It was a week later that Apartment 12B swayed. Guttural whispers fell against the wooden door padlocked with a series of golden chain locks and a single metal bar as thick as a baseball bat. An ewer from St. Peter’s Basilica rattled across the floor, splattering holy water over the wooden panels, only for the liquid to evaporate in dark tendrils.
Beyond the apartment, harsh pebbles of rain lashed the transom window. The horizontal venetian blinds quivered against the glass, filling the dim room with incessant tapping. Within the stark room stood a beige second-hand couch, bought from the ancient auburn head owner of Elise’s Pawn Shoppe on the corner of Marshall and Green. A rickety mahogany table, from the same place, angled away from the couch. Dirty coffee cups left stained rings on the wood where a heavy, leather bound King James lay haphazardly open to Matthew 3. Verse two highlighted with the red squiggly circles of madness.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Elise Chambers was an aberrant old hag originating from one of the obscure Scandinavian countries. A refugee turned citizen, she’d set up Elise’s Pawn Shoppe in August 1972 with the help of her now departed husband Nathaniel Chambers. While many had found her flaming auburn hair puzzling, the beauty and presence she radiated left all who met her charmed.
Many who entered the establishment were both surprised and pleased by the quality and value of the items she sold at bargain prices. In fact, rumours once circulated that her husband was merely an accountant by day and an infamous antique embezzler by night. Though these rumours fell away quickly and replaced with darker, ominous whispers. Those that Elise Chambers was secretly a witch. Now in her old age, the constant stoop to her gait and the odd mumblings she spewed every once in a while, seemed to substantiate this ancient rumour.
Josiah Coleman had moved from Lower Parkhurst to Langdon following a prospective job offer. Previously a store clerk at Jay Jay’s department store, a new branch in Langdon promised the possibility of promotion to General Manager.
His long-time girlfriend and hopeful fiancé, Alyssa Walker, followed him to Langdon with devoted attachment.
Green Street hummed with quiet foot traffic and an odd car every few minutes. Garden Court, Waverley Heights, and Sunset Pines rose up along the street in brick and glass and painted walls.
Josiah and Alyssa entered Kamilah Court’s recently paved walkway hand in hand. Giggles flitted between them like high school lovers in the early stages of their relationship. A selection of vehicles were parked in the lot, particularly a blood red Land Rover with Hamilton Real Estate painted on its sides. They’d been together three years that warm March morning, four in another six months where Josiah hoped to propose. The bricked building rose eight storeys high. Railed balconies stuck out at every odd window like stubs of grated tongues.
They entered the wooden double doors with budding excitement, taking in the drab white painted walls and plain single seater leather seats. There was nothing unique about the place yet the prospect of starting anew sparked something in them.
Esther Washington, their real estate agent, met them at the hallway with a wide smile. She was a tall glass of water. A rich, thick afro glistened under the fluorescent lighting. Her tight fitting bright red dress suit fit her snugly like a second skin.
“Josiah, please.” His voice seemed clogged in his throat. Then, remembering the woman clinging to him, “And this is uh Alyssa.”
Esther Washington shook both their hands then gestured towards the front desk. A bald, portly man looked up at them from the top of his wireframe glasses. They reflected an ongoing game of solitaire.
“Looking good today Esther.” His eyes barely passed over the couple. They drank in the real estate agent with a hint of desire.
“Thanks Joey. We heading up to 12B, that okay?”
“No problemo. Remember the elevator is broken. Gonna have ter take the stairs.”
She sighed irritably.
“We’ll be a’right.”
He nodded at her slowly and turned back to his game.
“That’s Joey. He’s one of the security guards in the building. Anything you need he can help you get. And sorry about the long walk.”
Josiah nodded slowly. Alyssa held on to Josiah’s arm tighter. She didn’t like the way he looked at Esther.
They stepped through the door into a cool aquamarine spiralling staircase. Alyssa gazed up through the oblong coiling stairs that reminded her of the Fibonacci spiral, only in the shape of a square. It ended in looked like a sunroof as she could see the blue of the sky from beyond. She turned to Josiah to tell him and found that he was staring at Esther as she climbed the stairs. Her hips swaying with each step.
She followed quietly though her thoughts were anything but quiet.
Following the quick look around the apartment, and Josiah and Alyssa establishing that it might be more expensive than anticipated, Josiah surprisingly agreed to the price anyway. Esther promised to bring the papers the next day and suggested the couple look at Elise’s Pawn Shoppe for cheap but aesthetic furnishing for the place.
So it was an hour later, walking down towards the end of Green Street that Alyssa raised her concern,
“I thought we couldn’t afford the place.” It was a statement not a question.
“Yeah but its real close to work and there’s a kindergarten too where you can find work.” He did his little playful grin but the look on Alyssa’s face told him it was time for that.
“Taken a real shine to Esther huh?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Josiah brushed the comment off. Bad idea.
“Right.” And that was it. But anyone knows that when a woman raises that kind of concern and then brushes it off, it’s not over. Not even close.
The pawn shop was a homely little place directly on the corner of Green and Marshall, looking out towards a quiet intersection. Surprisingly there were no hawkers on the street, not that either of them noticed. The large front windows revealed an array of lamps, vases and gleaming vanity sets. While the furniture looked old, they carried an air of newness to them. Like they had been freshly cleaned not moments before.
They entered the store with a jingle from a hanging bell. Immediately they were struck with a waft of nostalgia. Josiah remembered Granny Dorothy’s living room. Of floor polish and freshly washed linen. Of Granny Dorothy knitting a sweater as she sunk into her floral armchair. Alyssa remembered the lime kitchen walls of Mewa Betty as she cleaned counter tops with rigorous flaps of her arm while Sunday lunch cooked in what seemed like an endless series of pots. Of the underlying aroma of something archaic obscured by wafts of fresh pine.
“Ah a budding couple on the cusps of mov’n in togeda yas?” Elise Chambers hobbled from seemingly out of nowhere and approached the parted couple.
“Ah yes.” Josiah replied. He scratched his head out of nervous habit. Alyssa cast an annoyed glance at him.
“Seems like ders trouble in paradise ‘dou.”
Alyssa, in her quiet fury, left the two and moved to a different section. She noticed a glass ewer that was apparently from St. Peter’s Basilica, filled with holy water blessed by the pope himself.
“Just a little squabble.” Josiah eventually replied, “We were recommended here by Esther Washington…”
“Ah yes. Tall woman shaped like a coke bottle yes yes she recommend people all da time. I know what you need.”
Josiah followed the old woman through the shop.
Elise led him past a section of brass instruments gleaming like the sun itself. Music systems both ancient and modern, with speakers and amplifiers lined together on triple layered metal shelves. Near the back end of the store was the furniture section and immediately a beige, polyester couch stood out to Josiah.
“How much for this?” He asked, turning to face her. For a moment he saw Elise as a young woman with fiery red hair and smouldering grey-blue eyes,
“How much would it be worth to you?” Her voice slithered across the back of his head. Warm as an embrace. Refreshing as a breeze.
“Alyssa Walker for Esther Washington.” He breathed.
Her lips curled up into a mischievous smile as she approached him slowly. A sultry tigress about to devour her prey. Josiah’s heart pulsated suddenly and wholly. Heat spreading across his forehead. She pushed him backwards against the couch and he was falling. Falling. Falling. He’d already forgotten the price he’d been willing to pay.
It was a week later that Apartment 12B swayed. Guttural whispers fell against the locked wooden door.
Josiah Coleman gripped the couch. Droplets of sweat cascaded down his large furrowed brows, staining the soft polyester seats. His eyes, almost black as coal, stared at the ceiling unseeing. The white boards fluctuating in and out of focus with the wavering apartment. His thick lips mumbled scripture into the air, quivering
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”
But heaven was deafened to his words and only the rasping whispers beyond the wooden portal heard his words. And replied.
-God can’t hear you now-
-Repentance is futile-
-The roaring lion seeks to devour you-
-The serpent awaits-
Josiah bolted upright and grabbed the holy tome from the table, a page tearing out between his trembling hands. And another. And another. They fluttered about him like gargantuan moths.
From across the room, the body of Alyssa Walker gawped at the door. Abyssal apertures gaped where her eyes and mouth should have been. A ragged breath crawled from her throat as a bulbous black insect ruptured its way out of the pink of her tongue in obsidian bubbles. The wings beat once.
Chain locks quietly slid across their respective golden tracks and rattled against the door frame. The metal bar screeched its way open and the door burst open with the fury of a hurricane. Josiah leapt to his feet facing the door.
“Time to pay the price Josiah Coleman.” Esther Washington entered the apartment with a grin. Her dark afro writhed as though it were made of bugs threatening to crawl down her face. The face that shimmered with Elise Chamber’s features.
“Please!” Josiah wheezed. Warmth quickly radiated into glacial surges of fear filling his head, chest and back. A warmth trickled down his pant leg.
“It is already done.”
Alyssa groaned from behind and Josiah spun around to face the woman he loved. The gaping holes in her face were quickly teeming with more of the bugs, wings oscillating to life with the growing swarm covering her body. She quivered to life and rose on her heels like a puppet pulled forward. Arms outstretched. She coughed and hacked and heaved, her body bending forward at an impossible 90 degrees.
A wet, slithering sound filled the room as one last hack coughed up Alyssa’s writhing black heart. It squelched on the floor and burst into a thousands of black shiny bugs that immediately rushed at Josiah. He shrieked. He ran straight into Elise/Esther who burst apart like scattered flies. When he turned back she was in her normal form. But her head was on backwards.
“Dear God!” Josiah screamed.
He didn’t notice the metal railing until the top half of his body was already leaning over. He was falling. The spiral stairs grew smaller with each passing second.
Like a cubical Fibonacci sequence.