Three a.m., a day after Charles McManus had seen his dead ex-wife for the first time in eight years at a Portland dive bar. Three a.m., a day after Carmella’s ghost had trashed his apartment. Three a.m., when dawn was far away, more a factor of distance—miles from here—rather than a factor of time. Three a.m., and Carmella came for him again.
Unaware, McManus lay on his futon in an alcohol-induced slumber.
The floor-plan of his studio apartment was like so: a single door led inside from the hallway of the 1920s, five-story, brick building. Upon entering and to the immediate left, through the closet, was the bathroom with its authentic claw-foot tub. Straight ahead lay the bedroom/living room, where he kept his futon, desk, dresser, stereo and collection of vinyl records. A massive window looked out on the drab Section 8 apartment building across the alley. Left turn at the window took you to the dining area and kitchen. The studio still possessed its original crown moldings, hardwood floors and the telephone intercom system, which all added to the vintage, funky cool of the place.
Back to the haunting. The smell came for McManus first. A moist, pungent, upturned earth aroma. He was allergic to mold, which was unfortunate given that he had chosen to live in the Pacific Northwest, and he was sneezing and hacking before he was awake and conscious of what was happening.
A tickle on the hair of his right arm. Another tickle. Just the lightest brushing and scampering on the hair of his left leg. Was that another one in his beard?
Then came the noises from the window-wall. Swish swish galumph. Swish swish galumph.
At this McManus finally cracked an eye and lifted his head from the pillow. The darkness in the apartment made inky shapes of his belongings against the window’s gray glow. There was illumination enough to spy the shadow just then sliding in the window’s upper panes. Sliding along the inside of the glass.
Swish swish galumph. Swish swish galumph.
There was another noise, too, or maybe it was the same noise but better clarified: the arrhythmic bark of flesh skidding along glass. The same noise he made when he was wiping down the windows with cleanser.
Whatever it was, the mass dragged downward in an angle along the window, descending with slow, jerking motions from ceiling to floor.
McManus sat up.
The shape on the glass spun—was that a leg?—and slid back up into the black, concealed safety of the ceiling.
He reached on the wall above him for the light switch and flicked it on. Brightness blared throughout the room, momentarily blinding him.
All at once, the smell changed over from molded earth to the sticky spoil of garbage. His trashcan, which he stored under the kitchen sink, had somehow traversed the room and emptied all over the comforter that lay atop him. Undulating heaps of cockroaches were orgy-feasting on top of him. Some had gone foraging beneath the sheets.
He leapt from the bed, still watching the window and the ceiling. Whatever mass-possessing shadow had been up there was gone.
McManus would need to be up in a half an hour for his shift at the bakery, anyway, so he brewed coffee and cleaned the garbage. Then he killed all cockroaches that had dared enter his bed-sheets. It would take several showers, and several loads of laundry, before he could make that tickling sensation on his arm, leg and face go away.
Carmella’s ghost, it turned out, was just warming up.
She got him again the next morning, again at 3 a.m. He awoke with a start, scanning the darkened room and testing his skin and bedding for intruders. He found nothing amiss, but he flicked on the light just in case. Believing he had the all-clear, he rose from his futon, and stumbled through his hanging clothes to the toilet. Although the toilet seat was up and he had a clear shot for the bowl, his urine splattered against his knees and onto his bare feet. Something was blocking access to the water. With a painful clench, he suppressed his stream.
A wavering movement to his left. The sleeves of his shirts were dancing, as if pulled from above by strings or webs. Strings or webs that he couldn’t see. Then the shirts slid off their hangers, tangled together, whipped and snapped, formed a shape, a shape with many arms and legs.
McManus watched all this in a frozen stupor, his cock receded from his hand as blood flowed to the fight or flight reservoirs inside his brain and body. Time to go!
He flicked on the bathroom light, remembering that doing so had helped shoo away the haunting the previous morning, and that was when he saw that he had pissed all over his cherished vinyl copy of Fun House by The Stooges. Carmella’s ghost had wedged the album beneath the seat so that it covered the bowl.
“Bitch,” he shouted at the mass of undulating clothes, but the shirts now lay in a quiet heap as if they had been piled there all along.
The next morning, at 3 a.m., McManus had set his alarm so that he would be awake to anticipate Carmella’s attack.
He thought that by being fully conscious and less susceptible to his dream state, the power of her haunting would be less severe, but her attack wasn’t abated in the least. One moment the room was dark and still, the next, every light bulb in the studio lit brighter than they had ever burned. His breath rushed from his body as a darkened mass dropped onto his chest. He shoved his arms at whatever had planted itself atop him, but his arms pushed through air.
Snap! Snap! Snap!
Every light bulb burst in a small explosion of glass and smoke until he was in the dark with the thing pinning him down, the mass that was impeding his airflow but that he was somehow unable to grasp or shove. He was certain that this was the same shape that had been crawling across his window a couple nights ago. Now it slid around on him—was that a leg?!—as if clamoring for better footing. He struggled to free himself. That deep earth, molded over scent caused him to hack and sneeze. He was going to suffocate. This was how he would die.
In the next moment, the inky shape rose off him, floating upward as if on a web-line, and retreated into the shadows of the ceiling. He gasped. Bright spots flashed in the periphery of his vision as oxygen made its way back to his brain. He rolled off the futon and onto the fir flooring. He lay there until the strength returned to his arms, then he lifted himself up and lit a cigarette.
Groggy and yet partially insane from three nights of little to no sleep, he thought, OK, this haunting shit is pretty damned persuasive.