Eleanor blamed it on the Glitch. When she was five years old, she fell off a horse and landed badly on her head. She was in the hospital for a stretch and it took a while to gain back her confidence around horses, but she forgot all about the incident itself. What stuck with her was the Glitch, as she called it.
There were times when Eleanor got brief glimpses of things that weren’t there. Moving shadows, streaking colors, sometimes she even saw half-perceived glimpses of people and animals. It manifested as movement in her peripheral vision and as soon as she focused on the Glitch, it would be gone. It wasn’t always something that she saw. Sometimes it was a sound or even a smell that couldn’t be explained.
There one second, gone the next.
The neurologist in Fairfield County couldn’t explain it, and since it didn’t cause any adverse effects, Eleanor learned to ignore the Glitch in her brain. It didn’t bother her all that much anymore. After puberty, it either eased off, or she simply got better at ignoring it.
Today, however, it was back, and in full force. Eleanor ascribed it to stress. Being a rookie reporter working almost purely as a freelancer for Newsday wasn’t easy. She was yet to write her first big piece to get herself noticed in an ocean of established sharks. Unlike her contemporary peers, who were constantly on social media trying to weave together digital threads, Eleanor liked hitting the streets the old-fashioned way.
Five years after moving from a small town with a population of eighteen thousand to New York, the city was still a marvel to her. She still had so much to discover and the best way to do it was on foot. Growing up in a small rural town next to Candlewood Lake, Eleanor had always been an outdoorsy type. Since childhood she had loved hiking and exploring the city on foot gave her new insights into the underbelly of New York City.
There would always be crime, and logic would have it that there would always be a need for reporters to cover those seedy stories and bring them to the light. That had been her motivation for studying English and Journalism in college, but a lot had changed in four years. Now, people were more emotionally detached than ever. Reporting on crime just didn’t have the same impact on people that it used to.
The pandemic lockdowns had played a huge role in getting people to build up their walls and stay indoors. Even when the hard lockdowns were lifted and people could go about their ordinary lives as best they could, many found it difficult to embrace their freedom again. People were scared, and that made them hunker down to ride out the storm. Even months after the last outbreak, Eleanor still found the streets less busy. It made her sad. The city seemed to have lost some of its vibrancy.
It also made Eleanor’s job more difficult. There were fewer people on the streets, and those that were out and about were less likely to talk to strangers. When they did talk, they didn’t see rising crime rates as a problem and most refused to talk about it. It wasn’t that they were scared of the criminal elements in the city - crime had just taken a back seat on people’s worry lists.
Eleanor Kraye was determined, though. She was going to write her break-out story and make a name for herself, come hell or high water. She didn’t think it was fair that the criminal low-lives somehow had free rein. Murder, theft, and extortion had skyrocketed in the last six months. The criminal masterminds had taken their opportunity to expand their operations when police were called in to help with the pandemic. Frontline workers were stretched thin, and the criminals pounced, expanding territories and inventories. Now, when the police could focus on fighting real crime again, it was all the more difficult. Criminals had somehow managed to become sneakier.
Eleanor was busy following up a lead on stolen pharmaceutics. This was not only going to be a piece (or several, she hoped) about the criminal element, but also a human interest story, showing the effects these thefts had on the community. The poor and the elderly were the ones most affected, and Eleanor wanted to highlight that in the hope of getting the public to become more aware of the city’s problems and help their fellow citizens.
Eleanor looked up and down the street and a sadness filled her.
Sure, she thought, it’s midway through fall, but a year ago these streets were still busy this early at night. Little bakeries, cafés and street vendors made a bustling trade. Now, most of the businesses had closed down. Instead of people streaming to the city as they had for decades, people were now leaving. Remote work enabled those who were lucky enough to still have jobs to move out of the city.
Rat traps, her dad always said. People are like rats. Put one or two of them together in a box and they’re fine. But put twenty in there and pretty soon they start eating each other. People in large cities are the same. The more people, the more problems.
Looking at the street with all its FOR RENT signs, Eleanor got the impression that her dad wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The rising cost of living, especially higher taxes, coupled with the pandemic, hadn’t helped. Those who were able, moved to the suburbs or smaller towns. It filled Eleanor with sadness. When she came to the city five years ago to attend college, New York was instantly like a second home. It used to be vibrant and alive with possibility. Now it seemed like a star athlete limping along. She was positive it would pick up again, and as a crime reporter, she would help restore it.
Eleanor was on her way to meet a source when he stepped out of an apartment building, right in front of her.
It was early evening and the lighting on the street was good enough for her to focus on some details before he moved on. He was one of the few who still wore a mask in public. The plain black mask may have hidden his mouth and nose, but it seemed too small on his head.
The stranger had a big jaw, bushy eyebrows, intense brown eyes, and what appeared to be a permanent scowl on his forehead. His forehead furrows were deep and prominent. Eleanor judged him in his early to mid-thirties. He was about 5′8", broad-shouldered and wore boots, jeans, and a heavy winter coat.
Under normal circumstances, Eleanor would not have noticed him. Nothing stood out about him, and he wasn’t doing anything to warrant suspicion. He was just a random guy, probably perfectly normal, who had walked out of a building.
Except the Glitch seemed to focus on him directly.
There was a vortex of swirling shadows that surrounded him. He was walking within the eye of a storm that no one else noticed.
It threw Eleanor completely. She didn’t know how to react. This was the first time the Glitch had manifested itself right in front of her. These were no flitting shadows in the corner of her vision. This was something else.
The Glitch lasted no longer than two seconds, but it was enough for Eleanor to focus on the man. He had suddenly become the center of her entire universe, and it left her feeling confused and somewhat queasy. She felt intensely uneasy about him. There was no explanation for it. Eleanor had an inexplicable disliking for the man and she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was dangerous. She hoped it wasn’t showing on her face, drawing attention to her. She would prefer if the guy just kept walking past her, never to be seen again.
He was exiting an apartment building that only had three floors. The front windows shone with a warm glow that seemed to invite you in. Most of the apartment lights were on as well, except for one on the third floor where the windows were all boarded up.
The building gave Eleanor an involuntary shudder. Something was not right here. Eleanor couldn’t put her finger on it, though. She looked at the man as he casually strolled down the sidewalk, away from her towards Murray Hill. He was probably heading to the Main Street station, which was two blocks away.
The man didn’t look back, and Eleanor thought she even heard him whistle. Just another perfectly normal guy going about his business. And yet, she thought, something’s not right. The twisting, swirling shadows didn’t appear again, but that didn’t ease her growing sense of trepidation. Eleanor decided not to pursue the man. What would be the point?
She looked at the building again. It seemed to call to her, drawing her closer, urging her to go in, even though her instincts screamed at her to walk away. It looked like most of the other buildings on this block. Three stories, square and squat, like a toad hovering over the road.
Despite her unease, Eleanor’s inquisitive nature got the better of her. She walked closer to inspect the apartment building. A short stairway led down to a small barista in the basement. At street level, on the ground floor, was a single door flanked by sidelights on either side. It was an old building, probably more than a hundred years old. It only had six apartments. A light went off on the second floor, startling Eleanor.
Someone’s home, she thought.
The entire building wasn’t abandoned, as her instincts first suggested. People live here. The thought didn’t soothe her though, she was still apprehensive. There was a FOR RENT sign on a window on the third floor. That sign seemed to call to her, pulling her in. Eleanor didn’t question her instincts. She looked down the road again, hoping to spot the Shadowman, but he was long gone. She shrugged, climbed the three steps to the front door and looked at the names of the tenants next to their respective buzzers. Stein and McCowrey were on the ground floor. Anders, Chiluba on the second. Lenoit on the third floor. The last apartment tag was empty.
Eleanor’s finger hovered over the buzzer to the nameless apartment. She didn’t want to go up there, but by now it was out of her hands. She seemed to be working on autopilot, as if someone else was behind the wheel and she was merely there for the ride. She was wondering how to get up there and whether she should buzz one of the other apartments, when, by chance, she tried the front door.
To her surprise, the door opened, and she entered the foyer. Apartment doors to her left and right greeted her. A staircase was to the back of the foyer. Eleanor followed it upwards. Her feet seemed to become heavier, her breathing shallow.
She reached the third floor landing and walked over to the empty apartment, her hand outstretched, the door knob inches away. Should I knock? she wondered briefly before trying the door again. It opened. By now, she wasn’t surprised. Something beyond her understanding was happening here.
The door opened silently on well-oiled hinges. The interior was dimly lit from the street lamps, filtering through gaps in the boarded-up windows. There were many pockets of shadows.
Something’s watching me.
The thought was unbidden and alien to her. If anything, Eleanor Kraye was a pragmatist. A person seated in the reality of the world. She naturally veered away from talk about conspiracy theories. Eleanor’s world was based in fact. She felt sorry for people who believed in Bigfoot, aliens, the Devil, and superstitious nonsense. Yet, here she was being drawn into an apartment where she felt being watched. She scoffed at the idea, but couldn’t shake the feeling of dread that had her in its grip. She quickly felt along the wall for the light switch, unwilling to take her eyes off the shadows that seemed to be moving within themselves.
After scrabbling for what seemed an eternity, Eleanor managed to find the switch and flick it. The shadows dispersed in an instant, but the unease stayed with her.
The small living room was empty. So was the kitchen. Eleanor slid a finger over a countertop and brought it to her eyes for inspection. She couldn’t see any dust. The occupant couldn’t have moved out too long ago. Either that, or the landlord ran a tight ship.
A sound made her swivel towards the small hallway leading off from between the living room and kitchen. What was that? she wondered. Something wet, almost like a suckling sound. She stood still for several seconds, not daring to move. The sound (if there ever had been one), didn’t repeat.
The pull came again and seemed to draw Eleanor towards the only bedroom. To stall her irrational apprehension, she had a quick look at the bathroom, switching on the light before she entered. She kept her eyes firmly trained away from the bedroom to her right, but didn’t turn her back on it and kept the doorway in her peripheral vision.
A single bathtub, single basin, and single white toilet stood sentry. She was about to retreat to the small hallway when something caught her eye inside the wash basin. She swallowed a lump of coal. Someone had used the basin recently. There was moisture in the bowl. Eleanor brought her head down level with the rim and peered at the smooth white surface. There were faint little red lines leading towards the hole.
Her anxiety spiked. It could be blood. Someone could have been standing here a few minutes ago, washing blood from their hands. Now, more than ever, she didn’t want to go into the bedroom. Those tiny little red rivers, almost like veins, symbolized something to her. Eleanor couldn’t quite figure it out. Her mind had never given much flight to fancy. She read crime novels and biographies and legal case studies, not fiction.
She shrugged it off, knowing that she was stalling. She also realized that someone might be hurt and in need of help. That spurred her on and broke the spell. She quickly exited the bathroom and walked to the bedroom. In the doorway, she stopped as if hitting an invisible barrier. Eleanor looked on to the carnage inside the small ten by ten foot room. The light from the bathroom was enough to show what she had most feared.
She couldn’t see all of it, though. She was somehow compelled to bear witness and without thinking, Eleanor switched on the light.
There shouldn’t be so much blood, she thought. It’s impossible for the human body, especially one so small, to contain so much blood. The entire room seemed to be painted with it.
Eleanor screamed as the blood seemed to move.