13 Oct Try It, Stay If You Like
“Try It, Stay If You Like”Written by David Casi Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 8 minutes
Something is changing the people in my apartment building.
I don’t know how better to describe the present phenomena rather than to explain, as simply as I can, that they come back different. When they speak, their eyes never move, never leave for a second, piercing, dwelling shadow orbs that seem to know some deep secret that I could never understand. They seem to be all connected, somehow, in some inexplicable way, as if they are all in on some cruel joke that I couldn’t follow.
Unless I went into the elevator, of course.
I mention this now, not because I’m certain at the time of writing, but because I have suspicions that have taken place over the past few weeks, things that have grown in me which must be described here. I am writing this because I am scared. I can hear it speaking to me even now, that chime calling from down the long hallway.
I need someone to know what happened to me if I come back different.
You see, having set my sights on this apparition, and trying my best to discover the source of this irregularity, I have come to believe that it is the elevator that changes them, the type with a drawing scissor pattern cast in iron, that groans and shrieks when it pulls to a gradual close with every lift.
There is something about it that I don’t like, something that I haven’t liked since I first moved into this place with my girlfriend, Sarah, nearly two months ago. It is something difficult to explain as anything more than a pervasive feeling, an inner sense of menace regarding this particular elevator. It seems to have an unnatural aura about it, a delightful, almost cheeriness when that metal gate expands, welcoming you in.
I think now would be a good time to let you know that I have never stepped foot into that contraption, not once, not even when the incredibly pleasant manager, a spectacled cherry blonde woman in her early thirties, gave me a tour of the old structure and invited me in. I’m dreadfully scared of heights, and even more so, of tight spaces. One look at those twisting metal frames, those drawn in walls, that sometimes flickering red sun of a light above, was all it took for me to refuse, politely, and always take the seven flights of stairs up to our apartment.
Let me tell you about the building. It is old, yellow brick, constructed in the 1910s, originally built as a hotel, with a snaring-sort of ivy that gnawed its way up much of its face. It is beautiful, full of charisma and character in a way that nothing built in more modern times can ever be. The lights in the lobby and hallways are always on, an endearing rose-glow, casting the interior in a jaunty shine, one without any shadows at all. It was built by hand, over many years, an artisanal creation.
A work of art.
I guess that is what enticed us here, the pulling inward sensation of light and the ground swelling of warmness that emanated from the place.
It felt like home the minute that we arrived.
Home in a way in which we had never felt it. A toasty hearth, piping hot chocolate, and a good book, and somehow, at different times, the feeling of company, being pleasantly out together at a welcoming bar, a place where everyone knew you and always would, where the taps kept on flowing, and sometimes, because everyone liked you, the drinks were on the house.
There was something else too, more than the unbearably kind manager, her swirling red hair and unusually invasive eyes.
It was the quality and terms of the contract.
We had been searching for a place in the city for months, combing over a hundred different residences, and never found one with an opportunity like this. A month to month lease, several hundred dollars less than anything else of similar like and quality in the surrounding vicinity. It seemed too good to be true, and after reviewing the contract sheet twice over, and finding not a hint of dishonesty from the manager, we decided we would be foolish to pass on an opportunity like this.
If we didn’t like it, of course, we could always leave.
That was our understanding at the time.
The first month was largely uneventful.
We were getting accustomed to the neighborhood, our new jobs in the city, cooking in a small half-kitchen without a microwave.
We noticed, even then, that the neighbors were a bit strange. Their smiles were too wide and ate up much of their faces. Their eyes didn’t seem to blink often enough, and they stood, still, mostly when we greeted them in the hallways and on the stairs.
More than once, I had the bizarre notion that they stayed that way, even after we left, standing still, unmoving, even when we were gone. I wrote this off as nothing, because of course, it was. Things like this didn’t exist, and if they did, wouldn’t they exist off in some sequestered part of the country? Some rural province where the ghost of a widow was said to inhabit an old farmhouse?
We were in the city.
We had hundreds of neighbors, and none of them said anything about any of it.
They all seemed—fine.
It didn’t bother us at first, not enough anyway, not for the first few weeks. We aren’t particularly social and didn’t spend much time with any of them. Who cared if they were a little—off?
That changed when we met our new neighbor in apartment 703, Henry, a sarcastic, sharply intelligent young man fresh out of university. He was working at an IT firm a few streets down from the building and moved in to avoid traffic. We connected immediately, in a way that only like-minded people could, and began to visit him in his apartment, most frequently to play board games, at which he was an absolute savant. He provided sincere companionship, a quality we had been lacking since our move.
We laughed frequently, and in jest, sometimes, would discuss how everyone else in the building seemed to have the same mannerisms. On one particular evening, Henry even pulled off one of his socks, and stuffing it on his hand in one motion, made it talk in a voice that mimicked the manager.
TRY IT. STAY IF YOU LIKE.
We laughed so hard it hurt, and remarked at the time, that she had said the exact same thing to us.
He said, then, with a smile, that if he believed in ghosts, they must have inhabited a building such as this.
For some reason, this caused all of us to go silent for a while.
I remember the night that Henry changed.
I didn’t get home until well after nine. Sarah had already prepared our famous garlic bread and tossed Greek salad, which we were bringing over to Henry’s apartment for dinner. We planned to play Monopoly after. As always, Henry would generously start the game with significantly less wealth to give us a better chance of overtaking him.
Sarah scolded me playfully, kissed me at the door, and said that we would be late, even though we both knew that Henry wouldn’t care. He probably preferred it.
I combed my hair, and we went next door.
No one answered on the first knock.
Or the second.
We were getting worried by the third.
His door was locked. It had never been locked before, not even when he went to work, which we had constantly tried to warn him could lead to trouble in the city. He said he didn’t have much of anything of value, and if anyone wanted it, they could have it.
Just as I was about to call his name, and then, potentially the police, we heard something beyond the door, a low shuffling of feet, slow, dragging across the scarred wood floor.
The door opened, and Henry was there, smiling so wide it looked like it hurt. When he spoke, his voice was too loud, and the words came out disjointed.
“HELLO, FRIENDS. WHY DON’T YOU COME IN?”
Sarah and I exchanged a glance and followed him inside.
When I asked him how he was doing, he avoided the question entirely. When we put our food on the table, he didn’t even look down at it. He stared, still, into our eyes, moving from Sarah back to me every few seconds, as if his very motion was set to some sort of invisible timer.
He didn’t eat, and we didn’t either.
We couldn’t stand those eyes.
We couldn’t stand that jolly, huge grin, never faltering, even when his muscles began to twitch.
We left as soon as we could. I mentioned that I suddenly wasn’t feeling well, that I was overheated, and might be coming down with something of a fever.
Henry didn’t take the news poorly.
He kept smiling. Smiling. SMILING.
As we left, I looked back just once, seeing the door still open, seeing Henry there with that savage smirk plastered on his face, its new permanent home.
I wondered if somehow, he wasn’t quite Henry anymore.
I wondered if he was someone else entirely.
And worse, even, I wondered as we entered our apartment and closed and bolted the door, if he was still standing there, just outside, with those wide eyes and bright teeth splayed out like perfect piano keys.
I wondered all night, though I was much too scared to check the keyhole.
We didn’t see Henry for some time after that.
We stopped seeing him go to work, and after another week or so, realized that we didn’t really see anyone else enter or leave the building either.
The thought began to come more frequently then, that they were here, always here, standing straight, right behind their closed doors, grinning madly, waiting for interaction.
I pushed it from my mind and tried to focus on my work.
If we didn’t like it, we could always leave.
And maybe we would, at the end of the month.
Then Sarah took the elevator.
She was running late for work and had far too much to carry that day for her presentation. I offered to help her down, but she refused. I waved to her out the door, feeling strangely frightened, and completely unsure why. It was eight in the morning and there was no reason to be afraid. Nothing logical, anyway. Nothing but anxious thoughts that filled my head with nightmares.
I saw her step into the elevator, saw that metal maw stretch wide, protracting like jaws, and snap shut when she was in. I thought, as I watched it envelop her in that bright red light, and begin to take her downward, that something was horribly wrong.
I wanted to call out to her, and I actually did run forward a few steps.
But she smiled, and waved, and blew me a kiss.
She didn’t come home that night.
I called her work and was assured that she never came in that day. Her boss was furious, but that was the least of my concerns.
I called the police and told them that she was missing. They came and met me in the building. I called her family. We looked for her, but couldn’t find anything. They questioned me. I didn’t have any answers. I told them about that morning, how she had smiled, and waved, and climbed into the elevator on her way to work. That was all I knew.
We were perfectly happy.
I would never hurt her.
She was missing for three days before she came back.
I had stopped going to work and was lying in bed, alone in the dark. I was distraught. I didn’t know what to do. I had been looking for her for days.
I heard keys move just outside the door and my heart jumped.
The doorknob turned and I heard her feet shuffle in.
I ran to her and wrapped her in my arms.
Her muscles didn’t move.
She was standing straight, perfectly.
“HELLO, LOVE,” she said. “I’M HOME.”
That voice. I had heard it before.
I grabbed her face in my hands and pulled her close.
I could barely see her eyes in the dark, but I knew what I would find there. Nothing. Distance. Cold, unbreakable, blankness.
That was two days ago.
She doesn’t come to bed.
She is standing by the door.
I don’t know what to do.
I haven’t been outside in days.
I’m the only one left.
I can’t leave.
I know that now.
It won’t let me.
I know she lied.
I can never leave.
I’m going to take the elevator.
I don’t have a choice.
It’s calling me now.
My head is ringing.
It’s telling me what to do.
I don’t know where it is going to take me.
I can hear the chime down the hallway.
I can hear that metal gate pull open.
Inviting me in.
I don’t want to be alone anymore.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available