The Noises from the Neighbors Upstairs: A Nightly Log
by Amber Sparks February 5, 2018
The noises are small, faint scratches and scrapes. We lie in bed and look at the ceiling, drowsy, unconcerned. Rats in the walls, you say. Maybe a squirrel.
I think it’s the ceiling, not the walls. But I defer to you at night, because never in any way am I getting out of bed and investigating things.
The noises are a little louder tonight, scuffles and thumps, like someone moving furniture. Christ’s sake, I say. Are they moving or what?
Who moves out at midnight, you say, but come on, plenty of our neighbors have. Remember the couple across the hall? You went out shirtless and bellowing, and scared the shit out of a perfectly nice pair of newlyweds.
Hopefully they’ll be out soon, I say. I fall asleep half-listening for the outside door to slam shut.
I’m up late tonight, on deadline. It’s a profile of a celebrity I hate, but I need the money, and so I’m already pissed and ready to fight when the bowling ball falls overhead.
At least that’s what it sounds like, a fucking bowling ball, dropped from a great height in the apartment. I grab a broom and I jab at the ceiling. Three times, with intention. What the fuck, I yell. The neighbor next door yells back and pounds on my wall. Shut up, he says, barely muffled by the paper-thin barrier. He throws loud parties every other weekend, smokers on the balcony till three a.m., shitty country music, he should talk. Another bowling ball slams, and I instinctively cover my head. Can the floors take this? How well are they reinforced? I have no idea how my apartment is built. Every fix is half-assed, every surface slathered with too much white paint. The floors could be rot underneath, for all I know.
You emerge from our bedroom. You have your emoji underwear on and also nothing else. I pray to the patron saint of people scarred by nudity that you don’t start up the stairs in a fury, not before I can stop you. What the FUCK, you say.
I KNOW. I say. That’s what I said. What the fuck.
A third bowling ball drops. A dog barks. I fling myself onto the couch. I’ll tell building management tomorrow, you say, and I breathe a sigh of minor relief. We don’t get much sleep.
I am hitting you on the shoulder, wake up, wake up. Does our neighbor have dogs, I ask.
No dogs allowed, you say, sleepy and annoyed. You can’t have dogs in the building, you know that.
I do know that. We wanted a dog, a little one, but your sister got kicked out of her building when that dumb Chow Chow barked all the time, and we can’t afford an eviction. Not right now. We can barely afford pizza. So do you hear that growling?
You listen. You frown. Yeah, you say. I do. What is that? It sounds like…a bear or something. It sounds big.
We lie in bed and joke for a while about what the neighbors might be doing upstairs. Running a canine bowling alley? Smuggling Russian bears to American circuses? Darker thoughts, too—a dog meat supplier?
What if it’s human trafficking, you ask. It happens everywhere, you know. We both lie still for a moment, frowning, worried, possibly complicit. Then we laugh.
Oh for fuck’s sake, I say. We just need to go to sleep, before they really drive us crazy.
You wake me this time, and your hand is over my mouth. I smell toothpaste. My heart flops over. Shhhh, you say. Listen.
I can hear it right away—crying. Someone is crying upstairs, a woman or a child. Or is it a dog, whimpering? Oh my god, I say. What should we do? We made all those jokes. We laughed! What if somebody’s really in trouble up there?
Before you can answer, there’s a new sound—a snarl, and another sound like teeth in bone. Crunch. Shit, you say. You sit up fast. I’m still lying there, chin under the covers even though it’s hot tonight. I still believe in under the covers.
It might just be a really big dog. Eating a raw chicken. Or a wolf? Maybe they have a wolf. SLAM. SLAM. SLAM. Now it’s like a basketball, now like ten basketballs, now it’s like it’s raining basketballs up there. Basketball hailstorm, with a chance of—there it is—bowling balls. Crunch. Slam. Smash. Why isn’t the whole apartment awake?
Then silence. Serious silence, the eye of the nightmare.
And then, a growl, like nothing I’ve ever heard in my life, weird and raspy, and a scream. A scream, I swear it. Then the crying again, soft but insistent, like rain on skin.
That’s fucking it, you say. I’m going upstairs. It’s obviously some kind of fucking joke, or a loud movie, or something. It has to stop.
No! I sit up, clutch your arm. You can’t! What if there really is some kind of animal up there?
I’m just going to knock on the door, you say. Animals can’t open doors.
Werewolves can, I say. I don’t know if this is strictly true, and wouldn’t claws get in the way, probably, and obviously it depends on whether it’s a more or less anthropomorphic werewolf but there’s no doubt I suddenly believe in werewolves. And ghosts. And poltergeists. And vampires. And haunted houses. And murdering neighbors running illicit animal meat farms. Don’t go, I say.
But you are pulling on your jeans, you are tying your shoes, you are grabbing your keys, you are opening the door. Take your phone! I shout. You are rolling your eyes, you are gone.
I listen to your footsteps fading down the hall. I listen to them coming back, one floor up. I listen to the knocking, loud, persistent, then stopping. I wait for a scream. I wait for a shout. I wait for the muted tone of polite conversation. I wait for anything other than this silence, dark and thick as smoke. I hold my breath against it and I wait, and I wait, and I wait.
About the Author:
Amber Sparks is the author of two short story collections, including the recent THE UNFINISHED WORLD and OTHER STORIES. Her fiction and essays appear widely online at places like Tin House, Granta, and American Short Fiction, and you can find them all at ambernoellesparks.com. She lives in Washington, DC with two beasts and two humans, but if you don't live in the swamp you can still say hey on Twitter @ambernoelle.
About the Artist:
Clem Onojeghuo's work can be found at Unsplash.