(Content Warning: Blood, Murder, Violence, and Language.)
Alex slammed the enter button on his laptop and yelled, “Finished!”
He had spent the past few months working on his client’s business portfolios at Investors-R-Us and was feeling the weight of the project. The pay was good, and the benefits were better, but the stress was painfully ignorant. The long hours were a necessity that every employee acknowledged even if they disagreed with them.
You might think that working sixty days straight with no time off would drive a person insane, but Alex was a prized thoroughbred who refused to lose. He always rose to the occasion and had received multiple employee-of-the-month awards for his steadfast determination and devotion to the company.
Alex’s co-workers despised him because they believed he was hogging all the attention from management. He would roll his eyes and scoff at them because he knew he was better than everyone else. They were lazy and took breaks while he slaved away at his computer. He loathed them.
The neatly stacked folders on Alex’s desk were ready to go to management. He looked at his assistant, Sue, who was filing her ruby-red nails, and asked, “Hey, Sue, can you take these files to management for me? It’s getting late, and I need to get home.”
Sue rolled her eyes and said, “Why can’t you do it yourself?”
Ah… the ravings of a lazy lunatic! Alex thought.
“I guess you weren’t paying attention during this morning’s meeting. Management is cracking down on overtime hours, and it’s five-thirty-five right now.”
Sue lifted her brow and scoffed, “So…”
“I’m supposed to leave at five-thirty on the dot, and you’re here until six, so could you please take these files and deliver them for me?”
“I suppose I could,” she puffed.
“Thank you,” Alex retorted in a not-so-friendly manner. “I need to get home, so I can water my plants and enjoy a little peace and quiet.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Sue mocked. “Tell someone who gives a flying fuck!”
Alex shrugged, placed the files on Sue’s desk, and clocked out. The constant sarcasm was like an endless barrage of bullets, and his shield was slowly breaking. Working hard should always garner a little appreciation, but in reality, most people only care about themselves. If you’re not the first dog to the biscuit, you lose.
After a cab dropped Alex off at his apartment complex, he rushed into the building just in time to catch the landlord. Scotty always retired for the day at six o’clock sharp and didn’t like to be disturbed after hours.
“Hey, Scotty!” yelled Alex. “Did you take care of that noise complaint I told you about this morning?”
Scotty puckered his lips and adjusted his loose dentures. “Yeah, I had a talk with that young fella.”
“What did he say?”
“He said he’d try to keep it down. You shouldn’t be too hard on him. He’s just a musician trying to practice his craft. I don’t see what the big problem is because you’re never home anyway.”
Alex smirked. “Are you kidding me? I always come home in the evenings. It’s not my fault that I have a real day job, and the only thing I want when I get back is a little peace and quiet!”
“Okay, okay… I get it,” Scotty said, shaking his head. “Calm down, will ya? You’re gonna make my hemorrhoids worse.”
“Fine,” uttered Alex. “He did say he would stop, right?”
Scotty scrunched his lips once more, nodded, and disappeared down the hallway.
“Geez… I can’t believe this place!”
Alex rode the elevator up to the thirteenth floor and proceeded down the narrow corridor. The sound of an electric guitar stabbed his ears like a sharp dagger.
“Yeah… that talk really helped out. Thanks a lot, Scotty!”
There were two penthouses on the thirteenth floor, and Alex lived in thirteen-B. His neighbor, Ryan, lived in thirteen-A. He was a young man in his mid-twenties and was constantly blasting his guitar to deafening levels of chaos. Oddly enough, the only complaints came from Alex. If anyone else heard the blazing inferno, they sure weren’t saying anything.
As Alex walked by thirteen-A, he closed his fist and pounded on the door. “Hey man, turn it down, will ya? I’m home now, so enough is enough!”
The riff stopped, and the door swung open. Ryan poked his head out and said, “Oh, sorry, dude! I didn’t know your highness was back in town!”
Ryan had long brown curly hair and a face full of peach fuzz. His eyes were painted with black mascara, which perfectly matched his fingernails. He wore a dark leather jacket with silver chains and blue denim jeans. This was the exact opposite of Alex’s gray business suit and perfectly combed blonde hair.
“Stop being a jerk!” Alex warned. “I already filed a complaint with Scotty−”
“Yeah, I know, dude,” Ryan cut in. “Me and Scotty had a big laugh about that earlier.”
“I can’t believe this crap!” Alex yelled.
Ryan rolled his eyes and fired, “Look, man, don’t have a brain aneurysm. I’m just trying to find the right chord! If it annoys you that much, I’ll try to keep it down.”
Alex took a deep breath and said, “Thank you. That’s all I want.”
He gave Ryan a warm smile and walked away. When Alex entered his apartment, he took a shower and watered his plants. Everything was silent, much to his surprise, and he decided to curl in bed with a good book.
The Unfinished War was a book that chronicled the rise and fall of American politics, and Alex was only three paragraphs in when the disturbing roar of Ryan’s guitar ripped through his soul.
He dropped the book that felt like a heavy tomb and ran over to the wall. “Stop that racket, will ya!” He balled his fists and pounded. “All I want is some peace and quiet!”
The guitar riff blazed on for a moment and then grew silent. “Oh, sorry, dude! I thought you were asleep.”
Alex shook his head. “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
Ryan yelled back, “If you’re asleep, you shouldn’t hear anything!”
“That’s fucking crazy,” Alex shouted. “Were you born on this planet?”
“I think so,” Ryan said after a moment of awkward silence. “I’m sorry, man. I’m just trying to find the right chord. I’ll keep it down!”
“Thank you!” Alex roared.
The hour was late, and Alex had given up on the idea of reading. He needed to be up earlier in the morning to give a presentation for his boss. It was the culmination of two months’ work, and everything depended on it. He put a black blindfold over his eyes, tucked himself into his fluffy green covers, and dozed off.
Alex woke up a few hours later to the sound of a wailing electric guitar. It sounded like a cat scratching on a chalkboard, so he removed his blindfold and pounded on the wall again.
“Ryan! I told you to keep it down!”
There was no answer, and the guitar riff continued to tear his eardrums apart.
“Turn it down, Ryan!”
“Shit!” Alex cursed. “I swear I need a new place to live.”
The infernal cat-scratching riff would not stop, and Alex couldn’t take it longer. He picked up his phone and dialed Scotty. The phone rang at least thirty times with no response, so that option was gone.
I could call the police, but that would piss Scotty off. If they woke him up in the middle of the night, I would never hear the end of it.
“I’ll have to confront Ryan on my own. If I want peace, it’s the only way!”
Alex stormed out of his penthouse and ran down the hallway. He banged on Ryan’s door until he answered the call.
“Oh, it’s you again,” Ryan mocked. “What do you want? Don’t you know it’s late, dude?”
Alex had reached his boiling point. Enough was enough. “Are you fucking kidding me!? I’ve been telling you, begging you, to keep that insane noise down all night, yet you won’t stop!!”
“This is the first time I’m hearing anything about it, dude!”
Alex pushed his way through the door, squeezed his fists, and swung at Ryan. The punk rocker ducked and smashed his guitar on Alex’s head. Then there was darkness…
When Alex opened his eyes, he saw a pile of dead bodies with scratched faces piled up in a corner. At that moment, he finally understood why no one else was complaining about the noise. They were all dead. The carpet he was lying on was wet with blood and smelled like rotting flesh. He felt the back of his head and rubbed the lump that was pulsating like a heartbeat.
What the hell happened?
“Welcome back to the land of the living, dude!”
Ryan grabbed Alex’s hair and pulled him over to the wall where his guitar was leaning. Alex tried to fight back, but his injury was too severe. He saw four Ryan’s staring down at him, and it was no use swinging at ghosts.
“W-what happened to all these p-people,” Alex stuttered.
Ryan glared at him with a wicked smile. “Oh, don’t worry about them, dude. You got bigger problems comin’ your way!”
Ryan grabbed Alex’s face and placed it against his guitar strings. Suddenly, Alex knew how those corpses got the scratch marks. “Don’t worry, man, this won’t hurt a bit!”
Oh, no. Please, God, not like this.
Not like this!!
The guitar strings sliced through Alex’s flesh like a hot knife cutting through butter. Ryan stuck out his tongue and tasted the squirting blood, and laughed. When Alex’s head got to the end of the guitar strings, Ryan raised him back up to the top, slammed his skull back down, and pushed like he was grating cheese.
“Dude, can you hear that?”
Please, stop… Please, stop…
Alex could no longer see anything because his eyes were sliced open. There was a cold grip on his spine, and he knew the end was near. Before darkness could claim Alex, he heard Ryan screaming.
“Do you hear that, neighbor?”
“I finally found the right chord, dude!!”
Daniel R. Hayes