlfriend?"
"Well, what about you? You must have done something outside this place, once."
"I think I might have. I guess I just forgot what it was."
"Come on," he said.
She crawled out from under the bed. He saw the outline of the needles under her shirt.
"Don't those hurt?"
She shrugged. He said, "I could try to take them out. If you wanted me to."
"Yeah, well, good luck with that," she said, and sat down on the bed, pulling her shirt off. Her nipples were very pale.
He sat down and gingerly touched one of the syringes. He was half-expecting his fingers to go right through, but it felt real enough. He pulled, very gently, and the needle nestled into his palm, cold and greasy. Black fluid trickled down Billie's back in a thin line.
"How'd that feel?"
"I've had worse."
He took the rest of the needles out and Billie put her shirt back on. It instantly soaked through with liquid but she ignored it.
"I –" he said. "I'd like to stay here with you. If you'll let me."
"Yes," she said. "Yes, you can stay."