Two months ago, we moved into our new flat. It was Jacob’s 10th birthday. After losing my job, this place was our safest option. I told him this new home was a birthday present, something to be optimistic about. I was just trying to make him feel better, to tell you the truth. Honestly - I felt ashamed. We were kicked out of our old house after I couldn’t keep up with the rent. At my lowest, I blamed everyone else but myself. My boss - apathetic to our situation. My family – abandoning me when I needed them the most. Jacob’s dad.
I know now. This is why I’m writing to you, for I feel that the past few weeks haven’t only changed me, but Jacob too.
At the first viewing, my impression of the apartment was adverse. It had the misgivings of a cold church or cathedral, exposure lingering in each room. The building itself had a history of leakages and faults, explaining the lack of popularity - even with its cheap price. It was the only listing with two bedrooms that we could afford.
One floor, two bedrooms – Jacob’s the size of a broom closet. His room was along the cramped, narrow hallway, behind a heavy wooden door that wouldn’t stay propped open. When we first moved in, his room was void of colour. It looked like a prison cell. A single bed frame and lonely dresser took up most of the space in the small room, matching the worn-out colour of the door. The floor and ceiling were a chalky grey, the walls covered in patchy brown wallpaper, peeling at the corners. A broken, cracked sink stood alone in the corner of the compact room, baring the real age of this building. I remember telling Jacob;
“It just needs to be lived in”
“It will feel like our home in no time”
Looking back, I can’t believe how wrong I was.
I suppose everything started the night I burnt that cursed drawing at the fireplace.
On the second day, I found the drawing in Jacob’s bedroom. I was cleaning, when from somewhere in the room was a rancid, mold-like smell. It was coming from the dresser. I remember hesitantly checking the drawers, worried about what I might find. No luck. With some effort, I attempted to pull the heavy dresser out of the corner of the room, and that’s when I saw it. The stench was accumulating from a grey, wet, mold crawling up the wall – attempting to escape from the confinement behind the dresser. What caught my attention was a large crack in the wallpaper, just visible behind the obtrusive mold patch. Where the wallpaper was peeling, a hidden aperture in the plaster could be seen, slightly displaying the internal structure of the house. I crouched to take a better look, and that’s when I saw the corner of a piece of paper sticking out from the crevice. In a state of morbid curiosity at my discovery, I pulled the stained, damp piece of paper out of the crack.
It scared me. I’ll admit it. The longer I stared at the page the more it triggered a sense of panic. I knew I couldn’t show Jacob. On the piece of paper was a drawing. A child’s, maybe? A family - a mother, father, and son, staring out of the page with expressionless eyes. The features of their faces were morphed and distorted so much to the point where the grotesque portrait was uncomfortable to look at. The child’s contorted face was circled in red marker. A target.
As I watched the page crinkle that night, turning black at the edges, I questioned the history of that ungodly building.
Who used to live here?
That question stayed with me for the rest of our time in that apartment.
A week after moving into the flat, I came home to see Jacob kneeling on the hallway’s wooden floor with his ear against the mortar wall. He saw me, then gestured. Be quiet. I crept over to him, placing my ear against the wall in a similar fashion.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Coming from the wall was an unmistakable tapping noise. My mind automatically searched for a logical explanation – the water pipes? Mice? That made sense – the building was old and who knew what lived in these walls. Jacob was terrified.
The tapping didn’t stop. A constant rhythm of light thuds could be heard in every room. The contamination traveled from the hallway to the bathroom, to my room, to Jacob’s room. During this time, we avoided the flat whenever possible. I had found a new job – accounting work at a small manufacturing firm. Jacob was at school most of the time. When he wasn’t, he was with me.
Whenever it was time to go home, I would make an excuse. “Let’s eat out tonight,” I said, for the third time that week.
Two weeks after we moved in, I woke up to the sound of crying - a muffled sob through the thin wall. Half-asleep, I walked to Jacob’s room. Peeking through the crack in the door, I could see a bundle of blankets in the bed. I made my way closer, and upon closer inspection, I could see that he was asleep – not crying, just asleep. To this day, I swear I heard crying – I was sure of it. A dream couldn’t have felt that real. The room was deathly cold.
I asked him about it the next day. He must’ve thought I was crazy, as he assured me with a smile that he was not crying. I could sense that something was off. His usual smile was weaning – his eyes colder than before.
Jacob confided in me over the next couple of weeks. One night, he woke up to the sound of breathing – not his own, he said. Something or someone was in the room with him. He never opened his eyes to look, he couldn’t. He was trapped in his own body. I told him it was sleep paralysis. I was trying to convince myself more than him. From that point on, he slept in my room with me. I wanted to talk to Jacob about this feeling of dread. Ask him “Do you feel it too? Do you feel the thick, heavy history manifesting in these walls?” Our new ‘home’ feels like a bad dream, like a mournful accident waiting to happen. Any functioning person would think I was insane. The only evidence I had about the abnormality of our home was an old drawing, crying heard in a dream, and a classic case of sleep paralysis. It didn’t make sense to me. How a building could hold this much power, create so much fear. I knew we had to leave.
We were so close. So close to leaving that dreaded place. I had saved up the money; our escape plan was taking shape.
I packed our bags, preparing to leave the next morning.
In the early hours of that morning, we were awoken by the familiar tapping noise coming from inside the wall. It was coming from behind the headboard. Jacob and I stared at each other in horror as the heavy tapping turned into scratching – a violent and animalistic scratching that grew louder with every second. I jumped out of my bed, pulling Jacob with me as we ran to the bedroom door. With shaking hands, I yanked the door handle only to be met with resistance. Something was pushing the door shut from the other side. I slammed the door with the side of my body as Jacob wrenched on the door handle with desperation.
Then, Jacob gave in.
He fell to the wooden floor, twitching and writhing. Open, stony eyes staring up at me. I shook him, screaming. No sound came out. My howls echoed in the void of my bedroom, begging for someone to hear me – to save him. I gripped Jacob’s convulsing body, trying to jolt him awake.
“You can’t have him!”
I can remember everything I felt in that horrific moment. I will relive it every second of every day for the rest of my life. It haunts me.
The boy that left that flat with me the next morning. That thing is not my son.
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