by SUSAN JAHANGIRI
his really is a beautiful city.” Leila looked out at the river. The sun was bright, and they were both starting to get tans.
“I told you. Fluffkin likes it, too. Look at him. He loves watching the birds fly over the river.”
“Yeah, I think this move was good for us. Can you believe we’ve already been here over a month? We’ve settled in pretty well, I think.”
Jackson smiled. “We really have.”
They started walking back to their building. The new apartment was so nice. The building was practically brand new, so the rent was a little steep. But it was worth it for the modernity and security.
“Oh, be careful not to step on that gross squirrel.” Leila pulled Fluffkin’s leash so that he didn’t get too close to the squirrel skeleton in the middle of the path. “It’s fascinating in a disgusting, morbid way how we’ve watched that thing decompose. It looked almost like a sleeping squirrel when we first saw it. And then the body slowly sank in and rotted away. Now, it’s a sprawled squirrel skeleton. Looks just like a fossil that someone dug up, the bones arranged just like they were when its body was there.” She gave a little shudder. “Freaks me out. Why are there so many dead animals around here?”
“There really aren’t that many.”
“I feel like there are more than we saw in Ohio. And why doesn’t anyone clean them up? I swear, there must be some sick psycho serial-killer-in-the-making kid running around giving the animals poisoned treats or something. They never look injured. It’s weird. Makes me nervous for Fluffkin. Make sure he doesn’t eat anything weird off the ground when you’re out with him.”
“Stop it. This is a safe area.”
“There are psychos everywhere.”
They walked into their building and used the key fob to open the door. Fluffkin hopped up to a couch in the lobby and lay there, relaxing. “He really loves the lobby.” Leila smiled as she sat next to him while Jackson walked over to the other side of the lobby to check the mail.
“Come on.” He hit the up button by the elevators.
Leila picked up Fluffkin gently and snuggled her face into his soft, silver hair. She planted a kiss on top of his head. “I love you sooooo much, my little smooshy smooshykins.”
“You act like you’ve never seen him before.”
“That’s how I feel every time I look at him. He’s so adorable.”
They got in the elevator.
“You should let him walk in like all the other dogs.”
“Are you kidding?” Leila huffed in frustration. “I told you that dogs die getting on and off of elevators. They can get shut in the door! Fuck no am I letting little Fluffkin get hurt. Or worse!”
“You are so overprotective. You’re one of those crazy moms. And I don’t like it when you swear.”
“You’re just being sexist. And, yes, I am a crazy mom.” Leila smiled. “Because I love my little guy so much.”
“I love him, too.”
“I know. I’m just saying that the risks outweigh the benefits here. I don’t have a problem with carrying him. And even if the chance of the elevator doors malfunctioning is super low, it’s still there. And the results would be terrible. So, why risk it?”
“Well, we walk on and off when you’re not with us.”
Leila frowned as they walked out of the elevator. She set Fluffkin down on the carpet in the hallway. He began rubbing himself all over it as usual. Jackson continued down the hallway and around the corner towards their apartment.
“There’s something on the door.”
“It’s a noise complaint.”
“Huh?” Leila picked up Fluffkin mid-rub and walked over to Jackson. They closed the apartment door as Fluffkin went off to drink from his bowl. “What does it say? We don’t make noise. And, in fact, we’ve been hearing someone else with their bass pumping late at night! What does it say?”
“Someone left it. It’s not from the apartment management.”
“Who’s it from? What noise are they talking about? Fluffkin barks occasionally, but this is a dog-friendly complex, and he never barks at night.”
“No one signed it. Here’s what it says. ‘Me and my family have lived here since January and never had a noise issue. Ever since you moved in, we have heard stomping at all hours. Even at 11pm. My family can’t sleep. Your stomping so loudly can only mean you are doing it on purpose to disrespect your neighbors. I will file a formal noise complaint with management if this continues’.”
“Are you kidding? That is such a bitchy, whiny note. I can just see some bitchy person writing it. We don’t stomp. What the hell are they talking about? We don’t even walk around at 11. That’s my bedtime! We’re in bed at 11. Maybe they are talking about whoever was playing that bass the other night. This is so stupid. It’s not us. If you’re going to write a bitchy note like that, at least have the guts to sign your name and make sure you’re giving it to the right people.”
Jackson nodded. “Yeah, I bet it’s that old lady down the hall with the two dogs. She always gives us nasty looks in the hallway. She told me she moved here in January. And, she mentioned the other day that she hears Fluffkin barking when she walks by our door.”
“She lives like four doors down from us on the opposite side of the hallway. How could it be her? If someone is complaining about our ‘stomping,’ then it’s someone who lives downstairs or who shares a wall with us, right?”
“I’ll handle this.” Jackson walked to the door.
“What are you going to do?”
“Ask around to see who wrote it and tell them it’s not us.”
“Okay. Want me to come with you?”
“No, it’s ok.”
Leila sat on the couch and turned on the TV, wondering how Jackson’s little investigation was going. This was so stupid. That note was rude and certainly not addressed to the right people.
Jackson finally returned. He wasn’t holding the note anymore.
“So? What happened?”
“I went to the apartment right below us. It was that skinny guy with the pink hair we saw in the elevator last week. I’m pretty sure he’s the one who has been playing the loud music. He said it wasn’t him. So I tried the apartment above ours. I don’t think anyone lives there.”
“That wouldn’t make sense anyways. The one above us? For a stomping complaint?”
“Well, then I went to the front desk and showed the lady there the note and told her it wasn’t us and that we are quiet and go to bed early and all that. She agreed the note was rude and noted everything in case someone files a complaint.”
“Well, that’s that, I guess.”
“Yeah, that’s that.” Jackson walked to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of water from the pitcher in the fridge.
Leila sat on the couch, suddenly attentive to the noises in their little apartment. “You know? You do kind of have a heavy footstep. But no one can expect you not to walk in your own apartment. If the sound of someone just walking around is too much for people, then they shouldn’t live in an apartment.”
She listened as he clonked his way to the bathroom. Why are his steps so heavy? Why does he bang against the hardwood like that when he walks? Maybe it is us. Maybe it’s him.
That night, they took Fluffkin out for his bedtime walk. When they came back in, she wondered which of their neighbors had left the note. If that neighbor was keeping tabs on them. Watching when they came and went. How else would they have known when to leave the note so that it happened to be while they were out for their walk earlier in the day? “Isn’t it kind of creepy?”
“That note that was on the door.”
“Well, what if the person who left it is crazy? And mad about the stomping. And is like a psycho and breaks into our apartment? Or tries to hurt Fluffkin?”
“Stop it. I don’t like it when you say kooky stuff.”
She let out a little puff of air in annoyance. Jackson was no fun sometimes.
The next day he went to work. She was still applying for jobs. It was like casting stones into a bottomless well. She kept expecting to hear back but not yet. Surely, eventually. But no word back yet. Fluffkin was so cute all day. They went out for a walk together in the thick, soupy air. Leila hated humidity. It made her hair frizzy, and she felt like there were bugs all over her.
It was nice to return to the air-conditioned apartment after being out in the heat. As she sipped on some coconut water and tossed some treats to Fluffkin, she saw the couch pillow on the floor. Had it been there before they left? They liked to sit on the pillows sometimes as the floor was hard. But she thought it had been on the couch when she left. She walked over and placed the pillow back on the couch.
She sank into the couch and switched on the TV. Old episodes of her favorite show, Lovely Lies. She smiled as she watched. Her phone vibrated on the coffee table, her sister Calla. “Hey, doll. What’s up?”
“Not much. Just between classes. What you doing today?”
“Walked Fluffkin and taking a break now. We miss you. You need to visit us.”
“So, the weirdest thing happened the other day.” She recounted the noise complaint and how bitchy the note had been. “It’s strange. I’ve felt kind of nervous ever since. I told Jackson that the person who left the note might be crazy. And maybe will just keep getting more and more obsessed with the ‘stomping.’ Isn’t it like the beginning of some weird horror story?”
“Yeah, I like it.” Calla got Leila. They both liked the adrenaline rush that came with a little fear.
“Like, after the note, maybe strange things start to happen. Things start moving around the apartment or something.”
“Totally, and the neighbor who left the note, she’s just slowly losing it. The stomping, the stomp stomp stomp stomping! And she tries to complain to management, but they tell her that it’s not the right apartment. That people are allowed to walk in their own apartment. That she just needs to get over it.”
Leila nodded. “Yes, but she can’t get over it. She can’t sleep at night. She can’t concentrate during the day. They stomp so loudly. She knows they’re doing it on purpose just to mess with her. And her family can’t sleep! And she bangs on the door at night. And they open it but no one is there.”
Calla laughed. “And she slips notes under the door. ‘I asked you nicely. I warned you. But you won’t stop stomping!’ What’s the climax? Maybe they come into the apartment after a walk and there’s bubble wrap all over the place?”
“That’s so perfect! And they walk in, and it’s popping under their feet. And they stop walking and look around thinking what the hell happened here? Who did this? And their dog is losing it. And then they hear it in the other room. Pop pop pop. And she walks in. Their crazy neighbor. Her hair is crazy. Her nightgown is askew. Maybe she has a knife or something?” Leila used her creepiest, sleepy, crazy lady voice, “I asked nicely. I told you. I tried to be polite. I asked you nicely to be quiet. But you didn’t listen, did you?” Leila’s voice went pleading, “Sorry! It’s not us!” Again the crazy voice, “I asked management to help but they said I was mistaken. But I still heard you stomp stomp stomping. You just couldn’t help yourselves, could you? Stomp stomp stomp, even late at night. My family can’t sleep! Well, I’ll take care of that now. Try to stomp stomp stomp without your feet!”
“That’s super creepy. You should totally write it.”
Over the next few days, Leila started writing the story. She’d submit it to a magazine for publication when she finished it. She sat at the computer typing, her mind in the zone.
“Hey, what are we having for dinner tomorrow?”
“Stop talking to me. You’re freaking me out.”
“I’m just writing this scary story, so I’m feeling a little jumpy.”
“Wooo-oooo-oooo!” Jackson rushed over and grabbed Leila’s arm.
“Ahhh!” She gave a little shriek. “Stop it!”
Jackson chuckled and headed into the kitchen to grab an apple. Leila listened to his clunking feet. It really does sound like he’s doing it on purpose. “Why are your feet so loud? Maybe the note was about us. You, like, thud when you walk. I don’t think that’s good for you. You know, like the impact on your bones. Maybe you can step more lightly? You should take ballet or something.”
Jackson dipped his apple slice in some almond butter and bit into it. “Your show is starting.”
Leila saved the story and headed to the couch for the season finale of Shrieks. “We’re supposed to find out who the killer is. The last couple episodes were cray cray!”
Fluffkin hopped up and settled his soft tush between them. The episode was full of surprises, twists, turns. “That was so good. Can’t wait until Calla gets caught up so we can talk about it.”
Jackson pounded his way to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Leila carried Fluffkin to bed. She jumped as there was a rapping at the door. Fluffkin, all guard dog now, flew from her hands to the door, barking urgently. Leila rushed over and picked him up, shushing him gently. She looked through the peephole but couldn’t tell who was there. She twisted both locks open and turned the knob, pulling the door open.
“Who is that?” Jackson called through a mouth of foam.
“There’s no one there.” Leila poked her head out, looking left and right down the hallway. She shut the door and locked it. “That’s weird. I definitely heard something, and so did Fluffkin.”
“It was probably a knock on someone else’s door. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell which door someone is knocking on. Not a lot of soundproofing between apartments here.”
The next day, Leila and Jackson started off the morning with an argument. For some reason, his heavy footsteps were putting her on edge. “I’m serious. Can you just walk a little more quietly?”
“This is just how I walk. You’re being silly. I have to get to work.”
“Fine.” She forced herself to calm down a little. “Fine. But I really think you should at least notice how loudly you walk.”
“Bye, I love you. Have a nice day.”
“Love you, too.” She hugged and kissed him before he headed out. She wasn’t sure why it bothered her so much. She’d never noticed before that stupid note. It seemed so much louder now. She moved her head side to side, trying to shake off her irritated thoughts. “Ready, Fluffkin? Let’s go for a walk before it gets too hot. I need some air.”
She called Calla while they were in the park. “Hey, girl. How’s it going? How far are you in Shrieks? Because the season finale last night was awesome!”
“I’ve only watched the first three episodes. Don’t tell me anything. I can’t wait to catch up!”
“What are you up to today?”
“Just classes and homework. You?”
“Working on this story. I should apply to some more jobs but I don’t feel like it. Weirdest thing, ever since we got that note, I’ve noticed that Jackson walks kind of loudly. I don’t know. It’s starting to annoy me.”
“Yeah, I never even thought that before. It never bothered me or anything.”
“So, how’s the story going?”
“Well, I feel like I need a good ending. Something not so predictable. You know, like after the bubble wrap and all, she just kills them? Or chops off their feet? Maybe it ends on a cliffhanger with her coming towards them and implied doom? No, that’s all too normal.”
“The ending is the most important part. If the ending is no good, the story is no good. What are you going to do?”
“Maybe, the girl should be losing her mind. I thought of this because of how I’ve suddenly started to get irritated with Jackson. So, every night she starts to notice more and more how loud his steps are. They really are pretty loud. And it is just a small funny thing at first, oh well, your steps actually are kind of loud. But then it starts to annoy her. She asks him to walk more quietly. But that’s just how he walks. And it starts to make her angry. And she starts to notice strange things. Strange things moving around the apartment like someone sneaking in while she’s out. But the dog is fine. Nothing is missing. She thinks, maybe I’m just being silly. Maybe I just forgot where that was earlier. But it’s creeping her out. And she starts to wonder if the woman who wrote the note is after them because the guy just won’t stop stomping so damn loudly. Then, one day, he gets home from work and the girl and the dog meet him outside for a walk. When they get back in, there’s the bubble wrap all over the floor, but it’s pretty bubble wrap. With some kind of pattern on it. And he wants to know who did it. She says it’s the woman. It must be. She’s scared. He knows he’s seen that bubble wrap before, at a local store with nice paper. He goes to ask who bought all that bubble wrap recently. Oh, they recall, a nice girl, tall and slim and pale with curly dark hair. He’s scared; it sounds like his girlfriend. He shows them a pic of her. Oh, yes, they say, that’s her. He goes home and confronts her. And she begins to remember, yes, I wrote the note, his stomp stomp stomping was driving me crazy. Yes, it was me. She is gone, rambling about stomping and noise and how she couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t take his stomp stomp stomping!”
“So, it just ends with her going crazy? And she was the one doing all those creepy things?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Could be good. I can’t wait to read it.”
“Thanks, Calla! You’re my best editor slash friend slash fan.” Leila laughed.
Leila and Fluffkin headed in so Leila could write up this new part of the story. She liked how it was going. Who knew if anyone would publish this, but it was nice to write again. There was always so much noise in her head. So many pieces of things she wanted to send out. She thought most clearly when she was writing. The words just flowed out of her mind like they’d been dammed up in there all along and she’d finally turned the spigot. After lunch, she and Fluffkin headed out for another walk, making sure to dodge the squirrel skeleton. It was a really nice neighborhood. Leila wondered why there was no one to clean up the squirrel. Poor thing. She looked down at the bleached little bones, the tiny skull, the little fingers. A shudder ran through her. It was so hot out. Maybe the squirrel died of heat stroke? Fuck global warming. Leila frowned.
They returned to the apartment. The air conditioning felt great on her body, drying her sweat. She lifted her arms as she walked to her door, letting the cool air flow through her shirt. My pitts are so sweaty and gross. She opened the door and walked in. Fluffkin ran off for a drink. Then, Leila noticed a note on the floor by the door under her foot. She bent over and picked it up, unfolding it. It was typed on a piece of computer paper. She read the note: “I asked you to please stop stomping late at night. I am going to have to take further action. Your stomping is too loud. I had no problems before you moved in, but now my family cannot sleep. Your inconsideration for your neighbors is so disrespectful. I have had enough.”
Leila dropped the note. She hurried around the apartment, making sure nothing else was unusual. Fluffkin was resting sweetly on his pillow. Everything looked normal. The bitchy neighbor must have just slipped that under the door. But wait, she saw the computer was on. Hadn’t she turned it off before going out for a walk? She wasn’t sure.
Leila called Jackson and told him about the note. He said not to worry. It’s just a note. But something felt off. It’s just like my story…this is so strange. First, things moving around. Then the note. Jackson’s stomping has been bothering me. Maybe it’s not just a story. Maybe I’m trying to tell myself something. What if it is just like my story? What if I’m losing it? What if it’s me?
She tried out a new recipe and made vegan bean flautas for dinner. She worked on her story while they baked. Jackson was home a little late that night, so she took Fluffkin down to meet him to get their walk in before dark. “The flautas are really good. We can eat them after our walk. I may have already had half of one.” Leila giggled. “I was super hungry.”
“Thanks for making dinner. Can’t wait. How was your day?”
“It was okay. Just that note freaked me out a little.”
“Yeah, looks like we’ve got a grade-A bitch on our hands. If this happens again, I’m going to complain to management.”
Leila nodded. “I don’t know what they can do. We don’t even know who it is.”
“Well, they can figure it out or something. Because this is like harassment.”
As the sky began to darken, they returned home. Jackson unlocked the door and opened it as Fluffkin and Leila lingered in the hallway to let Fluffkin rub himself on the carpet.
“Leila, what is this?”
“Huh? Fluffkin is busy! What do you need?”
“Could you please come over here?”
“Come on, cutie.” Leila coaxed Fluffkin, and they walked over to meet Jackson. When Leila reached the doorway, she halted. The hairs on her arms stood on end. Bubble wrap. It was everywhere. Covering the floor. All the hardwood. To muffle the sound of stomping.
“Who did this?”
Leila’s eyes were wide and her jaw dropped. “I think I did. It’s just like in my story! I think I’m losing it! You’re just so loud! You just wouldn’t stop stomping!” She pushed the leash into Jackson’s hand and ran down the hall.
“What? Leila, come back!” Jackson scooped up Fluffkin who was beginning to act very agitated and rushed after Leila.
The apartment door stood open. The bubble wrap sat neatly on the floor. Their neighbor from down the hall sat at the computer re-reading Leila’s story. She liked it. She pushed the chair back and walked out of the bedroom. Pop pop pop. She ran her finger over the blade of the knife in her hand. I knew it was his stomping. Keeping me and my dogs up at night. His stomp stomp stomping. She couldn’t stand it either, I guess.
Susan Jahangiri studied English at The Ohio State University and law at Cornell Law School. After practicing law for several years, she recently moved to the DC metropolitan area, where she lives with her crazy family, writes, bakes vegan goodies, and teaches Pilates. She has publications of a short story and poem in The Fear of Monkeys.
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