...It seemed as though only moments had passed when I heard someone jiggling the doorknob. “Ernie!” I cried out, rousing myself from the floor, where I had just about drifted off into a wiped-out slumber. “We are not going to have the same problem with keys in this place that we had on Eastwood, are we?” I had accused my man of senility more than one time because of his annoying habit of seldom knowing where he had left his keys.
I brushed the dust off the seat of my pants and started toward the door. Before I reached it, though, the door swung open.
Ernie was not on the other side. I sucked in some air.
Instead, a complete stranger stood in the doorway. He was about my age, mid-twenties, and stood about five-foot-four with a too-thin frame that made me want to feed him a few Giordano’s pizzas. The guy had dark, buzzed hair and a matching goatee. His skin, even in this dim light, looked ashen, marred by sores in various stages of healing. He stood just over the threshold and the weird thing was, it was like he didn’t even see me. Dark eyes darted about our new home, as if he were looking for something.
“Hello?” I said, standing still. I think I was too weirded out to be scared at this point. I just assumed maybe he had the wrong apartment. He certainly looked harmless enough. In fact, if I put enough breath behind it, I thought I could probably blow him off his feet.
But he didn’t answer. He continued to look right through me, as though I wasn’t standing there, all six-feet-two inches of me. Other than stacks of boxes, rolled up rugs tied with twine, and furniture shoved at odd angles, I was pretty hard to miss, even in the orange-tinted light seeping in from our huge window.
And then he came into the room. Walked right into my and Ernie’s new home.
“What are you doing?” I snapped. “Can I help you?” I moved a bit closer, thinking to block further entry. Should I call out for help?
It was as though he didn’t hear me. He continued his progress into the apartment unabated. I was too stunned to do anything but stand and watch, gnawing on a hangnail. He moved into the center of the room and did something really strange—he squatted and felt around on the bare floor, as though he was groping for something. He paused and then the rest of his actions were all pantomimed. To the best of my ability, I could discern what looked like someone taking a pipe in his hands, bringing it to his lips, firing up a bowl with—again—a non-existent lighter, and then blowing out an invisible cloud of smoke. He closed his eyes and whatever his imagination told him he was smoking must have been deeply satisfying. His eyes popped open once more and he appeared all at once more alert.
It was then he seemed to notice me standing there. I’m sure I was slack-jawed and, to be honest, starting to get a little bit scared. I wondered where I had left my cell phone. Would anyone hear me if I screamed? Over the roar of an el train?
He smiled and there was something winsome and sad in it, something plaintive in those brown eyes. But his teeth were repellent—how did someone so young end up with such badly decayed teeth? He held the imaginary pipe out to me. When I didn’t move, he shook the hand holding the “pipe” impatiently, as though beckoning me to take it.
“What the fuck?” I whispered. I moved toward him.
That’s when I heard the creak of the floor and I turned just in time to see a shadow cross the wall. It was fast—almost a blur. But the dark shape had a human form. For some reason, the shadow brought with it an icy chill.
I wanted to scream, but could not find my voice.
When I turned back, the intruder was gone, as though the shadow I had seen a moment ago had swallowed him up.
I swam up from dream to wakefulness all at once, feeling disoriented. I was panting.
I looked up into Ernie’s brown eyes, which focused on me with concern. “Bad dream? I could hear you screaming from all the way down the hall.”
My tongue felt thick in my mouth. What had just happened? It all seemed so real. I shook my head, looking around me, assuring myself that where I was now, in this moment—that was what was genuine...