What's That Noise Next Door?

Submitted into Contest #148 in response to: Write a story involving a noise complaint. ... view prompt


Drama Fantasy Science Fiction

Note: Sexual innuendos and swearing

I was sitting in the living room of my apartment on the upper east side of New York, twiddling my thumbs. It was Sunday so not much traffic on the streets below. I’m single, in my late 30’s, and work in fintech with the head office on Madison. The stock options I hold had soared in value recently, allowing me to afford my current digs – a three bedroom, two bath, condo on a high floor of the building and a doorman around the clock. I was sitting pretty, you might say. but markets can turn quickly. 

Anyway, on this day, I was doing nothing in particular. No cell phone chatter, no video games, no TV sports. I became aware of a low, humming noise coming from the north wall of my apartment. I collect non-essentials so I have a lot of unusual stuff around, one of which was a stethoscope. I will admit that sometimes I wear it around my neck when relaxing at home – mother, doctor, you know that drill. On very rare occasions, I also use it to snoop on my neighbors. Never much interesting stuff but this was a new opportunity for me to investigate.

I placed the chestpiece on the wall and listened. Anyway, the sound coming from next door was now clearer than before. It was a pulsing staccato tone alternating with a high-pitched screech with some bass notes thrown in. Not a sound that I had ever heard before -- not a failing refrigerator motor. Pretty odd.


The next day, I stopped to chat with the doorman about my discovery of the previous day. “Manny, I am curious about the folks living next door to me in 30C. What do you know about them? I have never seen anyone going in or out of the place in all of the time I have been here. Zilch. Nada.”

“Likewise,” he said. “About 10% of the apartments in the building are what we call ghosts -- empty units owned by rich foreign investors. They’re just sitting on the property and waiting for it to increase in value. They pay all of the taxes and HOA fees but never spend any time in the place. I think we looked more closely at 30C a couple of years ago. The owner of record is a wealth management firm located in the Cayman Islands. Good luck trying to find out who the real owner is.”

‘How about checking on the contents of the apartment? Can we just look around inside?”

“For what reason?” Manny asked.


“I’ve been hearing a buzzing noise from inside. I’m worried that one of the appliances may be going bad and could catch fire. The whole building may be at risk,” I replied.

“That’s good enough for me,” Manny responded. I will call the building manager and see what he says,” he continued. He pulled out his cell phone, punched speed dial, and held the phone to his ear.

“Gary,” he said, “one of the tenants next to 30C is complaining that he’s hearing a noise from inside. It’s a ghost unit so we can’t easily contact the owner. What should I tell him? OK. Got it. Thanks.”

Manny turned to me and said: “Gary said for you to fill out one of the owner complaint forms and I’ll run it up the flagpole.” I then proceeded to fill out that form at the front desk, handed it over to Manuel, and promptly forgot about it. Two days later, he knocked on my door and said that my complaint had been approved by upper management and that he was about to open 30C with his master key. I excused myself from my zoom call and hurried into the hall to accompany him.


Manny put the key in the lock, turned it slowly, and opened the door. Staring us in the face beyond the open door was a sheet of stainless steel totally covering the entrance. “What the fuckkkkk!” he muttered in surprise. Never seen this before. It does explain why there’s not been a lot of traffic into this place over the years. The only thing getting into this unit is a pigeon and that assumes that one of the windows is open. 

“I need to go back to management for some answers. It’s not a modification that the condo committee would approve so we got the owner cold. Obviously, the job was done after hours on the QT but I don’t know how they got heavy welding equipment upstairs without the front desk knowing. Management will be mucho unhappy about this, not to mention the condo board.”

I got distracted by some work issues in the following days and forgot what was going on when I heard noise in the hallway outside, I opened my door to investigate and noticed a crew laying down a tarp on the carpet in the hall. They then wheeled up to the door an acetylene torch and tank. One of the workers put on a helmet, ignited the torch, and cut out a large flap in the steel sheet. Popping out the flap, the workers and a representative of the management company squeezed into the apartment and started to look around. I followed them.

The walls, ceiling, and floor of the room had been covered by stainless steel sheets welded together. Embedded in the ceiling were lighting cans with bulbs. There was no natural light in the room because all the windows were blocked. There were now four or five of us in the room looking around in amazement. No furnishings. One of the workers tapped me on the arm and pointed at the floor. The room was not totally empty.

Easy to miss, but sitting on the floor in the middle of the room was a single, small purple cube. Pulsing light was coming from it. It was not attached to any of the electrical outlets because they all had been walled off. I kneeled down beside it, a move that I now understand was risky. My curiosity pushed me and no one bothered to stop me. It could have been boobytrapped.

Yes.! No doubt about it. A low humming noise was coming from the cube -- staccato low notes and then a high-pitched tone with some bass notes. We had found the ‘mother lode’ but no one knew what to make of it. Nothing like I had ever seen but I was hardly an expert in high tech gear. All of us were becoming increasingly nervous and so we quickly bailed out into the hallway waiting for what was to come.


The management company rep in the hallway called the New York police who came to inspect the apartment. They then called the FBI. CIA agents next appeared in haz-mat suits, shaking their heads in wonder as they entered the room. Finally, some dudes in very expensive suits and no name badges and working for “who-knows-what” then appeared on the scene.” Apparently, they were at the top of the food chain because no one else showed up. One of them knocked on my door later that evening. He asked if he could chat with me and I said sure. He entered my apartment but I spoke first. 

“I don’t think that I can add much to the story. I was mildly irritated by the buzzing sound that I now know was coming from the cube but it was really trivial. My reporting of it was a Sherlock Holmes thing. Most people would not have noticed it. Over the past couple of years, never seen anyone entering or exiting the apartment.”

The nameless spook responded: “Yea, yea, I know all of that. What I want to know is whether you or any of your neighbors have been approached by strangers who made any reference to the apartment in recent days or weeks? Anyone lurking in the hall? Has anyone approached you, say, in a restaurant? Please concentrate on your answer.”

“Nope. Nothing. I lead a simple life. Some women recently from computer dating sites. None of them were what you would call unusual. But some may use that word to describe me.” 

“Oh, and by the way,” I asked him as he was leaving. “What was that little purple, thingy in the middle of the floor?”

“A network node,” he responded. “We are working on it but drawing a blank. None of the experts have seen anything like it in terms of comm gear, even on the military side. Don’t bother to try ordering one from Amazon, even on sale.”

He then handed me what I assumed was a business card. It was engraved on expensive stock. On one side: Charles Smith with an 800 number. He said to me: “Call me at this number day or night if anything unusual happens to you or you come across any more purple thingies,” and I nodded in agreement. He hurried out the door.


All of the events relating to the next-door apartment had receded from my memory about a month later when I went out for a solo dinner in a restaurant in the neighborhood. I was waiting for a table when I noticed a gorgeous slim woman in her 30’s standing beside me. I smiled at her and she looked back at me, obviously scanning me from head to toe. She spoke first while I was thinking of some clever pickup line, which did not immediately come to mind. 

“You by yourself? she purred softly to me in the crowded front area. 

“Yep,” I responded. It sounded dumb but that was all that I could come up with. She had me instantly mesmerized. Ten yards from the goal post and that was the best quip I could come up with. Pathetic!

She persevered, to my good fortune. “It would be more efficient if we could share a table, don’t you think?”

“Yep,” I continuing with my brilliant John Wayne imitation.

She turned to the maître d’ and said: “We will share a table for dinner.

What can I say? We ate dinner together. She introduced herself as Renée. She said that she was a designer and had come to town to work on the interior of a new luxury hotel that was to be constructed in my neighborhood. We spent most of the time talking about me and my future plans. We shared a bottle of expensive red wine. As the evening progressed, we inched closer together until we were almost on the same chair, once again conserving space for the restaurant owner.

At about 11:00 p.m. and as the restaurant crowd was thinning out, she glanced at her gold wrist watch. “Oh, what a dummy I am. It’s close to midnight and I, the brilliant hotel consultant, have not arranged for a room. I will never be able to book a good place this late.”

Finally, and taking on a bit of the initiative, I said: “Please don’t worry. I will play the role of the mounted knight and rescue you.” Pretty corny, right, but Renée did not seem to mind.

I continued: “You can stay at my place just down the block. However, there is one small wrinkle to this. It’s a two bedroom but one of them is my study so we would, umm, need to share my king bed. It’s really big so you can hide from me if you choose to do so.”

“That sounds cozy,” Renée said as we got up from out table and we headed outside to my place. We were holding hands.


What a night we had! Not much sleep but a lot of action. My eyes popped open in the morning while I was on my back. However, Renée was now dressed and bringing into the bedroom a full breakfast that she had prepared I don’t know how. She apparently had scraped it together from the meager stuff I had in my refrigerator. 

She looked at me with a wry smile and said: “What a wonderful evening! I have decided that I want to get even closer to you in the future. You and I are cut from the same cloth.” With that, she opened the clutch purse under her arm and pulled out what looked like a woven black fiber bracelet. “I have a small gift for you,” she said. Without hesitating, she slipped it on my left wrist. More interesting was that it seemed to take on a life of its own and began to tighten over the skin. I touched it momentarily – there was no way I could take if off even if I wanted to.

She then pressed her head very close to mine and whispered in my ear: “I and others will be in contact with you soon. Telepathically. Cell phones are so passé. You must continue to live your normal life but follow any orders that you receive from us without any question or deviation.

“Our encounter was very useful and I will remember it always,” she said as she hurried out of the apartment without looking back.


The next month was a very busy time for me. My bank account balance had swollen considerably overnight. On this basis, I was able to buy apartment 30C at a very low price. No one else would touch it, given the history, and my purchase made sense to the condo leadership. 

I personally made all of the required repairs to the “stainless steel room” using squares of material that I smuggled in past the doorman using pizza boxes on a cart. I insisted that I push it because the weight would have tipped off the doorman that there was more than pizza in the boxes. I worked at night and was careful not to make any noise. No reason to upset the condo board in any further way. 

Finally, my now expanded apartment was ready. I conveyed that message to Renée and up the chain. Only positive feedback from them. I shortly got a call from Manuel at the front desk saying that there was a package from Amazon waiting for me downstairs. I went to pick it up and returned to my apartment.

I carefully opened the package in the apartment. Inside were four small purple cubes with pulsating light coming from them. They also emitted the expected staccato low and high-pitched tone. I placed them on the floor, evenly spaced, in my newly remodeled stainless-steel room. The company’s communications network was back up and my life’s mission had also inexorably changed. 

May 30, 2022 18:50

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Zack Powell
01:13 Jun 01, 2022

This was pleasantly unexpected, Bruce. Halfway through, I assumed it would end one way, and it turns out I was completely wrong in my prediction. Which is always nice, when an author takes a story down a path you wouldn't have guessed. I'd love to see more of this, actually. The ending feels like such a hook itself. What happens next with this guy? What about Renee and the bracelets and the cubes? There are a whole bunch of questions you could address, should you choose to write a sequel, which is cool. You've got a great framework already....


Bruce Friedman
02:47 Jun 01, 2022

You say: Halfway through, I assumed it would end one way, and it turns out I was completely wrong in my prediction. Do you mind telling me what you thought would happen? It would help me a lot to know. I will also think about a sequel. Life in the "organization." BTW, any sequel would need to work with subsequent prompts?


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Ken Cartisano
07:00 Aug 15, 2023

Very clever, Herr Friedman. Stainless steel, purple cubes, alien babes. I liked the seamless transition from independent busybody to mind controlled servant. I don't know about the base notes. And they definitely did not hit 'the motherlode.' They merely discovered the object that was making the noise. I don't think that exclamation was realistic considering that he really didn't know what it was. I see what you're going for, I just think it should've been more like, 'Hello'; or 'what do we have here?'; or 'Oh snap.' Especially if he's thirt...


Bruce Friedman
12:40 Aug 15, 2023

Ken, I very much appreciate your attention to some of my stories. Comments like your certainly help to motivate me. In light of your comments, I am going to reread this story and try to determine why I did not hit the 'mother load." I think that you are asking why the protagonist did not try to dig deeper as to what power was now controlling his life. Too passive?


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Michał Przywara
22:01 Jun 08, 2022

This was a fun read! Like Zack, I also assumed things would turn out differently. I was picturing a dark or grim ending for the protagonist, but instead it sounds like a new job. The telepathy was a surprise, and I'm wondering if he's being mind controlled. But it also seems like he's cooperating of his own free will, so there's lots of questions about this organization. Finally, the Amazon twist was fun :)


Bruce Friedman
23:57 Jun 08, 2022

Thanks, Michael. Anytime that I can create a fun read I know that I am going in the right direction. Hmmm, if you want to call this a "new job" for the protagonist you are welcome to do so. I had in mind that the unremovable fiber bracelet was a means for controlling him by the "company" which was "I don't know what." Re: the telepathy, it occurred to me after I posted the story that, if the aliens could communicate via this means, then they did not need the purple network node.


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