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31      Trick or Treat?

  Whether you celebrate Halloween or not, it is always a good idea to share a scary story or two. Here then, a way to get freaked out

The Tenement

I moved to New York City and I rode the subway, every day, between an office in Midtown and my second-floor apartment in Spanish Harlem that shared an alley with a storefront Baptist church. I didn’t make enough to go out on a regular basis, and within a few weeks my life had coagulated into a finite collection of steps, button-pressings, and stair climbs.

After a month of sitting in my studio, evening after evening, listening
to the shouts and honks of nearby Lexington Avenue, the thought came
to me, quite suddenly, that I should see whether my building had an accessible roof. I had been in such buildings before, though never my own, and it seemed to me a quintessential New York experience to have, at
the top of your run-down apartment block, access to a view out over the glittering city.

I put on shoes, locked the door and began climbing the stairs. Most of
my neighbors were families, and I could hear behind the doors a riot of sounds: babies, televisions, frying food. As I climbed higher, however,
the sounds receded, as if the upper-floor tenants were older, or deaf, or never home.

By the seventh floor, the last before the stairs up to the roof, all the building’s sounds had faded. The four doors on the floor were green, with heavy bolts and a large eyehole in the middle. All were locked save one, beside the stairs, which stood open by about two and a half feet. Inside it was dark.

I climbed up the short flight to the roof, but when I got to the top I found that the door was locked. Through a window in the door I could see moonlight shining through. Disappointed, I descended. But at the seventh floor landing I paused, then, surprising myself, entered the open apartment — purposely, thinking that if I found someone inside it might look better than if I entered sneakily.

But there was no one inside. It was much larger than my own apartment; two rooms jutted off of a large main hall. I stood in the entranceway for a few seconds, then I entered the room on my left. It contained a bed and a dresser, covered in dust. Newspapers and magazines lay strewn across the floor. A slight stench like moldy bread hung in the air.

The second room was closed. I turned the handle and it went smoothly, but the door wouldn’t open more than a few inches; something heavy was blocking the way. I pushed harder and it gave a little, but not enough.

Finally I stood back and ran at the door, heaving myself into it. It flew open and as it did, I collided with a heavy object that had been hanging from the ceiling. I looked up to find a bloated, blue face staring down at me, perched atop a thick noose that held the rest of the body to a pipe running across the ceiling. A young man, in his twenties perhaps, with wiry black hair and wearing a brown sweat suit. I leaned against a bed on the opposite side of the room, staring at the body for what felt like hours.

Then without noticing what I was doing, I inched myself around the body, keeping my gaze fixed on it the entire time. Suddenly I heard footsteps, coming up the stairs, running. Before I knew it, a short, plump old woman followed by three girls and a small boy pushed past me and into the bedroom.

‘Guillermo! Ah, Dios mio!’ the old woman cried. She crumpled to the floor. None of them paid me even the slightest attention. Not knowing what to do, I went back to my apartment.

Inside, the door bolted, I grabbed a bottle of Jim Beam from atop the refrigerator and poured myself a shot. Then another. A few more. Was I right to leave? Of course not. But then I wasn’t going anywhere; they knew where to find me. I kept waiting for the police to arrive, or to hear the old woman scream again, but there was nothing. Just babies crying, televisions prattling, and food frying.

After half an hour and nothing from upstairs, I decided to go back. Maybe they were having trouble getting the body down. Maybe the old woman had had a heart attack. So I climbed the stairs again, and again, as I climbed, I noticed how the sounds emanating from the apartments grew dimmer with each flight.

The door to the apartment was open, but the lights were still out. I stepped inside, and it was as if no one had been there at all. The first door was open at the same angle as I had found it, and the second was shut, just as before. I tried the handle and it gave, and this time the door opened easily; the body was gone. The room was bare but for the bed, and in it two figures; as my eyes adjusted, I saw who they were: the old woman and the young man, his face no longer blue and contorted but rather flush and content, a thin smile written across his lips. (By Clay Risen)

Do you have a Halloween a.k.a. scary story?