“Grow up,” he said to himself, standing just outside the kitchen. “It was nothing.” But still he didn’t move.
It was late, and Alex didn’t want to be standing hesitantly near the darkened kitchen. He wanted to be asleep. He’d dozed off watching Netflix on the couch again, but tonight, instead of waking up around 2am and stumbling blearily to bed, he’d been pulled back to consciousness just before midnight by an unfamiliar sound.
Alex lived alone, and his apartment was small - a bedroom and bathroom in the back, living room and small galley kitchen up front. The building was old and often made noise, but he’d lived here for years and gotten used to it. The sharp cracking of the walls settling, the rattling of pipes, the ticks and quiet rumbling of the heater. They were all part of his apartment’s background soundtrack. But this was something unfamiliar, something different. He rubbed his eyes, shaking off the fog of sleep, and listened.
There it was again. What was that? Alex sat up on the couch, confused. Only a half-wall separated the living room from the kitchen, and the sound had clearly come from the other side of it. So he’d untangled himself from the blanket on the couch and padded over to the kitchen, trying to ignore the cold unease spreading through his belly. He stood on the border where carpet gave way to tile and peered into the shadows of the kitchen.
It wasn’t much, just the microwave, sink, and a little bit of counter space on his left, and the fridge, stove, and even less counter space on his right. He glanced around in the dim, still inexplicably ill at ease, but saw nothing amiss. He’d actually taken the time to clean up after dinner tonight, so everything was wiped down and put away. Alex relaxed a little, and was right on the verge of shrugging it off and going to bed when the noise came again.
Only for a moment, but long enough to hear it; a wet, chittering sound. Close by.
Alex froze. It sounded like it came from on top of the refrigerator.
In the shadows of his midnight kitchen, Alex glanced up there, curious. There were only two things on top of the fridge: a rarely utilized air fryer, and a wire basket he used for storing onions. What would possibly-
There it was again, a brief but distinctly audible burble.
Then a soft rustling.
Alex stood there and tried to tell himself it was the sound of water gurgling in the freezer, but he knew it wasn’t. The rustling cinched it - the sound of onion skins rubbing together.
There was another brief rustle, and Alex’s eyes widened. He slowly pulled open the silverware drawer and grabbed a butter knife, never looking away from the dark atop the fridge.
There was something alive in the onion basket.
It seemed ridiculous, but as soon as the thought occurred he knew it was true. Alex felt his pulse quicken as he took a step closer, clutching the butter knife tightly.
He couldn’t really explain his response. A few months ago, a huge, fat cockroach had come careening out at him from beneath the fridge, and he’d been a bit jumpy in the kitchen since then. It could’ve been that. Or maybe it was waking up alone in the dark because of a strange noise.
And there was something strange about the noises he’d heard. They weren’t just unfamiliar; they didn’t belong. He wasn’t entirely sure what he even meant by that, and it made him feel silly. But it also felt true. He crept a few paces closer.
Now Alex could see the basket on the fridge more clearly. It sat there, innocuous, filled with its cargo of onions in plastic netting. The bag was full; he’d just gone shopping yesterday. He stood there and waited, watched, his eyes adjusting slightly. Everything looked normal. He was just being ridiculous, no need to-
The rustling came again, distinctly, definitively, from the onions. His breath caught in his throat. Nothing moved, but he heard it. He heard it. It was right there.
Alex clenched his fist around the butter knife and raised it up before him, pointing it at the onion basket. Something was in there. Oh shit. What was it? The noise was too loud for it to be a bug, even a big roach. A mouse or a rat maybe? He paled at the thought. He had never had any issues with rodents in his building, but what else could it be? His mind played an unwelcome reel of some rabid furry creature leaping out at him, needle claws extended, overgrown teeth gnashing.
He took a breath to calm himself. Whatever was up there was more scared of him than he was of it, and he had to take care of this. He had to see what he was dealing with.
Slowly, slowly, he extended the knife towards the basket.
He slipped it between the basket’s braided wire, gently, carefully…then jabbed it into one of the onions. Alex yanked his hand away and pressed his back against the sink.
He frowned, his senses still on high alert. Was he overreacting? Was his mind playing tricks on him? He’d definitely heard something.
He jabbed at the onions again, then jumped back in alarm. There it was again, the rustling of onion skins.
But couldn’t that have been him? Maybe he’d dislodged an onion with the knife, jostled it against another.
The anxiety was building within him.
He stabbed out with the knife and shoved the basket backward.
There was a sudden hissing sound, and Alex yelled and leapt up on the counter behind him, yanking his feet up off the floor. Something was scuttling around up there. He fumbled in his pocket for his phone and turned on the flashlight, pointed its harsh light forward. Nothing moved.
But there was something else.
A glistening brown fluid had pooled beneath the onions on top of the fridge. And in the light from his phone, Alex saw that one of the onions had split almost in half. Its insides shone wetly in the light, spongy and sickly green and decidedly un-onion-like. And there was a smell. He noticed it then, pungent and rotten and foreign.
Something foul had come home from the store with him.
He heard it again then, that liquid chittering sound. But this time it came from below.
From the space beneath the fridge.
Alex felt sick. He wanted to run. He wanted to run outside and jump in his car and drive away, far away from here. He wanted to dive into his bed and fall asleep and forget the whole thing. But how could he sleep with some thing in his apartment with him? He couldn’t run. He had to handle this. That’s what adults with their own apartments did.
He took a deep breath, then cautiously lowered his feet to the floor, eyes glued to the gap beneath the fridge. Staying as far away as he could in the narrow kitchen, Alex steeled himself, gripped the butterknife tightly, then dropped down to peer underneath.
He swept his light frantically across the darkened space, ready to scream, ready to run. But there was nothing.
Beneath the fridge was only dust and wires and the pale hanging bulb of some sort of pump, but nothing else. Nothing was out of place. Nothing moved. He swept the light back and forth again, eyes darting everywhere, but still saw nothing.
Then the pale bulb opened its eyes.
There was only time to see it rush forward on too many legs, only time to see its mandibles clacking as it screeched.
Alex screamed. But only for a moment.
It burrowed into him hungrily, and when it was done, it burrowed down through the tile and into the floor.
Then all was silence.
Dana sat up in bed, concerned. She thought she’d heard a noise from upstairs, loud enough to wake her. She sat and listened in the dark, unease spreading in her stomach for some reason she couldn’t name. But there was nothing.
Then came a chittering from the closet.