Twilight came and went. In its wake, the expanding blackness of night moved steadily across the island of Manhattan. Street lamps lit up, traffic eased and pedestrians scattered. October had brought cold, unseasonal weather, an early reminder that winter was on its way. Numbing cold was threatening the overnight hours.
Exiting one of the buildings, on an abandoned avenue in the Bowery District at ten that night, something’s shadow elongated across the sidewalk. Hidden beneath a hood, its owner could not be seen. The figure stopped just outside the door, scanning the neighborhood, and upon seeing the coast being clear hurried away. In its haste, making its way across the avenue, its misjudgment caused it to bump into a parked car, jarring it heavily. The car’s alarm went off, the blaring horn breaking the quiet, sounding deafening to the ears of the escaping figure. Without a backward glance, it sped away, putting as much distance as quickly as possible between itself and the complex it had just left.
High up, on the seventh floor of that same building, the inside of a corner apartment appeared inky black. Reflected on the pane of glass, the moon cast itself in muted shades. The floors above the apartment and below it emitted light from still-awake residents. None of the inhabitants on the seventh, however, seemed to be up at that hour. An eerie stillness hung over the inside of the apartment, where the ongoing car alarm penetrated its silence.
The muffled sound of the alarm, both insistent and annoying, brought the young woman back to awareness. Moving through the closed window, the persistent wailing gave her something to focus on, as she ever so slowly regained her senses. Blinking, terror filled her at the surrounding darkness until she realized the lights were off. She found herself huddled in the far corner of the shadowed living room, disoriented and struggling to get her bearings. What happened? How did I get over here?
The last thing she recalled was a debilitating, torturous sensation, as though her entire body was being consumed by fire. She vaguely remembered sitting at her desk on the other side of the room. Her laptop, open on the last search page, still cast a radiant light across the desktop, displaying proof of its recent use. She had been researching something important, but in her muddled mind could not recollect what. The onset of the blistering pain had come on swiftly, but was brief. Then, she had felt nothing. She must have lost consciousness. How she had ended up there, in the corner, had her mystified.
A final chirp sounded outside. The blaring alarm fell silent. In the now absolute silence of the room, the abrupt clatter coming from the refrigerator as it released its ice cubes into the receptacle startled her. Trembling from fright, she wrapped her arms around her legs, bringing them closer to her body. Increasing fear kept her frozen, paralyzed. Her eyes darted here and there, unable to fathom a reasonable explanation for her situation. Then her eyes landed on someone sprawled across the floor in the center of the room. She had no clue who it might be.
With only the moonlight entering through the window to pierce the darkness, she could just barely make out an outline of the body that was facing away from her. From where she sat, identifying who it could be was impossible. The face of the person looked away towards the front door. Whoever they were, they lay very still, unmoving. She saw no indication the person was even breathing. A dire, ominous foreboding made her press further back against the wall behind her, as if to hide within it. With her sight adjusting to the limited light in the room, her eyes fastened on the body, and an involuntary shudder coursed through her.
The sprawled figure lay on their stomach. That the body was female was obvious by the clothing she wore. A light-colored dress rode up on the left bent knee, exposing a thigh and gave a glimpse of the woman’s pink underwear. The garments seemed familiar to her, as she took in the position of the body. Both of the arms were spread out above her head, as if the female had tried to soften her fall. Debating whether to go over to check and see if the woman needed help, she found she was unable to leave the safety of her position. Something kept her rooted to the spot.
Panicked, even the familiarity of the room could not calm her. She knew each corner, each piece of furniture in sight. Her apartment was tastefully decorated in soft pastels. She had spent weeks deciding on the color scheme before moving in. The walls were painted a delicate peach color, while she chose the sofa and armchair for their unusual burnt rose shade. She still had not decided on the tables and lighting for the room. Her thoughts were harshly pulled back to the reality of her situation by approaching footsteps from the hallway outside her front door.
She heard muted voices from the other side of her front door. The knock that followed went unanswered. Fearing for her life, not wanting to end up like the body on the floor, she stayed still, quiet, listening and watching. The rattling of her doorknob made her jump, freezing her as she stared transfixed at its turning ever so slowly. A whimper escaped her and she brought her hands to cover her mouth to silence herself. With the door inching its way open, the cast of light from the hallway spread into the living room. Two people, a man and a woman, entered, scanning the room before they moved towards the body on the floor. The young woman held her breath, hoping they would not notice her.