Monsterous Memories Short Story Series
The Apopto is a large apartment complex including three eight story buildings, one small house, and a public laundry mat. It rests far from the nearest populous in an area that once thrummed so strongly with life. Store fronts with shattered windows and graffiti littered warehouses rest upon cracking streets and crumbling sidewalks in the surrounding area. The air is thick and the sky is always dark like a constant fire consumes the streets and paints the sky a smoky grey. The air is so foul that even rats dare not scurry the alleys. The park is over grown with crab grass and the few trees it contains are stunted and gnarled with long leafless limbs clawing at the air. The Apopto apartment complex is the heart of this ghost town, the only piece yet to die.
Nel Bartlett, a tiny thing despite nearing her late teens, picks her way across the crumbling sidewalk. Her tiny chest heaves against the potent air to obtain the bare minimum of oxygen. She is not a particularly interesting sight. She blends in well with her environment. Her hair is dirt brown, choppy, and short as her mother slices off the ends once a month to prevent an unruly mess. Her eyes, perhaps once swimming with life and innocence like her neighborhood, have darkened from their honey brown and have begun to droop. She has a long, drawn out face like her mother but rather than having sharp, regal features the details of her face are blunt and a little crooked from a fall long ago. Every outfit she owns, reaching a stunning total of three, contains greying pants and dulling shirt and a brown jacket about three sizes too big smelling heavily of smoke and fertilizer from the previous owner.
Nel turns the corner to cross the street to the largest of the three buildings. It is a mural of dull scrawl uttering either utter nonsense or offensive slang, though the all of it is illegible. The brick building is so wide it nearly appears squat. The entire seventh floor has its windows boarded up, angry black slashes across the brick still linger from five years ago. The front door is barred with iron that twist angrily in front of glass so thin it is nearly nonexistent. The hinges groan in protest yet do not fight the girl as she enters the dimly lit building.
Little light manages to seep through the dust clogged windows and the lights hanging from the ceiling buzz with unreliable, butter yellow light. Nel drifts over the deep red carpet heavily stained with a monstrous concoction of liquids, some of human origin, others not. Fresh stains darken the carpet the most harshly and make a squelching sound under Nel`s feet when her weight pushes some of the brownish liquid up. She ascends the creaky steps with her now slippery shoes. The metal rings with each step she takes. Black paint is peeling away in many places leaving red rimmed rust holes to drill through each thin plate, one of which nearly swallows the girl`s foot whole.
Nell ascends six stories through circle after circle of locked doors. The pipes rattle beside her in the walls as water rushes through and her feet continue to clang upon the steps, but otherwise the building is deathly silent. The sound of feet climbing up the stairs hushes the tenants as they hold their breath. The uneven clang of her falling feet alert Nel`s mother to her arrival and the door is open before she even reaches the fifth floor. She walks along with the permanent limp that has been pestering her since her fall over the stair railing.
Despite the wide open door neither parent is anywhere to be seen in the tight little apartment. The tiny, one-bedroom space mimics the spirit of the street. Picture frames hang from every wall and candles rest upon every table, but the colors have faded behind a shield of grey dust. Floral pattern wall paper is stained a sickly yellow, leaping from the wall in some places. Small crochet animals sit stacked in an ancient glass dresser stuffed safely into one corner. The memory of life, of a past linger, but the light has fled the place having left when Nel`s grandmother passed. Now the husk remains, grey and empty, an echoing reminder of what once was.
Nel winds out of the tiny living room into the even smaller kitchen. The trash heaps up out of the can yet the cabinet doors hang loosely on their hinges to reveal empty cabinets. A yellow fridge that had been white once upon a time rest silently in the corner. She does not need to look to know it is in the same condition as the cabinets. She pulls a cup from the counter far from the blooming splotches of grey and green mold before turning on the water. The pipes howl and whine before releasing a shower of rusty liquid. The water sputters out before violently splashing out of the dingy old sink. The reddish-brown liquid pools around the barely functional drain. Nel waits but the liquid never reaches a state of complete clarity.
The pipes rumble in protest as the liquid continues to rush out and splatter around Nel and the surrounding counter. Eventually she fills the cup and turns the faucet off before more protest can be barked at her from the metal. Brown flecks dance about, remaining suspended in the water, but Nel stills risks drinking from the cup as she heads to the paper cluttered dining room table. The squat, square stack of wood is rough and wobbles under a breeze. She carefully sets her fraying backpack atop it, pulling out school work she likely won`t complete anyways.
From her seat at the table she can make out the dim hall and its three doors, her parents room, the bathroom, and the hall closet that functions as her closet. The carpet is torn there revealing the plywood set under the floor. Staples glitter softly over the cheap panels and a few nails even arch up their flesh piercing points into the air. The maintenance promised by the building owners is nonexistent, leaving the apartment to continue to fall into shambles. Nel finds herself hypnotized by the reflective metal and spends the entirety of her evening staring at it. She does not notice the sun`s fall until blood red light washes in through the broken blinds to once more breathe some color and life into the world between the dim walls.
A willowy woman quietly leaves the last door of the hall. Her auburn hair rains like fire down her back and her honey eyes glisten sweetly in the long, angular face. Her features once upheld such grace and beauty are now too sharp so heavy shadows etch themselves across the pale skin. She approaches Nel slowly, a wobble in her step and alcohol on her breath. With blank eyes so dazed she stares past her daughter as she found it too difficult to focus on the girl sitting before her. For the briefest of moments their eyes meet. The gaze sent the woman fleeing at her own slow pace out of the door perhaps to forget her sorrows in some other way.
Nel only watches her mother depart having learned long ago that there is no use in trying to communicate with the woman. If she still remains in her mind she is buried far too deep to be found. She gets up to shut the door once her mother is far from sight leaving the girl alone in the ever darkening apartment. Her mother rarely left alone leading Nel to assume her father is working late once more to try and sustain the small family to the best of his wavering ability. She did not mind the solitude this creates for her. Without her parents the small space is carved into a large hiding place for her to shelter herself from the binds of reality that tore away at her piece by piece. She returns the untouched work back to her folder, the pristine white pages the purest thing within the apartment. She tucks the bag beneath the table hoping to have no need to remember it again.
Nel walks the length of the dining room and kitchen to peer out at the desolate streets below. Not even her mother remains in her line of sight. No cars, no stray animals, no people, no plants growing through sidewalk cracks, just a brown puff of dust riding along a breeze. The scarlet light leaks slowly from the sky leaving behind a dark, muted blue. Even at this distance from any big cities the sky is starless. The crescent moon with its silver glow is arched by wispy clouds. Her eyes start to ache and water from once again staring for an excessive time at nothing in particular. She glances once more at the sidewalk though now not even dust strolls by. She knows not to expect her parents return until the sun crest the horizon with its honey and fire glow.
The street lamps flicker on in a buzzing blaze. Their harsh circles of light only cast deeper shadows where anything or anyone may actually lurk. Nel shifts against the rotten wood of the window frame to glance at the weak blue glow displaying the time. Despite night consuming the sky time has yet to catch up and it is still rather early. The time and growling rippling through her stomach are not enough to keep her from retiring to bed sooner than normal. She pulls out the creaking sofa bed as the metal legs screech against the floor. She may have fallen upon it in that moment and slip off into a world of dreams had the scratching not made a peculiar tone. A crying chirp echoes from beneath the bed too high in pitch for even the squeals of the old metal frame.
Nel pauses in her actions to glance around the cramped space. Everything in the room seems suddenly closer to her. The table against the window nearly gets in the way of the bed and the dining room table seems suffocatingly close despite still brushing the wall with one side. The bed made the room infinitely smaller and made the shadows infinitely deeper. Her heart skips a single beat as several loud bangs burst through the air disturbing the silence. Her breath departs from her lungs and refuses to reenter until she discovers the location of the sudden noise.
Nel turns several times in her limited space before she notices the wooden door shake and bulge in once more, accompanied by the banging sound. She stares in frozen terror, very nearly cornered and utterly alone. Her neighbors may come to watch if her cries break their peace, but none would try to intervene or call for help everyone knows would never come. Tremors run through the girl making her appear even more petite and frail in the pale moonlight.
“Nellie?” Calls a gritty voice, stern yet warm, from the other side of the door. “Are you in there?”
Nel sighs softly in relief as the tension pours from her body and the fear slips away into the open air. It takes but three steps to cross from the base of the bed to the door, each more of a shuffle than a step. She pulls upon the protective barrier of weak wood to reveal a man whose features appear youthful yet whose eyes are weighted with age. He stands a foot taller than the small girl with skin stained the tone of earth from days working in personal and cooperate yards. A smile climbs across his face more fatherly than any she has seen from her own father.
“Come on, I know your parents are out and Shyla made extra food just for you.” The middle age man speaks gently to keep from startling his downstairs neighbor.
Nel nods a moment and opens the door, refraining from speaking a single word. She goes to grab her keys, but does not bother to write a note. She parts from the dark apartment to follow her neighbor, sparing a glance for the dim room before she shuts and locks the door. Just before she shuts the door she catches two gleams of twinkling light like the staples on the hall floor resting just beneath her bed.