Sounds can drive you insane.
It can be a dripping tap, the neighbor’s loud music or the constant chatter of co-workers.
I was never bothered much by these things. I guess it was easy for me to ignore those types of sounds. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an urban area.
In my new apartment things were different.
I recently got a new job and had to move to a new town. Finding an apartment was tough. My measly savings didn’t give me many options. In the end, I decided on an apartment in an older two-story building.
It had been written out as a recently renovated, modern place. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was clearly one of those old, seventies-style apartments. If it had been renovated at all, it must have been a decade ago, if not earlier.
The place’s landlord, Mr. Reinhardt, can best be described in three words: uptight, stingy and condescending.
As he led me through the place he went on about all sorts of rules: No loud music after eight, no more than one visitor at a time, I was allowed to paint the living room but not the kitchen, no bathes longer than half an hour due to mold and god knows what else.
It was an endless list that he recited in an entirely monotonous voice.
The only positive thing was that he didn’t mind me bringing my cat, paws.
The moment I signed the contract he told me he’d not be around the building much, if at all. He preferred a ‘pay rent and leave me alone’ type of relationship.
To say I didn’t like him was quite the understatement.
In general, though he didn’t seem to care about his tenants at all. He didn’t bother to tell me anything about the other people living there or how many of them there were. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if he knew.
The only person I got to know was the old lady living next door. Her name was Miss Schulz, and she was well into retirement. The day I moved in we ended up chit-chatting for a bit. She was such a sweet lady. I almost felt bad when excusing myself to finish moving in.
The strange sounds started on the second day. They came completely out of nowhere. I was taking care of the last few boxes when I suddenly heard it. It was low and barely audible. It’s hard to describe what it was like. It was a sort of humming, at times reminding me of screeching or even wailing.
My first thought was that something was playing on my phone or the laptop, but that wasn’t where it came from. I checked the wall to Miss Schulz’s apartment, but everything was quiet on the other side.
To tell you the truth, it was quite a bit creepy. It was already dark outside. I felt goosebumps on my arm as I went from room to room, trying to locate the source of the sounds.
In the end, though, I told myself to calm down.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” I told myself, “right paws?”
The little guy answered with a happy meow and rubbed against my ankle.
I struck it off as something in the house. Who knows, the place was old, it might just be the tiles above or one of the water boilers.
When I started to hear these sounds more often though, I really started to get unnerved.
I wasn’t the only one. Poor little paws started to get agitated as well. He was scurrying through the apartment on his search for the origin of the sounds. At times I’d even find him sitting in a corner, staring at the walls or the ceiling.
It wasn’t long before I did the same. No, not staring at the walls and the ceiling, searching for the origin of the sounds. I checked the whole place, every nook and cranny. There was nothing!
When I talked to Miss Schulz, she wasn’t much of a help. She’d never heard anything like it, but she said her ears weren’t any good anymore. Even with her hearing aids, she was barely able to listen to what was on the TV.
After I thanked her, I decided to go and see who was living upstairs. I called myself stupid for not doing so right ahead. God knows it was probably the people upstairs who caused it. When I went there though, I saw that the nameplate was empty. I rang the doorbell, knocked a few times, but no one opened up.
Guess no one was living above. Time to strike out that possibility as well. Great.
On my way back to the stairs, I ran into a young man. He’d watched me at the door to the apartment.
“There’s no one living there,” he said in a friendly voice, “are you looking for someone?”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” I answered, “but thanks for the information.”
He nodded. “I am Mr. Stein,” he said, his smile all teeth. It was almost a bit too friendly, overdrawn even, I thought.
“I am Jenny, nice to meet you.”
We shook hands and I made my way back down towards my apartment.
Back inside, I had no clue what to do. If these sounds couldn’t be coming from above, I was at wit’s end.
It was so creepy. Imagine you’re sitting in front of your laptop in the evening, minding your own business, only to hear sounds like these.
At times I almost jumped up, thinking someone or… something was in my apartment. I couldn’t help but feel watched and continuously had to look over my shoulder.
“Maybe Mister Reinhardt knows more,” I thought and dialed his number. I could hear the annoyance in his voice.
“Jesus, who the hell is calling at this time? It’s almost ten!”
“It’s Miss Mann. There’s these sounds, this low humming or something it-”
“You’re calling me about what now? A sound?” he cut me off, “last time I was there, there was no goddamn sound or anything!”
“It’s not there all the time, only now and then, but I’ve got no idea where it’s coming from or what’s causing it. Can you send someone over tomorrow? Like a maintenance person?”
“Pah, humbug! You can always hear a sound or another in a building like this. No reason to get so worked up about it! You young people and your-”
“It’s not just normal sounds! It’s like a-”
“Whatever it is, I don’t want to hear anything about it! Especially not at this hour of the night!”
“But it’s your building, and-”
“And I am free to kick you out whenever I want.”
This shut me up. There was no way I could afford to move again.
“See, young lady,” he started in his most condescending voice, “the issue is already over.”
With that, he hung up.
“This damned bastard!” I cursed at the phone before I threw myself back on the couch.
I started my search anew. For days I turned the whole place upside down. Whatever I did though and wherever I looked, I found no hint. The sounds persisted, always low and always barely audible.
I tried my hardest to ignore it, telling myself over and over again, that there must be a logical explanation for this.
I put on loud music or wore headphones, but that could only do so much. I’d hear it when I went to the bathroom, or at times when I went to get a quick drink of water from the kitchen.
The worst was hearing it at night when I had to go to the toilet. I could almost see some dark, creepy thing, hiding somewhere to get me. Sometimes I saw paws’ shadow in a corner, staring intently at nothing in the darkness.
I hate to admit it, but quite a few times I rushed back to my bedroom in fear. I’d lock the door and try my best to fall back asleep.
By then I was living in the apartment for more than three weeks. It was getting to me. I spent countless hours reading about other people’s experiences. Hell, I even read some articles about haunted places.
I didn’t know anymore. I mean, what if it really was a ghost or apparition?
I tried to talk to Mr. Reinhardt again, but the old bastard hung up as soon as he realized it was.
Sometimes I found myself awake all night. I was anticipating to hear these creepy sounds again. On others, I thought I heard something only to realize that I imagined things. I started to believe that it might all be in my head. Was I suffering from some weird form of tinnitus? But what about paws then? Why was he freaking out?
When the dreams started, I had enough. In one of them I walked through a twisted version of the apartment. Everything was dark and those wailing figures were standing in all the corners. In another one, giant shades crawled towards me on the ceiling. Their screeching sounding like broken machinery.
I had to move out, I told myself. At work, I was a mess. My boss had already talked to me about it. No, there was no other way. I desperately started to look for another affordable apartment, but I had no luck.
It was one day, after work, that Miss Schulz approached me. The moment she put her hand on my arm, I jerked back and dropped my keys.
“Jesus Christ!” I cursed, but when I saw her next to me, I breathed out a sigh of relief.
“Oh god, I am so sorry,” I apologized quickly, “I am such a mess these days…”
“It’s alright dear, don’t worry about it. How about some tea?”
I smiled weakly and was about to decline. Then I thought about. What was I going to do in my apartment anyway? Sit around on my own all day, being agitated and waiting for those sounds to start again?
Five minutes later I sat on her couch and told her that I was thinking about moving.
“Well, dear, I can’t blame you. With a place like this and Mr. Reinhardt as your landlord. If I were a bit younger, I’d find myself a fancier place too.”
“That man is the worst,” I said laughing a bit.
“Oh believe me he is! You know those renovations back in the day? He made such a big fuzz about them that I thought I’d get my whole apartment refurbished and modernized. What do you think they did? A bit of paint here, some new wallpaper there and a few new tiles in the bathroom. That was it. Oh, and they installed this new exhaust system. I think he was required by law to replace the old ventilation shafts. He’d never done it otherwise.”
“Wait, Miss Schulz. Ventilation shafts? What did they do with them?”
The old lady looked up at me in surprise.
“Those things? They closed them off, and that was it. Knowing Mister Reinhardt, they probably put nothing but a bit of plaster over the opening.”
I sat there, wide-eyed, as I listened to her. It couldn’t be. Was that were those damned sounds came from?
“What is it?” she asked me when she saw me so deep in thought.
“Oh, I remembered something important. I got to go!”
She nodded and helped me to the door, but was a bit confused at my sudden reaction.
Back in my apartment, I’d no idea where to even start searching. I didn’t know the first thing about ventilation shafts.
I walked around from room to room, listening intently, but the sounds were so low that I couldn’t pinpoint it. After a half an hour I slumped down on the couch in frustration. By then they were gone again.
“Hey paws, come over here. Come on little guy!”
He didn’t react, as always these days. Bet he’s completely absorbed in his new hobby, watching the bathroom corner.
At that moment it clicked. Cats have much better ears. Freaking hell, don’t tell me the little guy had it all figured out long ago.
A few moments later I got a chair and started to check the bathroom wall. Miss Schulz had said they’d covered the openings up with plaster. Shouldn’t I be able to find them by knocking against the walls? Wouldn’t it sound hollow?
I had no idea if what I was doing even worked. I knocked here and there and soon I started to feel ridiculous, stupid even. Then the sound of my knock changed. It was almost as if something was reverberating from inside.
I must’ve found it!
I came back with a small hammer that I’d used when putting together my furniture and went to work. I banged it against the wall with all the force I could muster. My arm soon started to grow tired, and my breath grew restless, but finally, the plaster started to get loose.
After a couple more heavy beatings a small hole was revealed.
In a rush, I broke away the remaining plaster. In front of me was a small rectangular opening. It was a shaft, alright. I saw another opening opposite me that had been sealed off as well. It must have once led to the kitchen.
That wasn’t all though, the shaft continued upwards.
But wasn’t the apartment above empty? What the hell was going on? As if to answer, the sounds started again, but now it was much louder. Paws began meowing at it right away. As I stood there on the chair, a shiver ran down my spine because I realized what it was: the cries of a woman.
I called the cops right away. The moment they heard the sounds they called for backup and went up to break down the door to the apartment above.
What they found was pure chaos. Most of the interior of the place was either trashed or just gone.
Instead of a kitchen, they found a sort of holding cell. Inside was a young woman, was chained to the wall and barely alive.
What I’d heard through the ventilation shafts all those weeks, were her cries for help.
The police asked me all sorts of questions.
When I mentioned Mr. Stein, the friendly young man I’d met, they looked up. They told me there was no one like this in Mr. Reinhardt’s list of tenants.
After I’d given them a description of the man, a few of the other tenants recalled having seen the man as well. They too had assumed that he was living in the building. In reality, though, he must have been a stranger.
What makes this whole thing even more mysterious, is that the apartment above me was indeed rented. After some check-up it was clear that it was under a fake name.
Mr. Reinhardt said it had been a middle-aged man who signed the contract. After hearing the description I’d given of Mister Stein, he said it couldn’t have been the same guy.
Whoever the man was, he always paid his rent, so there was no reason for Mr. Reinhardt to question things.
By now the police has started a manhunt for Mr. Stein, but he’s completely vanished. They are still entirely in the dark about this case.
At times now, I am lying awake at night, thinking about everything. The woman’s wailing, the shafts and the holding cell. There is one thing though that I can’t get out of my mind: that long overdrawn smile that guy gave me.
Even now, it still gives me the creeps.