The man from 240

Submitted into Contest #148 in response to: Write about two neighbors who cannot stand each other.... view prompt

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Fiction

The terrors that inhabit the night maybe even more awful in deceitful broad daylight. 

According to Helen, it all started with a dead cat and a green monster in the garbage chute. And that, according to her, was all due to the neighborhood in which she lived. The neighborhood wasn't exactly known as the best part of town. An unsavory neighborhood to be honest. But apartments were hard to get. She would have loved to live in a beautiful complex, but that wasn't an option right now.

When she came home after work in the evening, she always walked very fast, without looking to the left or right, while her heart was beating like a subway train. Especially when one of those dirty men whistled after her. The sidewalks were overrun with soldiers and sailors, gamblers and peroxide blondes, haunting dark backrooms. She was always relieved when she arrived in the lobby of her apartment building. Then she relaxed. She rarely saw anyone in the lobby, and the hallways were as quiet as the hallways of a fancy apartment complex.

She only knew two of her neighbors. The short stocky man who lived in 240 and Mrs. Goldleaf who lived in 204. The latter was the essence of lavender and old lace. The man looked OK, one couldn't really say he looked particularly shady, still, there was something about his personality that didn´t feel right to Helen, she avoided him.

One Saturday morning, when Helen went to pick up the paper, the man from 240 was hanging around in the hallway. She wore a robe over her nightgown and a scarf around her head to cover the curlers. Helen thought she looked as striking as a nun, but the look with which that man looked at her made her feel as if she were naked. Helen stepped back inside and quickly shut her door. She listened carefully with her ear to the door for footsteps in the hallway before she opened the door again and went to get her newspaper. That paperboy always threw her paper in front of Mrs. Goldleaf's door at 204.

When Mrs. Goldleaf heard Helen's footsteps in the hallway, she always came out. The older woman was always very interested in her neighbors and their lives. No wonder, she had very little to do, and she was a widow. This Saturday morning, she peered into the hallway again, her thin white hair pinned up in tight curlers. Mrs. Goldleaf was always so curious.

-"Good morning." Helen said kindly.

-"Good morning to you too dear." the old lady replied, "Today is Saturday, why are you up so early?"

-"I want to clean my house today. Did you hear that noise in the hallway last night, Mrs. Goldleaf ?"

The old lady looked at Helen with a disappointed look:

"No, I didn't hear anything. I went to bed very late, though."

-"That's strange." Helen said, "It looked like someone was dragging a rake across the floor. Thumping and scratching. I couldn't sleep."

  1. Gold Leaf clicked her tongue:

"It must have been someone who came home drunk. I wonder who it could have been."

There was a strange smell coming from Mrs. Goldleaf's apartment. A musty smell of antiques. Helen had been in there once when Mrs. Goldleaf had invited her for a cup of coffee. Her two rooms were filled like a museum, full of trinkets and souvenirs from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

-"And how is your bird?" Helen asked. Mrs. Goldleaf collected all kinds of things, but she was also an animal lover. She had two cats. a pair of goldfish and two turtledoves. The day before she had told Helen that one of the birds was sick. The old woman began to glow:

-"Much better today! The doctor said to give him some brandy with a dripper. It's worked miracles."

-"I'm so glad to hear that." Helen smiled, picked up her newspaper, and walked back to her apartment. 

Helen took the hairpins out of her hair while the coffee trickled into the pot. She looked at herself in the mirror and felt an inexplicable depression set in.

"What's the matter with me?" she asked her mirror image, "Why does nothing ever happen in my life?"

She combed her hair and put on a little lipstick. Outside, the sun began to shine through the mist. On the fire escape below her kitchen window, Helen saw a dead cat. It was a gray cat. His eyes seemed to be watching her. His head was turned all the way back. Helen felt sick and quickly pulled the curtain down.

-"It's just a dead cat." she said to herself as she lit a cigarette, "Maybe he fell off the roof. He probably ran out of nine lives."

-"What am I to do now?" Helen thought, "I can hardly sit here drinking coffee with a dead cat under my window." She shuddered at the thought of getting the animal out of there herself. She decided to call the manager. She got up and went to the telephone in the hall. Her hand trembled as the dialed the number.

-"Hello, this is Helen from 214. There is a dead cat on the fire escape in front of my window. You must do something about this."

The concierge sounded half asleep. "A dead cat? What do you mean? Are you sure he's not sleeping?"

"Of course, I'm sure he's dead. Can't you come up and take him away? It's terrible to have a dead cat under my window." Helen replied.

-"I have to clean the lobby first. I'll be there as soon as I'm done."

Helen hung up, feeling stupid: "Who can blame me for this?" she muttered to herself.

She walked back to her apartment and sat in the kitchen. She tried extremely hard not to look through the window. She lit another cigarette and poured herself a fresh cup of coffee. To pass the time, she started leafing through the newspaper absently.

In the back of the newspaper, her eyes were drawn to an article with a strange headline: Customer turns green. The article said a bartender fired several shots at a customer who had become aggressive after he had refused to serve him. The customer's hand was a claw and he had eaten a living mouse.

-"Nothing but drunks these days." Helen thought to herself. She thought back to the restlessness of the previous night. She heard a noise on the fire escape. Helen reached over and opened the shade. The janitor stood there with a large brown paper bag in his hand.

Helen opened the window: "How do you think the animal got there?" she asked.

-"I don't know. Probably fought and fell from the roof." The janitor replied.

-"What makes you say that?" Helen insisted.

-"The neck is torn. Maybe it was a dog." the man continued dryly.

-"Up here?" Helen asked in surprise.

The janitor scratched his head, "Don't worry, I'm taking it away now."

Helen closed the window and poured herself another cup of coffee. She grabbed another cigarette from the pack on the table. It was almost ten o'clock. She stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray and emptied it, then walked out with the garbage bag.

The garbage chute was in the back of the hall, next to the service staircase. The door was open, and Helen hesitated to enter. She was afraid the man from 240 might be there. The door moved a little, but no one came out. She waited a moment longer, thinking that the last person who had been there might have forgotten to close the door. She walked in, luckily there was no one there. She opened the top of the chute and threw the trash bag down, but there was something in the chute blocking the passage. She could see what it was: it looked like a chicken leg but was the size of a human foot - and green! Helen reached into the tube and pulled to free it. Her stomach turned at the cold feeling of the thing. She pulled at it with all her strength until it was free. She gaped in horror at the thing she was holding. She felt dizzy and began to gag. She let go of that thing immediately and could hear it rattling in the chute. After a few seconds, the horror really set in, and she started running down the hall back to her flat. She was dimly aware of the face of Mrs. Goldleaf who came to look at the door.

-"Is something wrong, dear?" she asked.

Helen gasped, "No, all is well." and ran on. She burst into her apartment and slammed the door shut. She went to the bathroom and dropped to her knees. She was unable to think. She stood up, washed her face, and walked to her bedroom. She lay trembling on her bed.

-"What was that ghastly thing?" She thought back to the story in the newspaper. Maybe that was what that bartender had seen? What a horrible neighborhood this is, Helen thought, first a dead cat under my window and then a monster in the garbage chute.

Maybe that cat had something to do with it? Her stomach started churning again. She had never heard of monsters living in the apartment building. And then she remembered something else in that newspaper article: the bartender had said the customer had looked normal at first, then turned green. That meant those monsters could look like ordinary people.

Panic set in. What if someone finds out she saw it? What would they do with her then?

White with fear she jumped off her bed. She grabbed her purse and put on a coat. When she got to the door, she hesitated for a moment: she was anxious to go out but far too afraid to stay inside.

Helen started running up the hall, into the lobby, and onto the street. There were very few people in the street. The people in this neighborhood always slept late. She entered the restaurant, next to her apartment building, and sat down at the counter. She was the only customer. A sleepy-eyed waitress waited with a pad in her hand.

-"Coffee." Helen muttered. 

Everything looked so normal here. I must be stupid to sit here and believe in monsters, Helen thought. Maybe it's just neurosis and I'm delusional. Yes, that made a lot more sense. That story she'd been reading had probably entered her subconscious. I'll go back to my apartment and call the doctor, Helen thought. After all, a doctor can cure anything. Even green monsters that are in your head.

She finished her coffee and fished out some change from her wallet. The sloppy waitress came over to take the money. Helen looked through the glass front to the street and got a cold fright. The man from 240 stood there. His gaze met hers. He was smoking a cigarette. He turned abruptly and started walking toward the apartment. Helen felt that fear again she’d felt earlier. She took out her key ring and walked quickly to the apartment next to the restaurant. The man from 240 was in the lobby just ahead of her. He held the door open for her. Helen kept her head down and did not look at him. In the hallway, she felt a sense of panic. She was here alone with "him" and cut off from help should the need arise. Her heart began to throb wildly.

For a moment she thought that the man was going to say something. He moved with his hand as if to grab her arm. Helen backed away, but he stepped aside and let her pass. Helen started running down the hall. Panting, she arrived at her door and stiffened—she heard a scratching sound in her apartment.

She backed away, ready to start running again. She looked at the man from 240 who was now standing at his own door. The way he looked at her did not sit well with her.

It is him, she thought to herself. He is one of those green monsters. She was sure his skin could turn green, and that there were very long claws on his feet.

What now? She was trapped in the hallway. Caught, next to that "thing".

She sprinted the short distance to Mrs. Goldleaf's apartment. Like a madwoman, she threw herself against the door.

-"Mrs. Goldleaf, please, open the door." Hellen screamed. The door opened immediately. Mrs. Goldleaf's round, wrinkled face beamed at Helen:

-"Come in honey, come in!" Helen nearly fell over the landing. She heard the door close behind her and dropped herself onto the couch, panting. A cat came purring next to Helen's legs. A cat?

-"Where is the other cat?" she heard herself ask.

She understood!

The old woman's face trembled. It changed. It seemed to melt... into something green.

Outside in the hallway, the man from 240 stepped into his apartment.

"I'll never have the guts to ask her out." he thought to himself, "What would a girl like her want to do with a lousy cop like me?"

June 01, 2022 19:23

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10 comments

Graham Kinross
06:24 Jun 20, 2022

Nice twist.

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F.O. Morier
18:10 Jun 21, 2022

Thank you so much!

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Graham Kinross
22:10 Jun 21, 2022

You’re welcome.

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Motaz Mohamed
21:22 Jun 09, 2022

I liked the suspense and could almost feel her fear!

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S.K. Wulf
01:19 Jun 09, 2022

the ending is wonderful and made me laugh, i like how it contrasts with Helen’s unfortunate end

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F.O. Morier
06:19 Jun 09, 2022

Good morning Thank you so much for your kind reply! I appreciate it!

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Michał Przywara
21:06 Jun 08, 2022

I like the twist ending :) All throughout there was something manic about Helen, and at times it seemed like she was seeing things that weren't there. She even observed this herself, "Maybe it's just neurosis and I'm delusional." In the end she tragically misread both the other tenants. Bad luck :)

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F.O. Morier
06:18 Jun 09, 2022

Good morning Thank you so much for your nice comment! As the saying goes- self knowledge is ….. Just kidding here I appreciate your comment! Thank you so much.

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Rabab Zaidi
00:45 Jun 05, 2022

Scary.

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F.O. Morier
19:42 Jun 08, 2022

Thank you so much for your comment!

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