Here’s Part One if you missed it.
I sit at my desk, staring at the little clock in the left-hand corner of my computer screen. It reads 4:58. It’s quitting time, and I hear my coworkers joyfully gathering their keys in anticipation of a relaxing evening at home. I sigh, wishing it was possible to teleport myself onto my couch at home.
This, I think, is the part I hate the most. I can’t look forward to going home. Because I never know what’s going to be waiting for me when I get there. Bob might be off sleeping somewhere, or as I approach the door, looking down as I fumble with my keys, I might look up to find Bob standing on the other side of the glass door, staring at me. I’ve never met a horror movie jump scare that can compete with that particular sensation.
We don’t have the CCTV monitors on the outside of the building, you see. It’s been tried, but they kept getting stolen or damaged, and people had privacy concerns. The front doors sort of provide a view of the monitors outside the first floor elevator, but if you go in a side door there’s no way to see where Bob is until you’re actually in the building. I usually just open the door a crack and listen for his footsteps, but this isn’t foolproof.
Once I thought I was safe, but I opened the door just as Bob was walking down the stairs into view. I slammed the door shut only moments before the mass of claws and black feathers plowed into it. He walks slow but he can move fast when he wants to. I almost died that day.
That day could be any day. And one day I might not shut the door fast enough.
I can’t help but mull over these things on the way home. Sometimes it seems like useless self-torture, but today I think of it as practice. A way of preparing myself for battle. I can make it to my apartment; I have done so every other time I’ve ever left. I just need to be alert.
I get off the bus and sigh again. My building is just out of sight beyond the curve in the road. What would happen if I just walked the other way? I could go to a hotel and find somewhere else to live. Be a hobo. Anything. But then my pet zebra finches would starve, and I’d never see my favourite mug again. Nope, like it or not, I’m going home.
As I round the corner, I see police cars in the parking lot outside the building. Two feelings war inside me. Dread, because we might have lost someone, and hope, because maybe this time they will find Bob and then this will all be over.
People have called the police or animal control numerous times about Bob. Somehow, none of them ever find him. I’m surprised they still come, frankly. But we have the CCTV footage, and numerous photos, even if both of those can be faked. There seem to be a few people in both departments who have seen enough to believe that something is here, even if they can’t find him.
This is the second mystery, other than what Bob survives on in between unfortunate incidents with residents’ pets, or heaven forbid, a resident. That’s really rare, though. Most often its a visitor who thinks it’s all a joke. Or somebody’s crazy ex-something. Or a burglar.
Carly, the lady from 218, is standing outside watching. She wears thick blue eye shadow and a coat that looks like it might have been a floral print couch in another life. I can see she’s been experimenting with cutting her own hair again. She turns to me as I approach. “Bob got stuck in the laundry room.”
Real hope bubbles up within me. I struggle to keep it down. “Really? Did they find him? They must have, right?”
“You’d think. But I haven’t heard anything from inside. By now there should have been gunshots or something.”
I cross my arms.”Maybe they want to keep him trapped in there. They’re being cautious, or they want scientists to see what it is.”
“He can’t walk through walls. We’d all be dead if he could.”
Two officers emerge from the building: Joel, and another officer I don’t recognize. Joel is a bit of a skeptic when it comes to Bob, but I can tell he’s convinced something is going on here, even if he doubts a nine-foot bird is involved.
“Well?” says Carly.
Joel shrugs and shakes his head.
“How?” I say. “How in the actual pancake-flipping heck.”
“Forget it Ashley, it’s chinatown,” says Carly.
“I’m going to have to get a statement from both of you,” says Joel.
“I just got here,” I say.
“Alright then. You’re free to go,” says Joel. “Would you like an escort up to your unit?”
“That would be great actually,” I say.
I’m pretty sure Joel meant it as a joke, but thankfully he’s the honorable type.
Joel and I head into the building while the new guy takes Carly’s statement.
“Hey, do you want to carpool to the laundromat later, honey?” Carly calls to me.
“Sure, sounds good,” I say.
“I told you there’s nothing in there,” says Joel as we enter the elevator.
“So if there’s this monster in here that ya’ll are so afraid of, why don’t you just leave?” says Joel.
“I like to live dangerously,” I say. “Plus, if a resident is physically injured by Bob we get 10% off our rent permanently.”
“Last one was eleven years ago. Mrs McGraw from the second floor. Lost her thumb.”
Joel smiles, thinking I’m joking. And I am, sort of. Except about Mrs McGraw, that actually happened.
I also often wonder why I don’t just leave. I have two opinions on the matter, and I wobble between them like a pendulum on a metronome:
- I was born here* and I’m going to die here. This is my home and I’m not going to let some dumb bird chase me out. Who else can still say they spend less than 25% of their income on housing? Nobody. And I’ll never have to worry about my apartment getting broken into. Besides, how do I know the next apartment building I move to won’t have something worse?
- I have to leave. I will leave. As soon as possible. Right after the economy becomes rational again and I can afford to.
When we arrive on the third floor, part of me actually hopes Bob is standing outside when the doors open. I know he won’t be; he wasn’t anywhere on the CCTV monitors on the first floor. But what if he was? For the price of a brief moment of terror and some temporary hearing loss from gunshots in a small space, it could all be over.
He’s not, of course. We step out into a perfectly ordinary hallway, except for the paint color, a kind of queasy avocado that screams “serial killer residence.” I suppose in a sense, this is true.
Joel sees me the last few feet to my apartment door and we bid each other a good evening. I grab a pint of Ben and Jerry’s from my freezer and deflate onto my couch, trying to forget that in about 14 hours I have to do all this all over again.
“I have to get out of here,” I say, and my zebra finches chirp agreement from their cage in the corner.
*Literally. When my mom went into labor Bob decided to park himself outside our door and wouldn’t leave for a full 48 hours. So I was ushered into the world on our couch, attended by my father and the building superintendent. And by Bob, who clacked his beak in ominous congratulations in the hallway outside.