Someone was there, someone came into the locked flat at night But who and Why?
The Mystery of Boneyard Alley
Thanks you River For the lovely awordicon
Thomas Jefferson rented a one bedroom flat on the fourth floor of the apartment building behind the supermarket two blocks before the city limit. He stayed alone, worked the nightshift as a night watchman in the museum of natural history downtown. For four years he had been working there. He used to stay nearby his workplace when he had joined but when with time his rent went up while his salary refused to grow he had to move uptown. After some thorough search and research he found a nice comfortable place in the Boneyard Alley, where he was currently staying.
Thomas Jefferson was a young man of twenty five, tall, thin and very dark. If he smiled in the dark his teeth, a near perfect set, would be all to be seen. His hair, cropped to his skull, was brown. His eyes, a pair of brown balls, were deep set and clear. The brows were thick and connected at the centre. His nose, a very pointy thing, ended just above his thin lips.
His job kept him awake at night. He made up for the lost sleep during the day. From eight o’clock in the morning till one in the noon he slept like there was nothing to live for. He cooked and washed for himself. No maid. He couldn’t afford a maid. The little money that he saved went up in buying books. He had made a bookshelf on his bedroom wall reaching till the roof which was half full. The books were alphabetically arranged, by author’s name, regularly cleaned and updated. He intended to buy every issue of every series ever published. He dreamt of having a library someday in his house.
Jefferson had a knack for cleanliness and perfection. Everything, from toothpick to toothbrush, from bedcover to clothesline had to be perfect. There shouldn’t be a speck of dust anywhere. With his immense devotion to neatness he would have made Hercule Poirot proud.
So every evening at seven he left for the museum. It took him a little more than an hour to reach. His duty started at nine and got over at six. He came back home and went to sleep. At one he would get up, cook, eat and sit down with a book which he would read till six.
There was never any divergence from this daily routine. There was no reason to be. He never had any visitors. He didn’t have friends. His books were his friends and he adored them like his mother adored him.
It was a morning of early December. The air was cool but not chilly. The sun was up and warm. There were light fluffy clouds in the sky. People were waking up to a lazy Sunday morning. Sunday was Jefferson’s day off. He could relax and indulge himself in the comfort of his beanbag with a novel in his hand and a cup of hot coffee by his side. Even the mere thought brought a smile to his lips.
He unlocked the door to his flat, his mind already planning for the day ahead.
The room, a living cum dining and kitchen combined, was lit up by the sunlight coming through the gaps in the curtains. Jefferson dropped the keys, his bag, stretched and froze. Normally his room smelt of dampness because of the clothes that he hung for drying. That morning it smelt of something very sweet. There was, as if, a mild fragrance in the air. He sniffed a couple of times, looked around very carefully. No, there was nothing amiss. He went to look into his bedroom. There was only one bottle of perfume on the table and it was standing intact. Jefferson scratched the back of his head, shrugged and went on with his daily activities.
It was Tuesday morning. Jefferson opened the door to his flat and went in. The shoe rack was just by the door and the three sets of shoes were perfectly lined up on the top shelf. There was a pair of slippers, a pair of sneakers and a pair of boots. The space beside them was empty where he kept his formals. To his surprise one of the sneakers was lying on its side on the rack. It was frightening to him. He quickly straightened it and looked about. No, nothing else had moved. But how did the shoe fall on its side? He remembered to have put them straight when he took out his formals. May be it had fallen when he had closed the door behind him. Though it sounded impossible but it was the only explanation he could find.
Next day morning he had just stepped into his flat when he felt that same sweet smell in the room. He quickly glanced around. The windows were shut tight. He dropped his bag and swiftly made a tour of his flat. The living room was untouched and so was the kitchen. He moved on to the bedroom. There he paused. What he saw was unimaginable. Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities was sitting in between Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. And more horrifyingly it was reading bottom up. He took out the book gently and put it where it was supposed to be. He was reading Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and it was where he had left it: on the end table by the beanbag.
Had hadn’t touched the Tale of Two Cities in months.
Thursday morning welcomed him with another shock. The sweet fragrance was there and along with it there was mud in the carpet. It had rained the previous evening. The spot was almost invisible and it had been rigorously rubbed off smearing a little of the corner threads of the carpet.
This was outrageous. Someone was using his flat in his absence.
Jefferson dumped his bag on the bed, which was the length of disorder he could go in his anger, and came out. There was a man who stayed on guard for the whole night. He was now asleep in his small room under the stairs. Jefferson knocked hard on the door. No reply. He knocked again. An elderly man, coming in from his morning walk, frowned at him. What a man to disturb a poor man sleeping after his night long duty. Jefferson ignored the look and continued to knock.
After a minute the door parted and a pair of half opened eyes peeped through it. Though furious, Jefferson felt a little sorry for waking him up.
“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Martin,” he said softening his voice. “But had there been anyone using my flat at night?”
“Have you lent your keys to anyone?” He asked twisting his tongue.
Jefferson scratched his head.
Martin chewed something imaginary and yawned heavily. “Then no one is using it. Good morning.” He said and closed the door.
There was only one set of keys and only he had it with him. With various thoughts in his mind he went up to his flat.
It was Friday and as Jefferson turned the key in the lock he felt a strange anxiousness inside him. What would he find amiss today?
He parted the door only by an inch and peeped inside. No one was there. He came in, closed the door and took his shoes off. Then very carefully he sniffed. The sweet smell was stronger. Slowly he walked into his bedroom. His eyes darted towards the bookshelf. The arrangement had not been disturbed. But the next thing made him jump. There were creases on the bed sheet. It had been slept in. Jefferson grabbed his head and dropped down into his beanbag. Somebody is definitely coming at night and staying here. But who and why? And most importantly how? All the doors, except the main door and windows remain closed from inside. He has the only key to the flat. The landlord stays abroad.
He looked about himself. Sunlight was streaming through the windows. The dust specks were dancing in the light ray. He could see the little bird chirping on the branch near his window. Mrs Burns, next-door, was saying goodbye to her daughter. The newspaper boy was delivering papers. He could even hear its cycle bell. But among everything so simple and regular Jefferson could feel eeriness around him. He couldn’t help but feel someone’s presence in the flat. He couldn’t see anyone but his nerves were screaming that there was someone in there.
He didn’t sleep that day. Though tired but sleep didn’t come to him. He cleaned, cooked and washed but his eyes kept turning around. His ears pricked at the slightest sound. At noon he picked the novel he was reading hoping to escape to the world of fantasy but his mind kept running away. That evening he left early.
“Someone is staying at your flat?” Marcus asked turning off his torch. They had just surveyed the prehistoric exhibits. Everything, or everyone, was in their respective cases. They turned towards the hall of evolution. Lucy, the wood and wax model of our earliest ancestor, smiled at them in the light of the torch. Louie Marcus is Jefferson’s only friend beside his books. He shared everything with him. Marcus, a man of twenty four, was fair and blond. He had a round freckled face with permanent laughter lines. He had one or other explanation for everything.
“It could be a thief, Tom,” he said shining his torch over the model of Homo Habilis standing on one end of human evolution timeline and shook his head. “It could be someone playing practical joke on you.”
“Well,” Jefferson said. “I am not laughing.”
“Did you lay some traps?” Marcus asked locking the exit of the hall of evolution. Jefferson rolled his eyes in his head. Marcus was very fond of detective novels, no matter what kind and he believed all the tricks played in them were true. He had tried all the tricks he had ever read and almost all of them had backfired on him but that hadn’t stopped him from trying again.
“Lay traps for what?” Jefferson asked. “Man? Animal? Ghost?”
“Ghost?” Marcus came to a sudden halt. “It could be a ghost.”
“Louie,” Jefferson realized his mistake too late. Things were already going on in his friend’s mind.
“No,” Marcus said paying no heed to his friend. “I had heard it before. It was in one very big museum. The exhibits came alive at night. May be it happens here and one of the…”
“Louie,” Jefferson raised his voice and shone his torch on his friend. “Shut up. It was a movie and nothing of the sort happens in reality.”
“Louie, for heaven’s sake,” Jefferson switched off the torch and went for their office. It was a small room at the back of the museum. He dumped himself on the chair and yawned. He hadn’t slept that morning and his eyes were closing in. “look, Louie, I am going to see it one more day then calling the police. This could be some bad guy using my flat as his hiding pad.”
“Police? What the hell would they do? They are all good at asking questions and you my friend have no answer.”
“What do you mean?”
“A sweet smell, a mud on the carpet, a misplaced book and an overturned shoe,” Marcus said and raised his hand to stop Jefferson as he made to speak about the order of occurrences of the events. “The order doesn’t matter my friend. That they had happened does. But what would the police do there?”
“They can help me,” Jefferson said defensively.
“Suppose these things don’t happen, again,” Marcus said. “Then?”
He had a point.
“I would rather you see for one more day,” Marcus said. “If it continues we will investigate ourselves.”
With a lot of nervousness and anxiety Jefferson turned the key in the keyhole of his flat. What should he expect? What would he find this time? Was it really a ghost? Impossible. He turned the handle and gently pushed the door. It opened noiselessly revealing the serene sunbathed living room. Jefferson gave a casual look around before stepping into the room. The shoe rack was the way he had left it. There was no unwanted mark on the carpet. He swiftly moved into the bedroom. The books were exactly where they were supposed to be. Jefferson heaved a sigh of relief when his eyes fell on the kitchen door. He keeps it locked. It was open; closed but unlocked. He straightened in an instant, hairs rising on the back of his neck. With shaky legs he moved towards it. The door yielded under his arm. He switched on the light. All the pots and other utensils were in their places. He was about to leave when something caught the corner of his eye. He turned and his brows crossed the hairline.
There were breadcrumbs on the shelf in front of the stove. He hadn’t had bread last night and besides he had cleaned the kitchen before he had left in the evening. He came out to the living room and took in lungful of air. The air got stuck in his lungs and his eyes went wide. The air was full of sweet perfume.
“Are you serious?” Marcus asked over the phone.
“Yes,” Jefferson said fighting to keep his voice under control. His feet were shaking again. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Relax,” Marcus said. Jefferson knew his friend was frantically searching for a movie where things happened on their own in absence of the master of the house.
“Louie,” Jefferson interrupted. “Can you come over?”
“It won’t work,” Marcus said. “I have a plan.”
It was eleven at night. The roads were devoid of life. There were hardly any light in the windows. There was a little wind and trees rustled in it. The cold was freezing and silence absolute. The sky was clear, moonless but studded with stars. Jefferson and Marcus took the night off at the museum that night. They had to spun endless stories to the authorities but at the end they got the night off. True they had to give up two Sundays but the mystery of Boneyard Alley, as Marcus called it, was far more interesting than a dull Sunday.
Martin rose from his chair on seeing Jefferson enter the apartment with Marcus. He made to ask but was stopped after a nod from Jefferson. The duo took the elevator to the fourth floor and came to stand in front of the door of Jefferson’s flat. They glanced at each other. Marcus patted over his pockets. His torch and his cousin’s pellet gun came to his hand. Jefferson had his torch and a small stick in his hip pocket. He put the key in front of the keyhole and paused. Marcus gave the quiet dimly lit corridor a good look and then gestured to go ahead. Jefferson inserted the key into the hole, breathed in and turned. The key creaked and both the men froze to listen. Was there a sound on the other side of the door?
Jefferson licked his lips. Marcus patted his arm and nodded to open the door.
Very slowly Jefferson turned the handle and opened the door by an inch.
It was absolutely dark inside. Jefferson widened the gap and both the men slipped in. Jefferson closed the door.
They stood there listening and adjusting their eyes to the darkness.
It was more imagined than seen but something moved in the darkness of the bedroom. Jefferson sniffed. The sweet perfume was stronger than it normally was during the day. A hand touched him on the shoulder making him gasp out loud. That, in turn, made someone collide against the reading table in the bedroom.
“Freeze,” Marcus cried and raised his gun. “Please,” he added. He had always wanted to do it. He had read and seen the detectives do it in books and in movies.
“Don’t move,” Jefferson cried trying to bring his stick out of the pocket. “We won’t hurt you.”
There was no answer. The shadow that they thought moved in the bedroom remained still.
“Well?” Marcus whispered.
“He could be dangerous,” Jefferson whispered back.
“If he was he would have attacked us by now,” Marcus said raising his gun again.
“Maybe he is trying to find us in the dark,” Jefferson said under breath.
“Yeah,” Marcus smiled. “You are practically invisible.”
Jefferson grinned. Marcus glanced at the white teeth gleaming in the dark but then they both startled. A sound came from somewhere in the flat. It was made by two rusted joints rubbing against each other.
“The veranda,” Jefferson said and sprinted through the bedroom towards the veranda.
The black shadow was perfectly silhouetted against the clear sky. It was trying to open the small window in the grill of the veranda.
“Stop,” Marcus cried, his gun trained at their quarry. The black shadow continued to jostle with the latch that seemed to have jammed into its home. Marcus, finding no other option, fired.
His finger pressed the trigger with full force. It was stuck.
“Damn it, Tom,” he cried. “The gun doesn’t work.”
“You need to pull the slide back,” Jefferson said and switched on his torch. The light fell on the figure at the other side of the veranda and it stiffened under its glow. The hands went up to shield the eyes and very slowly it slid down to the floor.
Marcus, pulled back the slide, and aimed again. Jefferson went into the bedroom to turn on the light.
“Good heavens,” Marcus cried. “It’s not him, Tom, it’s her.”
“What?” Jefferson hurried back to the veranda and skidded to a stop. What he saw made his jaws drop.
Clad in a white tee and a pair of floral printed pyjamas was a girl with golden hair and big round eyes. She was scared and she crouched further as Jefferson arrived. She was wearing a pair of slippers with bunny ears. Her eyes travelled from Marcus to Jefferson or more correctly from the gun to the stick and back to the gun.
“Put it away,” Jefferson said putting his stick down on to the floor away from her.
Marcus smiled broadly and pulled the gun away from her.
“It’s a toy,” he said. “Doesn’t even fire.” he added to comfort the girl. To prove his point he pulled the trigger and a pellet dashed out of the muzzle, escaped through the gaps in the grills and tore through the leaves of the tree nearby.
The girl shattered and recoiled even further.
“Louie,” Jefferson warned politely.
“Sorry,” Marcus put the gun away and turned towards the room. “I’ll be in the living room.”
Jefferson nodded and smiled at the girl. “I think I have seen you before. You are Miss Margaret Kyle, aren’t you?”
The girl nodded.
“I am sorry,” she said. Her voice was still trembling. “Please don’t hurt me. I didn’t mean any harm.”
Jefferson stepped back. “Please come in.”
Margaret sat on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate in her hands. Marcus sat on the ottoman trying to figure out why the gun was not firing again. Jefferson leaned against the kitchen door, arms folded and watched his friend struggle but didn’t remind him that he would need to pull the slide again. He had other important things on his mind. His eyes were studying the girl on the sofa. She was much younger than him, slender and timid. Her eyes were not as big as he had first thought but they seem to widen too soon. They were green and shone very bright. The round face was topped with thick golden hair that curled down till her shoulders. The chicks were rosy and the lips pink. She had a sweet scent all around her.
She put the cup down on the coffee table and looked up.
“Thank you Mr. Jefferson,” she said.
“You are welcome,” Jefferson nodded. “Now I would like to know how you got into my flat.”
Margaret licked her lips. The sweetness of the hot chocolate was still there. “I stay in the flat right above this one. I climbed down the fire-escape and entered through the window in the grill.”
“There is a foot gap in between the two,” Jefferson asked, surprised. “How did you reach?”
“I swung myself,” she said. “I had gymnastic in school. All I needed to do was to twist my body though the gap and pull myself up into the veranda.”
Jefferson nodded heavily and then looked up. “That’s hell of a risk. Why would you take such risk to come to my flat?”
She licked her lips again. “It was the only one unoccupied at night.”
She swallowed hard and lowered her head. “It is… well… it…”
“It is what Miss Kyle?” Jefferson asked sternly. Even Marcus looked up on hearing Jefferson speak.
“It’s that my flat is haunted, Mr. Jefferson,” she said curling up her brows.
Mr. Jefferson didn’t react. Marcus, on the other hand dropped the gun.
“Haunted? Miss Kyle?” he asked. Margaret nodded shaking her locks.
“Yes, sir,” she said.
“How do you know it’s haunted?” Jefferson asked.
“Someone continuously knocks at the kitchen window,” she said enthusiastically.
Jefferson raised his brow. “Who?”
“I don’t know,” she shook her head. “Every time I open the window I find no one. It is just that tree and nothing else. But the moment I close it the knocking starts. On stormy nights the sound becomes unbearable. It’s like someone bangs his fists on the window. I am very scared of ghosts Mr. Jefferson.”
“Does it happen only at night?” Marcus asked.
“Yes sir,” she said.
“It has to be a ghost, Tom,” Marcus said snapping his fingers.
Jefferson smiled at his friend and shook his head. Then he straightened.
“Let’s go to your flat, Miss Kyle,” he said opening the door.
Margaret unlocked the door to her flat on the fifth floor and stepped aside. There was nothing to show. It was an exact replica of the flat below. Jefferson walked in followed by Marcus. He switched on the lights and opened the door to the kitchen. He startled as both Marcus and Margaret gasped. The sound of the knocking was heard immediately.
“There it is,” she said and clasped her hands together.
Jefferson opened the window and the noise stopped immediately.
“See?” she said. Her voice shook.
“You don’t hear it during the day, do you?”
She shook her head.
“It’s pretty noisy in the neighbourhood,” Jefferson said and extended his arm for the nearest branch of the tree. Then he grabbed it and twisted it till it broke. He brought the branch in and closed the window. It remained calm and peaceful.
“What did you just do?” she asked staring at him with big wide surprised eyes.
Jefferson smiled and handed the branch over to the girl.
“There is your ghost, ma’am,” he said turning towards the door. “It won’t bother you again.”