Three Loud Bangs on the Door

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

38 comments

Horror Thriller Fiction

Three loud bangs on the door startle Leslie out of her reverie. The noise reverberates through her empty apartment, bouncing off the parquet floor and past the unopened moving boxes. Rattling her bones. The echoes fade but never quite disappear. They sink into the mute white walls, drown in the shadow bog under the sofa.

She sets her bottle of water on the kitchen counter. Her muscles still ache, but the high of the jog is forgotten, and her sweat, pleasant a moment ago, runs cold.

It’s midday but the fierce bright only creeps in through her windows, scoring her living room floor. It never reaches the kitchen. She swallows hard and flicks the light switch, and the dull yellow bulb buzzes above her at sixty Hertz.

The air is heavy, suddenly still, and she rushes to the front door, throws it open. Foolish. The door chain isn’t engaged and she doesn’t even check who’s there. Dangerous behaviours for a single woman new to this part of town.

But there’s a change in pressure, almost a wind rippling past her, and she can breathe again.

A man stands on the other side of the door and he takes a step back. His surprise – his dimples – are adorable. Her heart flutters.

“Oh–” he says, forgetting what he was saying. His eyes dart over her, almost too fast for her to notice. But not quite.

Heat colours Leslie’s cheeks. She’s still in her jogging shorts, and the sweat soaked tee. But she knows she looks good in it. And the way his eyes linger a little too long, he knows it too.

“Yes?” she says. Always best to dive into discomfort. Only way to move forward in life. She flutters her lashes just a bit. Serve!

“Um.” He clears his throat. Grins and looks away. When she tucks a loose hair behind her ear, he runs his thumb along his chin. Also dimpled.

“Sorry to bother you,” he says, that school-boy smile tugging at his lips. “Um… I’m Mark.” He holds out his hand.

“Leslie,” she says, shaking without thinking. His palm is clean, strong. Hers is sticky with stale sweat. But he shakes and doesn’t flinch. Maybe he didn’t notice. Either way, he returns the serve and the ball is still in play.

“I’m your downstairs neighbour,” Mark says. “Uh, first off… I guess, welcome to the building!”

“Thanks! I like it here.”

“Yeah, it’s a great place.” His smile melts into a frown, and he hesitates.

“What’s up?” She frowns too. The sun’s in her eyes and she can’t see the ball.

“Look, I hate to be that guy, but I work from home, you know? It’s just, it was pretty loud today, right in the middle of a call with a client.”

She crosses her arms and leans against the door frame.

“I get it,” he says. “Working out is important. Could you maybe hold off until after four PM?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She doesn’t.

“It’s just, the stomping was pretty distracting.” He holds his hands out, shrugs. The ball hits the court.

“I think you have the wrong apartment, Mark.”

“Well,” he drags out, “I don’t think I do.”

“I haven’t been home all day.”

He frowns. She frowns. The ball rolls out of bounds, and they stand in silence for a while.

“Okay,” he says, rolling his eyes. She narrows hers. He retreats, and entreats, “Just please keep it down from now on.”

“It wasn’t me,” she says, but he’s already on the stairs going down. Why are people always accusing her of stuff like this? What’s wrong with everyone? It’s like this every time.

Leslie shuts her door, locks it. Mutters, “Asshole.”

***

Three loud bangs on the door two hours later. She puts her book down. This time the chain is engaged and when she looks out the peephole she sees Mark again. She snarls and cracks the door.

“What?”

His face bounces around worry, guilt, other things. She wants to hate it but those dimples catch her eye and won’t let go.

“Look, I just wanted to apologize,” he says. “I think… wow. Well, I think we got off to a terrible start. I was a real jerk.”

You were, she thinks.

“You’re new here, and I made these, um, baseless allegations. Please, let me make it up to you. How about dinner tomorrow?”

Her jaw almost drops. She undoes the chain and opens the door.

“Are you seriously asking me out? After that?

He’s got his palms up, and his gaze down. “No, no, this just an apology-dinner. And a welcome-to-the-building dinner. Nothing more, I promise. Unless, you know… unless you decide it’s a date-dinner.” He grins that stupid charming grin. “I wouldn’t be opposed to that.”

“It’s definitely not,” she says, but she can’t help smiling herself, and, she fears, blushing. “Pick me up at six?”

“Will do.”

***

The next night, she returns to her apartment. New apartment. New job. New… boyfriend? She grins as her keys jangle, finally getting her door open.

No, too soon for that. But maybe, maybe. Mark’s fun, and they have things to talk about. And the kiss was nice. At his door. She refused his offer to escort her up another flight of steps. Too dangerous to have those handsome dimples right at her porch. Not on the first date. Which, she concedes, it was. And she giggles, because maybe.

She flicks her light on and kicks her heels off.

Three loud bangs on the door.

Her light champagne buzz turns sour. The darkness of the night presses through her windows. Her feet are cold on the parquet floor.

Through the peephole she sees a man. Shorter than Mark, older. Balding on top, but with wild curls elsewhere, and a roiling mustache. She opens the door a crack and he snorts loudly.

“Yeah, listen lady, you gotta keep the damn noise down, all right?

“Excuse me?”

He runs his hands over his head and snarls. “All god damned night with the banging! The thumping! Right? Some of us have to work tomorrow, so please just have a shred of decency and keep it down!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Look, lady, I know the super! I’ll call the cops! Okay? I’m not nuts. This is your friendly warning. Just keep it the hell down, or I’ll get your ass thrown out.”

He stomps down the hall in his flip-flops before she can answer. His feet groan heavy on the stairs going up. Leslie shuts the door, lets out an impotent growl. Fear? Anger? Confusion? All of it.

She wasn’t home. It wasn’t her. Is this some stupid game that Mark’s playing? Why is every guy like that?

She grabs a bottled water from the fridge and downs it.

Maybe there’s a mistake. Maybe it’s one of her neighbours. After all, sound travels strangely through the walls. Tomorrow she’ll talk with them, get to the bottom of this.

***

Three hours later she’s still tossing in her bed, sheets soaked with sweat. Her mind races her heart. She’s hurt. Afraid. What if this is a prank? What kind of sick game are they playing? And who’s doing the playing?

And what can she do about it?

The silence of her apartment offers no answers.

And then it does.

There’s a ka-dunk, a muffled pile-driver miles away on a misty morning. Dull metal strikes dead metal. Again. And again. And again.

And it comes from her living room.

Leslie screams. She’s not thinking, just moving. She tears out of bed, flies through the kitchen, and is out her door never once looking back.

The next thing she knows, Mark is holding her tightly, her face buried in his chest. She’s bawling. There’s words she wants, words she needs, but she can’t find them. Did she run down the stairs? Is this his apartment?

His arms are strong, they protect her. She’s safe here. He sways with her and she allows him to calm her down. She takes a shuddering breath and the cup of water he offers. Only now does she notice he’s only wearing boxers. There’s sleep-blear in his eyes and a red welt all over his chest where she had pressed against him. Pressed into him. And her eyes linger on that chest.

There’s a scratch, too. A fresh line bleeding red. She notices she has her keys in her hand, in a death grip. She must have grabbed them as she ran. Unthinking. She must have injured him. Also unthinking.

Mark sits her down on his couch, sits opposite her, yawns. “Leslie, what’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” she whispers, blinking away tears. “I couldn’t sleep. I heard… I heard something.” Another shaky breath to keep from crying.

“You heard something?” She nods. “Could it be… like, something you ate? At the restaurant?”

Leslie shakes her head. “No. I heard something in my apartment.” She wipes her eyes. “I think you were right,” she barely whispers. “I think someone’s in there.” She places her hand over her mouth, afraid that by speaking it she makes it true.

There’s a moment of silence between them. Mark takes a deep breath, about to talk, but then they hear it.

Ka-dunk, ka-dunk, ka-dunk. Above them. Distant and yet close enough to touch.

Dust falls from the ceiling, and they stare at each other. Her eyes are wide and his are intense. They get up at the same time.

“Mark!” she whispers.

“Stay here,” he says, his voice iron.

“Where are you going?”

A wooden Louisville Slugger rests against the wall. He picks it up, tests the familiar grip. Grim satisfaction on his face.

“Stay here,” he says again. “I’m going to handle this.”

Mark leaves and Leslie sinks to the floor, covering her face. She couldn’t move even if she wanted to. She hears the noise in her apartment again, and then his distant footfalls on the stairs. A moment later, she hears him above her. There’s a muffled “Who’s there?” as he rushes from the kitchen to the living room. A fuzzy “Show yourself!” as he darts into the bedroom and bathroom. His bare feet squeak against the parquet floor. He moves again, to the living room, and there’s one more muffled, “Is that you–”

Ka-dunk.

And then there is silence.

It takes Leslie ten minutes to realize that there’s nothing more upstairs. Ten minutes without a single sound. Ten minutes of squirming, alone, on Mark’s floor. Where did the time go? She wants to crawl out of her own skin and hide somewhere, but she doesn’t know where.

She decides she needs to do something. Maybe Mark needs help. Maybe he’s injured. She thinks about calling the police, but how long would it take them to respond? Maybe Mark doesn’t have the time. She steels herself and picks up her keys. And she goes upstairs.

When she gets to the landing of her floor she sees the door to her apartment is open. Shadows spill out of it into the dim hall. Her heart pounds and her throat is dry. Each step she takes, the old floor creaks under her. She whispers “Mark?” but it’s so quiet even she can’t hear herself.

She approaches her door from an angle, and when she finally stands before it, she sees into her apartment. Nothing. Just her empty floor, her still-to-be-unpacked boxes, and nothing else. No intruder. No sign of Mark. No pool of blood. Just the bat, right at the threshold, and nothing else.

She takes the bat – you never know – and then flinches from the nothing in her apartment.

Because nothing is still something too. Standing at the door she finds each breath harder to take than the last, finds the sound of her own heartbeat growing dimmer and more distant. Finds the light at the edge of her vision growing quiet. Finds herself drawn to step inside.

She lunges for the doorknob, slams the door, and locks it. From the outside. And then she runs back down to Mark’s and slams the door there too.

***

Leslie places the shopping bag, heavy with groceries, beside the door, and she unlocks it. She steps inside, her heart hammering. Immediately she locks the door again, and her hand caresses the bat which has become her constant companion.

This is the first time she’s left Mark’s apartment in a week but she’s eaten everything he had. She’s wearing his oversized clothes, because hers are… elsewhere. She doesn’t think where. She doesn’t like to think where, but she can’t stop thinking about it either.

But she needs to get moving, to stop cowering. A week is long enough. She’s used up her sick days, and Mark’s not coming back. Mark is… again, she doesn’t want to think about that. And again, she can’t stop.

She managed to go shopping though. That was a triumph. Three or so hours outside. She can do this. Return to normal.

She snorts. What is normal about this? She lives in someone else’s apartment, because hers is… she doesn’t know what. But it’s been quiet for a week, so maybe whatever it is, is behind her. She knows her current arrangement can’t last, that eventually someone will notice something, but that’s a problem for another day. One step at a time.

She opens the fridge and grabs a carton of eggs from her grocery bag.

Three loud bangs on the door.

The carton falls on the floor, emitting a wet, subdued crunch. Leslie approaches the door, her hand trembling towards her bat. She sees a little old lady outside, the kind of adorable granny that would canvas a neighbourhood for a church fundraiser. Leslie exhales, feeling relief. She opens the door.

“Hello, dear,” the old woman says, with a beatific smile. “I’m Matilda, your downstairs neighbour. I hate to be a bother, but would it be possible for you to keep that thudding noise down? It’s been going on all afternoon.”

May 31, 2022 01:17

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38 comments

Zack Powell
02:49 Jun 07, 2022

I've said it before, but I'm continually impressed at your ability to close your eyes, pin the tail on a new genre, and commit to writing it successfully. I have nothing but respect for people who force themselves out of their writing comfort zone. A lot of magic can happen when you do. As for this story: Very anxiety-inducing. Paragraph one establishes the tone so well. It's unsettling, it's off-kilter, it's fast-paced (notice how, aside from the periods, there are only two bits of punctuation in the first paragraph). This story really hit...

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Michał Przywara
21:08 Jun 07, 2022

Thanks, Zack! You picked out a lot of the lines I hoped someone would pick out. Your feedback has made my evening :D Considering the genre, I'm particularly pleased with "Very anxiety-inducing" and "the conclusion really shook me". I agree about the discomfort and magic. Taking those risks, trying new stuff, in all likelihood screwing things up -- it's a powerful way to learn. Can get you out of a rut, and who knows, maybe you'll find something cool. I think this site is pretty good for experimenting too, since in the worst case scenario,...

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Lisa Lange
03:30 Jun 10, 2022

I liked the idea of a poltergeist attached to a naïve main character and it makes me wonder how and when Leslie would conquer the problem if the story continued. Lots of descriptive scene-building that pulls in the reader, too.

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Michał Przywara
21:04 Jun 10, 2022

Thanks, Lisa! Good questions. I also wonder how Leslie could deal with this. Seems like it'll probably get worse before it gets better. I'm glad the scenes worked for you :)

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Piper Mae
09:09 Jun 09, 2022

loved that you left the ending hanging, it makes the story so much more suspenseful and leaves me with more questions. there's also very little explanation as to what the noise is or who/what is making it so I can come up with the most horrible explanation possible, great job at allowing the reader to explore and make the story their own

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Michał Przywara
21:12 Jun 09, 2022

Thanks! That's exactly what I was hoping for. Monsters lose some of their edge if we can see them, analyze them. But if there's a bit of unknown for our imaginations to play with, we can have some real fun :)

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01:46 Jun 08, 2022

Hello, Michal. Finally getting to comment on your story. "... The noise REVERBERATES through her empty apartment, bouncing off the parquet floor and past unopened moving boxes. RATTLING HER BONES. The ECHOES fade but never quite disappear. They SINK into the mute white walls, drown into the shadow bog under the sofa." Striking audio and visual imagery. I didn't know what "bog" was, so I had to look it up. Learned a new word today ;D Thank you. The first encounter between Leslie and Mark - awkwardly flirting - was adorable. I wouldn't h...

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Michał Przywara
03:48 Jun 08, 2022

Hi Gabriela! Thanks for reading, and for leaving the great feedback! I'm always happy to see what worked and what didn't, and this is very helpful. "the nasty neighbor" -- yeah, I'm picturing a guy that was having a rough day, and he's just given up on any pretense of socially acceptable. But he's probably hard to deal with on a good day too. "The creepiest thing ever is when the sweet old woman" -- glad to hear the ending worked! A creepy note is for sure what I wanted. "leaving the reader to imagine the worst" -- but of course! What's ...

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Rebecca Miles
06:46 Jun 06, 2022

Clever use of three to structure this story on multiple occasions; the structural repetition really increased the spookiness. I liked that the mystery of the appartment and the knocking remained, gave me more to think about!

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Michał Przywara
16:49 Jun 12, 2022

Thanks, Rebecca! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Scott Skinner
04:50 Jun 05, 2022

Spooky ending! I liked this; I think you crushed the thriller piece of it. Each line was driving the story forward in a way where I felt like I was peeking around the corner and something could happen at any moment. It's little things like mentioning her fascination with his dimples that make it believable when she goes on a date with him later on, and I felt like you gave me enough information in each part of the story so that I could visualize everything I had to with ease. You also had an interesting haunting thing that's following th...

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Michał Przywara
20:50 Jun 05, 2022

Thanks, Scott! "I think you crushed the thriller piece of it" Very happy to hear that :D

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Kelsey H
01:00 Jun 05, 2022

I love a good haunted house story, definitely my fav thing in the horror genre. I love how this starts out with a possible romance vibe, she thinks he's cute, then brings up the mystery of what is causing the sounds, then it becomes something actually menacing. I loved the ending and how the reader is left as confused as Leslie as to what has actually been in her apartment, and is apparently following her. It's one of those stories that makes me want a part two to find out what happens next!

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Michał Przywara
19:14 Jun 05, 2022

Thanks! I was toying with the idea of romance too, but I rarely write horror and I don't think I've ever written romance, so it was a bit too much for a one week deadline. I think I'd like to revisit that pairing, horromance, one day though. I'm glad the ending worked out, and I appreciate the feedback!

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Andi Hyland
22:17 Jun 04, 2022

That ending! I have more questions than answers, and that will keep me thinking for a while. Well-crafted characters and a great read.

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Michał Przywara
22:47 Jun 04, 2022

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Aeris Walker
15:48 Jun 04, 2022

That ending was PERFECT. You had me hooked, wondering what the mystery apartment monster would turn out to be, only to be left with more questions (though the ending was absolutely satisfying and clever). I loved the description in this line, and never would have thought to describe eggs falling this way: “The carton falls on the floor, emitting a wet, subdued crunch.” You spun an intriguing story with a simple plot and let the readers run with their own imagination. Well done.

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Michał Przywara
18:33 Jun 04, 2022

Thanks, Aeris! Happy to hear the ending worked. There's always a bit of a risk leaving questions in the air, but maybe it's okay in horror, kind of leave on a note of dread. "let the readers run with their own imagination" this is possibly the most powerful tool we have when writing. If we can get a reader to participate in a story, we have a great foundation for everything else :)

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Aeris Walker
20:02 Jun 04, 2022

Yes exactly! Some of my favorite novels have been ones with more emphasis on just spinning a good story rather than spelling out every detail and telling the readers exactly what to envision.

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Kelsey Fish
14:15 Jun 04, 2022

Very cool! I love the idea of something being wrong with Leslie, something following her. I get the impression that has happened to her before, in some way.

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Michał Przywara
18:28 Jun 04, 2022

Thanks! Yeah, I get that feeling too, like this is personal. I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Drew Andrews
15:43 Jun 02, 2022

Lol... Plot twist : she is in a mental asylum. The others are just voices in her head and the events unfolding are her guilty mind trying to confess her crime. Reading it I got a NUMBER 23 feeling.

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Michał Przywara
21:08 Jun 02, 2022

Thanks, Drew! That's not a twist I considered, but I can totally see it :)

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Mike Panasitti
23:11 Jun 01, 2022

A successful first go at thriller. This story kept me locked in. It reminded me of The Tenant, a film by Roman Polanski, a cinematic poet of the genre.

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Michał Przywara
02:26 Jun 02, 2022

Thanks, Mike! Very encouraged to hear it kept you locked in :) I've not seen The Tenant, but I've had it recommended before. Maybe it's time to give it a spin.

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Riel Rosehill
20:08 Jun 01, 2022

Ugh, this was good. I don't think I've seen horror from you before! But this captured the perfect haunted house ghost story kind of vibe, really creepy and scary, and the fact that Mark just disappeared... Gotta say Leslie was super brave there, not calling the police but going upstairs and goin inside the flat herself. Really good take on the noise complaints prompt as well! There's this podcast about the battersea poltergeist on BBC sounds (which is very scary to listen to, I only recommend it for summer daytime) where the house or the gir...

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Michał Przywara
21:33 Jun 01, 2022

Thanks, Riel :D I've not posted any horror before -- definitely a newb in the genre -- so "this captured the perfect haunted house ghost story kind of vibe" makes me very happy :) I wanted to try a new tag this week, get out of the comfort zone. I also considered romance -- don't really write that at all -- and then I considered combining them. Horror/romance. Horromance? But that didn't pan out. Maybe another week. I'll have to check out that podcast, thanks for the recommendation!

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Suma Jayachandar
05:08 Jun 01, 2022

Creepy with a capital C! or maybe just a cry for help from a troubled mind? You have ensured this piece has the potential to go either way, Michal. I see you are ticking off genre tags one at a time, and I greatly appreciate it😊

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Michał Przywara
21:04 Jun 01, 2022

Thanks, Suma! Yeah, I don't normally venture into these tags, but sometimes you just gotta push boundaries. I'm glad it comes across as "could go either way." I was hoping for some ambiguity, but not so much it's irritating.

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Zelda C. Thorne
20:44 May 31, 2022

Ooooo I loved it. You built the suspense wonderfully. Kept me guessing... even after lol I'm not usually a fan of unresolved endings, but it totally worked here. It added to the creepiness. Well done. Another great read!

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Michał Przywara
22:00 May 31, 2022

Thanks Rachel! I'm not a huge fan of unresolved endings either, but maybe there's some leeway in horror. I definitely had a couple Stephen King shorts in mind, where things went from bad to worse.

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Jay Mc Kenzie
12:49 May 31, 2022

So creepy! I love that we're following Leslie, who is clearly the problem/has a problem. You built this up beautifully.

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Michał Przywara
21:52 May 31, 2022

Thanks Jay! It was fun to write :)

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04:00 May 31, 2022

When I saw the title and genre tags, I knew this would be a wild ride. And it was! Love the ending - seems like poor Leslie is haunted for life lol. My bet is on some kind of poltergeist or vengeful spirit. Or maybe people are somehow trapped and the banging is them trying to get out? Would be interested to know what the real explanation is! Also, somehow I missed the 'wooden' and just assumed the Louisville Slugger was a gun, until you started mentioning a baseball bat. A well written, creepy read. Nice work Michał. :)

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Michał Przywara
21:39 May 31, 2022

Thanks, Shuvayon! I'm glad it was a wild ride. I don't normally write horror or thriller, but you can only improve by doing after all. As to the real explanation, I'm not sure. Initially it was some kind of ghost story, but the more I wrote... I noticed Leslie had very intense, distracting sensory experiences, and she seemed to lose track of time. Who knows :)

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Ava Raim
03:47 May 31, 2022

I need to know what was happening! So creepy and compelling at the same time :)

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Michał Przywara
21:34 May 31, 2022

Thanks, Ava! I'm glad you found it compelling. I'm not entirely sure myself what's going on. Maybe some kind of ghost. Or maybe we can't trust one of the characters...

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