by Tom Buck
"That sound is driving me crazy."
A Short Story by Tom Buckley
I smiled at Ms. Taylor, my new landlady, when I pushed the signed copy of a one-year lease across her desk along with a check. She didn't smile back.
"Congratulations, Mr. Ryan," she said. "Will you be moving in on the first?"
"Yes, and you can call me Fred."
"That's great ... Mr. Ryan. We'll officially open the apartment complex that day. We already have about twenty-five move-ins scheduled."
"I'm looking forward to living here; four years in a dorm is enough. I've got a couple of weeks before I start my new job, so I plan to get settled as soon as possible and then enjoy chilling out by the pool."
"That's nice," she said. "Keep in mind that the pool closes at ten. No late-night parties."
"Yes ma'am," I replied, wondering how long it had been since she attended a good party.
"A copy of the executed lease will be on your kitchen counter when you move in. Everything is new, but I suggest that you do an inspection and let me know right away if anything is out of order. The lease states that you're responsible for any damages beyond light scratches and stains."
I nodded agreement. Maybe I should have read the lease.
"Can I have my keys?" I asked. "I'd like to figure out how I'm going to arrange my new furniture."
"They're not your keys yet," Ms. Taylor said. "But, you can borrow them. How long will it take?"
"About half an hour."
She stared at me for a few seconds, then picked up a key from her desk and unlocked a cabinet behind her. "Here you go – number one-eleven. Bring them right back and don't leave anything inside."
"Yes ma'am," I said. Am I in the dean's office?
I enjoyed the short walk down the winding, tree-lined sidewalk leading to my building, noting that the complex looked even better than it had a few days earlier. The only workers I saw were landscapers busy planting flowers.
Passing the pool area, I saw the volleyball net and lounge chairs in place, and the pool full of sparkling blue water. This is going to be fun.
When the door closed behind me, I was alone in my future home for the first time. I took in the scent of newness for a few seconds, and then I took off my sandals and walked around. The plush carpeting felt luxurious under my bare feet. The light fixtures and appliances gleamed at me as if to make me feel welcome.
The apartment was even more spacious than I remembered. I chose a one-bedroom unit because of the larger rooms and higher ceilings. The den and the bedroom featured large closets, and the kitchen had an oversized pantry. I would have more square footage than I'd need, but I didn't want to face another bout of claustrophobia.
My favorite room was the den, which had built-in bookcases and a fireplace. Sliding glass doors led to a small patio overlooking a beautifully landscaped common area between buildings.
I was doing a rough sketch of where my furniture would go when I heard a strange sound like a soft buzz. It went away while I was trying to determine its source. I thought it might have come from workers in an adjoining apartment.
I checked my watch and saw that I had only five minutes of my half hour left. I finished my sketch and locked up, wanting to have the keys back to Ms. Taylor within the time limit. She's probably watching the clock.
While walking back to the office, I thought about how pleased I was to be moving into such an upscale community. I felt happy about getting a fresh start, and I was ready to get my social life going again.
At my graduation, my dad had told me that he would be sending me the things I had "left behind" when I went off to college. "Call me as soon as you have a place to send your stuff," he said as we parted company that day. "I've already turned your room into a den, and all of your treasures are cluttering the garage."
After I drove out of the apartment complex, I called my dad and gave him my new address and my move-in date.
"Expect a delivery that day," he said.
Two days later, Ricky, my college roommate, and Pete, a fraternity brother, helped me move. It was late afternoon when Pete and I carried in the last couple of boxes.
That morning, I had received a call from a moving company informing me that the shipment from my dad wouldn't arrive until after seven. I left room in the den closet for whatever might appear.
After I finally set down the last box, my phone beeped. It was a text from Ricky, who had spent the last hour helping two cute girls move into an apartment in the next building.
"Going good," it read. "We'll be over soon. Order pizza. I'll get beer."
I wasn't quite ready for company, but I figured informal would be okay since it was moving day. Pete and I made a seating arrangement out of boxes filled with books.
Thirty minutes later, Ricky introduced us to the girls. I took an immediate liking to Beth, a slim, good-looking blond. I can't remember the other girl's name, but we had fun hanging out with both of them.
While we were getting to know the girls, I was startled by a loud knock at the door. When I opened it, a tall man in overalls greeted me.
"I'm Jake with Allied Movers," he said. "You Ryan?"
"This is it," he yelled over his shoulder. Looking back at me, he asked, "Where do you want everything?"
I pointed to the closet. "In there."
Jake shrugged and headed off.
Twenty minutes later, the closet was full, Ricky was opening a box marked TROPHIES, Jake was carrying in another labeled ELECTRIC TRAIN SET, and his helper followed behind holding my Boy Scout tent. He cleaned out the attic!
"Where do you want the rest?" Jake asked.
"How much is there?" I countered.
"Half a truckload."
"Stack it along the walls."
I was trying to sort things out when Pete started singing. I looked over and saw that he had one of my high school glee club trophies in each hand, holding them over his head. Ricky and the girls laughed hysterically. I won't be displaying those on the bookcases.
The situation deteriorated even further when they hauled in my rocking horse.
"He sent Trigger," I blurted out without thinking.
Now the movers were laughing along with everyone else. I looked around for a hidden camera.
A few minutes later, Jake walked in carrying a slightly rusted, metal pole. "Question," he said, loudly enough to get everyone's attention. "Where do you want the swing set?" Oh no, not the back yard too!
"I'm sure that goes in the bedroom," Pete managed to say before falling on the floor laughing.
"Why not," I said, looking around at the clutter in the den.
I couldn't sign the paperwork fast enough after Jake finally said, "That's it."
After the movers had left, we settled down, ate our fill of pizza, then drank beer and talked. Pete was in the middle of a story when I heard the sound again. It was a little louder this time, and it stopped while Pete was still talking.
"Did you hear that?" I asked after Pete finished.
"Hear what?" Beth asked.
"I didn't hear anything," she said.
The others shook their heads indicating they hadn't noticed it either.
"I thought I heard a sound," I said.
"Maybe Trigger said something," Ricky said.
Everyone laughed at me – again. Since Ricky was on a roll, he took a few more jabs at me before normal conversation resumed.
While Ricky and Pete fought for the attention of the other girl, I walked Beth to the patio. After a few minutes, she asked, "Are you dating anyone seriously?"
"Um ... no," I answered, thinking about the disastrous break-up from three months earlier. I touched the scar on my right ear. I'll have to do better.
Beth pulled her cell phone from her pocket and asked for my number. She punched at her phone as I called out numbers. I heard my phone ringing somewhere inside, then I heard Pete repeating, "Hello."
Beth giggled, put the phone back in her pocket, and said, "Now you have my number."
Everyone left just before ten. Before walking out, Beth kissed me on the cheek and said, "You're cute. See you at the pool."
"It's going to be a great summer," I said. Maybe the night wasn't a total disaster.
Exhausted from two nights of partying, a morning of packing, an afternoon of loading and unloading boxes and other items, and an evening of embarrassment, I unpacked only what I needed to get through the night.
I set the alarm clock for 6:00 a.m., wanting to get a head start on unpacking before my new furniture arrived. I planned to go to a nearby department store around midday and buy the necessities and décor that would turn the apartment into my new home. If all went well, I'd be at the pool by two.
I checked my e-mail and text messages on my phone, answered a few, and then retired to my worn-out single bed that sunk in the middle. I hadn't hooked up the TV, so I only heard the whisper of the air conditioner outside my bedroom window. I immediately started slipping into what I assumed would be a good night's sleep. I was just about out, when I suddenly sat up.
What's that sound?
It was louder and closer than the last time I heard it. I lay back down and tried to ignore it, but that didn't work. Within a few minutes, I was wide awake. I sat up and racked my brain. Where is it coming from?
I looked at the alarm clock and noted that it was 10:27. I decided to wait ten minutes to see if the sound would stop; it didn't.
I dragged myself out of bed and stood, listening and trying to determine the source of the annoyance. Not being able to pinpoint a direction, I walked to the kitchen and checked each of the built-in appliances. Only the refrigerator announced that it was alive by emitting a soft purr. That certainly isn't what I'm looking for. I put my ear to the faucets, both in the kitchen and then in the bathroom. I didn't hear a drip, gurgle, or rattle.
The apartment was essentially a square, so I went to its center, which I judged to be the inside corner of the den. I stood against the wall, trying to determine which direction the sound came from. It surrounded me, but I sensed that it might be coming from overhead. While I was trying to concentrate, the sound suddenly stopped. I waited for about a minute. It didn't come back. Was it just a fluke?
Back in bed, I wanted to get on with my much-deserved rest. I'm not sure whether or not I was asleep when the sound pricked my eardrums again.
"Buzzzzz ... Sqeeeek ... Buzzzzz ... Sq-sqeeeek ..."
Coming to full consciousness, I realized that the sound had gained a few decibels.
"Ridiculous," I said, crawling out of bed again.
I switched on the light and looked around at the boxes stacked along the walls. Maybe it's coming from something that runs on batteries.
I crawled from stack to stack on my hands and knees, putting an ear to each box. Sometimes the sound seemed closer, sometimes not.
After making the rounds, I started with the boxes nearest the door, pulling things out of each one. When I found something with batteries, I removed them. At first, I tried to be neat, but half an hour later, when the sound again ceased, I turned around and stared in shock at the mess covering the floor. Now what? I decided to have a beer.
I was sitting on a box in the den, finishing off a Corona, when the sound clicked on again.
"Buzzzzz ... Krackle ... Buzzzzz ... Krackle ..."
Now mad, I wondered, What the hell's going on?
After another forty minutes, my bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and den looked like scenes from a yard sale gone bad. I had strewn my worldly possessions across the floors and counters. If there were gremlins hiding in the boxes, they eluded me.
I was sitting on the kitchen floor drinking another beer and trying to come up with a plan, when the apartment went silent. I walked to the bedroom and noted the time on the alarm clock; it glowed 11:47 in red numerals. Maybe there's a pattern.
In the clutter on the den floor, I found a pen and an envelope. I wrote down the time then managed to find my coffee pot, a can of coffee, and my favorite Aggie coffee mug. A few minutes later, I was walking around with a steaming cup of coffee.
I checked the time and wrote it down on the envelope – 12:07. The sound seemed to be muffled now. Is it coming from outside?
I went to the front door, opened it, and stuck my head out. The sound wasn't any louder. I stepped outside and closed the door behind me. The sound was gone. I quickly reopened the door. Still there. I closed the door again and stood, listening intently. I heard only normal sounds: the honk of a car horn, a siren in the distance, and music coming from somewhere in the complex.
Even though I was now certain that the sound was inside my apartment, I decided to take a look around the perimeter of the building. I was leaning over an air-conditioning unit and peering through a gap in my own bedroom curtains, when a dog yapped, close and loud. Is my heart still beating?
I turned quickly, and my eyes met those of a young lady who held a leash with a small dog attached to the other end. It growled at me as she stood frozen on the nearby sidewalk for a few seconds. She then grabbed the dog and ran. That's when I realized that I was wearing only my white jockey shorts. I ran back inside. I'd better pull myself together.
Figuring I would be up for a while, I sorted through a heap of clothes on the bedroom floor and then put on a pair of cut-off jeans and a light-green tee-shirt. I've got to find out where that sound is coming from.
Walking around the apartment, I concluded that it must be originating within a wall. But which one?
As I looked around the den for a drinking glass, a light flashed through the partially opened curtains. I ducked down and made my way to the window. When I stuck my head up, I saw a police cruiser moving slowly through the parking lot. The beam from its spotlight was obviously searching for someone. Oh God, they're looking for me!
Back to work, I found a glass and started in the den. I moved around the room, stopping every few feet to put the open end of the glass against the wall and an ear against the other end. As I moved along a wall that separated the den from the bathroom, the sound intensified. Bingo! Found it.
In my excitement, I tripped over my red wagon and lost my balance. As I fell, my forehead caught a corner of my metal toy box. I nearly blacked out. When I was able to stand, I saw blood dripping on the carpet.
With my head spinning, I reached up and felt my forehead. It was wet. I picked up a white athletic sock from the floor and held it to my head. When I pulled it away, half of it had turned red. I tossed it back on the floor and headed to the bathroom. While making my way through the clutter, I felt blood running down both sides of my nose. I grabbed a yellow tee-shirt and pressed it against the injured area. I pulled the shirt away when I stood in front of the bathroom mirror. That doesn't look good.
I had seen my first-aid kit while rummaging through the boxes, but I couldn't remember which room it was in. I took a quick look around but couldn't find it. I picked up a beach towel, wrapped it around my head, and sat on the floor. After about fifteen minutes, I went back to the mirror. What I saw frightened me. I looked even worse than I had before. Blood was still oozing from the wide gash, a big flap of skin hung beneath the wound, and a purple-colored lump had now appeared. I need medical attention – again.
It took a while to find my car keys and an unmatched pair of flip flops, but I finally set out for the hospital. On the way, I thought about the sound. I didn't remember hearing it after the accident.
Along with the usual routine at the emergency room, I was teased over the fact that my tee-shirt had "I'M FEELING LUCKY" written across it in white, bloodstained letters. A cute nurse kept giggling while a grumpy doctor adorned my forehead with six stitches and a huge bandage. "There you go, Lucky," he said when he was done. The nurse laughed.
I was glad when I was finally on my way back to my new home. I had pain medication in my pocket, and no medical insurance netted me a credit card receipt for $440 dollars. My assumption that I could make it from graduation to the start of my new job without another visit to the ER proved erroneous.
Back at my apartment, I put an ear to the front door, heard nothing, and for a few seconds, had hope. Maybe it's gone. I opened the door.
The sound attacked me, pulsating through my body. I walked to the bedroom and shook my head as I saw the alarm clock announcing 4:47. What a nightmare.
I went to the den and resumed my work with the glass, moving it slowly around the area on the wall where the sound seemed different. I listened carefully.
"Buzzzzz ... Whooosh ... Buzzzzz ... Whooosh ..."
"This is the spot," I finally said.
I held my finger against the wall, reached down, and picked up a dinner fork. Then I scratched a big X where my finger had rested.
The first tool I could find was my pocket knife. My intention was to make only a small hole. I started carefully cutting through the drywall. No problem, I can hang a picture here.
When the sound took its next break, I stopped carving and then stared at a hole in the wall the size of a tennis ball. At least I was now convinced that the sound was coming from the space between the walls.
While trying to figure out what to do next, I heard the alarm clock sounding from the bedroom. I laughed out loud. Time to get up.
I cleared a space on the kitchen counter, pulled myself up, and sat. I need to think. I took a deep breath and tried to wrap my mind around my predicament. I was deep in thought when the sound startled me.
"Buzzzz ... Bonk ... Buzzzzz ... Bonk ..."
Not having come up with any solutions during my brief respite, I got down and checked the alarm clock. It was 6:23. Since I hadn't kept up with the schedule, I scratched out the previous times and started over.
I poured another cup of coffee and got back to my mission. I put my right ear in the hole. Definitely louder here. I put my face against the wall and tried to look inside. It was too dark to be able to see farther than a few inches.
As luck would have it, I spotted a box of matches near my left foot and decided to shed some light on the problem. I took five or six out of the box, held them in one hand, and then tried to light all of them at once by snapping them across the striking surface. With a flash of light and a puff of smoke, they flew out of my hand. Maybe that wasn't such a good idea.
I recovered three of the matches from the carpet, two of which already had fibers smoking; the other hadn't ignited. I found the fourth match trying to burn a hole in the top of a cardboard box and the fifth smoldering harmlessly in a frying pan. Were there five or six?
Just to be safe, I soaked a corner of a towel with water and dabbed it over the burn marks. I then was able to rub out the evidence of the accident from the carpet. With that potential disaster averted, I came up with a better plan, remembering that I had a small flashlight in my crude toolbox.
A few minutes later, I was standing at the wall with the flashlight in hand. I clicked it on and held it to the hole, but I still couldn't see much through the small opening. This is really getting on my nerves.
I rummaged through the toolbox for my chisel and small hammer. The resulting piece of handiwork wasn't as neat as the artistic endeavor with my knife, but I could get my head in along with my hand holding the flashlight. I awkwardly shone the light up, down, and sideways in the confined space. Just as I resolved myself that there was nothing there, the sound cut off. I need a break.
I hadn't planned on using my pain pills, but my head throbbed. I popped one in my mouth and washed it down with a swig of warm beer.
I was napping on the floor when the sound woke me. I sat up and tried to get my bearings. Where am I? What time is it? What's that smell?
I shook my head and then looked around, wishing that what I saw was a set from a bad dream. The sound was louder than before and seemed to echo.
"Buzzzzz ... zzz ..."
I felt woozy, but I got up and walked around, trying to take stock of the situation. The alarm clock said that it was 8:19. Is that morning or night? My cell phone confirmed that it was still a.m.
I was focused on the sound, but I was also concerned about the smell. I knew that something was burning, and I hoped that it wasn't coming from inside the apartment. I walked through each room, and then my nose led me back to the den. I stood in the middle of the room and slowly looked around. As my line of vision crossed a row of boxes along the wall near the hole, I sensed that something wasn't right.
Approaching the wall, I saw a thin line of white smoke spiraling upward from a small gap in the top of one of the boxes. When I opened it up, smoke poured out. I guess there were six.
I ran to the sliding door and opened it, planning to haul the box to the patio where I could deal with it in a safe manner. Returning to the box, I noted that it had the words IMPORTANT STUFF written on its side. I remembered carefully packing that one when I was moving out of the dorm. I picked it up and had it about a foot off the ground when the bottom fell out. I stared at the mess for a few seconds before I could move myself to action.
Ten minutes later, I assessed the damage. Among other casualties, my college diploma had a large burn hole through its center, the left half of my birth certificate was gone, and two headless people now stood in what once was an autographed picture of me shaking hands with George W. Bush. Last, but not least, the carpet was marred by an ugly, black burn mark in the form of a jagged circle. It was about a foot in diameter, and there was no rubbing it out with a wet towel. No problem, I can put a plant over it.
I finally decided that this wasn't my problem. I pulled up Happy Times Apartments from the contacts in my cell phone and pressed Call. I got a recording and left a message for Ms. Taylor to call me. My phone rang a few minutes later just after the sound had stopped again.
"Sorry for the delay," Ms. Taylor said. "The phone's been ringing since I got here over an hour ago. The idiot who installed the dishwashers didn't hook some of them up properly. Have you tried yours yet?"
"Um ... no." I looked over at my dishwasher and the pile of books stacked in front of it.
"And on top of that, we had a peeping tom in the complex early this morning," she added.
"There are some sick people out there," I said.
"Yes, and we've got a good description of this sicko."
"Great," I said. Glad I didn't have time to introduce myself to the dog.
"What can I do for you?" Ms. Taylor finally asked.
"Just a minor problem. There's a sound that comes and goes."
"Probably one of the normal bugs in a new place," she said. "Happens all the time. Our maintenance man is booked solid this morning. I'll schedule him for this afternoon. He'll check the place out. You won't have to be there."
"I'll be here," I said.
I had my head inside the dishwasher when my phone rang again.
"Hi, Mr. Ryan. This is Cindy from Furniture for Less. Our truck will be at your address in about fifteen minutes."
"Oh," I said as I gazed around. My apartment looked as if it should have crime scene tape draped across the front door. "Can we reschedule?"
"Once it's on the truck, you're subject to a twenty-percent restocking fee if it comes back. It's in the agreement you signed."
In my state of mind, I couldn't do the math, but I knew that my finances would be tight until I received a few paychecks.
"Okay," I said. "I'll be here."
I felt exhausted as I tried to clear space in the middle of the den. It seemed like only minutes before someone was knocking.
"Delivery for Fred Ryan," a young man said after I opened the door. His smile faded as he gave me a once-over.
"Bring it in," I said.
An older man brought up the rear as they carried in my desk. "Good Golly Jesus," he exclaimed as he crossed the threshold. "You get robbed?"
"It's a long story," was all I offered.
The men were courteous enough to help me move things around so that they could assemble my bed in its proper place and make room for everything else. As agreed upon, they hauled off my old bed. I couldn't convince them to take the swing set.
"Sorry for ... whatever happened here," the young man said as they were leaving.
It was 10:19 when the sound started again. I had lost track of the on and off sequence, so I gave up recording the time.
I followed the sound to the kitchen, where it sounded much louder. I turned on the dishwasher.
"Buzzzzz ... Clunk ... Buzzzzz ... Clunk ..." It's been the dishwasher all along.
After turning it off and removing a few nuts and bolts, I pulled the dishwasher from under the counter and partially onto the kitchen floor. It appeared to be stuck, so I gave it hard tug.
"Hisssss ..." I should have waited for the maintenance man.
I had no idea that flowing water could have such an impact so quickly. By the time I found the small cut-off valve under the sink, I was standing in an inch of water. Thirty minutes later, everything I owned that could absorb water, other than what I was wearing, had soaked up what it could. I was assessing the damage when my phone beeped.
While I walked through the den looking for my phone, the carpet "squished" under my feet. That's not good.
The beep had announced a text from Beth. "U settled-in yet?" it read.
I looked around and then replied, "Not quite."
The sound played on for a while and then slowly abated while I piled wet towels and clothes in a corner. The other times it had stopped abruptly. That's odd. Maybe it's done.
I stood and tried to enjoy the silence as it closed in, but I was afraid that my head might explode. I spotted the medicine bottle on the counter. How long since my last pain pill? I picked up the bottle and checked the label – "One every six hours." Close enough.
I wasn't hungry, but I didn't want to take another pill on an empty stomach. I remembered the leftover pizza in the refrigerator. As I was retrieving a piece, I also grabbed the last beer, which had been included in three six-packs the night before. How many have I had? I looked around at the empty bottles perched in various places in the kitchen and den. I decided that I would only take a few swigs to wash down the pizza and pill.
I moved a few boxes and sat down on my new sofa. I took the pill and slowly ate the pizza. By the time I set the beer bottle down, it was empty. Oops.
I was going to lie down and relax, but I heard something. It was faint but quickly got louder. I sat and listened.
"Buzzzzz ... Whooosh ... Buzzzzz ... Scrrratch ..."
The sound was now coming from the ceiling. Something's moving.
Twenty minutes later, I was standing on the bathroom counter trying to pry open a grate covering an air vent, when I stepped on something that moved under my foot, throwing me off balance. I grabbed the light fixture over the mirror. For a brief second, I thought I had caught my fall. Then the fixture came out of the wall and down I went.
When I opened my eyes, I was staring up at a large man wearing a baseball cap. He was kneeling down next to me and kept asking, "You okay?"
When my senses returned, I said, "I think so."
I tried to get up, but the man put his hand on my chest.
"I'm Jim, the maintenance man. Lie still. I called 911."
I heard a siren getting closer while Jim explained that he had knocked but didn't get an answer.
"I got in with the passkey," he said. "You're very lucky."
While I was thanking my lucky stars, two uniformed paramedics appeared at the bathroom door. Jim had to move back to give them room to work.
After an exam, I refused a ride to the emergency room. While the paramedics helped me to my bed, I saw that it was 2:10. I must have been out for quite a while.
"We're worried that you might have a concussion," one of the paramedics said.
I had to promise to stay in bed all day, lay off the booze, and see my doctor the next morning. I probably should have a doctor.
After the paramedics had left, I tried to explain to Jim what had happened. The look on his face became more and more puzzled while I took him through the story.
"So ... you did all this looking for a noise?"
"A sound," I corrected him.
"Well, even if there was ... a sound ... you're responsible for the damage. You should have let me handle it. I'll be back later to take some pictures. Ms. Taylor won't be happy about this."
"I wouldn't think so," I said.
I was out of bed within seconds of Jim closing the door behind him. It took a minute for me to get my bearings, but I was finally able to function. I've got to get out of here for a while.
I was in no condition to drive, so I decided to go to the pool. I did my best to make myself presentable, but I still looked like a shipwreck survivor who had just washed ashore. A wet baseball cap covered part of my bandaged head, my dry tee-shirt had bloodstains on it, and my wet bathing suit stuck to my skin. I still couldn't find a mate for either of my flip flops. Since it was a weekday, I hoped that I could find a secluded spot where I could get some rest.
When I approached the pool, I saw that there were only a few people lounging around its perimeter. Unfortunately, one of them was the girl I had encountered in my role as "Peeping Tom." I pulled my cap down, lowered my head, and kept walking. Within a few minutes, I had circled back to my apartment.
Wanting to be at least somewhat productive, I spent the next few hours trying to get the place in order. Jim paid me another visit. He didn't say much; he just shook his head while he wandered around snapping pictures of the damaged areas. Before he left, he asked about the sound. I told him that I hadn't heard it since my incident in the bathroom. He shook his head again.
By early evening, I was able to drive. I went to a nearby fast food restaurant and had a burger, fries, and a shake. By the time I got back to the apartment, I felt better.
About nine-thirty, the sound kicked up again. I started to investigate, but I had learned my lesson. I spent the night trying to sleep in my car. I got some rest, but it seemed like I had one eye open all night, worried that I might get arrested. Sometime during the long night, I decided that I would have to find another place to live.
I jumped when my cell phone rang just after seven in the morning. It was Ms. Taylor calling.
"I need to see you in my office," she said. "I've just finished reading Jim's report."
Jim's prediction was correct; she wasn't happy. "Be right there," I said.
After a question and answer session, I informed Ms. Taylor that I wanted to move out.
"Good," she said. "That will save us the trouble of evicting you. Since you and I both want to end this relationship, I have authority to let you out of your lease in exchange for six months' rent. Plus damages, of course."
I hadn't thought about that aspect of moving out. My head felt waterlogged as I considered my options. "I can't afford that," I finally said.
"Well, you have to leave." She held up a picture of the ugly hole in the wall. "We have the right to keep your possessions until you settle your debt."
My "possessions" now included furniture that cost over $3,000, which I had bought on credit.
"Okay. I'll figure something out," I said.
"I'll have the lawyers prepare an agreement."
We agreed that I would be out by noon and that I would take only a limited assortment of personal items.
It took about an hour for me to work up the nerve to call my dad. After a few minutes of small talk, I blurted out, "I need to borrow five thousand dollars."
After an awkward silence, he said, "Son, we agreed that you would be on your own once you graduated. Why would you need that much money?"
Already having been accused of being crazy on a number of occasions, by both of my parents, I substituted a more believable story for the facts.
"I've got a gambling problem," I said.
About the time I thought the line went dead, I heard my dad clear his throat. Then he asked, "Do you stay up nights trying to come up with new ways to embarrass us?"
"Not on purpose," I answered.
I squirmed in my chair as my dad led the ensuing conversation. After half an hour filled with lectures from him and promises from me, he agreed to wire the money. I agreed to pay it back within a year and to attend a series of Gamblers Anonymous sessions.
"After you finish ten meetings," he said, "I'll want you to set up a phone call with whoever's in charge. Then, we'll go from there."
He stopped talking, and I could hear clicks coming from his computer keyboard. While I waited, I had unpleasant memories of my childhood therapy sessions.
"Write this down," he finally ordered.
He gave me an address, a day, and a time. I'll have to make up some gambling stories. Hi, my name is Fred, and I'm a compulsive gambler.
"Your mother's not going to be happy about this," my dad said as we concluded the conversation.
"I wouldn't think so," I added.
Just before I was ready to leave the apartment, Ms. Taylor came by with a contractor. I felt embarrassed while they walked around assessing the destruction.
"He thinks he heard some kind of noise," I heard her say. Then, I heard the contractor laughing.
After I had announced that I was leaving, Ms. Taylor said that she would have a final bill ready for me the next morning. I told her that I would bring her a check and then arrange for my things to be moved.
"The sooner the better," she said. "And make that a cashier's check."
Jim was changing the lock on the door when I left. We didn't exchange pleasantries.
While I walked to my car, I received a text from Beth.
"We're at the pool," it read.
I didn't reply. I wonder if Ms. Taylor would grant me a pool pass.
That afternoon, I went apartment hunting. Due to the current state of my finances, I had to downgrade from what had been my home for a day. The place I settled on was in an older complex and farther away from my workplace. It would be three days before I could move in, but at least I would be able to go on with my life.
For the next three nights, I crashed in my old dorm room. Ricky was taking summer classes and staying on campus. I told him there was a plumbing problem in my apartment, and he welcomed me. I slept on the floor, missing my old bed.
I paid my debt at Happy Times Apartments and, during the daytime, Ms. Taylor allowed me access to my old apartment to pack my things. I didn't hear the sound during the two times I was there.
Beth called a couple of times, wanting to know when I was coming to the pool. I dodged her by saying, "Something's come up." I was sure that I wouldn't hear from her again after she found out what happened.
Since I now had furniture, I arranged for professional movers to transport my belongings. I booked an early morning move, and by ten, I had paid my bill and told the movers goodbye. I spent most of the day getting organized, still having horrible thoughts about the condition of my former residence.
By nightfall, I had made good progress and quit for the day. I went out for a good meal to celebrate. While I was waiting for my food, Beth called.
"I heard you moved out," she said. "Ms. Taylor said there was some sort of ... incident."
"Um ... yes," I said, struggling for an explanation. "The dishwasher flooded the place." Good thinking.
"Oh my," Beth said. "That's awful. I had trouble with mine, but Jim fixed it. Can we still get together? Gwen and Pete went out last night."
"Sure," I answered. Who's Gwen?
We agreed to meet for dinner the following evening. I made up an excuse for not being able to pick her up, afraid that I might get arrested for trespassing. I hadn't read the move-out agreement I signed.
When I got back to my new place, I sat at my desk and assessed the financial damage caused by the sound. I finally drew a line under the total – $8,993. That included six months' rent, damage to the apartment, a trip to the emergency room, the visit from the paramedics, and the move. I was in debt to my dad, my bank account was empty, my credit card was nearly maxed-out, and I would be spending the next ten Thursday nights in a church with a bunch of gamblers. I shouldn't have celebrated.
After crawling into my new bed, I pulled the covers up to my chin and thought through my experiences from the previous few days. Maybe it was all a dream. I'll wake up in the morning and have a good laugh.
At any rate, it was all behind me now, and I still had a shot with Beth. I was ready for my first good night's sleep in a number of days. I started to drift away, but I suddenly sat up.
What's that sound?
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