When a Life Becomes Background Noise

There’s something about background noise. If it goes on for long enough, our mind will get used to it and block it out.

Don’t believe me? Go to a busy Starbucks and spend a few hours there studying or reading. At first, you might be annoyed by all the noise, but after the first hour, you won’t even realize it’s there anymore.

It was the same with the scratching coming from the apartment next door. After a while, I’d merely blocked it out.

What I’d never been able to block out was the person living there, old Mr. Meier. He was one of the most unpleasant and nastiest people I ever met.

He seemed perpetually angry. It didn’t matter if kids were playing nearby or an old couple walking past his apartment. He’d be out on his balcony in an instant screaming and yelling at them. You could even see the saliva flying from his trembling mouth.

For what it’s worth though, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the old man’s vitality. At times he’d scream and yell at people for hours on end. Maybe this misanthropy was all he’d left? I’d heard that his wife had long died and he’d no other relatives.

Since I moved into my apartment, I’d ran into the old man countless times. The first time will always stay on my mind though. I was on the way to the grocery store, and he walked into my direction. For only a moment our eyes met, but that was enough to get him going. He asked me what I was looking at and when I didn’t answer, he told me to get the hell out of his way before he’d beat the living shit out of me with his cane. I stepped aside and looked after him utterly dumbfounded. At the time I had no clue what was going on with the old man.

After a while I came to learn that this was his normal for him.

To be honest, I was never afraid of the old man. No, I was mostly amused by his antics.

After a while, it even felt as if old Mr. Meier and I started bounding a bit. At least in the way that he called me a bloody cocksucker when I greeted him in the morning.

It must’ve been last summer when something curious happened. One morning I walked past his balcony, and the old man wasn’t there. After a few days I started to get worried, and once a week was over, I thought the worst had happened. I’d never seen an ambulance or heard anything from the neighbors however. Could it be that everyone ignored it?

After another week I was proven all wrong. One day I saw the old man leaving his apartment. I almost couldn’t trust my eyes. He looked completely different. Mr. Meier hadn’t been a fat man, but he used to be stout. Now he was thin, haggard even and his skin was almost translucent. I knew something was wrong as he dragged himself past me without so much as attempting one of his usual insults.

As the days went by the old man’s condition started to improve. Week after week his cloth filled out again, and before I knew what had happened, he was back to normal. Even his skin got his old color back, and soon enough he walked with more vitality than ever before. It was nothing short of miraculous.

Even though the old man was back to his old self, one thing had indeed changed. He didn’t scream at people anymore. Instead, he ignored them, almost as if he’d decided to spend his remaining days in solitude. The only thing I could still hear from his place was the scratching I’d mentioned before.

It seemed to be there almost always. It didn’t matter if I made coffee in the morning or watched a movie on Netflix. The low, quiet sound of something scratching against the wall seemed to be ubiquitous. It was really creepy, but after a while my mind blocked it out. I’d completely forgotten about it until last weekend.

I was sitting in front of my computer, watching one of the stupid new shows on Netflix. Suddenly I heard a sound from the wall I shared with Mr. Meier’s apartment. When I turned around, I saw something poking through the wallpaper. At first, I thought it was a nail, but no, it was a… spoon?

Right at that moment, the scratching behind the wall started with renewed intensity. The spoon poked through the wallpaper again and again before a brick was pushed forward. It crashed to the floor, leaving a ragged hole in the wallpaper. At first, it was only one, but then more and more bricks clattered down. I watched the surreal event in a sort of trance, almost unsure if it was real. Finally, I saw a pair of haggard, dirty hands reach through the small hole. They broke apart more and more of the wall before a man started to crawl headfirst into my apartment.

I screamed up in terror and fled outside. In an instant, I called the police and told them what had happened. They were confused by what I told them, to say the least, but still agreed to send someone over.

Once they were here, I followed them back into my apartment. In there we found the body of a dirty old man lying on my living room floor. One of his hands was still closed around a metal spoon. Only now did I recognize him as Mr. Meier.

An ambulance was called, but it was clear that the old man had overexerted himself and died due to a heart attack. When the police asked me why he’d do something like this, all I could answer was that I had no idea.

It shouldn’t remain the only mystery in this case.

When the police checked out the apartment next door, they found that most of it consisted of a sort of holding cell. It was completely sealed off except for a small hatch. In it they found a tray of half-eaten food. The hatch was much too small for a person to get through, however.

Other than that there was no way into or out of the room. At least until the old man had created one himself.

The walls of the room were covered entirely in insane markings and writings. Some were crosses or religious symbols, yet others were depictions of demons and unnamed horrors. Even the floor was covered in the same, insane markings. Some of them were obviously scratched into the surface, others were written in blood or even feces. It was the work of a madman.

The police questioned many of the other inhabitants as well as me. Our stories were all the same though. The old man had lived all by himself, and no one had ever visited him.

The last question they asked me was about the scratching, but I couldn’t tell them much about it.

After all, my mind had blocked it out because it was nothing but background noise.