Believer

So far, everything I’ve posted related to Haunted Apartment (the most boring working title in history, I know) has been fully improvised when I sit down to write. Since the goal of all this, however, is to get me immersed in the world of this novel so I’ll have a sense of it when I start actively trying to write the thing in 2022, I did a little more pre-planning for this one. As a result, there’s more story going on, which I’m personally very excited about. Plus, the silver fox returns!

“Byron! Come in.” Michael was smiling so widely it seemed to warm his icy blue eyes so that they landed softly on Byron’s.

“Thanks for the invite.” Byron said demurely, adding a little curtsey a moment later, at which Michael laughed aloud, and his laugh turned out to be even warmer than that smile, like the cracking of a fireplace. Byron stepped into the apartment, identical to their own in layout, but almost unrecognizable in every other way. The kitchen had been blown out and extended to the far wall, with all the empty space filled with brand-new shiny black and chrome appliances and pink-flecked granite countertops. It was amazing how much bigger it looked.

“Did you move that wall? Byron asked, gesturing to the one behind the sink, separating kitchen and living room. Michael’s laugh rumbled over him again.

“Yes. I did.” 

“I thought the strata rules were against architectural changes?”

“Well yes. But there are plenty aways around that for men like us, eh?”

“Men like us?”

Michael smiled, though his ice were slightly frosty again. 

“Come, sit down, sit down.” He said, gesturing to the living room and it’s cherrywood floor, bookshelves covering every inch of wallspace, and even wrapping around the top of the only real piece of furniture in the room: a massive black leather sectional, starting near the centre of the room and snaking outward, up, along the wall, and back toward the middle in a wonky horseshoe. Aside from that, a square coffee table with dark stone stop and ostentatious legs, and a television mounted to the divider wall were all that he saw. Michael continued escorting him until they both found seats on the sofa. Michael leaned town and pulled out a drawer that Byron hadn’t even noticed. It seemed to be the whole bottom of the table, and out of it Michael pulled a tray with a steaming teapot and two small, handleless mugs. 

“Keeps things warm.” He said, closing the drawer and placing the tray on the tabletop. He filled the cups with liquid and steam poured from the top of them. He handed one to Byron, who took it, brushing his fingers against Michael’s surprisingly smooth ones for a moment. 

“So you’ve really made this place home for yourself.” Byron said, glancing around again.

“It’s essential! You must make it your own, lad. It’s the only way to keep from feeling like a tenant. This place is awfully dreary on it’s own.”

“You think so?” Byron asked, sniffing the sweetly spiced aroma rising from his mug. Michael nodded slowly.

“Oh yes. 1986 is a terrible time for a building. They were doing all the worst, most unappealing things with architecture and design back then. It’s just hideous.”

“Oh.” Byron half-sighed, then rushed to cover his dissapointment, “Yes. It is.” Michael narrowed his eyes at him slightly,

“Did you think I meant something else?” he asked.

“No.” Byron insisted, “No I…” he couldn’t help but trust Michael, so he changed tack. “Yes, actually. Do you ever…” how could he bring it up? He took a breath.

“Do you ever notice strange things happening in the building.” The words sped out of his mouth, worried they might get cut off if they moved too slowly. Michael took a sip of his drink, then gave Byron a quick but penetrating look before finally nodding his head a few times. 

“Yes. I do, actually.” he said. Byron’s mind filled with questions, but he surprised himself slightly when the first one tumbled out,

“Why do you stay?” Michael shot him that look again, but then his eyes softened and he said,

“I grew up here.” 

“Here… in the building?” Byron asked, confused. Michael chuckled,

“You’re flattering me, dear boy.”

“What… I…” Byron spluttered. 

“1986.” Michael said, a tickle of laughter in his voice. Byron felt the force of the obvious fact hitting him.

“Oh. Of course. You’re far too wise and mature for that to make sense.” he said, and Michael barked a laugh.

“Well done, very nice save.”

“So… what was here before?” he asked. Michael abruptly put his tea down and stood up, then started to pace slowly between the couch and the TV with his hands behind his back, one holding the other’s wrist. 

“I’m sorry.” Byron blurted, “I didn’t mean to… pry.” Michael stopped pacing for a moment and look at Byron with great warmth,

“No, it’s alright, my boy. I don’t share all this very often, but I’d like to. With you.” he said. Byron placed his hand over his heart and dipped his head in acknowledgement, at which Michael shook his head affectionately before starting to pace again. Byron waited, all patience. After a minute or so, he stood still and looked at Byron directly. 

“It used to be a tent city.” He said, a thickness in his voice that caused Byron’s heart to bottom out for a moment.

“I had no idea.” He said. Michael stood for a silent moment, continuing to look at Byron, then suddenly spun into his pacing again. “Wilson grew up in an encampment, too. Well… sometimes in an encampment. But he was homeless, too.” Michael stopped, his back to Byron. 

“I didn’t know that.” he murmured, apparently to himself. He turned and shot a toothy grin at Byron, which carried none of the warmth Byron was now so used to seeing on his face. “Well good for him, owning a place here. Well done.” 

“So…” Byron said after a moment, “you felt like it was home already?” After a pause, Michael said “something like that. As soon as this place turned condo, I bought this unit. And my other four.”

“Oh. You have…” 

“Most of this floor now, except for Mrs Dobson at the other end. Us old-timers sharing the best view.”

“So you rent them out?” Byron asked. Michael nodded,

“Sometimes.” he said. 

“Wow. “ Byron chuckled, “you really love this place.” 

“So as I said, I’ve definitely noticed some strangeness over the years.” 

“Right!” Byron said, remembering why the conversation had turned to Michael’s past. “What kind of strangeness?” Michael’s face landed on a thoughtful expression and he returned to his seat on the sofa before speaking.”

“Strange lights.” He said, seeming to search his memory, “strange sounds, sometimes strange smells.” 

Byron noticed that his heart was pounding slightly,

“And you never found out any… explanations for the strangeness? Mice or wiring problems or… I don’t know… magnetic field disturbances?” he asked. Michael shook his head,

“Never.” he said.

“So,” Byron’s heart was thudding in his throat now, “what do you think it is?”

“Well…” Michael spoke slowly, buying time for the return of his indecision, “I’ve often wondered…” he took a deep breath in and sighed it out, “I’ve often wondered if it might be something supernatural.” Byron’s breath caught in his chest to hear the word spoken out loud as if it was a real possibility. “Forget it…” Michael said into the silence that had followed his pronouncement, “it’s ridiculous, I know—“

“No. It’s not.” Byron said, louder than he meant to, then felt a knot tighten in his throat and squeeze hot tears onto his cheeks. “Thank you.” 

“For what?” Michael asked. Byron scrubbed the tears from his face and let out a sigh, fluttering his lips a little. 

“I’m sure it is.” He said, an insistent baritone slipping into his voice, “but I was just starting to think I might be completely batshit.” 

“You’re not.” Michael said gently.

“Do you… have you told anyone else?” Byron asked. 

“I found some internet forums a few years ago, but no. Not in a way that ever felt real.” He reached out a gave Byron’s knee a gentle squeeze, “So thank you, too.” 

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