Chapter 1: The beginning
We’ve been together for 5 years and just got married last month. It was a decently organized ceremony at a wine yard, everything was perfect and it felt like the most beautiful moment of my life. He just turned 24 and I’m 22. He’s the love of my life. His name is Jamie and I couldn’t be happier to be living with him.
When we decided to make the leap we spent 2 months looking at flats and houses, we couldn’t afford to buy yet so renting was our only option but the prices were astronomical. For our budget we would have been lucky to get a box room and a stove.
Jamie works for a local 24 hour fast food restaurant and I’m training to be a teacher. The early stages of training don’t pay much and I owe a lot in student loans so finances are tough.
We had almost given up hope until we found our flat. It was nothing special, but to us it was a palace. A spacious 2 bedroom apartment with views of a city park, a balcony and local conveniences. It was in a tower block in a not so nice area, but neither of us had been wealthy growing up, we weren’t fussy. Just grateful to be together.
The advertisement was sweetened by the deposit free option and open ended tenancy. The landlord was happy to sign a five year contract if we wanted. That sort of thing never happens in the city. We were told that along with no deposit we would also have no inspections, but would be liable to pay for any damage when we ended the tenancy. I’d never heard of anything quite like it.
We knew that for our budget and location we weren’t going to get any better. We snapped the place up fast, not even bothering to view it. It felt like our only chance.
Move in day rolled around quickly and yesterday we got the keys to our first home together, it was such a strange feeling. The day was chaos, getting our stuff in and up in the lift. We were flat number 42, on the 7th floor. The items we couldn’t get in the lift had to be taken up all the stairs by the removal men. I think they were grateful we weren’t any higher but I still wish we had been able to give them a better tip.
In the evening we settled down on our second hand sofa, given to us by a cousin of a friend and watched some tv. We smoked cigarettes on the balcony looking at the park and fell asleep on our mattress on the floor super early because we had no energy to put the bed together yet and Jamie had work at a hideous time of the morning.
We slept soundly last night, I felt safe and happy. I don’t think that feeling is coming back any time soon and it’s all due to the note I found this morning.
I found it in the kitchen, having a coffee, hours after Jamie had left for his early shift at work. It was in one of the cupboards that were fixed to the wall, there were a bunch of useful items from the previous tenant. Spare keys to the flat, a set of tiny keys that locked and unlocked the windows, spare smoke alarm batteries and a folded up piece of paper.
The note was handwritten with “New occupier of flat 42” in beautiful cursive on the blank side. I opened it up and sat down to read.
*Dear New Occupier,*
*Firstly, welcome to your new home. I lived here before you for 35 years with my husband. Unfortunately he had an incident at home recently that I’d rather not discuss that claimed his life. My sister has now decided I can’t keep up with the demands of the property and has insisted that I move in with her and her husband. I was reluctant at first, but the stairs do kill me at my age and without Bernie it’s filled with sadness.*
*Anyway. When you’ve lived somewhere for as long as I have it feels like a person that you know. You understand it’s personality and what makes it tick. I thought it was probably pertinent that I impart some of that knowledge on you.*
*It’s a wonderful home, honestly, I have lived through best and worst years and leaving it behind is very emotional but if you are to survive and get the best out of it then there are some steps you need to follow.*
*1. The landlord will never bother you, he doesn’t visit, call or communicate in any way. But make sure to pay your rent in a timely fashion always. I have only dealt with him once in 35 years and let’s just say I never missed another rent day. Any repairs required you speak to the agent you rented the place with.*
*2. DO NOT use the communal lift between 1.11 and 3.33 am. Just don’t do it. This step is vital if you are to have a happy life here. It really is life or death. Don’t do it. This has cost me and many others in the building greatly and I would rather not elaborate on why you shouldn’t do this. Just please don’t do it. I cannot stress this enough.*
*3. When you hear the strange animal noises coming from flat 48 don’t question it, Mr Prentice lives there and he’s a lovely chap. Don’t be afraid to say hello to him in the corridor or on the stairs he’s old school, so he never risks the lift but whatever you do, don’t check on him when you hear the noises. You’ll know when you hear them.*
*4. If you ever come across a window cleaner on the balcony ignore him. He may seem like the nicest fellow you’ve ever had trying to sell you something at the door but it really is best that you don’t engage. He will go away if you ignore him. But he tries pretty hard the first few times so you’ll need some resilience. Whatever you do, don’t offer him anything. No money, no hot drink.*
*5. Don’t leave food scraps out. Bin or refrigerate them immediately. If you have small animals, it is imperative that you watch them eat and take away any leftover food immediately after they are done. This and rule 2 go hand in hand, the things forage all day and seem to really love animal feed. You don’t want them in your flat. I promise. You can leave what you want out between 1.11 and 3.33am so you may want to feed your pets then.*
*6. Don’t communicate with any neighbors who claim to come from flats 65-72. These flats suffered a fire in the late 80s that devastated the whole floor, all the residents died in their homes. The building was mostly council owned at the time and they never bothered to renovate the flats. They’ve been empty ever since but every now and again someone will knock at your door claiming to live in one of these flats and ask to borrow some sugar. They will seem entirely average but you must shut and lock the door immediately. I installed two extra security bolts to avoid these fuckers. I don’t like to swear at my age but they really are fuckers.*
*7. Simple one for you here, keep a weapon in each room. Sometimes you follow all these steps and something still slips through the net. Better to be safe than sorry.*
*8. The building has a committee that will try and get you to join. It’s one of those neighbours groups about improving living conditions for all residents. It’s a nice group and the lady who runs it - Terri from flat 26- is a fantastic neighbour. By all means get involved. But I wouldn’t recommend babysitting Terri’s 2 children. She’ll ask you, because the poor woman needs a break, but if you accept don’t say I didn’t warn you.*
*9. Stray hairless cats sometimes roam in the hallway. I know they’re supposedly a special, expensive breed, but they don’t belong to anyone. They’re mostly harmless, but don’t pick them up. Not unless you see one of those neighbours that claims to live in 65-72. Then grab the cat and lock it inside with you. It’ll burn your skin a little but the cats are friendly and I wouldn’t want to see them hurt.*
*10. There is no way to fix the damp patch on the ceiling in the bedroom. Sometimes it will turn a deep crimson and look quite concerning, but please try not to be alarmed, it doesn’t drip, it doesn’t get any bigger and it’s been there longer than I have. The landlord won’t budge on it, according the the agents. I flagged it many times, even called the police the first night it changed colour, but it was a waste of time and it will be for you too. It’s best to ignore it.*
*11. You can trust the postman. His name is Ian Flanders and he’s been the postman since before I moved in. He has his own key to the main door and delivers post to the door every morning at 8.54. I can’t include everything here, or it would become a novel but if you have any questions Ian will help you.*
*12. Finally, the first few weeks are the worst. You’ll feel like you’ve made a mistake, I’m sure reading this you already do, but if you can get through the first few weeks it really is a lovely block to live in. Every property has it quirks and this one is a little extra special, but you can be truly happy here if you just take my advice. I wish you all the best, I really do.*
*Mrs Prudence Hemmings*
I don’t really know what to think after reading the note. Hopefully it was some sort of joke but the agent had said the previous tenant was an elderly lady and I can’t see anyone named Prudence Hemmings attempting to play practical jokes on someone they’d never met.
There were also parts of the note I couldn’t disprove, there was indeed a large damp patch above the bed that me and Jamie had already discussed reporting. No crimson but it definitely existed. I had also commented on a beautiful Sphynx cat roaming the halls as we were moving in. I started to get seriously freaked out.
Our dream, our beautiful little home had just become a source of fear and confusion. I checked the time and it was 9.14. Damn it. Out of time to catch postman Ian. When I opened the door to check, sure enough, two letters addressed to a Mrs Hemmings sat on the doorstep.
At about 11.15 my worst fears were truly confirmed when a friendly middle aged looking man carrying window cleaning equipment knocked on my balcony door. I ignored him. I didn’t want to take the risk until I’d spoken to Jamie and showed him the note. I’d texted him already to rush home. I felt bad as the man rapped his knuckles against the door for over 10 minutes, but honestly the longer it went on the more I was terrified.
My windows were sparkling, and due to our lack of curtains I couldn’t even hide from his gaze. I felt so exposed. He stayed for a total of 30 minutes exactly and never once did he stop looking at me or knocking. He shouted the occasional ultra friendly line or humble request for a beverage in the heat through the door but I did my best to avoid eye contact.
When he finally left I looked outside every window in the flat, but I couldn’t see him on any of the other balconies or see any equipment suggesting he was around. He had vanished completely.
Jamie still hadn’t text me back, he must have been having a rough shift, it was a Friday and they were always busy. It wasn’t often that he didn’t reply. He was due home in around an hour anyway.
I read the note probably hundreds of times over, I tortured myself reading it for the next hour. Desperately waiting for Jamie to come through the door to tell me it was all crazy and I should relax.
I hoped for that so much.
But Jamie never came. His shift should have finished around midday but by 2pm he still wasn’t home. I panicked, I cried, I left over 100 voice messages on his phone but got nowhere. I finally decided it had been long enough that calling his work wouldn’t embarrass him and his boss told me that he had never turned up for his shift.
I thought about it, what could have happened? And then it hit me. Jamie’s shift started at 4am today. He would have left the flat at 3.15 and taken the lift down the stairs.
I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried to convince myself it was all just a big joke. Maybe Jamie wrote the note and got his boss in on it. A voice in my head kept telling me that he couldn’t write like that if he tried but I had to attempt to fool myself. It’s getting late and he still isn’t home, what if it’s all true?