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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Thriller/Suspense · #1431320
A struggling writer, Joseph was doing fine until some neighbors moved in upstairs...
A Problem Upstairs

By Travis Milam

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

Christ!  Joseph hated Virginia Wolfe, but for some reason when he sat down to write the only thing he could think of was Mrs. Dalloway and her insipid flowers.  He would sit in front of his typewriter and stare for hours at a blank page, until finally his fingers would begin to move.  Click, click click click click click.  Then he would look down and there it would be, the sentence he had written perhaps a dozen times this week:

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

With a brisk whizzing noise and a satisfying crumple of paper, Joseph tore the sheet from his typewriter before balling it up and tossing it on the floor.  This was the sum total of all he had accomplished since the people had moved in upstairs. 
Fingers running through his dark, thinning hair, Joseph stood up and walked to the kitchen sink, gazing distractedly out the window as he ran himself a glass of water from the tap.  Unless the faucet was turned on almost full blast there was always a staccato of thumping noises and a rumbling of pipes that accompanied this action.  This had never bothered Joseph when he had been the only one turning the faucets on and off, but now the pipes could begin rattling unexpectedly and at any moment, whenever the people upstairs decided to turn the water on. 
He could hear them walking around up there as well.  They were always walking.  Before they had moved in it had always been quiet, but now it seemed as if the people upstairs were incessantly pacing, wandering from room to room with no other purpose than to make the ceiling groan and squeak.  The apartment upstairs was pretty much the same as his, consisting of a mere three rooms counting the bathroom.  Where in the hell were they going all the time?
A sharp rapping at the door snapped Joseph back to the moment, forcing him to focus on this unexpected intrusion instead of the tall privacy fence he could see across the alley from his apartment's only window.  He had been afraid of this, had known it would only be a matter of time before the people upstairs wanted to introduce themselves and do the whole neighborly thing.  The knocking came again and Joseph imagined the tall, stupid looking guy from upstairs standing there with his shrew of a wife or girlfriend or whatever, probably with a potted plant or a god-damned upside down cake or something.  Of course he would want to shake hands, instantly alienating Joseph who would have to say something like "Oh, sorry, but I'm some lunatic who has a thing about touching other people."
"Mr. P? I got your groceries here" came a muffled voice from the other side of the door.  Joseph relaxed the grip he had unconsciously tightened around his water glass and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Th-Thanks Larry, just leave 'em there on the step if you would."
"Sure thing Mr. P." 
Joseph heard some shuffling and bumping outside, followed by the sound of a car door slamming and Larry pulling out of the driveway.  Larry would have never been able to sneak up on Joseph like that before the people upstairs moved in; he had always heard the car pulling into the driveway before.  Aside from the pipes and the pacing, they apparently had a television or something that was constantly blaring.  Joseph didn't even own a television.
Placing his glass into the sink, Joseph washed his hands and went over to the door.  Cautiously, he peered through the peep hole before undoing the chain.  "One, two, three," he whispered as he slid the chain back and forth the requisite number of times.  "One, two, three, one, two, three" Joseph repeated, continuing the ritual with the dead bolt and the door knob.  Quickly, Joseph pulled the brown paper bags, emblazoned with the words "Parker's Grocery," inside before locking the door again, sliding the chain home with a satisfying one, two, three.
Setting the bags on his kitchen table, which doubled as his writing desk in the tiny efficiency apartment, Joseph began to unpack his weekly delivery.  With a few exceptions like toilet paper, light bulbs and the like, Joseph always received the same few sundry items each week.  Mainly the delivery consisted of simple things like lunch meat, cereal, vegetable soup and, of course, plenty of hand soap and toothbrushes. He was pretty sure that Larry and the other guys at the store thought he was crazy, but he didn't care.  So what if he never used a toothbrush more than once and opened a new bar of soap everyday?  A toothbrush sitting there with bacteria all over it was disgusting, and what good would it do to wash your hands with the same dirty, germ infested bar of soap everyday?
Just the fact that he had his groceries delivered at all made Joseph a little eccentric.  No one got their groceries delivered anymore, and no one got their groceries delivered from Parker's besides him.  It was just one of the perks that came with having his last name on the sign.  Joseph's mother had owned the store before she died and, technically speaking, Joseph owned at least some of the store now, his mother having willed a portion of the stocks to him when she died.  The stocks paid dividends into a trust fund she had set up or something, but Joseph didn't really care about the business end of things.  As long as he could write a check to the landlord every month and get his groceries delivered he was content.
As he walked around putting things away, Joseph could hear his new neighbors walking around upstairs.  It sounded like the footsteps were following him, creaking and groaning their way along behind him.  They followed him into the bathroom and then to the kitchen cabinet.  Several times he stopped in mid-stride, just to monitor the noises above him, checking to see if they stopped when he stopped.  Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn't, which left everything unsettlingly ambiguous.

*      *      *

Having put his things away, Joseph sat down once again in front of his typewriter and tried to concentrate.  Everyone used computers these days, but Joseph despised them.  Everything with computers was cold and disconnected; the words weren't even real, able to vanish at the touch of a button.  Typewriters, on the other hand, were visceral machines, with methodical and satisfying clicking sounds that put real words on real pieces of paper.  They were much more reliable than computers as well.
"Clarissa honey, I'm goin' to the store, you need anything?"
"Nah, but don't forget to grab the sale paper okay, Muffin!"  "Honey" sounded like she was in the bathroom and "Muffin" was by the door.  Why couldn't they talk like normal people, instead of always referring to each other as food?  Pushing the thought aside, Joseph slid a fresh piece of paper into his typewriter.  It was coming to him finally, a good beginning for the story he had been trying to start for weeks now. 
Just as Joseph poised himself to type the water pipes began to rattle furiously, jolting the sentence that had been forming completely out of his consciousness.  "Honey" must be taking a shower.  Frustrated, Joseph stared at the blank page in his typewriter as water coursed through the walls of his apartment.  Methodically, almost as if watching someone else's fingers move, he began to type that all too familiar line:

Mrs. Dalloway said she would kill the neighbors herself.

Joseph ripped the page from his typewriter, like he had done countless times before.  It was always the same thing, Mrs. Dalloway buying her damned flowers.  Tossing the ball of paper, Joseph stood up and walked to his washroom, fingers once again running through his thinning hair.  The sound of rushing water was louder in there, and Joseph imagined that his walls would spring a leak at any moment, flooding the apartment.  Looking in the mirror, Joseph thought himself to be not dissimilar in appearance to most men in their late twenties, fair skinned and clean shaven, though perhaps a bit thin in the cheeks and with more darkness under his eyes, the result of many restless nights courtesy of his new neighbors.  Instinctively, Joseph reached for the bottle of Thorazine on the edge of his sink, toppling a few other pill bottles as he did so, and had the cap halfway off before he remembered it was empty.  Parker's had closed their pharmacy about a month ago, something to do with the cost of competing with Walgreen's, and Joseph had never bothered refilling his prescriptions.  He was doing just fine without the pills anyway, which only served to reinforce his theory that Dr. Bentlen had been prescribing him sugar pills.  He was as right as rain, right as a waterfall, right as the god-damn tidal wave that threatened to burst through his walls at any moment.
Cupping his hands over his ears, Joseph marched across his double-duty kitchen and sitting area into the apartment's cramped bedroom, which had just enough space to accommodate the twin bed, night stand, and dresser that furnished it.  There was less noise in here, and Joseph was able to pull his hands from his ears and close his eyes, trying to calm himself.  Freaking Mrs. Dalloway!  Of all the stories he had read, why did this one keep popping up?  By Joseph's estimation, the best thing that Virginia Wolfe had ever done was line her pockets with rocks and go for a swim.  Besides, he hadn't even read the book since his junior year in college.  His last year in college.  That was the year he had first started having his "episodes."  That was what his mother had called them, and some of the doctors too, his "episodes."  Television shows had episodes; this was his life they were talking about!

*      *      *

Suddenly he knew it.  He could remember.  Joseph had been sitting in his Thursday morning class, 20th Century British Authors, and Dr. Akers had been going on and on about how brilliant Virginia Wolfe was.  But all Joseph had been thinking about was how brilliant Maria was, sitting a few rows ahead of him and chewing on the end of her pencil.  She was wearing tight blue jeans and a white sweatshirt; her long blonde hair was tied back in a pony tail with a bright red ribbon.  He remembered the smell of chalk and the theater seating; he remembered how the clock on the wall was stuck at nine minutes till eight no matter what time it actually was.  Then Maria was looking at him and he smiled, but she looked concerned; something was wrong.  Others were looking at him too, and Dr. Akers had dropped her chalk.  Then Joseph noticed his desk, noticed the dark red blood that covered both it and the front of his shirt.  Blood was everywhere; he had never seen so much of it as he put his hand to his nose, feeling the warm red liquid flow freely over his fingers.  He had tried to speak, tried to stand up, but couldn't.  Maria screamed and perhaps others did too, but just then Joseph's head - against his will and as if whacked from behind by a Louisville slugger - pummeled his desk once, twice, three times.  Then everything went black.
The next thing Joseph remembered was lying in a bed at St. Mary's hospital, his mother and father sitting next to him as an IV dripped god-knows what into his arm.  That had been the first of what would eventually be the many seizures that Joseph would experience.  After that he would hear noises sometimes as well.  Sometimes he would hear a sharp, piercing sound, like a dog whistle, or a low hum like the sound of an appliance running.  Sometimes he would hear other things.  Sometimes before a seizure his vision would go askew, and the world would go wavy for a moment.  He would black out sometimes, losing minutes or occasionally hours at a time.  Everyone started talking about him behind his back; he knew they were laughing at him when he wasn't looking, even his beloved Maria, calling him Jitterbug Joey and mocking him with embellished convulsions.  He also knew that his parents and the doctors weren't telling him everything, always whispering about him just out of earshot. It was as if everyone was conspiring against him.  He spent a lot of time in hospitals over the next few years, sometimes medical ones and sometimes mental ones.  He was a regular freak show.  Neurologists would fly halfway around the globe to stare in idiocy at his CAT scans and medical charts.  Psychiatrists told him he was crazy, that Maria didn't love him.  Eventually, the doctors hit upon a combination of medicines that made the seizures stop, and Joseph had been able to leave the hospitals and return to a basically normal life. 
Of course, by that time Joseph wasn't sure what a normal life was anymore; his mother had passed away and before that his father had slowly abandoned them, after a miracle cure refused to emerge in the first couple of years.  Joseph had been forced to drop out of college shortly after his first "episode," and with only three semesters to go for a Bachelor of Arts.  He had wanted to be a writer.  Remembering it all now, what hurt the most was loosing Maria.  He had never even spoken to her before the seizure, and he certainly couldn't afterwards, but he knew he loved her.  He was pretty sure that she felt the same way too and he had been working up the nerve to ask her out.  But how could he expect her to want anything to do with him after what she saw?  All he could see when he thought of Maria was her face as it had been on that day at that moment, twisted in terror as a nightmare scream tore loose from her throat.

*      *      *

Gasping, Joseph opened his eyes.  His hands were trembling.  "Just a bad dream" Joseph yawned as he sat up and stretched his arms.  Joseph never could remember his dreams, which he supposed was just as well when it came to nightmares.  After the initial confusion that comes with waking unexpectedly, Joseph glanced at the old wind up alarm clock that sat on his night stand, wondering how long he had been out.  It was nine minutes till eight.  Of course, this didn't help much since he couldn't remember when he had dozed off.  At least the water had stopped running, and it sounded like there were once again two distinct sets of footsteps overhead, so he was asleep at least long enough for "Muffin" to return from the store.
Bad dream or no, Joseph felt refreshed.  Perhaps a nap had been just what he needed.  Now maybe he could get somewhere with his story.  Sitting down in front of his typewriter, Joseph rolled in a fresh sheet of paper and to his surprise began to type almost at once:

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. 

Mrs. Dalloway said that they are upstairs laughing at you.

Mrs. Dalloway said that you were never good enough for her.

Mrs. Dalloway said to shut their incessant laughter up for good.

Ecstatic, Joseph's fingers flew as he chuckled to himself.  He was finally getting somewhere with his story, the novel he had always wanted to write was beginning to take shape on the page in front of him.  He scarcely noticed the tiny red spots that were forming like rain drops across the page as his fingers flew to the keys:

Mrs. Dalloway said that no one will call you Jitterbug Joey ever again, just go upstairs and SHUT THEM UP ONCE AND FOR ALL!

A whole paragraph!  He wanted to write some more, but the noise upstairs had become unbearable; they were laughing at him, laughing at his story.  The water was on again too, he could hear it flooding through the pipes; see it seeping through the ceiling and down his walls.  "You think that's funny do ya! Well I can laugh too you bastards, lets see how funny you think this is!" Joseph was almost giddy as he stood up, knocking the chair over in his haste.  As it crashed to the floor, hundreds of paper wads went flying like so many leaves, as many as not covered in dried blood.  More scattered left and right as Joseph waded through them to the bathroom, kneeling on the floor in front of the sink and throwing open the cabinet door.  Frantically he rummaged through an old tool box that the landlord had left there.  Dried blood was caked on the sink, lying where it had splattered after a convulsion several days ago shattered the medicine cabinet mirror.  A few crimson-flecked wads of typing paper lay in the sink.
"This'll fix it!" 
Joseph pulled a large monkey wrench from the mess of tools in the box. Standing, he staggered a little and nearly fell, his hand slipping in the fresh blood that was smeared on and around the light switch.
Finally gaining his feet, Joseph stumbled towards his apartment door, tripping over the chair and overturning the table as he did so, falling to his knees and sending a red arc flying from his nose to hit the wall like it was the canvas of an abstract painting.  He could hear them laughing at him upstairs, louder than ever.  Somehow they had managed to even knock his dresser over with all their clamoring about.  With a bitter resolve, Joseph rose and went to the door.  He was going to go up and fix the leaky water pipes, along with all the other problems upstairs as well.

*      *      *

"What took ya so long?"

"I was clear across town when I heard this one come over the squawk box, got here as soon as I could.  What happened?"

"Hell if I know, Bill.  Folks across the alley there called in a noise complaint,  said they never heard nuthin outta the guy till a couple weeks ago, then today they was all kinds a racket.  Called the property owner to get an ID on this here fella, an he matches the description of the downstairs tenant.  Apparently no one even rents this unit up here."

"Whatcha think killed him?"

"Won't know for sure till the coroner has a look see, but with all the blood I'd say some kinda brain hemorrhage or sumthin."

"You suppose there was a leaky pipe up here or sumthin?"

"Say what?"

"The monkey wrench there.  You suppose he came up here ta fix a busted pipe?"

Officer Riley turned and looked at his partner, as if suddenly seeing the man for the first time.  "You haven't been downstairs yet have ya?"

"Nope, saw the door open up here and just came straight on up."

"You might wanna go down stairs and have a look.  I've been to two World's Fairs and Disney World besides an' ain't never seen nuthin' like that down there.  It's obvious that this guy had a problem upstairs all right, but I'm fair certain it was a helluva lot more serious than a busted pipe."
© Copyright 2008 TravisM (grimpond at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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