By: Andrea Allison
Leyla searched for months to find the perfect office to start writing her new novel. Her apartment was too small and uninspiring. Moreover, she hated to be cooped up all day. She stood before a grotesque building, staring at her new professional haven. The rest of the block was new. Most of the other buildings had been restored to their former glory days, but this one was never touched. Interesting enough, no one seemed to mind either. It was as if they accepted it as the odd one out, which made it that much more appealing to her.
"Hellooo? Leyla?” Raina said. “Wake up, girl. According to you, we have a lot of work to do."
“Sorry, it’s just so mesmerizing. Don’t you think?”
"What planet are you from?” Raina said. “Here on Earth this is a Hilton for the homeless. The other buildings are laughing at it."
"So, it's not fancy. But it's cheap and close to my apartment. Besides, you haven't even seen the room yet. It has lots of potential.”
“If you say so.’ Raina rolled her eyes.
They approached the front door guarded by two eroded granite sculptures. As they walked through the lobby, Leyla examined the room which played host to scattered trash, peeling wallpaper, and broken furniture. It looked like a tornado swept through, and no one bothered to clean up.
“This place is really growing on me,” Raina said.
“Will you please stop with the sarcastic comments?”
Raina put up her hands in surrender.
“Thank you. The stairs are this way.”
“Stairs? You didn’t say anything about stairs. What’s wrong with the elevator?”
"Well...it's kind of broken. It's only a few stairs. You'll barely break a sweat," Leyla said, biting her lower lip. Raina reluctantly nodded and followed her to the stairway.
As they climbed, Raina complained, "Oh, sure. It's only a few stairs. I feel like I'm climbing a tower. You couldn’t tell me about this yesterday?”
"I know, and I'm sorry. But look at it this way. It's exercise," Leyla said, panting heavily. “We only have one more flight to go.”
They struggled up the last few stairs like toys winding down. After taking a short breather, they proceeded down the narrow, graffiti-covered hall. "Here we are." As Leyla slid the key into the lock, she continued, "Raina, prepare to be amazed." She tried to turn it but the key wouldn't move. Leyla jiggled the knob until it finally gave. The door squeaked as it swung opened.
"Oh! What is that funky smell?” Raina said, masking her nose and mouth. “Did an animal die in here or what?"
"Ummm...no. The smell is new." Leyla dashed to the window. She pulled and pulled, pleading for it to open. The window finally released its grip. "Maybe if it airs out for a little while, the smell won’t be so bad. Other than that, what do you think?”
Torn floral wallpaper exposed the dull lime color paint. Unidentifiable stains tainted the hardwood floor. The only object occupying the room was an old radiator nestled in a corner.
"Well...," she shrugged and continued, "I guess it has potential. But do you really want to put money in to transforming this place?”
"I understand what you're saying, but I still want to do this. It's not going to cost all that much. The electricity is already connected and there is a decent restroom down the hall. All I have to do is take down the wallpaper and add a few coats of paint. Strip the floor and polish it. Have a phone and DSL line installed. I have all the furniture I need in storage. It is going to be great when it's finished. I just know it.”
For the next week, Leyla and Raina worked inexhaustibly making the room presentable. After Leyla finished painting the window trim, she laid the brush across an open paint can while watching Raina reveal the refinished floor.
“What do you want me to do with these sheets?” Raina asked.
"Just put them in a pile somewhere. Since we're almost finished, how about I go and get us something to eat.”
“I’ll go. The paint fumes are starting to get to me.”
"All right. Could you put these extra brushes in the car, please?" Leyla asked, handing the brushes to her. "Wait. I have one more." She walked over to the paint cans near the window. "That's odd.”
“What’s wrong?” Raina joined her. “What? It’s just a can of paint.”
“Yes, but I just laid a paint brush on it a second ago. Now it’s gone.”
“Are you sure? Maybe you already gave it to me.”
"No. I set it right here," she said, pointing to the can. "Things have gone missing all week. First, the trash bags, then an entire can of paint, and now a paint brush. What's next?”
“Don’t worry about it. I think someone has been stealing out stuff,” Raina said.
"I don't know." Leyla sat down, arms crossed against her chest. She took a few deep breaths.
“Calm down, girl. It’s no big deal.”
"I know. But I think it's a sign. I feel that maybe my dream is turning into a disaster. Yeah, the supply disappearances are pretty trivial. But what if this is just the beginning of something worse?”
"I don't think I've ever seen you like this. What happened to that happy, confident girl last week?”
"I don't know. It seems like the more time I spend in this room, the more depressed I feel,” Leyla said, wiping a tear from her cheek.
"How about we get out of here for a little while. Let’s go get a few slices of pizza at Joe’s. We’ll finish this later.”
Leyla knew going out would do her some good, but an overwhelming feeling convinced her not to. “You go. I’ll stay here and maybe clean up a bit or unload a few boxes from the car.”
“Are you sure?”
“Ok. I’ll be back. Don’t have too much fun without me,” Raina said, winking.
Leyla didn't acknowledge her friend's reluctant exit. Instead, she began packing up supplies. As she was packing up, Leyla noticed a small box hidden under a metal folding chair. "Where did this come from?" A black light sat nestled inside the mysterious box. It couldn't hurt to see if this room had any secrets. She turned off the lights and pulled down the shade. Positioning herself in the middle of the room, she flipped the switch.
“Don’t tell me it needs batteries,” she said, shaking it vigorously until it finally worked.
She examined every aspect of the room. Leyla couldn’t believe what she found.
An hour passed before Raina returned. Leyla waited patiently on the floor with the black light clenched against her chest.
After switching the light on, Raina asked, "What are you doing sitting in the dark? Better yet, why are you on the floor and what is in your hand?”
“Turn off the light,” she mumbled, gazing at the wall.
“Why? What’s going on?”
"Turn the light off now." Raina hesitantly flipped the switch. Once the room was dark, Leyla turned the black light on again.
“Oh my god. What is that?”
“I’m not sure,” Leyla muttered, “but I think it’s blood.”
"Are you sure it's blood and not paint or something? What language is that?" Raina asked, admiring the hidden words.
"I read somewhere that the only way to see blood undetectable by the naked eye is with a black light. I think it’s someone’s diary.”
“What language is it? Do you know what it says?”
"Yeah, it’s Spanish." Leyla stood and shone the light on a particular section. La angustia es tortura en el alma de una persona. Usted sufiria apenas como tengo.
“And that means what?”
Leyla ran her finger under each word as she translated. "Basically it means: Heartbreak is torture on a person’s soul. You will suffer just as I have.”
"Oh please. This is just some stupid prank. Didn't this building used to be a college dorm at one time?”
"Yeah, in the 80s I think. I don't think this is the product of a bored teenager, Raina. I can't explain it, but something is really off about all this.”
"Whatever," Raina said, stumbling her way to the light. "I think the paint fumes are starting to get to you, Leyla. Let’s call it a day. We can go to RJ’s, have a few drinks and flirt with some guys. It’ll be fun.”
“What? No. I’m not leaving. Not after finding this,” Leyla said, sitting on the floor.
“Are you crazy? I’m not leaving you here.” Raina struggled to pull Leyla to her feet, but she wouldn’t budge.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Leyla said, folding her arms like an angry child. “If you want to leave, just leave then. I’ll be fine.” A voice in the back of her mind told her to go with Raina but she couldn’t shake the urge to stay.
Raina pleaded for her friend to come with her but Leyla stood firm with her decision.
“Fine. Stay then. It won’t be my fault if something bad happens to you. I don’t know why I even try anymore,” Raina said.
Leyla watched her friend storm out of the room. She felt like a ferocious dog ready to attack. But once Raina was gone, Leyla's anger disappeared. What just happened? It felt like someone took complete control of her thoughts. Leyla dashed to the door, desperately trying to open it. The knob wouldn’t budge.
"Not again. Come on. Open." As she tugged on it, Leyla noticed a shadow creeping up the door, slowly swallowing it. Her heart pounded like a drum. Her breath accelerated. Leyla backed away. The room’s temperature dropped with every step she took.
Suddenly, the air became very heavy, making it a bit difficult to breath. Something brushed against her shoulder. Leyla spun around. Nothing was there. A cool breeze swept passed her. She made another full circle. The dark figure broke away from the door. It crept slowly toward her, changing form. Leyla tried to scream but nothing came out.
She fell against the wall and slid down. Curling into a ball, she prayed for it to go away. Tears flowed down her cheeks. After a few minutes, Leyla pried her swollen eyes open. It was gone.
Leyla had no clue what happened and didn't care. She bolted to the door. "Please open!" Turning the knob, the door opened with ease. She sprinted down the hallway. Just as Leyla was about to enter the staircase, Raina climbed the remaining steps.
“Whoa. What’s wrong? Did someone attack you? I knew this was a bad idea.”
Before Leyla could speak, her mind started to spin. Her vision became obscured. Her legs buckled as she collapsed to the floor.
Leyla woke to bright lights and a killer headache. After adjusting her eyes, she began to analyze her surroundings. “Where am I?” she mumbled.
"You're in the hospital, sweetie," Raina said, holding her hand. "You passed out. How are you feeling?”
“Pretty much everything aches.”
"The doctor said you may have been exposed to some kind of gas leak. He said you should be fine in a day or two.”
“Gas leak? Are you sure?”
“Yeah, pretty sure. I bet you wish you went with me to get lunch.”
“Lunch? You saw what I saw, right? It wasn’t some hallucination, right? Right?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The missing stuff? The words written in blood on the wall? Any of this ring a bell?”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I was stuck on Highway 59 since noon.”
“No, you were there. I know you were,” Leyla said. Her head began pounding harder.
“Leyla just rest now. We’ll talk about it later.”
Leyla closed her eyes. How could it not have happened? The eerie shadow was real. She knew it.
Leyla spent the next day in the hospital. She went back to her office after being released. Raina strongly advised her not to go, but Leyla had to see for herself that it was all just hallucinations.
As she entered the room, the false memories flooded her mind. Leyla searched for the black light, but couldn't find it. She went to a nearby store and bought one. Retracing her steps, Leyla turned the lights off and pulled down the shade. She switched on the black light. Shining it all around the room, she replied, "It's gone. All the words are gone." She couldn’t believe it.
After Raina turned the light on, she replied, "Leyla, I don’t think you're going to find what you're looking for. You should get your deposit back and find another space.”
No gas leak was ever found. Leyla knew her experience couldn’t have been just a hallucination. It was something more. Something supernatural. Leyla knew she should take Raina’s advice and give up the space, but she couldn’t. She felt like there was a piece missing. The first place to start finding answers is the walls of that room. Somewhere among those words is the key to unlocking the secret and Leyla is determine to do everything she can to discover it.