To anyone reading this, I have one last warning. Just in case my plan doesn’t work.
Don’t use the peephole in your apartment door. Just don’t do it.
I learned this the hard way.
My place was small, but well-situated. It was a building built into the side of a hill overlooking a park by the river. The forest had been cut down and replaced with new trees planted in more convenient spots. They had been surrounded by a concrete parking lot, isolating them to little islands of green amidst the black-and-yellow. I parked my car every day next to a young ash tree, then walked inside through a lobby lined with seldom-used plush couches and walls of glass. Coffee-table books about such esoteric subjects as the depiction of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in modern art or drawings of the human hand were scattered across the table, dusty and unused, present only to give the appearance of life but somehow responsible for undoing that same illusion.
I rode the elevator to the tenth floor and turned right. My door was at the end of the hall, situated perpendicular to the others. It wasn’t the penthouse, but it was an end suite, with balconies on all sides. My oasis. I opened the door and locked it behind me. I threw my bag onto the kitchen island, situated to my left. Beyond it was an open-concept dining-and-living area. The river sparkled in the distance. Red stripes, kayaks, cut across it. I watched the boats for a moment. I felt a strange and furtive feeling in this act of benign voyeurism. It made me wonder how often people watched me without my knowledge.
This apartment had been designed for childless young professionals or golden-yeared retirees who still walked without assistance. I was a childless young professional, but only one. Not that there was anything wrong with that. I preferred my solitude. It gave me more time to think, more time to pursue the dreams I wanted to pursue, without anyone saying anything to the contrary. Besides, I worked long, irregular hours, and it wouldn’t be very fair to anybody to expect them to put up with it. The black bags under my eyes might not suit the condo’s marketing material, but I paid my bills and lived a quiet life. I loved my home.
Well, until the pandemic hit. We shifted to a work-from-home model and suddenly everything changed. I was in my apartment all the time. I explored online grocery shopping as a means of limiting contacts with others, which was even easier than I expected. I found myself in a position where I almost never left my home — even once restrictions had relaxed. My company, unlike many, realized that the lack of overhead required to maintain an office would only be a boon towards year-end valuations. They shifted all employees to a permanent work-from-home model.
Great, right? Who wouldn’t want to do all work from home, especially one as nice as mine?
Normally, I’d agree. But my isolation wasn’t worth it.
It began late at night. When my commute was a total of sixteen steps, I wasn’t worried about sleeping in. I’d been deep in a YouTube rabbit-hole, learning about the alignment of the Pyramids of Giza with Orion’s belt, when I heard a knock on my door.
I didn’t even recognize it for what it was, at first. I thought somebody on the floor below me had maybe bumped a wall or something. Saying it now, that seems ludicrous, but it was two in the morning and I was more tired than I realized.
Then a second knock came, and all my fatigue fled, replaced instead by a cold adrenaline. My apartment was dark, lit only by computer-light. A faint yellow glow came from the streetlights beyond the windows and far below. The sky was dull and black. Inside, a single pinprick of light shone through from the small peephole inset at eye-level in the door. Something wavered on the other side, momentarily blocking it out. Then it was back. Then gone again.
I crept to the door, carefully raising and lowering my feet, almost cartoonish in my approach, so as to avoid the knocker hearing my approach.
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
The three hard knocks almost pulled a cry from my throat, dying in my mouth as I leapt to stop it.
When I managed to regain control, I leaned forward to the door, pressing my face against the peephole. Behind me, the video on my computer continued to play, flashing a panoply of colours across the room.
I could see the length of the hall through the peephole. There was an apartment on the other end, as well as two others opposite the stairwells at the west and east ends of the building. The elevator bank claimed the rest of the space. As far as I knew, those other apartments were empty. My trips from my condo door to the garbage chute hadn’t ever been interrupted by a neighbour, and I couldn’t recall seeing anyone before that.
It didn’t matter. The hall was empty. Whoever it was had done some kind of knock-and-dash game, perhaps jealous of those with a higher station in life. I checked the lock and then turned off the computer. The fear had left my body totally empty, and I fell into bed without even brushing my teeth.
The light on my phone blinked 2:16 in cold digital numbers.
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
My eyes shot open, feeling as if they’d only just closed. I checked my phone and the numbers now showed me 2:58. Fear was swallowed by anger. I laid there in bed, bracing myself for another round of knocks. I considered calling the police, but figured they wouldn’t come or the asshole knocking on my door would be gone by the time they arrived.
Quiet returned. My breathing began to steady again. How long had it been since the last set of knocks? Even checking my phone seemed somehow a provocation. I closed my eyes and tried to fall asleep again.
It was then that I heard the rattling. Somebody was trying to get in. Heart racing, I jumped out of bed, pulling on a faded pair of sweats. I stepped out of my bedroom. The knob shook violently and something was slamming against the door, doing everything it could to break in. I threw caution to the wind, rushing to the door.
The noise suddenly stopped. I realized I was holding my breath. I exhaled.
I pressed my ear to the door. All I heard was a vague bruit, a collection of noises too indistinct to parse apart. Time seemed to slow. I reminded myself of where I was and what I was doing. Front hall in the early morning, curled in the corner to make sure the door held. A shining porthole of light above my head.
I knew I had to look. Wouldn’t you look?
I stood up, using the wall to help me stand. Slowly and carefully, I pulled myself over to the peephole. It struck me then that there was a strange vulnerability to this act. All of human instinct screams at us not to isolate our eyes. A gory scene from a horror movie, maybe one of the Saw movies, flashed across my brain.
The hallway beyond was empty.
I think this was the moment when the first frayed thread of sanity finally snapped. The second came immediately afterward, when a face rose into the frame from below. An involuntary gasp stole its way from my throat. The face on the other side of the door couldn’t even truly be called a face. Instead, eyes dotted the skin’s canvas, erupting out of any spare section that could be found. They blinked and stared independently of one another. Brown and blue and green and everything in-between. Some were bright and clear, while others were wrinkled and clouded. Long eyelashes, epicanthic folds, freckles; any features an eye might carry were represented on this thing’s face. The only part of its face unmarked by an eye was distinguished by a strange and fleshy proboscis which floated half-limp like a deflated balloon caught in the wind.
Then the eyes all snapped to the peephole.
They saw me. They SAW me. The proboscis leapt out, quicker than the eye could follow, glomming onto the peephole’s other end. I braced my arms against the door as if doing a push-up, but found I couldn’t move. I heard the sharp tinkling sound of glass breaking. The peephole’s light was blotted out. I pushed even harder against the door, shaking, my shoulders screaming for relief, but wasn’t able to move. Another crack of glass, then a shock of pain that made my legs water as the shards were pushed into me.
Then I felt something else probe against my eye, and all went black.
Now here I am. I don’t know if the sheets I’ve tied together will be long enough to reach the ground.
They might not even be long enough to reach the treetops. It’s hard for me to tell. My depth-perception isn’t what it used to be. Not since I woke up, slumped against the back of the door. The screaming gulf in my face, incessant, unending. I don’t know how bad it is. I haven’t looked in a mirror yet. I can do that after I get out.
I think the sheets will be long enough. Hopefully at least enough for me to jump the rest of the way.
The risk is worth it. Anything is better than looking through that peephole. Because if I did, I might see my own eye looking back.